On the Innate Values of My Fiction

I have been corresponding with my good friend (and astonishingly great writer) Gord Sellar lately about writing in general and my writing specifically. I’m still working through that mid-life crisis moment, although with the help of close friends and some thought, I’ve been developing a plan of attack. I hope that the end result will be much more of my work to read in professional venues, and less uncertainty as to my purpose in life.

In our conversations, which are long and winding and go on for pages and pages of emails, Gord hit on something that really stopped me in my tracks.  He has this idea that I write fiction that seemed to be based in a belief in human decency. My initial reaction to this was one of surprise, but I suppose I can happily own this descriptor if it’s true. I do believe, and have believed, in the basic decent-ness of people. I do believe that together we are capable of great things. Gord calls this quality “American.” I think perhaps not American as a whole, but maybe Midwestern? I think perhaps it is only modern politics that makes me flinch away from the description of “American” writer. I will never consider myself truly a part of Trump’s America. That is an America rooted in fear, and one that stands for values I stand against. I honestly hope that my writing never, ever reflects that vision of my country. I hope it will continue to stand for a belief that people do more good than harm, and that fearing the other harms us all.

So, yes; I do believe that most people are fundamentally good and kind on a base level, but I didn’t realize it appeared in my fiction. And that something of my deep values does show up in my work made me pleased; reading his comment made me feel more pride in my work than I have in a long time. I write about fun, joyous things mostly, and often I worry that there’s nothing deeper to take from my work beyond a little entertainment. But if by accident I am conveying some deeply held beliefs about the nature of humanity, well, then… gosh. That’s a whole new reason to go on writing, I think.

2 thoughts on “On the Innate Values of My Fiction”

  1. You’re far too kind about my own writing!

    A clarification, though. I think when I said “American” in this case, I mean in the historical sense: that belief in basic human decency feels characteristically very mid-to-late-19th century American to me. Not that it was an ideal time then, about which any nostalgia would be warranted: there was the looming shadow of slavery, rampant political corruption of a sort even more shocking than we see now, brutal poverty and bigotry and exploitation and suffering. In a world like that, to hold that people were basically decent (or capable of being basically decent) seems a kind of radical optimism, in a way… just as it does now.

    You can see that sensibility in the work of the more prominent American Transcendentalists, and in Twain (even as sarcastic and realist about human beings as he often was). I think it’s survived in different ways—and to different degrees—in different places, but maybe more recognizably in the sensibility of a certain kind of thoughtful Midwesterner (where it seems pretty similar to the sensibility of your average progressive holdout on the Canadian prairie, in fact).

    I’ll be back to our ongoing discussion soon, but today’s a writing day! Onward and upward, ad astra, etc.

    1. Yeah, I think I gathered your meaning, but lately America still has some sour connotations for me. I don’t mind being in the same school of sensibility as Twain in the slightest!

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