I think there is a difference between popular writing and fine literature; certainly, some “fine literature” is nothing more than mental masturbation, and some pop fiction is artistically and beautifully crafted. More than being two ends of a continuum, the two types are more like lazy rivers that sometimes connect and in the end feed into a great sea.
Or…something like that.
You can probably tell from my great analogy!fail there that I don’t sail the “fine literature” waters as a rule. When I try, it comes off as disturbing or pretentious, and probably both. No, I know my strength, and that is as a popular storyteller. My writing, my art (I draw), and even my college career do not reach for artistic heights. I reach for the story.
And people like that. I have readers who love my stories, and don’t shy away from telling me so. People to whom, sometimes, my stories mean something. My non-fiction book on grief and mourning as an adult orphan really touches people, or so they say, and that is so important to me I just want to cry sometimes.
But great literature? Ahhhh, not so much.
That should not bother me, but it does. In our Western culture (the one in which I live), there is a huge dichotomy between popular storytelling and what is considered “art”. Artists get tremendous respect, but also pity for being so unmarketable; popular storytellers are admired if they are financially successful but scorned otherwise. Day jobbers, or hack writers, are considered to be the authorial equivalent of hookers, generally speaking.
Yet that’s all I ever wanted to be.
James White, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, etc. were my role models as a young girl, and that’s what I wanted to write: fun, engaging stories. I admire Ursula K. LeGuin and CJ Cherryh and China Miéville, but I know my limits. I’ll never write a Downbelow Station or a Bas Lag series, and Jeff Vandermeer would not even bother to read my work, I don’t think. No, I’m pretty certain, actually.
Still, I’m haunted by my mother’s expectations (she was an English Literature groupie) and the idea that I have “so much potential” which I am wasting just by telling my romantic, erotic, fun stories. I’m old enough to have moved past these kinds of unsettling self-doubts.
Edited: corrected China Miéville’s name. FFS. *face!palm*