Is every friggin' person in America writing a novel? Yes, absolutely, every friggin' person in America is writing a novel or so it can seem and so drives me to such an outrageous hyperbole.
I do, though, have it on good authority based on a set of statistics that I have just made up, that 72.95 percent of Americans are either writing, have written, or have published a novel within the last year. And that dismays me, rends my heart, and darkens my mind, for I am part of that fictitious (he said, ironically), but possibly not far from the mark, 72.95 percent, and I have always hated being part of the crowd.
The culprits may be many, but the two biggest villains are technology (of course) and public education. Let's consider our vaunted universal public education first.
Better it would be that every child in America be taught in the privacy of their own home, most likely learning nothing, than be educated at public expense and potentially learn everything. For what is one of the first things these proto-adults are forced to learn? The skill of writing. They are taught the alphabet, which, much like the soup it was named after, goes down easily.
Soon they are combining the 26 individual letters in the alphabet into dangerous combinations called words, then they are forced by agents of the State to combine those words into sentences, which are, as has been well established, the gateway to alarming paragraphs containing whole --and, on occasion, coherent -- thoughts. Thus millions and millions of people are let loose upon America every year embedded with the skill of writing and with very little supervision.
And then there is the technology. The publishing of novels use to be a citadel with a huge, heavy gate and massively vigilant gatekeepers.
Not everyone deserved to get in. Not everyone who did deserve to get in got in easily. Some deserving scribblers never got in at all, so the legends go. It was fun! But now, even though the massively vigilant gatekeepers still stand by their huge, heavy gates doing the bidding of their corporate masters, through the technology of digital publishing -- whether it be publish-on-demand trade paperbacks, ebooks, or even audiobooks -- breaches in the walls of the citadel have been knocked in by, most prominently, Amazon.com.
Now anybody and everybody who have written a novel of whatever quality can upload it to some cloud somewhere and soon it will appear on its own dedicated webpage available for internet purchase -- just like all those books which were welcomed through the gates.
It's like a frontier land rush -- thousands upon thousands of literary settlers charging forth at the firing of a gun to claim their small creative homesteads.
But how many of them will be able to work the land at least competently and make a go of their homestead, turn it into a thriving (financially and/or creatively) ranch or farm providing tasty mental sustenance?
Well, the cream always rises to the top, I am told.
But how do I know that? I buy my milk in a supermarket -- and it's homogenized. Indeed, my fear is that with this flash flood of fiction, this tsunami of tales, this stampede of stories, the general reading public will not be able to tell the milk from the cream and may well think that all novels are just a single serving of curds in one big bowl.
Why would I have such a concern? Well, some of the writers who have recently published novels don't seem to have even a rudimentary understanding of what a novel is. I have several times seen postings from wannabe novelists asking for advice on how to write their first "fictional novel." One accomplished young writer who has finished and published a novel has even, on the book's Facebook page, proudly subtitled her tome: "A Fictional Novel." And then there is the marketing professional who has published a first novel and was interviewed on the internet.
Q: You call your novel a work of fictionality. Can you explain what fictionality is?
A: Fictionality is essentially a fictional novel that incorporates elements of reality. The storyline is completely fictional. However, some of the characters, businesses and business ideas that are used fictitiously in the novel are based on real people and companies.
Q: What made you choose fictionally as a genre?
A: As a marketing professional, I'm all about impact through creativity. A fictional novel is definitely creative, and bringing it to life -- well, that's an opportunity for impact. While I was outlining the novel and creating scenes, it occurred to me that the novel could serve a dual purpose. There is an obviously entertainment aspect, but I also saw it as the perfect marketing tool for a business venture; the same business venture the main character is involved in, actually.
I realized I could make the fantasy real. Marketing is about attracting the attention of a specific demographic and getting them interested enough in a product or service that they actually buy or use it. What better way to not only grab a consumer's attention, but also spur their interests, than a thrilling novel?
I would have thought a well-funded TV ad campaign would be a better way -- but what do I know.
Why are these people crowding my field of artistic endeavor? Why is there not 72.95 percent of Americans writing and publishing and YouTubing symphonies or painting paintings on iPads like David Hockney? Simply because if you cannot, as my dear old mother used to say, "carry a tune in a bucket" you are not going to fool anyone -- including yourself -- that you can. And the same is true if you can't draw a recognizable person or landscape. But, thanks to public education, almost everyone has the basic skill of writing, and it is easy to fool oneself that that is all it takes to write a novel. Talent or, as a science fiction writer who has talent recently proclaimed on his Facebook page, "literary quality be damned" (and shame on him).
And yet, I stand with my friend, the late Ray Bradbury, in refusing to discourage anyone -- anyone -- from picking up pen and paper or the technologically advanced equivalents of same, and writing a novel. Ray loved to write,
was passionate about it, received his greatest joy from it, and, being an extremely generous man, wanted others to feel that same joy of creativity, of self-expression. So, to honor his memory, I would never discourage even the "authors" detailed above. No matter how much I might want to.
But I do hold the nervous hope that the white noise of fictional novels fictitiously fostering fictionality will not drown out the true literary music in the air.
Steven Paul Leiva's latest book is Searching for Ray Bradbury: Writings about the Writer and the Man (Blüroof Press) and By the Sea, a comic novel, will be released later this year by Crossroad Press.
Follow Steven Paul Leiva on Twitter: www.twitter.com/StevenPaulLeiva