Anyone seen "Dead Poets Society?" Do you remember that poetry lesson where they tear a page out of the textbook?
That was my high school's AP English textbook.
Besides having an unenlightened view of poetry, the book preached that there were two types of fiction: escapist commercial fluff on the one hand, and serious valuable literature on the other. Commercial fiction and literature were mutually exclusive. Like broccoli and chocolate sauce, they don't go together. It was as if there was a Conservation of Awesomeness, so that the more fun a book was, the less it could have something valuable to say.
I didn't buy it.
That textbook sent me on a life-long quest to find books that were not only fun to read, but were well-written and honest about the human experience. It sent me on a quest to write such books myself. As I got deeper in to the craft of writing I learned how difficult it could be. Why not lie to the reader, pull a few gimmicks, and then cheerfully collect their money? Definitely the easier road.
But the great classics, the books with true staying power, are those that defy the law of Conservation of Awesomeness.
This past week I went to a writer's workshop. My teacher, who has published dozens of books and worked in the film industry for many years, taught us what goes into creating a delicious read. Books don't become bestsellers by accident. There's a science to it, a method that can be learned. And that method is, as I suspected, mostly independent of the soul of the book. I could write a thrilling roller-coaster ride of a book that doesn't have anything valuable to say, or I could write a thrilling roller-coaster ride of a book that shares something important I've learned about life. Sure, the entertainment industry is full of pirates and gangsters that only care about separating people from their money, but there are a few who really care about what they're saying, who know that communication in all its forms can change the world for the better.
Words give us the power to share experience. The more satisfying and fun to read my book is, the more people will want to read it, and the more readers will share what's inside of me that's aching to be said.
And that would be truly awesome.