What Kind of Writer is the Editor Looking For?
I'm Alana K. Asby, the editor of the AJIL.
Here's a short list of my favorite poets and fiction-writers, in no particular order.
A. E. Housman
Arthur Conan Doyle
P. G. Wodehouse
Robert Luis Stevenson
C. S. Lewis
J. R. R. Tolkien
C. S. Forester
W. B. Yeats
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edgar Allen Poe
G. K. Chesterton
Albert Payson Terhune
J. K. Rowling
Elizabeth B. B. Browning
Booth Tarkington (comic works)
Mary Roberts Rinehart (comic and detective novels)
Honorable mention: O. Henry, who mastered the short-story form, but frequently wrote on matters no one cares about.
I often enjoy certain commercially-oriented contemporary storytellers, such as Stephen King and Lillian Jackson Braun. The list above is meant to indicate a range covering the type of work I'd like to publish in this journal. For instance, I do not publish horror (I know Stephen King isn't really a horror writer, but many people do not) and I look for a certain elevation of style that the comfortably classy world of James T. Qwilleran doesn't attempt (he reminds me, pleasantly, of my debonair, world-traveling, slightly alcoholic maternal grandfather.)
I am not concerned with contemporaneity; your work does not need to sound like it was written yesterday. It simply needs to have a cohesive style and succeed at whatever it attempts. If you can perfectly replicate the style of Edmund Spenser, send me a sample of that, please.
My ideal writer is described below, from the point of view of character. However in reality, writers are never perfect, of course, and the writing matters most.
The Ideal Writer Possesses:
Notable purity of heart
This writer does not show off his morality consciously; that would subvert the purpose of literature and is unnecessary.
The core of being, one’s heart, is the spring from which all spiritual and soulish streams arise. It is the stream from which thought and language arise. Accordingly, its disposition inevitably colors one’s creative output.
If you consciously or instinctively avoid situations and actions which trouble you somewhere deep within, you are of the few. If you pursue the same policy in your writing, you are of the fewer. Sadly, this rules out many highly educated writers, who unfortunately have been taught that art should seek to trouble and disturb. It is my belief that nothing disturbs the heart but the contemplation of evil.
A literary viewpoint devoted to goodness
This writer produces work that is uncorrupted by nihilism, by moral relativism, or by postmodern recharacterisations of good and evil, high and low, worthy and unworthy, authority and devotion. It should also be uncorrupted by personal or corporate grievances and resentment, or by any other false-starting consideration which diverts the writer's attention from the focus of art, which is aesthetic above all.
I have been told that my insistence on goodness as a characteristic of true literature "risks misunderstanding the true purpose of art." I understand that art is not properly pedagogical; not a stand-in for Sunday Schools. I understand that everything in a work of art must be put in for the sake of its intrinsic worthiness to claim a human being's attention; for its ability to move the human heart.
What my challengers fail to understand is that there is more than one way to "misunderstand the true purpose of art" in relation to this question. When artists move the human heart, but move it toward evil, that is a corruption of the purpose of art. Not least because evil is ugly, only borrowing a seemingness of beauty from what it corrupts.
And only goodness is worthy the level of attention that art provokes. I call this kind of attention contemplation; it is a kind of unity.
I do love beauty for its own sake; but I understand that when I have created something for the sake of beauty, there remains a further "sake" for which beauty has being. This ultra-teleological aesthetic awareness is something that I believe is shared naturally, though often inarticulately, by all people who have not been educated out of it. Your reader will expect you to grasp that your beautiful art-work needs to mean something; that it needs to bear some reference to the ultimate source of Beauty, which is good, and Good beyond good.
A profound and uncorrupted imagination
This writer works from an inner vision, infused with insight, which synthesizes nature’s parts into interesting new figures. These figures seem as if they could be real, given the deep nature of things.
Moreover, this writer is not given over to the imagining of evil. He does not habitually play devil in his imaginary worlds. The primary reason for this is aesthetic; goodness is original and no one can gain deep insight into the nature of things without remaining uncorrupted in his vision of those things.
I do realize that there is no story that satisfies the human heart, sore in the battle against real evil, but the story of subduing evil. To that end, evil must be represented and occasionally depicted in art. The FAQ page of this website does offer a discussion of this problem. Here, I will simply say that in art devoted to goodness, the virtuous artist presents evil from the viewpoint of the Good Man - someone better even than himself - and thus keeps himself, his work, and his reader, outside of that evil. (The Silmarillion is an excellent example. The Count of Monte Cristo is another.)
It is my belief that no one understands evil truly but the one who remains entirely outside of it, for evil distorts the understanding. Art, of course, portrays this situation in miniature and in representations, as it does all reality.
I also believe this is the true meaning of the story of the Fall in Genesis, with its tree whose fruit is Knowledge - the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Fruit should not be eaten until ripe; and the knowledge of evil should not be undertaken until the knower is firmly established in Goodness. Understanding this, the virtuous artist keeps his reader's human frailty in mind.
Sensory delicacy or power
This writer's awareness of sound clearly distinguishes between beautiful and ugly uses of language. This capacity, when cultivated, makes a writer capable of heightened literary music, as in traditional poetry.
A mind furnished by the great thinkers
This writer evidences his cultivation not only by quotations, which can indicate superficial familiarity, but by a recognizable character of thought, an awareness of the important questions and their best answers, and a subduing of literary vanity and self-indulgence.
A trans-epochal command of the English language
This writer fearlessly rises above the flatness and dullness of contemporary usage.
A practiced literary style
This writer wields words, syntax, and rhetoric elegantly, efficiently, and powerfully. He is adept at avoiding awkwardness and naivety in his work, even when he cannot avoid them in real life.
A healthy inventive faculty
This writer astonishes the reader with situations, characters, settings, problems, and solutions he does not expect.
A sufficient level of literacy
This writer is able to understand the above list without too frequent recourse to the dictionary.