By: Chris Bell
“I think you should burn it.”
This was my first piece of literary criticism, delivered in the paperback section of Osco Drug by my disapproving grandmother. The aforementioned criticism was precipitated by my wanting to buy a book: cheap, pulp-fiction thriller ignominiously entitled Bride of Satan. Although my grandmother wasn’t referring to burning the book she currently held in her hands, she was referring to the novel-in- progress she had found in my bedroom that I had feverishly been hammering out on my electric typewriter for nights on end. As a teen-age freshman, living with my grandparents in their rural home, I didn’t have many choices to occupy my free time. I spent it reading Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and any other horror/fantasy I could get my hands on. I’ve always had an overactive imagination which fueled my creative desire to write. This is the one thing I’ve been certain of since I was that gawky, teenage boy standing in the aisle of Osco Drug suddenly having my reading choices brought under such close scrutiny.
The story I was working on was about a teenage serial killer whose method of dispatching his luckless victims was via a rail road spike. It probably wasn’t the greatest “bad horror” fiction ever penned, but certainly deserving of a better fate than the burn pile. What my grandmother failed to realize was that my story was fiction and that I harbored no personal intentions of ever harming anyone. Judging a writer personally for what they have written is unfair. It is grossly unjust to paint a portrait of a person having no personal knowledge of them except through words they have written. This sentiment was espoused numerous times in the first creative writing class I took at Western. The work presented to the reader is what should be of utmost importance and not the writer. For me to judge a writer based on what I have read is to take away from the story itself. Perusing every sentence looking for clues into the writer’s psyche and spending valuable time trying to determine whether or not events in the story actually occurred is absurd at best and does a great disservice to the writer, especially in a work of fiction. A lot of fiction does have some element of truth ingrained in them, but that doesn’t give the reader the right to make wholesale judgments upon the character of the writer. In all the creative writing workshops I’ve taken I have never personally judged any of my peers. I gave their writing the respect it deserved and critiqued it to the best of my ability. And I have never had anyone in those workshops ever pass judgment on me or cast aspersions onto my moral fiber–even though I’m sure it was warranted at times.
I enjoy reading about the lives of writers and some of my favorite writers haven’t always been the best people, but that has never changed the way I’ve viewed their work. Their work and their words are a testament to hours of sacrifice and isolation to present the reading public the fruits of their labor. Sometimes the stories are great, other times not so much. But, hey, who am I to judge?