In preparation of his upcoming signing at The Poisoned Pen on March 25, I recently traded e-mails with multi-genre award winning author Dan Simmons about his new novel, The Fifth Heart. Set in the 1890s, the novel follows the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and author Henry James as they investigate the suicide of Clover Adams, wife of noted historian Henry Adams. The catch: Sherlock Holmes has come to the realization that he is merely a fictional character.
And as an added bonus, here is his reaction to the controversial blog post about how only those born with an innate gift for language should bother with an MFA:
I started publishing later in life (but not “writing” late — I was writing in college, 1966-’70, and won a Phi Beta Kappa award for my work, and continued writing from graduation from Wabash College in 1970 on), but because I’d also gotten an MA in Education in 1971, I taught elementary-grade kids for 18 years, and loved it a lot. So I didn’t start trying to become a published writer until almost two decades of loving the teaching profession.
As far as MFA’s go, I confess my own bias of feeling that MFA’s often tend to train people to run other MFA programs better than to dare to become real writers themselves, but that’s small of me. I do think that a quality college-or-beyond education is vitally important to most modern writers. Hemingway, no college graduate he, wrote at a time when about 5% Americans went to college. Today the number is closer to 60%.
Again, to me, it comes down to a sort of required humility as a writer. Stephen King once told me over dinner that there were two things that a writer couldn’t “screw up” without hearing about it for decades — details of guns and cars. He was right, of course, but in an increasingly educated populace, there are hundreds of missed-learning-about-it areas which the reader may know about infinitely better than does the author. At the very least, a writer has to tap dance through such minefields in a convincing manner. Better yet, the “facts” and sense of knowledge of them from the writer should be — or at least feel — solid and hard-earned.
For Simmons’ thoughts on politics and literature and how the polarization of our country has affected an author’s ability to tell a story, click here.
— Michael Senft