Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Art and Intellect: Is There an Ability Threshold for Good Writing?

Stephen King: Enough Intellect in His Art?

No art form puts more demands on that critical bonding of intellect and talent than writing. Real writing, I mean--great writing, ideas put on paper by writers who took the time to dip far back into their deep well of learning, sort it out, process it, shake it up, jerk it around, look at it this way and that way, and turn it upside down, and only then weave what's left into great literature.

There are millions of "writers" out there, lots and lots of us, but out of those millions, there may arise three, maybe four--who knows--great ones. This digital age of self-publishing has allowed the literary world to be flooded with junk, or as was said in the documentary film, "Press, Pause, Play,"  the world is being covered by the gray goo of mediocrity and consumers have lost their sense of what is good or not good.

What separates the mediocre--or even downright crap--from greatness? Here's my list:

     1. Ability--Like it or not, producing art is an elitist endeavor. The great democratization of writing allowed by the digital age, by everyone having access to self-publishing--is a great lie. There are only a few who have the talent to write well.

     2. Intellect--Great writing is, initially, an exercise of the intellect. There is a threshold of cognitive ability below which great writing cannot occur. When I was studying psychology in college, they told us that threshold was an I.Q. of 115. Below that, forget being creative, above that, it doesn't matter; a person with an I.Q. of 130 is not necessarily more creative than a person with an I.Q. of 120. But then, I.Q. is such a multi-faceted phenomenon, who can tell? The only proof will be in the product. For example, J.D. Salinger's I.Q. (according to Army records) was 110. John Kennedy's was 124. I suspect the range of those I.Q.s was large; that is, I.Q. is not a single number. Your ability in math might be 115, while your verbal abilities could be significantly higher.

     3. Intent--Great writers intend to write great literature. It is their purpose, their one desire. Imagine Hemingway intentionally sitting down at his Smith-Corona with his day's goal to write a cheap romance novel or get-rich-quick sci-fi? To the great writers, writing is an all-or-nothing deal; I write my best or I don't write. If I realized that what I have written is garbage, it goes in the fire.

     4. Learning the craft: Great writers spend years learning the craft of writing. You don't learn to play the piano in a week. I suspect many of today's self-publishing writers have spent little time at the hard task of learning how to write and have little patience for having their work reviewed and critiqued by legitimate editors. Rejection is painful and by self-publishing, we by-pass this inconvenient truth.

Of course, there is nothing to be done about the brave new world of digital-age self-publishing. It will continue unabated. In the end, I suspect it will all sort itself out and the great ones that are now drowning in that sea of gray goo will somehow be recognized. I think may well be the discriminating consumer of literature who devises a way to winnow out the wheat from the chaff, maybe by taking the time to look at who is publishing a writer before buying.

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