By: Michael C. Keith
I try to deny myself illusions or delusions, and I think that this perhaps entitles me to try and deny the same to others, as long as they refuse to keep their fantasies to themselves.
–– Christopher Hitchens
People were clearly not reading Barry Cliff’s short stories online or purchasing his books the way they had when he began to publish. Of late, he received little response when he posted a new work on social media––the number of “likes” they got on Facebook was fewer and fewer. This puzzled and frustrated Barry and prompted him to question the content and nature of his tales. Yes, they were clearly quite dark and typically condemning of the human condition, but that had been his intent.
“People don’t like to read gloomy tales, even if they contain basic truths,” offered his friend and fellow writer, Zak Berman, when Barry complained about his nearly non-existent readership.
“My fiction conveys the truth about life and its tragic realities. I feel an author should write what he feels and do so with conviction, even if his words are hard to swallow and disturb people.”
“Well, I agree with that, but writers have to deal with the consequences of their views. You write stories that are pretty depressing. People would prefer not to face the bleaker aspects of existence. Your pieces contain themes that are upsetting to the average reader, so folks avoid them . . . even though what you do is well written and possesses real merit. In the end, attacking people’s faith and debunking their beliefs is going to turn them off, Barry.”
“I’m not attacking anyone’s beliefs. I’m simply putting forth my position on the ridiculous dogma that plagues our society.”
“Don’t be defensive, Barry. I’m just giving you my views on the subject. You asked for my thoughts.”
“I’m not being defensive, but what you’re saying, Zak, is that I should lighten up if I want to attract more readers? In other words, be more warm and fuzzy, right?”
“No, I’m not saying you should fill your prose with uplifting platitudes and sentimental plots. You must be you and not compromise your vision for the sake of a bigger audience. But if it bugs you that you’re not being read, maybe you should add a little more cheer and hopefulness in your stories. You don’t have to be Dave Barry or Nicholas Sparks, but a little chuckle and some positivity go a long way.”
Barry contemplated Zak’s suggestions and decided to steer his writing in a more life-affirming direction. I think I can do that and get my essential message across to the reader, he thought. I won’t be selling out, and maybe I will appeal to a larger audience.
The first thing he wrote that embraced this new mindset was a piece optimistically entitled: A World of Goodness. The opening paragraph reflected the tone and spirit of the entire story:
The sun rose and washed the porch in a golden glow. Although Calvin could
not see the spectacular sunrise because he was blind, he appreciated the warmth
that accompanied it as he sat in his wheelchair paralyzed from the waist down. God is great, thought Calvin, even if I was born without the sight to witness His magnificent creations or the ability to walk among them . . .
Barry’s new story failed to win him a broader fan base, and the reaction to it by his friend, Zak, fell significantly short of his expectations.
Michael C. Keith teaches college and writes fiction. http://www.michaelckeith.com