The Difference between Literature and Life…


…is that literature has to make sense. We want endings to the tales we read that wrap up the story neatly. We want to understand how all of the details the author presented to us in the story conspired to bring about the ending.

We, as readers, have to come to expect literature to explain our lives to us. I find that rather humorous, since Life almost never makes sense, endings are rarely happy and the good guys almost never win (though we always seem to muddle through somehow).

But we expect the stories we read to make sense. Perhaps because that gives us some hope that we can organize our lives in the same way that authors lay out their novels. You know, create an outline for our lives and then just stick to it the way a really good author sticks to his (or her) outline.

And if we can do that, why, of course our lives will come out just the way we expect them to.

Yeah, right. Sure, it will.

Not bloody likely, Mate.

I stopped writing like that way back in the tenth grade. Right about the same time I realized my life was not what I wanted, at all. Right about the same time I began to read biographies and histories (and not the ones our teachers made us read for class, either).

Life, just in case you haven’t looked out a window recently, is chaos. And here’s a real  shocker for you – it always has been. The old saw about how “The only constant in life is change” is all too true.

Write about Life, and about how your characters react to the changes in their lives. Good or bad, write about how the decisions they make affect their lives. Write about how decisions made a thousand miles away affect their lives. Write about how a hurricane in the Caribbean and a transportation strike in Cleveland, Ohio, affects the life of a Frenchman in Berlin. Life is chaos. Really.

Write about how your characters deal with harsh reality and still manage to find love, still manage to keep their friendships strong, still manage to smile at the birth of a grandchild, still manage to hope that tomorrow will be better for their children and grandchildren.

Even though they know their children and grandchildren will face the same pressures they do, will have to make the same decisions they did, and make the same mistakes they did, and smile the same smiles and hope for the same things for their children and grandchildren.

That’s jut the way things are.

There is a place for fantasy in our lives, and in the books we read (but do remember that Grimm’s Fairy Tales – in the original versions, anyway – were truly grim and very, very scary). That is ‘escapist literature’, and I really do enjoy it from time to time. And if you do write fantasy, keep it real. Fantasy? Reality? Keep it real? Who said that?

I did. Even in fantasy stories you are dealing with people and how they react to their environment. Keep it real.

Every action has a reaction. And every decision has its unintended consequences.

Pandora’s Box was opened a long time ago, boys and girls. But there’s till hope in this world.

Write about Life, as it is. And about people, and how they cope. Dashiell Hammett was right. People want to read about people.

I will, please God, be in Green Cove Springs, Florida, on Saturday, 3 March, for their “Railroad and History Festival”. It will be held at the Clay County Historical Triangle, 915 Walnut Street, at Hwy 16 (Ferris St) between 10 am to 4 pm.

I hope to see you there.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
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