Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A novel should be novel ...

"It's always struck me as elemental,"says Jonathan Karp, "that a novel should be novel." in an interview in the Nov.-Dec. Writers and Poets. Karp is the editor in chief of Twelve, the publishing company. He goes on to say, "I've never understood why somebody would write a novel knowing that the story has been done millions of times before. If your work is not novel on the conceptual level, I'm not sure why you should expect somebody to stop what he's doing and pay attention."

Mr. Karp seems to prefer nonfiction that is serious and impactful. He publishes twelve books a year and gives each great attention and publicity. He goes on to note that no less a novelist than Norman Mailer once predicted that novelists would come to have "the cultural influence of landscape painters." This makes Mr. Karp conclude, "if you're setting out to write a novel, or literary nonfiction, for that matter, I think you have to have very high standards."

Mr. Karp's comments leave me feeling pulled left and right at the same time. I search for those novels with something novel to tell me, I try to avoid the ones that offer nothing new [or novel] and I feel cheated when I am disappointed by the same old, same old. On the other hand I began a novel in the NanNoWriMo frenzy and am now struggling to find out how it ends. While I think the characters are novel and are unlike ones written about previously I'm wondering about how high my standards are for my own work. I'm having such a good time getting to know my characters and trying to figure out how to make them vivid and alive that my writing time seems almost playtime. Probably I'm aiming for a nice landscape painting. I will not submit it to Twelve, I'm not even sure I'll be able to find anyone to publish it. But I am not young and ambitious as I once imagined I was; I am now older and more easy going with myself but my opinions and standards for works of art have become more demanding. So a double standard ... not such a novel situation.

[the photo is in Cracow - it feels like a moment in a Central European novel - could the lone young man be a novelist?]

[Second thought: I don't believe I ever enlarged this photo before. I certainly didn't look carefully at the man in the background. It was quite early in the morning and I was wandering around before breakfast as I'm apt to do when traveling, hardly anyone was out yet. Now that I look and think about it, the man seems to be using that pretty building as his personal urinal. Hmmm....]


Kass said...

Hmmm, indeed. This idea of having what we offer in novel form be novel is a great reminder to me - not that I intend on writing one, but for my writing, in general. When I first visited your blog, you made a comment about the writing in blogs that was whiny and self-absorbed, or something like that and it was a good wake-up call for me. I love to read other people's take on the world. All of your posts have been eye-openers for one reason or another. Thanks.

June Calender said...

Thanks, Kass, I think we have a mutual admiration society going. My photography doesn't begin to touch yours.