I was speaking with someone recently about writing and art. I mentioned that I had several books in print and the person asked point blank, “So, you’re a novelist.”
It should have been an easy question. I do indeed have two novels out in the world. “The Last Man,” and “Broken,” as well as a war memoir, “Everything for Love.” Two of those are very definitely fiction, and are categorized as novels. I could quite easily have nodded and said, “yep, I write novels.” But I don’t write novels. At least that is never my intention. I have said on many occasions that I am working on a new novel, but I can honestly say that I have set out to write a new novel, and here is why.
It should have been an easy question, but I honestly didn’t know quite how to answer. Do I say yeah, and then have them expect something that can be read in an afternoon and then discarded for the next junk-lit craving? Do I pompously proclaim that I only write real literature for real thinking people? Both answers seem condescending in their own right.
A novel is a relatively simple thing to write. Spy, intrigue, horror, romance and action genres are simple. they are formulas, plugging into simple emotions and visceral reactions. I have dozens of sketches for such stories, as do most writers, I’m sure. They come easily, inspired by events of the day, a news headline, a simple fantasy, what have you. Not that all those novels are all bad, the same way a bit of chocolate, or a little fast food has their place in a reasonable diet.
My goal is to tell an extraordinary story. My intention is to place that story in some sort of context with the human heart and to draw connections between hearts. By design or coincidence, the length it takes to tell those stories corresponds to the length of a novel.
In the end, it is all about the story. it isn’t junk lit, nor is it high-brow literature. It isn’t artsy or trendy, and it isn’t the sweeping war novels and adventure stories I dreamt of writing when I was young. what I have done is what I am proud of. I have written those extraordinary stories, standing alone against impossible odds, finding love and humanity amid war, and finding peace and perspective after returning affected and changed by war. My heroes are average folks finding their way in the world and through life, like each of us.
Do I write novels? I suppose I do. Am I a novelist? That is another question entirely, and for me, the toughest question.