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What is the novel, in any case? This beautiful and ever-entrancing art form has many definitions. Here are a few:

"A novel is a narrative of a certain length that has something wrong with it."  —Anonymous

Having written many, I can testify to that. A novel is never finished. Finally, I just wind down and write THE END.

"I am a man alive, and as long as I can, I intend to go on being a man alive. For this reason, I am a novelist. And being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet, who are all great masters of different bits of man alive, but never get the whole hog."  —D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence goes to the heart of the matter for me. I can never stop reading him. He is the gravy train of novelists.

"James Joyce exemplifies how the serious 20th century novelist may feel called upon to purify his art in the service of a perplexed and rudderless human consciousness. Such writers pursue their vocation with dedicated passion."  —Miriam Allott

Joyce is pure all right and unapproachable but he's still been a 
'spiritual' model for me since I was a teenager. Of course, I've 
borrowed some ideas and techniques from him, however few and however limited.  

"The main story of every novel is the eternal confusion of human beings."  —Henry James

Can I add to this, Henry: and how people work things out, or fail to, and why?

"There are three rules for writing a novel. The trouble is nobody knows what they are"  —W.S. Maugham

This, I think, is the truest observation.

"The solitary individual is the reason that novels are written."        —Anonymous

And yet there are many novels about groups of people and communities. One great example is Lawrence Durrell's ALEXANDRIA QUARTET.

"Coming to conclusions about the novel is as impure a process as writing one."  —Hermione Lee

I have to agree, except for James Joyce, who came to conclusions and was a pure writer.

"The purpose of the novel is to describe things as they are."      
—Gustave Flaubert

'Things as they are' -- to the writer, of course.

"We taletellers are all Ancient Mariners, and none of us is warranted in stopping Wedding Guests (in other words, the hurrying public) unless he has something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experience of every average man and woman."  —Thomas Hardy

This is generally true, but what about ULYSSES, Mr. Hardy? (I can't seem to help bringing up James Joyce again and again.)  

I might conclude with a quote from Roland Barthes' essay, "Writing and the Novel" but I fear it would end the readers' desire to write a novel (at least a conventional one), so I'm leaving it out. If readers are brave enough on their own, they will find the essay in the volume entitled: WRITING DEGREE ZERO (1953).


     I finish one novel and start another, either on paper or in my head, or both. I am not bragging, just describing my method and practice. Storytelling -- be it simple, complex, realistic, ironic, satiric, anarchic, or fantastic -- is what I spend my days doing (besides reading). I like probing. Milan Kundera calls the novel “existential soundings.? I think that’s pretty accurate.

     I’ll start with a situation and some characters, then focus on watching them work their problems out, or fail to. It’s more complex than that but that’s the idea. My latest novel – a short one, really a novella, is called PULLING A GAUGUIN. It begins with Caril Bridgewater’s flight from her suburban trap to become a serious painter. The idea –a switch on the Gauguin story – came to me in 1988. I wrote about 100 pages and then dropped it. I don’t know why. I just lost interest, I guess. It stayed that way for 25 years. I never thought about it or looked at it (although Gauguin’s life and his paintings were ever on my mind somewhere) until 2011 when I happened upon it, by accident, in a mess of mss. I found I still liked the idea of a blocked woman taking off for the tropics in search of beauty and artistic fulflllment, but I didn’t care of the rest of the ms. So I ditched it and decided to start over. What will happen to this woman became my creative problem andwhat will her husband do about it? 

     That was the situation I faced and for the next year (on and off, of course) I probed, invented, elaborated, and created her new world and her husband’s effort to find and try to reclaim her. I didn’t know each day what was going to happen to them until I sat down to write. Slowly, day by day, something did happen, and after four edits and re-writes, I completed what turned out to be a novella, c. 40,000 words. 

     Now to get some opinions. I have three fairly objective readers who are willing to take the time to read and digest PAG, then let me know what they think of it. In a few days, I’ll reproduce copies and send them off. And wait. What you’ve just read it pretty much my fate as a writer. When the reports come in I’ll make them available here.  

     Do I like what I’ve done? Fairly so, but I’m already wondering if PAG should be longer. It ends ambiguously on a note of danger for Caril and I’m suddenly curious to see how Caril’s whole experience will turn out. For the time being, I’ll wait to see what my readers have to say.