One thing is certain. Lying on the floor is no way to write an article.
I can tell you, all you’re going to figure out is that your vacuuming is overdue. And that you have a massive and growing cobweb in one corner of the ceiling. Lit in competing layers by the desk lamp directly below and one naked light bulb dangling beside, its fibrous strands are like the white thatch above an age-pocked face with the other, empty light sockets gaping back like big hollow eyes.
Grandmother, what big eyes you have!
Go ahead. Lie there on the floor a little longer wondering why you don’t have proper light fixtures installed in any of your sockets and why you have a grandmother with wispy cobweb hair on your ceiling when Laura has a snake on hers and why she hasn’t fixed her plumbing.
Your grandmother has big eyes and Laura has a big sestina and we want to know what is the big idea of The Novelist. Maybe if you lie there for another hour, something will come to you. But don’t stay there until morning. The book will be over and you’ll still be sprawled on the floor under the cobwebs trying to figure how long the story took and how she managed the time frame the way she did.
It may have worked for Laura. But can we remember, for a moment, Laura was a fictional character? People really don’t lie around on the floor under snaking ceilings—waiting to die, or for novels (or articles) to write themselves. (I suppose you could argue that if Mary Shelley were flat on her back looking at either Laura’s ceiling or yours, it might help explain where Frankenstein came from. But it won’t get you very far with Genji and Murasaki.)
A fine scene that would be. Shelley, Murasaki, and you, stretched out on the carpet pondering the thinking process of a fictional ad copy writer with a weakness for Twitter, getting nothing done. And old Mario Vargas Llosa would be upright in a chair at the writing table, feet up off the floor for fear of a worm.
We’re reading The Novelist: a novella, by L.L. Barkat, together over the next couple of weeks. We’d love to hear what you’re thinking about the story, about the characters, even about the process of writing fiction. Perhaps you’d share your thoughts from some of the first set of questions from the reader-crafted discussion guide:
- At the opening of the book, the main character Laura resists the concept proposed by author Mario Vargas Llosa—that a writer has “a worm.” What language and past experience does she use to resist it? Why do you think she resists? By the end of the book, has her resistance proved useful?
- The book includes various writing sources, writers, and genres that Laura contemplates along the way: Letters to a Young Novelist, Plot & Structure, Mary Shelley, Murasaki and her Tale of Genji, fairytales, poetry, autobiographical fiction. What starting-points do these bring to the writing classroom or the writer?
- What are some key writing lessons that Laura learns through her thinking process?
- The Novelist suggests that a good story will put its main character into a “muddle stage” in the center of the story. In The Novelist, does Laura find herself in a muddle? If so, what is its nature?
- How long does it take for the story to take place? What writing devices does the author use to manage this time frame?
- What is the big idea in this book?
For next week, take a look at the second set of questions.
Download the discussion guide.
Read the first chapter online.