Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Great AmCan Novel



That is a reliquary in the form of of the head of Emperor Charlemagne.
Cathedral Treasury, Aachen.

People don't always realize that our whole knowledge of ancient literature is largely due to the collecting and copying that went on, by order, under Charlemagne.

Part of being a writer is, I think, an observation of the millieu and those that occupy it.
Leaving aside the natural confidence necessary for a writer, how many secretly think they have written the Great Novel of This Era?
The claim is made, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes not, that every writer privately and profoundly believes that he or she has.
Since I began blogging, I think I've run across only a handful of proclamations of this sort - serious assertions of conceit, announcements of arrogance, assumptions of genius.
Are there many more, humbly cloaked but self-crowned, waiting for the appropriate time to fling off their social camouflage - muh-ha-ha - and reveal themselves above the rabble as magnus and majesty?
Have always assumed that most of the canaille are like me -we think, we believe, we've written a good novel, a publishable novel, a profitable novel - but are under no ambitious illusions that our work will shake the walls of western civilization like the trumpets at Jericho, that our name will reverberate down the long years as one of the Greats, or that the Smithsonian will want our brain and finger bones.
Your thoughts on this secret citadel?

26 comments:

Steve G said...

I have attained greatness in my dreams. The only drawback is when I wake up.

Bernita said...

Obviously, I'm the small-minded sort, Steve ...I don't have such fantasies awake or a-dream.

Ric said...

I harbor no such alllusions. Tis not Pynchon I'm writing here, but more Stephen King / Nicholas Sparks. Not great literature, but readable, accessible, and, he says humbly, much more salable.

Anonymous said...

"Have always assumed that most of the canaille are like me -we think, we believe, we've written a good novel, a publishable novel, a profitable novel - but are under no ambitious illusions that our work will shake the walls of western civilization like the trumpets at Jericho, that our name will reverberate down the long years as one of the Greats . . ."

Stephen King may have been thinking the same thing.

Bernita said...

Yanno (tm) Ric, I think Time decides what is "great" literature.

Certainly, King's writing is much greater than the early critics believed, Anon.

MissWrite said...

I know I haven't, and will not. I don't even ascribe to. I simply want to write decent entertainment for average folks like myself.

That's not to say that some of those decent entertainment books won't become GAN's. I doubt seriously that Twain (Samuels) considered himself a GANist--yet he is. Occassionally it works out in a way you just can't predict. Personally, it's my belief that if you set out to write the Great American (or AMCAN) novel you're probably going to miss the boat and simply be a Great Pretentious Novelist. LOL

If a writer does happen to pick upon a deep rooted subject matter that he/she feels deeply about and can write about from the heart, it just may turn out to be the Great American Novel...whether he/she set out to write it or not.

writtenwyrdd said...

I am convinced that, as a proper and natural part of our writerly psyches, we all have a deep-down and mostly unshakeable conviction that we are the Next Great Thing After Peanutbutter.

But we hide that light lest someone come along and steal our precious ideas.

If we didn't have that schizo mind, we probably would have a more productive job/avocation to obsess over...like cheesemaking.

Bernita said...

Well said, Tami.

Hmm, then I must be a freak of nature, Written. I've plumbed my psyche pretty deeply and can find no sign of such a conviction, or even of such a hope.
Perhaps a lack of that secret egotism indicates I'm not a REAL writer.

EA Monroe said...

Bernita! I already said it once this morning -- you are a REAL WRITER!

Bernita said...

Donno, Liz.
Somehow I never seem to fit the checklist profiles and the straight jackets.

spyscribbler said...

Funny, Steve! I think it's split down the middle. When JA Konrath mentioned something of the sort, I remember a whole lot of writers chiming in that they felt like you.

When I finish something, I feel like it's total crap and completely horrible and embarrassing. I swear to God, if I didn't need the money, I probably wouldn't send it out. I never read it again, unless I have to for research in a sequel. Usually, if enough time has passed, I feel like someone else wrote it. I can't even remember it. So even if I like it then, I can't take credit for it, LOL.

Robyn said...

I harbor no illusions either, Ric. As King said, I write the literary equivalent of a burger and fries.

Rick said...

Not only have I not written The Great American Novel - I wouldn't particularly want to. To me the phrase connotes the sort of book that hardly anyone would actually read for pleasure, but only because they thought they were supposed to. Sort of like Great Expectations.

(Which may actually be a great book, but not one teenagers are likely to appreciate - I suspect you need more years and life experience to appreciate the whole Miss Havisham thing. Yet they shove it down everyone's throat in high school.)

Bernita said...

Can't say I think what I write is TOTAL crap, Spy - just not anything to get excited about.

Just about everyone loves burgers and fries, Robyn.

So true, Rick,even today I cannot abide Dickens.
And that's a good question.
Who would want to write the Great CanAm, unless it was read for pleasure?

Zany Mom said...

I read commercial fiction. I write commercial fiction. My goal is to be published the usual way, if possible.

Do I think I've written the great American novel? No. I do think I have a decent idea that would translate into a cool action movie, but nothing earth shattering. Just a slightly different twist on the typical suspense plot.

Anonymous said...

Rick makes a very good point about the GAN and reading for pleasure. But, I'm sure many writers out there would not mind having their novels mentioned (positively) in the same catagory as The Catcher in the Rye (yuck) or Moby Dick as great classics. My writing was recently referred to as Lovecraftian by none other than our gracious host. I'd never heard of the man, but after researching him I take that as a compliment. I know, I know. It doesn't mean I'm as good as Lovecraft. But, I still do not mind.

archer said...

No, I am not Nabokov. So what? Titanic earned a billion dollars. That is mainstream, everyday stuff. If my next everyday, mainstream book is made into a movie, and my agent's cut is only fifteen per cent, that leaves me eight hundred fifty million to play with. For that I can buy peace in the mideast(I will bribe everyone to stop fighting). This will end the wider spread of violent fundamentalism and bring peace on earth, for which I will claim all the credit and get a big tax break. So you see there is really no need to live in a dreamworld.

writtenwyrdd said...

The great american/canadian novel is different than being the next best thing after peanutbutter, IMO.

What I meant is that we all believe in our writing or we wouldn't be nutty enough to keep on doing it.

And you surely must be the exception proving the rule, Bernita!

Bernita said...

That's much the way I feel, Zany, sans the movie bit.

Always thought Lovecraft gave magnificent atmosphere, Anon- though I suppose his style is considered passe now - but then I'm not allergic to adjectives.
It was meant as a compliment.I would have liked to see more of that story.

Archer, I am glad you are not Nabokov. He was such a snot.

Oh, I agree that we all believe we have something to contribute, Written,or we wouldn't bother.

December Quinn said...

I'd just be happy if my work was actually publishable, and not a collection of boring chatty scenes with wooden characters, the way it feels when I'm done writing.


And gasp, Bernita, don't you know there was no literacy in the middle ages or before? No books, no written stories! Why, people still read hieorglyphs at that point in time. :rolleyes.

Rick said...

Anyway, who knows what will be regarded a hundred years from now as the Great American Novel of our era?

In his own time Shakespeare was a hack TV writer, except that you had to be in the studio audience to watch the show.

Candice Gilmer said...

Very valid point, Rick, about Shakespeare.

In my dreams, I'm on Oprah's book club...

Then I wake up...

But that doesn't mean I think my writing woudln't warrent attention, I just think that I write what I would read, and hopefully, I'm not the only one...

Bernita said...

Ouch!
Have you run into a lot of that sort of thing, December?

Exactly, Rick.
I don't understand this immediate projection, the expectation of lasting fame.


That's the sane attitude, Candice.

December Quinn said...

Oh, yes, I certainly did Bernita. YES.

ScaramoucheX said...

Hey...I am certain that I proclaimed to you, Bernita, mine own genius, and you did not buy it. Do you count me amomng those you mention, the arrogant, the vain, et cetera? Because if so, you are right....
Still...I do feel most like a genius when I write...so there!

ScaramoucheX said...

Yaaas, now I remember: you suggested I "step away from the bong". So prescient, so telling... :)