Novel Bites Man
In which a noted journalist and contributing editor of the Atlantic confesses the gory, personal details of writing, (and not writing) his first novel. The novel itself, Going All the Way, has just been published by Seymour Lawrence/Delacorte Press, and is an August selection of the Literary Guild.
Thomas Wolfe once described the writing of a novel as being comparable to a bout with a long illness, which is apt in many ways but not completely fair. The creative process is not all suffering—there is beauty as well as pain, moments of ecstasy as well as stretches of agony and frustration. As an emotional experience, it seems more than anything else like love.
Writing about any love affair is a risky business, and no matter how much one pledges to Tell The Truth, much of it is a mystery; the matter is more in the realm of magic than of logic. Still, now that it’s over and my long-suffered novel is out of my hands and (hopefully) into the bookstores, I feel a compulsion to look back and write about the ups and downs and outs of my tempestuous affair with it. Against the charge of self-indulgence, I rationalize that many others have been stricken by the passion to write a novel, and may find interest in the case history of someone who was bitten by the same creative bug. And survived.
I feel it’s important not only to tell you of the time I actually wrote the novel but also of the times I didn’t write it. If I left out those failures, then the process would sound deceptively simple and exciting good sport, the sort of thing imagined by a lady executive who remarked, on meeting a girl who had just written a novel: “Oh, how marvelous! That’s what we’re all going to do when we have the time!”
People ask me how long it took to write it, and I don’t really know the answer. All my life, in one sense. If you date it from the time I first tried to write it, then it would be a nice round decade; ten mothering years. But most of that time I wasn’t writing it.
The first time I didn’t write it was in 1959. I had just published a nonfiction book about Spanish Harlem, called Island in the City, which helped establish my “writer-hood” in my own mind. I had graduated four years before from Columbia, where, like so many others of my generation, I had fallen under the spell of that dynamic literary duo, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and dreamed of growing up to write novels myself. But my only experience and possibility for earning a living were in journalism, and after six months on a weekly paper and another six months doing research for C. Wright Mills, I sold my first magazine articles and managed to make a shaky livelihood as a free-lance writer of articles, reports, essays, reviews—and now a real book!
So it wasn’t a novel, and some people smiled (or sneered) about “mere journalism” and said that fiction was a “special” kind of writing that bore no relation to prosaic reporting. Still, I had written a book, hadn’t I? Look: you could hold it in your hands, flip through its pages, stick it in your bookshelf. It was solid, hard-bound proof. My favorite review of it was not the one praising its compassion, or hailing its social value, or admiring its responsible muckraking quality, but the one that said I was “gifted with the pen of a novelist.”
All right, I would take up that pen. The pen of a novelist. Now is the time.
Spring, in Greenwich Village, and the soot blowing in through my open crank-out windows on the top floor at 21 Jones Street collected over everything in gritty layers. The carpet, the mantel, my desk, my papers. Girls came and went, complaining of the grime; sometimes they made a few swipes at it. The thing about the grime was, it affected pieces of paper. If you started writing something and left it out on the desk a few days, the paper would age very rapidly, becoming gray and stiff. You can’t write on stiff paper. I was writing magazine articles, yes, but those you had to finish right away for a deadline, and the paper didn’t have time to spoil.
I felt that the soot was clogging my mind, too.
I applied to go to Yaddo, haven of artists and writers in Saratoga Springs, where one could work in peaceful, clean, sootless surroundings, among like-minded, serious companions. I was accepted for the month of August, and resolved that I would then begin the novel. I told friends I had begun already; when writers who had been to Yaddo warned me that it was dangerous to go up there without any firm plan in mind, that it was best for finishing a piece of work you’d already started, I assured them I was well on my way with the novel. In my head, maybe that was true; I knew it was in there somewhere, if I could just get at it.
Yaddo itself is a mansion house on a large estate. I had a fine, clean room with a view of the rolling lawn and a fountain with—I think—a cherub in it. I ought to remember; I stared at it long enough. My worktable, with typewriter, faced through the great, clear windows onto the lawn. I rose and ate a hearty breakfast, returned to my room, and stared out over my typewriter into the shimmering green. Around noon, a lunch pail was placed outside my door with a thermos of coffee, two sandwiches, and a piece of fruit or cake. I was happy to knock off after my arduous morning of staring out the window into the blank green expanse of my unflowering mind. I ate leisurely, reading a magazine. After lunch I dutifully returned to the typewriter, and stared some more. Sometimes I wrote, just to hear the keys work. Letters to friends.
The dinners were large and I ate heartily. At night you could stay in and play Botticelli, or drink in your room, or walk into Saratoga. With Robert I would walk into town, and we would take in the local “night life.” The one bar that had entertainment featured striptease performed by Negro transvestites. Rather specialized, but it was the only show in town.
I took to buying fifths of bourbon and drinking more in my room, starting with lunch. A dash or so in the coffee. Thus inspired, I began turning out pages of something, some story, some activity of characters. A boy there was, and for certain, a girl. I told Robert I was ripping right along; he praised my industry. At the end of the month, I indeed had something to show for my time there. I had gained ten pounds. As for the novel— well, I had some choked, meandering pages about that boy and that girl. A dozen or so such pages.
Back on Jones Street the pages soon became sooty, but I refused to give up on them. I added more, gnawing at the story I wanted to tell, which seemed hidden from me, but bravely I poked at and worried with and pushed and strained over it until I had more than fifty pages by the first of 1960. That was a real hunk, a respectable amount, and I typed them up on fresh paper and gave the bundle to my agent, who knew how much this meant to me. He praised it and sent it to the publishers of my first book, asking for an advance, something to help tide me through to finish it. I waited in fearful suspense, and my worst fears were confirmed.
The publishers, in gentle language, conveyed their distaste and disappointment over what I’d written, and their disturbance at the notion of advancing me any money to pursue it any further. Over a posh lunch they said how much they loved me anyway and wanted to publish my next nonfiction book. An editor said that from what she’d read she didn’t think I’d finish that novel, but of course I was free to go on and try—though not at their expense. A week or so later a younger editor of the house, himself a poet, returned the orphan manuscript to me and suggested over several martinis that since my talent was in journalism, if I insisted on writing a novel I should try one with a “topical setting.” Like what? I asked. Well, like a novel set against the background of the Cuban Revolution. Castro was newly victorious. Thanks for the idea, I said.
My agent, acting quickly to save my writerly self-respect and cracked confidence, showed my effort to an editor friend of his from another publisher, who professed to like what he read and offered a contract. I thanked him but couldn’t accept. It was as if the original publisher—“my publisher,” as I was taught to think of them—had shot the book from under me. It lay there inert, not even gasping.
It was dead, and with it, very nearly, my dream of being a writer of novels. But I couldn’t accept that verdict on myself, though I knew it was the real professional opinion of the people who had been “my publisher.”
I stopped discussing “my novel,” returned to the necessary journalistic assignments that paid for my subsistence, and in my head, postponed the dream. Postponed, not abandoned, though that would have seemed the practical thing to do. Perhaps even the “mature” response; to accept one’s limitations.
Postponement, though, ironically fit the texture of my life at that time, for being a child of my age and a victim of its fads, follower of fashionable panaceas and respecter of society’s Gods-ofthe-moment, I was, like so many of my New York friends, “in analysis.” (Today, of course, I believe in astrology.) For myself, and so many other people I knew, analysis served mainly as the Great Postponement. While one was “in it” and not yet “through it,” one was not supposed to make any vital life changes, such as getting married, changing careers, or of course, leaving town (thus fleeing the treatment). One result this had for me, and others I knew, was the Postponed-life Effect. Since the assumption was that after the analysis had been completed one would be a New Person, mature and fulfilled and capable of meeting all emotional and mental challenges, there was no use really to brood morbidly about the present, but to wait, like a prayerful acolyte, for the gleaming day when all would be well. Then, transformed, one could marry the mate of one’s dreams, have a fine, healthy family, and soar benignly to the top of one’s profession, whether it was law or medicine, engineering or writing.
I had not gone into analysis because of any writing problems (indeed, didn’t yet know I had or would have any) , but for equally common and mundane mid-twentieth-century concerns: suicidal tendencies, sexual fears and guilts, insomnia and nightmares, the usual stuff. Some things seemed to improve, some deteriorate, and new problems crawled out of the worm can of the unconscious; in general, things seemed to be going on much as they would if I weren’t in analysis at all. I began to have doubts about the treatment, mine specifically and others’ whom I knew, girls in their seventh year who still had the same nightmares and hangups they had brought to the couch on their first hopeful day, men approaching their middle thirties afraid to take a job in California or go to Paris on a year’s fellowship because their analysis was not yet completed, even though it had been droning on for five or ten or, in one case I knew of, twelve years.
Out of some sense of disgust or boredom or self-respect, I decided to spring myself. When I returned to the couch after the summer psychiatric vacation of 1962, I announced to my inscrutable doctor that I was not going to spend my life at this, was not going to become another professional analysand; that I had faithfully followed the prescribed treatment for four years, and that at the end of the next one, for better or worse, healthier or sicker, I was getting out.
“Yes, go on,” he said.
And, thank God (with apologies to Freud), I went.
During that final year, though, the psychoanalytic year of September ‘62-JuIy ‘63, I decided to quit postponing things, to gather myself together and do the work I needed and wanted to do. I would make myself do my journalistic research and writing in the evenings; in the afternoons, from one until five, I would write my novel.
I was now living in somewhat better digs on Twelfth Street off University Place (though the soot was still a menace, a constant foe), and I had my long worktable piled with the clippings and notes and magazines and books and manuscripts of my journalistic pursuits. I wanted to get away from that clutter, have a fresh, clear, quiet place in which to create the novel, and I found one. A former love and still dear friend had a small, bright apartment on Perry Street, looking out over those small, enclosed backyard gardens of the Village; a real tree scraped at her third-floor window.
Every day, after the ennui or anger of the analytic session, I would return to Sheridan Square, get a sandwich and container of milk at a nearby delicatessen, and go to Jane’s. She worked during the day, and I had the place to myself. I set up a typewriter on a shelf at the window, looking out at the gardens and the backs of buildings and that personal, immediate tree. Jane left a fresh pot of coffee for me every day, and I would drink three or four cups during the course of the afternoon and smoke leisurely cigarettes, stare out the window and start things going on the typewriter, patiently waiting for some of the clogged pages to break free and come to life; trying with all I had to force the needed book into birth.
Those afternoons were some of the happiest I have known. I can still remember the exact feel of the place, the calm, the quiet, the peace it brought to my own head, partly, I am sure, because in that room I was trying to do what I so wanted to do, and though it hadn’t yet begun to flow, I felt close to it, as if I could reach out and touch it; touch the dream. Maybe it was a delusion, my playing novelist by sitting every afternoon in that room where I was supposed to be writing and which gave me the physical and emotional circumstances for doing so —maybe it was like a kid playing Race Car Driver by sitting behind the wheel of his father’s automobile and pretending to zoom down treacherous roads, while all the time the car was parked, and the key wasn’t even in the ignition.
Jane never asked me about the novel, though every afternoon around five when she returned from work we would have coffee together and talk. I knew how much she wanted me to write it, knew she understood how vital it was to me, knew she believed in my doing it. And then one afternoon that winter after I had been spending the afternoons there for three or more months, she came in looking tense and shaken. Her entrance into any room was ordinarily a joyous event, a great burst of warmth and cheer, and I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. Had she lost her job, had her romance broken up, her mother taken ill?
“Wake,” she said, “I’m sorry.”
“I did something I shouldn’t have.”
“Well, last night, I’d been out to dinner, and had a lot of drinks, and when I got home I was kind of high, and I got a glass of wine, and I—”
“Well, I read what you’ve been writing, and I spilled some wine on one of the pages.”
We didn’t look at each other. We both understood that she was not apologizing for spilling wine on a page, but for looking at what I had written. There was no novel there in the precious manila envelope, not even a real beginning of a novel, only a jumble of pages, a jungle of false starts and repetitions and choked paragraphs; a scrap collection. “It’s OK,” I said, when I could say anything. After that I never left the telltale traces there of my “work,” but took the package home every night to be hidden as it deserved. We never mentioned it again. I still worked there in the afternoons, but it wasn’t the same. She still made the pots of coffee, still came in at five with her cheery news and funny stories and unspoken affection; but I knew she didn’t believe anymore. Sometimes I wondered if I did, either, but I still came to that room, that peace, that place where I knew the whole story I had to tell was in the very air around me, if I only could grasp it.
“Why the hell are you batting your brains out to write a bloody novel,” Sarel asked me as we ordered the baba au rhum for dessert at one of our frequent dinners of bachelor musing and general complaint at Eddie’s Aurora restaurant.
“I just want to,” I said, making everything clear.
“Want what?” Sarel probed. “Do you want to be like Fitzgerald? Like Hemingway?”
“No,” I said truthfully, “I want to be myself. I don’t want to be ‘like’ anyone because I’m not them, I’m me.”
“Well, then”—still trying, Sarel pressed on—“do you want the novel to make you famous? Do you want people to say you’re ‘great’? Is that it?”
“That would be nice, but that’s not it.”
“Look, what do you want people to say about your novel? What would you most like someone to say when they finished reading it and came up to comment about it to you?”
“There’s a guy in Camus’ The Plague,” I said, “who is always trying to write a novel, and someone asks him the same question. They ask him what he’d like people to say about his novel if he ever finished it, and he smiles and says, ‘I’d like them to say “Hats Off.”’”
“Hats Off”? Sarel grinned.
“Hats Off,” I insisted.
I didn’t mind Sard’s probings on the matter; he had written a novel himself that was published in England (and, for reasons I honestly never understood, was not brought out in the United States, though it was a truly successful satire of an Englishman in America), and he was trying at the time to write another and perhaps wanted the answers for himself as much as to learn about my own motivation.
There were other types of challenges.
“Why do you want to write a novel?” a friendly magazine editor asked me. “Everybody and his brother writes novels. They’re all the same anyway. You’re doing a real kind of first-rate journalism that’s rare and unique. Why mess around with a novel?”
In these sorts of questions, that line of challenge, was always the implicit and sometimes frankly stated notion that my desire to write a novel was nothing more than the old cliché urge of the journalist to be a “literary man,” attain greater prestige by writing the more respected fiction rather than fact. Every reporter has a novel in his desk, ha ha, the poor dreamer. That sort of thing.
Those who would snicker this at you were, of course, impossible to argue with, but I knew they were wrong. At least in my case, and mine was the only case I knew. By accident I came across something that helped explain the deep urge better than anything I had been able to articulate myself, and I offered it as part of an explanation to those who I felt had a true and gentle interest in the Novel demon that was driving me.
I came across it in a paperback about the history of art. I may have altered and distorted it by now, but in memory it is this: that the first paintings, drawn on the walls of caves, were created not for some aesthetic purpose at all but from a very practical motive. The cavemen believed that if before you went hunting you could first draw the image of the animal truly enough on the wall of the cave, it would ensure your later being able to kill him. The arrow or ax delivered the final blow, but the beast was really done in by his depiction, the rendering of him by the hunter whose real weapon was his “art.” Killing the beast; that was it. Wasn’t the novel another way of doing this; a way of killing the beast inside you, of depicting so well those dangerous dinosaurs of dreams and of past experience that you would finally destroy them, finally be rid of them?
I felt some vein of truth in the notion, and yet again not all the explanation, for I didn’t really think of the novel as a form of therapy, nor did I have any illusions that writers who had written the greatest of novels derived any sudden peace and equilibrium or achieved any psychic nirvana by the act. And yet I knew there must be some deep kind of relief in it, a sensation and reward in and of itself that did not necessarily affect one’s other problems but made it easier to breathe.
Again though, my hunger was not for “therapy” or self-improvement or enlightenment, but for something that had to do with the beauty and mystery of the singing sentences that had struck me more deeply than music or painting or any other form of human expression ("I believe in the sentence,” I told someone truly when they asked what my real faith was, or whether indeed I believed in anything at all), and of their arrangement and order in novels like those of Fitzgerald and Carson McCullers, Henry James and James Baldwin, Hemingway and Salinger and Styron. I hear them in my head, now as then, like some people hear strains of melodies:
The town itself is dreary . . . You might as well go down to the Fork Fallas Highway and listen to the chain gang.
Them thats goin’ get on the goddamn wagon; them thats stayin’ get outa the goddamn way.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Either you hear them or you don’t. And their linking and building into those realer-than-life stories, those books called Novel, seemed to me— still does—the most beautiful of all artifices.
As we sat in Ivan’s garden in the early summer of 1963, after steaks cooked on charcoal and wine in the pleasant night, discussing my plans for a new assault on the novel, he said he didn’t think my wanting to do it was out of the same kind of motivation as our friend X, who just wanted to do it because of whatever prestige or personal honor it would bring. Ivan said he felt it was different with me.
“I think,” he said “you’re in love with the form.”
I think this observation was true, and know I was thankful for having him express it. Those things help keep the hope alive.
I sprung myself not only from analysis but also from the city I thought would always be my home, having tired of the soot and the groaning garbage trucks and the other people still in analysis, all that New York had come to mean in my own life as the city finally, after seven years, turned sour to me. I got a Nieman Fellowship in Journalism at Harvard, and spent most of that year in Cambridge reading and drinking and talking and, most basically, recovering—from analysis and deadlines and worries over paying the doctor and the rent and all the emotional and physical dues of living in the city that William Buckley so rightly described when he wrote to me saying he heard that I had left “our abattoir.”
I didn’t write on the Nieman, but the next year I moved to a cheap and pleasant house in New Hampshire in the midst of pine trees and in front of a pond. I started writing again, making not a frontal assault on the novel but a sneak attack from a side angle: short stories. One was long and had to be hammered and nailed and beaten into shape. The other poured out in three ecstatic hours one Saturday autumn afternoon when I simply felt good and sat down at the typewriter with a quart of beer and found myself writing a lyric kind of story I had not planned or known about. It was the first time I had ever experienced that kind of “natural” outpouring, as if some secret source in my brain had been unlocked and the words rushed forth as fast as I could put them down. When it was over, I read it through and saw that I didn’t have to change anything. It was like a trance or being possessed— or being in possession, not of something weird or foreign, but of myself, at last. I cried with relief and joy and opened another quart of beer in celebration.
Both stories were sold to magazines and published.
I had written fiction! I could do it. I had done it. Screw ye, o ye of little faith. What was a novel if not a short story told at greater length?
The sense and shape of the novel I wanted to write came to my mind, and one day I even wrote an opening chapter! But I couldn’t work on it then. I was putting together a nonfiction book, and I was working against a deadline on it. When I finished, though, I’d have a little extra money, and there’d be nothing between me and the novel.
But when I finished the journalistic book I also finished my life with Alice, who had all year lived with me there by the pond, loving and fighting and crying and counting the pennies to stretch the limited dollars to stretch the time to write. She typed up my manuscripts with love and care, attentively and diplomatically setting my bad grammar right (it had to be done diplomatically not to arouse my ire at having my precious words come in for criticism); she performed the even more delicate and dreadful ordeal of getting me up in the morning and down to breakfast and into the study with a thermos of coffee, as I whined and moaned and bitched and groaned, starting off many a day by chanting some cheery thought such as “I want to die, I want to die.”
In spite of the nightmares we shared and provoked in one another we had a lot on the credit side of our living-together ledger, but still I said I’d had enough, said she had to go, convinced her I had to be alone again, and so “for my sake” she went, leaving me in that solitude 1 wanted but of course couldn’t stand. I soon fled into Cambridge and a large, empty apartment looking out over Memorial Drive and the Charles River, a swell place to live and work. I had cleared the decks, burned the bridges, nothing now stood between me and the novel as I sat down at my typewriter in the fall of 1965.
Lonely, bored, bereft, empty, I pretended to people I was writing the novel, spoke of first drafts, lied enthusiasm over my progress, and in reality, drank and watched soap operas on television and pursued a series of women I didn’t really want, promising myself that next week I’d get going.
I set schedules, tricked myself to my desk, tried every ruse I knew to get working. But nothing happened. I felt like Fitzgerald’s description of a certain state of mind in The Crack-Up when he spoke of being like a man on a deserted rifle range with his gun empty and the targets all down.
A benevolent chance came that set me free from that self-made morass, hurtling me out of Cambridge and all over the country to write about the effect of the Vietnam War on the United States. I was moving and thinking and writing again, even if not fiction. Maybe when I finished the project.. .
“How’s the novel coming?”
“When do you think you’ll finish your novel?”
“Whatever happened to that novel you were working on?”
“Oh, it’s coming along.”
“Say, weren’t you writing a novel once?”
“I still am. It’s a very long one. Maybe it will be as long as Ship of Fools. I understand it took Katherine Anne Porter thirty years to write that book.”
After a while your friends don’t ask. Those who do ask are the ones with the sly grins, the knowing winks; the ones who hope to hell you don’t write it because they never did write “it” or anything else themselves and begrudge every good book that sees the light, especially if they have an acquaintance with the author, who is certainly no better than they and who the hell do you think you are anyway? Certain kinds of book reviewers, certain kinds of editors who already gave up their own dream of writing the book they wanted, these are the ones with the long needles. Real writers don’t ask you.
Here is a good piece of advice to anyone who wants to write a novel: don’t tell anyone until you’ve done it.
As the years of not doing it pile up, how do you rationalize to yourself that it will ever be done? Fitzgerald wrote Gatsby when he was twenty-nine. When you pass twenty-nine, you try to forget about that and think of, say, Sinclair Lewis, who didn’t write his first real one (Main Street) until he was in his thirties. Miss Porter’s long travail is a source of great comfort. You are cheered by learning that Cervantes didn’t write Don Quixote until he was in his fifties, and in jail! Now there’s a possible strategy.
Go directly to jail. Do not pass “Go” . . .
Instead, I went to California. I finished the journalistic book on the State of the Nation in early 1968, did something like a jail term teaching at the University of Illinois Journalism School that spring semester, and fled to Los Angeles. Why Los Angeles, of all places? I had enough money to live anywhere and write for about a year, and when you have the “freedom" to go anywhere, you don’t know where to go. I was talking long distance one night that spring to Joan and John in Hollywood, and they said, “Why don’t you come out here?” and I said, “Why not,” and did.
By one of those chances that made me feel I was on the right wavelength I found a sublease apartment right smack on the beach in Venice. Plateglass windows showing the ocean, out front, and the mountains of Malibu, to the side. Fog rolling in at night like mystery, and the lonely bleat of foghorns. This section of Venice was as yet uncommercialized, the beach was almost empty, the high-rises had not yet come; it was beautifully anonymous, like some forgotten port city in a foreign country of the mind.
I wrote at a table by the window, battering all summer at the novel, which essentially was spent in writing the first page over thirty or forty times. I began to identify again with that fellow in The Plague who had worked all his life on a novel but only had the opening line, which he still was changing, experimenting with. Sometimes I would abandon that precarious first page and plunge on into the rest of the opening chapter. I knew the shape and form of my story, knew the characters, but wasn’t yet able to get it all going.
In the fall I brought to my beach a lady with whom I fell very much in love. She ended up staying for over a month, went to New York for a month, and then returned to the beach to settle in. Committed, we both got scared and angry, began hurting ourselves and each other. In the early spring of rains and emotional torrent between me and Ann I pressed the book forward—in spite of myself, ourselves—and reluctantly it started moving, like a slow, grudging train.
Almost imperceptibly, it picked up speed. At the same time, the love became more tangled and chaotic. In late May, with the book going well toward the halfway mark, the love crashed violently, and I cracked up a car, and packed up one suitcase, taking what clean shirts and socks I had and my halfborn novel. I flew across the country and holed up in the basement of friends in Alexandria, Virginia, knowing for sure I would do the novel then in spite of everything or admit to a final defeat.
With my back as hard against the wall as I could possibly have got it, all Exit signs painted out, I behaved admirably. I got up every morning about nine, had a cup of black coffee, and went to the typewriter. I wrote steadily till five in the afternoon, then started pouring down enormous drinks, had one of the Kelleys’ fine dinners, then drank again until I passed into sleep. That was the schedule for about five weeks. Neighborhood kids, told there was a writer in the house, came to peek in the windows and stare at me. I was the madman in the basement.
Incredibly, the novel poured out. Fifteen, sometimes twenty pages a day. It was like automatic writing; like I was the secretary simply taking down dictation. It seemed the story was all there written in my head all the time, and I was finally able to see it, hear it, get the words on paper. It was lovely and scary at the same time. I essentially finished the book in that basement, wound up with a final rush in an apartment alone in Boston, laid it aside for a month, and then rewrote and had the final version in the early fall.
Yes, it was like a great burden lifted; I felt drained but much lighter, much less bound and gagged. Was the love a victim of the novel? Was the novel in part some psychic result of the love’s attendant chaos and emotion? It is all rather scary to contemplate. But looking back I see that my two most creative years were ones of an emotional fury of love; in bored isolation I had done none of the personal kind of creation I wanted.
If you ask was it worth it, was the novel worth what may have been the personal wreckage it left in its wake, I can only answer that it wasn’t a matter of choice at all. It was what happened. I do not have any illusion about having written the Great American Novel or the great any kind of novel, but I feel to my own satisfaction that I put into a book a vision of a certain time and place and way of life that was very important and meaningful to me and to many other people of my age and background. And in it I made some sentences whose sound I like to hear.
One added irony: now that I have finally written my novel, I am told by many literary observers that The Novel Is Dead, that journalism is The Art Form of the Future. Maybe so. I only know the novel was the one form in which I could have told the story I had to tell, that I hate to be categorized as this or that “kind” of writer, and intend to write journalism again as well as novels, and maybe try movie scripts and plays, as well. Who knows? And why not?
Whatever the literary fashion of the moment, I can only now say of my novel that I did it and I’m glad. In some weird way I would not have had the writing of it and the pain and doubt and relief of finally finishing it the way I wanted to hear it be any different. Fitzgerald me no Fitzgerald; Cervantes me no Cervantes; this was my song, my own way of groping and thrashing and blindly finding the way to sing it in my own voice, out of my own dizzy life and distracted thought. □