Lois Leveen

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January 11, 2014

The Doctorow Is In: Two Provocative Ideas on Novel Writing

Just woke up to two very provocative thoughts from EL Doctorow, by way of NPR.

"Some people think of me as a historical novelist — I don't agree with that. . . The historical novel seems to me a misnomer, and many of my books take place in different places, . . . so it's just as valid to call me a geographical novelist as an historical novelist."


And if that wan't enough to push me to think more deeply about what I do, he follows up with:
"Fiction is the most conservative of the arts. If you think historically, what has happened in music or among the poets — Whitman in the 19th century just destroying romantic poetry and building a whole kind of new thing. The ideas carried along by the artists who keep changing, keep looking for more, something truer, something greater. But generally speaking, the insistence on storytelling of a realistic nature has predominated and continued in the old ways. So what I'm guided by — perhaps it's futile — is Ezra Pound's injunction, when he was talking to the poets, he said, "make it new, make it new." And that's what must have been provoking me when this book came along.
"

(That bit sort of ignores the importance of Emily Dickinson, just as radical as Whitman but in a whole other way, and of course the Modernist novelists would say they were doing something dramatically different than what their late-nineteenth-century precursors did, but still, MAKE IT NEW is always a good provocation).

Both of these sentiments are perfectly timed to push me as I cast about for the beginnings of my third novel. Nominations of time/place/people being accepted. In the meanwhile, listen to all of the Doctorow interview here: http://www.npr.org/2014/01/11/261450791/doctorow-ruminates-on-how-a-brain-becomes-a-mind
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