The Big One

29 Jul

Some time ago I read somewhere, no matter where, that the measure by which writers are judged as “having arrived” or “staying” or whatever THAT THING is that makes one a writer, is whether or not they (we) write a novel. The contrarian side to that idea was taken by someone bringing up George Saunders as an example; is he not a “legit” writer, despite his several collections of short stories? Is he not a “real” writer despite never having written a novel?

I’ll tell you my view, and I’ll use a musical analogy here. I am an always-learning/always-practicing jazz drummer (wanna be). In between the daily bores, uh chores of life (day job, family, grocery shopping, lawn-cutting, cleaning, etc.), while working to complete my first full on novel, I also work (or try to) hard on drumming rudiments: paradiddles, paradiddle-diddles, inverted paradiddles, flammes, flammes inside paradiddles, doubles, triples, quads, 5-stroke, 7-stroke rolls, and so on. One particular rudiment that has been a thorn in my side…one that has given me the most trouble for years, has been the single-stroke roll. Rather, it’s been an amazing pain in the arse to accelerate it to, say, a 200 beat-per-minute pace, and then MAINTAIN it for a long while. So…I can perform the stroke fast, but not maintain it. A single-stroke roll is just a basic: right-left-right-left type roll. You hear it in rock fills all the time–usually as sixteenth notes, sometimes as 32nds if the tempo is slow enough.

As I work on my rudiments to improve not just my speed, but touch, and most importantly CONSISTENCY and DURATION of these rudiments, I cannot help but think of strictly short story writers (such as Saunders) who haven’t yet written that long-asked-for novel.

Perhaps I am of an old-school mentality, but—like others—inside my gut I feel a prose writer truly hasn’t taken the plunge unless she/he has written that long-form book. The parallel I draw to  drumming skills (for this particular example) holds in music, for me, as well. I am more impressed by a well-trained drummer with skills that are  SUSTAINED over a period of ample time–thus demonstrating not just speed, but also strength and control and dynamics.

So it is for me with writers; I feel that unless a writer has taken the plunge into the hell that is “writing a novel,” in a way hasn’t yet cut his/her teeth. You would be impressed with the speed of my paradiddles (215 bpm) if I took out my practice pad and did them for you, true, but in reality they fall apart after no longer than 25 or 30 seconds at that speed. You would be more impressed, or…rather, I would demonstrate more proficiency were I to hold those even strokes for minutes upon minutes at a time.

I am currently reading Saunders’ “Tenth of December” collection; this is my introduction to this man’s work; I have heard all sorts of great hype about his material, and have also read that he is not interested in stretching into the “novel” realm. So far I am not at all impressed with the short stories I’ve read, but there is time; the book boasts several pieces. I wonder…does Saunders have the chops to take something and develop it and sustain it into a book length work?

I don’t know why I’m biased like that…again, maybe I’m old school thought, but…that’s the way it is. Until a fiction prose writer has released his/her novel, I await…wondering…wondering…

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2 Responses to “The Big One”

  1. DAMM 29/07/2013 at 11:03 AM #

    As someone who has his first flash collection and his first poetry collection due out in the next 8 months or so I have to tell you the novel has been the biggest challenge. It seems I agree with your assessment of “real writer” (or whatever the term is) is one I share. UNLESS that writer is a poet and poetry is all that person writes. Poets are a different breed altogether and long form fiction is antithesis to their natures in general. We have all met those types. Thanks loved the piece.

  2. Lx 29/07/2013 at 12:50 PM #

    No, I’m certainly not talking about poets; different subject, for sure.

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