Words are strange little creatures. Writers try to herd them, which is sometimes like trying to herd cats. We stretch and poke and challenge them, too, so maybe they have a right to get annoyed with us.
The word novel, for instance. Yeah, it’s the thing I work on when I lock myself up with the computer or read before I go to sleep at night. But think about what it really means … (Philology warning: my Classics degree is about to assert itself.)
My old pal, the American Heritage College Dictionary (third edition–before they added “w00t”) has this to say–
1. n. A fictional prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters.
So far, so good. But then …
2. adj. Strikingly new, unusual or different.
Novel derives from deliciously vulgar Italian (itself deliciously vulgar and corrupted Latin) and the word novella, which means a choice new morsel of gossip, or new item of chit-chat, or some scintillating tale of sex and betrayal … basically, the entertainment media of the last few thousand years, not to mention the story of Paris Hilton’s life.
Ultimately, it descends from novellus (older Latin), a diminutive of novus, meaning “a little something new.” You know, like novelty, which unfortunately has picked up a disreputable connotation like a bad choice in a dim nightclub, or Vera in the noir classic Detour.
A novel, by derivation, is a little something new. And as a writer and a reader, I try to keep that in mind.
Try something truly novel. Who cares if a cat-loving, divorced phrenologist at the turn of the century who finds true love and murder at a Bohemian artist-nudist colony has never been done? Who cares if you’re told the market for divorced, nudist phrenologists isn’t there any more? Write what’s in you to write, write it well, and write it with novel in mind.
Just as you’re unique, everything you do–whether it’s writing, cooking, roof-building, or just plain living–will be unique, too. Thus novel. Thus new.
2008 is going to be a novel year for me any way you look at it. My book debuts in July, the year will bring fresh challenges to me as a writer, a family member, and a person (though I hope that another bout of the Big Noo won’t be one of them).
The book is new, the genre is new, and I’m new. And the cool thing is that as long as there are readers who haven’t discovered me, I’ll always be new to someone!
So one of my New Year’s reading resolutions is to find more books, more writers, more novels to uncover … and to revel in my literary archaeology.
And of course, my top resolution is to be a novel writer. In every sense of the word.