My great literary hero was John Steinbeck and I’ve recently been re-reading the 1994 biography by Jay Parini. (ISBN 0434 574929)
I was struck once again by how Steinbeck’s early family experience influenced him all his life. He was deeply insecure about his work. There is much talk in his letters to friends about writing “the great American novel” or “the big book.”
That started me thinking about the idea of “the great novel”. The big book, the literary striving blood, sweat and tears, heart and soul BIG BOOK!
In this age of mass indi publishing, that idea has become outmoded.
I wonder how many writers have that kind of ambition anymore. How many of the thousands of works published are simply ordinary people wanting their voices to be heard; wanting their story told.
It is said, we all have one book in us. I don’t agree with that sentiment. Most people can’t write a novel that can stand any kind of serious scrutiny.
Most of the work out there is not literature in the accepted sense. That’s why serious writers who choose the Indi route, have a huge struggle trying to get seen by established mainstream critics and the literary establishment. The idea that all self publishing is but vanity is deeply ingrained and will take many years to undermine.
The dilemma faced by those of us who aspire to write real literature, the big novel, is the perennial issue faced by all writers. Do we struggle with the gatekeepers and hope we may find the right agent or publisher and perhaps face a lifetime of rejection – or do we choose swimming in the vast pool of pap and vanity that floods the Indi market, all the while trying to rise to the top by offering properly edited and designed work that stands comparison with any mainstream published output?
I have written my big book. My great novel is out there and has gotten great reviews from real readers but it’s never likely to be seen by mainstream critics or Booker judges or anyone else who decides what is and is not great literature.
Unlike Steinbeck, I am not insecure about my work. Of the twelve works I’ve already published, I know one stands comparison with any mainstream work. The Prairie Companions is the best thing I’ve ever done and the best thing I think I will ever do.
Steinbeck’s last big book, the one he sweated blood over and the one he kept a great journal about writing was: East of Eden.
The Prairie Companions is my East of Eden and I am about to launch a big publicity drive to try to help it rise to the top of the great Indi pond.
I may or may not succeed, but I am content. I’ve written my big book, the great novel. I was going to say the great Irish novel. But though I am Irish, the novel is not. It’s universal.