Mesa Musings: Novels are a labor of love and then some

January 04, 2011|By Jim Carnett

Over the last two years I've written the equivalent of a novel.

I say "equivalent" because I haven't actually produced a novel.

My claim is a bit like the guy who went to a batting cage, slapped 20 grounders, and claimed he'd hit the "equivalent" of a 450-foot home run.

In two years, this weekly column has generated 70,000 words, which, by my count, is the size of an average novel. So, I suppose I'm saying that had I been slightly more industrious I might have actually produced a novel instead of a weekly rant.


But my logic is tortured. Some writers are natural fiction writers and some are not, and I'm afraid I belong to the "not" category. A friend of mine teaches novel writing at a community college, and we've had long conversations about the writing process. He's convinced me I'm no novelist.

A writer I greatly admire, Philip Yancey, a best-selling essayist, was asked if he'd ever considered writing fiction.

"I took several classes in fiction writing which convinced me I'm not a fiction writer," he said. "Somebody's got to write essays."

Those are my sentiments exactly.

"Musings" is my personal site for disparate and episodic forays. But, as an aficionado of sententious syntax, I shall forever be in awe of inventive novelists.

One of my favorite writers is Alan Furst, a historical spy and espionage novelist. Furst has been favorably compared to such luminaries as Graham Greene, John le Carre and Joseph Conrad.

A former weekly International Herald Tribune columnist, Furst's particular gift is writing fiction, and the way he goes about it is labor intensive and impressive. As one in possession of a short attention span, I'd have great difficulty toiling for years before actually producing an outcome.

Far from those formulaic hacks who crank out a book every six months, Furst gives birth every two or three years, working long and hard on each. I've read nine of his books and can't begin to calculate the effort that must go into each of his polished jewels. His fans appreciate his meticulous approach.

The books are loosely connected and are set in Europe prior to and during World War II.

One critic called the books "textured, suspenseful and passionate, peopled by seductively appealing characters, most of whom are facing a terrible doom."

Furst's novels are packed with such detailed cultural and historical information that you feel you're actually in Paris in 1938, or Berlin, Budapest or Warsaw. Many of his secondary characters appear in several books.

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