Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Rosicrucianism

The availability factor

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Theobald Smith

Whenever I do a reading from The Icon Thief, I like to joke that I wrote a novel about the Rosicrucians mostly because they were available. Other conspiracy thrillers had already sucked most of the pulp out of the likes of the Freemasons, the Illuminati, and the Priory of Sion, and although the Rosicrucian novel was a genre of its own as late as the nineteenth century, there hadn’t been any examples of it in a long time. There was also a huge amount of material—not all of it particularly interesting—on Rosicrucianism and its relationship to later occult and artistic movements, so I knew early on that I’d have my choice of sources. And I suspect that if I’d done some digging and discovered that there wasn’t much there, I would have chosen a different subject entirely. The shape of that novel, in short, was largely determined by the access I had to the resources I needed: I knew before I even began laying out the plot that I wouldn’t suffer for lack of background. The same is true of many of my short stories, the majority of which were inspired by an existing book or article that offered up an abundance of useful, concrete ideas. In many cases, the plot was explicitly tailored around the facts that I had at my disposal, and if I ended up focusing on one area rather than others, it was because of the tools I happened to have at hand.

The question of availability—or, more specifically, of whether or not you have a reasonable expectation of finding the materials you need—governs a surprising amount of creative work, both in the arts and in other fields. In The Art of Scientific Investigation, W.I.B. Beveridge tells us: “The great American bacteriologist Theobald Smith said that he always took up the problem that lay before him, chiefly because of the easy access of material, without which research is crippled.” It’s a strategy that has affinities with bricolage, or the art of making do with whatever is lying around, and it also reflects the sifting and filtering process required to distill any body of information into a readable form. (“The output an ounce, the labor a year,” as Mayakovsky says, and it only works if you have plenty of ore in the first place.) There seems to be a critical mass you need to reach before you can start serious work on any project, and although much of it has to be spun out of the creator’s own substance, like Whitman’s noiseless patient spider, it doesn’t hurt to have a ready reservoir of ideas from the outside world. Making anything worthwhile is hard enough as it is, so it helps to know from the start that you have access to a decent body of material. And this can come from the details of your own life as much as from anything else: “Write what you know” is less an admonition from up on high than a practical guideline for ensuring that you have enough with which to proceed.

Robert Scott Root-Bernstein

Of course, there are risks to this approach, since it can lead to an excessive focus on the obvious. In his valuable book Discovering, Robert Scott Root-Bernstein writes:

Where does one find problems? Not where answers already exist. There is an old story about a drunk who loses his key in a dark alley. A policeman wandering by later finds the drunk on his hands and knees under the street lamp at the corner. “Hey! What are you doing there?” “Looking for my key.” “Where’d ya lose it?” “In the alley.” “Then why are you looking under the lamp?” “It’s too dark to see in the alley.” Like the drunk, too many scientists choose their research projects within the sphere of existing light. They are scared to be ignorant, scared to founder. They are what Peter Medawar calls “philagnoists”—lovers of their own ignorance. Not so the best scientists, who seek out the unknown. Peter Carruthers, head of theoretical physics at Los Alamos, speaks for many when he says: “There’s a special tension to people who are constantly in the position of making new knowledge. You’re always out of equilibrium. When I was young, I was deeply troubled by this. Finally, I realized that if I understood too clearly what I was doing, where I was going, then I probably wasn’t working on anything very interesting.” Don’t be paranoid of the void.

Later on, Root-Bernstein adds: “There will be a crowd searching under the light. If you assume that keys to understanding nature are fairly randomly spread about, your chances of finding one are much better out in the dark because you’re likely to be the only one searching there.” The problem, then, is how to reconcile this with the availability factor, and as with most aspects of the creative process, the key lies in striking a balance: the excursions we make into the unknown are most likely to succeed if we’ve tethered ourself to a stable body of known facts, particularly if it happens to border an area of darkness. And such islands of material are more common than you might think. As a writer, I’ve learned to focus on information that is available but obscure: the world is full of ideas or subjects that have been explored up to a point and then abandoned, or relegated to a forgotten corner of intellectual history. It’s why I’ve made a point of seeking out the books that nobody reads anymore, or using a single idea as a wedge to pry my way into a body of knowledge that I wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t been looking for it. Again and again, I’ve been amazed to find ideas that were neglected, or known only to specialists, that provided a foundation for fascinating stories. It’s a big world out there, and not every lamp has a crowd beneath it. If half of being a writer is knowing where the lamps are, and being able to recognize one when you see it, the other half lies in pushing past that circle of illumination into the shadows. And you’ll have better luck if you move from the light into the dark, or the other way around, than if you focus solely on one or the other.

“You know who Walter Arensberg was…”

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"You know who Walter Arensberg was..."

(Note: This post is the thirtieth installment in my author’s commentary for The Icon Thief, covering Chapter 29. You can read the earlier installments here.)

Most conspiracy theories are inherently ridiculous. When they aren’t based on outright fabrications, like the legend of the Priory of Sion, they’re generally founded on a very selective interpretation of the available evidence, with tenuous connections presented as gospel while inconvenient facts are elided or ignored. And as I’ve mentioned before, these days, it’s easier than ever to construct a conspiracy that seems plausible at first glance. With a world of information available to even the most casual paranoid, the wildest theories can be supported by a few cherry-picked facts, as long as we don’t try to put them in context. It’s the kind of sloppy thinking that often finds a home in politics and junk science. As we saw in last year’s election, no matter what you want to prove about tax cuts or the budget deficit, there’s always a study somewhere to back you up, and you only need to look at some of our less reputable recent works of popular science to see how easily you can draw any conclusion you want about the brain.

When it comes to writing a conspiracy novel, a writer has an even greater degree of freedom. He can indulge in as many outlandish assertions as he likes, as long as they’re presented with a veneer of credibility—unless, like certain authors I could name, he coyly hints that the secrets he’s describing are really true. But he needs to be careful. The crucial element, as always, is suspension of disbelief. Even if few readers take the story’s claims at face value, it’s still important that they believe that they’re true within the context of the plot, which generally means that you can’t open with anything really wild. Suspension of disbelief works exactly the same way in a conspiracy novel as in any other kind of speculative fiction: you’re more likely to draw readers into the story if your implausibilities present themselves gradually, even casually, and in a reasonable disguise. If the author pulls it off, the transition between the merely unlikely to the blatantly impossible will be so subtle that the reader won’t realize until after the fact that he’s been taken in.

"April 23, 1916..."

In The Icon Thief, I had to build my central conspiracy in stages, moving from the assertion that Marcel Duchamp had been influenced by the Rosicrucians—an argument that has been made repeatedly by serious academics—to even more farfetched claims, culminating in a vast, shadowy conspiracy that extends into all corners of history. In theory, the pieces could have been presented in almost any order. As a practical matter, however, I knew that I had to start with points that even a skeptical reader might be willing to accept on faith, at least in the interest of advancing the story. The conspiracy theme of the novel really begins in Chapter 14, when Tanya lays out the case that Rosicrucian symbolism can be found in the work of Duchamp and his contemporaries. It’s an argument that sounds great only if you take it out of context, and choose to ignore most of the evidence of Duchamp’s career and personality. But it’s the kind of selective misinterpretation that has an honorable history in art criticism, and it serves to introduce the novel’s skewed vision of the world in easy stages.

But there’s an even more interesting connection between Duchamp and Rosicrucianism, and it has the benefit of being more or less real: Walter Arensberg, Duchamp’s leading patron and close friend, was obsessed with the Rosicrucians, and in particular with the idea that Francis Bacon was the true author of the works of Shakespeare. Any argument about Duchamp’s Rosicrucian influences really ought to begin here—it’s a legitimately fascinating sidelight on the history of art, even if Duchamp himself seemed justifiably skeptical of Arensberg’s claims. Yet I chose to save this detail for much later in the novel, to the point where it’s only mentioned here, in Chapter 29, more than halfway through the book. A conspiracy theory, like any form of creative writing, needs to start strong, but it can’t reveal all its cards at once. Like the plot of the book in which it appears, it needs to save a few big moments for later, in places where the story needs a jolt of energy. By introducing it here, I might not be able to convince a reader to take the argument seriously, but I can at least make the case that these characters might. And they’re going to start taking it very seriously indeed…

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January 10, 2013 at 9:50 am

“Never trust anything you read online…”

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(Note: This post is the fifteenth installment in my author’s commentary for The Icon Thief, covering Chapter 14. You can read the earlier installments here.)

As I’ve noted before, I ended up writing a novel about the Rosicrucians mostly because they were available. There was a time, believe it or not, when the Rosicrucian novel was a thriving literary genre, with contributions by authors ranging from Percy Bysshe Shelley to Edward Bulwer-Lytton. And although the Rosicrucians were, in many ways, the prototype of the contemporary idea of a shadowy secret society, they’ve since gone out of fashion, despite the recent surge of interest in conspiracy fiction. The true paranoids have long since turned their attention to the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Priory of Sion, and the Templars, while the Rosicrucians have fallen into relative neglect: there hasn’t been a major Rosicrucian novel in decades, partially because their history and symbolism have been appropriated by their more sinister successors. As a result, when I began to research The Icon Thief, I found myself confronted with a huge amount of material, most of which hadn’t been fully explored in a long time.

That doesn’t mean the task was easy. Once I started to dig into the available resources, I realized that the Rosicrucians had been neglected for a reason: they weren’t particularly interesting, at least not at first glance. The original Rosicrucian manifestos, the Fama Fraternitatis and the Confessio Fraternitatis, made a huge impact when they were published in Germany in the seventeenth century, but reading them now is like trying to rewatch Easy Rider: what was revolutionary at the time now seems clichéd, pretentious, and deathly dull. Umberto Eco was able to write divertingly on the Rosicrucians for ten pages of Foucault’s Pendulum, but I had to make them interesting for the length of an entire novel. In the end, then, I found myself doing exactly what a proper paranoid ought to do: I went ruthlessly over the whole body of Rosicrucian literature, plucking the good stuff and discarding the rest, until I ended up with a version of Rosicrucianism that I hoped would hold a reader’s attention, not to mention my own.

Much of what I found ended up in Chapter 14 of The Icon Thief, in which Maddy, having been told to look into the Rosicrucians by her old mentor, goes over their history with her friend Tanya, a researcher at the Frick. It’s a talky chapter that is blatantly designed to deliver a large amount of information to the reader, but here’s the thing: the result comes very close to the heart of why I wanted to write The Icon Thief in the first place. This is a book about how we interpret the world around us, especially in history and art, and this chapter is where the theme is really introduced for the first time, in the form of one of those lengthy, tongue-in-cheek dialogues that I loved in Eco and have been trying to recreate ever since. As a narrative device, this kind of theater of ideas has its limits, as Tom Wolfe was right to point out, and I’ve since tried to walk back my own fiction from the kind of storytelling that it represents. But I’d say that the version presented in this scene works pretty well, and along with Maddy’s later, more elaborate speculations, it’s the part of the novel that I enjoy rereading the most.

Which isn’t to say that it didn’t need a lot of help. As I’ll discuss later on, I had to use all the narrative tricks at my disposal to make these extended discursive passages more interesting, and you’ll see quite a few of them here. I set the scene in Bryant Park, not far from where I used to work, to avoid yet another long indoor conversation, and did what I could to liven up the figure of Tanya, a fairly colorless presence in the first draft, by turning her a cheerful caricature of a Williamsburg hipster at the end of the last decade. (I also hint that she’s of Russian extraction, if only because I wanted to have at least one Russian character in this novel who wasn’t a criminal or worse.) I also let Tanya tell one of my favorite stories, which I first encountered in John Seely Brown’s The Social Life of Information, about the researcher who methodically sniffed eighteenth-century letters for traces of vinegar, which indicated that they had been sent from regions suffering from outbreaks of cholera. The story may be apocryphal, but Tanya’s point is a good one: the data we see online sometimes only captures a fraction of the real information available. And Maddy is about to learn this the hard way…

Me and Marcel Duchamp

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Marcel Duchamp is the most influential artist of the twentieth century. It says so right on the cover of my book. And it’s true. More than any other modern figure, Duchamp—notably with his famous Fountain, which was recently named the century’s single most important work of art—forever shaped our understanding of what it means to be an artist, in which selection, process, and theory are just as important as the final result. (If nothing else, if you’ve ever wandered into a museum or gallery and wondered what the hell was going on there, that’s almost certainly due to Duchamp’s legacy, with its ongoing influence on all conceptual art.) Yet aside from Nude Descending a Staircase and a few other iconic pieces, Duchamp has never penetrated the popular consciousness to the extent of a Picasso or a Warhol, and even among those who care deeply about such things, many details of his work and his fascinating life remain essentially unknown.

Up until a few years ago, this was true of me as well. I’d like to say that my decision to write a novel about Duchamp was the result of a carefully considered intellectual process, but in fact, it was pure serendipity. While doing research on art history at the Brooklyn Public Library, I stumbled across the wonderful book Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles? by James Elkins, who explores the issue of why we’re collectively drawn to interpret and tell stories about pictorial works of art. In passing, Elkins mentions the strange theory of art critic Philippe Duboy, who postulates that Duchamp, while working as a librarian at the Bibliothèque Nationale, quietly erased and modified drawings by the artist Jean-Jacques Lequeu, as part of an obscure vendetta against the architect Le Corbusier. If this “theory” doesn’t make any sense, don’t worry: I ended up buying a copy of Duboy’s incredibly expensive book on the subject, only to find that I couldn’t make head or tail of it either. (For one thing, it gets its libraries mixed up: Duchamp actually worked at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, so he couldn’t have made the changes that the author implies.)

Yet I’d been bitten by the Duchamp bug. And I quickly discovered that the hard part wasn’t constructing a conspiracy novel around Duchamp, but deciding which conspiracy to use. Even if you think, as I do, that Duboy’s book is a waste of time, and a model of how not to construct a conspiracy theory, you’re still left with an embarrassment of riches. You have Rhonda Roland Shearer’s controversial contention, for instance, that many of Duchamp’s readymades were actually carefully constructed by the artist, who built them in secret and passed them off as found objects for reasons that remain unclear. You’ve got the frequent attempts to link Duchamp’s work to alchemy, the cabala, and, yes, Rosicrucianism. You have the allegation, made in at least two books, that Duchamp knew the identity of the Black Dahlia murderer, a particularly juicy story that plays an important role in The Icon Thief. And then there’s the question of what Duchamp was really doing in New York City during the First World War…but for that, you’ll need to read my novel.

It’s easy to see why conspiracy theorists love Duchamp: his work is simultaneously designed to elicit and frustrate obsessive interpretation. Yet the endless attempts to pin him down as an alchemist, a secret revolutionary, or even a Rosicrucian have little to do with the man himself. Duchamp, more than any of his contemporaries, was the ultimate skeptic and outsider, unwilling to be confined to any one artistic school, even as he influenced them profoundly from the margins. For most of his life, he lived as simply as possible, with close to a complete indifference to money, in order to devote himself more fully to his work. He was, uniquely, a movement of one. And even as I toyed with his legacy in The Icon Thief, I found myself seduced by his example. He was brilliant, uncompromising, and impossible to classify. And although my book regards him from many different angles, often all at the same time, I hope my readers remember him, above all else, as a model of what the artistic life can be.

At the center of the book lies Duchamp’s final masterpiece, which he worked on in secret for twenty years, claiming all the while to be retired. On Monday, I’ll finally consider the enigma at the heart of The Icon Thief: the installation, revealed only after Duchamp’s death, that Jasper Johns has called “the strangest work of art in any museum.”

How I learned to love the Rosicrucians

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Why did I write a novel about the Rosicrucians? Mostly because they were available. The recent renaissance in conspiracy fiction has made it hard to find a secret society that hasn’t been done to death: Dan Brown alone has made it impossible to write about the Masons, the Priory of Sion, or the Illuminati—even if Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea hadn’t already done so—and Umberto Eco definitively took the Templars off the table, even if a wide range of authors have done their best to bring them back. As a result, when I began to think seriously about writing a conspiracy novel, and especially an homage to Foucault’s Pendulum, I realized that the Rosicrucians had one big advantage: there hadn’t been a major novel about them in years. Consequently, when most of us, including me, think of the Rosicrucians, the first thing that comes to mind is the modern incarnation about which Woody Allen says in Annie Hall: “I can’t get with any religion that advertises in Popular Mechanics.”

And yet much of the world was obsessed with the Rosicrucians for decades, almost from the moment they first appeared in a pair of manifestos published anonymously in Germany in the seventeenth century. The manifestos are famously impenetrable—I’m not sure I ever managed to get through all of them—but the story they tell set the standard for all secret societies to come: a brotherhood of learned men, originally eight in number, later thirty-six, quietly preparing for a revolution that would transform all of Europe. What kind of revolution? It isn’t entirely clear—and part of the fascination of the Rosicrucian tradition is that it promises so much while spelling out so little. The legendary founder of the Rosicrucians, a mysterious figure later known as Christian Rosenkreuz, emerges from a background of alchemy, magic, and Eastern mysticism, and whatever the Rosicrucians were planning was evidently based on a similar body of secret knowledge that, once revealed, would change the world forever.

The really strange thing is that the Rosicrucians did start a revolution, despite the inconvenient fact that they probably never existed. The idea of a secret society of learned men working to save the soul of civilization, which appears for the first time in the manifestoes, is incredibly compelling, even if the details remained obscure. It isn’t surprising, then, that readers across Europe hastened to found Rosicrucian societies of their own, like kids who start a secret club based on one they see in a comic book. On the scientific side, the manifestoes were the inspiration for a number of groups, dedicated to natural philosophy, that ultimately resulted in the Royal Society, and everyone from Descartes to Newton was accused of being a Rosicrucian. Meanwhile, Rosicrucian orders dedicated to magic and alchemy were founded in most countries, Rosicrucian imagery was appropriated by the Freemasons and other fraternal orders, and Rosicrucian novels were written by everyone from Edward Bulwer-Lytton (of “It was a dark and stormy night” fame) to Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, and eventually, interest in the Rosicrucians began to wane, supplanted by more exotic and terrifying societies, although the Rosicrucian strain in conspiracy theories never entirely went away. (Witness, for instance, the curious career of Walter Arensberg, who plays a small but crucial role in The Icon Thief, and about whom I’ll have much more to say later.) And as I continued to dig, I found that the Rosicrucians would take me, as a writer, in a lot of fascinating directions. Most promisingly, in light of my intended project, the Rosicrucians had a surprising influence on both the history of art and the history of Russia, where, as I learned from James Billington’s The Icon and the Axe, the Rosicrucians in Moscow were the first of the secret philosophical societies that would play such an important role in Russia’s evolution. It was a novelist’s dream: a genuinely mysterious tradition, long neglected, but rich in symbols and secrets, that would bind together much of the story I had in mind. And that’s when I decided that it was finally time to give the world another Rosicrucian novel.

This was all very well, but I still lacked one crucial element: an artist who would tie all these threads together. And as I’ll explain tomorrow, it was by the purest accident that I arrived at the final piece of the puzzle, the man whom André Breton called “the most intelligent man of the twentieth century.”

Don’t write what you know: the power of indifference

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Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.

—T.S. Eliot (not Emily Dickinson)

One of the toughest things for any writer to learn is that what you find personally fascinating may not be of equal interest to your readers. It’s so hard a lesson, in fact, that many writers never figure it out. This is the real reason why most political or religious fiction tends to be pretty bad: it isn’t because the ideas are wrong, necessarily, but because the writer’s faith in his own message leaves him incapable of making the tough decisions that fiction requires. And this applies to personal experience as much as to political conviction. Many of us start writing to express ourselves and the things we care about, but we’re just too close to the events of our own lives, and the subjects we find important, to see them with the proper objectivity. David Mamet, in On Directing Film, is harsh but fair:

A good writer gets better only by learning to cut, to remove the ornamental, the descriptive, the narrative, and especially the deeply felt and meaningful.

This advice is so unlike what we’re often taught as writers that it’s worth emphasizing how strange it is. From our formative years onward, we’re told to write what we know, and implicitly encouraged to tackle subjects that we find personally meaningful. A writer who advances straight from creative writing courses to the standard MFA program and teaching career may never think of fiction in any other way. Yet I strongly believe that the best writing is achieved through a stance of objectivity, and even detachment or indifference, toward the underlying subject. It’s only from such a position that you can make the hard choices to cut a scene, to revise a plot point into a drastically different form, or even to abandon a project entirely.

In short, you’re often the last person capable of judging whether your work is of interest or not, unless you’ve consciously chosen a subject about which you can afford to be objective. A few examples from my own work might be relevant here. My first novel, The Icon Thief, has an important subplot revolving around the Rosicrucians, an alleged secret society founded in Germany in the years following the Reformation. I chose to write about them partially because, in spite of the recent surge in conspiracy fiction, there hasn’t been a major Rosicrucian novel in decades. And soon after I began researching, I realized why: the Rosicrucians aren’t especially interesting. But it was my original indifference toward the subject that allowed me to survey the available sources, pick out the best parts, and come up with a story that is—hopefully—engaging to an outside reader.

And whenever I’ve tried to write about a subject that was actually meaningful to me, the results haven’t been very good. Over the past three years, I’ve submitted six stories to Analog, and they’ve bought five. The five successful ones were written rather coldly, almost from scratch, with an eye toward finding an interesting subject and turning it into a salable story, while the sixth was inspired by a topic that I find personally fascinating—the concept of deep time, as symbolized by Yucca Mountain and the Clock of the Long Now. Not coincidentally, it failed to sell at Analog, or anywhere else, and an anthology in which it was supposed to appear unexpectedly fell through. And while I can blame a number of other factors, I suspect that by starting with a subject I wanted to talk about, and some ideas I wanted to share, I wasn’t able to shape the narrative with the ruthlessness required to tell an interesting story.

So does this mean that a writer needs to work without passion? Not at all—except that the passion should be focused on the act of writing itself, and not the underlying subject. There’s plenty of room for irrational enthusiasm in a writer’s life, which isn’t a career that a truly rational person would ever attempt, but that exuberance needs to be set aside once the time comes to consider the work in progress. It’s a difficult balancing act, but a crucial one, and the easiest way to achieve it is to seek out subjects for their storytelling potential, not their inherent interest or importance. And the biggest surprise? Over the course of writing a story, you’ll grow to love these subjects, too, and they’ll ultimately become part of your life after all—but at the end, not the beginning.

Written by nevalalee

October 6, 2011 at 10:42 am

Why I am a novelist

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I’ve only ever wanted two jobs. My first dream job, which occupied my imagination roughly from the ages of six to ten, was, of course, paleontologist. (Even today, I can still remember the approximate dates of the Mesozoic Era, a fact that came in handy at a recent trivia contest.) When I was ten, though, it suddenly occurred to me that it might be even more fun to be a novelist. I could still write about dinosaurs—although a certain novel released that same year beat me to the punch—and just about everything else. At the time, like most kids, I was curious about a lot of things, and the immediate appeal of being a writer was that it would give me an excuse to learn about whatever I wanted.

Twenty years later, that’s still a big part of why I want to write for a living. What didn’t come until more recently was a love for the writing process itself. Early on, writing was pretty much just a pretext for following my interests wherever they led me, and it’s only in the past ten years that I’ve begun to find the actual mechanics of writing deeply interesting. At some point, the writer’s tool kit of plot, language, character, and theme became as absorbing a subject as those external topics—Marcel Duchamp, Russia, the art world, the Rosicrucians, to name only those involved in The Icon Thief—that I used fiction as an opportunity to explore. And the realization that I also love writing for its own sake is one of the most significant discoveries of my life.

Writing fiction, as I see it, is the greatest game in the world. Other authors may approach it differently, but for me, it’s a chance to construct something beautiful and elegant that didn’t exist before. It’s the same impulse, I imagine, that leads people to build ships in bottles or construct crossword puzzles (something that I’ve also tried, with less success), but extended over a much longer period of time. Writing a novel still strikes me as just about the most challenging thing that an artist can do on his or her own. It requires both massive sustained organization and the ability to recognize fleeting moments of inspiration. It draws on all parts of the brain. And it has tested me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined when I began writing for a living.

This love of structure and artifice is the main reason why I’ve thrown my lot in with the novel, rather than nonfiction. Narrative nonfiction or journalism is, in some ways, a superior excuse to explore the world, but with it comes a certain responsibility to the facts that doesn’t quite fit with my conception of writing as a great game. I try to make my novels as accurate as possible, but there are times when I prefer a convincing impossibility, as long as it’s elegant and surprising and not too far removed from the truth. At some point, I may try my hand at nonfiction, but for now, I’m sticking with the novel. As any writer will tell you, being a novelist is quite hard enough.

Written by nevalalee

March 24, 2011 at 8:59 am

Quote of the Day

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The author, Dan Brown, is a character from Foucault’s Pendulum! I invented him. He shares my characters’ fascinations—the world conspiracy of Rosicrucians, Masons, and Jesuits. The role of the Knights Templar. The hermetic secret. The principle that everything is connected. I suspect Dan Brown might not even exist.

Umberto Eco, to The Paris Review

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February 1, 2011 at 8:03 am

Introductory remarks

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Alec Nevala-Lee

Welcome! For a quick look at who I am, please see here. The short version is that I’m a novelist and freelance writer whose debut novel, Kamera, is scheduled to be published by Penguin Books in the fall of 2011. On this blog, I intend to take you through the publication process, tell you a bit about the novel itself, and share some of my thoughts—as it says there on the masthead—on art, culture, and especially the writing life.

Because Kamera takes place primarily in the New York art world, and centers on the enigmatic final masterpiece of the artist Marcel Duchamp, I expect to be writing occasionally on art in general and Duchamp in particular. Other topics treated in the novel, in no particular order, include art investing, Russian organized crime, Rosicrucianism, information overload, and the Black Dahlia murder, so I may have something to say about these things as well. Mostly, though, I’ll be writing about writing, which is the subject I know best.

Ideally, the result should be an ongoing discussion about what it means to be a writer, and specifically a writer of suspense fiction, at this particular moment in publishing history. Hopefully the things I’ll have to say here will be of interest to other writers, to readers, and to observers of popular culture, especially books. I’ll be updating this blog on a regular basis, so please check back soon for more.

Written by nevalalee

November 28, 2010 at 8:37 pm

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