De la Pava’s greatness


Sergio de la Pava is a New York attorney. Attorneys don’t normally set out to write novels, and certainly not great ones. Or so it seems. And yet that’s what de la Pava has done. His novel A Naked Singularity, winner of the 2013 PEN/Bingham prize for a debut work, was written in 2008 and published by de la Pava himself. His second novel, Personae, also self-published, was picked up by the University of Chicago Press along with A Naked Singularity after people began to read Singularity and notice how good it was/is.

Writers like de la Pava (I know of none) are anomalous. Publishers and the major houses in particular have created an archetypal (and exclusive) environment based on a specific business model. Literary agents act as middlemen between writers and publishers and it works well enough for the publishers to be able to publish books and still make a profit. Booksellers get paid and the writer gets paid and thus the agent gets paid and everyone is happy. Unless writers object to this model and choose to wade into the publishing world alone and self-publish, which creates all sorts of problems for publishers and sellers.

Naturally the publishers and agents (and even some established authors cemented neatly in the archetypal model) abhor self-publication. It renders their role in the process irrelevant and removes their share. Thus, when a self-published novel written as well as A Naked Singularity comes along and threatens to sell a load of copies, the major houses cry foul and either look to evolve the business model or continue to crusade against artists. Self-published novels are most often unread and become obscure and nonexistent. With A Naked Singularity, Sergio de la Pava has written a novel so undeniably good that he’s managed to circumvent the business model adopted by the major houses, and he’s the first major voice to do so since the model’s metamorphosis into its current state.

De la Pava is a serious talent whose voice commands attention. He’s earned the PEN/Bingham award, and Personae firmly establishes what readers of A Naked Singularity thought to be true: that de la Pava is the rarest of literary surprises, a writer who doesn’t appear to have set out to write a great novel but has, and a writer who can’t help but make his contemporaries envious of his lexicon, his acute intelligence, and his exemplary storytelling ability. He’s a previously unheard-of writer (he’s an attorney, for god’s sake) who puts his contemporaries to shame and whom, if the major houses had their way, wouldn’t have been discovered, wouldn’t have sold nearly as many copies, and wouldn’t have received the attention his talents warrant. At least not yet.

The publishing world would like readers to believe that there are two types of North American writers: those whose works are worth reading, and those whose aren’t. I posit two completely different classes: Writers who aspire to be great, and writers who ARE great. De la Pava is now entrenched in the latter category. His works give hope to readers who also write literature and likewise aim to challenge the limits of ambition, consciousness, and the status quo.

Dancing on the hill of the dead

The creative process is a curious ebb and flow, a seductive dance with the part of the self least known, least attached to identity. Most days you don’t have it; you slog through because you must, knowing your ideas are paralyzed by impotence, enervated, without a substance you can’t quite find to round them out. And then there are days when everything rushes forth like crystalline waves, the ideas profound and the language exacting, sharp. Of course you prefer the latter, but you cannot possibly get there without the former.

I woke up today and the new novel is at about 65,000 words. There’s at least another 15K words somewhere inside, undrafted, and I imagine this new project will fall a bit short of the 100K-word mark, which was the tally on the previous novel. What’s strange is when I undertook this new project I imagined it to be much larger than The Novel Paradox, my previous novel. The ideas were bigger, the landscape was bigger, the characters were bigger. But essentially it’s likely to be a shorter project, in terms of volume.

That’s not to say that after the first revision I won’t encounter some substantial holes that need attention, which will almost certainly add to the length. Or that the first draft itself is just one large hole that must be plucked from the Earth and tossed angrily down some dark, fiery recess. But these large projects are like children: we never know what they’re going to look like or how they’re going to behave when they’re born. We look on amazed as they take shape.

Paradox was written longhand in notebooks during the day while at work or whenever I was away from the typing machine, whole passages sometimes written twice by hand before sitting down to typeset them. This new novel is much different; whereas with Paradox I’d go through about one notebook each month for the two years it took to write the novel, this project largely unfolds outside the physical space of the notebook. The story unfurls like jazz, an improvised process on the machine, without the organic feel of a human interacting with a pen and paper. I’m wondering how that’s going to affect the reading of the novel and what it’s going to mean when comparing the two projects from a reader’s standpoint.

In the interim, I create. Some days I’m tormented, challenged to get through a paragraph of acceptable content, while other days I spray out whole pages easily, a battle tested artist fighting off all challengers, a statue atop the hill of my dead. I do not concern myself too much with how the novel’s going to read, because first I have to write the thing, and second, it’s not guaranteed that anyone will ever read it. What’s important is the creative process, that dance with the self unseen, that self I try so desperately to make the real me.

New direction: Staying the course

In the wake of meeting with my editor and receiving my manuscript back after nearly six months, it occurs to me that Truth Front may once again need a bit of a change.

My editor, in short, told me her edits are minimal. She heaps praise upon the manuscript, but tells me that, if I want to seek a wide readership, I need to make The Novel Paradox more accessible. In her words, I need to dumb it down.

Of course I respect and appreciate my editor and am very grateful to her for working on this as a freelance project, unpaid, out of friendship and sheer goodness of spirit and belief in literature. I wouldn’t have chosen anyone else to help guide me into the shark infested waters of the publishing world. We both believe in literature and will protect its sanctity with our lives and this is why I agree with her, I believe there are many parts of the novel that, to use my term, don’t need to be left to such deep interpretation.

Though I am not necessarily a Realist writer (what exactly is a Realist writer, anyway, and aren’t we all Realist writers, in a way?), I am more or less tethered as a man to the realization that my work is not tailored to a wide audience. I am not writing for the masses (nor anyone, for that matter). The text is deeply interactive with the reader; the reader has to roll up his or her sleeves a bit to fully enjoy the novel.

I write based upon four principles: 1. Sate the creative energy compelling me to write. 2. Write always, and when unable to write, sneak it, like a fox. 3. Write novels (or essays or whatever I’m writing) that I would enjoy reading, and thus, would exhort my own efforts for. 4. Pay homage to the masters that have laid the foundation beneath this crooked, awkward and beautiful structure that literature has become.

Therefore, I believe there is a middle ground I can reach with this thing. I can fill in some gaps, I can utilize the tools of subtlety to perhaps make the text more accessible. But the reader needs to work. That is the beauty of literature, more than any other form of art. I’m not talking about the extreme avant-garde or even highly experimental work. The reader’s interaction with the text is paramount, in my opinion, to realize full enjoyment of the work. The Novel Paradox is a novel about art, about time and madness, but is in many ways just a good-old mystery, and the reader is the investigative apparatus thrust into the middle of it.

I will not dumb the novel down to gain the widest readership possible. It’s not meant for that. The widest readership possible wouldn’t even finish the synopsis on the back cover before setting the novel back on the shelf. But I can make adjustments so that perhaps more people will read and enjoy the novel, and just maybe, more people will read in general.

Now I’m not the champion for literature, or reading in general. As a matter of fact, I’ve been working on a new project, which, auspiciously, appears to be another novel-in-the-making, albeit larger (and more accessible) than The Novel Paradox, a new project which tackles the very issue of reading and its importance. But this is another matter for another entry. Because there will be other entries.

What I’m trying to get at is—with the advent of this new project and with the maintenance and reconfiguration of the former (also current?) project, I’m going to devote less time to the entries of fiction on this page, and more upon the creative process itself, the random musings of an insufferably dedicated writer and reader. A couple of years previous I consciously directed Truth Front toward a fiction-only enterprise, needing that redirection to retain focus on my obsessions, which are writing literature, and the pursuit of knowledge.

But now I think it’s time to redirect the path again, to deepen the labyrinth, so to speak.

So for all the loyal readers of Truth Front (I love you, mom!), go ahead and read the recent pieces of short fiction, if you haven’t already (Kansas City, House of Mirrors, et al.), for soon I will abbreviate them from their entirety. And this is a good thing, because it signals that, indeed, a new project is underway.