Saturday, July 12, 2014

Your Great American Novel - free ideas to use

Chicano author Ernest Hogan
This post follows what Ernest Hogan's Thursday post, Chicanonautica: What If a Chicano Wrote the Great American Novel?, and Manuel Ramos's, yesterday, The Great American Novel, Continued.

About Ramos's ideas, Adrian commented, "Just write your heart and what happens, happens. Only time and history will tell, if anyone ever gave a rat's tuchas." Since some of you might give a rat's ruchas right now and want to write that GAN---Chicano or otherwise--here are ideas you can incorporate into your manuscript.

Author Manuel Ramos
Ramos already described one set: "A novel that beautifully captures the pain and joy and mystery of living in 21st century America, that honestly deals with race and gender and sexual orientation and immigration and militarism and climate change and love and death, with a fresh but obviously American perspective.”

My proposal for a GAN isn't to conflict with or improve on what Ramos described; it's just another one, taken somewhat from different angles.

The Plot - Aggression. To encompass all that's truly American, a GAN's plot should follow the "plot" of American (U.S.) history. In the first half, include the Three Great Desecrations--as someone termed them--of the theft and attempted genocide of the American Natives. Follow that with the enslavement, dehumanization and exploitation of Afro-Americans. Then, the invasion and theft of the Southwest from the Mexican people, and the subsequent lynchings and denial of civil rights and full citizenship.

The plot should include most of the wars begun by the U.S., especially bringing your setting into the future. From the Vietnam War on, there's plenty of material for plenty of wars of aggression chapters. (You'll have to exclude WWII, the war against the more-fascists.) Since you're writing fiction, not history, you'll need to put the setting in the background and link it to your characters' lives, decisions and personalities.

Antagonist - Bad Guys galore. You'll have a problem limiting the number of antagonists, given the hundreds that history has provided us. Pick only the richest cabrones and the cruelest políticos who kept them in power. White people, in general, and simpleminded, pendejo racists don't make for well-developed antagonists. Cheney of course will live long in infamy, but a satanic bad guy who's totally off the deep end of abomination might bore some readers.

Transformers are not heroes
Protagonists - heroes for our times. In the spirit of what Ramos suggested, do not go the route of a lone hero, even just a lone Chicana heroine. Or giant robots, either. Instead, create your own Justice League that includes several nationalities and races, both sexes, etc. Something like Tolkien's Fellowship of the Rings, without whitish guys hogging the glory. Yes, it should include a couple of progressive or revolutionary-minded Anglos, for diversity's sake.

Themes - Individualism or ? Avoid the temptation of appealing to Americanized audiences with an Ayn Randish, individualistic, it's-all-about-me, Wild West, lone-heroes-ride-in-to-save-the-day theme. In our times, individualistic heroism is Death, of the species. On the other hand, communal values (without organized religions' prejudices), tribal identity (without empire-building mentality), and self-development minus the competition gene--all that can be drawn on from our common, humane, genetic make-up. You'll just have to nurture it because it won't happen naturally.

Post-apocalyptic SnowPiercer
Setting - Apocalyptic or Post? TV, cable and Hollywood have pushed the Bad-Times-to-Come idea over a cliff. So, what do you do? Try a different perspective. Instead of vampires, frozen Earth, devastating plagues or Mean Militias America, make your setting more realistic. What would you and others actually do?

If it's truly the End of Times, courtesy of our political parties, fossil-fuel industries and the 1%, from the beginning of your novel, focus on la familia learning to cope. Friends who learn to help each other. Neighbors who join to defend themselves and keep all the good guys happy. Multinational cooperatives that band together, not just to survive, but to create a new way of life. Maybe one that greatly resembles some old ways of life.

Climax - how good can you make it? I don't want to spoil the ending, so I leave that to your imagination. If you've read Octavia E. Butler's Parable of The Sower series, you will see some of my ideas are influenced by her. Influence, acknowledged. Go find yours.

Now that your GAN is finished, you're not done. You'll have to sign copies--many--and figure out which groups and peoples to donate the money to. If you were to keep it all, you might wind up turning into one of your antagonists.

Buena suerte with your writing,
RudyG (not known as a GANovelist, yet.)


  1. Ay! This is spinning out of control! There will be rioting over this yet . . .

    But seriously, young writers need to learn that there’s more to it than vomiting up undigested pop culture, which is just a step above biting the heads off chickens for fun and profit.

    The real trouble is that publishers aren’t really looking for the Great American Novel. The want a Great American Bestseller that can be chewed up and forgotten while earning big bucks. As a Borders customer once explained to me:

    “Y’know, an airport book! The kind that will keeps you busy while waiting in line, but if you leave it somewhere, it doesn’t matter.”

  2. Ernesto, the airport guy had it down--"it doesn't matter."

  3. I wish that someone will do a blog about writing the Great Mexican Novel. Thanks in advance.

  4. Author Gloria, someone might already be writing the first or next Great Chicano, Mexican, Mexicano, Latino, Etceterino Novel. Might that be you?

    If you mean something else, let us know.

  5. Perdón, my eyes sometimes fail me.
    I meant, Author G--I--ora.

  6. I finished the first draft (56K words) of a romantic novel set all over Mexico. It's the story of a young women from Chiapas and her quest to find a husband. The novel aims to present Mexico positively to readers: its music, literature, folklore, history, cities and beaches. But it's a contemporary commercial novel that might be a Popular Mexican Novel, not a Great Literature.


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