I am a novelist. This fact, even though I don't have a novel in print and on bookstore shelves and available at Amazon, is indisputable.Notice of this problem of mine began when I was a graduate student. An MFA candidate in creative writing, I'd walk into our writer's workshop armed with what I thought was a kick-ass short story. I'd hand it out the week before it was due to be critiqued by my program-mates; nine other hand-picked students of varying ages, backgrounds, colors, religions, and mindsets.
Invariably, the comments were the same. Lukewarm, at best. The structure was bad. The pacing was off. Where was the epiphany at the end? Didn't I know, there was supposed to be a mind-blowing epiphany?
One day, in a fit of pique, instead of handing around my latest attempt at a story -- a form that never felt natural and, frankly, still doesn't -- I handed around something I'd been working on in the privacy of my basement apartment.
It was the opening of a novel. Not my first attempt at a novel, either. No, my first attempt had been shelved after one of my undergrad professors had liked it so much, he'd sent it to his literary agent -- only to have it come back with the message that my talent needed to mature.
This was my third attempt at a novel, as my second attempt was well on its way to being my Master's thesis and therefore something I had to keep away from the prying eyes of my program-mates. Third time's a charm, the cliché goes, although in most cases, it's not true.
It was this time. Everyone loved it. The students told me they hated workshopping novels in class, but they'd rather see my novel-in-progress than another lame story. My professor told me I was clearly working within my talent. I was, he proclaimed, a novelist. He told me to go forward and not look back. I fully intended to.
Summer intruded, and with it the chance to enroll in the poetry workshop. Summer was the only time that fiction writers got to try their hand at poetry, and that poets got to get wordy with short stories. I was hoping to learn different poetic forms. Instead, we were just to write poems.
So I did. And what do you know, but the criticism I got was exactly the same.
In confused voices, the poets informed me that my longer poems, broken down into shorter stanzas, read like novels. They'd give each other quizzical looks at my peals of laughter, not sure if they had offended or needed to call the nice men with leather restraints and sedatives. I'd reassure them it was all good, but they, too, were relieved when fall came and us fiction writers were returned to our wordier forms.
Since then, I've worn the mantle of novelist quite comfortably, maybe a little bit proudly, even. After all, why fight your nature?