The first step to a Great American Novel

About 45 years ago, a voice told me that I would write the Great American Novel


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By Arlene Jones


About 45 years ago, I was walking across the gravel lot that was Cooley High School's parking lot. I was headed to catch the Division Street bus, and the sun was shining brightly. I can still hear the distinctive sound my shoes made crossing that lot when all of a sudden a loud version of my inner voice told me I was going to write the Great American Novel.

One of the first things that happened when I heard the pronouncement was to question just where that came from. I didn't have a passion for writing at that time. In truth, it was a struggle just to write the book reports for school. Plus, I felt all the Great American Novels had already been written. There was Gone with the Wind. I don't think I had read the book at that time, but my mom and I had gone to a downtown movie theater to see it. Or The Wizard of Oz. In an era where we didn't have movies at our fingertips, The Wizard of Oz was a classic that I sat down to watch whenever it came on television.

Finally, my mind settled on the novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Why I thought of that book, I cannot say. Maybe it was because we were supposed to be boycotting grapes in solidarity with Cesar Chavez.

I was 17-18 at the time, and I was silently arguing with a voice which made a prediction that didn't make sense at the time. Over the years, the memory of that day never left me. It remained vivid as a constant nudge toward what I was supposed to do.

It was only when I first began writing for this newspaper in 2003 that I truly tapped into my natural desire and ability to write. It started with a couple of columns a month. I would think of current local events and eventually settle on one to be my topic. It didn't take long for me to go from a column every other week to once a week. To this day, I have never suffered from "writer's block." Rather, the fight is deciding which topic to settle on.

When I wrote my first novel in 2009, I didn't know how to write a book. What I did was sit down and just begin telling the story. Even today, when I look back at what I wrote pretty much off the top of my head, some of the subplot themes I mentioned in the beginning of the book are validated or connected at the end of the book. I don't know if other writers have to sketch out their book and plots in details to be able to connect the dots later, but for me it is something I do without giving it much thought.

I write all the time. I have a number of finished, but unpublished, manuscripts that I'm trying to get published. My most recent novel, which took me four years to research and write, is the one I am calling my Great American Novel. It is the one I am willing to risk everything for and as I come closer to publishing it, I will share the premise of it.

If the journey toward my end goal is a million miles, it all begins with the first step. I am taking that step. 

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