Vendredi, 24 juin. Novellas and films. Beginning with issue four of The Angler I will be changing the focus of the magazine to better reflect my interests, or my two passions: fiction and film. While I'm still concerned with social issues and idling (subjects that will no doubt come up in the context of the stories and films I choose to write about), I admit that I'm more interested in writing about film and literature than I am about beer and fishing (although I still enjoy drinking and brewing beer and fishing and lazying about on the beach with a good book).
In the past I published short stories in the pages of The Angler. This was more a practical consideration than an expression of actual love of the short form (I mandated that the short stories be about 1000 words). I reasoned that if the stories were short than I could read through all the submissions in my spare time. The problem was that the number of short submissions was large, so in preparation for putting together an issue of The Angler I would end up reading 30 or 40 stories. All of them of a similar quality, and only a few really rising above the rest. (Basically, I was reading the equivalent of one or two novellas for each issue.)
Of late, I've been (after many years of delay) finally writing my planned book about the films of Éric Rohmer. Working on this project has reminded me just how much I enjoy watching, discussing, and writing about film. Also, it brought me back to another idea (or interest) that I've long been nurturing, but do nothing about: that is developing the novella as a literary form. The novella seems to be my preferred literary form, both for reading and for writing. And it happens to be the literary form most like a film in size, scope, and structure.
Most of the novels I've written are short novels; technically they are novellas. (I'm not overly insistent on arguing the definition of a novella as distinct from a long short story or a short novel. I've found that most people -- when I talk to them about these ideas -- have a sense of what a novella is, so the term is useful to describe the literary form I'm interested in.) Of course, a literary form isn't fully defined by a word count, but just as a rule of thumb, you could say that a novella is from 15 to 30 thousand words in length, that is, fifty to hundred pages when typeset in a standard way. Rohmer says explicitly that this length of story will fill a 90 to 120 minute block of screen time. Incidentally, Rohmer wrote his Six Moral Tales as a series of thematically related novellas before filming them. And, like a film, a novella can be read in a single sitting.
My interest in the novella doesn't imply a lack of interest in the long form: the novel. For the most part, when I read I reach for a novel. A short novel is better if I don't yet know (and trust) the author. For the longest time I put off reading Ulysses and À la recherche du temps perdu just because they were big novels, but once I took the plunge and started reading them, I found the very long form just as interesting and rewarding as the short form of the novel.
The novella is probably a neglected literary form because of packaging considerations. Novellas appear to be too short when printed by themselves in a single volume. Bookstore browsers have a hard time paying $9.95 for a sixty page book where there's a 500 page tome next to it retailing for $19.95. The 500 page book seems to be more of deal. Thinking about a book in terms of size and cost might seem a little strange to the informed reader, but the publishing business has to account for economic processes which aren't necessarily rational. Perhaps electronic publishing and e-readers will spark a renaissance in the writing and publishing of novellas. We'll see.
The packaging problem can be solved if authors write a series of linked novellas which can be published together in the same volume. The series idea could be applied to works that are linked either by theme or by a set of common characters.
Here's my proposal: for the new Angler I will be collecting together critical writing about film and fiction (with a special interest in the novella form, though not exclusively), and I would like to publish novellas (works of fiction that could be adapted to or from filmed stories). Associated with the novella form is the form that would be analogous to the documentary or the film essay (like a written version of Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, for example). So the table of content for The Angler No. 4 might include four sections: a memoir (documentary), a novella, an adaptation, and collection of critical reviews.