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on August 28, 2012
The Novelist's main character describes her relationship with a poet friend as "more of a thing and less of a thing," saying that "to express it this way made no sense, yet it made perfect sense to Laura." This powerful intertwining of seeming dichotomies characterizes the narrative of L.L. Barkat's debut fiction release.

Laura, an ad copy writer who's never finished even a short story, is challenged by an acquaintance on Twitter to write a novel in an impossibly short time. Along the way, she embarks on a process of discovering herself, the strength of her own center, and the power of both yes and no.

Barkat seamlessly weaves a compelling plot with alluring poetry, truth with fiction, and even profound micro-studies in relationships and the writing craft. Readers of Barkat's previous books will find The Novelist a departure from her earlier work, not simply in genre, but also in what they think they know of the author. In an intriguing sense fitting for the story itself, the transition feels subtle, as though the unexpected comes to be in a very expected sort of way.

The Novelist is the sort of book that leaves you tempted to let the water boil away on the stove while you read just one more page, until you find yourself unexpectedly at THE END. Which, of course, is where the book began. I highly recommend starting there, and reading it again, and again.
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on September 30, 2012
The Novelist is quite an engaging, insightful, and illuminating read. Once again, the author, L. L. Barkat, delivers and in this novella, has managed to incorporate storytelling in the most gentle and comprehensive manner with some of her most breathtaking and moving poetry. We follow Laura, a copywriter and poet, who is challenged by her friend, Megan, to write a novel by September. We are treated to delicious tea infusions as Laura ponders in-depth to make some sense of her relationship with her seemingly non-committal lover, Geoffrey, and in reconciling with her unpleasant past in her endeavor to write her novel. I took away many good moments from this book and am especially impressed by the way L.L. Barkat effortlessly weaves references to other authors' literary works into the storyline as part of Laura's musings on the writing process in deciding a topic. I enjoyed this book from start to finish and highly recommend it.
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on September 20, 2012
The Novelist is a work of fiction L.L. Barkat had to write.

This story about a woman attempting to write a work of fiction feels like memoir, if you know L.L. personally, as I do, or if you have read either of her spiritual memoirs, Stone Crossings or God in the Yard. "Laura" from fiction is a copy writer, grew up in rural New York, and had an abusive stepfather. She drinks tea, reads interesting books, and grows herbs in a backyard that feels like a place I have been. I know this Laura.

The poetry throughout this book feels familiar, too. I didn't look to see if any of these poems were taken directly from L.L.'s book of poetry, InsideOut. But their sensual descriptions and playful meter would have felt right at home there.

L.L., the actual novelist, has Laura, the fictional novelist, quote L.L. the writer of a book about writing, L.L.'s real life Rumors of Water. And the fictional "Laura" participates in Twitter parties and uses the WordCandy.me app that the real life L.L. has orchestrated as part of the poetry movement/literary press she has launched, TweetSpeak Poetry.

Throw in the references to real life photographers Claire Burge and Kelly Sauer, friends of mine as well, not to mention the Tea Empress Muse, Megan Willow, based loosely on real life friend, Megan Willome, and I almost feel like this is a novella I could have written.

Except this work of fiction L.L. pulls off is like nothing I've ever read. All of these things I have mentioned about this book are true - it's memoir, it's poetry, it's promotion, yet the book isn't just any of these things. In fact, the book says on its back cover that it could possibly teach you how to write fiction. But I don't think the book, or its author, would be content with being just a writing manual, either. L.L. has been there and done that.

Besides the obvious, I think this book does three things, and does them incredibly well.

First, this novel was a place for L.L. to play. The Novelist very likely began as a dare for L.L., just the kind of challenge we see Megan Willow posing to Laura in the pages of fiction. Though L.L.'s dare may have been directed to herself. And surely, weaving all of these writing milestones from her past into a fiction about writing could not have been any more fun for L.L.

The second thing L.L. does in The Novelist is model an important writing lesson from Rumors of Water, the very truth "Laura" misquotes in a Tweet to Megan Willow: writing takes time.

Which brings us to the last important accomplishment of this novella. L.L. explores over and over the idea of story-truth, the yes and the no uttered simultaneously. This is a book completely about herself, and yet this is a book so utterly not about herself, too.

In our lives, story truth is expressed in every compliment we want to be true, in the memories we recount just a little differently with every telling, in the prayers of faith we offer, "I believe, help my unbelief."

L.L. plays beautifully with this concept throughout the novella, though she expresses it outright in one particular passage.

"James ignored her smart-aleck comment and went straight to the heart, as she realized he so often did. 'Do you want
to? Write it, I mean?'

"'Yes,' she typed.

"'And no.'

"Both answers were true."
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on December 29, 2012
The Novelist by l. l. barkat

If you are the spouse, partner, or close friends with a writer, this book is also for you. We of the social sub-category known as writers are admittedly an odd bunch. So if you know a writer, and would love some insight into your friends sometimes (okay, often) quirky behavior, the Novelist is just the tour guide you have been waiting for.

If you are a writer, stop whatever you are doing, unless you're actually writing, and read the Novelist. From page one, barkat dives deep into the writer's mind as it really is. All the doubt, confusion and self loathing, are given a modern day, real world context, that is both funny and truthful. At times I felt I was reading the book and listening to the radio in my own head, and the words were identical. The Novelist, soothed this writers soul, made me laugh, and uplifted my confidence. Hemingway said, "Writing is easy, just sit at the typewriter and bleed." Barkat covers all the in between moments so creatively. I thoroughly enjoyed The Novelist.
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on August 31, 2012
The Novelist explores the process of writing through the mind and stories of a character who "has nothing to write about" and yet has been challenged to write a book. As Laura ruminates on the writing process, the author playfully jabs at the literary world. As Laura procrastinates and avoids writing her story, the author crafts a simple yet complex story of a woman whose tragic and endearing past becomes the novel she has not yet figured out how to write. The Novelist is layered in ideas about the writing process, the importance of one's experiences in the creation of fiction, and the evolution of a story ready to be born.
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on September 5, 2012
The Novelist is a stunning, tightly woven delight for the intellect and heart. In this Charlie Kaufmannesque story about a woman writing a story (who in many ways reflects the author's own journey toward writing the story in the story), we read about a writer coming to terms with her family history, relationships, and insecurities as she psychs herself up for the daunting writing process. The novel's multiple story lines, including the main character Laura's romantic relationship, the story of Laura's mother, the story of Laura's literary history, and the inclusion of poems (Adrienne Rich!) reflect the novel's themes like many prisms. The author's original poetry, writen by the protagonist, is a work of art in its own right. These layers of story and literary allusion are all cast so convincingly against the backdrop of modern life--Twitter, chat and email break-ups--that I often feel I am reliving scenes from my own life. Disconcerting? No. A comfort. Barkat reminds us we are not alone.
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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2012
She's lost
her tea basket
she's losing
her lover

perhaps

she should
dare to write
a novel

Or at least a novella.

Laura works for a marketing agency. She writes poetry, and sends poems to Geoffrey, her lover of 28 months and 28 hotel rooms. She knows Geoffrey is bound to walk away at some point; she senses the relationship won't last. She carries baggage, family baggage, from the past. Her Twitter friend Megan has dared her to a novel, and so far all Laura has been able to write is "The End."

And all of this swirls and stews, jumbles and brews into "The Novelist," a novella by L.L. Barkat. The work is both a novella and, between the lines, a discussion of and meditation upon writing and the writing process.

Barkat, the author of a memoir ("Stone Crossings"), a book on creativity and writing ("Rumors of Water"), a collection of poetry ("Inside/Out"), and a spiritual exercise book ("God in the Yard") has turned her hand to fiction, bringing to her story the same spare, almost stripped-down and laser-like reflection that she brings to her others works, including the poems. Perhaps especially the poems, as "The Novelist" might be considered an extended poem in a prose format - and an extended poem about writing.

As we travel through Laura's landscape - her interior landscape - we find writers like Mario Vargas Llosa, Marilynne Robinson, Tim O'Brien, and James Scott Bell; poets like Adrienne Rich; non-fiction writers; and even a few references to "that Barkat woman." We find poems, too, for Laura is, after all, a poet, doing what poets and writers do to make sense of the world around them - and that is to draw upon their own lives and experiences to try to create something true. Or at least something that will help pay the bills.

Writing comes from life, not only living life but grappling with the whats and the whys and the hows. That is what Laura is doing in the The Novelist - grappling with her life, even as it is being transformed around her.

Where did she put that tea basket?
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on September 30, 2013
This experimental novella uses a slice-of-life story-telling technique to discuss starting a novel. At first erotic, the novella becomes increasingly haunting. Make it halfway through and it's easy to finish. Thoughtful quotes throughout show how to make each day, each situation a beautiful one. A writer once told me to go outside and let something affect me. Then, write that. The message of The Novelist is clear: write a picture.
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on November 12, 2012
I really enjoyed reading this book. I was looking for inspiration for NaNoWriMo when I came across this book. "A character named Laura who is trying to write a book? That's me!" I liked that the flashbacks and backstory were easy to separate from the present narrative. I liked it!
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on September 8, 2012
If you've ever thought of writing a novel and weren't sure what to write about or how to start, well, Laura knows how you feel. She's been dared by an online friend to write a novel by September, and she's not sure she's up to the task. If she could find her tea basket, then maybe. By the time the novel ends, she has reevaluated her life--both past and present--and learned to say yes and no at the same time.

Read the book for the poetry alone--L.L.'s and the quotes from poets like Adrienne Rich.
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