Unpublished Novel: Excerpts from Part One, Chapters 1 and 2


Chapter One
The Author As Boy Crying

Once upon a time, when my father Bob was twelve, he wrote a story entitled “From Range to Range,” about a Boy who had a pet lamb. The story is told from the lamb’s point of view.

The lamb loved The Boy, and together they enjoyed free frolicking in the fields. But from the open range, and a dramatic fight with a pack of wolves, the story devolved to an oven range. Our narrator is eaten with relish by the family. While The Boy cried.

The description of The Boy Crying was the most beautiful detail.

This story captivated Bob’s fourth-grade teacher with its poignant drama, and became the basis of Bob’s idea of himself as Author-To-Be.

This author was a little girl when she read it herself. She was also taken in by the sad tale.

Or was it only maudlin… Can’t check on present tense, as I can’t find the story anywhere in Bob’s papers.

‘Boy Crying’ may be read as the coda of my father, Bob Sellers’, existence.

I am crushed, as are many who lose a parent, by thoughts that I’ve forgotten to do something. But the most dominating one is that of not having sufficiently appreciated his talents as a writer.

At his death, I was left alone to dig through his tiny, messy studio apartment. There, more than anything, I found papers: disheveled papers, files from his early life, documents from his writing life, newspapers he’d published in…

And, most notably, there was the unfinished, untitled, great Unpublished Novel of that writer’s life, a bulky pile in a light-green cloth loose-leaf folder. In my characteristic, hifaluten style I wrote in my diary:

“This unspeakable monstrosity had hung like the proverbial Damocles sword over my entire childhood!”

The threatening, yet perfect fatality that now must fall.

Upon the death of Bob, the unfinished novel would never be finished, and thus remain unpublished, unless I, as surviving daughter-writer, did something about it.

In the weeks following his death, the adjunct material to this novel, the discrete body of my father’s papers becomes a source of constant pleasure and infinite interest.

I decide to begin the work of regeneration, bring new life to his legacy, and perhaps enliven my own moribund creative source.

So in these years since his death, as I attempt to finish this manuscript, which started off to be solely about the unfinished, Unpublished Novel, how compelling remains each and every page of these files. Their mass is no longer enormous to me, I can compass it, and it fills about two drawers of a standard letter-size file cabinet.

But I never did find “From Range to Range.”


My own writerly ambition commenced at the age of seven. I went round the playground after lunch, making sure I told every child and all the nuns: “I am writing a book…”

Such ambitions as are left now fifty years on encompass a few published works, obscure and out of print, to faintly console me, and a very large mass of papers and files for four Unpublished Novels.

My march around the playground, insisting on my authorship, occurred right after Bob my father had come home from prison, with his first novel ‘finished,’ so he fantasized. I must have heard him insisting that he was a writer, that he had written, or was writing a book. And in those days I wanted to be just like Daddy.

I ought not put myself too harshly to trial, for not adoring better my father the writer — for Bob was himself ambivalent about being one. This desuetude stemmed from his never having become a Great One. Unlike his best-beloved F. Scott Fitzgerald; and like most men, he imagined worldly success meant that One must be Great. And that lack of success meant — he couldn’t possibly be.

But F. Scott died with all his books out of print. He died considering he had been a failure. He died of a heart attack – at least that’s what they call dying of a broken heart these days.

But Bob never totally disbelieved in himself. Or at least he never admitted that he had given up on fame and fortune.

In the fall of 1990 Bob and I were visiting Paris, and walking through the gardens of the Rodin Museum — and for the first time my father told me he’d had an unrealized ambition: to be a painter.

By the time he was a teenager everyone thought that would be his life, since he had a talent for drawing. Which was remarkable to me, considering my own life-long love for and attraction to painters.

Bob said however he’d never wanted to be a painter — he’d wanted to be a writer. But since he hadn’t been successful, he could now wonder at the age of 65 if he had made the right choice. The Boy was Crying…

So there, I missed another chance to encourage my father, to help him become that
greater artist, as we walked through the gardens of Paris, considering the Great Ones.


Chapter Two
The Curse of the Subject Matter

[Edited November 11, 2015]

Every writer has only two or three stories to tell, no matter how many facets may gleam for a reader — a hard-working artist’s entire work, in the end, may boil down to but one full paragraph, or two. And why not? For we are fiction writers and not philosophers. Painstakingly unearthed, crafted throughout the life, reconsidered and polished, the writer’s whole psyche still reflects but a few thoughts, or three, for your idle entertainment.

I agree with this particular idea held by the author F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of Bob’s two favorite authors” that any author had, at the end, but a very few things to say.

[Find quote]

My own constant and feverish reading of my own favorite author, the poet Charles Baudelaire, my fixation on his tragedies and triumphs, brought me one day to a text, perused for hours in Paris’ famous Shakespeare’s book store —

I have dragged this one-page extract around with me on my travels for over twenty years. Marks on the back of the xerox-copy (for I found the book later in my college library) attest to its being posted over dozens of writing-desks…

I of course connected it first to my own case. But for the purposes herein, that is, concerning the unpublished novel of Bob Sellers, it is apt and more.

“Considered in terms of aesthetic values, the poet-hero’s struggles to escape from Spleen towards the Ideal is synonymous with his struggle to convert his experience of life into great poetry. The Ideal, in its aesthetic form, therefore must remain constant throughout, in the sense that it is aimed at in every poem and is enjoyed as the ‘principe de poesie’ — the specific kind of pleasurable emotional excitement which characterizes successful poetic activity for poet and reader alike.

“What varies is not the pure esthetic Ideal but the kinds of ideal that serve the poet as subject-matter [author’s italics] for his art, at different stages of his poetic career. These are so varied and so arranged as to allow him to treat the whole range of human passions from the most beautiful to the most ugly.

“All are transformed with equal success into the specifically artistic beauty of the pure aesthetic ideal and the poet-hero achieves an artistic triumph.”

The following lines are darkly underscored…

“He nevertheless lives the tragedy which is unfolded in the subject-matter of his poems and his very aspiration towards the aesthetic form of the Ideal helps to bring about his moral and spiritual ruin and indeed the ruin of his basic mental health.”

… for I have manifested those darker aspects of the personality, as did Bob: the decadent, the rebellious, the excessive… the addiction to vices and delusions… a hubris-ridden path.

Thus have I ever called this concept ‘The Curse of the Subject-Matter.’ How such a curse reverberated through F. Scott’s life, through my father Bob’s, and through my own… is the now, I do pray uncursed subject matter of this present excavation. Not a memoir, nothing so schmaltzy, nor saintly… but an archeological dig into a necrotic mass: the Lives of the Ungratified, of the Unknown — of the Unpublished Artists.

Rising like a black sun above our landscape is the messy, crazed, cracked-up mass of papers and files — designated as The Unpublished Novel.

“For although the aesthetic ideal is itself a perfectly pure and healthy one, closely connected, moreover, with the highest form of the religious ideal, pursuit of it encourages him to give expression to morally dangerous tendencies in the appetent, or instinctive level of his personality which underlies (and, to a large extent, assimilates) the rational levels formed by aesthetic and religious culture.

“He thereby fosters the development of tastes which cause him to be gradually seduced from his original allegiance to the ideal of God and led down through what he hopes is a neutral position…. to the extreme of moral and spiritual evil — allegiance to the ideal of Satan — before seeking a final, morally neutral ideal in and beyond death.”

I no longer have any idea who wrote this passage. All that I have is the partly torn, faded xerox copy of a text I have carried with me since I was nineteen.

F. Scott’s early success — publishing a novel he wrote at twenty to universal acclaim by the age of twenty-four — enabled him to immediately marry his Muse and eternally cursed Subject-Matter, the half-mad, half-genius Zelda. They established an extravagant lifestyle (closely watched by the press of the time) and together created a glamour, an aesthetic, that persists today, despite the dire tarnishing their lives later took.

The curse is always one we perpetrate upon ourselves. No witch or demon inflicts it upon us, though Fitzgerald’s Zelda was exactly such. No, his subject-matter was not just that girl. His subject-matter was himself — that kind of crazy man, who loved the crazy girl. He started out as a serious man, though saddled with temptation, and the bad marriage exacerbated his vices. And as his discipline and his faculties faltered, so did his authorship.

Fitzgerald was to suffer most acutely — despite his talents, his poetry, and his idealism — from his subject-matter — part of that curse being his entrapment by the ‘fatal woman.’ Who as a teenager is certainly charming — and as a young woman waxes fascinating, stimulating, inspirational — but who as a mature woman and failed artist becomes a virago — tyrant, dominatrix and destroyer.

Zelda, living Muse, might have been taught discipline by her author husband. The list of what he and she might have done to forestall the trajectory down of both their creative engines… is very long indeed. The workings of the curse and its tragedy has been detailed ad infinitum in every biography from the period, and since.

As for his romantic Ideal — his near-hysterical insistence upon her as Goddess whom he manifested on earth — she was not the sigil of a determined universe, that he as author had to live within. She was only the mar of obsession, that disfigured his talent. That femme fatale character wore out his heart, and dropped him dead at the age of forty-four.

Such a curse as this our protagonist, the romantic, idealistic Bob rushed to taint himself with. As per the mythos of F. Scott, he was ever a worshipper at the altar of Literature. He affected a certain sartorial splendour, and found himself a Zelda. Finally, like many from his era (1920s born, 1940s young manhood…) he was an unrepentant drinker to the last days of his life.

Though his third novel took eight years to complete, F. Scott did not suffer terribly from non-publication. He enjoyed that ideal reality – the very first serious novel he wrote, at age twenty, was published and achieved an astounding success – popular, financial, and artistic – by the time he was twenty-four. Youths who still aspire to authorship may still imagine they could be a Rimbaud – or a Fitzgerald.

For all his adamant ruling over my authorship, that one not be afraid to edit, cut, rewrite, Bob never worked on a second draft of his Unpublished Novel. Though the subject-matter of “Breck and Vee” is superficially, ostensibly that of a young, disaffected banker with a drinking problem, the real subject-matter is himself. But not himself as a bon-vivant, ‘cool guy,’ sophisticated high-liver. Nor even as the idealistic aspirant, good boy/bad boy, failure. No, the curse manifested itself such: that Bob was possessed of an on-the-run, off-the-cuff, facile faculty of turning himself into subject-matter.

In our living room, when I was a child, the furniture was shabby and second-hand. The floor was usually unvacuumed, the cocktail table cluttered with dirty glassware and bowls of scraps of chips and pretzels. There might have been some large male mammal snoring on the couch. But the library was pristine.

Along the length of the room stretched seven five-shelf bookcases, crammed with books, which Bob my father took care to dust every couple of weeks.

There was no TV set. Just detritus from drinking parties, and a landscape of books.

My father Bob worshipped Fitzgerald, and everything to do with the Twenties. Hemingway, Sylvia Beach, Joyce, Paris, Paris, Paris… Direct quotes from that time and their work informed my up-bringing with peculiar maxims:

“We’re being geniuses together.” [Robert McAlmon]

“Living well is the best revenge.” [Often attributed to the 1920s socialite Gerard Murphy, though some biographers claim it is an old Spanish maxim. Modern search engines attribute it to the English metaphysical poet, George Herbert, circa early 1600s. ]

“All good Americans go to Paris when they die.” [Thomas Gold Appleton] *

That my Daddy after he was dead might be located somewhere in Paris, became my staunch opinion over Sister St. Hugh’s insistence that the address must be ‘Heaven.” Or, in Bob’s case, “Hell.” Bob’s moe modern wisdom gave Paris undue weight over any alleged aerie or pit.

Bob also touted H. L. Mencken, 1920s publisher and critic… whom I never read, until I inherited Bob’s library… swearing that Mencken was the genius who’d train me: how to be succinct, how to write the perfect declarative sentence. He insisted I should hone myself on his brilliant stylisations and pristine wit. Mencken was also the publisher of ‘The Smart Set,’ a magazine whose brilliance is now lost to us, but which in 1920 was as hot as you could get. And finally, Mencken was the friend of Fitzgerald.

Bob loved Mencken, as he loved to be a student… all his life he was sedulous as to writerly imperatives. He especially obsessed over the finer points of the comma, period, and semi-colon. This was partly overcompensation for never having finished college, though he did take a banking course, or two. When I was considering college, majoring in English, and studying writing, he adamantly corrected me — insisting that in order to “study writing,” (which he emphasized sarcastically) one simply sat oneself down and wrote. Though he probably phrased it more caustically, somewhere along the lines of “Just glue your ass to a chair and get to it.”

“None of the greats had degrees in English Literature,” he insisted. One might discover otherwise today… if there actually ARE any greats today. So when as a high school junior I got a horrifying “C” in creative writing, I didn’t let that worry my dreams of literary fame. For I had been taught that since the man who gave me such a grade had a degree in English Lit, he couldn’t possibly know much about writing.

Bob was always disappointed that his literary daughter’s readings did not also revolve around those he considered the greats: the muscular American authors of the early twentieth century. As an adolescent, I gravitated to French writers in the Symbolist school, 19th century. Or Proust. Rainer Marie Rilke. Samuel Beckett. The most modern I got was Jean Genet, and later on the American William Burroughs.

“Why are all the writers you like FAGS?” Ambivlent as ever — did he not realize that the Proust in my book-case was filched from his own library?

The allusive, illusory, unnatural nature of the man who drinks: he begins to style himself as a perfected being. He’s not a mess, but a character. He’s not sociopathic, but colorful. He wants more out of
life than a wife and kids, and living in some cheap apartment. Through literary magic he is able to turn first himself, and then his loved ones, friends and even his two daughters into rich, dramatic subject-matter.

Like F. Scott, Bob admired the wealthy, but being from ‘trash,’ lower-middle-class, his crime — that of acquiring wealth without the prerogatives of the wealthy — became a downfall. And though F. Scott suffered his own loss of place, he was from the start born of good family.

Bob may have failed at his self-translation into literature, in “Breck and Vee.” We know that he never tried to work on it much, once he got out of prison. But just because it remained unfinished doesn’t yet mean it has failed.

In the novel his alter ego, the character Breck Carraway stays a sad man. Was Bob afraid to make his character aspire too high? Breck hasn’t the highfaluten escape of an artistic ambition; it seems he just wants to drink as much as possible. His dissatisfactions are never metaphysical. His self-worth hinges on landing Vee, a wealthy ‘high-class’ woman. Bob wanted such a woman, Breck almost got her… and both of them wanted out of the banking business. Breck never gets out, but Bob did, the hard way… but his cracked-up life he transmogrified, with filmic constancy, into his own, modernly classical tragedy. Better than writing about it, living it was more gratifying, and instantly so.

At the time of his arrest, Bob was a young banker with a gambling problem … had not yet been formed… a man without a solid place in society. His ‘place’ became that of a convict, then ex-convict and literary aspirant. But in time he became a being we must concur is now more valuable than that of a famous published author. He developed into a literary daemon; — an engine of the literary spirit.


* Thomas Gold Appleton, 1812-1884, American author of six relatively unknown novels written between 1972 and 1879. This quote is usually attributed to Oscar Wilde, who employed it in his Picture of Dorian Gray. The actual quote is “Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris.” In Wilde’s text he includes the coda, “And where do the bad Americans go?” Answer: “They stay in America.”


Terence Sellers, 2016