Q&A with Terry Tracy
author of A Great Place for a Seizure
On the cover of your book you have the title, A Great Place for a Seizure and underneath it, “a novelory.” What is a novelory?
I fused the words “novel” and “short story” to create the term “novelory.” I define a novelory as a series of linked stories that may stand by themselves as individual tales and/or come together as a novel, when read in sequence.
That sounds like an “episodic novel.” What is the difference between an episodic novel and a novelory?
I don't think there is a difference, for now. The narrative novel is the traditional novel and accepted as the norm, not just a type. There is the genre of the novella, which is distinguished from the novel only because it's shorter. Why isn't there a unique term, not just an adjective, for a piece of writing that has a fundamentally different structure than what the world has come to accept as a novel?
Why do you create a term like novelory if the concept is already contained in the term 'episodic novel”
Honestly, I don't think that the term “episodic novel” is well-known to most readers. As a consequence there is confusion and criticism about a jolted story-line that interrupts the readers' enjoyment and the authors' intent to tell a tale. Most readers expect a narrative novel, because most novels are narrative and the narrative is seen as the norm. When those readers pick up an episodic novel it can be a frustrating experience. Identifying a piece of writing as a “novelory” is an attempt to clearly define this way of writing as a particular genre. The term 'novelory' is a road sign and readers, glancing at the cover, can immediately decide whether they want to go down that route. For some reason even though the term 'episodic novel ' exists it's treated as a sub-genre. By denoting a book as a 'novelory' the reader can spend time interpreting, understanding, and criticizing the book for what it is and not getting caught up in frustration over a structure that is actually intended.
Why did you write an episodic novel or “novelory” as you call it vs. a traditional narrative novel?
For me, an episodic form of story-telling is an ideal way to portray life with epilepsy. The reason is summed up in the prefix “epi” from episodic and epilepsy. “Epi” is Greek and means “upon.” The notion behind the use of “epi” in the word epilepsy was to a explain the seizure. Many ancient cultures, and some today, believed that a seizure occurred when an other worldly power fell upon and possessed the individual. In the root epilepsia, “lepsis” means to “to grasp or seize.”
An episode is an outstanding incident. The occurrence suddenly falls “upon” the course of normal events and is contained (has a beginning, middle and end) inside a larger story. Both terms, episode and epilepsy, presume an event taking place within a continuing story-line.
As an epileptic I can tell you that seizures have that effect of suddenly falling “upon” your life. Not only does the episode of a seizure have a physiological beginning, middle and end (losing consciousness, convulsions, gaining consciousness) it also has a setting. There are physical surroundings to a seizure. It happens at a particular time. The witnesses have thoughts and feelings and they act upon them. The epileptic is engaged in an activity before a seizure occurs (watching a movie, driving, or holding a baby). All of these elements inform a potential story-line of that episode of an epileptic seizure. In fact “episode” is also a medical term. Neurologists use it to refer to a specific seizure.
So the subject of your novel, epilepsy, is linked to the style in which you wrote it?
Yes, but the book is not just about epilepsy. Fundamentally A Great Place for a Seizure, a story about identity, seen through the lens of epilepsy and disability. For me, the episodic format is also a good way to treat the issue of disability in a novel. So often the presumption is that a disability is the sum of a person's life. That is false. A person is so much more than the disability they have. Life goes on. There are mean bosses, foods that you don't like, friends that you love, movies you hate, friends you loose, dogs that bite, inspiring teachers, baptisms, bar mitzvahs, high school musicals, Thanksgiving, road-trips, funerals, snow days, a first kiss and the list goes on. There are so many more life experiences that are unrelated to the disability and a person with a disability lives them just as much as those without a disability. That is why the episodic novel is also ideal for demonstrating this element of life with a disability and that is: the parts of life without the disability. There are parts of my book where, if you're looking for how the main character is relating to her disability in that particular incident, you won't find it. Why? Because it's not there. The disability is irrelevant. There is a minor character who is interacting with the main character in the novelory short story and it's not about the disability. A narrative novel format would force me to weave the disability into the characters' relationships and circle around that theme. In a novelory I can have characters come in and out and she can relate to them in ways that are linked to her disability or not linked at all. A disability is part of an individual, not all of the individual. Undoubtedly, better writers could have made the same point in a narrative novel but the 'novelory' treatment served me best.
So if I take on this idea of a “novelory,” then what's the difference between a classic short story and a short story inside a novelory?
In some instances a short story inside a novelory may be very tight and perfectly contained. Those are written in the classic “short story” format. In other instances, for the sake of the flow of the overarching tale, another short story in a novelory might not be as taut. The purpose of those novelory short stories is to tie one story to the next. One analogy would be a charm bracelet. Some novelory short stories are like little gems and trinkets that can each dangle and dazzle on their own. Other stories are like the links in the chain that hold the novelory together.
Can you point to some examples of novelories?
In my opinion anyone who identifies a book as an “episodic novel” has just called it a “novelory” by another name. I do not have the right to label contemporary novelories. But, if I were to take license with works that are classics, to the point that they virtually exist in the public domain, then I would point to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Sound and the Fury. In fact these three raise more questions. Are there different types of novelories? Is a novelory always a “bildungsroman,” that charts the characters' maturity and ethical development? Could another type be a story told from a variety of perspectives. The same events as seen through different facets, different character perspectives, like a gemstone. So is The Sound and the Fury a “gemstone novelory” and the other two are “bildungsroman novelories”? This is what happens when you wall off a concept. An isolated area can become fertile ground to identify, design, and create. Separated from the prevailing majority it is not overwhelmed or seen as a mere alternative, but instead an entity that deserves variations. The very existence of a term to denote a separate genre can be a catalyst for creativity.
What do you say to people who think the coining of the term “novelory” is just a gimmick.
Maybe it is, but that doesn't mean it's not true. It's an honest proposition for people to consider and to disagree, refute, and ridicule or to acknowledge, agree, and refine. In short, I think the “episodic novel” should not treated as a sub-species of the novel, but as a genre unto itself, a novelory.