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Amber Paulen


Fresco of San Silverstro in Basilica Santi Quattro Coronati

The flying horse, Pope Sylvester, and Constantine. Image courtesy of Petrus Agricola.

Way back last year I started to get ideas for a manuscript. I began working on it. I threw it away, worked some more, threw that away, started again. The last time I started over was at the end of summer, but with one thing and another, I have only really started now. I can’t think of any better way to spend my working time.

Those who can support themselves by pure novel writing are few. Nowadays writing a novel is synonymous to marketing it, which is, in some ways, a waste of a writer’s time. I understand the necessity, what with the publishers’ low budgets and all, but still a marketer is never asked to write a novel. Often times, these novel writers market and write on top of a full-time job.

I have had the privilege of knowing a writer who manages to eke out his existence writing books. We work in the same library, he working on a novel, I working on bits of articles and editing. Yesterday we got to talking. He’s starting a new novel, one that he’s been incubating for years. Only yesterday he reached the point where the novel began to live as a thing in itself, instead of a thing he pushed along and into shape.

Everyday at the library he surrounds himself with notes and notebooks. Sometimes he turns his computer off to think and stare. He writes notes and reads them over. Watching his method reminds me of how important a drifting mind is for creation and the freedom of invention.

Apse of Quattro Santi Incoronati

Basilica Santi Quattro Coronati as seen from my writing window.

Last week I finally went to the Chapel of Saint Sylvester (cappella di San Silverstro) in Basilica Santi Quattro Coronati that towers behind our apartment. Inside is a small cycle of frescoes from the 1200s depicting the story of Pope Sylvester curing Constantine from leprosy. The colors are vivid; there are decorative nuances and lots of gold.

Looking at the frescoes it’s difficult not to compare them to those that came out of the Renaissance, with their variety and perspective. Forgetting the benefits of foreshortening and looking at the frescoes plainly, the story came out all the more clearly. Much clearer than later paintings cluttered with so many figures. Sometimes the horses’ hooves don’t have to touch the ground to understand that the horse is moving.

There are so many rules and ideas to try to remember when working on a project as big as a novel. While it’s good to keep the necessities in mind, it’s just as good to forget them in exchange for a wandering mind.


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