Very few novels are published with titles like: ‘The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman.’ While writers of coming-of-age novels about young men have a well-worn, established path to follow in the centuries-old genre of the: “Bildungsroman.” This German word, made popular by writers such as Goethe, refers to a “tale of initiation” where a boy, through worldly experience—usually involving solitary travel—becomes a mature man who is successful in the world. Female initiation tales in novels are much more rare, and when we do see them, they almost never involve solitary travel. A girl who has travelled alone has always risked experiencing social taboos—and still does, even in our “enlightened” 21st Century.
But a “girl travelling alone” is the subject and setting of the story in Roman Payne’s new novel, The Wanderess, which was published this month (November 2013) chez Aesthete Press. The Wanderess—Payne coined the word “wanderess” as the feminine form of “wanderer”—tells the story of “Saskia,” who begins the novel as a girl, and finishes as a young woman. Upon the death of her family, she inherits an income which allows her complete independence throughout her teenage years. This income far from consoles her. As she doesn’t need to work, nor aspire to the ambitions her—no longer living—family expects of her, she must ask herself: “what we are alive for?”… Her temporary answer is to search for the best friend she had while at boarding school in London, who now could be anywhere in Europe.
Like any great novel, there is a great romance. It begins when Saskia’s life gets tangled with the life of an adventurer (Saul), whose pursuit of pleasure and fortune gets tangled with the quest of this “Wanderess” for her long-lost friend and her own fortune. From the back cover description: “The two find themselves on a picaresque path that leads them through Spain, France, Italy and beyond; their adventures weaving them deeper and deeper into a web of jealous passion, intrigue, betrayal, and finally, murder.”
Payne admits that writing this, his fifth novel, wasn’t easy: “I already wrote a novel of initiation [Cities and Countries] about a young man’s solitary travels, adventures, and his coming-of-age; but The Wanderess is my first book where the hero is female. I obviously have no life experience in that role, yet the women who have read the advanced copies are unanimously positive. They expressed their delight and say that Saskia is lovable, convincing, and a highly-successful character.
About the Author: Roman Payne, born January 31, 1977 in Seattle, USA, is an American expatriate literary-fiction novelist. He left America in 1999 and currently lives in Paris. His novels are highly poetic, romantic and literary. They focus on the lives of dreamers and wanderers who travel (usually throughout Europe) looking for the meaning of their lives and of the world. You can meet him on Instagram at: @novelistromanpayne, join him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/novelistromanpayne, or follow his blog at: https://novelistromanpayne.wordpress.com.
“Mr. Payne, your new novel, The Love of Europa, was just partially published – that is, the first 13 chapters were released to give readers a taste for what to expect. Do you intend to serial publish more of the book? Or will the next release be the entire book?”
Roman Payne: It will be the entire book, it should come out this summer. I have to finish writing it first, though.
William Sheller: It is an amazing beginning, I have to say. Personally, I enjoyed reading those first 70 or so pages more than anything you’ve ever written. I like it even more than The Wanderess, which some people believed would be your masterpiece, and perhaps your final work.
RP: Did they think I would drop dead? Or just take up watercolours instead of writing? …No, but I see what you mean. I hesitated to start a book after writing The Wanderess because I was worried that I couldn’t outdo The Wanderess. I thought that was the best writing I was capable of, and I didn’t want to make a slipshod performance to follow it.
WS: Well The Love of Europa is anything but slipshod! It is a beautiful story, beautifully written, and it will find a large market because it speaks primarily to “young women who love to travel.” And there are a lot of young women who love to travel, and those who love to travel tend to have the time to read a lot.
RP: Yes, well like all my books, it is written for the wanderers of the world.
WS: That is something I wanted to ask you… your thoughts on travel vs. wandering. May I print the first paragraph of The Love of Europa so people reading this can see what I’m talking about?
RP: Be my guest.
WS: You wrote: “She called herself Europa, and wandered the world from girlhood till death. She lived every kind of life and dreamt every kind of dream. She was wild in her wandering, a drop of free water. She believed only in her life and in her dreams. She called herself Europa, and her god was Beauty.”
RP: Do you like it?
WS: It’s excellent. You are like a classical composer who reuses bits of his own melodies in multiple symphonies. You take one of your quotes – one of your “wanderess” quotes, for example – and spin it into a new phrase, into a new literary quote, into a new poem.
RP: If you hit on something you like, why not create variations on that theme?
WS: Exactly. But my question here is about your use of the word “wandering” and “wandered” (“she was wild in her wandering”)… doesn’t wandering mean, sort of, walking about aimlessly!
RP: Not at all! (He punches the table)
RP: You know, “wandering” is the major theme of both my life and my work – and they are the same thing. Let me find something in my manuscript for The Love of Europa that I wrote to explain this. Somebody else asked me what “wandering” really means, and why I don’t use the word “travelling” instead. And I’ll tell you why. I wrote this to explain to that person why I use “wander” and not travel”; and then I thought, you know, a lot of people reading The Love of Europa are going to have this question, so I decided to include this paragraph in the book:
The word “travel” comes from the Old French word “travail” (or “travailler”), which means “to work, to labor; a suffering or painful effort, an arduous journey, a tormenting experience.” (“Travel,” thus, is “a painful and laborious journey”). Whereas “to wander” comes from the West Germanic “wandran,” which simply means “to roam about.” There is no labor or torment in “wandering.” There is only “roaming.” Wandering is the activity of the child, the passion of the genius; it is the discovery of the self, the discovery of the outside world, and the learning of how the self is both at one with and separate from the outside world. These discoveries are as fundamental to the soul as “learning to survive” is fundamental to the body. These discoveries, Dear Reader, are essential to realizing what it means to be human. To wander is to be alive.
I am a novelist currently wandering in Spain. I am writing my fifth novel, which will be published in six months. It is about a girl who wanders as I do. She passes through many countries and sleeps in strange beds as I do. Her life is strange as mine is. Our lives are poetic and absurd. I enjoy looking at my life as an object of curiosity. When I drink red wine and wander the European streets at night, and the lantern light glows orange on the stones, I feel as though I am character in a Roman Payne novel. Although my characters are happy for the most-part, they are also sensual and suffer from excessive dreams.
I am the last male in my line with the name Payne. If I were lucky enough to have a wife, instead of remaining solitary as we novelists are so often condemned to remain, I would devote myself to creating children and would consider their creation as worthwhile as writing a novel. Yet I would prefer to have all daughters, (save for one male heir to carry on my name), since as far back as I can remember, girls have delighted me beyond belief. When I was six years old, I had the honor of attending a Catholic school where my class was composed of twenty-eight girls, and four boys including myself. It was no doubt then that I learned all of the qualities and habits that have stuck with me to this day, namely: sensuality.
I am fond of dishes with saffron. I can devour the spiciest chili peppers in any marketplace; and the hotter they are, the more pleasing. Honey is excellent only when it is white in color, and very opaque. I appreciate wild mushrooms of all varieties, especially when they are sautéed in a fine oil. I have a friend who is a great pianist. He is from Certaldo in Italy, the birthplace of Boccaccio. His family produces the best olive oil that I have ever tasted. When it comes to cheese, I like a strong Roquefort most of all.
The only place I call home is Paris. It is a city where I lived for eleven great years. I first moved there in 1999 when the currency was the franc and it was very cheap. I moved back again in 2004 when the currency had become the euro and it was very expensive. To be sensual and full of dreams are both dangerous qualities to possess if living in an expensive city. I left Paris one year ago and went to try to live in Marrakech, but just as Paris was a perfect match for my personality, Morocco was ill-suited to it. I left Morocco with my ambitions in turmoil, and have since been wandering… from Madrid to Athens, Greece; to Seattle (the city of my birth), back to Athens, to Sofia, Bulgaria; and now to Valencia, where I sit currently, writing this self-explanation, seated on a leather bench in the suite of the Caro Hotel, where outside the rain pounds on the tiled rooftops and on the belfries of the Cathedral in the Plaça de la Reina.
I will leave Valencia soon and I do not know where I will go. I never know where I will go. That is the sorrow of living the life of your dreams: that I am a novelist, I guide my occupation, it does not guide me. And this world is an endless terrain of changing shapes and hillsides, all similar shades of green they go off this-way, come from that-way; and not knowing why or to where, how can a man know where to lead himself? Is it not senseless to wander? Is it not absurd to stand still?
– ROMAN PAYNE (Valencia, Spain; November 12, 2012)
“My books primarily focus on the lives of heroic individuals who strive to live the poetic life.”