1) Be a dude, ideally dead. (Twain, Mailer, Faulkner, Hawthorne, Melville)
a. If you are not a dude, be:
b. White and privileged is good (Fitzgerald, Hemingway)
c. So is drunk (ditto)
d. And being named John (Steinbeck, Cheever, Irving, Updike, Dos Passos)
e. Jewish is maybe okay? Especially if you're self-hating about it (Roth)
That's who you should be. But what should you do?
3) Tell a violent story set in the rural American South or West (Penn Warren, McCarthy, McMurtry)
a. The only acceptable city settings are New York or Chicago (Chabon, Ellison, Bellow)
b. There are no exceptions.
4) Center your tale around a white, male hero who encounters and in some way wrestles with diversity, i.e., brown people. (Not necessarily literally but you know. Violence is good.)
5) Set your protagonists traveling. Give them a quest; then, have them find something other than what they set out to find.
6) Title the book appropriately to signal that it is a Great American Novel. Choose among such keywords as "Great," "American," "Country," "Adventures," "Blood(y)," "Naked," "Wrath," "Arms/Armies," "East/West," "Eden/Paradise/Heaven," "Man/Men," "King(s)," "Love," "Light," "Sun," "Moon," "Night," "Dark/Darkness," "Fire," "Dream(s)," "Eye," "Fury," "Kill," and "Dying/Dead/Death." Or select a quote from the Bible!
Questions to ask yourself:
7) What's the body count? Are your characters suffering? Add more violence.
8) Are your characters sufficiently coarsened by the inequities of modern life? Add more profanity.
9) Do you have enough breadth and scope? Are you commenting on the human condition, the virility of the American male, the absurdity of war, the banality of peace, the grinding despair of poverty, the squalid immorality of wealth? Add more traveling and possibly more brown people.
10) Does anyone still read Norman Mailer?
*Inspired by Laura Miller's recent piece in Salon about whether The Flamethrowers scares male critics and, more broadly, that province of men, the Great American Novel.
**Harriet Beecher Stowe actually wrote a whole mess of books, but can you name a single one of them? I thought not. Like Anthony Burgess, she may as well have just written the one.