Two novelists journeyed to Washington yesterday to talk about home.

The forum was The Washington Post's Book and Author Luncheon at the Sheraton-Park Hotel yesterday, and the recurring theme showed itself in a variety of ways.

Veteran writer John Knowles told how it had taken him six novels and one travelogue to get around to writing about home, which is the West Virginia coal country setting in his latest novel, "A Vein of Riches."

For Maria Katzenbach, 24-year-old daughter of former U.S. Attorney Gen. Nicholas Katzenbach and author of "The Grab," home was the "natural" setting, she said, for her first novel.

And for the scheduled third speaker, anthropologist Margaret Mead, whose "Letters From the Field, 1925-1975" was published in January, home was someplace to stay yesterday rather than talk about. The snow kept her in New York.

Katzenbach, who wrote of three middle-aged sisters gathered at the dead mother's home to divide her possessions, reasoned why it was "inevitable that I'd want to put home in my novel."

Katzenbach's book was based on her own family's experiences, she said. Knowles said the same.

"I was being asked by friends, agents, editors - why not a book on coal mining, on life in West Virginia," said Knowles, whose father was a vice president of a powerful West Virginia coal company. Until "A Vein of Riches," he said, he was hard put to find a literary path into his early days in coal country.

He ultimately chose the coal boom period between 1909-24 as the time to describe his place - "the essential quality of place in fiction," he said - to all you folks at home.

"People are fundamentally affected by the place where they live . . ." he said. "What I was after was to make people experience, vicariously, another place."