The past tense is by far the most common tense used in novel writing today. Come to think of it, it is used everywhere: in newspapers, in non-fiction books, in magazines, on the news – you name it.
So am I saying you should use it simply because it is the most common tense? Not exactly, no…
Standing apart from the ordinary and the commonplace is a good thing. But the best way to do it in fiction is through original characters and an original story told in a unique way.
Writing a novel in the future conditional tense, say, might be original (or even unique) but only in a very shallow way.
The reason I believe that most of you reading this should use the past tense is simple: it is what readers expect, and what they therefore feel comfortable with.
The past, paradoxically, feels more rooted in the “here and now” than the present tense does.
Why? I’m really not sure, other than the fact that it is the tense us humans have always used to tell stories (and the reason for that, of course, is that a story is something that is over and done with, that is in the past).