Friday, October 23, 2009

When Life Hands You Roses and Love

What does a writer do when the meaning of life changes and everything he's been writing for ten years goes against the grain of his new insights?

By David Biddle for Talking Writing

The fiction I’ve been writing over the past decade is about the day-to-day pathos of love between married people. During the past several years, close to 20 of my friends and family members have had to deal with infidelity and other versions of crumbling love. It’s very likely that for every marriage challenged by affairs and anomie, there are probably another 20-30 other couples out there either headed in the same direction or struggling with the humdrum day-to-day of children, jobs, mortgages, commuting, shopping, and periodic, hurried, and quite periodic sex.

Every bit of my prose is informed by the emotional lives around me. I am currently shopping seven different stories about infidelity and obsession to literary publications everywhere. The main theme of these stories is that love is tragic but somehow desire is still life affirming. This is a cynical view of married life in America, but to a certain extent it describes the reality.

Out there as well is a manuscript for a novel I wrote about suburban sexual intrigue that is both amoral and pathetic. My intent was for the reader to come away in pain, pondering why life’s beauty still made it possible to go on finding meaning in living. Yes, so far the book has been rejected by three agents and two small publishers. I’m proud of my work on it though. It’s kind of Henry Miller meets John Cheever in post-9/11 America (at least, that was my intention). I feel that it's honest and true and the writing reflects this.

Something’s happened in my own life though. My children have grown up. The youngest is 14. In the past year my wife and I have been able to spend a frighteningly huge amount of time alone together. The pressure of raising a family is off us. We each have gone through soul-searching transitions that were not easy. Our own partnership was challenged. We realize now that we have struggled together for at least the past decade. Maybe longer. But in the last six months we have grown closer and closer. In the past month we’ve become like two young lovers again. I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say, I’ve learned there can be happy endings; or, rather, in our early 50s maybe we should say happy new trails can indeed lead off into the sunrise of mature and tested love.

But now I’ve got a real problem. I don’t see love so cynically anymore. I see hope and I see redemption for those of us heading into these last phases of our lives. I want to share this new revelation with all my friends and readers. Most surely this will pop up in future stories I write. But for now, the dilemma I face is whether I need to go back into the stories I have floating around out there, particularly my novel manuscript, and rewrite them to reflect my newfound zest for living and my hope for all married couples once giddy for each other everywhere.

It’s not clear what I should do. Tragic, cynical, amoral characters and stories have a lot of traction in this modern crazy sickened world. Shifting gears so abruptly back toward the notion that love conquers all (which I firmly believe is true) would certainly mean major re-writes, but it could also mean that my stories go out there designed to enhance life rather than depict it as tragic and inevitably painful. What do you think? Should a writer re-visit stories that have not been published if he or she has had a dramatically life altering experience that changes their world view?


  1. Wow! What a huge and excellent question, David. First off, I suggest writing some new stories from your new perspective--take it for a good hard run, give it lots of freedom, don't let your new insights get bogged down trying to make them mesh with earlier writing.

    That's step 1. But step 2 might be rewriting some of those old stories or the novel, especially if they don't get accepted for publication. With the stories, it depends on who the characters are and what they go through--some may lend themselves to a new outlook, which, in turn, might make them more publishable.

    The novel is a more difficult turn-around project. It may be worth doing, depending on the response you get from agents. But you could also start a new novel that feels more life-affirming.

    I salute you in your efforts to render life's complexities and not to surrender to the pervasive cynicism of our age. Amen!

  2. David, I am one of those who has experienced a long and loving marriage (more than 25 years!) My children are not only grown, they are launched. And from the sound of things, many of their friends come from divorced families -- something they are both aware of. I think the fact that their parents are still happily together makes them feel that their family is quite special -- and in a good way.

    While 'new love' is fun and exciting, there truly is nothing like mature love that has survived more than a few dents and wrinkles.

    I am not a fiction writer so I can't advise you on whether to go back and revise old works. But I can tell you that I look forward to reading your new stories. Perhaps you will consider publishing one here?! And I would love the opportunity to see something from 'before' as well.

  3. Thanks Judith. And a big high five to you in your marriage. There's nothing like mature love, for sure. And image that has stayed with me all my life is the old couple in the cattle car snuggling together in Dr. Zhivago as everyone around them struggles and suffers the privations of their situation.

    My stuff latest stories will be posted or published somewhere soon enough. I will certainly let Talking Writing readers know where to go to find them.

  4. David, your "pre-revelation/epiphany" stories are magnificent just the way they are. I should know. I've read every one of them. No, I wouldn't go back and revise them according to where you are as a person and a writer today. Those previous stories reflect beautiful moments of where you were in times past; your new stories will reveal how you've matured since then. I would hate to see you change them for a publisher. Do so only if you feel the stories will improve artistically if you revise them, and not because you think they'll sell if you do. My gut says, though, to leave them alone. They are honest. They are heartfelt. Most reveal the honest truth about how we all struggle to find real meaning in life. Let your future stories reveal their own truth from your current perspective, and allow the others to remain just what you created them to be at the moment you created them.

    For what it's worth, my husband and I just celebrated our 40th anniversary. Love isn't all romance and walks on a moonlit beach. It's more often than not struggle and trials and challenges, but most of all commitment. And if you're truly blessed to have found a partner just as dedicated and committed to the relationship as you are, it's also bliss like no other.

    Write your heart, D, just as it beats at this moment. The world will thank you, and so will I.


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