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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Writing Icons

A friend shared a love letter sent from Zelda Fitzgerald to her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald that seems to be going around on FB. It was a very touching letter. The truth is less touching. Zelda spent more time in mental institutions, and Scott in the arms of his mistress Sheilah Graham, and alcoholism than they ever spent together. Hollywood even made movies based on Ms. Graham’s account of the affair. Zelda and F. Scott must have each had a far different vision of their lives than they actually lived – a tragic existence. Most everything about famous writers of that era ends up in illusion or delusion… and of course alcoholism. In college, like everyone else pursuing an English degree, I read a few of Fitzgerald’s novels. Although starkly well written, I was not the readership for many of the writers held up as icons today. I know it’s blasphemous, but I read for the story. Great writing never uplifts the pathos, tragic endings, melancholy miasma, and depressing scenes in many of the ‘Great’ novels by the great authors of the time – at least in my head.
This inspired me to look up the list of ‘Expatriate American Writers’ living on the left bank over in Paris in that era. I recognized quite a few of the names, and realized I had read many of the novels listed under the names. One common theme of depression ran through every single one of the novels I remembered. This exercise renewed something I’ve always believed good fiction should do – uplift the reader. There are certainly all kinds of readers and reading appetites. I have always wanted to appeal to readers, who like me, enjoy fiction with an upbeat character, plenty of action, humor, and individual fortitude. I never want to write a novel that puts suicidal thoughts in the heads of my readers… at least not intentionally. I don’t want to write drunk and edit sober like Hemingway, or receive love letters from someone I supposedly love dearly while in the arms of a mistress like F. Scott. I have no hopes that the thirty or forty novels I intend to write before I pass on will ever be studied or lionized as Scott’s five novels and stories. I do however hope to make a lot of people chuckle, laugh, shed an occasional tear, pump their fist in commiseration with the way I wrote the scene that stirs them, and never think of opening a vein at the end of my novel rather than ever read another sentence I write.
I admit it. I would most definitely read a paranormal, werewolf, vampire, zombie apocalypse novel with a good ending rather than ever read ‘The Great Gatsby’ again. I’m too old to even pretend I loved the classics – I didn’t, I don’t, and I’m not ashamed of it.  :)

On the writing front, I have another couple thousand words in a new Rick Cantelli, P.I. story which will be the tenth part in my ongoing endeavor to make him the most famous geezer P.I. in history. I will also be very close to 80,000 words done in my new novel, THE LURE OF HELL by the weekend. These projects, of course, are not, nor will they ever be – classics. I can live with that.  :)


Charles Gramlich said...

Enjoyable post. I did like the Great Gatsby quite a bit. I know when I was young I "loved" the depressing, sad, hopeless, alcoholic work. It engaged an emotion inside me that no amount of uplifting material could ever do, although I definitely preferred to get this kind of thing in genre form rather than literary form. It took me a long time to get to the point where I not only didn't mind humor in my fiction, but started liking it, and started writing it. these days, I still enjoy a good downer book, but I also enjoy the upbeat works much more and I prefer to write that kind of book, at least write one that has tragedy in it but ends on a positive note.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

There is something about the tragic and the depressing that stirs readers, my friend, especially young ones. I know I had more of a tolerance for it when younger. Now, my tolerance level at this advanced age is approaching zero. :) Thanks, Charles.

Vesper said...

I must say that I did enjoy the classics; I think that great literature does touch a part of one’s soul that lighter literature might not always reach.
It’s much nicer, though, to escape, either through reading or through writing. ‘Real’ life has enough doom and gloom, so why search for it deliberately? I can see how humor, adventure and a happy ending are much more enjoyable than anything tinged with sadness. But does that mean that you don’t like Poe, Lovecraft or other practitioners of darker fiction either?

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Horror is an island onto itself, V. It's not about hedonistic drunks. Horror is a different experience. It may end tragically, but not because of tediously repetitious self indulgence. My favorite horror writer is Dean Koontz. He knows how to write horror, but somehow manages a hopeful and many times upbeat ending. I'll name you a classic I loved - Hemingway's 'The Old Man and the Sea' - a stark tale of human triumph.