Saturday, May 3, 2014

Let Us Now Praise Supportive Spouses




My wife Lisa and I have been together for 24 years, and for 17 of them -- that is, until 2007 -- I was a frustrated, unpublished novelist. While working as a magazine reporter and editor, I wrote four books that didn’t even come close to selling. I tried my best to be stoic about it but failed miserably in the attempt. I was especially miserable when perusing the shelves of my local bookstore or leafing through the book-review section of the Sunday Times. All I could think was, “Why are they getting published and not me?”

And who do you think bore the brunt of my bitterness? I certainly couldn’t expect commiseration from my colleagues at work. If I told them about my travails in the world of fiction, they’d start to wonder if I was neglecting my journalistic duties to spend time on my novels. And even with my close friends I didn’t share my despair. No, the only person who knew the full extent of my unhappiness was Lisa. She was the one who put up with my complaints. She was the one who urged me to keep at it.

This is what she told me: “When you get published -- and it’s a matter of when, not if -- you better dedicate that first book to me, because you have put me through A LOT, buster.”

Well, she was right. And I did dedicate my first novel to her. Better yet, I dedicated my fourth novel to her parents, who are the best in-laws in America. Last week we had the launch party for that book -- THE FURIES -- and Lisa worked her usual magic on the crowd (see the photo above). She’s the director of development and marketing for the Green-Wood Historic Fund, which preserves and protects the legacy of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, the final resting place of Boss Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, Horace Greeley and other New York luminaries. We make a good team -- the thriller writer and the woman who works in a graveyard. Romantic, right?

She’s also a tough customer. When she reads something in my books that she doesn’t like, she’s not afraid to tell me. In fact, she gave me the best piece of writing advice I ever received. Back in 2005, when I was bemoaning all my unpublished novels, she told me that my books suffered from a common flaw: the characters were just too weird. I argued, “But weird is good!” and she made a face. “Your heroes have to be more normal,” she said. “Why don’t you make a hero who’s more like you? Because you’re not so bad.”

I took her advice. The hero of my first published novel, FINAL THEORY, is a bit like me. And the heroine is a bit like Lisa.

*******

Before I end this post I want to make an aside about its title. LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN by James Agee is a nonfiction book about sharecroppers in Alabama during the 1930s. I read it for the first time in the 1980s when I was working as a newspaper reporter in Montgomery, Alabama, and it had an enormous effect on me. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read. I highly recommend it.  

9 comments:

  1. Great tribute, Mark. Behind most successful creative people is someone who was supportive. I, too, have a wife who supports my writing. She even calls me Buster occasionally. We are blessed when we are fortunate to have a relationship like that. My wife and I call each other bestest friends.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "You're not so bad ..." High praise from a spouse.
    My wife gave me an audience to try my midschool/YA novels on – I read them, week by week as I wrote them, to her fifth grade class. The immediate feedback was priceless in shaping the final drafts. But maybe the best support I've received was the day the university I was working at decided in the face of budget cuts it could do without my services, and – instead of urging me to brush up my resume - she said, "Why don't you give this a try" As we've both learned over the years, you don't know if you can fly until you've thrown yourself off a cliff.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Part of when I knew my previous situation was not the best for me is when I heard, "Get off it, it's not like you're ever going to be Stephen King," and "Why don't you just go and write one of your little stories that you care so much more about than me."

    I don't have the partner now, but my best friend is my number one fan who also tells me when it's not right either. If you have someone supportive in your life, treasure them like the gold that they are.

    Terri

    ReplyDelete
  4. It's good to have family!! Although, I don't have a spouse at the moment, I'm starting to date after years recovering from an abusive marriage. Life is good.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's great to have my wife's support as well having her great editorial skills. She has put up with a lot, and I am very grateful.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Quote from an ex-partner: "This writing thing is okay as long as we're just engaged, but after we get married you're going to stop because I'll be damned if I'm sharing you with a book!" Hence the "ex"

    My current partner is a gem.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Telling someone who loves to write not to write is like asking them to just die. Ugh, are people really that selfish. I have the best supporting husband ever. He brings me coffee and food when I'm writing, just to remind me he's there for me when I'm done.

    But, he's retired now, and I recall moving all around the world to support his military career, so we're even I hope. :D

    Here's to supportive significant others.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nice essay, Mark, but don't forget DeWitt Clinton on the Green-Wood list.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My husband was the one who encouraged me to stop writing non-publishable fan fiction and to write my own stuff. He puts up with the desk light through the late nights and early mornings, the incessant typing on the keyboard. He runs interference with the kids when he knows I need time to write. He reads and critiques my work and comes up with brilliant ideas. I could never had embarked on this course without his support.

    ReplyDelete