For more than thirty years people have asked if my book The War of the Roses, a story about the nasty breakup of a marriage with bizarre and fatal consequences, is autobiographical. It is not. I have been married to the same lovely lady for sixty years.
Nevertheless, it is a perfectly legitimate question, since it can be argued that the primary tools used for the writing of fiction are observation, experience, memory and imagination.
A story begins with an idea, triggered by an observation, then grows in the mind like a plant grows in the soil or an embryo develops in the female body. It is perfectly natural for a reader to believe that the story told is based on the authorâ€™s actual lifeâ€™s experience, meaning his or her biographical reality.
Invariably, people will ask an author where he or she has gotten his or her ideas. It is a simple question requiring a complex answer. My usual retort is â€œfrom watching people like you,â€ which leaves most questioners somewhat puzzled.
However, I have gone one step further and spent considerable thought coming up with a more detailed answer which I have written about in a series of essays that can be found in the archives of my website. In these essays I have attempted to trace the origins of the thirty odd novels I have published over the past four decades.
It might be of interest for writers and readers to peruse these essays, for in recalling how I conceived the ideas for my novels, I have discovered insights that I had no idea existed in the heat of composition.
For example, in writing about the origins of The War of the Roses, I seemed to have unearthed its original motivation from my own subconscious effort to rail against the dangers of materialism and how greed and obsessive and overzealous acquisitiveness can ultimately destroy a relationship between a once loving couple.
At the time of the novelâ€™s composition we were living through what was called â€œthe Yuppieâ€ era, meaning that the upcoming generation, which having survived the so-called â€œchange the worldâ€ decade of the sixties, were now into showing off the results of what they might have believed was their prosperity making advocacy.
In the seventies, when the book was written, incomes were rising. There was a rush to upgrade, live in a bigger house, buy a bigger car, and show off the trappings of newly acquired wealth and its symbols of luxurious living, like displaying the snobbery of knowing about fine wine, exotic food and the other emoluments of the upper crust life.
Other social upheavals were in the making as well, the explosion of assertive feminism was shaking the foundations of marriage. Success was measured in being able â€œto do oneâ€™s thingâ€ and being true to oneâ€™s aspirations and desires without the restraints ofÂ yesterdayâ€™s more conservative moral strictures.
The final scene of the novel depicts the main characters destroyed by their possessions, the ultimate realization of the storyâ€™s underlying theme.
The novel, by the way, in its last image, tells of the two children of the Roses showing signs of the same greed that destroyed their parents. The moviemakers, perhaps wisely with far less cynicism, came up with a terrific image of generational closure, illustrating the antagonism and unforgiving nature of the couple even on the verge of death.
That morality tale is the subtext of The War of the Roses and may be the reason for the storyâ€™s astounding durability both as a book and an extraordinary movie that plays somewhere in the world with astonishing regularity. It has also spun off into another novel The Children of the Roses, numerous theatrical productions in many languages, an Internet phenomenon with a remarkably active and visited website, and is currently under consideration for a live theatrical musical version.
An author never can predict how his or her novel will impact on the public. Some might take years to find its audience. Others will fade into eternal obscurity.Â As for The War of the Roses, it has entered the culture as the ultimate divorce story.
No. It is not biographical. Thank God.