Monday, August 24, 2009

Regrets, I have but few...

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

My husband and I went and saw the inimitable Jackson Browne last week and it's put me in a reflective frame of mind. Of course, the fact that Tim and I were some of the youngest fans in the audience didn't help - but Jackson Browne has provided a very strange soundtrack to our lives. When I first met my husband he had one of those early cool portable CD players (hey, it was only 1987!) but to say I was aghast at his CD collection would be an understatement - I mean who else had The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Jackson Browne alongside Madonna? My tastes ran to New Order, the Violent Femmes and The Smiths so I was literally gobsmacked. I grew, however, to love Jackson Browne (The Eagles I'm afraid had to go...) and my husband's love of his music provided new insight into him - who knew the preppy guy had an angst ridden 1970's soul?

The concert has made me think about the nature of regret. I have to admit, even as I face down the dreaded four-zero in a few months, I don't really have many regrets at all - and the ones I do seem pretty trivial in the context of my life. I certainly wish I had pursued my dream of being a writer earlier - but then I wouldn't be the writer that I am now. I'm a strong believer that you stumble upon your own path - and I'm supremely grateful of the path I managed to find.
That being said, I do wish I'd been more savvy about the publishing industry when my first book came out. I would have definitely fought harder to change the cover for the hardback of Consequences of Sin (see exhibit A, on right). Although the paperback cover is fabulous (see exhibit B, on left) I still think the cover for the hardback irrevocably hurt sales and may have doomed me to Barnes & Noble (not to mention publishing) purgatory...

But it's hard to have a clue when you're first starting out - right??

I'm sure in a few years I'll no doubt wish I had known now what I will know then, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over regrets (it is pretty pointless, after all), but regret, as Jackson Browne so often writes and sings about, is an important emotion. It is one that defines and shapes us, and when creating characters I think it's important to explore not only their loves, hopes, and fears but also their regrets. In many ways our behavior is guided by regret in subtle but crucial ways - and I love getting under the skin of my characters in this way.

So what (if any) regrets do you have regarding your writing? Do your characters carry some of those same regrets? Do they have an angst ridden soundtrack to their lives or are they at peace with the path they (or rather you, as a writer) have chosen for them...?


  1. If my lead character was at peace, I would have no book! Regrets? Nothing but...

    Same here...

  2. Jackson Browne, eh? The title of your post got me to Sinatra: "Regrets? I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention." Oh well, I'll mention one. I wish I hadn't listened to the naysayers in my 20's. I missed a lot of writing because of it.

    Like you, Clare, I do want to have a lead character with a past that hurts in some way, and is a "shadow" over the present.

  3. First--you don't like the Eagles???
    Go buy the Farewell Tour I concert DVD--it'll change your mind. The Eagles, America, James Taylor and Elton John was the soundtrack of my teen years. (And still is. My favorite radio station plays "70s at 7" every night.)

    My only regret is that I didn't write "seriously" a lot sooner. I dabbled until I hit my forties. My characters, however, have many regrets. I hope it makes them more interesting.

  4. "The Eagles I'm afraid had to go..." OK, that's it. You're officially off my Christmas card list!

  5. My lead character in my work in progress is regretting every aspect of his life at this point. He's got to make some changes. Regrets? He'd change so much but he's a pragmatist and realizes he can't. Except how he responds to the future.

  6. Jackson Browne? I dunno. That's far worse than your hardback cover! I actually don't mind that cover at all.

    But now I'm wondering how many (if any) novels with horrendous covers achieved wonderful sales.

  7. Jonathan Grave would tell you that regret is a useless emotion. By impacting the present, you control the future, but the past is done the instant it happens. He would rationalize that regret over decisions that proved wrong can paralyze future decision making. You learn from the mistakes, but you never regret them.

    He would also never fully trust anyone who doesn't like the Eagles.

    John Gilstrap

  8. I can see I'm getting some grief over the Eagles quip - but I stand by my taste (such that it is!) in music:) Tim has I believe managed to get another CD so he can listen on his own to his heart's content. I also chucked his Dire Straits album so God knows what that says about me:) My main character, Ursula, has few regrets (she's too young) in the first book but by the end of the second book they are mounting up! Looks like a lot of us wish we'd gotten serious about our writing sooner - so I guess we can all make up for lost time now!

  9. My main character, Kate, regrets not being with her mother when her mom was shot by a punk who was robbing a store. In reality, Kate was only 13 at the time, and there's probably nothing she could have done; she probably would have been killed too, if she'd been there.

    Her life is permeated with regret and a vague sense of threat.

  10. I do wish I had started writing earlier as well. I was 37 before my first attempt, and 39 before I took it seriously. Oh but what may have been had I started ten years earlier. Then again, I have a much deeper well to draw from I guess as a 40 year old new writer.

    My only real life regrets though are that I never committed murder, armed robbery or rape in my younger days. It's not that I wish I had done those things, for that matter I'm quite glad I never did. It's more that I wish the list of what I had never done was longer.

    My characters run with the same types of regrets to varying degrees. Mainly wishing the violence of their youth had not been so much that it carried into their present.

  11. Yay! Another anti-Eagles non-fan! You are an author I can read!

    Regrets? Well, there was that first marriage thing . . . talk about wishing for a way-back machine. Yes, my regrets do show up in my characters. They tend to be single women who are suspicious of men. Great post!

  12. Wait a minute . . . I stopped reading before we got to the blasphemy about Dire Straits . . .



  13. After 42 years in the making, my book entitled "The Race" will be published soon by Mount San Antonio College in California. First submission. Yes,I am one of the best procrastinators in the world.