“Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.”
–Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
Pretty obvious now where I took the title for the short story releasing on Amazon Kindle today. Also pretty obvious that this would serve as the epigraph of the story. Only that comes from Shakespeare’s “The Phoenix and the Turtle” because I’m not a fan of obvious.
Matter of fact, if you’re not a weirdo like me whose given far too much consideration to the numerous bird poems out there, you’ll get some good suggestions from all the allusions contained therein. On top of the two aforementioned, there are references to Keats, Shelley, Cullen Bryant, Whitman, Poe, Chaucer.
It’s a bit of a departure from my first two. “Archer Bob’s Blue-Ribbon Guide to Unique, Curious, and Inexplicable Roadside Attractions” turned out to be a horror, even if I fought that every step of the creative process. Sometimes a story takes a life of its own. The follow-up, “Baptized in Dirty Water,” is solidly situated in the Southern Gothic, a playground I plan on swinging from most of my writing career.
My first love, however, is straightforward literary fiction, and I thought I’d try my hand at that one.
From the summary: “After leaving his estranged wife 1400 miles away to accept a position as an instructor in an MFA program, things are looking up for Irv. He loves his new city, campus, students. He’s even smitten with Dr. Robin Vogelsang, a charming, awkwardly sexy ornithologist. All he has to worry about is keeping their liaison a secret from her husband.”
Honestly, it’s another story I resisted writing.
I’ve never read anything by Joe Haldeman. I think his genre is sci-fi. Nonetheless, I stumbled across a great quote from him a couple of years ago.
“Bad books on writing and thoughtless English professors solemnly tell beginners to ‘Write What You Know,’ which explains why so many mediocre novels are about English professors contemplating adultery.”
I, a married man, have personally never contemplated such a thing. I do, however, have a soft spot in my heart for the fictitious Douglas “Irv” Irving who narrates this piece.
He’s also the narrator of my unpublished novel Carols of Lonesome Love, which I should note also takes its title from a line in a famous bird poem by Walt Whitman. Maybe one day that text will also see the light of day. If so, readers will get to follow Irv through his formative years, his wild streak in the 90s, his college years, marriage, publication, etc.
For now, you can survey the aftermath.
After I finished the novel and spent another year editing it for … some reason or another, I didn’t want to be finished with him. I have another novel mapped out where he assists his lawyer friend Addie–who is name checked in the story–with a particularly convoluted case. I also have half a novelette/novella set after “Amorous Birds of Prey” where Irv injects himself into a psychic’s investigation of a haunted house. And one where he takes a group of students on a “pilgrimage” to a remote cabin with the hopes all will produce a publication-worthy short story, a la Canterbury Tales.
He seems to find himself in some far-fetched states of affairs, maybe too much for the willing suspension of disbelief. But I just can’t let him go.
A fellow so far from his soon-to-be-divorced wife making googly eyes at a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, though. I think that’s believable.
Irv is unequivocally not a stand-in for me. Sure, as a published, award-winning writer, I envy him. He’s seen the kind of success I crave.
I don’t think he’s a bad guy. His heart in the right place. Nonetheless, he’s painfully unaware of the feelings of those surrounding him. He’s self-indulgent. He can be a bit of an ass. Maybe he serves as a reminder of looming shortcomings I’d just as soon avoid.
He provides an extra layer of safety. It’s nice to write from the perspective of another writer as he writes. Plus, much as I love to wax purple only to dial it back in the editing process, I make excuses when Irv is telling the story. Of course, an author would litter his personal narrative with “darlings” that guides on writing have exhorted us to “kill.”
“The sunset’s purple splendor bathed her skin.” I’ve penned sentences like that my entire life. I’m giddy to actually keep one in a final draft.
My readers may not like Irv as much as I do. Hell, I’m quite peeved at him by the end as well. I just enjoy his character because every time he shows up in something I’m tinkering with, the tale becomes a meta-analysis of the writing process itself.
Also, I’m quite a fan of the aptly named Robin.
I hope my readers are too. If not, then all is not lost. Keep scrolling past the “About the Author Page.” I’ve also provided a preview of October’s release “A Shaken Shadow.” Back to the horror genre with a good, old-fashioned ghost story I go. (Ah, the good ol’ periodic sentence.) October 23rd–timing deliberate–you can have a crack at the full product.
Furthermore, I haven’t forgotten about the Chapter II of the “Peeks and Valleys” series. It’s mostly written but in bad need of editing. It’ll come around eventually.
It’s almost like I also have a day job.
On that note, I’m too exhausted to spend any more mental effort putting together a clever conclusion. Besides, every minute spent here is one less you could be reading about a variant of strip poker where participants must correctly identify the quoted bird poem. See. now you’re interested, right?