Did Fiction Have To Ruin Her Family?

After reading Jeanne Darst’s entertaining memoir, Fiction Ruined My Family, I can’t argue with her assessment, but I wonder if it had to be that way. Her father was a newspaper reporter who’d had some success publishing magazine articles. He gave up regular day work to become a novelist, and managed to crank out two full-length books. Both were rejected by the publishers of his choice. He never considered revising the novels to suit his chosen publishers, or submitting them to a wider range of markets. Instead he worked a series of temporary jobs that failed to keep his wife in the manner to which she’d been accustomed in her aristocratic youth. She became a bitter alcoholic, and their four daughters had to largely fend for themselves.

It makes me wonder: if self-publishing had been a viable option at the time, would Jeanne’s father have considered it? He seems to have had a generally optimistic outlook on life, a love for all kinds of literature, and the dynamic intellect necessary to promote his own work. But self-publishing requires a certain lowering of expectations that was probably beyond him, considering he couldn’t swallow his pride enough even to revise his work.

The memoir is humorously written, but has elements of tragedy. We see how an endeavor that should be joyous and entertaining can ruin an individual and even a family. Jeanne managed to redeem her own story, despite a broken marriage of her own. She has written and performed solo plays while raising a young son and conquering her own alcoholism. One possible moral to take from all this is that fiction can be fun … as long as we don’t expect to get rich from it.

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9 thoughts on “Did Fiction Have To Ruin Her Family?

  1. Not every word that drips off a pen or click from a keyboard is brilliant. Sounds more like her dad’s ego/inflexibility ruined the family, rather than Fiction. People can and do become obsessed with all kinds of things, though it is tragic when people with kids get so wrapped up in their own “thing” – be that alcohol or fantasy football – that they stop taking care of the kids.

    1. I agree that there was no excuse for the neglect of his kids’ needs, no matter how talented he thought he was. His early successes might have spoiled him for ordinary responsibilities. Jeanne Darst writes that she never doubted her father’s love for his children, but she also believed he could have lived quite happily in the world of books, without any family.

  2. I wonder if it’s a “man” thing? I’m a single parent and my daughter comes first in everything, so much so that I’ve managed to get over my suicidal feelings whenever a novel gets rejected. I would rather live a half-life with my daughter than a no-life without her with the result that I’ve swallowed my pride and am about to self-publish. And suddenly we’re all happier. Is it really about lowered expectations or could it be an ability to tackle life rather than drowning in its perceived failures? Your article is very thought-provoking!

    1. You make a great point. If either of Jeanne Darst’s parents had been able to face real life rather than wallowing in fantasy, the family might have thrived. The sad fact is, neither of them put their children first, as you do. Jeanne seems to blame her mother more, because her method of escape was alcohol.

  3. It’s true that the idea of self publishing requires a certain swallowing of pride and that was probably even more true in the past. Will certainly think about checking out this memoir. Sounds good.

  4. ‘Unwilling to rewrite’ and ‘submitted to only two publishers’ is a now well-known recipe for disaster, and shows a complete lack of understanding of how traditional book publishing works. That made his novels a waste of time from the perspective of getting them published.

    My husband had a cousin who produced ONE script for a TV show, featuring himself. Again, a complete lack of understanding of how his chosen profession, TV writing and TV acting, actually works.

    It’s like insisting you are going to win the lottery – with worse odds.

    When someone manages it, or seems to (Silvester Stallone, Rocky), a little digging will show the impressive amount of work that went into the ‘overnight success.’

    Cousin was not willing to put that work in. Maybe he would have tried in this climate of indie work in movies and TV-type series now being shown on Amazon and Netflix, but his rigidity did not bode well – and he didn’t have the creds. He never worked in ‘the industry,’ never helped others, never found paying gigs. He didn’t want to start small. And he only wanted one thing: THAT show, starring himself.

    I’m sure everyone thought the same of me – she’s going to publish a novel? – but I just kept beetling along, doing the work, learning, learning, learning…

      1. Husband’s cousin, not mine, but yes: all attempts to mention that his plan didn’t have the required depth were met with the blank stare.

        I was more sympathetic than most, because of my own writing, and it being so slow to make progress.

        I have a lovely exoskeleton now.

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