by Hugh Gilmore
Pierre E. Richards, who is 79, read my column “Write because you love to write” while he rode an exercise bicycle at his physical therapist’s. Back home in Wyndmoor, he emailed me:
“I read your recent article about not expecting authors of ‘literary’ fiction to get rich but to go ahead and write anyway. Good advice, but I have already been doing that for years.”
Having worked in the trust departments of several institutions he wrote “The Trustee’s Guide” in 2003, an experience he says taught him he did not like working with publishers. Once he retired from the world of wills and stocks and bonds and trusts, he determined to avoid submitting himself to the control of others.
The Guide officially made him an author, but he had deeper yearnings. While a student at Colgate University he had edited the school’s literary magazine, even winning a prize for a story he’d written under a pseudonym. After graduating, he taught school for a year. But at 20 he had married his first sweetheart and now felt he had to make more money.
He says he made a nice living and had great experiences, but the desire to write never left him. However, retirement alone was not enough to make him start writing again. It took a heartbreaking tragedy to do that.
Some background first. Mr. Richards has been married five times. In response to my query, he wrote:
“Marriages: I have been asked this so many times I should have a score card printed, but anyway here is the sequence:
1. Rosalie, childhood sweetheart, everybody expected us to get married so we did, both age 20. It took a few years and three kids to figure out that wasn’t a good enough reason. She’s still a friend.
2. Pat, another good woman who should have married someone else. We met at the Norristown Ski Club. While I was married to her, I met the woman who became Number Three. Pat and I still are on friendly terms and lunch frequently.
3. Jody, lived across from Pat and me when we moved to Canton Center, CT. We were both age 37. Our subsequent marriage fell apart when we moved to Denver. She died of cancer later. During the time she was dying we began a meaningful friendship again through correspondence.
4. Yvonne, a waif, married her on the rebound from Jody because I felt sorry for her (stupid reason) my age 48, hers 37. The marriage didn’t survive the move from Denver to Philadelphia. Later she stroked and became demented and confined to assisted living.
5. Mulan Yang, another waif. We married two years after my divorce from Yvonne, my age 55, hers 40. She died 12 years later.”
Mulan was a Chinese immigrant who’d suffered the oppressions of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. She found work in the Philadelphia school system. After several years of difficult relations, much of it, according to Mr. Richards, because of his wife’s deteriorating mental health (compounded by culturally-based misunderstandings), Mulan killed herself in their Wyndmoor home one night. Out of this shock and nightmare, Pierre Richards began writing again.
Over the course of the next few years he tried to put together the story of their married life. The title of the book that followed, “Remember Me and Love Me,” is taken from the farewell note Mulan Yang wrote to Richards. The book makes for compelling reading as the author remembers their good times and tries to see portents of her tragic future in their bad times. However, since the book is so very personal, about himself and Mulan, he does not want Xlibris to sell the book. He wants the book to remain a personal memento. If he ever shares it, he says, it will be with someone he knows well and trusts.
In the meantime, he writes. He composes well-written novels about the major themes of his life: the women he has loved and the women who have loved him, and all the joy, sadness, adventure and tragedy that evolved from those relationships.
Only: He needs to write honestly, but does not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. He wants to tell the truth as he sees it, but does not want to be sued. He wants to quote lines from songs or poems without having to get permission from copyright holders. He wants to write and he does not want to spend his time promoting, marketing, boosting, and selling what he writes. He wants to wrestle with his memories, both the angels and the demons. And he doesn’t want to worry how his stories will float around the water coolers of the literary agencies and the big publishing houses in New York. He makes no efforts to publish his works. His moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on.