By Warren Adler
New York, NY, USA
Every idea, like a seed, needs an environment in which to grow and thrive. As a serious novelist, my figurative spot of mental soil is always prepared to receive a wayward seed in the hope that it will germinate and expand in the nourishment of my imagination.
Such was the situation in the late seventies when I attended a friend's dinner party in a suburb of Washington. For those who remember, lots of pertinent issues were on the public agenda including women's liberation, the rise of the "yuppie" mentality of excessive materialism, and the loosening restraints on sexuality, race, rights, gender, and marriage.
It was the holiday season, festive, friendly and congenial. Toward the end of the evening one of the male guests looked at his watch and announced that he had to leave. Since we were at that moment when the evening was still at its convivial height, someone asked: "Why so early?"
"If I don't get home by a certain hour," the man replied, "the house would be barred to my entry. I am getting a divorce, but my spouse and I are still sharing our domicile. We have divided the house between his and hers in every detail while the legalities are being worked out. Yes, we detest each other, but have chosen this path to get through the process."
I am surely paraphrasing, but suddenly that wayward seed blew into my patch and planted itself firmly in the prepared soil. I knew it instantly. The idea for The War of the Roses, my tenth novel, was born.
The novel was published by Warner Books in 1981 and then adapted as a film released nine years later starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. It spawned a sequel, The War of the Roses, the Children, also being developed as a movie now, and a play adaptation of the original novel that has been produced in other countries and is now headed to Broadway.
Many issues revolving around gender, race, and materialism, to name a few, which had emerged in the seventies are still very much part of our lives and continue to engage us. I was writing about the evils of materialism in The War of the Roses, and it was perfectly in character to have the two protagonists destroyed by their principal possessions, their house and much of its contents. The chandelier scene, which ends the story, has become an iconic symbol of the destruction of a marriage, of a family and the domestic comforts of home and hearth.
The logic of the novel's ending, which I had not conceived in advance, continues to make its point. My technique for ending a novel has always been to have my invented characters work out their own destiny and provide the most logical climax to their story. If I knew the ending in advance I might have never written the novel, or any novel, in the first place. As I see it storytelling is based upon the single principal of "what happens next?" In writing a novel I take on two roles, both writer and reader.
It is interesting to note that everyone who was responsible for pushing the novel to publication and then on to the movies, had been involved in a divorce, some multiple, many of them with the nasty issues that accompany such a traumatic event. In fact, I seem to be the only one who is still happily involved in my original one time marriage with the sweetheart of my life.
I have been asked about my own marital status thousands of times and the answer is no, it is not autobiographical. It amuses me to no end to be called upon to comment in the media about the issue of divorce which some think I am an expert.
I believe that the mysterious elements that go into writing works of the imagination uncover insights and motives in those invented lives. They offer truths that the author may not even be aware of. The extraordinary durability of this novel tells me that I must have gotten it right.
The novel has been reprinted and re-released in digital versions in over 25 languages. Additionally, the novel and its title have entered the international language and the legal nomenclature as a recognizable definition of a very bad divorce, and what can happen in a relationship when love deteriorates into deep hatred. The popularity of the novel and movie has jumped generations and the demographics of readership is now skewing younger.
Of my many novels that have been published, The War of the Roses stands out as an enduring brand of its own, and continues to be sold and reviewed favorably wherever books are read.
Who knew? Writing this book in my basement writing room more than thirty-five years ago, I hadn't a clue that it would plant itself so firmly in the public mind. But then no novelist, or any artist for that matter, can possibly predict which of their works will take root in the worldwide zeitgeist. Of course, I relish the extraordinary benefits of having this work as a calling card to introduce my many other novels.
But while notoriety has its bright side it also has a darker side. Many people, not connected to me or my world, have accused me of stealing the events of their own divorces. Some actually believe that I have singled them out by perusing the legal papers involved in their divorces, and I have faced angry confrontations with people I never knew taking passionate sides as to which character is the real heavy in this marriage dispute.
For me, the most satisfying comments are from those who have informed me that the novel and the movie had changed their lives. Many have told me that they had been involved in traumatic divorce proceedings involving the disposition of their joint property, and that the book's central point influenced their decision to soften or abandon their demands.
Ironically, I had not dealt with the fate of the children and how their parents' "war" had affected their lives. In the novel the last scene showed the children actually witnessing the crushed bodies of their parents. I remember Kathleen Turner, then the mother of young children, telling me that she could not play a role with an ending showing the children discovering the body of their dead parents. The moviemakers cut it and substituted a hand gesture between the couples that I thought was a brilliant visual move.
The husband's hand goes out in a death spasm gesture toward the hand of his wife, an obvious symbol of reconciliation. She pushes it away. In my mind, the perfect ending. I applaud the movie people, which in itself is a very rare tribute from a novelist whose works have been adapted to film.
The fate of the children haunted me. It was clearly a missing link to the story and prompted me to write and publish the sequel The War of the Roses: The Children. I am hopeful that it will bring the visual story full circle when it hits the big screen.
I am, of course, delighted that my work has made such a tremendous worldwide impact. I will admit that it once caused me some concern that it would "typecast" my many other novels, but in retrospect I have concluded that whether they might be categorized as love stories, thrillers, mysteries, or whatever, at heart they are all about human relationships in crisis, and thanks to my leading book brand, they are building their own international following.
What more can a novelist ask for?