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Point of View: You Can Go Back (But Should You?)

Back in Time - Deposit Photos

Frasier is back.

We saw the previews a month or two ago, and were convinced that it was going to be a total train wreck. But we’ve watched the first three episodes now, and it’s actually not bad. The show’s tone picks up pretty adroitly where the original series left off, and if it’s not quite as fresh as it once was, it’s still fun to settle back into Frasier’s world, as comfy as Martin Crane’s chair.

And last Friday we watched Beverly Hills Cop and Flashdance back-to-back, and it was fun to travel back the 80’s again, my formative decade.

And yet…

They’re not the same movies I watched back then. Or rather, I’m not the same person who watched them, I suppose. While they were enjoyable enough – the unmistakable riffs of Axel F and Murphy’s trademark laugh (setting aside Murphy’s whole homophobia thing) those iconic dance scenes in Flashdance (only slightly spoiled by the realization that the dancer was not actually Jennifer Beals). Both films were full of movie cliches, or maybe they weren’t cliches then but they are now? In any case, they are not the movies I remember, and maybe it would have been better to let them remain in the past, perfect and untouched.

As a writer, we create entire worlds out of nothing and present them to our readers, and then when we’re done, we move on to something new. But is it ever a good idea for us to go back and revisit those old places?

Obviously, writers do this all the time. They write series that continually play on nostalgia for a world their readers love. They often even go back to pick up on something long finished – an old short story that gets expanded into a novel, or a stand-alone that finally gets a sequel.

I’m thinking about all of this for a couple of reasons.

I’m working on a rewrite of one of my first finished novels that never saw the light of day, but that was the inspiration for much of what I’ve written later. I can’t escape the feeling that it’s too derivative, too much like what I’ve written from that same seed in the interim, even though it’s an entirely new take on this tale.

And I know that part of this is the muddy middle, the point I reach in every story where I become convinced that it’s no good, that I don’t know what the hell I am doing as a writer, and that it will never be finished. I’ve written about this before – it’s like an old friend I expect to see at this bend in the road.

But the issue also coming up for me in a different way. In 2015, I wrote a serial tale called The River City Chronicles. It’s different from most of what I write – magical realism, contemporary, and set in Sacramento.

And over the last couple of years, I’ve been thinking about revisiting it, and seeing where those characters all ended up. It’s tempting to dip into their lives again. And maybe the folks who loved the first book would enjoy the second too?

And yet…

Those characters lived in a very different world from the one we inhabit today. Maybe it’s silly, but there’s something innocent about them, existing in a time that was pre-Trump, pre-pandemic, and if not pre-climate change, at least when its effects were much less pronounced. Do I really want to bring them into the here and now and sully that innocence?

Would it even work?

Such is the life of a writer who has reached a certain point in their career, where the ghosts of stories past haunt our bookshelves, calling out as we walk past.

So what should I do?

If I feel inspired I’ll follow where the muse takes me and write the best story I can, and take comfort in spending time with a bunch of old friends.

Then we’ll see how it all works out – only time will tell.

To my writer friends, have you ever gone back and picked up on something you wrote a long time ago? How did it go?

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