Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. Ernest Hemingway
It has been said someone bet Hemingway that he couldn’t write a story in six words that would make you cry. Try this on for size, ye of little faith.
FOR SALE: BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.
If that doesn’t tear your heart out from the inside out and make you gasp for breath, then you have no soul.
Hemingway was complicated. For those of you who’ve read this blog from the beginning, and especialy the Mask post, the Hemingway bluster and the macho “stuff” were both real and a mask for what Hemingway felt he should be. Please remember his devastation at the death of his cat, Willie.
The above, for me, says so much. Can you in six words sum up anything? In my women’s group, we did a similar exercise. In six words, sum up your life. We had three tries ( three versions) if so inspired. It’s not easy. Mine were something like: ” Good Girl, Bad Girl, Okay Woman” and “Love as the answer, not sure.”
This will be a short post. I find the above so thought-provoking and devastating that I think it’s enough. Hemingway is anything but a one-trick pony.
The first draft of anything is shit. Ernest Hemingway
It is not my intent to “plug” my novels on this blog but once in a while it fits so I’ll write a bit about my first novel and Hemingway. My book is called Tell Me When It Hurts. La Femme Nikita meetsThe Horse Whisperer. That’s my novel. Healing, second chances with a few horses and a few dogs thrown in for good measure. One Amazon critic noted that it is more horse whisperer than femme nikita although she wrote a favorable review. She just thought the book jacket description suggested an action packed gun-fest. Fair enough comment. It is more romance than thriller. And as for reviews, small –no tiny–fry that I am, it is a rush to read a good review from someone across the country or nearby, and an icepick stab in the heart to read the bad ones. I only have a few of them but they hurt.
A few good dogs
A few good horses.
Hemingway inspired me in a few ways. I don’t think anyone can pull off his style without it reading like an entry into the best of bad Hemingway contest. (Some of the entries in the Best of Bad Hemingway are a hoot and are quite entertaining. Hmm, that’s another post for another day.) Still, here is what wormed its way into my book by osmosis from Ernesto.
1) Hem always worked steadily and with discipline and daily when working on a book. He might get drunk at the end of the day but while working, he worked. He demanded that he write a certain number of words and produce every day. And he revised, revised, revised.
You all know, I’m sure, that he wrote the last line of The Sun Also Rises something like thirty different ways, with slightly different inflection. And it was a short sentence! “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” Every word mattered to him and he wasn’t looking for the ten dollar word. It was how he put the simple words together.The point is that even a creative literary genius like Papa had to work it. It didn’t flood down from heaven and then come flowing out. He had to work, rework, revise, cut, add, revise. That was reassuring and inspiring for a mere attemptor like me.
F. Scott Fitzgerald gave him invaluable advice on The Sun Also Rises. He crossed out Hem’s original beginning and said “start it here.” Hem did and the rest is history. As my best writing mentor put it, “New writers are always telling me to stick with their story, that it really gets good. I tell them to start it where it really gets good.” INVALUABLE ADVICE.
2) The main character in my novel is named Archer Loh. She cites Hemingway often and not just the ever popular grace under pressure comment. She has one scene in which she gets drunk and renacts a conversation with Jake Barnes pointing out his lack of empathy for Brett’s point of view and issues. Her dog is named Hadley. I think it works. You be the judge.
3) Hemingway tended to know where his books were going. To even talk about my book and its planning in the same breath as Hemingway is so absurd as to be insane. My only observation is that when I planned my novel, I knew the beginning and the end. I did not have the center all set out in outline form with detail but I did know where I was going. For me, it gave me freedom to see where the writing took me but I always knew where I had to end up. I think Hem knew exactly where he was going if not in every detail.
Many of the finest writers know the entirety of their books before they set it down. I can’t imagine that John Irving doesn’t have the details in mind before starting. If anyone knows if this is so, or not so, I’d be interested. His plots are just so intricate and yet connected despite seemingly random plot elements that to me they must be preordained.
Hemingway is not as prominent in my second novel, with a working title of The Rage of Plum Blossoms. There is one reference to one character collecting Hemingway First Editions but that’s about it. And I of course wish I’d written The Paris Wife before Paula McLain. Sigh sigh. Sigh, sigh. Sigh.
It should have been me
All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened. Ernest Hemingway