So you can read my books

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


The ghost of Hemingway sat down opposite me, whisky glass in hand. 

"What are you writing?"

"Next week's post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, sir."

He snorted "If you have to have your hand held, then you have no business being a writer."

I glanced up from my laptop and looked at him through the bronze mists of Meilori's, saying low,

"You once said,

'Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.'"

He nodded, "I was right then.  I am double right now."

I smiled sadly,

"We all walk in the dark, sir.  But that doesn't mean we have to walk it alone."

"You trouble me sometimes, Roland."

I said, "You once said writing had the “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty” few other endeavors ever possess."

Hemingway gruffed, "Pay heed to your own wisdom and not to others if you would write true."

 "It never hurts to look in the past to see if you can find in it a better path to your future."

Hemingway snorted, "I need a drink after that."

He gulped the rest of his whisky down.  "You want advice to give your friends?  Here's some:

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters.

A character is a caricature.

If a writer can make people live there may be no great characters in his book,

but it is possible that his book will remain as a whole; as an entity; as a novel.

If the people the writer is making talk of old masters; of music; of modern painting; of letters; or of science

then they should talk of those subjects in the novel.

If they do not talk of those subjects and the writer makes them talk of them he is a faker,

and if he talks about them himself to show how much he knows then he is showing off.

No matter how good a phrase or a simile he may have

if he puts it in where it is not absolutely necessary and irreplaceable he is spoiling his work for egotism.

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque period is over."

The ghost of F Scott Fitzgerald sat down lazily beside me.  "Posh, old boy.  Even my eyes glazed at that."

He smiled at me.  "I will tell you a secret about most writers:

I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than they are prepared to pay at present.

You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner.

This is especially true when you begin to write,

when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers.

It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his own abused childhood.

One of Ernest’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known.

In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing

can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming —

the amateur thinks he or she can do the same.

But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person

by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission.

Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide.

But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte.

It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’

You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave, would you?"

Hemingway snorted, "What would you know of 'brave?'"

Fitzgerald smiled drily, "I was married to Zelda, remember?"

He turned to me.

"If you want to get into the big time, you have to have your own fences to jump and learn from experience.

Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one.

If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before,

so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together."

The ghost of Mark Twain settled in the chair on the other side of me as he shook his head.

"Lord, but don't you boys love to pontificate in prose storm clouds!"

He slapped my arm.  "I will tell you the simple secrets of writing well:

An author should say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

He should use the right word, not its second cousin.

And above all else he should eschew surplusage!"

Hemingway groused, "I need another drink."

To those of you who
wrote me here and by email,
encouraging me
about my surgery --


  1. I love the round table discussions you have at Meilori's, and I like these quotes by a couple of my faves:

    "Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque period is over." Hemingway

    You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner." Fitzgerald

    Inspiring to me. Hope things went well for you at the doc's.

  2. D.G.:
    I think of Meilori's as a wonderful place to just sit, sip tea, and talk with all those who fascinate me.

    Things went extremely well at the surgeon's thankfully! :-)

  3. Wonderful advice from the voices of the past.

  4. And some people light the way for others. Generously. When they are stumbling in the dark (or so they believe) themselves.
    Thank you for another thought provoking, and illuminating post.
    Readers too have obligations which I would be interested in seeing someone attempt to map.

  5. Love the Hemingway-Fitzgerald-Twain conversation. It makes we want to go back and re-read In Our Time. And I'm always picking up Twain.

  6. Taryn:
    Ghostly wisdom. :-)

    Elephant's Child:
    I believe readers should only remember that what they take into their minds leaves impressions which mold perceptions. Thanks for being my friend.

    I try to keep the sense of who they were and their wisdom and wit. I'm happy you visited and stayed to talk. :-)

  7. Hi Roland .. good to see you 'back to normal' with your posts, but the most important thing is that you're getting better - so thanks for the thanks ..

    I enjoyed the Gaiman talk .. and his comment "work on your own voice as you've cornered that market" - so true for you ..

    Keep looking after yourself and keep writing .. cheers Hilary

  8. Great wisdom from great writers, especially nuts about Hemingway, me. Very nice to know you are getting better. Take care.

  9. Roland, I've been thinking of you--keeping positive thoughts for your healing. I love how you presented such incredible advice in such a creative way. Of course, you're a highly creative writer, so it doesn't surprise me.

    Still sending you good, healing thoughts. I had surgery two years ago. Stay on the road to wellness.

  10. Hilary:
    Thank you again for purchasing ALL of my books. You are a gem!

    Yes, Mr. Gaiman is right: I have the markeet cornered on sounding like me! Though who else would want to is a question laughed by the ghost of Mark Twain by my side.

    Speaking of which GHOST OF A CHANCE's audiobook is soon to be released in which the ghost of Mark Twain (along with the ghost of Marlene Dietrich) helps me become a fugitive in my own prose worlds as I am hunted for the murder of the ghost of Hemingway! Who knew ghosts could be murdered?

    I had a fright the past three nights but I am still on the mend nonetheless! Thanks for being my friend!

    Thank for you thinking of me and my illness! I am a teacher and a fantasy writer -- I guess my posts reflect that, right? :-)

    I hope you are on that same road to wellness, Susan!!