As Emma Shapplin sang "De Me Non Venni,"
the ghost of Ernest Hemingway glared at the pair playing chess in the far corner and gruffed at me, "McCord runs one strange establishment."
The ghost of Mark Twain chortled, "Ain't that the truth?" and promptly dealt off the bottom.
None of us minded because he played poker so badly, even cheating he lost. But we never played pool with him ...
unless we wanted a heaping plate of humility.
Now, Hemingway played the game like the hunter he was, waiting for an opportunity and then moving in for the kill when he thought no one was looking.
He was too confident, and he bluffed too much. A lover of risk, he loved the action more than the result.
The ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald looked glumly at his dealt hand. He seemed to expect to lose, and because of that he often did. But even he couldn't mess up a Royal Flush.
Yet his heart was warm, and his wit sparkling, so he always added to the night.
The ghost of Oscar Wilde winked at the bronzed skinned man at the next table with torn shirt and corded muscles. "Doc," as his table-mates called him, ignored my friend.
Oscar hardly looked at the hand dealt him. He loved the quality of the conversation, not the cards, and so he often won.
I played the faces of my friends and not the cards they might be holding.
It was a system that had me winning as often as I lost. And since, like Oscar, I was in it for the conversation -- I always won.
"Roland," said Hemingway, shaking his head. "The month of Lemmings looms before us."
Fitz, as I called him, sighed, "Hem, we all know how you feel. Just let the poor women have their fun."
Twain snorted, "If they want fun, they should take up knitting, right, boxer?"
"Right," nodded Hemingway.
Twain put down his cards and pulled out a small notebook from his jacket. "Wait. I have to write this date down!"
Hemingway ignored him and said, "Writing is one of the hardest things I have ever attempted. It is NOT fun. I bleed each word."
He growled, "Perkins could never understand why I worked so hard for so few words. I re-wrote the last page to A FAREWELL TO ARMS 39 times. Why? Because I had to get the damn words right!"
Oscar smiled, "Oh, you must not fault these American word slingers. Their books are the only relaxation of the intellectually unemployed."
Fitz shook his head at Wilde, "But, Hem, you kept a daily word count on your wall."
"Yes. And I usually wrote 500 words daily, though sometimes I wrote 1200."
Oscar said, "Limiting, and not mushrooming, your daily words makes a kind of sense actually. Write your own name a hundred times, and you will be bored."
He took a sip of his whiskey and soda.
" Seven hundred times and you will be exasperated; seven thousand times, and your brains will be reeling in your head.
Then you realize that you have only written one-tenth of a new novel ... and you have come to loathe writing."
"It is the bane of this danged culture: impatience.
If those November writers took up Hem's daily 500 words, they would write a finely crafted novel within 4 months."
He chewed the end of his cigar. "But, oh, no! They must hurl words together to make a novel in one month.
They simply cannot sustain writing 500 words daily for 4 months."
Oscar sighed, "The aim of our modern novelists seems to be, not to write good novels , but to write novels that will do good.
Why I recently read an electronic journal by Kristen Lamb that advocated writing, not what the author wanted, but what readers wanted in order to sell more books."
Hemingway grunted, "If you are not true to yourself in your writing, your novel will not be worth the money the publisher asks for it."
I asked, "How do you write, sir, for I know you still do."
Hemingway down his whiskey in one gulp. "There is no one way, Roland.
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible.
There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.
You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there.
You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next
and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again."
Twain smiled crooked at me. "Son, what do you think of these NaNoNanettes?"
I smiled back. "I think they are aiming at the wrong target."
Fitz frowned, "How so?"
I sighed, "They are focusing on words, on writing a book."
Oscar said, "You have lost me, Roland."
"Go to Amazon, and you will find no end of books, a literal cyber ocean of books."
I rubbed my face. "We don't need more BOOKS. We need more READERS."
I sipped my ice tea. "If they want to make November mean something useful, they should make a month long event of reading a new book a week.
But not just any book. Each week they should select a book from a field they seldom, if ever read.
Then, the first day of the following week, they should write what they learned or gained from the reading."
Twain laughed, "I see. Say those pilgrims would rather eat dirt than read a memoir, why they could read the first volume of my autobiography."
"Or a volume of my personal letters," added Hemingway, never one to let the spotlight stray from him too long.
"Or," I said, " try the autobiography of the poet, Stephen Spender, WORLD WITHIN WORLDS, or his journal started on the eve of WWII."
Fitz's eyes lit up. "I read a delightful book on economics, a subject I have never been drawn to."
Hemingway snapped, "Which is why you died a pauper."
Fitz flinched, and Twain glowered, "Sucker punching a friend is shabby there, boxer."
Fitz waved a hand and sighed, "It is tradition with Hem. But the book's title was THE PHYSICS OF WALL STREET."
He looked at Hemingway, "And I read another fascinating book: YOU MIGHT BE A ZOMBIE & OTHER BAD NEWS."
Fitz smiled, "I immediately thought of you."
Oscar smiled impishly at Fitz and nodded,
"Yes, if such a movement grew, I can see people discovering subjects they never knew they would enjoy: poetry, science, philosophy, history, perhaps even plays.
More books would be bought. It is a wonderful idea, Roland."
What do you out there, think?