So you can read my books

Monday, June 8, 2015


I walked to my table at Meilori's and paused. 

The ghost of Emily Dickinson was already sitting there, frowning at my open laptop.

She looked up.  "Dearest Roland, I am somewhat overwrought.  Could you help me?"

To my right, Mark Twain vigorously shook his head at me and gruffed, 

"Missy, you are always overwrought.  Why I declare most of your verses have hernias from being wrought over in knots."

Emily rolled her eyes at him and sighed, pointing to my laptop screen.  

"The words of your friend, Milo James Fowler, tear at me.  He asks: "Does the world need another writer?"

"I know how wretched and galling it feels to have one's carefully crafted words misunderstood or ignored."

{Thomas Bailey Aldrich, in a review of Emily Dickinson’s poetry published anonymously in the Atlantic Monthly, January, 1892:

"But the incoherence and formlessness of her —

I don't know how to designate them — versicles are fatal….

An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar."

Mark knew how deeply those words had wounded Emily.

He snorted, "Emily, dear, whose name is familiar to the world today: yours or that jaybird Aldrich's?"

Mark bent over her slender shoulder and read Milo's words.  

"Dang it all, why should we bother ourselves asking if our books are needed?  Is beauty needed?  Is humor needed?  Is love needed?"

The ghost of Hemingway paused beside us as Marlene Dietrich waited impatiently for him to pay attention to her again.

He said roughly.  "I see your point, Clemens.  We need to eat, sleep, and breathe ... all else is extra."

"No," Emily murmured.  

"For living souls must soar above mere appetite.  It is our yearning for beauty, for humor, for love that raises us above the level of an animal."

Marlene's ghost sat beside the poet and patted her hand.  

"As odd as it may appear after my spit-fire life, I agree with you.  

Why, one of your verses meant much to me my whole life --

 Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.

Hemingway bent and read Milo's words, too.

 "If I could talk to this Milo, I would tell him that Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.

Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing.

He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates.

For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

You know that fiction is possibly the roughest trade of all in writing.

You do not have the reference, the old important reference.

You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true.

You have to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable 

and also have it seem normal so that it can become a part of experience of the person who reads it."

Marlene rose abruptly, "Enough, Papa, you owe me a tango."

And off they went into the shadows.

Emily sighed, 

"Publication is the auction of the mind of man, and I prefer my bare-foot rank best as it affords me the freedom to write as I wish."

She looked off into the shadows that had swallowed Hemingway and Marlene.

"Success is counted sweetest By those who ne'er succeed. To comprehend a nectar Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host Who took the flag to-day Can tell the definition, So clear, of victory!

As he, defeated, dying, On whose forbidden ear

The distant strains of triumph Burst agonized and clear!"

Emily looked up at me.  "I wonder if your friends will continue to write should success elude them?  

Are the words burning within them, as they are with me, to find life on the written page?"

Emily squinted to make out the head of Marlene in the darkness as she finished the verse which meant so much to the actress:

"And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me."


  1. I just finished reading The Paris WIfe, which (as you may know) is a novel told from the viewpoint of Hemingway's first wife Hadley. I shows very well how fiercely dedicated to writing Hemingway was, and how in some ways this was good and admirable, but in other ways hurt the people he loved and ultimately helped to lead to his suicide.

    But then there are writers like P.G. Wodehouse who turned out scores of books and lead happy lives. Oh, for such a healthy balance!

  2. Hemingway I think was always haunted by his father's suicide. I feel badly for all of Hemingway's wives -- he always regretted leaving Hadley. I wonder how it would feel to be able to support yourself by writing? Yes, to be a good human being AND a popular writer is my dream. :-)

  3. Nice mention of Milo, Roland! We know the answer, but if the chaff rises, hopefully the fluff will fall by the wayside. I also read The Paris Wife, which did illuminate the trials Hadley endured, but I enjoyed The Moveable Feast, better, Hemingway's version of the same time.

    1. Hemingway's chapter on Zelda's destructive effect on Fitzgerald always makes me sad when I read it. :-(

      I thought to perhaps bring new visitors to Milo.

      All we can do is our best and hope it will attract interest and buyers!! :-)

  4. What a beautiful poem. I wasn't familiar with that one, but I love it.

    I loved this entire post. Interesting to wonder what those old ghosts would tell us.

    1. Isn't it? Emily is an inspiration to so many struggling poets and writers since she was so brilliant and went unnoticed during her lifetime.

      I'm glad you liked today's post. I mostly use direct quotes from my ghosts from their letters and prose to make them sound authentic.

      Like you, I often wonder what those personalities would say about our times. :-)

      Be careful in Romania ... and have fun. You're right -- it is a perfect country to have a horror writer's conference!

  5. Success is in doing it. It's the journey.
    If we only need the basics, then we are merely existing. To really live, we need all the extras.

    1. Hemingway would agree about you on it is the journey that is important. What Hemingway called the "extras" are what you and Emily Dickinson refer to as "essentials." :-)

  6. Hi Roland ... thanks for highlighting Milo and his writing. I loved this verse in the post ...
    "Success is counted sweetest By those who ne'er succeed. To comprehend a nectar Requires sorest need. ...."

    So many artists too only became famous and remembered after they'd died ... but they achieved and live on as does Emily ...

    Cheers Hilary