It was a busy night at Meilori's. Off to my far right, the ghosts of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt were arguing over Donald Trump's latest "speech."
Off to my far left, the ghost of Al Capone snorted to the ghost of Benedict Arnold,
"That Beiber runt ain't important enough to be deported! He just needs a spanking!"
My poker table was full. Mickey Spillaine looked over his cards at me.
"Kid, the first line of your book gets the readers to buy it. The last one gets them to buy your next one."
Hemingway scowled at him.
"As if you would know. To call you an author is like calling a woodpecker a carpenter."
"I'm not an author, I'm a writer, that's all I am. Authors want their names down in history; I want to keep the smoke coming out of the chimney."
Hemingway glared at him.
"What a horrible commentary on the reading habits of Americans to think that before J K Rowling, you had seven of the top ten bestsellers of all time."
Mickey grinned crooked, "You're lucky that I didn't write three more books."
The ghost of Mark Twain snorted and asked Mickey, "What's this I hear about your picture and Hemingway's having a duel at a restaurant."
Mickey shook his head.
"Every summer I went down to Florida on treasure hunts, and there's this great restaurant called the Chesapeake and they had a picture of Hemingway behind the bar.
So one day the owner asks if she could have a picture of me to put up there, and she puts one there.
One day Hemingway comes in and sees my picture and says 'what's he doing next to me? Either take his down or take mine down', so they took his down and he never came back to that restaurant."
Hemingway laid his cards down, "We could settle this like men."
The ghost of John Steinbeck sighed and said, "You can never tell about people, even their ghosts, Hemingway."
He rubbed his chin. "You remember Audie Murphy, the most decorated American solider, who became an actor in Westerns?
A patrolman once told me, he stopped a car on 101 in California, and Audie comes out of his car, dark, middle of the night, with a rifle.
The patrolman said,
"I saw his eyes, he looked nuts, and before he could do anything I say, 'Audie, how're you doing' and stuck out my hand, and he stopped, and then stuck out his hand."
Steinbeck went on, "He said it was like looking at death's eyes, and he was a sweet looking guy, like a little kid, but Audie'd been shot too many times."
Hemingway said low, "You disparaged my fondness for bullfighting in print, didn't you?"
Mark Twain chuckled, "Hemingway, you were a great reporter, but you just flat got carried away with all the other stuff, like this bullfighting."
Mark puffed on his cigar.
"Myself, I'm always on the side of the bull. In fact, I always hope the bull plows the stuffing out of that crazy guy in the clown suit down there.
I don't like to see animals hurt, not deliberately. If they're putting the bull out there, don't stick those daggers in him first."
"I know about bullfighting, Hemingway. I know about the underweight bulls, the sandbags on the kidneys, the shaved horns and sometimes the needle of barbiturate in the shoulder as the gate swings open."
He sighed, "There was also that moment of what they call truth, a sublimity, a halo of the invincible human spirit and unspeakable, beautiful courage."
His lips curled,
"And then doubt began to creep in. The matadors I knew had souls of Toledo steel for the bull, but they were terrified of their impresarios, pulp in the hands of their critics, and avaricious beyond belief."
He shook his head,
"Perhaps they gave the audience a little courage of a certain kind, but not the kind the audience and the world needed and needs. I have yet to hear of a bull-fighter who has taken a dangerous political stand, who has fought a moral battle unless its horns were shaved."
Hemingway looked close to exploding, and I hastily said, "Mr.Steinbeck, do you have a word of advice for my writing friends?"
Steinbeck smiled wryly as if knowing what I was doing, but only said, "I have written a great many stories, and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances."
He laughed softly and said,
"It is not so very hard to judge a novel after it is written, but, after many years, to start a novel still scares me to death. I will go so far as to say that the writer who is not scared is happily unaware of the remote and tantalizing majesty of the medium."
"Bah!" snapped Hemingway. "That is no help. Roland's friends want concrete steps. Here are three:
1: Always stop for the day while you still know what will happen next.
There is a difference between stopping and foundering. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell your friends so try to remember it.
2: Never think about the story when you’re not working.
That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
3: Be Brief.
I am contemptuous of writers who never learned how to say no to a typewriter.
It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, of mathematics, of physics."
I looked to Mark Twain, "And you, sir?'
He beamed and laid his cards face up, "Twenty-one!"
Mickey groaned, "We're playing poker, Clemens."
He pouted, "You mean I've been dealing off the bottom for nothing?"
Don't miss Mark Twain's adventures in Dreamtime and in 1895 Egypt: