"To write all you have to do is follow your own instinct or judgement ...
disregard what is said ...
convey the absolute bottom quality of each person, situation, and thing.
Isn't writing simple?"
- Maxwell Perkins in a letter to Hemingway.
A soft voice spoke above me as I typed on my laptop in the haunted jazz club, Meilori's.
"The utterly real thing in writing is the only thing that counts."
I looked up and stiffened.
The ghost of Maxwell Perkins.
He was unknown to the public
even while he mentored Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe into literary legend.
He staked his career on them,
defying what the establishment felt was the only way to publishing success.
He once wrote Thomas Wolfe:
"There could be nothing so important as a book can be."
He had made his publisher, Scribners,
lend Fitzgerald many thousands of dollars and rescued him from his breakdown
He agreed to publish Hemingway's first novel, The Sun Also Rises, sight unseen
and then had to fight to keep his own job.
when the manuscript arrived with off-color language.
How many modern editors would do those things?
"Might I sit down?" he asked.
"Of course. But why me?"
"You do not give up in your dreams."
He spoke carefully, with that hollow timbre of the hard of hearing,
as if he were surprised at the sound of his own voice.
"If you want to be a writer it is."
Perkins smiled sadly.
"At Clemens' insistence, I have read your The Not-So-Innocents Abroad."
He cocked his head.
"It possesses what I call the 'real thing' ...
though now I fear what I find excellent would not be considered so today."
Perkins patted the back of my hand.
"I stopped to merely encourage you not to stop if you will forgive my play on words.
Do not heed the low sales or low recognition."
Perkins glanced at Hemingway booming off to the distance on our right,
his blue pastel eyes seeing scenes of the past denied me.
"Real self-esteem is not derived from the great things you have done,
the awards you have won, or the mark you made."
Perkins turned his eyes back to me.
"It comes from an appreciation of yourself for what and who you are."
He rose and walked into the shadows of the haunted jazz club.
"A sense of self is much better than pride and will carry you farther."
As the swirling mists swallowed him, his words came faintly to me.
"It is called integrity, your inner image of yourself. Integrity is not the search for rewards.
Maybe all you will get is the biggest kick in the pants the world can provide.
But you will have earned them by being true to yourself."
Though I could no longer see Perkins, I thought Wolfe had it right when he described his eyes:
"They were full of a strange misty light, a kind of far weather of the sea in them,
eyes of a New England sailor long months outbound for China on a clipper ship,
with something drowned, sea-sunken in them.”