So you can read my books

Saturday, September 10, 2011


{"A man can be destroyed. But he cannot be defeated."

- Ernest Hemingway.}

I am Hemingway. His ghost to be precise.

What I wrote about a man is also true about a writer ... a real writer.

As Roland is off on one of his rare blood runs, I sat down and read his notes for an article to comfort insecure writers.


If you want comfort, my friend, then writing is not for you. Pain. Fear. Doubt. Perseverence. These are all the coins a writer, a real writer, must pay.

With no sure promise of a reward.

Earlier I wrote : I am Hemingway.

Who are you?

Can you answer in one sentence? If not, how then will you write a fictional character well?

What is the basic truth of life? Do you know? You need to in order to write a good novel.

The basic truth of life, of being a writer, is to be found in the human soul:

the will to live, the will to persevere, to endure, to defy.

It is the frontier mentality -

the individual is on his own, like a Pilgrim walking into the unknown with neither shelter nor guidance, thrown upon his own resources, his strength and his judgment.

My truth shapes my style which is the style of understatement since my hero is a hero of action, which is the human condition.

And it is that human condition that your characters will take with them no matter where your pen leads them.

A weakling will always draw the bullies no matter which town he runs to. He will have to face his flaws himself, refine his own nature, and then face the exterior dangers.

All my life I was obsessed with death. I was seriously wounded at midnight on July 18, 1918 at Fossalta, Italy. I nearly died.

I was the first American to be wounded in Italy during World War I.

I felt my soul go out of my body. In the blackness of midnight, I died and felt my soul go out of me, go off, and then come back.

Perhaps that near-death experience is why I am now a ghost. I do not know.

I do know that I became obsessed with death :

Deep sea fishing, bull-fighting, boxing, big-game hunting, war, -

all are means of ritualizing the death struggle in my mind -

it is very explicit in my books such as A Farewell to Arms and Death in the Afternoon, which were based on my own experiences.

And again, briefly, in In Our Time in the lines on the death of Maera.

It reappears, in another setting and form, in the image of immortality in my African story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro,"

where the dying Harry knows he is going to the peak called "Ngàje Ngài",

which means, as I explained in the introductory note, "the House of God."

Yet, it takes more than being haunted by your inner demons, being driven by your insecurities, to write well.

It takes imagination.

Imagination is the one thing besides honesty that a good writer must have to defeat his insecurites and write well.

The more he learns from experience, the more truly he can imagine.

If he gets so he can truly imagine, people will think that the things he relates all really happened -- and that he is just reporting.

If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things.

What is the truth of the heroes in my novels?

They are so much their own agents that they do not hesitate to jeopardize life itself to be true to their own nature, their own code.

If you can't have a near-death experience, the next best training for being a good writer is an unhappy childhood.

And thanks to parents being all too flawed, most people have had that.

But forget your personal tragedy. We are all damned from the start so join the club.

It is a sad fact that you have to be especially hurt like hell before you can write seriously.

It's a law of nature. Human nature. And like most laws, you don't have to like it. You just have to live with it.

Dostoevsky was made by being sent to Siberia. Writers are forged in injustice as a sword is forged in the furnace.

Perhaps that is why I suffer like a bastard when I don't write. And why I feel empty and f____ out afterwards. And why I feel so good while writing.

Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done.

It is a perpetual challenge, and it is more difficult than anything else I have ever done -- which is why I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.

And after each novel, I feared I would never write as well again.

That is why I loved to cover war as a journalist. Every day and each night, there was a strong possibility that I would get killed and not have to write.

Writing is like a disease. I have to write to be happy whether I get paid for it or not. And that makes it worse.

That changes it from a disease to a vice.

And then I want to do it better than anybody has ever done it which makes it into an obsession. Even though I am dead, I still write. Look at me here in this blog.

How is it for you out there?
For those of you who were struck by Jesse Cook's talent when I wrote my last post, here is another snippet from one of his concerts :


  1. Hi Roland ... the one thing that can't be crushed is a man's mind ... the insecurities can be bred therein - but the bursting through the bonds of restriction can let the writer out ... so true - and the experience of death can lighten the way ahead too - the ghost comes into his own.

    Hope your rare blood run goes well .. and have a peaceful weekend .. Hilary

  2. I saw Hemingway and came running. Am currently reading his 'Green Hills of Africa' a book of his that received tepid reviews, but there's so much about writing in it I find it a treasure.

    Thank you for this post. Awesome managing to get the ghost of one of those I consider the best writer of all time to speak to us.

    As he says: 'Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done.' Here's to the challenge.


  3. I'd say you've gotten into the heart and soul of Hemingway.

  4. So much of what I feel, but didn't know I felt until now, is in this post.

  5. Then I guess it's a total miracle I'm a published author as I've not experienced anything really traumatic such as near death or a crappy childhood. One more thing I need to be insecure about now...

  6. Well, Sir, I am glad I popped in on this particular post.

    Is this Hemingway speaking to us or you? I, of course, know this answer.

    The soul of a man is true and honest. You captured Hemingway to perfection. I went to a late viewing of Midnight in Paris. I had to watch this film again.

    It features Hemingway and in you post I could see the film rolling in my head. Hemingway was/is an amazing persona. Many of his feelings are what we feel. Heartache, sadness, and great joy go hand-in-hand.

    As always your smooth yet intense style of writing pierces our souls.

    It is nice to be back my friend... I have missed you.

  7. "If you want comfort, my friend, then writing is not for you. Pain. Fear. Doubt. Perseverence. These are all the coins a writer, a real writer, must pay." Well put.

    Have you seen the film Midnight in Paris? The actor playing Hemingway did a stand-up job!

    Also, this week in my creative writing classes, I had my jr. high students write interpretations of Hemingway's 6-word story: "For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn."

    Guess we've had Hemingway on the brain.

  8. "Writing is like a disease" now that's an interesting way to look at it! Many times, it does feel like it. I think the insecure writer support group is a great idea and I commend it's creators.

  9. Hilary :
    My rare blood run went smoothly, and a good night's sleep despite being on first call restored me.

    I agree with everything you wrote. Have a great weekend, Roland

    Denise :
    Yes, here's to the challenge. I'm glad you mentioned GREEN HILLS OF AFRICA. My copy burned in my house fire. Time for me to Kindle it.

    Hemingway likes to write here. He'll be back, Roland

    Richard :
    Thanks. Teaching him helped focus his personality in my head. Good to see you as always, Roland

    Sarah :
    William Faulkner said (and I used in RITES OF PASSAGE) that he did not know what he felt on a subject until he wrote of it. I, like you, feel much the same of reading. Reading awakens thoughts long held but hardly viewed in my mind.

    Alex :
    Mark Twain wrote that in the universal equality of pain, the loss of a child's beloved doll is equal in grief to a king's loss of his crown. To a feeling heart, life is wound enough. You are a talent because you feel. Thanks for dropping by, Roland

    Michael :
    Good to see you here! Sadly, if there are not fast cars, explosions, and hot girls -- my slumbering-minded town will not show the movie. I will have to wait for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS to hit the DVD market before I can see it for the FIRST time. Sigh.

    It is nice to have you back, too, Michael. Don't be a stranger, Roland

    Milo :
    I taught Hemingway to my creative writing students as well. And I used his three sentence short story to hammer home that good does not have to be long. I want so much to see MIDNIGHT IN PARIS but alas my backwater town thinks Bach is a beer!

    Heather :
    Doesn't writing sometimes feel like a disease that won't let you go? The insecure writing group was a fantastic idea from Alex, wasn't it?

  10. Writing is like a disease, and I don't want the cure! Great post, Roland. :)

  11. Thanks for the great comment, Lydia :
    If there was a cure, what would we readers read? LOL.

  12. To be a writer means we place our hearts and souls out before the world, drop them at their feet and let them trample. Our words will brand us, mark us for life. It takes courage to be a scribe. For that reason only we should write for ourselves and the love of the art. And if greatness does indeed follow, well then all the better. Anyway, I think you're an amazing writer. :)

  13. Laila :
    You're right. But oddly enough so many of us do not realize to how much hurt we are letting ourselves in for when we begin the writer's path.

    But not following our dreams would brand, mark, and bruise us as well.

    Thanks for thinking fondly of my writing. The ghost of Ernest Hemingway scoffed at me, saying something manly and joking. Ah, Hemingway, you rascal! LOL. Roland

  14. An interesting take on the support group Roland. I don't agree that one cannot be a good writer unless they've experienced consistent tragedy in their life; but I understand where you are coming from on this issue, and you have certainly weaved that sentiment well into all your writings.

    This philosophy has sustained you through some 12 publications? And it is obviously working well for the exploration of human depravity within those accomplished stories. A true accounting for the "write what you know" admonishment.

    The trailer for the Love Like Death trilogy is very well done. Intriguing from start to finish, and the music was perfect. If I ever self publish I'll have to consult you and Wendy on my own trailer. You both are creative geniuses.


  15. Thanks, Donna :
    Not consistent tragedy. Certainly Hemingway didn't have constant tragedy in his life. But those of us who have been wounded in growing up and maturing carry an empathic sense of the world around us - some to a smaller or lesser degree.

    But I do believe that most of us have been dealt a bad blow of some kind in our lives and carry the invisible scar of it even now.

    I like to think my protagonists rise above the depravity of some around them. I hope I have made most of my cast of characters three dimensional, and capable of surprising gestures of kindness (even Maija!)

    Wasn't Wendy's LOVE LIKE DEATH TRILOGY trailer a bit of magic. The credit goes all to her!

    Pace yourself. I read on your blog your own labors of Hercules that you are attempting! Roland