So you can read my books

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


"Why do we go on?"

As Gypsy, my ghost cat, lapped from my tumbler of ice tea,
I sighed, "There is no certain promise of success.
Often we are mocked by those in our world.

Worse, sometimes we are endured or "forgiven our obsession" by those close to us."

Hemingway looked at me from across the table at Meilori's.

"Backbone," he rumbled.


He downed the remainder of his rum. "Backbone, son. In yourself. In your work. That is the key to surviving this 'obsession' of ours."

He set his glass with a thump on the oak table. "Your own backbone is between you and your self-respect. I can't help you there."

He lit a cigar. "But with the backbone of your story or novel ...

The spine of your novel is what you follow on your character’s evolution from what he was to what he becomes. And the change must be big. Why would we follow a bump on a bumpkin’s life?

All good books have one thing in common. They are truer than real life. Why? In good books, anything that doesn’t contribute to the hero’s transformation is edited away.

So find your backbone. What big picture are you painting? Any brushstroke that doesn’t add to that picture, remove.

Ask 5 questions to find your backbone.

1) Who is your hero?

You’d be surprised how many bad novels wobble about in that department, not giving the reader a sure idea of who to root for.

2) What is the problem?

It has to be clear. It has to be primal. And it has to appear insurmountable.

3) How does the story begin and end?

There has to be a “before” and “after” feel to them. The end must be a ringing bell within the heart of the reader.

4) What is the spiritual problem of the hero?

The physical problem must symbolize the spiritual struggle within your hero.

5) What is your novel about?

What is your story’s theme. A young boy learns that true magic lies within. A man discovers lies only make problems; they do not solve them. You get the picture.

What are you waiting for? You want me to lead you to the computer and type the story for you? Writers write. Dreamers dream and die with their dreams."

He pointed the burning end of his cigar at me. "Die on your feet, friend. Die on your feet, your last breath spent living your dream, not pining for it."


  1. Hemingway was a big influence on me as well. I wrote several blog posts called "My Hemingway Years."
    You might find them interesting.

  2. I do love Hemingway, and the advice from his "ghost." Straight forward and honest. I never really appreciated him until I read A Movable Feast. But the only thing I had read of his before was The Old Man and the Sea for my high school English class, if that explains it. But in A Movable Feast, I felt like he was just an old friend and I was simply following him around Paris. Then I read, For Whom the Bell Tolls and thought his writing was beautiful in that as well. The ending was very sad to me though and I haven't read anything more since.

  3. Ah, thank you for pulling out these jewels. What great advice! (I even took notes.) Now I want to go read MORE Hemmingway. (Putting it on the list.)

  4. Loved this post! Thanks, Hemingway! Excellent points.

  5. And add a Hello to Gypsy's ghost.

    It's hard for me as a writer to intentionally address your points. I start. I write. I finish. That's it.

    Now, the book I have coming out this fall, I wrote that on-command. That one is more plotted and has all the points you listed.

    But the one I'm drafting now, today, that I worked on this morning, it's not like that. It's story. It's about a knife and a boy in an attic.

    I sure know who my hero is, though, and what are his problems, and how it begins and ends, and what are his spiritual problems.

    It's just the explaining part, when someone asks: What is your novel about?

    Shrug. A knife and a boy in an attic. His name is Marty. The knife is named Jim Bowie, and the only word it knows is, Sip.

    - Eric

  6. Fantastic post, Roland! Now I'm dashing off to read some Hemingway! Thanks :)

  7. "Die on your feet, friend. Die on your feet, your last breath spent living your dream, not pining for it."

    No truer words were spoke. Thanks for another truly inspiring post Roland. Ernest would be proud of you.

  8. Love the quotes - especially, 'Before you quit, try'.

  9. Richard :
    I would head on right over now, but my internet is acting up. In fact, I do not if it will send these comments. Some days are more of a challege than others!

    Emily : You might enjoy GREEN HILLS OF AFRICA. It, too, is a snippet of his real life. Thanks for liking my post on his ghost's advice.

    Crystal :
    That you took notes made me feel as if my work and effort were not in vain. Thanks.

    Karen G :
    I've missed you here. My internet connection must have been cooked in my oven's apartment. I can only stay online for seconds now. Sigh.

    Eric :
    Your next novel of a boy and his Bowie knife sounds intriguing. Imagine the hard time Stephen King has explaining his novels! LOL.

    And Gypsy's ghost purrs a HELLO back to you. Roland

    Lady Gwen :
    I'm currently reading GREEN HILLS OF AFRICA right now. I'm glad you enjoyed Hemingway's post.

    Michael :
    Your praise means the world to me. I hope to squeeze enough current from my baked internet connection to visit your blog! Roland

  10. Wendy :
    Good to see you here. Weren't those words of advice in that quote block true? Here's hoping both our publication dreams come true, Roland

  11. Fantastic to hang out with Hemingway.

  12. Jo :
    Yes, it is. But ghost cigar smoke tickles my nose! LOL. Good to see you here, Roland

  13. I, too, am an admirer of Hemmingway. I like to sometimes imagine him glaring at me when I find myself lamenting my latest manuscript issue. He was not one to back down or shy away from anyone. Definitely an good influence for those of us when struggling with our characters, plots, etc.

    Great pointers! Thanks so much for sharing them.