So you can read my books

Friday, July 6, 2012


{"We are all losers,

defeated in the end by death.

But in the long run, defeat is as revealing

and fundamental as victory."

- Ernest Hemingway.}

I am Hemingway. I am a ghost.

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 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 to write well.

It takes imagination.

Imagination is the one thing besides honesty that a good writer must have.

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?


  1. So that's my problem? I had a happy childhood.

  2. Alex:
    Considering the way Hemingway chose to end his life, I think your happy childhood is probably a good thing!

  3. I have tried to live up to Hemingway's dictum, "Give me one declarative sentence..." (and the rest of the book follows)...but it's harder then he made it seem!

    Say what you will about Ernest, he lived a helluva interesting life.

  4. Steven:
    Looking at a genius crafting his work, it always appears so simple and easy ... until you try to do it yourself! I agree with you. Following Ernest's guidelines is hard ... but then, I believe it is supposed to be hard ... giving birth always is.

    Hemingway did, indeed, live an epic life ... which is why I believe he is better known than Faulkner or Steinbeck these days.

  5. I have read about Dostoyevsky and his Siberian incarceration, and I think that is what made him such a great writer, (he's one of my favourites!)..his life, and his experience in Siberia is a great of my favourite books of all time is Crime and Punishment..also, Notes from Underground, and The Idiot..could any of these have been written without him experiencing the trauma in Siberia? Probably not..I haven't actually read much Hemingway, but I love Steinbeck..East of Eden is a great novel,..I don't know as much about Steinbeck's personal life, but I also love Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath..I think it's true that highly creative people who live through extraordinarily difficult times find a way to allow great work to flow through those hard springs from the other...and the work is all the better for it..that's not to say that anybody who has a hard life can use it as a springboard to a writing career..they have to have the artist in them to start with,and then the hard times seem to unleash the creative beast, so to speak...I loved this! You made me think!

  6. There is a movie called The Five Heartbeats. In a transforming scene, while the group was accepting some kind of an award, one member of the band announced he was leaving having found out the truth of his wife and his brother having an affair. And - I am paraphrasing - he went on to say that he was praised for writing some pretty good love songs but hadn't suffered so he hadn't really dug deep.

    I suppose the same is for many writers. Interestingly enough, I don't really see the big sellers being stories that are all rainbows and sunshine. There's suffering (Harry Potter), there's danger (LOTR), there's sadness with happiness ever on the cusp but so hard to attain (Twilight).

  7. Eve:
    Dostoyevsky's life story could be turned into a mini-series on HBO or SHOWTIME with its scope, history, and drama. I believe you are right: traumatic situations alone do not transform the survivors into great writers. I believe that writers perceive life in multi-layers and are able to convey that vision in prose.

    Having survived trauma, they put their observations, reflections, and griefs into perspective by objectifying them into prose ... perhaps healing a bit in the process.

    You know I think your commet stirred echoes in the spirit world, and my blog will be visited by the ghost of John Steinbeck soon. :-)

    LOTR was done in the '50's, and the popular consensus is that it would probably not even be picked up by an agent, much less a publisher in today's shaky market. THE HOBBIT, which preceded it, was published in 1937 and similar thoughts are voiced about it never being picked up in today's market.

    Personal growth and forms of heroism are central themes of both story. Along with motifs of warfare, these themes have led critics to cite Tolkien's own experiences during World War I as instrumental in shaping the stories. Both have lasted decades.

    JK Rowling was a single mother in economic hard times when she wrote the first Harry Potter. I believe those stories will also endure.

    I do not believe the TWILIGHT saga will endure to become classics. Fearing you will not have sex with your boyfriend is not on par with Dostoyevsky. But that is the English teacher in me talking. LOL.

    Especially since I cannot see anyone placing Victor Standish next to Dostoyevsky either! :-)

    Still it has endured