So you can read my books

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


{"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?


  1. Love this post. Love Hemingway.
    Something to think about. And feel guilty.

  2. Well, I've never come close to death and I had a happy childhood. Crap.

  3. Oh definitely. Writing isn't for the faint hearted.

    Also, I also had a near-death experience when I was a child. Guess that means I'll be a ghost one day too. ;-)

  4. I agree, the writer pays with pain, fear, doubt, and perseverance, but without our writing, we'd have nowhere to spend that awful coin. Perhaps we should be grateful?

    I've read a lot more about Hemingway than by him. I should make amends.

    VR Barkowski

  5. Poor depressed sot. Like Alex, no near death and not too sad a childhood, but I think you can make up for that in emphathy--if you can feel for another person who is sad, you can feel for your characters. Makes up some for lack of imagination, too. I never think of myself as having imagination so much as I can mix up things in a new way and then let it play out.

  6. I'm quite fond of Hemingway, and that came about by first reading 'A Moveable Feast', then progressing through many of his novels (not so much short stories). I've read 'A Farewell to Arms' and several others (the Key West novels, novels written in Paris, etc). It's helped me appreciate the writing of the man. (Thanks, Hem!)

    I like the idea that he was a journalist first, something I wanted to be at one time.

    I like it when you, Hemingway, lends us your writing wisdom. Hope Roland isn't working too hard.

  7. Jess:
    Hemingway would not want you to feel guilty but to write. :-) He told me that! So glad you liked his post.

    But you've been hurt -- all of us have -- Hemingway would want you to use that pain constructively in your prose.

    Sometimes I feel down about where I am in my writing, and I hear the ghost of Hemingway clear his throat angrily and see him jab his cigar at my laptop. :-)

    I am glad it was only a NEAR death experience. As for becoming a ghost, I think Hemingway was only musing, not being sure himself. :-)

    In life we grow stronger by weight and stress resistance. You would be strong no matter what endeavor you loved, VR.

    I would suggest A MOVEABLE FEAST or FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. I am currently reading: ERNEST HEMINGWAY - SELECTED LETTERS 1917-1961. It is much like reading a sporadic auto-biography.

    Ah, but you've been hurt deeply, for such is the human condition. You can tap into those feelings to lend depth to your fiction.

    "Mix & Match" from the classics is something all we writers do! :-)

    Hemingway lifts his glass of rum to you in salute for such nice words and for enjoying his fiction. He has mixed feelings about his short stories, too.

    As for me, I have a few hours off to relax finally! Whew!

  8. Roland, I don't know what it is about your posts, but they speak to me. Maybe our brains run on the same wave length or something. :)

    LOVE this.

  9. Morgan:
    That would be nice if our brains ran on the same wavelength -- I wouldn't feel so alone in my dreams! Great post you did today. :-)

  10. I think all experiences fuel the writer's imagination, even witnessing the tragedy of others without having to experience such devastation yourself can make good writing fodder.

    Hemingway's life does seem a tragedy. Perhaps that did make him a excellent character author, with an ability to tap into the worst in human nature.

    Great post Roland.


  11. I would have loved to have met Hemingway. Your ghost posts make me feel like I have!

  12. Donna:
    Hemingway certainly had issues. He no sooner married one women when he started looking for other loves. It seems sad really. All his life, he kept a love for Hadley, though she found someone else after his rough leaving of her.

    Hopefully, we can learn from the mistakes of others. :-)

    Hemingway would have made a wonderful drinking companion -- unless he cornered you into a boxing match (if you were a male) or making a pass at you (if you were female!)

    My posts are a safer way to get to know him! :-)