when the ghost of Hemingway sat down beside her and opposite me, whiskey glass in hand.
"What are you writing?"
"Next month's post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, sir."
He snorted "If you have to have your hand held, then you have no business being a writer."
Ingrid raised an eyebrow in silent reproach at him as I glanced up from my laptop
and looked at him through the bronze mists of Meilori's, saying low,
"You once said,
'Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.'"
He nodded, "I was right then. I am double right now."
I smiled sadly,
"We all walk in the dark, sir. But that doesn't mean we have to walk it alone."
"You trouble me sometimes, Roland."
Ingrid breathed, "And Roland gives me hope for the human race."
I said, "You once said writing had the “the emotional and spiritual intensity and pure classic beauty” few other endeavors ever possess."
Hemingway gruffed, "Pay heed to your own wisdom and not to others if you would write true."
"It never hurts to look in the past to see if you can find in it a better path to your future."
Hemingway snorted, "I need a drink after that."
He gulped the rest of his whiskey down. "You want advice to give your friends? Here's some:
When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters.
A character is a caricature.
If a writer can make people live there may be no great characters in his book,
but it is possible that his book will remain as a whole; as an entity; as a novel.
If the people the writer is making talk of old masters; of music; of modern painting; of letters; or of science
then they should talk of those subjects in the novel.
If they do not talk of those subjects and the writer makes them talk of them he is a faker,
and if he talks about them himself to show how much he knows then he is showing off.
No matter how good a phrase or a simile he may have
if he puts it in where it is not absolutely necessary and irreplaceable he is spoiling his work for egotism.
Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque period is over."
The ghost of F Scott Fitzgerald sat down lazily beside me. "Posh, old boy. Even my eyes glazed at that."
He smiled at me. "I will tell you a secret about most writers:
I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than they are prepared to pay at present.
You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner.
This is especially true when you begin to write,
when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn.
When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.
This is the experience of all writers.
It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his own abused childhood.
One of Ernest’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known.
In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.
The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing
can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming —
the amateur thinks he or she can do the same.
But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person
by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.
That, anyhow, is the price of admission.
Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide.
But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte.
It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’
You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave, would you?"
Hemingway snorted, "What would you know of 'brave?'"
Fitzgerald smiled drily, "I was married to Zelda, remember?"
He turned to me.
"If you want to get into the big time, you have to have your own fences to jump and learn from experience.
Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one.
If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before,
you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before,
so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together."
The ghost of Mark Twain settled in the chair on the other side of me as he shook his head.
"Lord, but don't you boys love to pontificate in prose storm clouds!"
He slapped my arm. "I will tell you the simple secrets of writing well:
An author should say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
He should use the right word, not its second cousin.
And above all else he should eschew surplusage!"
Hemingway groused, "I need another drink."
To those of you who
wrote me here and by email,
about my own doubts --
FOR LIVING MY BELIEF:
WE DO NOT HAVE TO
WALK IN THE DARK ALONE!