Hemingway, Refugees, and Writing with Emotion

In 1922, Hemingway was in Greece reporting for the Toronto Star on the evacuation of Thrace and the refugee crisis that followed. He used some of his memories and notes from the trip as material for In Our Time, his first collection of short stories.

 

Hemingway’s war reporting appears in italics between his stories. These vignettes put his journalistic roots  on display, they show his early attempts to paint with words (he was a big Cezanne guy),  and they remind the reader that his fiction is drawn from life.  

 

For a writer, these scenes give a great example of how to craft emotionally charged prose without heavy, emotional language. Take a look:

 

Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Adrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. There was no end and no beginning. Just carts loaded with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walked along keeping the cattle mov­ing. The Maritza was running yellow almost up to the bridge. Carts were jammed solid on the bridge with camels bobbing along through them. Greek cavalry herded along the procession. The women and children were in the carts, crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bun­dles. There was a woman having a baby with a young girl holding a blanket over her and cry­ing. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.

 

There’s not an adverb to in sight, and it would be hard to find a word that doesn’t pull its weight here.  He lets the images speak for themselves rather than muting them with emotional redundancy. He doesn’t have to tell us that these  people are hopeless or miserable, he shows us “carts loaded with everything they owned” and “old men and women soaked through. He reminds us of the scale of the tragedy which has “no beginning and no end.”   Instead of saying the  scene was scary or sickening, he gives us the jotted fragment “scared sick looking at it.”

 

That last line–“It rained all through the evacuation”– comes last for a reason. Suppose he had lead with the weather “It was raining as…” or mentioned it in passing “Just carts loaded with everything they owned out in the rain,” it just wouldn’t have the same power. Besides, we kind of already know it’s raining or has been raining: the river is almost up to the bridge, it’s muddy, and the old people are soaked through. By saving this detail for last, he gives it the power to devastate. On top of all the hardship and suffering he describes, as if these people haven’t suffered enough: It’s raining.

Norman Mailer on Trolls and Critics

The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer’s book on the art and business of writing, is a lost classic of the writing advice genre. Like Mailer himself, it’s brilliant, frustrating, and full of fist-fighting analogies.


What’s cool about this title is that it was written for working writers and advanced amateurs. You won’t find much in the way of plotting advice or grammar pointers, but you will learn  how to deal with unreasonable movie execs and how to handle potential pitfalls in the writing life, even outdated ones like Seconal addiction.

 

Mailer has a lot to say about facing criticism. He hated critics and often times the feeling was mutual. However, he accepted that criticism is inevitable in the writing game. As he saw it, the only way to write another book after your last one was eviscerated by the rabble is to develop a thick skin.

“Every good author who manages to forage a long career must be able to build a character that will not be unhinged by a bad reception. That takes art.”

 

The Spooky Art was published in 2003, a few years before internet trolling came into its own. But these lines could apply as easily to a hostile comment as a bad review:

 

“(A writer) Must learn to live with the bruises left by comments on his work.”

 

And if the moral high road isn’t satisfying enough for you, Mailer goes on to offer advice–from personal experience–on how to physically intimidate a reviewer at a book party without actually throwing a punch.

Image: the Daily Mail

 

Autumn Reading: My Massachusetts Bookshelf

Today was perfect reading weather on Cape Cod: Grey and wet with northeast winds and a small craft warning out on the water. It’s good to be home in the fall and surrounded by my books.

Here are my top home-state reads.

Mystic River -Dennis Lehane (fiction)

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The movie (more specifically Sean Penn’s back tattoos) helped put working class Boston on the sexy map.

There aren’t too many American cities where you could set a convincing  tale of Dostoevskian evil, guilt, and redemption, but it works in Boston.

 

The Perfect Storm – Sebastian Junger

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If you took out the storm and the epic struggle for survival at sea, this would still be a fascinating read.

Most of us haven’t a clue how a piece of fish gets on our plate. In the case of swordfish, fishermen from the small town of Gloucester travel over a thousand miles in relatively tiny boats to reach their fishing grounds. They fish with 40 mile long lines (called longlines.) They die at rates higher than soldiers in combat.

 

A Death in Belmont – Sebastian Junger

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An investigation of a rape and murder–in a wealthy Boston suburb in 1963–for which the wrong man may have been convicted. Race, the psychology of killers and jurors, and the mood in Boston in the days following the Kennedy assassination.

 

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace (fiction)

 

Maybe this is how Tokyoites feel about Lost in Translation… I’m not sure I recognized my hometown, but it’s interesting to see it from an outsider’s brilliant brilliant brilliant point of view. Respect.

 

The Friends of Eddie Coyle – George V. Higgins (fiction)

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The story of a gun dealer and his lowlife cronies, required reading for writers looking to unfuck their dialogue. Elmore Leonard’s agent gave him this book as a homework assignment to fix the way his characters talk.

Spoiler alert, Eddie Coyle has no friends.

 

Black Mass – Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill

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The Departed tried to tell this story. One criticism of the movie from Boston people is that the truth was even crazier.  

Through the 70s, 80s, and 90s Whitey Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang terrorized South Boston. They murdered, mutilated, and extorted, all while enjoying the protection of the FBI.

Same neighborhood as Good Will Hunting, Boston’s a small town.

Off the Leash: a Year at the Dog Park – Matthew Gilbert

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One for the dog lovers and anyone who needs something uplifting after Black Mass. Off the Leash is the story of one reluctant dog-person’s initiation into the little world inside of Brookline’s Amory Dog Park.  A story about friendship, and an inside look at Boston’s 4-legged social scene.  This is the book-length debut of Boston Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert.

Cape Cod – Henry David Thoreau 

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Life, nature, sand dunes. It’s Walden with an ocean instead of a pond.

The links (in the titles and book covers) are all affiliate links. 

Cormac McCarthy: a Reading List

Cormac McCarthy is a mentor I’ve never met. We all have one of those, a teacher who sends us on a quest to seek our teacher’s teacher’s teacher. Here is an ever-growing reading list of my informal study of McCarthy and his influences. I’ll be updating the list on Goodreads.

 

FICTION

The Novels of Cormac McCarthy (Obviously.) If you’re new to him, and squeamish about blood, start with All the Pretty HorsesBlood Meridian can’t be denied, but it’s gruesome.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Carson McCullers, The heart is a Lonely Hunter

MacKinlay Kantor, Andersonville

James Joyce, Ulysses

Beckett’s Trilogy

Faulkner, lots of Faulkner…

And Shakespeare

Fydor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment & the Brothers Karamazov

Gustav Flaubert, Salammbô

Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness

Flannery O’Conner, Complete Stories

Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer

Oakley Hall, Warlock

NON-FICTION, PHILOSOPHY, & CRITICISM

Plato

Nietzsche

The King James Bible

Lt. Col. David Grossman, On Killing

Harold Bloom, Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ & Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’ 

Edwin T. Arnold, Border Trilogy Companion & Perspective on Cormac McCarthy

Steven Frye, the Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy 

Georg Guillemin, the Pastoral Vision of Cormac McCarthy

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: a Brief history of Humankind 

Leslie Harper Worthington, Cormac McCarthy and the Ghost of Huck Finn 

Wallis R. Sanborn, Animals in the Fiction of Cormac McCarthy

POETRY

Homer, The Iliad & The Odyssey

Milton, Paradise Lost 

W.B Yeats, ‘Sailing to Byzantium’

Ted Hughes, CrowThere’s no direct influence I can find here, but Hughes is a perfect complement to McCarthy in terms of  powerful language and haunting description of the natural world.

Friday Roundup

“I like grit, I like love and death, I’m tired of irony.”
― Jim Harrison

Seth Godin on failing ’til you don’t (featuring van Gogh’s Ramsgate.)

The 40-hour workweek is bad for business. 

The art of the pitch parts I & II over at Steven Pressfield’s blog.

On Being tells you Why You Haven’t Written Your Book Yet (hint, ‘you haven’t turned off the damned internet’).