In my writing and reading, I am studying Earnest Hemingway. That led to my reading of A Moveable Feast, published in 1964 after he had died. The version I have includes a foreword by his son, Patrick, and an introduction by his grandson, Sean. There are also many newly released sketches about his son Jack and his first wife, Hadley.
The chapters about F. Scott Fitzgerald and the subsequent descriptions including his wife, Zelda Sayre, formerly of Montgomery, Alabama add a new level of color to the first celebrities of the Jazz Age. (Check out the short film I did last summer on Zelda as a ghost in Montgomery–going back home one night and visiting her old haunts in modern Montgomery.)
Hemingway paints a picture of Zelda that is anything but flattering. He all but says that Zelda ruined Scott’s writing career out of jealousy. Fitzgerald is portrayed in firsthand stories that show why he only produced a limited number of books in his career.
For instance, when they first met, Scott invited Hemingway to take a train with him from Paris to Lyon to retrieve a car Scott and Zelda had left broken down. Hem arrived at the train, but Scott did not. Hem boarded, Scott did not. Hem arrived in Lyon, and Scott arrived an hour later.
Hem booked a room and wired Zelda where he was staying, but the message never got to Scott, who found Hem the next morning. Then there was the matter of where the two would eat breakfast. Zelda apparently hated cars with tops and so theirs had none and it was raining that day. Scott and Hem made it an hour before they had to stop in the rain. Once they stopped for the day, Scott said he felt like he was catching his death of cold. Hem kept insisting that he had no temperature and that he was fine.
Scott insisted he was dying. He insisted Hem find a thermometer. The pharmacy was closed. Hem found a waiter who located an odd thermometer which he told Scott, “You’re lucky it’s not a rectal thermometer.” No temp, but that didn’t satisfy Scott.
But after some doing, he then went downstairs to call Zelda and talked to her for an hour. This, he assured Hemingway was the first night the two had spent apart since they’d been married. The way Hem told it, it was a gross case of co-dependency before anyone used the term. The whole bit makes one wonder how stable Scott was himself. Then to see how Hemingway portrays the constant fighting between Scott and Zelda is eye-opening.
The first season TV series on Amazon shows they have a contentious relationship but Hemingway paints a much harsher picture. At one point they are arguing with their chauffeur from France about whether or not they can put oil in their car, or whether or not their driveway is theirs or not.
But there are a few segments of the book where Hemingway writes about writing. “On Writing in The First Person,” Hemingway says that if a writer does a good enough job, “you make the person who is reading … believe that the thing has happened to him too.” He goes on to say that if one can achieve this it will “become part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory.”
The observations and sketches about living in Paris in the early 1920s are colorful and enjoyable. He shares what it was like to live poor and to work hard at honing his craft. He was in love with Hadley and focused, intent on becoming a serious writer and loving living in what he felt was the best place in the world to be a writer at the time.
The chapters about Gertrude Stein and her calling Hemingway’s “the lost generation” are informative, as well as his summation that every generation is a little lost.
I enjoyed the read and will likely go back through this one a couple more times in my studies. There are Easter eggs hidden here among his feast of words.
My Reading List
In 2016, I began reading like a madman. In those days, my revisions to one of my manuscripts were in full swing and I intended to get a better idea of what was selling in the way of novels.
There’s only one good way to accomplish such a feat–reading everything in sight.
And so I did, and still have a stack of books with me constantly that are in a To Be Read pile.
In that time I’ve not missed a single day of Morning Pages. I’ve had my mom and daughters tell me, when I’ve encouraged them to follow suit, that they can’t do something like that–write something daily where they must commit to writing three pages before doing anything else every day. Mom says it feels heavy handed.
I even had a doctor two weeks ago tell me that “it’s hardly traditional medical therapy.” He scoffed. He was asking what I was doing to improve my mental health while I’ve been recovering from my back surgeries, getting off ten-and-a-half-months of opioids and trying to put my life back together.
He can doubt it all he wants. I know what it’s done. It’s brought me closer to God. My Morning Pages have helped me focus on what’s most important. They have helped me understand what I have to be thankful for. And as my daughters and I celebrated our Thanksgiving early this past Sunday, I kept those things in mind.
Now what I’m thankful for in large part is my own business. There are some obvious things. My church family. The love of my God, my daughters, my dear dog–Maycee. My own family–parents, brothers, and sister. A handful of church friends who have become what Julia Cameron calls my reflecting mirrors. People who are positive and supportive. People who give me encouragement and who are supportive to me as an artist. Who help feed me with positive support and ideas. People who are safe to share ideas with and who won’t make fun of me because I made myself vulnerable. I am blessed to have these rare and few people in my life and to have take comfort in their kind words.
May art has thrived because of them.
I still struggle daily because of what has happened to me. It’s been 18 months now and I am still afflicted with pain. This past week a doctor told me that a secondary aspect that I was not aware of may not ever go away–a result of the opioids, one that I had before that has been compounded because of the opioids–migraine headaches. It’s Monday, Nov. 21. I have an entry in my phone from Nov. 21, 2016–a year ago today that notes being hardly able to do anything because of my headaches. A year later, the pain is not much better, in spite of a high dosage of a med called Trokendi. I’m functioning but their are side effects, and I have had my present numbing headache for seven days now. I’m not thankful for that, but I’m doing my best to manage.
I have come to enjoy the days when I do work in Walking in this World, the third book of the Julia Cameron self-improvement trilogy. My mentor, Suzanne Frank from SMU says she believes it is the best of the three books and I can see why she says that. There is so much that is good in this third book.
Used to be I would put on Facebook about the progress I’d made on writing in The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. I’m not doing that anymore, and I know why now. It does drain energy from the progress of the book when it’s done. Tis far better to put that energy into the production of the work and safe it for when it’s done. So much so that I even hate to mention it here. So that’s it for now.
I keep a stack of books next to me for reference. They are great tools. Some of them I’m learning to memorize. And where would I be without my Smith-Corona Super-Sterling. Want to change how you write? Get a typewriter.
Time to get back to what I do. Writing.
I saw a post on the Internet today that has become more and more obvious to me. It says that the secret to being a good writer is 3 percent talent and 97 percent not being distracted by the Internet. Time to enforce the 97 percent….
Ah, the comforting sounds of a Super Sterling typewriter
I bought a 1960s model Smith-Carona Super Sterling typewriter in October of 2017. Why would an action/adventure writer with three Macs, an iPhone, and an iPad Pro need a typewriter?
The 1960s Smith-Corona Super Sterling typewriter. My “new” writing tool of old.
The answer is simple. Typewriters themselves are time machines with special powers. Using one to write drafts changed the metering and rhythm of my writing. And using a typewriter has slowed me down while drafting a story.
The one I bought is the same model my dad bought while in school at Perdue. The same typewriter I used after promoting myself from my red toy typewriter to Dad’s. This typewriter is the same color, same everything.
In Julia Cameron’sThe Artist’s Way trilogy, she says writers are buying old typewriters. They are making a comeback. But she stands by her rule that one must continue to write Morning Pages by hand. These are three pages of an open-minded stream of consciousness. Why does she discourage typing Morning Pages?
Because when using a keyboard, our human brains do not delve deep enough.
I know there are writers who go even further and write their books by hand. But limits exist about how far back I need to go with this venture. In med school, the professor would have awarded me with an A in Graduate Level Bad Handwriting on the first day of classes. But I say, four years and almost 30 composition notebooks filled with Morning Pages have done wonders for me.
The intimacy of writing drafts on a typewriter
Now you might think having a typewriter vs a computer is akin to John Henry vs. the steam engine. But guess what I realized after four days of having a typewriter next to my MacBook Pro?
Writing my novel, blog posts, and social media stories all became more intimate.
From age 10 onward, I used Dad’s typewriter to compose stories. One of my top lifelong dreams became to live the life of a writer. Using my dad’s mint green machine put me well on the way toward success. Or, so it felt.
There is excitement in feeding a blank piece of paper around the drum of the machine. There is a click and echo the machine makes when you push back the rollers to straighten the paper. The feeling is exhilarating. With the paper aligned and snapped into place, there is no sound quite like scrolling the drum knob to get far enough down the page to type.
Using a typewriter is changing the clarity of what I write.
When typing, I do not stop and bother with typographical errors. No one ever will see this page except me. I am in rough draft mode.
The mission: Get the story on paper
The mission is to get the story on paper. Not to write and edit. I’m not out to waste half a bottle of whiteout. What develops on the page is intimate. Already. My writing is better. I think more clearly because part of my brain still wants to type the perfect sentence. No grammar mistakes. No typos. Perfection.
To prove Ernest Hemingway wrong. The first draft of anything is not always “shit.”
Time travel is possible; writers do it almost every day
With the clicking and clacking, I exist as one with the psyche of my characters. My story takes place when I was a tween. Though I have not visited my own way of thinking in those days in decades, the feel of the keys, like an old song, opens doorways. Monsters, or as one of my characters from Louisiana calls them, “Haints” run wild.
We are all in the same plush woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The same typewriter puts me in a chair by the window overlooking the parking lot between our housing units. Some of the play I had as a kid seeps into the scene from I do not know where. Much like Dickens experienced with Ebenezer Scrooge returning to his boarding school. I understand how much innocence is since lost. I stand resolute in a far simpler time. An era I had no comprehension of how much Time would mangle.
But now that the weight of modern life has weathered me almost beyond recognition, I know which keys tighten the screws of my characters. As a writer, I delight in this. I am my antagonist. Life is making more sense now. This is an experience I need. One that will help me let go of the past. What I need in order to move forward in my life at long last.
My Super Sterling typewriter itself is a time machine. Fewer and fewer exist these days thanks to computers. At least companies can make turntables for vinyl records once more. Making all the parts for mass production would lead to a typewriter no one could afford in this day and age. Even if they did, I would not buy one. There is a spirit that lives in these old machines. An energy field writers may tap into. And the reward for doing so is bliss!
Novel Writing Tips: Let the Images do the Storytelling
Julia Cameron has an exercise in one of her books where she asks you to list your favorite authors and then write something you feel they would tell you as writing advice if they were sitting at the coffee table with you. So far, I’ve come up with 16 and over the next few weeks, I’m going to share some of them.
I feel funny doing this, being an unpublished author. One dealt a setback Friday at that. But one determined to persevere regardless.
But as I’ve seen on YouTube, the Net is full of unpublished authors giving all kinds of advice about the publishing industry.
What I’m offering is a little different. Almost like telepathy. In someways I can hear each of these authors, and in some cases, multiple authors, whispering, saying, sometimes SCREAMING, their advice at me as I sit across the table taking copious notes.
“Keep the writing simple and let the images you compose do the storytelling.”
Keep the writing simple. A variation of KISS, but on the eve of the release of the movie Swallows and Amazons, this seems fitting.
Now you may ask how in the Devil can I ascribe this to Earnest Hemingway, Arthur Ransome and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Read most anything from Hemingway. It’s simple to read. Easy to understand. But draws you into complex thoughts because of what he says.
Read Swallows and Amazons. The words are pictures. All of them. Simple scenes. Ones that sail you away on an adventure.
Zelda writes like this, too. Her letters to Scott. They lift you away with the purest of love.
I can hear all of them telling me, not yelling, well Hem might yell, not in a whisper, but in simple terms, Zelda might use a little Southern directness, but their point would all be the same.
Good creative writing is about putting images in the mind of a reader and letting them interpret for themselves the abundance of the details. This gives the reader a chance to escape and the ability to leave where they are and be transported to somewhere else, which is what they seek when they read fiction.
It’s not about barebones writing. I think I’ve learned that mistake. I’ve learned there is a balance there, too. Readers don’t want news writing, either. Not when they’re reading fiction. Just the facts ma’am worked in the papers, but it doesn’t work on the pages of a novel.
The graves of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s parents are in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery, Alabama.
The grave site of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s parents and family members in Montgomery, AL.
They are marked as #28.
They are not easy to find unless you know what you’re looking for.
How To Find The Sayre Graves
Oakwood Cemetery section. How to find the Sayre graves, the parents of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.
Heading east on Upper Wetumpka Road in Montgomery, go past the Montgomery Police Department and down the hill toward Alabama Public Television and Paterson Field.
The last three entrances to the cemetery are important. The third one leads to Hank Williams’ grave on top of the hill.
The first one, St. Ann’s Street, is the entrance to the section leading to the Sayres.
Once you pull in at St. Ann’s, take the first left onto Stella Street. At the first right, turn north on Clarmont Ave. and go up the hill. The first right near the top of the hill is also Clarmont, but go straight another 20 or 30 yards. Then stop.
Off to your left, three rows in, follow the path of Clarmont to the west. You will see several tall and full trees, and there are two obelisk-like markers to the west in the next row of the Sayre resting place.
Once you are three rows deep, turn to your right and the Sayre site should be to your left.
Clearly marked at the front of the site is a memorial marker to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who are not buried there.
Photos of the Site
I’ve included photos of Minnie Sayre’s grave, as well as Anthony D. Sayre Sr’s resting spots. Minnie is buried on the far left and Judge Sayre is three graves to her right. Zelda’s brother Anthony Sayre Jr lies immediately to the left of the Judge.
Marker for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald in Montgomery, AL
It’s taken longer than it should have, but last week I read The Barrowfields by the new author, Phillip Lewis.
The book starts out a little slow, but once you immerse yourself in the story, and that becomes easier to do with each passing page, Lewis takes hold of you with his quality, rich characters.
I enjoyed this book and will read it again. There are few on the New York Times Bestseller List I would say that about. It seems of late the publishing industry is all about a bang for the buck that lasts three weeks and no more. My pen-pal, Amor Towles, currently on the list for 32 weeks with A Gentleman in Moscow, remains there because his book is of substance. Something someone will want to read again.
The Barrowfields is of that same ilk
Lewis blends a rich knowledge of literature, books and North Carolina lore together for a superb recipe of a tale. He takes us through his father’s courtship of his mother and the relationship with his grandparents. Then we see the main character seek to recover from the events of home that linger. He seeks to escape his past but like none of us, is able to do so. It comes racing back into his life and he is compelled to deal with it.
I am an active reader so there are a few lines from the book I underlined as I read.
A beguiling optimism is often the first step toward folly. Page 29
“I write, because it’s one of the only things that seems real to me. It’s the only way short of death to make time stop.” This was not a simplified explanation for a ten-year-old. This was his truth. Page 45
As a fellow writer, I understand the perspective of Henry Aster’s father about writing.
And I so much would like to meet a woman as grounded as Story. She was a dear and though she herself is dealing with her own familial emotional baggage, she makes the story come alive and enjoyable.
I encourage you to find the book and give it a read. It is one you won’t want to take to Half Priced Books in a three weeks along with your current Grisham, Clancy, Patterson, Steele and the like. No, you’ll want to keep this with your Towles and Lees and Patchetts.
This book also helped me with my writing. The language is rich and colorful and immersive. I look forward to the next book by Phillip Lewis.
About The Barrowfields
A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction
Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writingdesk of this fiercely brilliant man. But whentragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.
Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, THE BARROWFIELDS is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.