Lately I’ve been obsessed with reading novels that fictionalize famous authors. I read The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare (about Shakespeare’s wife) and Becoming Jane Eyre (about the inner life of Charlotte Bronte). Part of the obsession is my love of history. I would have been a history major had it not been for Professor Tennyson’s Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation Europe class freshman year. The other part comes from a curiosity as to how contemporary writers fictionalize famous authors from other time periods. I just finished writing a novel about a woman in 1928 who has a correspondence with Langston Hughes. Reading similar novels gives me insight as to how I might improve my own novel.
I just recently finished reading The Paris Wife , by Paula McLain. McLain (fellow University of Michigan alum) writes about Ernest Hemingway’s time in Paris during the early 1920s from the perspective of his first wife, Hadley. Throughout the novel there are references to Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. So much so I felt the need to re-read Hemingway’s novel.
I’m not a Hemingway fan. I tend to prefer stories written about women. His subjects are too manly, and well chauvinistic for my taste. And yet I love his style. The short declarative sentences and precise word choice really turns me on (as a writer). Prior to going back to grad school, I read one of his novels at least once a year for medicinal purposes. When I read his work, I write better. A Moveable Feast is by far my favorite. I loved the idea of moving around the world feasting on experiences to feed your writing so much that I modeled a class around the concept when I taught writing at North Central College in Naperville, IL. Every morning, for two weeks, we meet in a different coffee shop or cafe around town. We did various writing exercises and shared our work with one another. It was amazing how much the environment enriched everyone’s writing, including my own. I can only imagine what would happen if I could spend time in Paris, experiencing the culture, drinking wine in the cafes and writing. But unfortunately that isn’t realistic for my life. I’m a wife and mother whose sophomore in high school needs to be picked up at 3:40 whether or not I’ve written my “one true sentence” for the day.
Nonetheless, there is still much we can learn as writers from Hemingway’s memoir. For example when I read: “After writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy, as though I had made love . . .” (6), I suddenly understand why I have been unable to look at my manuscript. So much went into crafting it. I have nothing else to give. And yet I miss the constant interaction. I doubt I would have ever connected that experience to making love, but Hemingway did. And his directness enables me to understand my craft. It helps me to be a more confident writer.
So the next few post will be dedicated to lessons we can learn from Hemingway, the writer.
Until next time . . .