I’ll never be half the writer Ernest Hemingway was. Ninety percent of us would have to admit that. Yet, when I visited Key West in early May, I made a bee line for his estate to learn some of his secrets to writing.
The house has been turned into a museum offering tours and well worth the $18 to get in and join the guided tour through the house and grounds where he lived for several years with his second wife. The rooms are filled with their furniture, mementos and photos from his travels, pictures of celebrities and political figures, and stories from his days as a foreign correspondent.
I hadn’t know much about his life, except that he was an author and an alcoholic. He was so much more. He began his career as a penniless author in Paris among famous literati. Toreadors he met in Spain fascinated him with their brushes with death. He loved travel and was afraid to be a father. Our government asked him to spy for them during his travels in China. He loved the vast sea and was an avid fisherman. These experiences became themes and settings for his short stories and novels. During WWI when he was a nineteen year old ambulance driver, he was injured. Time spent recovering in a field hospital became his inspiration for A Farewell To Arms.
He wrote his experiences into the heart of his stories and brought characters he met to life. This resonates with me. To a much lesser degree, I do it myself in my adventure mystery novels and cozy mysteries.
One comes away from the Hemingway’s home, wishing for a life as rich and expansive as his as fodder for writing. He was an adventurer and world traveler. He got paid to be sent into war-torn areas to distill those events into articles and stories. He was a master at bringing life, death, and human suffering into vivid imagery. He also put his own emotions, fears, and failings on paper for all to see. His brilliant classics came at a huge personal price.
Do any of us aspiring authors want to live the life Hemingway did? No. He was a depressed and tortured soul. He lived dangerously, consumed by his writing and with death. He lived self-absorbed and selfishly on the edge. He suffered.
I admire the man’s writing, but came away appalled at what it must take to write great literature. Will we ever see another Hemingway? I doubt it.