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William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

My Visit to Hemingway's Toilet.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

So this winter vacation I found myself in Key West and of course . . . .


 
I love Hemingway's writing without loving the whole Hemingway mythos, but still, in Key West it was a must see for me, and so I spent the money and took the tour and saw the rather lovely Hemingway house:
 
 
and the Hemingway bed (shudder):
 
 
 
(notice the guide with his obligatory white Hemingway beard), and the Hemingway toilet (Oh the stories it could tell!):



and the Hemingway pool, with its cement elephants to hold the Hemingway drinks:

 
 
and the Hemingway pond (it is the obligatory writer thing to have a pool and a pond, I suppose):
 


and the Hemingway grounds:

 
and the Hemingway shrines:



and the famous Hemingway six-toed cats:

 

 
and I have to say I enjoyed it all more than I thought I would.
 
Hemingway lived in Key West with his second wife, after divorcing his first wife and leaving Paris.  (An interesting novel about that time is THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain, which I enjoyed.  The prologue of the novel is beautifully written and you get a sense of Hemingway's time in Paris, though I must admit it absolutely ruined THE SUN ALSO RISES for me.)  After his Key West time, and after divorcing his second wife, he moved to Cuba with his third wife, to a house called Finca Vigia.  My collection of Hemingway's stories, which I think might be the best collection of stories anywhere, is the Finca Vigia Edition.  Hemingway seems to have been as attached to his houses as to his wives.
 
We seem to have a fascination with writer's lives, as if that gives us an insight into the beauty of their work, but I think it's a false insight, and Hemingway is the prime example.  He lived his life as if he were putting on an act of what he thought a writer should be, and most of it was unpleasant.  (Another example is Eugene O'Neil, whose plays are transcendent, especially "Long Day's Journey into Night" and the "The Iceman Cometh" but whose life is full of outright nastiness.)  All of Hemingway's boxing and macho showing off and trading wives and brutal competitiveness turns a lot of modern readers off, but some of his stories and novels are just sublime.  I think "Hills Like White Elephants" is as close to a perfect story as I've ever read - it moves me every time I read it and I read it often - and I do love A FAREWELL TO ARMS with its brilliant first paragraph.
 
Which brings me to the one holy place I found in Key West.  Hemingway's writing studio was atop an outbuilding to the house (you can see it here behind the main house):
 
 
There are steps now leading up to the studio, but in Hemingway's day there was a kitchen building between the two buildings and Hemingway built a walkway atop that building so he could take the dangerous walk from the house to the studio without ever touching the ground. It is as if in the course of that walk Hemingway would strip away the whole of the  personality he wore like a mask and become what he truly was.  In that room he wrote A FAREWELL TO ARMS, and FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro."  And I must admit , it was a pretty terrific setup:
 
 
I could imagine him pounding out his sweet and simple sentences on the manual typewriter, forefinger by forefinger, as the mounted animal head looked on.  He can have the rest of it, the estates and the wives and the boxing matches, I'll just take those few moments when the words felt right and thing within the pages started coming alive.
 
 










New for the New Year

Thursday, January 2, 2014

I've got a lot of things I want to write for the site, a short review of Rachel Kushner's incandescent THE FLAMETHROWERS, which I just finished, maybe a short essay on MOBY DICK, just because I keep thinking about the thing, and a report on my recent visit to the Hemingway House in Key West, with pictures of cats, and more cats.  The guy loved his cats.  But first I need to let you know about a few new items of mine that have finally ripened:

First, my new novel, THE BARKEEP is currently for sale as a Kindle First promotion on the Amazon website.  Even though the publication date is Feb. 1, you can buy the book for your Kindle at a reduced price of $1.99 for the month of January.  If you're a Kindle user you should jump on it.  It's what I call a novel of Zenspence, since there's a little Zen mixed in with the usual murder, mayhem, drinking and sex.  Some of it is based on THE TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD, which I remember from my dad's little pile of night reading, which, when I think about it, is a little weird.

Also, I wrote a short Victor Carl novella called "A Bite of Strawberry" published through an Amazon imprint called StoryFront, which provides writers a chance to publish their shorter fiction for the Kindle.  It's an exciting time for writers to be able to pick and choose their platforms, and this seemed like a good platform for what I was trying to do.  As you might know, there is a new Victor Carl novel coming out later in the year, and I used the novella to get my head back in the Victor game.

So that's the news.  I'll put up the Hemingway pictures shortly.  Let me tell you, once you see the Hemingway toilet, it stays with you.

Happy New Year.
 




On The Road

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I've got a new book coming out in May called THE ACCOUNTING, which I'll talk about later, but I have a few events coming up where I'll be talking about it and some other topics.

(1) On March 13, I'll be speaking at the University of Pennsylvania on a Continuing Medical Education panel entitled "The Detective Novel and the Search for Forbidden Meaning."  I'll be talking a little bit about Dashiell Hammett, his novel RED HARVEST, and the Flitcraft case from THE MALTESE FALCON.  There will also be a psychiatrist and a literature professor on the panel.  Should be interesting.  I'm hoping to learn something.  That will be at Cohen Hall, Room 402, 249 S. 36th Street from 7:00 to 9:00.

(2) On March 20, I'll be reading from the new book and talking about writing at the Chestnut Hill Hotel, 8229 Germantown Ave. in Philadelphia, starting at 7:00.  I'll of course be taking questions; hilarity will ensue.  And if not hilarity, then certainly wine and cheese.

Hope to see some of you out there.




Humpty Dumpty

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

As I made my breakfast this morning, I was thinking about the greatest eggs in all of literature.  For me there are two eggs I've always remembered, two eggs that will live with me for as long as I crack a shell and fry up something to place gently over the potatoes.

Number one all time is from KING RAT by James Clavel, a very good book with a brilliant piece of eggmanship.  This scene takes place in a POW camp where all the inmates are crazy with hunger except for King Rat, who has plenty of food, including this repast he is cooking to sway a new inmate to the dark side.  Notice the sound, the scent, the sizzle.  I cook my over-easy eggs on a very high temp now because of this passage:
The King broke the eggs neatly and dropped them into the heated oil.  The yolk was rich-gold and its circling jelly sputtered and hissed against the heat and began to set and all at once the sizzle filled the hut.  It filled the minds and filled the hearts and made the juices flow.  But no one said anything or did anything.  Except Tex.  He forced himself up and walked out of the hut. . . . . “Jesus H. Christ,” Byron Jones III said to no one, choked.  “I wish it would rain.”  No one answered.  For no one heard anything except the crackle and the hiss.  The King too was concentrating.  Over the frypan.  He prided himself that no one could cook an egg better than he.  To him a fried egg had to be cooked with an artist’s eyes, and quickly – yet not too fast.”
My second favorite egg passage takes place in Hemingway's GARDEN OF EDEN. Hemingway was always good with food, but this passage was like a revelation.  "Oh," I said first time I read it, "so that is how they should be eaten."  It's actually good, too, though I think you need to eat them at that very cafe, at that very time of day, while in the midst of a similar type love affair:
He loved her very much and everything about her and he went to sleep thinking about her cheek against his lips and how the next day they would both be darker from the sun and how dark can she become, he thought, and how dark will she ever really be?

"You know I haven't done anything bad to us. I had to do it. You know that."

Be careful, he said to himself, it is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply.

At the cafe he found the morning paper and the Paris papers of the day before and had his coffee and milk and the Bayonne ham with a big beautifully fresh egg that he ground coarse pepper over sparsely and spread a little mustard on before he broke the yolk.
 






Himalaya

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


God is a puzzling answer to the question of meaning.  It is the simplest, the most inevitable answer, but what does it tell us?  Is God’s mere existence enough to sate our existential yearnings, like a parent's mere presence gives meaning to a child, or vice-versa.  Because anything more requires intermediaries, a book, a priest, a culture to provide the meat of it.  What is our meaning?  To obey God?  To serve God?  To spread God’s word?  To support God with our donations?  It all seems not quite right.  To find meaning in God is like finding meaning in the mountain.  It exists, it preceded us and will survive us, it dwarfs us, we are mere pebbles in its shadow.  It might even love us.  Okay, now what?

What does it mean to serve the mountain?  Just ask the Sierra Club.  They'll guide us up the mountain's trails, they'll preach about the mountain's perfection, they'll weep at the beauty of its flanks and press upon us their pamphlets about all they're doing to save the mountain.  And yes, they'll ask us to sign their petitions and support their efforts with donations.  They'll tell us to give till it hurts and their sincerity will be like a hammer beating us into submission.   But take away their words and their books and what do we have?  A silent pile of stone is what we have.  And we're the chain gang.

What we have here is a failure to communicate. 
 




Yeah, that's right

Friday, February 22, 2013

I sometimes think readers really had it going in the 1920's, when Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Woolf and Joyce and Hammett were putting out new things.  Woody Allen thought so when he made that movie "Midnight in Paris" about the writer who was magically transported to the past.  I suppose the point of the move was that our sight is always poisoned somewhat by nostalgia.

But even so, I always thought the best rock music was made in my youth.  I grew up on Dylan and the Beatles and the Who and Zeppelin and early Springsteen and Patti Smith moving into the Sex Pistols and the Clash.  Sometimes I think that the soundtrack of our youths are always the music we idolize, no matter how crappy (some of my friends still love Elton John for that reason), but then sometimes I think that it just hasn't been as good since.

It's hard to tell, and I'm always looking for something new to get me excited, and there's good stuff out there, Wormburner, for instance, but still I can't stop thinking that it's just not as good as it was.  And just as I wonder if I'm falling into a pit of pitiful nostalgia, along comes the brilliant XKCD, a web comic of "Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language" that tells me I might be right.

Classic


http://xkcd.com/





Is Pulp The Greatest Band I Never Heard Of?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Every once in a while I get on a music buying binge, and I'm on one now.  I sort of get hold of a group or a movement   I don't know much about and then buy everything. I'm currently on a Brit Pop spree. So here's the group I'm listening to now: Pulp.  I mean, why haven't I ever listened to these guys before?  They're amazing.  They have song called "Disco 2000" which is all goofily happy and disco-ie even though it's about a guy who is in the middle of a failed life too afraid to meet up with the girl he used to like.  And then there is one of the bitterest songs ever written, "Common People."  If you want to have a blast, listen to William Shatner's version of the song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ainyK6fXku0.

Pulp, it's a a pint of bitters.






Why Important Films Always Suck

Sunday, July 8, 2012


We talk about stories having a good message.  Actors want to act in them because of the politics, writers bask in the glow of the acclaim for taking on big issues.  It’s not just an action picture, it’s a call for responsibility in buying diamonds from Africa.  It’s not just a raunchy sex comedy, it’s a story about the importance of family and personal responsibility. But isn't all that lily-gilding a perversion of what a story is?  Doesn't a story's beginning, middle, and resolution provide all the meaning it needs?  There is a corpse.  The questions is who did the killing.  Isn't finding the killer answer enough?  The very existence of the story provides its meaning.  Adding some soppy message on top of that is just a cynical way of selling the story to an audience intoxicated with its own sincerity.  In that way stories are better than we are; they never need occupy themselves in a search for their meaning.

A person without meaning is lost and pathetic.  A story without meaning is Hamlet.