author interview: Fernanda Santos: Reporting from the Heart

photo: Nick Oza

photo: Nick Oza

Fernanda Santos covers Arizona and New Mexico as the Phoenix bureau chief for the New York Times. Her experience as a journalist is broad, crossing two continents, several languages and a range of subjects. Her first book, The Fire Line (Flatiron Books), is about the deadly 2013 Yarnell Hill, Ariz., wildfire that killed 19 members of the firefighting team the Granite Mountain Hotshots. My review is here.

How was writing this book different from newspaper work?

I wanted to write a book because I couldn’t answer the questions that I wanted answered in newspaper stories. I knew that somebody would write about this fire, and I would have tortured myself for the rest of my life for not having had the courage to write it. I called a colleague in New York, and he said, look at every chapter as a story. Can you write a 4,000-, 5,000-word story? And I said yes, I can write that. He said they just all have to connect in the end. And it seemed so simple.

On one hand, it was that simple. But on the other hand, it’s very different than writing a newspaper story. I had complete control over it. In newspapers, the editors get hold of your text and shape it, or send it back to you and ask for more of this or that, because they want to drive a specific point. With the book, I kept waiting for the moment when the editors would get my chapters and start telling me where to go and what to do next, and it never came. When I was halfway through, I sent it to Colin Dickerman, my editor at Flatiron. I didn’t even know if I’d written something that resembled a book. And he said, there’s a lot of great material here, great reporting, but it’s a little confusing. Why don’t you do an outline? And I thought, oh! I guess that would help! With the outline, everything was easier. I set deadlines for each chapter. I only had a certain amount of book leave, and I didn’t want to jeopardize the job that I really love. So I assigned myself these stories, like my friend told me, and pursued the deadlines as if an editor was there to enforce them. And all of a sudden it flowed, just naturally evolved from one chapter to the next. A lot of the skills I used were developed over those years writing newspaper stories.

How did you gain access to these men’s families, and their trust?

I approached it very differently than I would if I were to just write a story about the deaths. I was not looking for a quote, or a quick couple of lines to throw in a story to define a character. I really wanted to understand who these men were, and I figured the best way to do that was if I got to meet their families. I had a friend in common with the wife of Andrew Ashcraft. I asked this friend to reach out to her, and we met. Then she referred me to her mother-in-law, who was close to another mother, who was close to another family, and the word started to get around. I guess they liked me. They said I had a lot of patience, and I was very interested in learning their stories.

I wrote letters to other families. I explained what the book was about, why I wanted to talk to them, and I said that although I had their addresses, I had not gone knocking on their doors because I didn’t want to add to their anguish. I wanted to leave them in control. I wanted them to reach out to me, and say if, when and where. And before I realized it, I had met everybody.

I also went to the fire academy in Prescott, where a lot of the Hotshots trained, and some of them taught; one of them, Eric Marsh, helped found the academy. I did the basic training, and then another course, and I’m actually going back to a third. I wanted to understand the world they inhabited, because wildland firefighting is a very small world, very tight. Once I went through the academy I could understand better what former members of the crew and families of the men had told me.

fire lineI love that you explore so many facets of this story: firefighting techniques, the history of fire management in the United States, the science of weather forecasting.

I realized early on I had to explain three things. Readers had to understand what wildland fire is, what it is like to fight a wildfire. They had to understand the very specific conditions of the vegetation in that part of the state, which obviously connects to the bigger issues of the drying of the west, climate change, the warming of the planet. And they needed to understand the characteristics of the storm that hit the fire, that hooked the flames and turned them around on the men. So I spent a lot of time in the National Weather Service office here in Phoenix, and the office in Flagstaff. I hung out with meteorologists, asking questions. They referred me to some texts. And I had two very thick fire policy books that I read, which were very helpful. I met several times with the author of those books, Stephen Pyne. In fact, he read my manuscript to make sure I didn’t embarrass myself.

It was in some ways a relief, when the emotional side of things became hard to deal with–you know, spending six hours with a widow, talking about a husband and a life that in many ways resemble my own. These guys were younger than my husband, but we like to do a lot of the same things these guys liked to do with their wives; we have a child, a lot of them had kids–so you understand the broad outlines of a life at home. Emotionally, that is very hard. There were times that I really looked forward to sitting down with a meteorologist and talking about science. It gave me a break, and recharged me so I could go back and sit down with another family for hours and talk about whatever they wanted to talk about. My husband says that I report with my heart first, which is why sometimes I come home a total wreck. I hope that’s what comes through.

Was it easy to return to your work for the Times?

It was not easy. I went from an environment where I was in complete control, and I took the story as far as I wanted to take it, to an environment where I have limits to the stories I write, the amount of time I can spend, even the way I write them. I remember telling my editor after one frustrating story, how is that I can write a book and I can’t write a story? And he said you can write both, but you can’t write a story as if you are writing a book.

I miss my book. It’s very weird, but I miss the intimate connection that I had with that story.

This was very rewarding, then.

It’s interesting. I’m from Brazil. I came here as an adult, I’d never written a story in English, I went to graduate school, I’ve been at the Times 10 years, and now I’ve written a book about wildfires. A very American story, in some ways. It was such an empowering experience for me, as a person. We know all the conventions, the boxes people try to fit us into. You’re a woman, you’re an immigrant, you’re a Latina; therefore you’re expected to know about immigrants, Latinos, parenting. Not about firefighters, a real man’s world. Because English is not my first language, how dare I write a book? Those were the things in my head. What are you thinking? Why did you get yourself into this? I had all these battles with myself, and I obviously overcame them, because I wrote the book. To me, that was such a priceless experience. My daughter is six, and I’ve been talking to her about what people say you can and can’t do, what girls can’t do. And in Latin culture we’re very respectful to authority. So I’m telling her, sometimes you have to break the rules. Sometimes you have to try something that people think you’re never going to be able to do, so you can prove to them that you can. It really taught me a lot about how far I can go.


This interview originally ran in the May 10, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish news.

Maximum Shelf author interview: Steven Rowley

Following yesterday’s review of Lily and the Octopus, here’s Steven Rowley: On Obstacles and Octopuses.


Steven Rowley is from Portland, Maine, and is a graduate of Emerson College. He has worked as a freelance writer, newspaper columnist and screenwriter, and lives in Los Angeles with his boyfriend and their dog. He is @mrstevenrowley on Instagram and Twitter. Lily and the Octopus is his first novel.

How autobiographical is this story?

photo: Malina Saval

photo: Malina Saval

There’s no way to deny that it’s partly autobiographical. I did have a dog, named Lily, and when she passed away I went into a funk. The depth of grief I felt took me completely by surprise. After about six months or so feeling completely blocked, not just in writing but in life, I sat down to do what writers often do, which is try to put pen to paper and work their way out of a tough spot. Thematically and emotionally it was autobiographical, but as I kept writing, the character and the plot became more fiction. It got weird, certainly, along the way, but I thought, the story can get as weird as it wants to on the surface as long as I stick to the mission of adhering to absolute emotional honesty.

It sounds like you did the writing as a part of healing.

Oh, it was hugely cathartic. Absolutely. Although it’s largely on the surface about a man and his dog, I see the story more about a character who’s stuck in life. Sometimes our biggest obstacles are those that we make up, that we imagine, or if they’re not entirely imagined, that we exaggerate. So it’s really a story about what it takes to get unblocked and power your way though.

Did you know that that was the story before you were writing it?

It’s interesting. I come from a background in screenwriting, and with screenwriting you have the plot much more laid out in advance. And this was something I was approaching from more of an emotional standpoint, looking to examine themes of grief and depression–I hate to harp on those because the book is, hopefully, not without its humor as well. I was surprised where the story took me because I was so focused on the emotion of it. There’s a big set piece near the end that came completely by surprise.

Why on earth an octopus?

Well, I did have a dog that suffered from something that looked a bit like there was a small octopus on her head. But beyond that, I wanted something as different as possible. What’s most different from a dog that’s covered in fur, that’s basically all spine (since she’s a dachshund) than an invertebrate who’s sort of slimy and hairless and lives in the sea? I liked playing with that dichotomy, that they were as different as different can be. On top of that, I have an enormous respect for octopuses (my editor and I have gone over this time and time, and the plural of octopus is octopuses). They’re so smart, and according to scientists they’re playful, can use simple tools and they learn and adapt as they go. And that’s what I needed, a cunning antagonist. Because the main character learns more about the octopus throughout the story as it unfolds, I needed a villain who would learn and adapt as well, continue to know how to needle our narrator. So, that is an octopus. And I do carry some guilt about villainizing them in any way, because they’re really magnificent creatures. Please everyone, don’t hate the octopus. Just the particular one in this story.


How was writing a novel different from your previous work as a screenwriter?

Screenwriting is a collaborative art. Many people help to bring a screenplay to life as a film, and many times it’s not the writer’s original intent that makes it to the screen. On top of that, when you’re writing a screenplay you’re writing a blueprint, it’s not in and of itself the final product. I had in my mind that I wanted to try a novel someday, so that if nothing else I could point to something bound and finished and say, this is what I do.

A screenwriter’s job is to make the internal external. All emotion and feelings are expressed through action and dialog. In this book, I wanted to luxuriate in themes and feelings. The book is very internal; there’s a very limited number of characters. The narrator has one friend, one sibling, one parent and one therapist, and that’s it. He’s sort of removed from humanity, which is why he has such a powerful relationship with his dog. I really wanted to take the time and explore what was going on inside of his head, and when you’re exploring depression it’s often internal like that. So it just seemed that a novel or prose was the right medium for this story.

Your journey to publication was unusual. Congratulations, by the way.

Thank you! When I finished the manuscript, I was very proud of it as a piece of writing, but I saw it as so deeply personal, and to be perfectly honest I was also worried that it was perhaps a little weird. Self-publishing was also attractive to me because, coming from film, I didn’t want too many other voices trying to tell me it can’t be an octopus, it should be an alligator, or whatnot. My boyfriend recommended I hire an independent freelance editor, so I found a woman named Molly Pisani and she and I worked on the book together. I paid her and I never expected to hear from her again. I went about doing what writers looking to self-publish do. I hired a typesetter, looked at ISBN numbers and how to market the book and sell it, all these things, and out of the blue I got a phone call from Molly about three months later. She said, “I can’t stop thinking about your book. I know a woman who works at Simon & Schuster who I think might respond to it in the same way that I did. Do you mind if I send it?” I said no, I certainly don’t mind, but I was so far down the line toward self-publishing that I really didn’t think anything would come of it. And she did say that it could take her friend a month or two to look at it. That was on a Friday, and on Monday morning I woke up to a call from Simon & Schuster, from the woman who is now my editor, Karyn Marcus. It really happened that quickly.

What’s next?

Everyone is asking, will it be a screenplay or novel? And I have to say that publishing is being incredibly kind to me right now. Working on Lily with my editor, she gave me a note once and said, “…but I defer to your creative vision.” And I almost fell out of my chair! Because in 10 or 12 years really giving it a go as a screenwriter, I had never heard those words from a producer or a studio executive. As a writer, that’s kind of addictive. So for many reasons, my next project, which I’m working on right now, is a follow-up novel. I’ve been really fortunate with this publishing deal, which has allowed me to leave my day job, and I’m focusing on writing full time now. I’m excited.


This interview originally ran on May 9, 2016 as a Shelf Awareness special issue. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

The House That Made Me: Writers Reflect on the Places and People that Defined Them edited by Grant Jarrett

Carefully curated essays take on the concept of home from varied points of view.

house made me

The House That Made Me collects essays by 19 writers reflecting on their childhood homes (or whichever home each writer has found most influential). Editor Grant Jarrett developed the idea for this anthology while contemplating his own first address via Google Earth, and he directs the contributors to that software. While the majority of essays hew close to Jarrett’s initial notion, some also riff on the concept: Roy Kesey considers those who view our homes from above, including birds, spies, angels, gods, astronauts and children climbing on roofs, as he once did.

The resulting assembly of voices offers a range of approaches and backgrounds: Kris Radish’s nostalgia for an idyllic rural community; Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s attempts at home-building in Liberia just before civil war erupted; and the juxtaposition of Pamela Erens’s privileged upbringing on the lake in Chicago and Jeffery Renard Allen’s difficult one in that same city’s Southside. Justine Musk writes of the possibility that “a person has two homes: the place where you were born (literally, not metaphorically), and the place that fits your soul.” As she works to leave her small Canadian hometown for Los Angeles: “It’s that sense of not-belonging that can become, slowly and over time, its own kind of belonging.” While each essay is a worthy and thought-provoking piece of craft, the true achievement is in the sum of these parts, a chorus of diverse experiences that work together to define “home” in all of its possibilities.


This review originally ran in the April 22, 2016 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish news.


Rating: 8 parachutes, for its matching my personal obsessions, these days.

book beginnings on Friday: Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises by Lesley M. M. Blume

book beginnings

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

Guess what brought me to this one. It’s been a while since I read The Sun Also Rises (first discovered in Mrs. Smith’s English class in high school, which began my Hemingway admiration). I wonder if I’ll find time for a reread…

everybody behaves badly

I think these opening lines set the scene nicely – or the atmosphere of Hemingway’s life and fame, if you will.

In March 1934, Vanity Fair ran a mischievous editorial: a page of Ernest Hemingway paper dolls, featuring cutouts of various famous Hemingway personas. On display: Hemingway as a toreador, clinging to a severed bull’s head; Hemingway as a brooding, cafĂ©-dwelling writer (four wine bottles adorn his table, and a waiter is seen toting three more in his direction); Hemingway as a bloodied war veteran.

I wonder how much that page of paper dolls would be worth now!

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Maximum Shelf author interview: Dan Vyleta

Following yesterday’s review of Smoke, here’s Dan Vyleta: In Dialogue with the Manuscript.


Dan Vyleta is the son of Czech refugees who moved to Germany in the late 1960s. He holds a Ph.D. in history from King’s College, Cambridge. Vyleta is the author of three previous novels: Pavel & I, The Quiet Twin and The Crooked Maid. An inveterate migrant, he has lived in Germany, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. When not reading or writing novels, Vyleta watches cop shows or listens to CDs from his embarrassingly large collection of jazz albums. He currently resides in Stratford-upon-Avon, in England.

vyletaYou employ many voices and events. Was this your plan from the beginning?

I’m not a great planner, if I’m honest. I always feel as if you write from the gut and you edit with your brain. It felt right to give people their own voice, let people speak–because it’s a novel about the state of your soul, I suppose. Everybody’s wrestling with this phenomenon that nobody can quite make sense of. The entire society works in a certain way because of it but it’s never been explained, it’s just there. And then, because this is also a novel about class, about different parts of society interacting, I had to find voices more peripheral to the action to give interesting counterpoints. The more I think about it, I think of the structure as quite dramatic, i.e., like a theater play, where occasionally somebody will come out from the chorus and stand there dazzled by the light and start talking at the audience. I think it was a dialogue between the manuscript and myself: things I wanted to do and things that the manuscript responded to. And that’s how a novel is shaped, you push forward and you listen into your own work and it gives you guidance and an architecture emerges out of that.

What makes a good hero, or a good villain?

For both the answer is complexity. Evil comes in many shades. It has to be complex. We have to feel the human being in there, we have to have some level of sympathy. We can fear them, but–there’s something quite attractive about villainy, isn’t there? The villain has to work on you emotionally on a whole range of notes, rather than just hitting the base notes over and over again with a fist. There has to be movement, so we realize there is a thinking person behind this, who is reacting and evolving and changing. And very often there’s a tragedy, since most people don’t grow up thinking, when I grow old I want to be a villain. I think as a writer it’s quite simple: you have to love the people you write, and all the more so if they are your main protagonists. It’s hard to love people who don’t have warts. You love them for the flaws as much as for what they can do. You love them both for the things you recognize of yourself in them and for the things you admire or wish you had. This is a strange refraction. What I admire in the three heroes of the book is courage, in very different keys. One is very… leading with his chin, as it were; one has the courage of emotional honesty, almost a courage of tenderness; and the third, in some ways my favorite, has the courage to change, to actually think differently, which is about the most difficult thing in life, you know.

Do you create those elements consciously, or does it come naturally?

I think anything you try to put in consciously feels off. It’s funny. Obviously you think about your book, and obviously you have plans for it, and hopes. I take reams and reams of notes, often including bits of dialogue or monologue that will never show in the book but which tell me something about the character. But the moment something simply has to happen in a mechanical sense, the page kind of dies. The page becomes an instrument to deliver that prearranged piece. And I think the beauty of writing is that you as a writer are in the position of the reader–each sentence can surprise you. Of course you think about plot and you’re aware of certain plot twists or elements, but the precise rhythm or emotional tone of it–it’s always good if there’s something in it where you think, wow, that’s how it worked out? That’s kind of sad, or very untoward, or funnier than I thought it would be.

In what ways is Smoke like and unlike your previous novels?

I’ve been asking myself that question, and I don’t have a good answer. My first three novels are all historically set, as is this, although in the middle of the 20th century. I feel as if, in this book, I’m writing unchained. When friends ask me what I’m writing I say, it’s like a Foucauldian children’s book for adults [laughs]. What does that even mean? On the one hand it’s more conceptual than anything I’ve written, about how we are trained to function well in society and what it would mean not to function well, and how we differentiate between who’s worthy and who’s unworthy. On the other hand, and this is what I mean by unleashed, it’s channeling this sheer joy for narrative that I remember in reading as a child. A sheer hunger for just turning the next page, which I really admire in the best of children’s literature. I have been thinking of Dickens a lot because this is a 19th-century novel partially set in London. Great Expectations is essentially a children’s book for adults, I think. Its entire engine, the way it drives forward, its tenderness, is very close to a children’s book, but the things that it explores are very adult indeed.

As a physical symbol, why smoke?

As Dickens points out, based on 19th-century medical theory, there must be particles of disease rising out of poor quarters of town where lots of people suffer physical ailments. If we could only see them, we would be scared, and it would be even worse if we saw their moral ailments. That, coupled to Dickens’s emphasis on fog and soot flying through the air, as it did in London in the 19th century, suggested the smoke to me initially. But the more I thought about it, I thought, well, it’s versatile. It’s undeniable, it’s immediate, it leaves a stain, it can’t be suppressed. It correlates with our own suspicions. You know, quite recently and suddenly cigarette smoke has become a sinister marker. You can’t have a hero in a film smoke anymore, right? It has dangerous implications. You can do it ironically if you set it in the ’60s. So that was part of it. And once I realized that the point wasn’t just that smoke marks sin or desire or vice, but that it was infectious, that it was something that could crawl into you, possess you, it became clear to me that smoke is really the perfect metaphor. You can walk through it like a mist, you can inhale it, you’ll feel it on your skin, it’ll be in your hair. And there’s a kind of analogy to sweat, right? Your every pore can be suffused with it. There may be moments where smoke pours out of your eyelids, finds its way around your fingernails. There’s this sort of visual power to it that I love.


This interview originally ran on February 24, 2016 as a Shelf Awareness special issue. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Portrait of Hemingway by Lillian Ross

Portrait of HemingwayLillian Ross originally wrote her ‘Profile’ of Ernest Hemingway for The New Yorker, where it was published on May 13, 1950. In book form, it becomes a ‘Portrait,’ and other than the addition of a delightful preface, I’m not sure what the difference is; the opening pages of my first edition note that Portrait originated as Profile, but there is no indication that the text of both is not the same.

The dust cover offers context.

When Miss Ross wrote this Profile, she made several literary innovations, one of which was to compose a portrait entirely in terms of action… She attempted to put down only what she had seen and heard, and not to comment on the facts or express any opinions or pass any judgments… In her writing for The New Yorker she has raised this severely objective method to an art.

We’ll examine that premise shortly.

The Portrait runs 42 pages: long for a magazine article, but perfectly lovely as a brief glimpse in this format. Let me start where the book does, though. I date the preface to 1961: that is the publication date of this first edition printing; the preface does refer to the reception to her Profile in the magazine, and it refers to Hemingway’s death of July 2 of that year. In it, Ross explains how she got to know Ernest Hemingway and his fourth and final wife, Mary, how they corresponded with each other as friends, and how the profile came about: on a brief stay in New York City on his way to Italy, Hemingway invited Ross to come and hang around with him on various errands, over the course of three days. She wrote up those experiences, and gave Mr. and Mrs. H. the chance to mark up her manuscript before she submitted it. She then describes the responses to her profile. Most readers loved it, she said, but some “reacted violently, and in a very complicated fashion.” Some of these disliked Hemingway’s personality (not an uncommon reaction to the man) and thought the piece backed up their views. Others didn’t like the man as represented in the piece (also understandable), and thought “either Hemingway had not been portrayed as he was or, if he was that way, [Ross] shouldn’t have written about him at all.” She assumes that Hemingway’s death has corrected some of these disapproving interpretations, which I found a little odd, but no matter. Finally, she continues the work of profiling Hem by describing the kind of letter-writer and friend he was. The preface introduces the profile nicely because it gives context to the relationship between writer and character.

And the profile (portrait) itself is indeed wonderful, and as promised, follows Hemingway closely: from arriving at the airport, to the airport bar, to the hotel, where the Hemingways order up caviar, champagne and Marlene Dietrich, who visits with photos and stories of her grandbaby. Then it is late in the next morning, and Ross is awakened by an antsy Hemingway who demands she come over and listen to him talk; more champagne, and she accompanies him on his errands while Mary goes on hers. They buy Papa a coat and other small items at Abercrombie & Fitch. The next morning again, Patrick (the middle Hemingway son) has joined the party, which goes to the Met to “look at pictures” for a few hours, followed by lunch back at the hotel with Charles Scribner (Hemingway’s longtime editor). The story ends mid-lunch.

Ross relates this series of anecdotes as scenes, blow by blow, in real time. It is true, as promised, that this is a portrait “in terms of action,” but I wouldn’t call it “severely objective.” For starters, there is the question of what you put in and what you leave out – because obviously Ross didn’t report every cough and sigh and rustle of a pant leg that took place in three days. She writes, “Patrick told me that he’d just as soon spend the whole day looking at pictures.” And a couple of pages later, Hem gets tired and asks Patrick, “don’t you think two hours is a long time looking at pictures?” and “everybody agreed” and the party moved on. Choosing to put in these contradicting statements says a lot about both Hem and Patrick, and I don’t believe for a moment that that was a mistake.

Too, word choice is always telling, I think. In the nature of this excellent piece my mother sent me the other day, consider the sentence: “He moved in and took the room.” Who can objectively say that Hemingway took the room? No, Lillian Ross is communicating something outside of objectively observable events here. I’m not saying I don’t like it: I do, in fact, very much. But I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to claim that the author is not present in her work – here, or ever.

That’s just a quibble with the dust jacket, though. This vignette is packed with great representative moments. I’ve already shared a few (here, here). Or how about this for a Hemingway speech:

…I was ashamed because I had not written any novels. So I wrote ‘The Sun’ when I was twenty-seven, and I wrote it in six weeks, starting on my birthday, July 21st, in Valencia, and finishing it September 6th, in Paris. But it was really lousy and the rewriting took nearly five months. Maybe that will encourage young writers so they won’t have to go get advice from their psycholoanalysts. Analyst once wrote me, What did I learn from psychoanalysts? I answered, Very little but hope they had learned as much as they were able to understand from my published works. You never saw a counter-puncher who was punchy. Never lead against a hitter unless you can outhit him. Crowd a boxer, and take everything he has, to get inside. Duck a swing. Block a hook. And counter a jab with everything you own. Papa’s delivery of hard-learned facts of life.

Seriously, he’s sort of simultaneously a genius and a walking cariacature. I understand perfectly why those readers thought Ross was making fun of Hemingway; this kind of speech reads that way. I also believe he spoke it. And I like him even while recognizing that he was a blowhard, could be a jerk, and struggled to contain his overcompensating machismo. But I get why others don’t. This is sort of in line with that post I wrote.

I had a wonderfully fun time reading the essence of Hemingway in this perfectly pitched profile. Very enjoyable, and a quirky piece of journalism. Do look it up.


Rating: 8 glasses of champagne.

hemingWay of the Day: bravado in metaphor

It has been far too long since I presented a hemingWay of the Day! Lillian Ross’s Portrait of Hemingway provides good material, though. I just offered a teaser last week, and here we are again.

I started out very quiet and I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant. I’ve fought two draws with Mr. Stendhal, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody’s going to get me in any ring with Mr. Tolstoy unless I’m crazy or I keep getting better.

This is classic: bragging, bravado, hypercompetitive attitude towards writing, all packaged in a boxing metaphor. Oh, Papa.

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