Tag Archives: ernest hemingway

Strutting Across the Author Platform

9 Oct

This is a big one everybody. Get ready. Don your chunky yellow hard hat and your white paper mouth masks and the oversized plastic goggles that make the rounds of your eyes expand to the size of fish bowls. You ready?  You good? Because this is explosive.

Drumroll, everyone…

I JUST PUBLISHED MY NOVEL!!!!!!!!!!!! TELL YOUR AUNT AND YOUR UNCLE AND YOUR COUSIN AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AND YOUR NEIGHBOR’S DOG AND YOUR NEIGHBOR’S DOG’S ALTER-EGO TO GO OUT AND BUY MY BOOK!!!!!

I COULDN’T BE HAPPIER AND I CAN’T EXPRESS IT IN ANY OTHER WAY BESIDES ALL CAPS BECAUSE EVEN IF I’M A WRITER YOU GOTTA GIVE ME A BREAK, CAUSE THAT’S WHAT THIS BOOK DESERVES AND EVEN IF YOU DON’T KNOW ME, YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT MY BOOK IS FANTASTIC AND YOU NEED TO BUY IT BECAUSE IT WILL ONLY BE A BESTSELLER IF YOU GO OUT AND BUY IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Alright, now that I’ve got that out of my system, it’s time for a confession.

I don’t have a novel published. I don’t even have a novel written.

And I don’t want your neighbor’s dog to go prancing about the bookstore in her cat costume, hissing and spitting through her snout when she realizes that her wild-goose chase has been journeyed in vain.

What I would like to talk about is the big trend in book publishing, the author platform.

First off all, what is the author platform?

Michael Hyatt, the guy who literally wrote a book about the subject—Platform: How to Get Noticed in a Noisy World—puts it like this:

“Very simply, a platform is the thing you have to stand on to get heard. It’s your stage. But unlike a stage in the theater, today’s platform is built of people. Contacts. Connections. Followers.”

How did we get to this place?

Just yesterday, it seems, J.D. Salinger was holing up in his house, escaping the glaring eye of public scrutiny—and now we have that hideous, terrifying thing, that new buzzword tossed about by all the big publishers, the unwelcome and hard to obtain entrance pass that will allow us to enter the gates of the publishing world—you guessed it, the author platform.

As if us literary types were performers, too!

But does this Hyatt guy have a point?

Say you’ve just finished typing out the last of twenty revisions on your novel. You’ve sent out pleading query letters with the first few chapters, and agents say they like your work, but they have hesitations. Who would buy this book? It doesn’t have a market.

Perhaps you slouch over to your computer in despair, plant your face in front of the screen, and begin the mindless, soul-consuming scroll through past acquaintances on Facebook.

A story pops up on your news feed—a blog post by a boy you knew way back when you were getting your MFA. So many years since then, and yet a bowl of Cheerios still remains your cost-effective nightly sustenance.

You’re bored, so you click on the post. You’re redirected to the MFA guy’s blog, where he’s busy telling people how to get their books published, how to develop their author platforms, how to market their work.

Author platform, you think. Pshhh. Any real writer wouldn’t fritter away their time on social media. The fact that you, yourself, are on Facebook at this moment does not cross your mind.

But wait, what’s this? Oh shit of shits—this guy has already published three novels, and with big New York publishers, too. When you were in the MFA program together, he was that kid who wrote all those stories about talking dogs with alter egos that purred like cats. And now—this?

The twerp divulges his secret. He started blogging years ago, and now he has 10,000 followers. You do a little more investigation, and discover that his Twitter account, SecretlyADog, has fifteen thousand followers.

Despite your previous doubts about his descriptions of species-confused talking animals, a realization begins to prickle at the corner of your brain…and now you remember…the internet is a vast and ever-changing sea of glutinous, twitching eyes.

Authors have become public personas, super stars, and even the dead ones have a following. Check out Facebook, and you’ll be amazed. The author page of Ernest Hemingway has 356, 806 likes; Fitzgerald has 102, 293. These numbers aren’t much compared to the likes of Lady Gaga, who has an astonishing (and perhaps appalling) 43, 246, 576 likes, but hey, we authors will take what we can get.

More and more these days, if you want to be published, you have to have a fan base. Think of Julie Powell, whose blog became a book, and then the movie Julie & Julia. Think of Ree Drummond, whose cooking blog, The Pioneer Woman, sparked her very own line of printed, bound cookbooks.

With the help of the internet, publishing has become a grassroots endeavor and reshaped the traditional mindset of publishers. It’s no longer simply a process of write, publish, promote—instead, all three have blended together through the world of blogging, Twitter, and social media.

What you should not do is write a book, get a publisher, and then quickly start a blog for the sole purpose of shamelessly promoting your latest creative endeavor.

What you should do is pick something you love, something your passionate about, and share as much of that passion as you can with the world. If you’re good, and if you care enough, you might get a following—and maybe, just maybe, your book will sprout wings, or perhaps a hundred sets of centipede legs, but hey, that will be a start.

The Good Life, Whatever It Is and Wherever It Happens to Be

10 Jul

Sunset over the water,  from a dock in Key West.

“Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives… and to the ‘good life’, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.”
― Hunter S. Thompson

I spent this past Wednesday through Sunday in Florida, experiencing the “good life,” as best as I have in a while. I’ll write a post about Florida soon—about Hemingway’s house in Key West and the 44 six-toed cats that wander the property; about the five-bar pub crawl where I actually attempted to write drunk, and ended up scrawling indecipherable gibberish in my notebook; about the storm clouds that purpled the sky over the pale sands of Miami Beach; and about watching fireworks burst in clusters of star-flame while walking barefoot in the wet sand on the edge of the ocean.

I’m waxing poetic, so I’ll stop. But it was wonderful—I haven’t been that happy in a while.

Hemingway: On Drinking and Embellishment

16 Jun
English: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket ph...

Hemingway posing for a dust jacket for the first edition of “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, late 1939. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you prefer a drink or a cognac?

Hem would opt for the latter.

“They had a vermouth…” is an excerpt from a book review by Andrew O’Hagan, originally published in the London Review of Books, covering The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Vol. I, 1907-22, edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert Trogdon.

We’ll start with the excerpt about drinking and move onto Papa’s notorious self-aggrandizement.

O’Hagan begins his review by poking fun at Hemingway for his “engorged nouns”: in A Farewell to Arms, the protagonist Frederic Henry gets continually sloshed, but never by simply “having a drink.” Instead he guzzles grappa, chugs chianti, quaffs cognac, and downs a number of other libations: vermouth, brandy, marsala, dry white capri—you get the point.

So Hemingway liked nouns…and loved drinking. Write about what you know, right?

Here’s where I have to agree with Hemingway on the side of specificity. I’m not an expert, but I do know enough from experience to say that reaching a BAC of .08 g/dl (the point at which you are legally intoxicated in the US) feels different depending on what you’re drinking.

Red wine vs. beer vs. vodka, for example. Red wine makes you feel woozy, philosophical, and wise. Beer makes you question whether you’re drunk at all. There are bees buzzing in your head, your arms are light and springy, and gosh, isn’t it a fantastic day? Yeah it is! Vodka, though…that stuff if dangerous. Vodka makes you psychotic.

I knew a guy when I lived in New Orleans, last summer, who was such a connoisseur of wine that he knew which grape variety he’d avoid at all costs.

“I can’t drink Pinot noir,” he told me. “The Pinot monsters come and scramble my brain.”

We had Cabernet Sauvignon instead, and I’ve steered clear of Pinot ever since.

So I don’t blame Hemingway. Not at all. He was right to distinguish between liquors. It’s the duty of a writer to describe feelings accurately: for an expert drinker like Hemingway, that meant describing the exact beverage that, in a given circumstance, would bring on a certain emotion. That’s detail.

Hemingway’s Greatest Fiction: Himself

Now let’s talk about Hemingway’s embellishments, which O’Hagan discusses in his full-length review. 

To point out the obvious: the world is fascinated by Hemingway because he was a “man’s man.” Unlike the thoughtful and timid writer who holes away in a quiet study and trembles before the microphone at a reading, Hemingway was loud and arrogant and big.

He shot big things and fished big things and did big things.

He was also a terrific writer. He took the flowery prose of his time and chopped off the petals. He mastered the art of subtlety, sleek sentences, and deep feeling. He was so greatly skilled in his profession that in the end he created the biggest fiction of all: himself.

American author Ernest Hemingway with Pauline,...

Reading Hemingway by his own hand, O’Hagan sees the author puffing himself up, creating the man he always wanted to be, but wasn’t:

“The letters show the moment by moment process of self-enlargement, of fiction taking over from reality, of Hemingway braiding himself a style first and then a history to match it.”

“But hey,” you say, “Hemingway was a great war hero!”

Not exactly. According to O’Hagan, “He was giving out chocolate for the Red Cross when the mortar exploded that damaged his legs….the truth is he missed most of the war and made a great deal of the skirmish that cut his legs. (No bones were broken.)”

“Ahhhh,” you say: “He was a fake! An insecure little boy writing about men with big guns.”

But that’s not really accurate, either.

At what point do we stop becoming phonies and start becoming real? How do you determine authenticity? Is it wrong, to continually try to better yourself?

Hemingway was like a real-life version of Pinocchio, stomping around the world and trying to convince himself of his own bravado.

“I’m a real boy!” Pinocchio cheers.

“I’m a real man,” Hemingway grunts.

But he was, in many ways.  By continually seeking to be the best, he became the best. Look at his fiction. If we can admire a writer for always trying to write better prose, then why not admire Hemingway himself, for always trying to be a better Hemingway?

In the end, he became what he had always wanted to be: a giant. Perhaps what he had not expected, though, was the incredible isolation that would come with it. Or perhaps he’d carried that within him all along.

As O’Hagan writes, “He wanted to be the big man in town, the big man in every town, and, eventually, he knew, such men are made for solitude: that was the fantasy of personal integrity he sold to the world.”

English: Ernest Hemingway on safari, Kenya, 1954