“All you have to do is write one true sentence.”
TodayInLiterature.com has interesting and useless literary tidbits and factoids to ponder each day. When I checked in this morning, I was delighted to see Hemingway’s picture, and that on August 13th, 1923, he published his first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems.
In case you don’t know, anything related to Hemingway is my delight right now, because I am immersed in Hemingway research for a novel set in depression-era Key West. I drink, read, and dream Papa, and feel a great, cosmic connection to him. People are sick of me talking about him. It’s become an obsession.
And his mantra, to write “one true sentence” follows me. It haunts me. I look at his face on the cover of a big book of historic Hemingway photos sitting on my desk and wish I could run everything by him. Is it authentic enough–weaving these characters from reports and photos of real life people? I piece together their dimensions from the judgments of others, but then I come across a photo that reveals a new aspect of one of them, and I know there are flaws in the research.
Take Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline. Biographers largely regard her as a husband stealer and a bad mother. Their judgments seep into my portrayal of her. Then I went to Boston to do some research in the JFK Museum (which has 90% of the Hemingway archive) and found three pictures of Pauline that revealed the strength of her connections with Hemingway and her children. The photos caused me to add another layer to Pauline’s character in my novel–one more vulnerable, loving, and connected to her family.
One of the pictures shows Pauline laughing with Hemingway; and Hemingway is not just laughing, his head is thrown back in a roar. It is a moment of complete joy, captured perfectly on film. Then there’s a photo of Pauline holding one of her children as a baby, and standing next to her other son. She and her son are smiling at the baby, who is grinning from ear to ear, and they are the picture of familial happiness. The final picture is Pauline on a porch gazing through the camera at Hemingway, who took the picture. The picture made me want to look away because of its raw, open longing–from both the photographer and from the subject. It was clearly an intimate, personal moment, and there I was, over seventy years later–a researcher, in a dark, cold basement–handling this private photo.
Through Hemingway’s words, Today in Literature reminded me that my charge is to capture these people true-ly. To capture their likenesses, their mannerisms, their passions, and struggles. To do honor to my subjects in true sentences.