Tag Archives: Ernest Hemingway

A Hemingway Fan

Why am I such a big Hemingway Fan?

That’s a great question. I will try and answer it.

I am a closet Hemingway junkie. His books seem to talk about every part of the human condition- action, sex, lies, deceit, love, lust, bravery and passion. I love them all.

A good book in the hands of an admiring reader is a personal relationship, it’s a love affair. Hemingway gave me ways to think deeply about myself and how I viewed the world, especially war.

In his books, I saw the battlefields of Europe, bullfights in Spain, hunted big game in Africa and fished the palm-fringed paradise of the pristine waters of the Gulf Coast of Cuba. Reading an author you love, you can learn a lot.

Hemingway as an old man

This is what I learned from reading Hemingway.

American Literature

American literature is one of the world’s youngest literary art forms. In many ways, it is an offshoot of English literature, over time it has achieved its own independence and vigor.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the United States produced only a small number of notable writers. In the 19th century, as the country expanded westward and grew, the number increased greatly. By the early 20th century the number of outstanding writers almost became a flood.

Ernest Hemingway may be America’s most famous writer of fiction. His characters and stories made him the most influential writer English prose in the 20th century.

For nearly 40 years he cast a shadow over the American literary scene. His work was imitated, reworked, or assimilated by almost three generations of writers and fans.

The Distinct Hemingway style

Hemingway introduced me to the richness and purpose of spare language. Saying something in simple and succinct prose rather than in an elaborate or, God forbid, boring style.

Hemingway in his prime was de-furnishing, stripping away the English-American writing language of the early 20th Century. He was leaving things out to pull people in. His style soon became the dominant one. We tend to forget that in his time he was an experimental, avant-garde writer.

Hemingway used that style on the oldest American story of them all: the boy who sets out his grand adventure. He made that subject go with his new style of writing. Hemingway is sometimes described as being simple. You will never run to get a dictionary when reading a Hemingway novel.

Hemingway is far from simple. In his writing, he uses pure colors to describe something. The effects are not simple. His simplicity was used to evoke an emotion.

He loved to take sentences and boil them down to their bare bones. His terse, minimalist style of writing stripped away adjectives and, like his heroes got straight to the point.

His clear, simple sentences strike some readers as “hard-boiled” and “tight-lipped.” The opposite is true. His simplicity camouflages deep, hard-to-control passion. A Hemingway scene in short, sharp, with no adjectives text, is a camera “shot” of what the character is doing, seeing, smelling and most important-feeling. Hemingway would describe a scene so you would feel it as if you were really there.

Hemingway as a writer

Hemingway the Writer

Hemingway’s public image as a war correspondent, big-game hunter, and deep sea fisherman competes with his own image as a writer. He is a master of the short story.

To Hemingway, every other pursuit, including drinking, fighting, chasing women, took second place to write. He was almost superstitious about writing. That by talking about it might inhibit his muse. Putting together ideas on paper can be a demanding task.

There are suggestions and tricks of the trade that we can learn by looking at his working habits and advice he gives to aspiring writers. Like in most professions, those who can’t, teach. Writing is something I teach well, lol. By looking at Hemingway’s career as a writer, we can learn a little about the craft.

Man of Letters

First and foremost Hemingway is a literary man- a writer who loved to read books. Sometimes that’s forgotten in all the talk about safaris, deep sea fishing tales and war stories.

Most folks think of Hemingway as a romantic soldier-of-fortune wandering from the bars to the bedrooms of beautiful ladies to watching bullfights. He was a very serious writer, with a self-discipline approaching severe.

The Hemingway Hero Code

There is a cult of manhood around Hemingway. He constantly wrote about the “virility” and “manhood” of his protagonists. He uses action as a way of not having to confront the complexities of the human soul. His heroes deal with their problems by acting, not thinking.

He addresses the way a man should act with personal courage and integrity in the face of inevitable defeat. His heroes are sometimes defeated. Yet, they return to battle and certain death.

Shaping of the Man

Two episodes of Hemingway’s life take shape in his writing. First, a German mortar shell wounded him in World War I. The explosion and wound both nearly kill him.

First, he suffered for months a painful and terrible wound to his right leg. His wounded leg was almost amputated.

Second, his father committed suicide when he was 28 years old. Hemingway was close to his dad, who taught him how to hunt and fish.

The two themes play out again and again in his work.

Dom’s Theory

I am writing a biography of Hemingway based on the provoking theory that Hemingway’s severe wounding in World War I, and the suicide of his dad, so traumatized the novelist that his fiction was to a significant degree unwitting self-psychoanalysis.

As a wounded veteran who lost a beloved father at a young age, these are themes I relate too. The passivity of your emotions due to the chaos of war and overwhelming loss are things avoided at all costs in Hemingway’s stories. His work, I believe, is about him resolving these two issues. Writing about him is my way of resolving my own issues.

His heroes run out- shooting something or getting into a fight. It’s the ultimate act of evasion. I just read and write about Hemingway, lol. Okay, time to move on and finish this one out- stay curious and work hard!

Hemingway and My Dad

Writing Class

I am taking a writing class. One of the books we are using is “On Writing Well” by Williams Zinsser. This is a great book to learn how to write. Zinsser gives the following advice: Writing is hard work. A clear, concise sentence is no accident. Clutter is the disease of writing.

We got an exercise to cut 50% of the last thing we wrote. I did that with yesterday’s email. It took me a long time, but it is much better.

I rewrote some sentences over and over again. I fiddled with it until I came as close to 50% as I could. I cut the piece I sent you from 1742 words down to 982. I promise to do this with all future pieces. Your time is valuable.

I did my best to strip away every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that served no function was erased. I think it’s much cleaner without losing any of the original intent. I am learning that good writing is a craft. Clear writing is clear thinking. I hope you like it. Thank you for taking this journey with me as I learn to become a writer.


I love to write. Learning to write well is the hardest thing. I aim for spare and simple prose like in a children’s book for easy reading. I am happy when I do it well. I try to boil down my sentences without spreading them too thin. I throw out adjectives and adverbs.


I imagine each paragraph like the sound a machine gun or a typewriter- tack-tack-tack, then silence. I begin the next paragraph- tack-tack-tack, period. I want the boat to be steady and deliberate.

I am a historian, but I want to write like a novelist. Good writing is telepathy. I want my readers to “experience” my writing in a mental picture they can see, feel and taste.


Few sentences come out right the first time or the fifth time. Good writing gets great through exhaustive editing. I stick to a daily schedule. Writing is a craft, not an art. The more you practice, the better you get.

A Job

I am not a deep thinker. My work has no symbolism or deep meaning. I use my own experience to give credibility to my work. Trying to get names, dates, locations, smells and tastes right is tough. The trick is to pile up items, like bricks, to give a physical effect on the reader with a complexity of emotion.

I want the reader to see my picture in their mind. This is the real magic trick, and it will take a lifetime to master.

The Why

I write about two things: death and my dad. He died when I was twenty-one years old. Freud and Dr. Phil couldn’t unsnarl my relationship with my dad. I felt I was never “man enough” for him.

Father and Son

Vince Oto was born poor and hungry in the Great Depression. His parents were immigrants from Italy. His first memories were about work. He woke up at 4am to deliver newspapers with his older brother, he was four years old.

Hunger and poverty-plagued him throughout his childhood. His family never had enough to eat. There were too many kids (11 brothers and sisters) and not enough food or love. He was no intellectual, but he had uncommon common sense. His instinct was what was important. His family was the most important thing.

My dad was not an emotional man, but he felt deeply about the things he thought worthy of his feelings. He cut straight to the core of things. He was charming and generous, but private and distant. My dad only had a few close friends. He loved them for what they were, not who they were.

My dad had an undiagnosed learning disability. He read words and numbers backwards. Later in life, he discovered he had dyslexia. He felt dumb and slow but was a quick learner. He could watch something physical and do it. He could build engines and fix things in one lesson.

He’d watch it, and learn it. He was smart about people. He said, “People are like books. All you have to do is listen.” His disability made prove himself physically. He was an extraordinary athlete.

His experiences made him tough. He fought for everything he ever had. Physical achievement gave him dignity and self-respect. He went to war and came home a hero.

My dad was a real life, Hemingway hero. He was forty-three years old when I was born. Short and stocky, he was a powerful man. He had thick shoulders, arms, and chest from hard, manual labor. I see his eyes looking back at me in the mirror.

My dad had a patchwork of scars from war and construction accidents. His injuries left him crippled and in constant pain. He never complained. Despite the pain, he lifted weights every day.

He was all hard work and manhood.  When I asked him about his war experiences, he said, “I did my job.” He didn’t talk about what he did. He was a warrior without a war.

A Gentle Father

My dad was gruff, blue-collar man with calloused hands, but he knew how to love a son. He taught me how to box and shoot. As a boy, we talked girls and lifted weights.

Baby boy and dad

Later, our relationship got complicated. We argued. I loved books more than sports. He tried to nurture my inner athlete. I was a wimpy bookworm. He wanted a buddy to hang out with. My world was books, his was hard work and physical courage.

He loved me and told me so many times, but it never seemed enough. He was not a tough-love dad. He shared his hyper-masculine love by teaching me how to impress women, how to tip waiters, and how to fight. I wanted to win his approval. I copied his mannerisms. I ate what he ate and walked like he walked.

His shadow grew after he died. He defined my manhood.


I joined the Army for him. I spent the next fifteen years trying to be the man I thought he wanted me to be. I became an infantry officer. I did tough stuff because I thought, “This is what he would do.” I was terrible at all of it.

Father and Son holding hands

My father was a natural leader of men, not me. I am better at reading history than making it. I was too young when he died. I never knew him as a man. Now, older and wiser, I know he only wanted me to be happy.

I was a terrible soldier, but I loved the amazing people I met in the army. It gave me miles of writing material. I know he would be proud. Writing is a way to visit him, if only in words.



Ernest Hemingway- His Early Life 1899-1917


I first read Hemingway in high school. Hemingway was a war veteran, a big game hunter, a deep-sea fisherman, and most important one of the world’s greatest storytellers.

Hemingway always fills me with a great pride and a little sadness. On July 21, 1962, he ended his own life. It was a tragic way to end a journey packed with adventure, travel, awards and more than its share of tragedy.

Ernest Hemingway’s words have touched millions of lives around the world. His tales of adventures allowed his readers to share the excitement in locations they otherwise could not have experienced.

In 1950, the New York Times declared that Ernest Hemingway was the most important writer since the death of Shakespeare. By dedicating his life to the ideal of writing one true sentence, Hemingway revolutionized the face of literature.

Hemingway is the quintessential American writer. Yet, public schools have threatened to ban his books. His macho attitude towards love, death, and war have come under fire by the politically correct.

His life mirrored his writing. His adventures made him an icon of super masculinity. Hemingway was a war hero in Italy, a white hunter in Africa, and an expert deep sea fisherman in Cuba.

Beyond the macho image lay a man touched by tragedy and haunted by death. His genius illuminated the “Lost Generation.” His depression led him into despair and darkness.

“Everyman’s life ends the same way,” wrote Hemingway. “It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another.”

Early Life

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, the oldest son of Clarence “Ed” Hemingway, a physician, and his wife, Grace Hall Hemingway, a music teacher. Ernest’s parents were both strict Christians.

Hemingway Family

Ernest was raised in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, a place he described as having big lawns and small minds. Like many Victorian children, Ernest was dressed in girl’s clothing as an early age. Until he was six, his mother raised him as a twin to his older sister Marcelline.

baby Ernest

His mother dreamed of being an opera singer. She had a rich voice, and she performed at Madison Square Garden in her youth. Grace couldn’t continue in her career because her eyes were too sensitive to the stage lights.

Grace never let her family forget that she could have been a star. “But I have you, children,” she would say. Settling for life as a music teacher, Grace married Ed Hemingway, a physician in Oak Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.

Ed was an avid outdoorsman, and Ernest followed his example. For two months every summer, they would go to a camp in Northern Michigan on a lake. There Ernest was allowed to dress and act like a boy. His father gave him a gun and took him hunting and fishing.

Ed was a rugged man, but it was Grace who had the upper hand. She bullied her husband into developing his hopeless music ability and put him in charge of all their domestic chores.

Hemingway one day wrote of a character like his father, “He was married to a woman with whom he had no more common than a coyote has with a white female poodle. For he was no wolf, my father, he was sentimental. And like all sentimental people, he was cruel.”

Ed was often harsh to his children if they misbehaved. He would often make them pray to God after he whipped them with a razor strap. Sometimes after receiving punishment, Ernest would go out to the shed and take his shotgun and take his dad’s head in his sights.

Sometimes after receiving punishment, Ernest would go out to the shed and take his shotgun and take his dad’s head in his sights.

Yet, Ernest tried to please his parents especially his mother. He would feel a deep guilt over any wrongdoing. Grace remembered Ernest would whip himself, “so, mama won’t have to punish.”

Young Ernest

In high school, Ernest strove to be the center of attention. He would take any dare and laugh it off when he hurt himself. With girls, he was well-liked but very shy.

In high school, Ernest would play football, but he was a poor athlete. So he would make up stories of his heroics on the field. It was in those stories that Hemingway found his true talent.

He began writing for the school newspaper. His short story about a hunter who ends his life in suicide was published in his high school’s literary magazine He also had his first published piece of work in the school newspaper The Trapeze. Hemingway had found a career for life. Ernest attended Oak Park and River Forest High School, graduating in 1917.

Ernest in high school

Ernest decided not to go to college. Instead, he decided to get a job. His uncle was a close friend of the editor of the Kansas City Star. Ernest used his uncle’s contacts to get a job as a cub reporter for the newspaper where he handled the crime beat.

Although he was initially shy about interviewing people about their lives, Hemingway went after reporting with great energy and diligence. The Kansas City Star had its own style book that emphasized short sentences and vigorous English. Hemingway said they were the best rules he ever learned for the business of writing.

Hemingway’s life was soon to change with the assassination of an Archduke across the Atlantic. In 1917 the fervor of war called to America’s youth and Hemingway was no exception.

Hemingway- An Introduction


Ernest Hemingway was one of the top novelists of his day. His unique “hard-boiled” writing style profoundly influenced generations of writers.

Most readers are familiar with Hemingway. He is almost required reading in most high school English classes. His novels feature stoic heroes facing death. He wrote seven novels and six collections of short stories that have sold millions of copies around the world. His fiction incorporated a level of realism, violence, and sex that was previously unknown. Although by today’s standards, it’s relatively tame.

Ernest Hemingway

Like some other successful authors, Hemingway started as a reporter, writing for the Kansas City Star. He left the paper to be an ambulance driver in Italy. On July 8, 1918, just before his nineteenth birthday, he was severely wounded. He endured twelve surgeries to remove hundreds of fragments of a mortar shell in his right leg. His experiences in World War I form the basis of two of his novels The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms.

Later Hemingway and his first wife Hadley moved to Paris in 1921. Hemingway worked as a foreign correspondent from 1921 to 1924. With the publication of his first novel in 1924, Hemingway became a novelist. He settled in Paris to devote himself to writing.

Hemingway began writing during a time when World War I had just ended and Americans and the world were coping with the aftermath. The Industrial Revolution changed warfare in World War I. Tens of thousands of men were killed in a single day.

WWI was a turning point in history. For the first time technology was used for mass violence on an almost industrial scale. Many veterans, including Hemingway, were changed forever by what they saw and did.

The survivors would later call it the worst catastrophe that the world has ever seen. It gave away a sense of doom that gave birth to “Lost Generation,” the generation that came of age during World War I. The term became popular when Hemingway used it in his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

After World War I, a new sense of social and cultural change gripped America. Hemingway took the gritty, raw approach, creating novels that were brutally honest and direct with readers. Hemingway didn’t mince words when it came to topics like sex, violence, and death. Even though critics were often shocked by what he wrote, the public loved Hemingway’s direct, simple style, short sentences with terse prose. Hemingway was a stylistic break from the flower, descriptive language of American and British novels of the nineteen century.

Hemingway assembled his novels on an old manual Smith Corona typewriter. His novels were short by today’s standards. His simple prose is straightforward in a non-whitewashed style. Hemingway was known for his constant editing and “pruning” of words.

Some of Hemingway’s novels are perceived political incorrectness because he writes about issues like homophobia and racism. His writing is a reflection of the time he lived in. His work highlights the double standard and moral conflict of sex and love prominent in the early 20th century. Frederic Henry in A Farewell To Arms, and Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises are both cynical and disillusioned with women. Some criticize Hemingway’s attitude towards women as sadistic and dismissive.

Critics also found fault with Hemingway’s violent, punch-‘em first mentality. His lead men speak in brief sentences and avoid sentiment. They aren’t emotional, and they don’t wallow in self-pity. Most of Hemingway’s heroes are lonely and disillusioned with a restless trigger finger and a need for action.

Hemingway’s heroes foreshadowed the type of tough guy characters played by actors John Wayne and Charles Bronson. The notion of manhood in Hemingway’s novels were defined in the post-World War I era. Many fans see Hemingway’s books as an allegory for life and war.

Hemingway was an author ahead of his time. He had a significant impact on the development of fiction. His terse writing style of simple actions in short, direct sentences paved the way for generations of writers that followed. Other writers after him filled their fiction with sex and violence far beyond anything that Hemingway could have imagined.

“A Moveable Feast”- Trying to write Like Hemingway-


The writing is coming along. I am reading two to three books a week. I hope you enjoy these book reviews. They are my attempts to talk about and understand what I read. In high school and college, I trudged through English class, but I never paid attention. I am trying to make up for that now. I am rereading all the books I passed over.

After eighteen years of schooling, I found out I had a deficient vocabulary. I knew to be a good writer I had to steep myself in great writers.  I am not just reading for entertainment (although it is great fun!). I am reading to find the key to open the door to make me a better writer.

Good writers are disciplined readers. After I read, I write. I follow a schedule of reading for two hours and writing for two to four hours every day. Writing is a craft. I must be a craftsman who hones that skill every day. There is an adage that to write well, you have to write badly for a long time. I still write badly, but I am trying desperately to get better. Here is how Hemingway started.


“A Moveable Feast” is a memoir by Ernest Hemingway. It was published after he died in 1961.


The book is about Hemingway living in Paris with his first wife Hadley and their young son in the 1920s. “A Moveable Feast” is twenty-eight essays about Hemingway’s life in Paris with the “Lost Generation.” After World War I, Paris became a mecca for American artists and intellectuals.

The book is full of nostalgic detail of what it’s like to be poor, happy and learning the craft of being a writer. Hemingway has daily conversations with literary greats like Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. All these famous writers forever changed the topography of literature.

Literary Revenge

“A Moveable Feast” is a “payback” book. Hemingway stabs many dead friends in the back throughout the book. He has no qualms with saying what he really thinks of other artists. Hemingway punishes those who loved him.

Gertrude Stein gave him invaluable support, affection, and advice. She taught him how to revise and rework his stories. Stein was a Jewish lesbian who lived openly with her wife, Alice Toklas. Hemingway goes out of his way to paint Stein as a vindictive woman who looked like a peasant. A cruel picture of a woman he made the godmother of his oldest son.

Hemingway writes nasty things about his dead friend F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald wrote “The Great Gatsby,” a book considered to by many literary critics to be “The Great American Novel.” Fitzgerald edited Hemingway’s manuscripts, encouraged him and got his publisher at Scribner’s to take on the unknown young writer. Hemingway repays Fitzgerald by writing about him as a weak, alcoholic. Hemingway says Fitzgerald was dominated by his wife Zelda, who ruined him.

Looking Back

Hemingway wrote the book when he was a successful and famous writer. He is writing about a young man, who is not yet successful, who was a struggling writer, who is happy and in love with his wife.  Hemingway was blown up as an ambulance driver in World War I. Hemingway was a big game hunter in Africa, a deep sea fisherman in Cuba and a war correspondent in World War II.

Hemingway lived with intensity. He did everything at double or triple speed. He prematurely aged. Hemingway went from a movie star handsome young writer to an old man with a white beard in only a few years. In all those adventures he was never as happy as he was in Paris with Hadley learning how to be a writer.


“A Moveable Feast” is a beautiful read and a marvelous fable. Hemingway’s preface to the book states it may be read as fiction if the reader wants to. Hemingway says fiction sometimes sheds light on the truth.

Hemingway reinvents his past with him as the hero. He writes that he and Hadley were penniless. They lived in a squalid room over a sawmill at the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. He leaves out the fact that they lived off Hadley’s trust fund.

Ernest and Hadley

Hemingway wrote “A Moveable Feast” in the 1950s.  Hemingway’s journals from the 1920s provided the material. The final draft of the memoir was written when he was sick. Hemingway was paranoid and at times delusional.

Hemingway reconstructs his youth in Paris from 1921 to 1925. The book centers on his first marriage to Hadley Richardson and his development as a writer. Each of the twenty plus chapters are stand-alone works. The stories are from different periods in Hemingway’s life in Paris. They are not a linear approach to his experiences.

At the end of the memoir, Hemingway has an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, who becomes his second wife. When Hemingway begins the affair, it marks a new era in his life in Paris. It is the end of the happy period in his life and an end to the book.

The book is written in a simple style. Hemingway talks about the weather, the boulevards and the different places he lived.

“A Moveable Feast” really is about writing. There are great lessons into the insight of Hemingway’s writer’s brain.  He understands the fragility of the balance of writing simply with honesty. Hemingway writes about writing and life. The joy of doing it right and the sadness of getting it wrong, both in life and in writing.

Hemingway Writing
Source: Robert Capa 937

Hemingway is a man looking back on the past with sorrow, anger, and regret. Throughout the book, he has the discipline to never mention the present. “A Moveable Feast” is a dazzling portrait of 1920s Paris. It offers firsthand insight into Hemingway’s development as a writer.