The Millions:a-goofy-state-of-mind-my-grandmothers-letters-from-martha-gellhorn

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Ernest Hemingway never seems to leave the public consciousness, particularly as a cultural icon. HBO's movie on his tempestuous marriage to Martha Gellhorn will be shown beginning at the end of May, and this piece on Martha might help whet your appetite.

the millions


Dear Doris

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Doris, I hope you can read this from, well, over there:

In 2003, I received a letter from the North Carolina Writer's Network informing me that I had been accepted as a writer in residence at Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina. I hadn't been living long in North Carolina, and I hardly knew what to make of either the place or the offer. And…I'm somewhat embarrassed to say it now…I didn't even know who Doris Betts was, the person who was supposed to further my writing skills  that summer. 

Soon I had an e-mail from Doris (Miz Betts, I called her at first…she kept insisting, "It's Doris.") As I soon learned, there were others – I think a dozen were selected to work with her that summer. She apparently wasn't happy to have us just for the ten days or so at Peace, so she had us send her pieces of our work, and to the other eleven or so as well, and we began a cybernetic critique class. 

I was writing a genre novel at the time, and submitted a goodly chunk of it, asking, "Is that all right, Miz – um – Doris?" "A suspense novel?" she asked, "sure, I read and enjoy everything." 

Deep into the month or so of this prelim, she had me axe my beginning seven chapters (I couldn't believe a writing teacher would read that much, much less axe it altogether) and she presented me with several options to open my story, one being a prologue. So I wrote one. Man, was I proud of that! Then afer she'd seen it, she said, "No, Bob, I don't think that's it yet. Maybe it was better the way it was. What do you think?"

This was the week before we convened in Raleigh, and I went ballistic. I don't remember exactly what I wrote back, but it was rather salty. But by the time I'd arrived at Peace (College), remorse had set in. I found her as quickly as I could and apologized. She chuckled and said, "Oh, it's all right, Bob, that's all part of the process." Well, maybe it was part of hers, I thought, but writing is supposed to be a genteel calling.

Wrong! Writing, as I came to learn, is frustrating, passionate, edgy, emotional in every sense of the word – at least the best writing is. No wonder writers are most often seen as the weird ones in the crowd. 

It's often hard to gauge the import of such a learning process while drowning in it. I'd previously been struggling with the craft of writing, was slowly making progress, but some months down the line, I came to the realization that Doris had moved my skills forward by at least a decade, given my earlier rate of progress. And that wasn't the end of the "Doris Summer," for any of us. We kept writing back to her, asking questions, begging critiques, and she always accommodated.

What I came to learn about Doris – again in retrospect – was that she truly cared about us as writers, and about our writing. It wasn't so long ago that I announced on Facebook that a small publisher had picked up on a short story collection of mine and wanted to publish it. One of the first to congratulate me on FB? Yes, Doris, deep into chemotherapy for cancer. 

I can't speak for all of those present that summer, but I know that Doris moved – no, shoved – some of us (lovingly) into the profession of writing. She was a lauded professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, and a celebrated writer herself – she didn't have to be that concerned with us and our writing, any more than she had to congratulate me on my still-pending publication – – but she did – even as  the cancer was taking hold. There's a word for that sort of attention – love. She loved us that much, and it's been impossible ever since not to return that affection.

I found out late Saturday that she'd died that day, following her husband and daughter in death. But to me, Doris isn't dead, nor will she ever be – as long as I'm around. I owe her a lot. I owe it to her to be a better writer than I ever dreamed I could be, and I'll do my best to accommodate that. If the world were filled with people of your sort, Doris, the big blue ball we call home would be a damned fine place – better than any of us ever dreamed it could be.

Joan London

It's not that often that I pick up a novel and find little that could've been improved in it. This novel of London's is one such.

 Joan London's GILGAMESH is an understated and engaging novel of physical and emotional adventure, and the unknowable and invisible bonds that unite some people in life. It is 1937, and seventeen-year-old Edith has lived her whole life on the wild Australian coast on a bit of land her father has tried to tame for years. After her father's death, the land grows harder and harder to maintain; she, along with her mother and sister, soon slip into complacency and solitude. The arrival of her cousin Leopold and his intriguing Armenian friend Aram brings Edith back to life. The two young men, having just returned from an archeological dig in Iraq, challenge her to think about the world beyond southwestern Australia. They fascinate her with tales of the places they've traveled and the worlds they have seen. With Aram, Edith shares a special attraction and, after he and Leopold leave, she finds out that she is pregnant with his child. With new confidence, Edith decides to keep the baby and, after her son Jim is born, the two set off on a journey to find Aram. Her love and longing for Aram, a man she hardly knows in any conventional sense, take Edith and her son from their isolated home to Soviet-ruled Armenia and then to the Middle East before returning to Australia. This journey brings her closer to Leopold and makes her more aware of her own needs and desires. It instills in Jim a sense of Armenian identity, as well as a wanderlust similar to that of Leopold and his father. All of London's characters seem lonely. They come together under often dramatic or dangerous circumstances and then share the ordinary details and events of their lives. Despite the subtext of espionage, war and world affairs, this is a quiet novel as shy as Edith but still as bold. London's subdued tone belays the strong emotions of the characters, the urgency of Edith's need to find Aram and the drama of the story. The loneliness of the characters manifests in passionate relationships and these relationships compose much of the novel. Edith's restlessness drives the plot, but the friendship and adventures of Aram and Leopold underscore the action. Their relationship parallels that of the mythical Gilgamesh and Enkidu. But by the end of the novel, Edith, Leopold and Jim are all like Gilgamesh, living life as best they can in the absence of Aram, their Enkidu. When he grows up, Jack becomes a figure like Edith, journeying far, with the assistance of Leopold, to search out the legacy of Aram. The pace of GILGAMESH is slow, sometimes drowsy, but the novel is well written, a uniquely told yet classically understood take on the themes of friendship, longing and journeying. While no knowledge of the myth of Gilgamesh is required to understand, appreciate or enjoy the novel, it would certainly enhance the reading. Spinning from a myth of universal themes, London has created a novel just as evocative and universal. Like Gilgamesh, Edith must leave home, test herself, love and lose much in order to learn her true strength and worth. Like Gilgamesh, she comes home weary and wise. And the reader, invested in the brutally real lives of Edith and Jim, gains much from this emotional and honest tale.    — Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman • Click here now to buy this book from Amazon.


Cormac McCarthy

I imagine every writer fantasizes about having his/her writing made into successful books – and then movies. 
This has been McCarthy's fortune. He's a skilled and stylized writer whose work has drawn as much criticism as praise. but his work has influenced my own – and that's perhaps the greatest praise a writer can achieve.


Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island on July 20, 1933. He is the third of six children (the eldest son) born to Charles Joseph and Gladys Christina McGrail McCarthy (he has two brothers and three sisters). Originally named Charles (after his father), he renamed himself Cormac after the Irish King (another source says that McCarthy's family was responsible for legally changing his name to the Gaelic equivalent of "son of Charles").


Tim Gautreaux

I'm originally from Louisiana, but I never realized, despite the state's colorful history, that a modern writer was depicting Louisiana and its history so accurately. Once discovered, Gautreaux has become another positive for the ol' home state. Below is a review from across the "pond" of one of his more recent efforts.


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