Thursday, October 8, 2009

Words from Authors Who Have Come and Gone

Hemingway has been quoted ad nauseam, his bottom line voice perfect for post-it notes attached to the computer. Lord knows there have been a lot of other writers who've said profound things yet been ignored, perhaps their entire life. Still, I believe the interview exchange below is helpful on whatever journey you are involved in at the moment, be it 'finding time', writing, editing, revising, or just plain going insane.

The interviewer was George Plimpton.

Interviewer: Would you admit to there being symbolism in your novels?
Hemingway: I suppose there are symbols since critics keep finding them. If you do not mind, I dislike talking about them and being questions about them. It is hard enough to write books and stories without being asked to explain them as well. If five or six more good explainers can keep going why should I interfere with them? Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading.

Interviewer: How complete in your own mind is the conception of a short story? Does the theme, or the plot, or a character change as you go along?
Hemingway: Sometimes you know the story. Sometimes you make it up as you go along and have no idea how it will come out. Everything changes as it moves. That is what makes the movement which makes the story. Sometimes the movement is so slow it does not seem to be moving. But there is always change and always movement.

Interviewer: We've not discussed character. Are the characters of your work taken without exception from real life?
Hemingway: Of course they are not. Some come from real life. Mostly you invent people from a knowledge and understanding and experience of people. Interviewer: Could you say something about the process of turning a real-life character into a fictional one? Hemingway: If I explained how that is sometimes done, it would be a handbook for libel lawyers. (132)

Interviewer: Finally, a fundamental question: namely, as a creative writer what do you think is the function of your art? Why a representation of fact, rather than fact itself?
Hemingway: Why be puzzled by that? From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows?


  1. I love Hemingway. He is my literary hero.

    Well done for blogging this. :-)

  2. Very good interview! What a gem you found!

  3. "Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading."

    Having sat in many a college course where we attached all kinds of symbolism to all kinds of authors' work, it seems Mr. Hemingway has got a point here.

    It's not that you can't create your own symbolism, but that -- regardless of what you do or don't do -- someone (critics, readers,fans) will find something for you and ascribe it to you. crazy! (But then, that's what a portion of literary analysis is all about, right?)

  4. My favorite parts of this are:

    1) everything changes as the story moves along

    2) the idea that what people find in the symbolism is what they bring to the story


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