Tuesday, June 9, 2015

SECRET HISTORY: THE DEATH OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY



PRINT THE LEGEND, my Hector Lassiter literary thriller about the death of Ernest Hemingway and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's war on American authors, is now available for the first time in paperback, as well as eBook/audio formats. 

The following is an essay written in 2010 for the hardcover edition's release that originally appeared in Mystery Scene Magazine.

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Ernest Hemingway wrote, "All stories, if continued far enough, end in death." It's possible Hemingway's 1961 death by shotgun blast was something other than the suicide history records.

My new novel, Print the Legend, explores Hemingway’s demise: one of the most infamous of American authors’ deaths. Given its violent circumstances, it may also be the most unjustly under-investigated.

If Papa’s fourth wife, Mary Welsh, had actually set out to cast suspicion upon herself in relation to her famous husband’s death, she could hardly have done a better job.

When Ernest’s apparent self-destructive impulses first manifested themselves, Mary took some efforts to protect Hemingway from himself.

But on his first night back from his last round of electroshock treatments administered at the Mayo Clinic — shock treatments approved by Mary for a man who had sustained innumerable concussions and therefore was not a prospect for such radical treatment — Mary reversed course. 

Mary locked away her husband’s extensive cache of guns. But she left the key to their hiding place on a shelf above the kitchen sink. She left them there in plain sight the night of July 1, 1961 — the eve of her widowhood.

When confronted about virtually handing her husband the means to kill himself, Mary argued nobody had a right to deprive a man “his possessions.”

Papa’s last wife was alone with her husband in their Ketchum, Idaho home that bloody morning.


By her own account, Mary didn’t immediately respond to the sound of the twin shotgun blasts — despite the fact the fatal shots were fired directly under her bedroom.

She had vaguely heard, she said, what sounded like “drawers slamming shut.” She claimed to find the carnage later in the morning.

Within a few hours of Ernest’s death, Mary was working the phones — calling friends and family…syndicated columnists. She was engaging in deft spin-doctoring decades before the term was invented.

One of those who received one of the strange, morning-of calls from the newly minted widow was Hemingway friend, William Walton. Many years after that bloody July morning, when confronted by scholar Rose Marie Burwell’s suspicion that Mary wanted her husband dead, Walton confided, “Now that you’ve said it, I will say what I have never said before, but have known since Mary called a few hours after Ernest’s death: yes, she did.”

Mary claimed Papa’s death was a gun-cleaning accident. The physician of record advanced that story, though he also noted there was no evidence of gun-cleaning materials found at the death scene.

The widow Hemingway was also an active participant in an ad hoc committee to determine whether there should be an inquest. Mary carried the day — no official inquiry was made.

Family cleaned up the death scene; the shotgun was destroyed — either by a family friend, or the Hemingway sons — accounts vary.

In the wake of Ernest’s death, Mary became Papa’s literary executrix — revising his manuscripts, re-titling his books…designing his dust jackets and reaping huge financial rewards.

Did Mary murder Hemingway?

Could, perhaps, she have played some other role in his passing?

In Print the Legend, I supply my own theory regarding Hemingway’s death — something other than the one that history records.




ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

THE GREAT PRETENDER: Paperback/eBook

ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

THE RUNNING KIND: Paperback/eBook

HEAD GAMES: Paperback/eBook

PRINT THE LEGEND: Paperback/eBook/audio

Thursday, May 28, 2015

PRINT THE LEGEND: THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY




PRINT THE LEGEND, my Hector Lassiter literary thriller about the death of Ernest Hemingway and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's war on American authors, is now available for the first time in paperback, as well as eBook/audio formats. 

The following is an essay written in 2010 for the hardcover edition's release that appeared at The Rap Sheet.

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It’s been said that history is written by the winners. It might as easily be said that history is written by people with agendas. As a career journalist, it pains me to say this, but I just don’t trust a lot of the history I read.

Journalists are, by reputation, a cynical breed. “If your mother says she loves you, go and find a second source,” an old journalism saying goes. I came to my own cynicism about the reliability of received history at an early age.

Never much of a science or math student, I was that kid who always had his nose stuck in a book; that kid who lived mostly in his head.

My tastes, from the get-go, ran to pulpy crime fiction and selected slices of 20th-century history. No generalist, I tended to get obsessed with a person or specific historical event and read everything I could find about that particular preoccupation that fleetingly fired my imagination.

Reading history in that intense and idiosyncratic way, from very early on, I started to notice contradictions--some fairly profound. It seemed that for these historians, nailing down even a single event in a definitive way was a task nearly as elusive as trying to nail down mercury.

History, I came to decide, was a quicksilver and frequently treacherous thing. In my new novel, Print the Legend, my continuing character, Hector Lassiter, remarks that “Historical events ... are too often symptomatic of deeper, darker machinations hatched by conspiring men and devious cabals with impossible-to-fathom aims.”


To read the rest, CLICK HERE



ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

THE GREAT PRETENDER: Paperback/eBook

ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

THE RUNNING KIND: Paperback/eBook

HEAD GAMES: Paperback/eBook

PRINT THE LEGEND: Paperback/eBook/audio

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

PRINT THE LEGEND & THE DARK SEDUCTION OF THE WRITING LIFE


The following is a re-presentation of a blog essay originally written for Lesa Holstine's sight in March, 2010 upon release 
of PRINT THE LEGEND in hardcover.

The novel is now available for the first time in paperback (as well as eBook and audio formats).

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Print the Legend is an historical thriller focused on the craft of writing and the strange or even sinister forces that can secretly shape or change the books we receive as readers.


“It’s a dangerous thing to know a writer,” Ernest Hemingway warned.

Print the Legend features crime novelist Hector Lassiter, who is popularly known as the “man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.” As that phrase implies, there is a strange, even chilling tension between Hector’s life and the material in his novels.



ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

THE GREAT PRETENDER: Paperback/eBook

ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

THE RUNNING KIND: Paperback/eBook

HEAD GAMES: Paperback/eBook

PRINT THE LEGEND: Paperback/eBook/audio

Hector was introduced in Head Games (2007), a tale about the stolen and still-missing head of Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa and the Bush family dynasty’s possible ties to the missing skull. That novel established that Hector had a long and storied friendship with Ernest Hemingway, extending back to the First World War and their mutual service as ambulance drivers on the Italian front.


Toros & Torsos (2008), featured Hemingway as an on-the-page character, moving with Hector through Key West in the run up to the killer 1935 hurricane that ravaged the middle Keys. Toros then tracks Hem and Hector into Madrid and the ruins of the Spanish Civil War, charting the growing estrangement between Hemingway and novelist John Dos Passos. T&T’s final pages introduced Hem’s fourth wife, Mary, setting the stage for my new novel.

Print the Legend explores the death of Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho, in the summer of 1961, and raises questions regarding the possibility that Hem’s death was something other than an act of suicide.

The novel also explores J. Edgar Hoover’s obsessive and often destructive surveillance of key American writers, including not just Hemingway, but Carl Sandburg, Pearl S. Buck, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Rex Stout, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and Dorothy Parker, among many others.

Because Hector is a novelist and screenwriter by trade, writing and the creative arts are running themes through the series. Print the Legend however, is the Lassiter novel in which I wanted to focus squarely on the act of writing. To that end, I peppered Print with several very different kinds of authors.

The Lassiter series is also intended as a secret history of the 20th Century. As this novel is set largely in the 1960s — a decade of change, if there ever was one — in Print I wanted to position Hector against two very different and formidable kinds of women.

In addition to Hemingway and Hector, we have Mary Welsh Hemingway — Papa’s fourth and final wife. Mary was a war correspondent whom Hem began courting while still married to journalist/novelist Martha Gellhorn. Hem and Mary’s marriage, while more enduring, was no happier than Hem’s life with Martha.

When Hemingway died, Mary became Hem’s unlikely literary executrix — actually editing (and substantially altering) Hem’s manuscripts for A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream…designing dust jackets and selecting titles for both books. (Note: A Moveable Feast has in fact just been reissued in a “restored” version by Hem’s grandson, purporting to present the memoir as left by Hemingway, and enumerating the many changes and alterations introduced by Mary.)

Mary Hemingway’s still controversial “editing” of Feast is a key plot element of Print the Legend.

Print also introduces us to Hannah Paulson, a promising young fiction writer who is very pregnant and increasingly troubled by the behavior of her husband, Richard, a Hemingway scholar with a growing drinking problem and this notion Mary murdered her famous husband. Richard has agreed to write Mary’s biography as a means of building his case against Mary as Papa’s killer.

As Hannah finds herself questioning “the way of the writer” as represented by Mary, Richard and an Idaho-town full of Hemingway scholars, she is increasingly drawn to Hector Lassiter — a working novelist who seemingly lives on his own terms…a man who embodies the writing life with a kind of seductive panache.

Print the Legend, in a sense, is Hannah’s book even more than it is Hector’s. Through Hannah, we explore the strange and tragic arc of Hemingway’s rise and fall as the premier stylist of his generation. Hannah provides harrowing glimpses into the creative process and the destructive shadow play that can result when authors and scholars become too cozy.

It is Hannah, also, who is forced by circumstances to display that quality of “grace under pressure,” Hem so fretted over. This comes in a scene I wrote as a kind of homage to Hemingway’s wrenching birth scenes in the short story “Indian Camp,” and Hemingway’s second novel, A Farewell to Arms.

The other key writer in this cast of authors is an FBI agent/thriller writer named Donovan Creedy. Inspired by novelist/spy/Watergate plumber E. Howard Hunt, Creedy stands in for a tiny army of FBI agents who actually followed, spied on and haunted Hemingway through his final decades.

Those around Hemingway — those who stood close witness to his steep physical and mental decline — were convinced Hem’s obsession with FBI surveillance was another symptom of his growing mental instability…straight-up paranoia.

Indeed, that very attitude was a factor in Mary Hemingway’s approval of the electroshock treatments that arguably hastened Hem’s destruction.

Following Hemingway’s death, requests made under the Freedom of Information Act opened up countless FBI documents (many still heavily redacted) that proved conclusively the FBI was tracking Hemingway and followed him right into the Mayo Clinic…reportedly perhaps even consulting directly with Hem’s doctors.

Hoover, too, left behind countless memos regarding Hemingway, revealing Hem was a kind of obsession of Hoover’s, particularly moving forward from the late 1930s.

This is the terrain of Print the Legend, a literary thriller that aims to underscore Hem’s own cautions about the risk of getting too close to a fiction writer, as well as the seductive dangers of leading “the writing life.”


ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

THE GREAT PRETENDER: Paperback/eBook

ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

THE RUNNING KIND: Paperback/eBook

HEAD GAMES: Paperback/eBook

PRINT THE LEGEND: Paperback/eBook/audio