The Divining Wand

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Interview with Erika Robuck on
Hemingway’s Girl

August 29, 2012 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Interviews

Let’s simply begin with the TRUTH. Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck (Receive Me Falling) is a captivating, beautifully written historical fiction novel that feels completely real. Impressive in its detail, the storytelling — focusing on a young Cuban girl and Ernest Hemingway — not only breathes life into both characters, but provides the reader with a remarkable understanding of the complex, (tortured) writer. A love story without the romance, Hemingway’s Girl might well be the most entertaining, engaging book for any TBR List. Available in local bookstores and online retailers next Tuesday, September 4th, Pre-order now and consider it your post-Labor Day treat!

Jenna Blum, New York Timesand International Bestseller of THOSE WHO SAVE US and THE STORMCHASERS writes:

“You’ll love this robust, tender story of love, grief, and survival on Key West in the 1930s….Because of its strong heroine & writing, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is a novel of which Papa himself would approve. Addictive.”

Addictive it is. Rather than offer a written synopsis of the novel, you can picture the book as the author “shows and tells” a background of the story in the following Book Trailer:

(If the video doesn’t appear on your monitor, please view it here)

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And now enjoy The Divining Wand’s interview with Erika Robuck.

TDW: Much has been written about “Papa” and, though you were drawn to write about him, were you ever the least bit intimidated?

E.R.: In the beginning of the research process, I was intimidated. So many people have studied Hemingway and have strong opinions about him one way or another, so he was a daunting figure to tackle. I read as many biographies as I could, visited his house in Key West, and traveled to the Hemingway archive at the JFK Museum in Boston to learn everything I could about him, with a special focus on the year of 1935 when my novel takes place. After reading hundreds of his letters and rereading his novels and stories, I felt like I had Hemingway’s voice in my ear. It was only then that I felt ready to make a character of one of the greatest American writers. I hope that I’ve done him justice.

TDW: Creating the poor yet resiliently strong main character of Mariella to spar/play off of this larger than life man was brilliant. Where did she come from?

E.R.: The origins of my character, Mariella, came from a variety of sources. I saw a young Cuban girl staring up at Hemingway in a photo with a massive fish and wondered she thought of him. I read about an infatuation Hemingway had later in his life with a young woman. I also thought about all of the ways Hemingway tried to distance himself from the rich, especially as his second marriage began to fail, and I thought he would be drawn to a young, poor, down-to-earth girl. These ingredients blended to season Mariella’s character.

TDW: Did you use general research to outline a broad storyline and then follow up with detailed research? What ratio of the novel is fact and fiction?

E.R.: I create layers of timelines as I research. The first is broad and covers significant events throughout the life of the subject. I use different colors to add notes with each biography I read to highlight new details on the timeline or emphasize events of great importance. Finally, once I’ve chosen my approach and specific time period for my subject, I make a very detailed time line of the months or years in my novel. Then I weave in my fictional characters and their lives to enliven the important historical events. It becomes an equal balance of fact and fiction once the writing is complete.

TDW: While reading I felt as though I’d been transported back in time yet wondered how you captured that feeling? Nothing appeared to be glaringly obvious, rather it was a sense of living in 1935 (and 1961).

E.R.: I’m so glad! One of my greatest challenges as a writer of historical fiction or period pieces is to capture the time as naturally as possible, without being too heavy handed in the dialogue or setting. Music, phrases, transportation, and social structure can infuse the text without overwhelming it, but I try to apply it with a delicate hand. I want the magic of the historical setting to transport the reader, while emphasizing the connections between the past and the present.

TDW: You’ve written that for research you attended a boxing match. Did your research include any other physical experiences?

E.R.: For this novel, the most profound physical experience I had was visiting The Hemingway House in Key West. The rooms and grounds are so well preserved and reflect so much of the personalities of Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, that their presence still hangs heavy in the air. I also spent a lot of time on fishing boats, in Key West bars (it was research!!), and on Matecumbe Key where the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 took place. The ghosts of old highways and bridges along the Keys want their story to be told.

I also might have tried absinthe, but that’s just a rumor.

TDW: Where did the themes of using people and perseverance come from? Were those your choices or did they come from the personalities of Hemingway and Mariella?

E.R.: In my research, I found an op-ed piece Hemingway wrote following the hurricane called ‘Who Murdered the Vets.” In it, he expressed his outrage over the government’s failing to evacuate the WWI vets building the Overseas Highway. Over five hundred veterans lost their lives in the storm, and were already living in squalor and extremely hazardous conditions.

Once I decided to use the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 as a focal point in the novel, I read many survivors’ accounts. It was truly horrifying, but what struck me over and over again was the resilience of those who lived through the storm. One family local to the Keys lost over twenty members, but two of them returned to rebuild their lives there. I wanted my main character to embody that kind of grit and determination, in spite of difficult circumstances.

TDW: And where did Mariella get her strength? Not from her mother or her father. Although, they must have had strength to cross racial/ethnic lines to marry for love.

E.R.: Mariella inherited the best of each of her parents. From her father, she inherited her toughness, her connection to the sea, and her spunk. From her mother, Mariella inherited her feisty strong will. The circumstances of her father’s death gave Mariella her determination and forced her to care for her mother and sisters.

TDW: What draws you to writing historical fiction?

E.R.: Growing up between Annapolis and Baltimore, I’ve always had a strong sense of history around me. Old buildings, harbors, cobbled streets, and historic tours of turn of the century homes were a part of my surroundings during my upbringing, and I’ve always felt the mingling of past and present.

For me, historical fiction is a way to teach others about forgotten places in time or to animate events with characters to make readers more understanding and empathetic. I’ll never forget the way I felt about the aftermath of slavery when I read BELOVED, civil rights in A LESSON BEFORE DYING, or facets of WWII in THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. These novels transported me to other places and times and made me feel history the way no textbook ever could. That’s what I want to do.

TDW: What element of the book was the most difficult or emotional for you to write?

E.R.: The most difficult parts to write were the hurricane and the sections of the novel set in 1961 when Hemingway died. All of the storm research and reading I did gave me nightmares for a month, and putting my beloved characters in the face of such danger was hard to do. Also, the shadow that Hemingway’s suicide casts over the novel, and the sections where my protagonist learns about it, made me terribly sad.

TDW: If there’s any little tidbit about Hemingway you discovered but didn’t use in the book, would you please share?

E.R.: At the Hemingway House is a large olive oil jar fountain that trickles into a tiled basin. On a tour of the Key West house, our tour guide told us that the basin represented a bit of the power struggle in Hemingway’s second marriage.

On the night that Hemingway’s favorite bar, Sloppy Joe’s, moved to Duval Street, the patrons (including Papa, himself) carried anything they could grab and moved it down the street, while they continued drinking. Legend has it that, much to Pauline’s dismay, Hemingway took a urinal home from the old Sloppy Joe’s. Pauline wouldn’t allow it in the house, and had it put on its side and tiled to form the base of the fountain. It still rests there today.

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Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away two copies of Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck — in a random drawing — to anyone who leaves a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight! The winners will be notified by email tomorrow.

9 Comments to “
Interview with Erika Robuck on
Hemingway’s Girl


  1. I remember visiting Hemmingway’s Key West house while I was on vacation, about 20 years ago. The place just took my breath away. It felt like you could still feel his creative spirit there. This sounds like a great story about his time there.

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  2. This sounds like another good book and would love to read this. Perfect for our weather here. :)

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  3. Great book trailer–I’m in! I love hearing how Erika drew on the girl from the photo with Ernest Hemingway for her character Mariella, very cool! I cannot wait to read this–Congratulations, Erika!

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  4. I agree with Dee. LOVE the trailer. Also enjoyed reading the interview and getting more insight into the idea and how it came together. Erika, your comments about the hurricane research and the nightmares seem especially gripping to me today, as hurricane Isaac makes landfall this very moment in the Gulf Coast. Really looking forward to reading the book.

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  5. Jane Cook says:

    Thank you so much for the interview! I love Hemingway ’stories’, particularly centering around Key West; I’m really looking forward to this book.

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  6. Thanks so much for the opportunity to win a copy of Hemingway’s Girl. It sounds like a wonderful imagining of part of the great man’s life. I’d be thrilled to have a copy of my own.

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  7. It sounds so intriguing. Welcome back, Larramie!

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  8. Fantastic trailer. I loved learning about Erika’s research process.

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  9. Thanks so much for your comments, and to Larramie for hosting me. Best of luck to you all in the giveaway!

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