Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Fantastic Book on the Writer's Life

I had the pleasure of reading Key West Story, the latest novel by Rick Skwiot, and had the joy of meeting troubled soul Con Martens, a Key West writer married to - or, as he muses in a moment of truth, shackled to - his writing, desperately fighting a bad case of writer's block as he immerses himself in the hot and spicy adventures of Key West.  Along comes, for a delightful ride, illegal immigrant Eva who wants badly to marry him and keeps pitching her "business plans" in adorably broken English  ("I need Green Card, you need money.  So I pay you going rate: ten thousand American dollars." (...) "Two years we live together in marriage.  No baby.  Plus hot sex and Czech cooking.  What do you say?  Is good offer? ")  and  Cat, the .22 automatic carrying ( "Put the gun down, Cat.  I think now's the time to discuss our relationship.  Monogamy.  I am willing to negotiate") jealous lover.  But more importantly along comes, for a surreal ride, the Key West icon, the man himself, Ernest Hemingway to "give literary guidance and moral instruction and get us back on track." 

Although Key West Story's characters are well-rounded and multidimensional, the book is a pleasure to read and enjoy by readers who want to understand bohemian writers, and by writers who need to stay on track to do their best work.  As I was reading it, I saw Key West Story not only as a book telling us an amazing story about Key West, the place where most everyone "had too much sun and rum," but also as a book carrying a deeply profound message about the writing life, about the writer's mission and the mistakes that can be fatal to a writer's career.  A book about writer's responsibility to stay true to The Code, as Hemingway advises:

"We're all writers, Conman, limning a faint sketch across the surface of the earth.  Some of us will write books that will end up in the libraries for a few years before they rot or burn.  But if you can write a story that's true and honest without bull****ing yourself or anyone else, maybe that's worth something fleeting. And if it's good enough it will last as long as there are human beings.  Hold to The Code, Conman..."

Following is an excerpt that every writer should paste above his or her desk.  The dialogue between Con and Hemingway on writing and its feeble balance with the world comes down to writer's duty to be there, by his typewriter, rain or shine, and trust that the world will come to its senses on a humble piece of paper:

" Money ain't your problem, Conman.  Problem is you're a writer who ain't writing.  The one who is doing the work is not the one poverty bothers."
Con re-tied the bowline at his feet.  "I'm just in a fallow period."
"How long has this 'fallow period' lasted?"
"Well, since Sirens in the Streets."
"How long?"
"Four years."
"You're not fallow, Conman, you're blocked.  That's what you've got, you fornicator: writer's block...You can make light of it, but better men and women than we have died of it.  The one good thing I always had to guard against was this: Whenever I sensed it was time to begin a story I've been mulling, as soon as I sat down at the cafe table with pen and paper or stood at the typewriter and knocked out a few hundreds words, the whole scope and shape of it would start coming to me like a ship through a fog bank.  A nice and necessary skill for a writer to have, Conman, to find freighters lost in the fog."  

And although Hemingway is saying the words, we know that it is Skwiot talking to us here.  Finding freighters lost in the fog - how well this captures not only what writing is, but what life is all about. 

The book is available at