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Interview with Joe Haldeman, author of "The Hemingway Hoax"

Interview with Joe Haldeman, author of "The Hemingway Hoax"


I came across Joe Haldeman’s book, the Hemingway Hoax at my local library. I wasn’t familiar with his work at the time, but my writers group quickly filled me in, assigning him to the status of “minor god”. I was thrilled to read his book, which deals with the lost manuscripts Hadley was carrying on the train from Paris to Lausanne, on her way to meet Ernest. It is obvious from reading the book that the author cared deeply about Hemingway and knew an enormous amount about his subject. Joe’s book seemed to fit in perfectly with what I’ve been looking at on this blog; how people are interacting with Hemingway’s life and work, and why.

Here is a brief synopsis of Joe’s book from Wikipedia: “The Hemingway Hoax is a short novel by science fiction writer Joe Haldeman. It weaves together a story of an attempt to produce a fake Ernest Hemingway manuscript with themes concerning time travel and parallel worlds. A shorter version of the book won both a Hugo award and a Nebula award for best novella in 1991 (for stories in 1990).”

AB:What inspired you to write “The Hemingway Hoax”?
JH: There were so many explanations about how the manuscripts got lost on the train trip from Paris. I thought “Why not write a parallel universe story where every version is true?”

AB: What kind of response did you get from Hemingway scholars?
JH: They really loved it. I gave a reading from the novel at the EH conference in Schruns, Austria, a couple of months before it was published.

AB: Tell me about the research for this book – it was so in depth! Did you consult Hemingway experts?
JH: I’d been talking with Hemingway experts for years, but don’t recall interrogating anyone specifically for the book. Most of the research was done at the Hemingway collection in the U. Mass. library outside of Boston.

I wrote the book in a small rented room that had a manual typewriter and no books, not even a dictionary, but which was papered with about 75 pp. of notes I’d typed up from that collection.

AB: What was your favorite artifact from the JFK collection?
JH: The typewriters. The skins were interesting but gave me the creeps — “Ernest Hemingway actually killed this poor creature.” I’m not much of a hunter, obviously.

AB: Did you interact with other people at the JFK archives – what drew them there? Any good stories?
JH: Not really. I met the librarian at a Hemingway meeting and have seen her here and there, but didn’t need any special help with the collection. It’s laid out very well, a scholar’s dream.

AB: What Hemingway locations did you visit?
JH: Paris, Key West, Pamplona, Havana, Billings, Sun Valley, Schruns, Tres Maries de la Mer, Oak Park, Kansas City, Madrid, Ronda, Barcelona.

AB: How would you describe your relationship to Hemingway?
JH: Stone hobbyist and amateur academic.

AB: What happens at a Hemingway conference? I can’t imagine – Is the atmosphere academic – hushed voices and tweeds? Is it a fiesta? Is it a Key West, Havana kind of thing – “Papa doble’s” all around? Is it like a week of summer camp for Hemingway nerds?
JH: It’s a fiesta with serious moments. Muy amiable — people who share a passion getting together every other year in some fascinating place. Seeing old friends you’ve known for decades but only get to spend time together in this venue.

AB: What do you think happened to the briefcase Hadley was carrying? What other theories are out there?
JH: I think some thief took it from the train compartment while Hadley went to the john (or, as she says, to pick up some Evian water) and probably threw all the useless paper into the Seine. (It was evidently an expensive piece of luggage, a leather overnight bag.) The most interesting alternative theories have Hadley herself disposing of the mss. and making up the story about the thief. She didn’t want EH to be successful, because she would lose her hold on him, goes the theory. (I don’t think much of this one. She seems like a fine woman, married to a talented scoundrel.) The money she was getting from her uncle was supporting them in a pretty comfortable style in Paris, despite EH’s pose of penury.

AB: Do you think those papers will ever turn up?
JH: One never knows, but they’re so obviously valuable, and the circumstances of their disappearance so well known, that it seems unlikely.

AB: If you met Hemingway, what would you ask him? At what point in his life would you have liked to meet him?
JH: I’d just like to listen to him; he was evidently a hypnotic storyteller. (If I asked him a serious question, he’d probably lie.) I’d like to have met him in his Key West/Havana period, when he was expansive and friendly, before the depression and acute alcoholism eroded his personality.

AB: I love the photo of you at the end of the book at a typewriter – very Hemingway – did writing this book alter you in anyway – did you wear a beret or Bermuda shorts while working? Did you suddenly want a few more wives? Did you have the urge to patrol for U boats or box with artists? Did your alcoholic consumption increase?
No, I’m not aware of adopting any Hemingway quirks or habits while writing the book. It was the last book I ever wrote on a typewriter, mostly an ancient manual I got from Gay’s mother, a huge 40-lb. accounting machine. Traveling, I used an Art Deco 1924 Royal, still my favorite typewriter. (Though I normally write with a fountain pen.)

AB: How do you account for Hemingway’s very rich and active afterlife?
JH: People are fascinated by artists and writers; people who make a living with their imaginations. Hemingway had that and also had a marvelously theatrical personality and an unerring instinct for self-promotion. Add a dramatic suicide to work that seems to speak to many ages and cultures, and you have a writer with a legacy “that has legs.”

AB: You mention your friend Jackson Bryer and his quirky Hemingway collection – what’s in it and why is it quirky?
JH: Hmm . . . I draw a blank on “quirky.” Jack is a fanatical book collector — has signed first editions of all of mine, and in fact follows many living writers the same way, buying two copies; one to read and one to be signed and put on the shelf. I think his Fitzgerald collection is even bigger than his Hemingway one.

AB: Have you met Hemingway fanatics – please tell me about them!
JH: I guess a lot of the members of the Hemingway Society would be considered “fanatics” by people with no interest in Hemingway, but of course I only meet them in environments where everyone is talking about EH all the time. I would be considered a fanatic by some; I’ve read all his works and have dozens of books about him and his writing. I even have a Xerox copy of the hand-written first draft of “Fiesta” (“The Sun Also Rises”) — which some collectors would cheerfully kill for, since the Hemingway family doesn’t allow that kind of access anymore.

AB: Have you met any Hemingway relatives?
JH: All the living ones who show up at Hemingway events.

AB: The plot of your book alludes to Hemingway’s influence on masculinity in 20th century. In fact, there is a new book out on this subject All Man!Hemingway, 1950’s Men’s magazines, and the Masculine Persona (I haven’t read it yet, but it looks interesting) Do you think readers still pick up on this now or are they focused on something else in Hemingway’s work?
JH: I don’t think young readers, alas, are that familiar with Hemingway, and if they pick up on the masculinity it’s in a cartoonish way. I think much of the value of EH’s writing to contemporary readers is the time-tripping aspect. He writes about the ‘teens, twenties, thirties, and forties so vividly, both the physical details and the emotional surround.

AB: There is a lot of wonderful humor in your book – word play and clever chapter titles, inside jokes, and the shape shifting Hemingway entity who at one point is Hem as a child dressed like a girl – how much did your sense of humor direct your plot?
JH: There’s a lot of humor in all my writing, especially in the grim books like Hemingway Hoax. It’s not something you plan out. (In fact, the book wasn’t meant to be especially funny — “A short comic novel of existential despair,” as it says in the subtitle, is pretty accurate.)
The image of EH dressed as a girl is straight from a photo that his mother Grace took of him when he was three, and his expression indicates that he is not happy with the pinafore and all. But if you look at that picture next to the famous one of him sitting with his rifle next to an okapi he’s just killed, I think you have an interesting triangulation of his odd history.
(Academic note — at the turn of the twentieth century, in the social setting of uppercrust Oak Park, it wasn’t unusual to dress a little boy up as a girl for special occasions.)

AB: Thank you Joe for being willing to give this novice writer and researcher the opportunity to do this interview.