Do you know the story about Hemingway’s lost stories?
How his wife Hadley, when he asked her to bring all his manuscript drafts to Trieste where he was reporting on an international conference for the Toronto Star, accidentally lost the suitcase containing them in a railway station? The suitcase was never found. For a long time Hemingway talked about his lost stories, encouraging us to believe that they were somewhere out there in the world, waiting to be found.
Though I’m a Hemingway fan, and I’ve learned much from him (I would probably never have written any fiction, if Hemingway hadn’t shown me how it could be done), I’ve always been sceptical of this. But it was only during the 6 years that I spent writing my novel The Birdcatcher , that I finally realized why I intuitively doubted the lost stories.
When I first began to write fiction – at about 20 yrs old – I followed Hemingway’s method of working through a story each morning from the first line, only beginning anything new once that was finished. That method makes sure that everything new to a story fits with what has gone before.
With a novel, I treat each chapter separately, making each one a separate document. Some get revised only 3-4 times. Some get revised 50 times. I work on the chapters separately, but I often read the previous chapter first before returning to revision of a specific one.
During the years 2002- 2006, when my wife and my youngest daughter shared an apartment in Brooklyn, New York, my wife working as a nurse there while my daughter attended university, I drove to New York once a month to visit them.
During that 10 hr trip (including 1 hr to get from the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey to their apt in Brooklyn) I worked on The Birdcatcher.
When I say 10 hrs, don’t forget that included another 10 hrs driving home. During those twenty hours, I also listened to music, and to audio versions of many books. For example, a fascinating biography of the French sculptor Rodin is forever linked in my mind with highway 81 as it passes through the south-eastern mountains of Pennsylvania.
Several times on those trips, as the novel was approaching completion, I did a full revision of The Birdcatcher, from chapter one started as I left Toronto to chapter 37 completed before I reached home again in Toronto.
Yes, the whole manuscript was in my head. I could review it line by line as I drove along, making revisions as I went. Whenever I came to a stop for lunch, or just to get a coffee or to stretch my legs, I pulled out a pad and wrote down the revisions. If a stop seemed too far ahead, I saved them with a little hand recorder while I was driving.
In other words, I had the story memorized, word for word, line by line, and I was only able to do that because, for many years, I had been writing like Hemingway.
For at least a couple of years after I completed The Birdcatcher, I could have reproduced it from memory if every digital and paper copy had been lost.
So, when Hadley told Hemingway what had happened to his stories, I’m sure he simply wrote them out again. Every one of those so-called lost stories, at least those that Hemingway cared about, is, I’m sure, a story that we have all been able to read.
So, I don’t think there are any lost Hemingway stories waiting to be found. To me, that is a happy thought, for many of the the stories we have are literary jewels that will be read for thousands of years to come.