I first connected with Erika Robuck on Twitter because we both spelled our names with a K. True story!
Turns out, we had a lot more in common than just that. Erika is not only an incredibly lovely and gracious woman, she’s also a talented writer whose novel HEMINGWAY’S GIRL I had the pleasure of reading before it launches in five days on September 4th so I was thrilled that Erika agreed to come visit the blog and answer a few questions about her book.
But first, a bit about HEMINGWAY’S GIRL:
Key West, 1935. Mariella Bennet has just lost her father and now must temper her dreams of starting a charting fishing boat business with the new responsibilities of caring for her ailing sister and her emotionally-crippled mother. When a chance encounter with Key West’s most famous resident Ernest Hemingway offers her a chance to work in the writer’s house, Mariella can no more deny the opportunity to offer financial security to her grieving family than she can deny her attraction to her employer—an attraction that is quickly complicated by the entrance of a new suitor, and Hemingway’s suspicious wife.
As Mariella tries to balance her feelings for both men with her devotion to her family, a storm of another kind brews in the distance; a hurricane that threatens to devastate an already struggling coastal town—and bring about the collision of many hearts when it finally comes ashore.
Romantic and beautifully-rendered, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL shines its expert lens on a rich slice of history—and a man we all imagine we know. Mariella is a deeply satisfying character. Torn by her growing affections for both Hemingway and Gavin, she remains fierce but tender, driven but loyal. Erika has deftly housed her wonderful and diverse cast in settings that reveal incredible period detail, then she lets them fill the pages.
Without further ado, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome Erika Robuck to the blog!
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EM: Erika, my first question is a two-parter: It goes without saying that Hemingway is an iconic, larger-than-life character. But like so many historic figures, we as readers can all-too-often imagine we “know” that person and bring to the table our fixed notions of who they are. In HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, you have done a remarkable job of drawing Hemingway as a unique character, so well-rounded and genuine. Firstly, did you find that a daunting prospect as a writer, to know you might be challenging a reader’s fixed ideas? And secondly, how did you find ways to bring out the uniqueness in a character that came with so much baggage? Was it hard to know which parts of his personality to keep and which parts to accentuate or even play down?
ER: When I first realized I would write about Hemingway, I was worried that both his legions of fans and critics would search for their versions of Hemingway in my work, and make noise if they didn’t find it. Because of this, I spent as much time as possible with not only biographers’ versions of the famous writer, but with his own writings—from fiction, to essays, to letters. After reading thousands of pages of text, I felt like I had a firm grasp of the kind of man Hemingway was, and I think I have portrayed him fairly. I am prepared that I will stir up some backlash from those with strong opinions on Hemingway, but that is part of the risk I am willing to take to represent this time in his life and hopefully, to inspire people to go back and read his work.
EM: One of the many things that struck me as I read HEMINGWAY’S GIRL was the incredible attention to detail you showed in setting your historical scenes. That must have taken such thorough research! I know personally I can get so overwhelmed by collecting period details and am never sure how much/how little to insert to set the scene. Can you talk a little bit about that process? Such as, how did you choose what to include and if you have a system to organize so much information as you go?
ER: Thank you, Erika! Research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process and why I love historical fiction. There are so many undiscovered corners of the past that want to be known. The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was one of those forgotten events I found while researching the novel. Hemingway wrote an op-ed piece for a communist paper expressing his outrage over the deaths of the WWI veterans building the Overseas Highway in the Keys from that hurricane. Once I knew the novel would build to that event, I was able to focus the very broad research I’d already done on that time in 1935. I then made very detailed timelines of the months of 1935 with regard to Hemingway’s life events, what was going on in the Keys, and what was going on in the country. Then I imagined my characters and placed them in the events to give readers an emotional connection to the past.
EM: Mariella’s relationships with the two men in her life, the tempestuous Hemingway and the tender boxer Gavin are both so rich and diverse–yet the reader always feels there is a remarkable sort of balance in her affection for both men throughout the novel, even as she is exploring her feelings for each. Was it hard as a writer to maintain that for her? Were there points in the story where you felt as conflicted as she did and possibly wanted her to make different choices in a scene?
ER: Oh, yes. I struggled with my feelings about what my protagonist would do as much as she did. Both men represented lifestyle choices or aspects of Mariella’s character that would greatly influence her future. Both men had appealing sides and not so appealing sides, but I loved both of them dearly. I think we all have these dark and light aspects of our inner selves, and we surround ourselves with people that fuel our needs at certain times. The greatest challenge for me was building up the more positive aspects of Hemingway’s personality in light of all of the popular views of the writer. His loyalty, his understanding of social strata, and believe it or not, his capacity for sensitivity to others came through in his letters and in his fictional characters, and I hope I did him justice.
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My warmest thanks to you for sharing your thoughts, Erika!