Write hard and clear about what hurts — Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway will always be at the top of my list of favorite writers for many reasons, not least of which is his ability to tell it like it is. One of his best pieces of advice was for would-be writers to “write hard and clear about what hurts.”
Uh-oh. You mean, actually talk about my emotional life? Why in the world would I ever expose myself like that?
In absorbing that nugget of wisdom I was reminded of a bit of dialogue I once had with the Creator of the Universe, God, when I was asked suddenly to “fill in” at church for the pastor, who had just come down with the flu. A scant thirty minutes prior to the teaching time, I was still completely clueless as to what I would present to the congregation. I had no choice but to finally acknowledge said cluelessness, get out my chair, and go to my knees to ask God if He had any clue as to what I should talk about.
(Brief sidebar here: Lesson #2 learned that day was to NOT wait until zero hour to finally ask God’s opinion on matters. Rather, prayer should probably be one of the first things done.)
Now, I know that few people claim to have ever heard the audible voice of Our Father, Who art in heaven, and it may disappoint you to learn that I, too, did not hear His voice that day–per se. But what I did sense in my heart, mind, spirit (whatever you may deem to call it) was the distinct impression that He did answer my question this way: “Talk about what I have been trying to teach you lately.”
Suffice it to say you could’ve heard the proverbial pin drop (or pen, since I was trying to take notes–Hey. I was trying to have a chat with God, here!)
“Are you crazy?” I answered, jumping up from my knees–that is, creeping up slowly as my body popped and made various other middle-aged noises–and forgetting for the moment that one probably shouldn’t confer doubtful sanity upon the Almighty. “I can’t possibly talk to people about THOSE things, Lord. They’re way too personal and embarrassing!”
Fine then, He answered (again, somewhere in my troubled spirit). You want to bore them with the usual milky drivel? Or do you want to give them some relevant meat? It’s really up to you. I’m just trying to help you out here, like you asked.
To make a long story longer, I took God’s advice and shared something appropriately true and embarrassing from my own life with the folks that day, and although I can’t remember precisely what I shared, I was rather surprised to see most of them actually paying attention. A few of them even commented afterwards on how it touched them personally.
Which brings me full circle back to Hemingway. In writing my last two novels, I initially struggled with realistic dialogue, until I was reminded of both Ernest’s brief quote and Our Father’s pointed sermon advice. In other words, BE REAL, EVEN IF IT HURTS.
So, that all being said, what follows is an excerpt from my newest novel (to be published soon) Land of My Sojourn. The scene is at a funeral for a dear friend and the dialogue is between a father and his grown daughter, both of whom have been through some horrific losses in their lives. The dialogue is based on a very real conversation I had once with my brother while attending a funeral for a distant relative, while we were both attempting to still come to grips over the recent loss of our father.
(WARNING: Spoiler alert, if you are a reader of my Trent Carter series.):
Trent felt a warm arm slide in under his and turned to see his daughter Sophie’s beautiful but sad face smiling up at him. “You okay, Daddy?” she asked. “I’m worried about you.”
Trent looked back at the casket and sighed. “Does God consider it a sin to be mourning the loss of a completely different person at someone else’s funeral?”
Sophie was silent for a moment. “It’s probably a sin not to,” she finally said, looking at the flower-strewn casket. “To not mourn means you’re numb inside; something festering there. Loss always finds its way in, but it’s up to us to let it out again, before that happens. Either way, it’s always going to become ingrained into the fabric of your heart—imbedded into your very life and spirit. You can choose to shove it down deeper, where it will eventually turn to poison, or you can allow yourself to be reminded of those losses—of any kind, for anyone—even beyond this particular one, and let it out in grief. That, at least, means you’re alive and healing; still hurting, maybe, but moving on.”
Trent looked at his daughter. “Who made you so wise, Darlin’?”
Sophie paused, squeezed his hand tightly, leaned her head against his shoulder, and took a soft, trembling breath. “You remember when Bobby died?”
Trent squeezed her hand back. “Of course I remember.” Bobby, a soldier in the U.S. Army, had been Sophie’s fiancé a few years ago—an entire world ago. She had just graduated from the University of New Mexico and was putting her journalism degree to good use when the news had arrived that Bobby had been killed in action in Afghanistan. It was a year following Trent’s mother’s—Sophie’s grandmother’s—death from cancer, and a little over a year before her own mother, Victoria, was murdered. It was a triple blow few people should have to endure.
Sophie blew her nose softly. “For me, and I think for you too, all losses are more than just cumulative; the sum of them are much greater than their parts; Grandma, Bobby, Mom . . . and now Ben. But if a person is incapable of mourning their losses—all of them—then they will stagnate and soon become incapable of making room in their heart for any new love.”
Trent turned, took Sophie by the shoulders, and looked admiringly into his daughter’s eyes for a very long time. “Why do I always get the feeling when I’m around you that you’re the real parent here, not me?”
Sophie stood on tiptoe, kissed her father’s cheek, and beamed up at him. “Because I have too
much of Mom in me . . . and she never let you get away with crap, either!”
(Excerpt from the forthcoming novel, LAND OF MY SOJOURN, A Trent Carter Novel. ©2019 by Richard C. Trice. Used by permission. No copying permitted, except by express written permission from the author.)
My first book of this series, ACT OF CONTRITION–A Trent Carter Novel, is now available at Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle versions. Order here to catch up prior to the new release: