Sir Edmund Hemingway
I’m sitting in the bar of an infamous restaurant in the SoHo district of New York City, sipping a dirty martini. Everyone seems to know the man I’m with. He’s a literary agent who recently sold the restaurant’s cookbook. The owner has just come over, acting as if we’re all old friends. And why not, I think, why shouldn’t we all act like old friends? As he talks to the agent, I reflect on the events that led me to this martini.
A year and half before, I was on a remote island in the Sporades, watching a green mountain blacken in a forest fire. These were my final days in Greece after living here for a number of years, and I was thinking about the story I had to tell. It was about the changes that had come over the island, about growing inequality and fishermen who no longer fished; and it was about a dolphin and animal rights and the fire and a dying sea.
The agent tells me that he wants to take on my book.
“Would that be okay?” he asks.
I am Sir Edmund Hemingway, headed to the writer’s mountain top, where the air (I’m sure) will be thin, the view limitless, and this agent, these New York publishers are to be my Sherpas, my Tenzings. I crunch a blue cheese olive and meet his eyes.
“Sure,” I say, cool as a glacier.
A Rapper and a Rocker
For months after signing with the agent, I’ve been pinned at the literary base camp, waiting to summit. On a rainy Friday afternoon, he calls.
“I just signed ‘P’ (a gangsta rapper) and ‘Q’ (an aging rocker). I don’t know if either one can write worth a damn but that doesn’t matter. We’re going to auction with both of them. This is going to be big.”
A crevasse now opens beneath me; the ground is about to give way.
“I won’t have much time for my debut novelists anymore. But you’ll be invited to my holiday party. P and Q might be there!”
Doesn’t the agent know how long I worked on that book? How much I’d invested? Can he just abandon a book like that? Can I get another agent or, having been shopped, is that book considered used? Can I put a hit out on him? (I’ve a large cousin in the New York Police Department, and he must know somebody.)
I go on to write screen and stage plays. Forget literary agents. Forget novels. The novel is dead with ‘do not resuscitate’ orders taped to every cover.
So why do I start applying CPR to my own? It’s simple: I believe in novels, always have, and still have that story to tell.
With a cold eye, I return to the book and see flaws throughout. My narrator is shadowy; he’s more telling the story than a part of it. But hadn’t Fitzgerald done that in The Great Gatsby? And the writing is uneven, purple in some places and flat grey in others. But isn’t that what an editor is for?
Of course, Fitzgerald had an unrivalled narrative gift and as for editors… Well, I’ve never met an editor in my life (not yet anyway). I know it’s up to me. So I pull the narrator forward, make his backstory more prominent. And I realize that the writing mirrors the plot in ruinous fashion: when the plot is moving, the writing is good, but when the plot slows the writing suffers as well… and this at the precise time when it has to be even better. My novel changes entirely during this period as I work over it, worry over it, re-work, re-worry. At the end, it bears little resemblance to its precursor.
I send it off with newfound humility and ownership. I don’t expect much but feel I’ve done the story justice, at least that much. And that seems enough. I’m to give it one more shot. An agent responds enthusiastically, then eventually a publisher.
So I’m back on the mountain, only this time planting one boot carefully in front of the other and securing my ice axe against slippage. This time I am the Sherpa.
(c) David Hogan
About The Last Island
The Last Island is a universal tale of escape, love and redemption.
A Boston fireman, in an attempt to flee personal and professional tragedy, accepts a job as a bartender on a Greek island. In an isolated cove, he meets Kerryn, an animal rights activist who believes dolphins possess consciousness, intelligence and souls. Kerryn enjoys an extraordinary and personal relationship with a dolphin and is waging a covert war to stop the local fishermen from using illegal nets that not only deplete the sea of fish but also take dolphins’ lives. The fireman is pulled into this conflict as his relationship with Kerryn deepens. But Kerryn’s passion and convictions lead her to make a fatal decision that changes the island and both their lives forever.