For the Next Edition, Callaghan and Hemingway

Usually an author greets the news that his information is out of date with some resentment. Making changes for the next edition is troublesome, and implies at least a hint of error first time around.

That’s not the case with my reaction to the recent Toronto Star articles on what recently discovered letters by Ernest Hemingway tell us about his relationship with young Morley Callaghan. They confirm what I wrote about Hemingway’s support for Morley’s early work. Even better, they reveal that he was willing to invest in Morley’s fiction, literally, offering to put up half of the money it would cost the publisher to bring the book out.

Later in the Star series, we learn more about the boxing match in Paris where Morley knocked the much larger Hemingway down. This event plays a role in my chapter on Morley and is re-enacted in my stage play, but it’s fascinating to find just how long it continued to rankle with Hemingway.

And the Star’s revelations about the theft of Callaghan-Hemingway letters from a Toronto rare book dealer, my friend David Mason, and David’s assertion that the accused thief’s suicide in the Don Jail was actually murder is all wonderful new material, worth preparing for that future edition.

Naturally, I’m still collecting a few corrections from eagle-eyed readers, and welcome more. To some extent.

Letters to the Editor

One week in January I wrote fierce Letters to the Editor of two very different newspapers. My targets were on both ends of the political spectrum: Conrad Black and Rick Salutin. Surely this establishes some kind of record.

In the National Post on Saturday, January 21, Conrad Black assailed a book that I recently published under my imprint: Trudeau Transformed, by Max and Monique Nemni. He made the mistake of mentioning that he had not actually read the second volume of the series he dismissed as “hagiographies” and was relying on the excerpts that he had read.

My letter, which the National Post featured prominently, pointed out that he had broken “the basic law for book reviewers, that it is impossible to review fairly and honestly a book that you have not read.” The letter went on with equal vigour.

In his next column, on Saturday, January 28, Conrad Black began, “I regret offending my cordial acquaintance Douglas Gibson. And I salute him for coming to the defence of his authors, Max and Monique Nemni, biographers of Pierre Trudeau. I think I can set his mind at ease on some points.”

What follows strikes me as coming as close to an apology as Mr. Black can manage. Watch this space to see if he goes on to read and review the disputed book.

By way of contrast, in his Friday, January 21, column in the Toronto Star, Rick Salutin took aim at the respect shown for storytelling skills. His provocative headline “Enough with the Storytelling” was enough to rouse me, the author of a book entitled Stories About Storytellers, to protest in print. In my response, I praised the central role of storytelling, not only in our fiction, but in our non-fiction writers, too, including our politicians. I suggested that history shows that success – in elections, in courtrooms, in contract bids, and in book sales – goes to the person who tells the best story.

I would even go so far as to say that storytelling, like the opposable thumb, is a basic human characteristic. And stories, which allow us to get inside the heads and hearts of other people, are perhaps the original “social media.”

— Douglas Gibson

The Zen of Authordom

I was pleased to see that this Sunday’s Toronto Star ran an excerpt from my Epilogue, which consists of Awful Warnings to new authors about the terrible things that will happen to them when their book is published. My piece is very cynical, and outsiders to the book world find it very funny, and totally unrealistic. Interestingly, the Star’s Insight Editor takes a different view. Under the title “Authors, be warned . . .” his subtitle runs “Book publisher covers a glorious CanLit career in a new memoir, including bang-on author advice.”

“Bang-on”? My cynical description of all of the possible review horrors seems to Dan Smith to be “bang-on”? And Dan was the Star’s Book Review editor for over a decade. Very interesting.

One of the good things in an author’s life is that, if you are very lucky, your book may produce fascinating new information from readers. For example, Ralph Hancox, who worked with Robertson Davies at the Peterborough Examiner, elaborates on my line about the great leap forward in Davies’ work to Fifth Business:

“I asked him,” writes Ralph from Victoria, “what had brought about the change . . . his study of the works of Freud, Jung?”
“No,” he said. “I could not have written such material before my mother and my father had died. I would have
been a sorry outcast to them both.”

We all shake our head at the thought of Davies, aged 57 when the book came out, until that point being constrained by what his parents would think.  And then I realize that at 67, I (as my W.O. Mitchell chapter reveals) am still subject to what my 98-year-old mother will say when she encounters “bad language” in my book.

So you’ll find me chickening out of a Bill Mitchell line by saying “. . . well, let’s just say the term Bill used resembled ‘sock-kickers.’” There’s room for a really useful Ph.D. Thesis here. And what, dear reader, would you do?

One of the bad things in an author’s life is that eagerly-awaited reviews don’t appear because book review editors plead that they don’t have enough space to run all the reviews they have. This produces unworthy thoughts in unworthy authors. Thus my first reaction, on hearing that the authorized biography of Steve Jobs has been rushed through to come out late in October, was to lament the fact that the line-up for review space had just got more crowded, dammit. I will have to try for a more zen-like approach to this author business.

— Doug Gibson