Hemingway, Cats, and Key West

A polydactyl cat in Hemingway's Key West writer's studio

A polydactyl cat in Hemingway's Key West writer's studio

The hold of winter is not broken in one swift stroke of a writer’s pen. Trust me. I have tried. From my window, the depths of winter remain, with snow thick on the ground. A few written words of gentle sounds of birds singing or a warm summer breeze blowing through the trees will not change reality.

Yet, one can close their eyes and dream of warm sands and the splendor and glory of the sun as it sets over Key West. Indeed, even though winter abounds, so too do thoughts of Key West.

Key West is a special place. My wife and I visit it annually. Many of my creations within The Harrow have been inspired by our Key West visits. In fact, one of the lead characters, Glaeynd, came to me on one Key West morning as a soft, silvery mist floated over the ocean. Mistmere was born on that special morning.

Key West was, and always has been, a small town. Its major street, Duval Street, can be a mass of tourists strolling up and down partaking of the numerous shops and bars. Otherwise, Key West can be a sleepy tropical island. In the past, the island was known as a remote place where artists and writers could find quiet, isolation, and escape from the conventions of regular life. Tennessee Williams, for example, was one of the island’s more famous citizens. And then there was Papa Hemingway.

Hemingway spent several years in Key West. His island home is now a tourist destination. The house is enclosed by a high wall that enfolds the landscaped premises. The home itself is a Spanish colonial structure with big, shuttered windows and beautifully kept tropical gardens. It was within the confines of such high walls that Hemingway wrote some of his best novels including Death in the Afternoon and For Whom the Bell Tolls. His writer's studio in the second floor of a free-standing carriage house was once connected by a second story walkway to the master bedroom.

Glaeynd, Lady of the Mists

Glaeynd, Lady of the Mists

In his studio Hemingway was surrounded with things he had collected over the years, and sitting in front of a typewriter would attempt to write at least 700 words each day. His studio was his sanctuary, and he was always joined in his sanctuary by one of several polydactyl cats wandering freely about the compound.

I’ve come to appreciate Hemingway’s writings late in life. The essential characteristic of Hemingway's style is simplicity and precision of word choice. More than the action of his stories, more than the characters, it is the way the characters and the action are presented that matters. It is fair to say that the very spirit of the stories — their mood, tone, and world view — could not exist except as they are embodied in Hemingway's style and creative spirit.

The creative spirit is nourished by novelty, by uniqueness of thought, by inspiration of one’s surroundings; each fresh experience provides wider outlooks and more breadth. Once the creative spirit is found, it becomes as a muse to lead you to wonderful ways to express it. It must become free of the weight of all obstacles, from the shackles of reality.

Hemingway found his creative spirit on the streets of Key West, on the clear ocean waters, in the beautiful gardens within his compound, and in his studio most likely with a cat nearby.

As someone who dabbles in the art of writing, I appreciate different styles and genres. But more importantly, I appreciate those who realize that felines are divine creatures.

Oh, and as it regards the bitterness of winter - just simply close your eyes and feel the warm ocean breezes of Key West!