Posts Tagged Ernest Hemingway


The engaging new novel from author Erika Robuck, CALL ME ZELDA, illuminates the fascinating and complicated Zelda Fitzgerald. Married to F. Scott Fitzgerald and a party girl in the 1920s, Zelda fought mental illness and thwarted creative endevours. See my review. Currently on a book tour, Erika took the time to answer a few questions.

Photo by Catherine Pelura of KC Photography

Photo by Catherine Pelura of KC Photography

Amy Steele: Why did you decide to write about Zelda Fitzgerald?

Erika Robuck: My research on Ernest Hemingway for my last novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, led me to Zelda. His dislike of her intrigued me, so I wanted to find out about her for myself.

Amy Steele: What interests you about the women involved with well-known writers?

Erika Robuck: I’m curious about spouses who support and endure their artistic partners. It takes a special person to marry a creative man or woman, and the experiences in the relationship often shape or inform the work. It is what comes from that intimacy that fascinates me.

Amy Steele: Do you think Zelda truly had an untreated or misdiagnosed mental illness or do you think the relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald pushed her to a breakdown?

Erika Robuck: I think it was a combination of factors. Scott’s alcoholism and Zelda’s place in history as a woman had something to do with her troubles, but from hearing voices, to vision issues, to suicide attempts, to family members’ suicides, there is compelling evidence that she did have mental illness. Contemporary psychiatrists say she may have been bipolar or manic depressive.

Amy Steele: Sometimes it seems in the novel that you place blame on Scott and not a chemical imbalance. What type of research about her condition did you find or complete?

call me zelda

Erika Robuck: I hoped to show that he aggravated her symptoms, but I do not wish to imply that he is the cause of her illness. The two of them were toxic for each other, but still had enormous love and loyalty for the other.

What most informed my portrayal of Zelda were the Fitzgerald papers at Princeton University: Zelda’s medical records, journals, letters, and various other documents were essential to my understanding of the Fitzgeralds at that time and place.

Amy Steele: How did Scott hinder Zelda’s treatment?

Erika Robuck: This is a hard question. He worked himself to death to keep her well cared for in reputable psychiatric clinics, and clearly loved her. That said, physicians’ requests to him to curb his drinking were resented or unheeded, he thwarted her attempts at creative expression at times, and could be abusive. It seemed to be a classic co-dependent relationship.

Amy Steele: How did Zelda and Scott go from being such a celebrated and popular couple to becoming so unhinged and insolvent?

Erika Robuck: Like any celebrity couple who indulges in excess, the party has to end at some point. Zelda’s mental collapse corresponded with the economic crash and depression. Scott’s stories about the problems of the rich went out of fashion as families struggled to feed their children. Scott’s alcoholism and Zelda’s increasingly troubling mental episodes hindered their ability to recover.

Amy Steele: Why did you want the narrator of CALL ME ZELDA to be a psychiatric nurse?

Erika Robuck: I needed a character who would be intimately connected to the Fitzgeralds, and I kept noticing the reference to nurses as companions and escorts. Zelda didn’t have many close female friends but formed strong attachments to some of her nurses, so it seemed like the most natural choice for a narrator.

Amy Steele: How did Anna’s tragic life help you tell Zelda’s story?

Erika Robuck: I needed a nurse who would bond with Zelda more than her other patients, so there had to be a deeper connection. That connection came through loss of a husband and daughter—one from mental illness, the other from the war. I wanted my character, however, to bring redemption to the story. Scott and Zelda’s story is so tragic, I needed balance.

Amy Steele: What do you like about writing historical fiction?

Erika Robuck: Reading and writing historical fiction is my passion. The greatest challenge is remaining faithful to historic timelines while weaving in the stories of my fictional characters. I love experiencing history through the emotions of compelling characters. It’s what I hope to bring to readers.


Sunday, June 9, 3pm, Concord Bookshop, Concord, MA

Monday, June 10, 7 pm, River Run Bookstore, NH

Thursday, June 13, 7 pm, Common Good Books, MN

Saturday, September 7, 11-2:30 pm, Author Reception hosted by the Metastatic Breast Cancer Assoc.

Thursday, September 26, 7 pm, Broadneck Library, MD

Tuesday, October 8, 10 am, Linthicum Women’s Association, MD

Tuesday, October 15, 10 am, Crofton Library Book Club, MD

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Literary Rogues: book review

literary rogues

Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors by Andrew Shaffer. Publisher: Harper Perennial (2013). Literary criticism. Paperback. 297 pages. ISBN: 978-0-06-2077288.

Ingenious concept to catalog self-destructive and raucous authors chronologically and by vice—the alcoholics, druggies, mentally ill, sexually devious or depraved. One might argue that the best authors fall into those categories. Sure. More than likely. You’ve heard the saying that one must suffer for one’s craft. You won’t read about a goodie-goodie like anti-choice, teen pregnancy advocate, Mormon and mega-selling Twilight author Stephanie Meyers in these pages. When she feels like being risqué she listens to the band Muse. Author Andrew Shaffer does mention best-selling author Nicholas Sparks [The Notebook, Dear John] who won’t write anything that will shock his Grandmother. Thus explaining the teen obsession with his novels at the box office. Doesn’t hurt if Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum stars in it of course.

Many writers, particularly in earlier days drank and did drugs to self-medicate, to mask pain and mental illness. For instance poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) liked to shoot pistols indoors and drank wine from his ancestors’ skulls. Often in “black moods” he reportedly slept with 200 women in Venice in one year. Admirers sent him locks of hair which he kept. He impregnated a cousin. Sure this all can be romanticized but any psychiatrist would read this as a sign of bipolar or mood disorder today. Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) smoke three packs of Chesterfields a day and used tuberose– a perfume used by undertakers to mask the smell of death– to cover up her extensive drinking. She also had an affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald during the hospitalization of his wife Zelda.

Notorious alcoholic Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) married four times and killed himself with a shotgun in 1961. The Beat Generation—Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassady—incorporated drug experimentation, alternative forms of sexuality (I’m thinking mostly homosexuality), Eastern religion and a rejection of materialism into their work during the 1950s. After being hospitalized for multiple suicide attempts, Anne Sexton (1928-1974) started writing about mental illness and the pressures of maintaining a perfect middle-class household in the 1950s and 1960s. She successfully killed herself in 1974. Norman Mailer (1923-2007) founded alt-newspaper The Village Voice in 1955, married six times and had nine children. He was vehemently anti-birth control and pro-gun. Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis partied it up with cocaine in the 80s. Elizabeth Wurtzel’s drug (not really) of choice that she wrote extensively about? Prozac. Literary Rogues turns out to be a fun, quick read in which you can skip around in or charge through.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

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Hemingway’s Girl: book review

Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck. Publisher: New American Library (September, 2012). Historical fiction. Trade paperback original. 326 pages. ISBN: 978-0-451-23788-0.

In college, author Erika Robuck developed an interest in Ernest Hemingway’s writing. Years later during a visit to his Key West, Florida home she noticed an unforgettable picture of Hemingway on a dock in Havana surrounded by a crowd of onlookers including a Cuban woman with a piercing gaze. She knew she needed to include this woman in a novel about Hemingway.

Hemingway’s Girl features sparkling prose and intriguing history. Set in scenic Key West, Florida during Ernest Hemingway’s shaky second marriage, Robuck depicts stretches of days with fishing and drinking and verbal sparring through the eyes of a young half-Cuban, half-American housekeeper named Mariella. She and Papa Hemingway develop a flirtatious friendship. Soon Mariella’s torn between the affections of the famous writer and a WWI veteran and boxer, Gavin, building the Overseas Highway.

Robuck provides a lush scenic backdrop as well as heartbreaking historical detail. Gavin’s friend John lost limbs in the war and struggles to fit into society and make a life for himself as an artist. Then there’s the WWI veterans building the Overseas Highway nearly forgotten when one of the major disasters in history, the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, strikes. While Mariella and her family struggle during the Depression-era, Hemingway and his wife Pauline seem to be living in the same rather decadent, selfish manner as always—her latest project is to replace all the fans in the Key West home with chandeliers.

Through this glimpse into Hemingway’s tumultuous personal life, we can imagine the effect he had on others around him. Mariella establishes a lifelong bond with the older man. Robuck’s passion for the subject bursts through the pages. Providing depth and a profound slice of American history while avoiding a sappy throwaway romance, Hemingway’s Girl is a remarkable and lovely novel.

FTC Disclosure: I received this for review from the publisher.

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