Some parts of "To Have and Have Not" make me want to cringe. In my novel, I do try to print a realistic picture of Hemingway. He's definitely a jerk. But as part of my research, I went to the JFK Library in Boston where his archives are kept, and I read letters and journals not meant for public consumption.

His letters to [Hemingway's friends] Gerald and Sara Murphy after their son died from tuberculosis are some of the most touching letters I've ever read. The crueler aspect of his personality was as painful to him as it was to others. He's somebody who always tried to be a better person.

Hemingway has such a distinctive narrative voice, one that's often parodied. Read too much of him at one time, and he gets stuck in your head and takes over your own way of phrasing things. How did you keep his voice from invading your prose?

[Groan.] It was a struggle, especially since much of his writing is instructional. He loves to teach what he says is good writing. The last thing I want is to imitate Hemingway, though I have learned a few things from him. I usually don't write with too many adjectives.

The only place in the novel where I take on Hemingway's voice is in the epilogue. I'd been to the archives where I'd read hundreds of his letters. His voice was in my ear, and a series of letters from him to Mariella started coming out.

Sometimes, as a writer, you disappear into the work. Three hours have gone by. You have no idea how time passed, but you look down and you've written 10 pages. Other times, you struggle to write three sentences. That's the writer's high you're always chasing.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

If you go

Erika Robuck will read from and sign copies of her new novel, "Hemingway's Girl," from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Greetings & Readings in the Hunt Valley Towne Centre, 118-AA Shawan Road. Call 410-771-3022 or go to greetingsandreadings.com.

About the book

"Hemingway's Girl," published by New American Library. 326 pages, $16.

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