Darla Worden is editor in chief of Mountain Living magazine and founder/director of the Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris. A Wyoming native and lifelong Ernest Hemingway fan, Worden wrote “Cockeyed Happy: Hemingway’s Wyoming Summers with Pauline,” which shows Wyoming as an influential place in Hemingway’s life. Learn more at www.darlaworden.com.
Tell us about the inspiration for this book, and the origins of your interest in Ernest Hemingway.
My interest in Ernest Hemingway’s writing began when I was in high school in Sheridan, Wyoming. I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I could write—and I wrote crazy stories starting in the second grade. When I discovered Hemingway as a teen, I could relate to his stories about hunting and fishing—they reminded me of my dad and uncles—and I liked the simplicity of his style.
I hoped to model my writer life after his, traveling the world and writing about it. And even though I did that, traveling to Spain and Paris (starting The Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris in 2010), it’s ironic that I discovered this story in my own Wyoming backyard.
The excerpt introduces us to an aspect of Hemingway that isn’t often explored — his time in Wyoming. What is it about this aspect of his life that convinced you to flesh it out so completely?
In 2010 during the Left Bank Writers Retreat, a writer asked me what I thought about Hemingway’s short story, “Wine of Wyoming.” “Wine of Wyoming?” I was a Hemingway fan, not a scholar and I cherry picked what I read based on what interested me. I’d never heard of “Wine of Wyoming.”
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When I found a copy, reading it I was struck by how the description sounded like the landscape around my hometown of Sheridan, but I convinced myself that I was reading my own experience into the story. Then I bought a beat-up copy of Hemingway’s letters, edited by Carlos Baker, at the library used book sale for $1. When I brought it home, it had a cracked spine and it opened to a letter with a return address on it from Big Horn, Wyoming. I nearly fell out of my chair. This is when I seriously started looking for clues to Hemingway’s time in Wyoming.
What was it about Hemingway’s relationships with the women in his life — Pauline in particular — that you find significant?
It’s fascinating to me that he went from woman to woman — never leaving one wife until the next prospective wife was in place. It reminds me of a great ape swinging from branch to branch in the jungle.
In the stories of wives, much has been written about lovely Hadley, his first wife and the woman he left for her friend, Pauline. Wife number three, Martha Gellhorn, was an accomplished journalist who has been written about and wife number four, Mary, wrote her own book about her time with him.
Pauline was a missing piece in his story and it was interesting to me to learn that they came to Wyoming together shortly after getting married, and they broke up in Wyoming 11 years later — a perfect story arc.
Place this excerpt in context for us. How does it fit into the structure of the book as a whole?
This excerpt is the beginning of the book when Ernest leaves Pauline at her parents’ home to recover from the birth of their son Patrick while he goes fishing with his friend and Red Cross ambulance buddy Bill Horne in Wyoming.
Your writing is rich in description and heavily footnoted. Tell us about the historical research involved in exploring this aspect of Hemingway’s life.
I decided to use Hemingway’s letters as my primary source along with letters of other characters in the book—lucky for me Hemingway wrote thousands of letters. I was in the midst of writing this book when COVID shut down the country—and the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, the source of unpublished letters by Ernest and Pauline, was closed. That posed a challenge but I had requested a large number of letters before it closed so I had to go with what I had.
Did Hemingway’s visits to Wyoming present particular challenges in finding source material?
In 2011, a librarian in Sheridan, Wyoming, published a collection from the library of newspaper articles, letters, newsletters, and photographs. This was a cornerstone in my research. I also drove the route he and Pauline took, and tracked down the Nordquist ranch outside Cody so I could see what he saw.
What other challenges did you encounter as you researched and wrote?
I totally underestimated the time the permission process would take.
The excerpt mentions Hemingway’s writing habits and refers to circumstances — like a crying newborn son — that he hoped to avoid. What about your own writing habits? What were the optimal conditions for your creative process — and were they at all like his?
I love to write. And like Hemingway I have a routine: I have to write first thing in the morning—I’m not a late-night writer–and I usually turn on white noise so I’m not distracted. When I’m working on a project I do this every day—usually from 6-8 before I go into my office. On weekends I can work from 8-2 or longer. It’s my favorite thing to do. (I’m boring!)
Why did you include a list at the beginning of each section about the things EH loved about Pauline?
I wanted to show how, in love, it is said that sometimes the things that we love about our partner become the very things that eventually drive us mad. In the case of Ernest and Pauline, he loved her family and their wealth and the privileges it gave him.
But then in the end, he became bitter and controlled and he rebelled against it. The list is a device (created from comments he made) to show the erosion of a relationship over time.
Tell us about your next project.
While researching this book for the past 10 years, I gathered an immense amount of research and discovered an interesting story about Hemingway that takes place in Paris. I never imagined that I would spend a chunk of my writing life writing about a white, male, writer—but Hemingway is such a fascinating, complex character that, for a nonfiction writer like me, he makes my job of telling a true story easy and interesting.