Monday, October 14, 2013

You Never Know Where Your Book Will Take You - A Guest Post by Diane Gilbert Madsen

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Diane Madsen. Diane is the author of the DD McGil Literati Mysteries, a series of novels that link true incidents in the histories of famous authors with current-day mysteries. She was our featured author on June 26, 2012.

Once your book is published and on the shelves, you go on to the next one.  But sometimes one of your books rears up and takes you places you never envisioned.  That’s what happened to me after Hunting for Hemingway, my second DD McGil Literati Mystery, was published.  The extensive research I did for the book really paid off in unexpected fashion.  It took me to Cuba.
I lived in  Hemingway’s boyhood hometown of Oak Park for 24 years, and was also an English Major (eeekk),  so the forces of the universe undoubtedly dictated some interest on my part in Ernest Hemingway and fueled my research.  Parts of that research involved Hemingway’s Corona #3 typewriter - the one his first wife, Hadley Richardson, gave him as a present on his 22nd birthday.  After finishing my mystery novel, I wrote an article on the importance of that Corona typewriter and the importance of typing itself to Hemingway’s career as a young journalist and fiction writer.  That article was published in the Spring 2013 issue of The Hemingway Review, and the Review kindly chose a photo of a Corona #3 for the cover!

As a result, I was asked to speak at the International Hemingway Colloquium, held in Havana, Cuba last June.  I realized that my mystery novel had been the trigger (as we crime novelists say) that impelled this adventure into action. 
Hemingway, who spent almost 20 years in Cuba, loved the island and its people.  When he won the Nobel Prize in 1954 for The Old Man and the Sea, he dedicated it to the fishermen of Cojimar and to the Cuban people.  The medal is housed at the El Cobre Sanctuary, located just outside Santiago de Cuba.  It was stolen in the 1980s, but Castro put out a notice warning the thief to return the medal within 72 hours or face the consequences. It was returned but is no longer on display.

 I did find that Cuba has 2 different pesos minted in Hemingway's honor – one a portrait and another a fishing scene with him aboard his boat, the Pilar.  All the Cubans we met on the street knew about Hemingway and expressed excitement to meet people from all over the world at the Colloquium. 
Hemingway’s former home, the Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm), is now a museum, maintained for the past 53 years just as it was in 1960 when Hemingway left for the States, never to return. The Finca, with the help and cooperation from various organizations, had gotten some needed repairs, and on my visit, it was in wonderful condition.  It looked as if Hemingway had just left to go have one of his favorite Papa Doble rum drinks down at La Floridita. For all of you who live as I do in South Florida and know all too well the ravages that just one summer in our tropical climate can do to a property, this was great news to me.  The staff was very knowledgeable and it was obvious they enjoy caring for this property that reflects so much of Hemingway’s personality. I encourage you not to miss visiting this living museum if you get the opportunity.    

On a private tour of the Finca with Director Ada Rosa Alfonso Rosales, I was able to see up close and personal how Hemingway lived his life in Cuba and examine what treasures he left.  The first thing I noticed was what a prolific reader he was.  There were some 9,000 books scattered throughout the beautiful house.  He only had a few mysteries that I knew of – Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and Isaac Dinesen – all recorded in the packing slips of cartons he shipped to Cuba from Key West in 1940. 

Hemingway is often thought of as the man’s man who filled his life with hunting, fishing, boxing, bullfights, and drinking. Indeed the walls of every room had his mounted trophies of lion, leopard, buffalo, Impala, and fish, all recently refurbished, Ada Rosa informed me. Then I saw the other side of Hemingway’s character on the grounds of the Finca where several small headstones marked the graves of some of his favorite cats and dogs. He was especially fond of Black Dog, who used to lie on the lesser Kudu skin on the floor where Hemingway stood - usually barefoot - while he worked.

Visiting Cuba involved obtaining all sorts of permissions, visas, etc. Fortunately we had a tour director, Scott Schwar, former President of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, who’d made over 20 trips and knew all the ins and outs, thus making our journey smooth and enjoyable. I made many Cuban friends and met many Hemingway scholars while I was Hunting for Hemingway in Cuba. If I hadn’t written Hunting for Hemingway, this intriguing opportunity would not have been presented.

More information about Diane Madsen can be found at:       -    Twitter @dianemadsen


  1. HI Diane -- Fascinating post! I had no idea that Cuba had maintained Hemingway's home there as a museum.

  2. Thanks Karen. Yes, and his boat, the Pilar, is in dry dock under an enclosure adjacent to the house. There's also the swimming pool, now drained, where his fourth wife, Mary, used to swim naked every morning - and fire the gardner if he peeked. Diane