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The Novel That Waits at Highway’s End

Anyone trying to rewrite a novel on the advice of his editors needs to remember the old joke about carving a statue of an elephant.  It’s easy, says the punchline: just cut away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant. Trying to please Lucy Chambers and Cristina Adams, editors of my new novel Terlingua Heat, I have now cut away nearly 6,000 words of not-elephant. When that’s done, since I’m just back from a research trip to Cartagena, Colombia, I need to jump back into Marfa Dawn featuring my old best friend-alter ego Chef Brett. 

I am completing the task in this lovely room above the swimming pool at the Ambrosia Key West Bed and Breakfast, run by native Texan Michael Hinojosa after years spent in Port Lavaca, Kingsville and Austin. He came to Key West thirteen years ago, and hasn’t looked back. Still, the thought of me finishing a novel set in Texas in his place was apparently more than Michael could resist. I’m glad.

Then again, whenever I feel the need for inspiration, I can wander a few blocks over to Whitehead Street and pay a visit to the Ernest Hemingway House – where my first literary hero finished A Farewell to Arms back in 1928. The cats running rampant on the property, notable for having six toes, are all relatives of the cats Hemingway kept during the years he lived here before moving to Cuba. He always traded in a house whenever he traded in a wife.

Hemingway did his writing in a room above the pool, just like me. From here, whenever the words stopped flowing, he could look down at the pool his wife Pauline had put in as a gift while he was off covering the Spanish Civil War – and launching his romance with Soon-to-Be-Wife #3, Martha Gellhorn.

After a long, tough day at the typewriter (he typed out dialogue, but wrote description longhand), Hemingway would retire to Sloppy Joe’s, his favorite bar in Key West. Ironically, the actual location he most often retired to is now known as Capt. Tony’s, a few steps off bustling Duval Street. Sloppy Joe’s moved to its current location in 1937.

Unlike Hemingway, who loved Key West for being a bit on the dead side, I have a major tourist destination to keep me busy. The very tourism that helped drive Hemingway as far away as his Finca Vigia outside Havana (till Castro ruined that paradise too) now keeps the multitudes entertained each evening with the sunset celebration at Mallory Square.

Meanwhile, back at Ambrosia on Fleming Street, things are serene, and things are serious. I have less than 20 pages left to rewrite in hopes of turning in the ultimate statue of an elephant. River guide Danny Morales, the Rio Grande and the Chihuahuan Desert south of Marfa await me in the morning, when the roosters of Key West will surely be crowing. I wonder, in the spirit of Hemingway, if the roosters have six toes too.

To learn more about my incredible home away from home in Key West, go to And as the place’s GM, Michael Hinojosa says those mentioning my radio show Delicious Mischief when booking will receive a special discount.  

About John DeMers

I've been a journalist and author forever. My favorite single word in the English language is "foodandwine." This spirit drives my 45 published books and my weekly radio show heard in Houston, Dallas and Austin.

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