Gerald Hornsby

Gerald’s Summer Road Trip in France

Seven weeks my wife, our dog, and I were away from home, most of the time without WiFi, which curtailed my ability to contribute to the Literary Roadhouse podcast. But now we’re back, with no immediate plans for long-term breaks, so normal service has been resumed.

I wanted to share with you the highlights from our little trip. Firstly, some background: we’ve been motor homing for our holidays since 2006, we retired in 2008, and we’re on our third motor home.

Our van. Our van.

We always enjoy traveling to France, where there is a bigger choice of places to stay than here in the UK.

Our route. Our route.

Some places we only stayed one night, as we traveled between towns, but our biggest stay was on an island off the West coast of France called Île de Ré, which is a beautiful island, much favoured by holidaying Parisians during August, and has a number of small, picture-postcard beautiful towns all connected by mostly traffic-free cycle paths. We did lots of cycling.

And visited some lovely towns and villages.

But it wasn’t all go. We needed a break to visit markets.

And take in the view.

Eat out occasionally.

Enjoy our own little barbecue.

Visit the occasional bar.

Enjoy a breakfast out sometimes.

And for Tess to play the fool.

And of course, I had to do some reading.

We had a great time!

Author Spotlight: Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway working at his book For Whom the Bell Tolls at Sun Valley, Idaho in December 1939 Ernest Hemingway working at his book For Whom the Bell Tolls at Sun Valley, Idaho in December 1939

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21st 1899, to Grace Hall-Hemingway, a musician, and Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a physician.

In his  early years, he developed a taste for outdoor adventure in the family’s summer home on Walloon Lake in Michigan, which would come to influence his writing.

On leaving high school in 1917, he joined the Kansas City Star as a cub reporter, and he later took their style guide to heart for his fiction writing: “Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”

Early in 1918, he volunteered to help the war effort in Europe, signing on to be an ambulance driver in Italy. Those familiar with Hemingway’s work will know that an experience in Italy was described later in a non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon.

His gallantry in assisting Italian soldiers won him the Italian Silver Medal for Bravery, but a bad injury resulting from mortar fire took him off the battlefield. Whilst recuperating, he fell in love with a Red Cross nurse, but she left him for an Italian officer. This experience affected his relationships thereon after, and he abandoned wives before they could abandon him.

After returning from Europe, he became staff writer and foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star Weekly in 1919. In September 1921 he married his first wife, Hadley Richardson,  and two months later, the couple moved to Paris with Hemingway working for the Toronto Star as their foreign correspondent. It was this period that inspired the fictional account of their lives in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife. Hemingway’s first book, an anthology of short stories and poems called, to-the-point true to Hemingway fashion, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published in 1923. It was quickly followed by In Our Time, another collection of vignettes and stories.

He also worked on The Transatlantic Review with Ford Madox Ford, which featured some of his short stories. Around this time, he began to earn the praise of critics, who credited him for reinvigorating the short story genre.

Hemingway began work on his first novel on his birthday, 21st of July, 1925. In October 1926, The Sun Also Rises was published.

There followed a glittering career as a writer, including such major works as A Farewell To Arms, To Have and Have Not, For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and many of his novels, short stories and non-fiction works have been made into major films. The Old Man and the Sea, which was published in 1951 after Across the River and Into the Trees garnered bad reviews, won him a Pulitzer Prize the following year. In 1954 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

During his life, Hemingway travelled extensively, covering the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s as a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance. During the Second World War, he covered the hostilities for Collier’s Magazine, and was present at the Normandy Landings, and at the liberation of Paris in August 1945. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in WWII by the United States Military, having been “under fire in combat areas in order to obtain an accurate picture of conditions”.

But not everything in Hemingway’s life was positive. His father committed suicide in the winter of 1928, just minutes before a letter had arrived from Ernest telling him to not worry about money troubles. He commented, “I’ll probably go the same way.” During his life, he was beset by injuries from accidents and war coverage. Apart from the injury sustained in Italy in 1918, he was concussed in London in a car accident; another car accident in 1945 smashed his knee and caused a deep forehead wound; in 1944 in Africa, he nearly died after being involved in two successive plane crashes; and in 1955 on a fishing expedition in Africa, a bush fire caused him second degree burns. In Venice in 1955 his fourth wife, Mary, reported his injuries consisted of two cracked discs, a kidney and liver rupture, a dislocated shoulder and a broken skull.

When he was in Paris, he became friends with Irish writer James Joyce, and spent many evenings in heavy drinking sessions. His obsession with drink stayed with him. The uncle of his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, bought the couple a house in Key West. It is said the location, opposite the lighthouse, made it easy for Hemingway to find it on his way home from drinking sessions at a local bar, Sloppy Joe’s.

He suffered from severe headaches, high blood pressure, weight problems, and diabetes. His drinking increased partly to mask the pain from his injuries. He began to sink into depression as, one after another, his great literary friends began to die.

In his final years, his mental state deteriorated, and he became confused, disorganised and irritable. His brother and his sister, as well as his father, all committed suicide. On July 2nd, 1961, Hemingway unlocked the basement storeroom in his house in Idaho, removed his favourite Boss shotgun, pushed two shells into it, put the end of the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. His complicated history as war hero, writer, womanizer and alcoholic, polarized is reception. To some he was an inscrutable enigma, to others a hero, and to others still a villain.

Regardless of one’s opinion on his character, he is sparse writing irrefutably changed the world of literature.  Hemingway referred to his style as the Iceberg Theory: the facts float above the water, the supporting structure and symbolism operate out of sight. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the short novel The Old Man and The Sea, where the simple tale of an old fisherman parallels on many levels with religious texts.

This week we’ll be discussing “The Old Man at the Bridge”.

Author Spotlight: Caroline Casper

Caroline Casper is a freelance writer of short fiction and nonfiction who also works as Head of Content for an academic digital magazine called Hippo Reads. She holds an MA in journalism and is currently working towards an MFA in creative writing at the University of San Francisco. She is also working on a collection of short stories focusing on real women on issues of truth and authenticity, and women’s complicated relationships with loss, ageing, and objectification. She lives in San Francisco with her husband. Literary Roadhouse reached out to this up and coming writer to ask what motivates and inspires her.

Literary Roadhouse: Why do you write short stories?
Caroline Casper: I think I’m drawn to short stories because of my background in journalism—where the training forces you to tell a riveting story in a short amount of space. I also really like the creative process of short story writing…how themes develop from subconscious threads and connections you may not set out or “intend” to create. It seems to me that short stories allow room to meander and experiment with form, even if that experimentation is just an exercise. Sometimes I find it easier to find creativity in confinement of space.

Literary Roadhouse: Who are your favourite short story authors?
Caroline Casper: My favorite short story authors are Alice Munro, because she’s brilliant and I think her stories manage to mimic the complexities of humanity like no others—there’s so much happening off the page or below the surface—and she’s always doing fascinating things with plot; and Junot Diaz, whose short stories are fabulous. Lorrie Moore is also brilliant and always makes me laugh.

Eminence,” her first short story, was published in Carve Magazine in 2013 and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “Eminence” also won first place in the 2014 Story South Million Writers Award, as selected by a panel of judges.

How Short is a Short Story?

Here on the Literary Roadhouse, we’re all about short stories. There are two good reasons for this:

1) they are a wonderful form of literature, forcing tight storytelling and encouraging powerful imagery

2) they ensure we (as well as our audience) can read the stories each week for the podcast.

But what do we mean by a short story?


As writers, when we create a piece of fiction, we are aware of the length categories into which stories fall. There are no specific rules on story lengths. There are several ‘conventions’, but there is no strict agreement.

Let’s look at the stories we’ve chosen so far:

Week 1: The Story of an Hour – Kate Chopin – 1,103 words

Week 2: The Cheater’s Guide To Love by by Junot Diaz – 9,343 words

Week 3: The Circular Ruins by Jorge Luis Borges – 2,201 words

Week 4: Eminence by Caroline Casper – 4,827 words

So, we’ve already chosen a pretty wide variation, but they all fall below 10,000 words, which is approximately equivalent to 30 pages of a novel. That’s not to say that we can’t choose a story above that – these things are flexible.

But the best definition of a short story has nothing to do with word counts or pages. It’s from Edgar Allen Poe – “If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression”.


Can you tell a complete story in such a few words? Many readers of novels would say that you can’t, and that you need the length of a novel to tell the complete story and fill out the characters.

Ernest Hemingway, a real master of the short fiction form, responding to a challenge, wrote an infamous 6-word short story:

For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

— ~Hemingway

In just six words, there is a complete story, a sad story. It is inexplicit, subtle, but perfectly formed.

Someone on Reddit asked for a good horror story in two sentences. The one which was by far the best is linked in the references at the bottom (the actual text is copyright). Only forty-four words, and an intriguing and damned scary story.

In truth, most of the best short stories extend well into beyond a thousand words. There is a school thought that a writer can’t produce a quality literary short story with fully-rounded characters and intriguing themes and all the things which make short stories great in less than a thousand words. Reaching for the nearest Best American Short Stories from my shelf (a quality, annual collection of literary short fiction), I estimate that the average length of each of the twenty stories contained therein is around 5,500 words.

So, where does that leave us? How short (or long) is a short story?

It’s the same, whatever label you want to attach to it: it’s as long as it needs to be to tell the story in a compelling way.

Reddit Story

What Is Literary Fiction, and When Did It Become Popular?

These days, the boundaries between genres is blurred, yet, one type of fiction stands out—literary fiction. Although difficult to define absolutely, it is nevertheless important to be able to identify it and track its course through the history of writing.

Here are some definitions which might work:

  1. They are works that offer deliberate commentary on larger social issues, political issues, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.
  2. Literature is writing of high quality, sustained by intelligent structure and informed by original thought. It requires integration of all the elements into an intellectually and emotionally satisfying whole. Trickiest of all: it has to say something.

CC Ruminatrix no changes made CC Ruminatrix no changes made

One definition I like is that literary fiction is work that would be read “in college English classes” as opposed to “the grocery checkout line.” Literary fiction, to me, needs the reader to make some effort into understanding everything the author is trying to convey. The story isn’t laid out in simple chronology, a sort of ‘this follows that which follows the other’ style. It isn’t about solving a problem.

See what I mean about it being difficult to define?

The Epic of Gilgamesh is considered to be the first great work of literature, and dates from around 2100BC. The epic poem was based on Sumerian tales, and was later recorded on stone tablets,the oldest known belonging to the Babylonians in 1800BC. .Thus this tale became a written story ready to inspire others.  Many later writings, including those recorded by Homer, were based on the Epic of Gilgamesh.

You can see how writing down the Epic of Gilgamesh influenced later stories. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey date from around the 8th century BC, long after the creation of Gilgamesh. In these early days, literature was often seen as disruptive and divisive, and many texts were destroyed. Many ancient texts were destroyed when the Library of Alexandria was accidentally destroyed in the 1st century BC.

But in contemporary times, when we talk about literary fiction, we’re referring to the type that can be mass consumed. Mass consumption of literature was made possible by Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1455. This allowed books to move from the possession of the select, and rich, few, to a mass market. William Caxton was the first British printer, and his first product was Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 1478 – a book comprising 20 individual stories, each told from the perspective of one of the pilgrims in the story. This could be construed as one of the first pieces of literary fiction to be made available to a mass market.

The novel struggled to gain a reputation. Its competitors were travel books, memoirs, biographies and the like. Novels were frowned upon, much as ‘chic-lit’ or ‘romance’ might be frowned upon nowadays, as not being ‘proper’ writing. That changed with the publication of Middlemarch by George Elliot, in 1872, cited as the first novel you didn’t have to be embarrassed about reading. “Popular fiction” was born.

Over the next several decades, writing and publishing became a boom business. Novels, and writing generally, began to be categorised into genres. It helped bookstores, and ultimately, it helped book buyers, too. This is something which continues to this day.

It wasn’t until 1924 that Virginia Woolf complained that: “The big-time novelists have developed a technique of novel-writing which suits their purpose; they have made tools and established conventions which do their business. But those tools are not our tools, and that business is not our business.” For the first time, an author wanted to distance themselves from popular literature and create a ‘higher level’ of fiction writing. From the New Yorker: “In reaction, they created a different kind of literature: one centred on inwardness, privacy, and incommunicability.”

And thus, literary fiction as a single, semi-definable, category was created.

Away from novels, short fiction had always held the title of ‘literary’. The art of being able to tell a full story in few words necessitated some work on the part of the reader; allegory, analogy, symbolism, and metaphor are all used to create a ‘picture’ in the reader’s mind. Early masters of the form in the 19th century were Edgar Allen Poe, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Anton Chekhov, Jack London and Franz Kafka. Into the 20th century, writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov excelled at their art. More modern writers to look for are John Cheever, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Flannery O’Connor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, and Raymond Carver. Contemporary literary short fiction writers such as Malcolm Bradbury, Gita Mehta, Martin Amis, Colm Toíbin, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson and Peter Carey ensure the continuing popularity of the category.

But with the opening up of the publishing world to self and independent publishers, the strict genre classifications have morphed and blended. When it seems that there is a genre for every taste out there, does literary fiction still have a place in our modern society?

Well, of course it does! The market for short, literary fiction used to be limited to literary and art magazines, and an occasional anthology. Fixed printing costs meant that short-run literary works were expensive to produce, and had difficulty reaching a larger market. We now have ebooks, which cost nothing to print, and can cost nothing to produce, which opens the market wide. What we’re trying to do here on the Literary Roadhouse is to bring accessible literary fiction to that wider market.