Q&A: Ernest Hebert

Ernest Hebert

There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state, some full-time, some part-time.  As the Director of the NH Center for the Book I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers.    

When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
I remember the exact moment. I was a 25-year-old junior at Keene State College taking a course in contemporary American literature. I read Preludes by T.S. Eliot. I was greatly moved by the poem; I believed that the feeling it gave me, both aesthetic and empathetic to the human condition, made me a better person. I thought if I could do for other people what T.S. Eliot had done for me my life would have meaning. I set out to be a poet. But looking back on that moment now as I write these words, I think what I was actually committing to was a life based on the creation of art. It just so happened that in those days writing was my medium.

How did you end up living in NH?
I was born in Keene, New Hampshire. Never got New Hampshire out of my system. I love leaving it, but after a week or so I get homesick. Maybe they'll put it on my tombstone: Never Got Out of New Hampshire. Two ways to go to a party. You can circulate or you can stay in one spot and let the party circulate around you.

Where do you like to write?
I write mainly in my office in my house, a half basement space where the wood stove is located. I like it quiet when I write. No people around, no distractions. Just me, keyboard, cat, and wood stove.

How important is place in your writing?
Every scene I write has a setting that I attempt to integrate into the narrative. I believe that people are influenced consciously and unconsciously by their environment.

What do you do when you aren't writing?
The three "C's": Cut firewood, converse with friends, create art. I have a tattoo on the back of my right hand of a stick with a string around it. Back when I lived in West Lebanon, NH, I would cut sticks and hang them up on the walls of my office. For me they were sculptures. The tattoo symbolizes my identity as a maker of things. Besides making stick sculptures, I carve wooden spoons, fashion furniture with found wood and hand tools, but mainly I draw using computer apps.

What’s the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?
Paul "Moose" Frangis, a telephone man I worked with when I was 19, said, "Ernie, you can hold down any job in America if you get to work on time and don't tell the boss to go f---- himself."

What books do you love and what about them speaks to you?
The books that mean the most to me are books that guided me in my writing career.

  • Howard's End by E.M. Forster. I identified with the confused and searching Leonard Bast character. Forster taught me that it was okay to write about class differences.
  • Coming up for Air by George Orwell. It was as if Orwell gave me permission to write about ordinary people. Orwell is my favorite writer.
  • Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence. Gee, the working guy gets the girl. This didn't happen in the American Lit books I was asked to read in college.
  • The Collected Letters of Mark Twain and William Dean Howells. They taught me what the writer's life was all about.
  • The Sunlight Dialogues by John Gardner. This book inspired me. Gardner did the kind of writing I wanted to do, action-packed but with lots of interior monologue, metaphors, and ideas woven into the narrative.
  • Books I love to hate: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald; Deliverance, James Dickey. Because of their demeaning treatment of working people. 

What are you working on now?
I am writing A Guide to the Darby Chronicles. Everything anybody wants to know about the fictional town of Darby. I've also started a huge project that I am sure I cannot finish. I want to recreate the town of Darby visually in art work.

What do you want to share that I neglected to ask about?
Most important person in my life is my wife Medora. A writer needs a partner for support, love, and fun.

You can learn more about Ernest Hebert at erniehebert.com. While you're there check out the posts on his latest book, Howard Elman's Farewell, which was released earlier this month.


Book of the Week #38

Stonlea: A Timeworn, Gilded Age Survivor Transformed by Peter W. Clement and Victoria Chave Clement (Peterborough, NH: Bauhan Publishing, 2014)
"Stonlea documents the painstaking steps involved in the preservation and renovation of this building, and describes the renovators' techniques. It specifically addresses the renovation of the fabric of the building--the various energy conserving strategies and the mechanical systems--as well as the whys and wherefores of the design, and is intended to serve as a model and inspiration for similar undertakings, regardless of size. Stonlea is a large Colonial Revival style summer house in New England, a vivid example of nineteenth-century resort architecture. It was completed in 1891 by a family from St. Louis, seeking to escape the withering summers on the Mississippi River. The house was designed by the well-known Boston architecture firm of Peabody & Stearns, who were very busy in the late nineteenth century, designing country houses that helped shape the new face of resort architecture in the northeast. It was built to accommodate a family of five and their domestic help, as well as long-term guests, and it therefore met the requirements of Polly Guth, its new owner, who wanted to house visiting family members and make the house a gathering place for four generations. The house is sited overlooking Dublin Lake, originally called Monadnock Lake, with picturesque Mount Monadnock beyond. The original property included the house, a barn, a cottage, and a large carriage house / garage, on approximately one hundred acres of ancient farmland. By 2009 the house's outbuildings had been sold to Polly's daughter, so the latest purchase reassembled a large piece of the original puzzle. The house had survived over one hundred years of New England weather and hard summer living fairly well, but had begun to suffer from "deferred maintenance," a circumstance familiar to all homeowners. The task of bringing the house back to its original luster was a formidable one. In addition, the owner wanted to bring to bear the latest technology to reduce its impact on the environment: She wanted a "green" house, or more specifically a "net-zero" house, referring to the balancing of energy consumed and energy produced on-site." --Introduction, p. xvii

The authors, along with the homeowner, will be at Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough on September 27, 2014 at 11am to talk about the project and their book.


FNV: Dayton Duncan & Ken Burns

For this month's installment of Friday Night Videos we present Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns speaking at the 2009 National Book Festival. This talk focuses on their National Parks project. This is from the video archive at the Library of Congress and requires Real Player (a free video player you can download).
Award-winning writer, documentary filmmaker and author Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, producer of groundbreaking documentaries for more than 30 years,  appear at the National Book Festival.
 Ken Burns may be best known for his monumental documentary "The Civil War," which was viewed by more than 40 million people when it premiered in 1990, but he has been producing groundbreaking documentaries for more than 30 years, including "Baseball," "Jazz" and "The Brooklyn Bridge." He has won 10 Emmy Awards and also been twice-nominated for an Academy Award. His newest project is "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," to be broadcast on PBS in six episodes beginning Sept. 27. His collaborator on the series is Dayton Duncan. Ken Burns lives in New Hampshire.
Dayton Duncan is an award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker and the author of nine books. "Out West: A Journey Through Lewis & Clark's America" (2001) chronicles his retracing of the Lewis and Clark trail; it was a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection and finalist for the Western Writers of America's Spur Award. "Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery" (1997) and "Mark Twain" (2001) are companion books to documentary films he wrote and produced with Ken Burns. Dayton was a consultant on Burns' award-winning series for public television "The Civil War," "Baseball" and "Jazz." He is also Burns' collaborator on "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" book and the documentary of the same name. Duncan lives in New Hampshire.
The plan for this series is to point our readers one Friday each month to an online video featuring New Hampshire authors and their work. If you have a suggestion for a video we should include please let us know in the comments. 


Read with Your Community!

Many bookstores and libraries host book discussion groups, but sometimes entire communities come together to read a particular book. In addition to book discussions there are often also film events, talks on related topics, and sometimes the author visits.
There are four communities here in New Hampshire who are holding community-wide read programs this fall. If you know of another one that I missed, please share it with us in the comments!

Nashua Reads is reading The Art Forger and will have a program with author B. A. Shapiro on October 24, 2014. They start of the festivities with a film on September 10th.

Howe Library's 2014 "Everyone is Reading" selection is The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King with their first event on September 18th.  

One Book One Valley will be talking about Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown with their big event on October 30, 2014. Things get started with a program called "Braving the Middle Ground: Stories of Pre-Revolutionary War in Northern New England" on September 27th.

Concord Reads is focusing on The Last Policeman by Ben Winters (which is available from NH Talking Books)and will kick-off their events on Saturday, September 27th.