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.

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