My Novel

This is a bit of an unusual post. No pictures of Spain, no travel stories or advice. Instead, I wanted to tell you about my novel. Well, novels.


I wrote my first novel as a freshman in college. It’s called Bankrupt, and it’s terrible. No one has read it. Actually, my college professor read some of it during a semester Private Study I had with him. In the process, he fell so far behind that we never actually finished editing the book. It’s that bad.

Bankrupt is about the titular rock band – a Christian band – that gains massive success to become one of the biggest acts in the world. At the time (early 2000s) there had been a number of bands like Lifehouse and Evanescence who had Christian-origin stories but were downplaying that in the wake of their Top-40 success. That was the spark for my novel. 

Inspired by a reading of The Sound and the Fury, the book was broken into four parts told by each member of the band, starting with the most devout Christian and ending with the guy of no faith. In structuring it this way, I was essentially tracing my own personal de-conversion from the faith.

As a concept and as a structure, there’s a really great book to be made of Bankrupt. I didn’t write that book. What I wrote is putrid garbage, and I don’t say that out of modesty. Beyond the fact that I was still writing like a freshman college student, I had no idea what I was writing about, knowing nothing about the music industry or what it was like to tour the country. I still lived in my hometown for god’s sake.

Bankrupt will never see the light of day. My version, at least. Maybe someone can steal the idea and make a decent book of it. Just do me a solid and give me credit in the thank yous.

The Fortunate Ones

The second novel I ever wrote came about in my final semester of college while I was taking four different literature courses and too bored to pay attention. I was never a note taker, but trying to stave off sleep, I started writing out a dream I had one morning and over the next four months, it grew into a novel.

That book is called The Fortunate Ones. That’s probably it’s third or fourth name. Originally, it was called Tabula Rasa, mostly just because I liked the term, not because it bore any meaning for the book. 

The Fortunate Ones was my attempt to take the infamous “Bechdel Test” to its logical extreme: I wrote an entire novel where the only characters who spoke were women, and there was no fluffy romance subplots. The book followed four main characters, including the narrator, as they dealt with life’s ups and downs. It was a noble if ham-fisted attempt at feminist literature, I suppose. It also wasn’t very good.

Back when Livejournal was a thing, I created a new site to post chapters from the book. I had one random online stranger who read the whole thing. She gushed about it enthusiastically, and I always appreciated that, but I have no idea who she was and we didn’t keep in touch.

A couple years back, I was in the midst of a writer’s funk and decided to revisit some of my old writing. I started rereading Tabula Rasa and reworking it, eventually leading to an almost complete rewrite of the second half of the book. When I was done, I changed its name to The Fortunate Ones (a bit less pretentious title) and threw it up anonymously on Amazon. I’m pretty sure no one has ever downloaded it, and that’s probably for the best.


I started writing Invasion during Year 1 in Charlotte. It’s probably the most personal of my four novels, and honestly I don’t remember it very well. Like Bankrupt, I think the concept is sound, but also like Bankrupt, I know that I wasn’t a capable enough writer to do the topic justice. I’ve never re-read it.

Invasion tells the story of a gay college student in Kansas who is attacked and left in a coma. That’s chapter one. The rest of the novel explores his relationship with his mother who is devoutly religious and unable to accept her son’s “lifestyle.”

Their relationship is explored from many different angles, with the cornerstone being their mutual love of the music of the Beatles. I used a lot of Beatles lyrics in the book, something that I realized would probably make getting the book published an expensive proposition (especially for a first-time novelist), but those lyrics were the heart of the story.

The novel plays around with shifting perspectives, an erratic timeline, and, what has become a hallmark of my writing, mixing global and local perspective. I tell very personal, human stories against the backdrop of a larger narrative, some bigger event going on in the world that puts things in perspective. I was just starting to develop this style with Invasion.

My next novel honed it.

Yahweh’s Children

Originally just titled Yahweh, my fourth and final completed novel has been around for roughly a decade at this point. I started writing the book at the end of Year 2, Philadelphia, after reading a book called Joseph’s Bones: Understanding the Struggle Between God and Mankind in the Bible, by Jerome Segal. Segal’s book sparked my novel’s initial raison d’etre, though in its final form, the connection is tenuous.

The first draft took a year to complete. I edited it, and edited it, and edited it. I would submit it to agents and publishers and here nothing, then go back and edit some more. I’d start working on a new novel, get bored with those fresh efforts, and go back to Yahweh.

About two years ago, having sat on this complete tome for many years, I sent it out to a journal that offered editing services for $250. They said they would read the book over a month and then get back to me with their thoughts and suggestions and edits in the margin. After two months, they still hadn’t sent back the edits. Finally, I was contacted by the guy who was reading my book and he said he’d have it for me in a week.

When I finally received his reply, there were no edits in the book itself, or really even any concrete suggestions for improvements. Instead, he sent three pages explaining why the book simply didn’t work. He didn’t care much for the characters or the stories, and thought one of my subplots was homophobic, interestingly enough. There was no mention of the humor in the book and seemingly no understanding that the book was meant as a work of satire.

I was angry about the review, as any writer would be who just had years of work trashed in a hastily completed “edit.” At the same time, this stranger was the only person who had actually read the book (presumably he finished it), and he had clearly hated it. That led to a dark moment of the writer’s soul. It took months before I could even look at my novel again.

(The most aggravating part of the letter was him ending it with the condescending, “At least you finished writing the novel. That’s something to be proud of.” I don’t need your pity, random half-assed editor.)

When I did return to Yahweh, I committed to killing my babies. I scrapped a large chunk of the opening chapter that I had always loved but now realized was superfluous. I took entire chapters and rewrote them from a different character’s perspective. I expanded the roles of the women characters and tightened up the ending.

The name changed to Yahweh’s Children (which, if I’m being honest with myself, should have always been the book’s title).

I submitted this new version to a host of agents. And the roaring sounds of “Meh” came crashing in. To be fair, I did receive a couple of responses saying, “Sounds interesting but I don’t think I could represent it.” I’ve spent nearly as much time crafting different cover letters and synopses for the book as I did writing the thing.

The truth is, I don’t know how to sell this book, but I believe in it. It’s the only one of my four completed novels that I would call “good.” There are genuinely passages in it that, when I re-read them, make me laugh out loud, which sounds ridiculously egotistical, but if you’ve made it this far, you have to know I’m not exactly a toot my own horn guy.

Yahweh’s Children is a bit unwieldy, incredibly difficult to explain, and deeply yet subtly satirical in a way that, apparently, doesn’t register with some readers. It simply doesn’t fit into easy genre terms. It’s science fiction to a large extent, minus any interest in most of the tropes of that genre, but it’s also just a story about fathers and sons. And aliens. And God. Or god. Like I said, unwieldy.

Now that I’m in Madrid, I have so many new priorities and concerns, searching for an agent/publisher just doesn’t register in my top 10. Plus, with how rapidly world events are transpiring, the book might be hopelessly dated by the time I ever did manage to find representation for it (the book was written during a time when a Trump presidency seemed less likely than the discovery of aliens).

And so, for that reason, I’ve decided to go a route that, frankly, I’ve never had much interest in pursuing. I will self-publish Yahweh’s Children on Amazon and let the chips fall where they may. It’s quite possible no one will ever buy it, and that’s fine. No one is ever going to buy it if it just remains on my hard drive, either.

I have a new novel idea that I’ve been picking at for a couple of years, but as long as Yahweh’s Children remains in front of me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully commit to it.

Yahweh’s Children may hold no interest for any of you readers, but I figured I’d let you know anyway. My aim is to have it online and available first thing in the new year. You know, right when everyone stops buying things because they’re broke after Christmas. I’m good at business.

I’ll post when Yahweh’s Children officially goes live, but in the meantime, here’s a book jacket synopsis so you can gauge your interest:

In the early decades of the 21st century, SETI researchers receive the first confirmed transmissions from an alien species. These messages, transmitting from far beyond our galaxy, arrive as indecipherable gibberish, except for one word written in an ancient human language. It’s a name: Yahweh.

Yahweh’s Children follows three generations of the Priestly family through interweaving timelines. The Priestly men are a stubborn and gently misanthropic tribe, driven equally by their passions and their disdain for their fathers. Wyatt, the patriarch, is a frustrated writer-turned-professor and Luddite, living through one of the most revolutionary moments in human history, and frankly, he doesn’t care for it.

Wyatt and his wife, Mia, have twins: Gwen is charismatic, brash, confident, and outspoken; and then there’s Parker. Parker lives in the shadow of his beloved sister, a bitter also-ran in the race for their father’s admiration. He grows into a man of reckless affection, flitting from marriage to marriage, seeking an ever elusive contentment, with his children always in the dust.

Nearly 50 years after the reception of the first “Yahweh Messages,” Parker’s eldest son, Alex, lives in a world haphazardly transformed by alien technology. As a journalist, Alex stumbles upon a mysterious government project involving the alien messages that may hold the key to the next stage of human evolution. Or it may herald the death of Yahweh’s Children.

That’s about the best broad synopsis I can give for a novel that deals with wide-ranging subjects including Climate Change, gender identity, slang evolution, and, of course, alcoholism.  

If that sounds interesting to you, I hope you’ll support my art and travels by purchasing the book when it’s available in January. Thank you to everyone who reads these posts week to week, next week 10×10 will return to its regularly scheduled programming. 




Writers Versus Content Creators

I am a writer.

It used to embarrass me to say that because it comes across as so utterly pretentious. Anybody who’s published a poem on can call themselves a writer, which pretty much dilutes the word. I’ve only felt comfortable calling myself a writer in the last few years, partially because I’ve published nationally and some of my stories and poems have appeared in journals. But the more basic reason that I feel comfortable using the ‘W’ term for myself is because I work damn hard at it.

I edit. I edit like a motherfucker professional. Not a single post goes up on this site that hasn’t been read and re-read and edited for typos and grammatically confusing phrases and then rewritten again to make sure that it isn’t all just one big rambling mess. If an article goes up and I spot a typo after the fact, I pretty much can’t do anything until I’ve fixed it. And that’s just for blog posts. You can’t imagine how much time I spend on short stories and the longer pieces I work on. I’ve been editing a completed novel for years. It’s been finished, I’ve submitted it to agents (no interest found), and yet still I return to it in hopes of improvement.

Editing is only one part of being a writer. A very, very, very important part of it, but still not the whole shebang. A writer should also care for craftsmanship, the interplay of words and sounds. One needn’t look far to see that very little of what is written online has been crafted in any manner. Even if we’re ignoring the gibberish that gets posted in the name of SEO and Google analytics, publication on the internet is largely about filling space. Websites don’t employ writers, they employ content creators.

Book Binders


“Content Creator” is this era’s greatest Orwellian euphemism, presenting the mindless sputum of the half-literate as ‘content’ and declaring the banging of one’s head against a keyboard as ‘creativity.’ Internet content is, by various definitions, valuable, even when it only exists to point the reader to the work of a superior thinker or artist. Unfortunately, the chained up monkeys who type this stuff, while still unable to reproduce Shakespeare, have learned how to market their smeared shit so effectively that we all stop and look.

A great many articles published online contain barely 100 words worth of original content all in reference to someone else’s video, photographs or article, copied whole cloth from another website or news source. So content-less has content creation become that the only real purpose of any creator is to slap up an attention-grabbing headline to bring in the hits. With headlines like “This Video Will Change Your Mind About Everything” and a screenshot strategically frozen to reveal cleavage (yes, Upworthy, I see what you’re doing), sites get your clicks and your shares, spreading their empty content like the mental herpes it truly is.

A content creator might push back and say, “You’re just bitter because you’ve failed as a writer.” To which I say, yeah, probably. But what is a writer if not someone who has failed at everything else in life.


I am not criticizing the Internet. I have no qualms saying that the World Wide Web is the greatest scientific achievement in all of human history. Yes, even beating sliced bread. Counter to common belief, I don’t think the Internet is making us worse people, or even less social. The Internet didn’t turn us into assholes, we already were assholes (slavery, anyone?). This tool is transformative and quite often magnificent in the way that it brings together ideas, cultures, experiences and, most importantly, people. Blaming the Internet for our shortcomings as a species is like blaming the automobile for car crashes. In a certain light, it’s vaguely true, but it’s obviously missing the larger picture.

I know a lot of writers personally. Some I like and some I don’t, while some like me and most… tolerate me. Most of the writers I have known over the years have, at some point or another, stopped writing. At least, in a serious way. They may toss out a poem here or there, or loosely maintain a blog. Many of these writers have attempted to get their writing published and found out the hard way, like I have, that it is really, really hard to get published in this age, especially if you’re not writing erotic fan-fiction based on someone else’s creation.

It’s… disheartening. I’m not saying it was ever easy to be a writer, but I don’t think anyone would dispute that this is the hardest age for a writer to find a faithful audience and make a living by it. The Internet is, somewhat, to blame for that. The other party at fault is us, the writers. We have grown to accept the truism that no one will pay us for our writing, like we’re all part of one global internship and our bosses are waiting for their coffee. I’m not saying this isn’t true, just that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course no one’s going to pay for what they’re getting for free. Remember what your mama said about buying the cow? Yep, we’re all sluts.

This is truly a shame because nobody has changed and shaped history more than writers. Great ideas and revolutionary movements spread through the written word. As much as Twitter gets a bad name for its 140-character limit and seemingly frivolous content, it actually serves a tremendous function because it helps spread messages. It lets us share the word.

Writing has value. Content doesn’t.


We’re a headline culture, so it’s no wonder that we believe all human knowledge can be reduced to a series of bulletpoints for easy consumption. The epidemic of scientific illiteracy that has created the Anti-Vaxxers, the Climate Change Deniers and the Intelligent Design Movement is largely based on these various groups believing that if they read a couple of headlines, a Wikipedia article and a science study abstract, they’re suddenly as informed as a person who has devoted their life to the field. You can’t reduce hundreds of years of research into an afternoon and then call yourself an expert.

The more reductive we become, the harder it is to convey anything meaningful. Even the flashy content creators are shoving extra information into their headlines (“#16 Will Blow You Away” “#3 Will Literally Get You Pregnant” “#10 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”) because the fire-hose torrent of hyperbole is losing its ability to draw eyes. Everybody is screaming with ALL CAPS that what they have to show you is worth your 5-second attention span, and in reality almost none of it is.

Which is why it’s time for writers to fight back.

Don’t give in to the easy pull of content creation. Don’t aim for the lowest common denominator. Don’t over-hype your work with misleading, exclamation-filled headlines. Be a writer. Craft your words with care, edit them to perfection, and if the world doesn’t care, do it again. And again, and again. The world doesn’t owe you an audience. As a writer, though, you owe it to yourself and to your work to actually give a damn about the quality of your writing. The word will remain long after all the content has been banished to the unlit alleyways of internet obscurity.

So what are you? Content Creator, or Writer?


Type Set

A photo of Martin Manley, a Kansas City sportswriter who blogged about his suicide.

“My mom said I was always a happy baby.” The Suicide of Martin Manley

[This post obviously deals with suicide. Do not read on if the subject makes you uncomfortable.]

Martin Manley killed himself.

This in and of itself isn’t so unique. Thousands of suicides happen without much notice. Manley was a public figure, a former sports writer for the Kansas City Star and editor for the website Sports In Review. However, what makes his suicide bizarre is that he created a website (no longer active; going to the URL now could subject you to a virus) to explain his reasons for his actions. The final thing he wrote was a post for SIR.

In his final post, Manley explains:

The reason for my departure is 100% within my ability to control. You see, earlier today, I committed suicide. I created a web-site to deal with the many questions a person would rightfully have. It’s called It went live today. In my opinion, there is no question which you could conceivably ask that I have left unanswered on that site. My goal with this post is closure for SIR.

Martin Manley shot himself in front of a police station. His final post touched on some of his reasons, but mostly he seemed to just want to put everything in order. The website he created was split into 2 categories, ‘Life’ and ‘Death.’ I won’t try to summarize or pull quotes. There was too much there to be crammed into a single blog post. The man laid bare his entire existence, from beginning to end, and if people are interested, there are mirror sites where people can still read his writings.

martin manley


There are two reasons this story caught my eye (besides for the sensational angle of it):

First, he was from Kansas. He says that he lived in Topeka and then moved to Overland Park. Both of these cities are about 30 minute drives (in opposite directions) from my hometown of Lawrence. While I haven’t lived in Kansas in years and I was never one to read sports stories in the newspaper, I have to imagine that I have a lot of friends and old acquaintances that were familiar with this man, maybe even regular readers.

Secondly, there was something he wrote in his Pictures section of the site:

These are pictures of me when I was around one. My mom said I was always a happy baby. It seems odd to me that would be the case considering I’m not sure I ever really learned what happiness was as an adult.

Emphasis mine. That really stuck out to me, because my mother has said the same thing of me. She says I was her “sunshine baby.” This has always struck me as odd because for as long as I can remember, I have dealt with depression. I’m sure for anyone who has dealt with lifelong depression it’s hard to remember a time when you could be roundly described as “happy.”

If this story blows up, and it likely will because of its odd, viral nature, it will almost certainly spur a conversation on suicide. I hope it does. But if the comments on related articles are any indication, the conversation may get buried in dross. As soon as a public suicide hits the internet, the opinions start flying: People should be allowed to kill themselves. People who commit suicide are idiots. Only God can help you fight depression.

Everyone brings their preconceived ideas to the topic and nothing of importance ever gets discussed. The conversation takes bunny trails off into topics such as “Is depression genetic?,” “Is suicide wrong?,” and “Is there a God?” Personal agendas get brought in and pretty soon no one is talking about what really matters: How do people who have suicidal thoughts cope?

There is no single answer for everyone, and I don’t feel like getting into my personal beliefs on the topic. (I’ve done so elsewhere.)

It’s that phrase that keeps coming back to me: “My mom said I was always a happy baby.” We all have loved ones in our life and we think we know them, we think that we know what they’re capable of. Part of the reason that suicides so often take us by surprise is that most of us pride ourselves on being perceptive, at least when it comes to the people in our lives.

The TV show House M.D. had an episode where a main character committed suicide. At the time, there was considerable online chatter about whether it was just for shock, many arguing there was no hint that the character was going to do it. But, as unexpected as the episode was for me, it also struck me as incredibly true. My own personal experience of suicide was with someone who I (and, I imagine, most of the kids who knew him) thought was the happiest, most well-adjusted person.

I wasn’t familiar with Manley. I’m sure as people unpack his website and his backlog of articles things will come out that will make his suicide “obvious” and easy to predict in that perfect 20/20 hindsight sort of way. And maybe he had hinted at it to his readers for a while, I don’t know.

But the broader truth is that suicide isn’t something we usually can predict, especially not with our loved ones. There are those who display early warning signs, but for every person on suicide watch, there is a ‘happy baby’ who takes their families and friends by complete surprise.

I think what Manley was trying to do (what the writers of House were trying to do too) is bring this difficult conversation to the forefront and get people talking. Your opinion on Manley’s actions are irrelevant. It happened. Where do we go from here?


If there is any one person in culture having this conversation the right way, it’s the stand-up comedian Maria Bamford. She talks openly in her routine about her Bipolar Disorder and suicide. One of her best bits is called “Stigma” and you can listen to it on Spotify. I can tell you that for someone with depression, it is one of the funniest, most cathartic comedy routines I have ever listened to.

I don’t know if society will ever be capable of taking on this topic in a way that doesn’t fall back on preconceived judgments and fears, but I hope that if anything positive can come out of Manley’s death, it will be a willingness to look at this subject with fresh eyes.

Let us not hide from this.

I’m A Lousy Travel Writer

I’ve found it difficult to explain to strangers what I do without just unloading the whole endeavor on them.

“I’m a travel writer, sort of…” is usually how I start.

On a surface level, that’s true. I travel and I write, and I write about my travels. So yes, I’m a travel writer. But the term ‘travel writer’ elicits a specific job in people’s minds, and that is most certainly not my occupation. If it were, I’d be lousy at it.

Anyone who would read my writing for Hot Spots or Trendy Eats in New Orleans or Seattle or Philadelphia are going to be sorely disappointed. I’ve never felt all that compelled to hit all the ‘Must’ activities and sights in the cities I live in, and even when I am only in a city for a few days, I’m still a terrible tourist. I don’t have a bucket list or a particular desire to eat the world’s biggest burger. When people say, “You haven’t lived until you’ve…” I think to myself, “Oh, honey.”

10 Cities / 10 Years is a travelogue, but it’s not about physical travel or getting my picture taken in front of landmarks. There are thousands of people writing those kinds of books and blogs, and 99% of them do it better than I could ever hope to. I don’t necessarily mean the market’s saturated, but I would say that my input in such a genre would be insignificant at best.

Type Set

“Am I Going To Be In Your Book?”

I probably never should have told anyone I was going to write a book. The truth is, when I started this ‘project’ nearly a decade ago, I had no plans of writing one. Not one about my travels, at least. My usual line was that I was doing this “to inform my writing.” You know, gain some experience, a wider perspective, make my novels stronger. Hemingway and Fitzgerald went to war. That wasn’t an option for me (well, not a good one).

Now that a 10 Cities / 10 Years book is in the plans (if not exactly in the works), I’m regularly inundated with, “Am I going to be in your book?” (even when asked in jest, I know people really wonder) and, “Oh, you have to write about [whatever].”

To the latter assertion, I say, “No, no I don’t.” Just as I chose to live this life because it’s how I wanted to live, I and I alone choose to write about what I want. If you’re interested in reading a history of New Orleans or Boston, I assure you, such things exist. I won’t be writing them.

To the question, I say, “If you have to ask, then probably not.” The people who will populate my book would never think to ask such a question because their world is wide enough. That’s not to say that who I write about are all admirable, fascinating people. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many of the people who will make an appearance in the book will be overtly flawed, prone to selfishness and susceptible to the prodding of their worst demons. I would like to say I’ll always portray everyone with as much mercy and understanding as they deserve, but I’ve got my own demons, too.

So, maybe a better response to the question, “Am I going to be in your book?” is to ask, “Are you sure you want to be?”

After School

The Travelogue

This is a travelogue, not about moving from city to city, but about moving from moment to moment through life. The breaks up, the financial struggles, the victories and the failures, the huge life decisions we make in our 20s, and the small ones that feel huge; these are the landmarks of 10 Cities / 10 Years. Our responses to each scenario make up the chapters in our travel guides.

The different cities are the backdrop of my story, a way of showing the universality of the experiences, to show that Red State, Blue State, South, North, East, West, we all pretty much fight the same battles. Sure, everyone’s life has its own unique road markers, and some will live a blessed existence while others have one tragedy after the other befall them, but we’re all here together.

That’s what I love about cities, the big, teeming ant hills. As an individual, we live one path, one story, but collectively we experience everything that humanity can offer, the good, the bad and the absolute shit.

If there could be a moral to my story, it would be that we are not Cowboys, or Rebels Without a Cause, or whatever other pop culture cliché we latch onto as an expression of our ‘individuality.’ We are parts of a whole, and we should live with that conviction. People who only care about themselves and their wants and desires, people who don’t know what it means to sacrifice of themselves for someone else, I have no place in my life for them. Be a better person.

Zeus knows I’m trying.

Sunset Last Day

I’m A Travel Writer, Sort Of

So, yes, I am a travel writer, of a sort. I’ve lived in a lot of different cities and I’ve seen plenty of landmarks and famous sites, but I’m not writing the Ultimate Guide to Seeing America on a Budget (though I’m sure that would be a bestseller).

I’m writing my story, and the story of other people whose lives have affected me, for better and for worse. Somebody out there is writing the definitive guide to traveling through Southeast Asia on nothing but what they make as a bamboo farmer, and more power to them. Sometimes we read books to be transported out of our lives, to be taken to a place that we’ll never go so we can live a life we’ll never live.

But we should also read books that reflect ourselves, our lives, our strengths and our failings. Even if we don’t like what we see, sometimes we need a mirror.

10 Cities / 10 Years: A Real Downer.

National/Econ/Biz first person profile on Joseph Fonseca



F. Scott Fitzgerald – A Brief Examination of Alcoholism in a Literary Icon

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

            The 20th century was a shining moment for American literature.  Great literary figures had grown up in the States in the previous one hundred twenty-five years of the nation’s history, but it wasn’t until the 1900s that American authors truly began to challenge European authors (especially the British) on the international literary stage.  One of the most prominent novelists of his age, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote what some consider the definitive American novel, yet gnawing at the edge of his talent was an addiction that would eventually overshadow his greatest achievements.

           Francis Scott Fitzgerald had an uneventful birth, but his childhood was still troubled, mostly because he “grew up embarrassed by his mother and alternatively proud and ashamed of his father.”[1]  This shame derived from the fact that his parents were not among the upper echelon of society.  From an early age, Fitzgerald believed that he must find a way of inserting himself among the moneyed and influential classes, a preoccupation that filled much of his writing, though not without its fair share of critical consideration.  While his first and largely autobiographical novel, This Side of Paradise, depicts a young college “egotist” attempting to fit in among the Ivy League, his third and most highly regarded novel, The Great Gatsby, paints a rather grim picture of the rich and their utter disregard for decency and human collateral.  That is not to say that Fitzgerald rejected wealth and its excesses, only that it never quite lived up to his childhood aspirations.

           Fitzgerald flat out rejected his Irish ethnic heritage, almost certainly because it set him apart from those in high society.  In his attempt to recreate himself in the image of his ‘superiors,’ though, Fitzgerald never fully disassociated from his Irish roots, becoming “a mixture of aspiring, self-loathing WASP and, as he once put it, ‘straight 1850 potato-famine Irish.’”[2]  As concerns his religious upbringing, Fitzgerald likewise moved away from it, writing in a letter to his friend and, later, critic, Edmund Wilson, “I am ashamed to say that my Catholicism is scarcely more than a memory.”  He then waffles and claims it is “more than that” but then derisively asserts that he never goes to “church nor mumble[s] stray nothings over chrystaline [sic] beads.”[3]  There can be no question that Fitzgerald had little room in his life for the structured religion of his forbearers.  Of course, as most of the people he wished to call his peers would have been Protestant, it’s no surprise that he felt a need to distance himself from his Catholic heritage.

           He attended Princeton for a time, but he was never an ideal student and didn’t graduate.  While Fitzgerald certainly had his scholastic failings, he was a very popular and active member of his class and made a few lasting literary connections, but ultimately he dropped out to fight in the war (though, to his regret, he never made it overseas).[4]

           Fitzgerald is among a long line of Irish-American literary figures, and with that heritage comes an appreciation for alcohol.  It has been noted that the greatest undoing of the Irish was “not in how much the Irish consumed, but how they consumed it.”[5]  Alcohol plays arguably as large a role, for instance, in Italian culture as it does among the Irish.  However, the difference between the two cultures is “in the style and purpose of their drinking.”[6]  For the most part, drinking in the Italian culture involves wine drank with a meal, whereas for the Irish, the alcohol of choice is usually hard liquor, such as whiskey and it is done as a “recreation,” with emphasis placed on imbibing for purposes of “socializing, celebrating and mourning.”[7]

            For Fitzgerald, this cultural attitude towards drinking was obviously at play.  He began drinking at a young age and it would become such a prevalent force in his life that alcohol and alcoholics appear as central characters throughout his writing.  Whether it was the revelers at Gatsby’s parties or the disastrously young and married couple in The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald filled his writing to the brim with liquor.   He peopled a great deal of his short stories and pretty much all of his novels with alcoholics, though he rarely seems interested in self-indictment.  His characters, even when they display some of the most reprehensible characteristics of alcoholism, are by and large sympathetic people, often quite charming (as Fitzgerald, himself, was).[8]  That is not to say that he didn’t craft true-to-life characters.  One of his great gifts as a writer was his keen sense for humanity, but at times it seems he had a blind spot for his own greatest weakness.

            A heavy dose of denial and rationalization explains how he could live so long pursuing a deadly habit without stepping back and realizing the dangers.  Part of that was undoubtedly cultural. 

            He never truly gave up alcohol, though there were periods in which he claimed to have cut back or even gone long periods without any drink.  In the Roaring Twenties, when he and his beautiful wife, Zelda, were the talk of the town, they lived up their celebrity both in the States and abroad as ravenous partiers.  Despite their public personas, though, the Fitzgeralds were lousy drunks.   When inebriated, Scott was prone to “theatrical” displays, almost invariably making a fool of himself in front of his companions.  “In Zelda Sayre, he found a companion who liked drinking – and exhibitionism – as much as he did.”[9]  Almost every friend they had as a couple could attest to an embarrassing story involving the couple’s drunkenness.  Ernest Hemingway, friend and competitor, fellow literary giant and alcoholic, looked down on Fitzgerald’s seeming inability to handle his alcohol ‘like a man’ and painted a very unflattering portrait of him in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s account of the expatriate American writers living in France during the 1920s.  In general, Fitzgerald does not come off well in Hemingway’s memoir.

            This is not to say that Fitzgerald was unaware of his drunken escapades.  His second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, reads like a fictional version of the early years of his marriage to Zelda (just as his final complete novel, Tender Is The Night, offers insight into the later years of their troubled marriage), with a husband and wife who drink too much and make spectacles of themselves both in play and while fighting.  As is usual with Fitzgerald’s characters, though, the reader’s sympathies are with the couple, or at least with the husband, Anthony.[10]

            What is most astonishing is that, unlike other authors of his time and disposition, Fitzgerald remained married to one wife.  This fact has probably been largely responsible for the general myth that Scott and Zelda were literary romantic heroes, doomed to tragedy but passionately in love with each other.  In reality, their marriage was often contentious, even before Zelda’s mental breakdowns, though those made the situation all that much worse.  Up until her first collapse in 1930, they managed to find ways to rekindle their love and continue together, despite Scott’s fear of infidelity and Zelda’s feelings of abandonment, and even her accusations that he was a homosexual.[11]  Whatever had kept them together throughout the 1920s, their marriage began quickly unraveling in the 30s, much in the same way his literary reputation seemed to crash concurrently with the stock market.

          Of all their ups and downs, the one thing that can be said for their marriage is that Fitzgerald apparently never turned violent towards Zelda, which would have been entirely out of character for him.  He was a less physical person in comparison to, say, Hemingway who Zelda disliked on the grounds that he was a “poseur” who artificially inflated his masculinity (plus, she suspected her husband of being sexually attracted to him).  Hemingway, for his part, thought that Zelda was a bad influence on his friend’s writing productivity.[12]  In fact, Zelda and Scott did fight often, and when she had her breakdown and was admitted to a sanatorium, the letters between Scott and her doctor reveals just how bad the cracks in their marriage had become.  It also exposes an alcoholic who was unwilling, perhaps unable, to quit drinking and his justifications for it:

Two years ago in America I noticed that when we stopped all drinking for three weeks or so, which happened many times, I immediately had dark circles under my eyes, was listless and disinclined to work.[13]

Here is the author arguing that the alcohol helped him write, not the only time he would claim this.  At the same time, he is suggesting that he frequently went long periods without drink, throwing in the “which happened many times” to imply that it was no great task to be sober.  He made such claims to friends and editors, too, quite often, even going so far as to say that he planned to “quit drinking for a few years.”[14]  Of course, it was never true.  Ironically, his justification for drinking were the negative effects he felt when he wasn’t drinking, almost certainly symptoms of withdrawal.  But he couldn’t see it that way.

            Zelda had apparently threatened to not take him back if he kept drinking, but Fitzgerald refused to be bullied into sobriety, as he saw it.  In fact, he puts much of the impetus for his drinking on her, writing, “the regular use of wine and apperatives [sic] was something that I dreaded but she encouraged because she found I was more cheerful then and allowed her to drink more.”[15] Here, again, is an alcoholic who apparently has been browbeaten into the overindulgence of drink against his will.  The alcoholic as victim is a common theme.  Displaying a fine gift for contradiction, he later admits in the same letter that his abuse of liquor is a crime he must pay for with “suffering and death perhaps but not with renunciation.”  A glass of wine at the end of the day is, after all, “one of the rights of man.”[16]  In this one letter, Fitzgerald seems to check off every excuse and justification in the alcoholic’s handbook before finally concluding that he will not give up drinking simply because Zelda has asked him to.

            Fitzgerald’s final ten years would continue in pretty much steady decline.  His fourth novel, Tender Is The Night, was not well-received upon publication in 1934 (though it has since, like Fitzgerald himself, received critical revival), and he spent much of the decade supporting himself with short stories and attempting to find success as a Hollywood screenwriter, success that would not come.  The period would provide fodder for what would be his final, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon.

            While a more self-aware author would have explored his history with alcohol  more directly (as Eugene O’Neill, a contemporary of Fitzgerald, did through his plays), he relegated the topic to secondary plot points.[17] However, from Fitzgerald we have a refreshingly candid but at times still self-deluding confession in his 1936 series of Esquire essays titled, “The Crack-Up.”  As a means of summing up his life, it serves as a better analysis of his motivations and failings than those offered by his peers like Hemingway.  In the second essay, he explains that he spent a great portion of his life “distrusting the rich, yet working for money with which to share their mobility and the grace that some of them brought into their lives.”[18]  For a man who famously wrote about and lived among his generation’s upper class, this is a remarkable admission of feelings of disconnection.  Yet, in the first essay he claims to not have been “entangled” in alcoholism, having periods as long as six months in which he didn’t touch even a drop of beer.[19]  While he did practice temperance during the writing of The Great Gatsby, this seems to be a pretty clear example of the author trying to offer up a sympathetic self-portrait for posterity.  In confession he could not admit to his audience (and, it seems, to himself) that he was an alcoholic, even at the end. 

            In 1940, at the age of 44, Fitzgerald died of an alcohol-induced heart attack, leaving behind a legacy of wasted talent.

           Posthumously, Fitzgerald has been recognized as one of the great writers of his (or any) generation in all of American literature.  His failing was that of so many of his peers, which in a way makes his tragedy seem inevitable, though it was not.  His literary strengths were overshadowed by his personal weaknesses; most damning, an unwillingness to admit them to himself.   For this reason, literature’s great gain was his greater loss, a truism of so many of the world’s finest artists.


[1] Scott Donaldson. Hemingway Vs. Fitzgerald, The Rise And Fall Of A Literary Friendship (Woodstock: Overlook Pr), 1999.  15.

[2] Edward O’Donnell. 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History (New York: Random House Inc), 2002, 258.

[3] F. Scott Fitzgerald. On Booze (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation), 2009. 80.

[4] Donaldson, Fitzgerald, 56.

[5] O’Donnell, 1001 Things, 66.

[6] Kevin Kenny. The American Irish, A History (New York: Longman Pub Group), 2000. 201.

[7] O’Donnell, 1001 Things, 66

[8] Donaldson, Fitzgerald, 232-235.

[9] Ibid.,223.

[10] Ibid., 232.

[11] Ibid., 156-158.

[12] Ibid., 156-157.

[13] F. Scott Fitzgerald. A Life In Letters. Ed. by Matthew Joseph Bruccoli and Judith Baughman  (New York: Scribner), 1994. 196.

[14] Donaldson, Fitzgerald, 235.

[15] Fitzgerald, Life In Letters, 196-197.

[16] Ibid., 197.

[17] Thomas Dardis. The Thirsty Muse (New York: Houghton Mifflin), 1989, 250.

[18] Fitzgerald, Booze, 22.

[19] Ibid., 13.