I was writing one book but put it aside to start a new book; here’s how it happened. In August 2018, I was participating in an event with the author Sigrid Nunez at the Sheridan Inn in Sheridan, Wyoming, organized by the Ucross Foundation. Sigrid was the main act, reading from her book The Friend, which won the National Book Award that year, and I was the warm-up band, invited because I’m a local writer of sorts having grown up in Sheridan. I read from my then work-in-progress, The Dignity of An Iceberg, a memoir about my lifelong Ernest Hemingway fan crush.
The historic Sheridan Inn, where I had worked as a waitress during my high school years, looked magnificent as people took seats in the main dining room. Organizers had planned for 75 people but around 125 arrived with people flowing into the hallway and standing in the back. I spotted my family’s beloved next-door neighbor in the front row and friends from high school scattered throughout the audience. In my mini demographic survey of the crowd, I noticed a mix of mostly middle-aged men and women—roughly 40 percent men, 60 percent women.
I read from a chapter about growing up as a Wyoming girl and discovering my love of Hemingway’s stories in high school, then later learning he had actually spent time in my hometown. The sea of faces seemed attentive as I read, no yawning yet. But when I started reading about Hemingway’s actual trip to the West, I noticed people leaned forward, seeming more engaged.
After the reading, people asked me questions about his visit to Wyoming—something that had received very little mention in the volumes of biography published. And one woman approached me and said of Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, who had joined him in Wyoming, “We didn’t like that woman.”
Why? I wondered. Why didn’t people like her? Was it simply the accepted perception of her being the “other woman?” Returning home after the event, I put aside my memoir and started a different book. Cockeyed Happy: Ernest Hemingway’s Wyoming Summers with Pauline was born.