Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Becoming a Writer: James Jones' From Here to Eternity

From Here to EternityImage via Wikipedia

Becoming a Writer:
The best way to become a writer is knowing that there is no single way, but many ways. Here's one tip from the top of my list: Read every day.

Brief Biography

 JAMES JONES (1921-1977) was born in Robinson, Illinois, the son Ramon Jones, a dentist, and the town drunk. In high school he found he was a fair boxer, and later he boxed as a welterweight in Golden Gloves tournaments, background that he was to use in his novel From Here to Eternity.

Although he attended college for a while, family finances forced him to abandon his studies.

During World War II James Jones enlisted in the US army where he reached the rank of sergeant (1939-44). Rebellious by nature, he had disciplinarian problems that often landed him in the guardhouse, or remanded him to mopping floors, or washing pots and pan in the mess hall. At one point he was sent to Schofield Barracks, a tough Army stockade prison.

While stationed on Guadalcanal he was wounded in a combat, and received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Jones was later stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked it.

The enormous success of his novel From Here to Eternity provided him with the financial independence he yearned so that he could dedicate himself to writing full time. By many accounts, he was generous with his money, helping and funding friends in need.  During the next two decades he dedicated himself to writing and befriending fellow writers such as Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, William Styron, and Hemingway.
At the end of the 1976 the Joneses moved to Southampton, New York. He died in Long Island, on May 9, 1977.

A blockbuster of a novel: From Here to Eternity

Jones spent six years writing the novel. What made the narrative not only beautiful and moving, was the plainness of language. Critics, scholars, and the public in generals lavished praise on the war novel, which soon became a selection of the Book of the Month Club. In 1951, Jones received the National Book Award for fiction.

The story focuses on the trials and tribulations of Army Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, a recruit from Kentucky, knick-named “Prew.” Of little education but of great moral integrity, Prew finds a home in the US Army, where he wants to spend 30 years of service—a regular army professional. Endowed with physical stamina and resilience and with an ear for music he becomes a bugler and a boxer.  
By an accidental blow, he injures another boxer, causing him to abandon his career as a fighter. By the time he is assigned to serve in Hawaii, his reputation as a boxer preceded him. Yet, he refuses to join the boxing squad. His commanding officer permits the other boxers to harass Prew so as to force him to join the team. He resists.

Insulted, humiliated, and held in contempt by the boxing team, he befriends no one except Angelo Maggio—a kindred spirit. Incarcerated in the Hickam Field Stockade, Maggio falls into the hands of the sadistic Sergeant James "Fatso" Judson who subjects him to continuous physical abuse.  Maggio escapes, but only to die in Prew’s arms.  To avenge Maggio’s death, Prewitt in turn kills Fatso in a knife fight. During the Japanese attack to Pearl Harbor, Prewitt is killed by friendly fire when he tries to return to his unit. All through the novel, the author interweaves romantic scenes, so that the story isn’t just about lonely soldiers serving in a peace army.

When Hollywood produced the film version of the novel, both the film and the novel became enduring works for many generations to come.

Other works

Jones's other novels include PISTOL (1958), and WHISTLE (1978), which together with From Here to Eternity constitute Jones war trilogy.

To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.
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