Darla Worden: Ernest Hemingway in Wyoming

Darla Wordenis editor in chief of Mountain Living magazine and founder/director of the Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris. A Wyoming native and life-long Ernest Hemingway fan, Worden discovered that the author spent summers from 1928 to 1939 in her home state. Her book, Cockeyed Crazy: Hemingway's Wyoming Summers With Pauline, shows Wyoming as an influential place in Hemingway’s life just as Paris, Africa, Cuba, Key West and Sun Valley have anchored past works.And it casts his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, in a new light, as devoted stepmother, mother and wife playing a major role in Hemingway’s life and work.


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Darla Worden (00:01):

It's not just on television. We would have sometimes deadlines where we stayed up all night working on presentations. So I knew that wasn't for me, but what happened was I learned the backend of the business, so it made it possible at that time to start my own business, and I started working in PR at that time.

Emy DiGrappa (00:25):

Hello, my name is Emy DiGrappa. Each week, we bring you stories, asking our guests the question "Why?" We learn about passion, purpose, and the human experience. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation, this is What's Your Why?

Emy DiGrappa (01:03):

Today, we are talking with Darla Worden, Editor In Chief of Mountain Living Magazine. Darla was born and raised in Wyoming. She is an author and journalist, and she recently authored a book titled Cockeyed Happy: Ernest Hemingway's Wyoming Summers with Pauline. Welcome, Darla.

Darla Worden (01:23):

Hi, Emy. Thanks for having me.

Emy DiGrappa (01:26):

Yeah. I love that after all these years and knowing you all this time, and learning that you wrote a book, it's been so much fun just to read it, and before we talk about the book, I want to talk about growing up in Wyoming.

Darla Worden (01:40):

I'm from Sheridan, and I still have very strong ties to Sheridan. My parents are still alive, and I have aunts, and cousins, and uncles, and they're still in Sheridan.

Emy DiGrappa (01:53):

Oh, great. So do you get to visit them quite a bit?

Darla Worden (01:56):

I do, I do. I did not visit them as much this past year during COVID because my parents are elderly, but I love going to Sheridan. And in fact, my very first book event was at The Brinton in Big Horn, outside of Sheridan, and it meant so much to me to see a lot of my high school friends came, neighbors. It was just really heartwarming.

Emy DiGrappa (02:21):

Oh, that's great. You kind of had like a homecoming?

Darla Worden (02:25):

That's what it felt like, and it was right at the base of the Big Horn Mountains, at the base of Red Grade Road, where the book opens. So it was super special to be able to be reading from the book about Ernest going up this mountain, and I could point to the road where he drove up.

Emy DiGrappa (02:44):

Well, I want to go back even farther before you wrote the book, and just talk about your journey into journalism and public relations, and how that became a passion for you for many, many years.

Darla Worden (02:58):

Well, I always, since I read Harriet the Spy in the third grade, wanted to be a writer. So all my friends and my family knew that was my passion, and I would write these crazy stories, and in fact, some of my teachers, when I run into them, one of them came to my reading at The Brinton, he was my sixth grade teacher, but people always remember me writing these stories. And in Sheridan, I had a wonderful English teacher, Ms. [Toy 00:03:29] was her name, and she was really encouraging of my writing. And so, that was just the path I followed, even through college, I got my undergraduate degree in English literature, and then I graduated and I had published a poem with a literary magazine while I was in college.

Darla Worden (03:49):

So I thought I was going to make a living as a poet, and I suddenly had a life awakening like, "Wait, I have rent to pay, and how's this going to work?" So I then lucked out and got a job at The Denver Post, and that was my first job, and it was not in the journalism department, it was in the PR department, the promotions department, and that's how I made the transition into making a living by writing. And at the same time, I freelanced for three different magazines in Denver, just trying to get clips and my byline so that my goal always was to be able to write.

Emy DiGrappa (04:35):

That is quite a journey. Well, when did you start your own business?

Darla Worden (04:41):

Well, it has been quite a journey because after The Denver Post, I was hired by a magazine called Colorado Homes & Lifestyles as an editor, and that was owned by WiesnerMedia, which is my current employer again. And I worked for Wiesner Publishing, as it was called at the time, for quite a while, and even wrote the original plan for Mountain Living, because I was noticing at the time that we were getting a lot of project submissions from mountain towns and I approached the company owner, Pat, and said, "Hey, what would you think if we tried to start up a magazine that just focused on homes in the mountains?" And he's like, "Well, let's try it."

Darla Worden (05:30):

So around that same time, I had an offer with a PR firm and marketing firm in Denver, and I left WiesnerMedia for this new opportunity, and did not last long there at all. The agency environment was really brutal. The all-nighters, I mean, it's not just on television. We would have sometimes deadlines where we stayed up all night working on presentations. So I knew that wasn't for me, but what happened was I learned the backend of the business, so it made it possible at that time to start my own business, and I started working in PR at that time, and it was great.

Darla Worden (06:18):

I had a young daughter, I wanted to be able to have flexibility. I just built it up client by client. So that was part of my life, but at the same time, I was always writing. I wrote a novel, my first novel, and it came out in 2000, and it was called Road Shoes. So, I would try to build up my PR clients in a day, take care of my daughter, and then at night when she was asleep or in the morning, I was writing my novel, and I think I've written, well, I've written three novels, I don't know how many non-fiction books, because a lot of times, they change, just like this book changed from one type of book into its current form. So, creative writing has always been my passion. I love it. It's my favorite thing to do, but then I also have the business side of today my business, my day job is working as an editor.

Emy DiGrappa (07:24):

I'm admiring the fact that you can run a business and write a book. That's impressive.

Darla Worden (07:30):

Well, it's just, it's not that hard to do when it's your passion. I look forward to those mornings. I mean, I usually would write before I came into the magazine, I would write for a couple hours and then get here. This was pre-COVID, and now with all of the responsibilities that come with publishing a book, I mean, in the mornings, I spend my time answering emails, or there's just a lot, as you know, of the social media side. So I haven't been working as much on my next book, but I look forward this winter to doing that.

Emy DiGrappa (08:08):

Are you your own publicist on the book?

Darla Worden (08:11):

A lot of it, yes, but I did hire Amy Stark and Ann [Parsons 00:08:17] to help me with some publicity, like the social media, and the publisher has their own team, but really, it all comes down to, I still have to be the person that generates, and I create content, I'm sending it out. A lot of times, I schedule my own meetings or events. And so, it just, it takes a lot of time.

Emy DiGrappa (08:44):

Oh, I'm sure. And how old is your daughter now?

Darla Worden (08:47):

27, and she lives in New York and she works in publishing too, which is really fun. And you probably noticed in the book, she did the bibliography for me, which was great. I would just pile the books up on her desk and say, "Will you do this?" And so, she compiled it, and it's been a lot of fun because she works in marketing for a publishing company, and so, she's given me a lot of tips.

Emy DiGrappa (09:13):

That's great. Now she's giving you tips. That's perfect.

Darla Worden (09:17):

It's great. I know. I'm so grateful.

Emy DiGrappa (09:20):

I'm sure. Well, tell me about your intrigue with Hemingway?

Darla Worden (09:26):

Well, it really started at Sheridan High with Ms. Toy when we read The Old Man and the Sea, and then after that, I think I read some of his stories, and I just remember thinking that his hunting and fishing stories reminded me a lot of my uncles and my dad. They would go hunting together and they'd bring back deer, elk, and I could just relate and imagine some of those stories. So it was probably being a girl growing up in Wyoming, wanting to be a writer, I was really looking for a writer I could relate to that would sort of be my role model. So, here's Ernest Hemingway and he's traveled the world, and he lived in Paris, and he went to Spain, and all of that just sounded so exciting.

Darla Worden (10:25):

So in college, I also had a professor who loved him, and she was teaching us about 1920s in Paris and all the other writers that were there, and I think that timeframe, that's when I really got hooked imagining him in Paris with Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein. And so, that was the time that I just started really reading him, and I could relate to a lot of his writing techniques. I mean, he doesn't use gigantic words, he distills language down, and I liked that. I liked just the simplicity of the style.

Emy DiGrappa (11:14):

Where did you get the title, Cockeyed Happy? What does that mean?

Darla Worden (11:19):

It's from a letter. Well, first of all, in the 1920s, the word "cockeyed" was slang, and it was kind of like we use the word "awesome." It kind of meant "crazy happy." And so, Ernest Hemingway and some of his letters described Wyoming as "cockeyed wonderful," or the people are are "crazy wonderful." So the title comes from a letter that Pauline wrote to him when she heard that his divorce from his first wife was going to be granted, and she wrote, "I'm so cockeyed happy," or "I'm cockeyed happy."

Emy DiGrappa (12:03):

And why did you choose Pauline? Of all his wives, why did you choose her as your focus?

Darla Worden (12:10):

Because she had never really been written about, and I had started writing the book about Ernest Hemingway in Wyoming, gosh, a long time ago, and was sort of just trying to find the right narrative form. I had tried writing it as a chronological biography, and that was really boring to me. It was just like, "Blah, blah, blah." But so, I kept experimenting, and I was reading at the Sheridan Inn, and it was sponsored by Sheridan College and Ucross, and I read the first chapter of my book, and it's changed from what is in the current book, but it was about Ernest Hemingway driving up the mountain. And after the event, this woman walked up to me and said, "Oh, I'm so glad you didn't mention Pauline. No one liked Pauline," and that was the spark. I thought, "Well, why didn't people like Pauline?"

Darla Worden (13:13):

So then when I started digging into the timeframe and saw that his visits to Wyoming mirrored the length of his marriage, I mean, they came to Wyoming together right after the birth of their first child, and they broke up in Wyoming years later, I thought, "I want to learn more about Pauline." And I feel like she was kind of given a raw deal in history, because people just sort of ignored her or wrote her off as a husband stealer, and I think there was a lot more to the story than that.

Emy DiGrappa (13:51):

I would say so. He was married what, four times?

Darla Worden (13:54):

Yes. He was married four times, and she was wife number two.

Emy DiGrappa (14:00):

And was he married the longest to her?

Darla Worden (14:02):

Yes. Well, no, I'm sorry, I take that back. I believe he was married the longest to Mary, but I'm not certain how many years that was, his fourth wife.

Emy DiGrappa (14:13):

So in your story, because I've been reading your book, which is very fun to read, by the way.

Darla Worden (14:20):

Thank you.

Emy DiGrappa (14:21):

And it's fun how you just kind of take us inside their relationship and their time together. We're there together, but he's starting to become distant from her.

Darla Worden (14:33):

Yes. So what I tried to do from their letters, that a lot of the information that I got came from their letters, because that's what we have, right? Thousands, there are so many letters. Thank goodness. I wonder if someone was trying to write a story about a contemporary writer today, where we don't write letters anymore, would they use emails, or what will be available one day? But in this case, I was so fortunate that the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston has all of their letters, and many of them have been compiled into books. Carlos Baker was the first one to compile the Selected Letters of Ernest Hemingway.

Darla Worden (15:20):

So what I tried to do was, as a non-fiction writer, not impose my own thoughts or put my own mark on the story. Really, what I tried to do was just create almost like a duet where their letters are creating the dialogue or whatever is happening in a scene, that I could alternate when she's writing to him or he's writing her, I could play then by juxtaposing those letters into chapters, and create this dialogue and story narrative.

Emy DiGrappa (16:02):

So did you end up liking Pauline, even though no one else does?

Darla Worden (16:08):

So you're so funny. That's a funny question. You know what? Other people have asked me that, so I would say I admired Pauline's spunk and how much she loved her husband enough to give up everything for him. Did I like her? Would I see myself hanging out with her? Probably not. I think she had one thing on her mind, and that was Ernest, and in life later, she admitted that she did regret that she had let her friendships go, she had let her professional career go. Ernest came first in her life. So I admired her that she really gave it her all, but I felt sad at the ending for her, because I don't think she ever thought it would happen to her.

Emy DiGrappa (17:03):

Well, how about Ernest? Did you grow to like him more, and become more intrigued by his life and his lifestyle as you wrote the book?

Darla Worden (17:13):

No, I can't say I liked him more. Well, I did learn a lot about his writing habits and his dedication, and I really admired that. I mean, in his letters, he details like, "Okay, I got up at six, I wrote until one. I have a deadline, we'll get this back to you." He took his writing very seriously, and I think sometimes people have this image of him as just the hard living, hard drinking guy that he was, but despite all of that, he was a very disciplined writer, and I feel like he's written some of the most beautiful sentences. For me, I just think he's a fabulous writer. So as I wrote this book, my respect for him as a writer grew, definitely. My disdain for how he treated other people and his wife, I tried not to judge as I wrote this, but I did see the hurt sometimes that he caused, just observed it. You can see it in his letters.

Emy DiGrappa (18:28):

Well, yes. It sounds like in reading about him, he lived life very recklessly.

Darla Worden (18:34):

Yes. I think that is the perfect word. Like when you think about his accidents and the number of accidents he had, he lived life recklessly.

Emy DiGrappa (18:45):

What do you think made Ernest Hemingway a standout as an American writer?

Darla Worden (18:52):

I think he did something when he went to Paris, and he was determined to become a great writer. That was his goal. He wasn't messing around like, "Oh, I want to learn to writ," it was, "I want to be a great writer," and he worked with some of the most amazing writers of that time. They took him in and tutored him. He had, Ezra Pound, who he called "the better maker," he had Gertrude Stein, who encouraged him to experiment with modernism. He knew T. S. Eliot. He meets up with F. Scott Fitzgerald. I mean, who gets to do that? It's like, to me, that whole scene is so mind-boggling that he arrives in Paris as a nobody, and these great writers take him in, and five years later, he's written an international bestseller that is unlike any book, really of its time, because he took real people and then made them into fictional characters.

Emy DiGrappa (20:03):

Well, one of the things that I think was intriguing about your book, and I hope that a lot of people read it, was just how you are very creative in writing about non-fiction, which that must be very difficult to do.

Darla Worden (20:23):

Well, you know what? Actually, it was so much fun. It was hard, because you can't make anything up. And so, at first, when I was trying to do this duet of chapters where I'd show other perspectives other than just Ernest's, and I had to write a chapter based on facts around Pauline or whoever it was, it was challenging, but I think what made it easy is because Ernest Hemingway is a fully developed complex character. He's not boring in any way. So just by sharing the facts, it was interesting.

Emy DiGrappa (21:13):

One of the things that I also found interesting about the way you painted their relationship is that when they first are together and they're fully in love, and then you are creating these lists in your book, and then pretty soon, all the things he loves about Pauline, he starts crossing them off, and I was like, "Wow, that hurts."

Darla Worden (21:43):

Well, and as you know, I mentioned this in the beginning, he didn't create that list. That's my list created from his comments, that he eventually, the things that he loved in the beginning, he starts crossing off in life. So, he wrote to her the part about like, she never got a sore throat like his, right?That's in the beginning, and then a couple years later, she's getting sick all the time, so he can't say that about her anymore, so that goes off the list. Or the fact that he loved her family, and then at the end, when things are going awry, he can't say that. And so, there are different comments he makes later that that's when the cross off comes, like he doesn't believe that anymore. But the one thing that he always believed, I should say, was that she was a fabulous editor, and even after they broke up, he asked his friend and editor, if he thought that Pauline would still be willing to read his manuscript, and no, no, she was not willing to do that.

Emy DiGrappa (22:57):

Well, good for her. Oh my god.

Darla Worden (23:01):

It's like, the audacity, right?

Emy DiGrappa (23:02):


Darla Worden (23:04):

"I'm breaking up with you, but would you still read my book?"

Emy DiGrappa (23:08):

Right, because he was onto the next woman, so.

Darla Worden (23:10):


Emy DiGrappa (23:12):

Oh my gosh. So Darla, what's what's next? I know you've just finished this book. So are you just taking a break, or do you have some other passionate projects in mind?

Darla Worden (23:22):

I do, I have two. So one, I did finish another book during COVID, that my agent has right now, about my writer's retreat in Paris, that I started 10 years ago on my quest to follow Ernest Hemingway around. And so, The Left Bank Writers Retreat takes place in Paris in June, when there isn't COVID and there isn't terrorist attacks, then we're there. But anyway, so it's a book about that and that's basically pretty much finished.

Darla Worden (23:56):

But the one that I'm working on now that is so much fun, it was inspired during this time, is another Ernest Hemingway story that I discovered about his time in Paris that really hasn't been written about. And so, without disclosing too much, I am working away on that and hope to have that in the next couple of years. Because a lot of the research that I did for this book, Cockeyed Happy, I have so much research because even though it's taking place from 1928 through 1939, to set it into history, I had to read so much of his life from the time he was a teenager, to his last marriage. So that information that I found, I have a lot of it, and I just have another idea for another story.

Emy DiGrappa (24:57):

Oh, that's going to be great. I'm excited about that.

Darla Worden (25:01):

I'm excited too. It's so much fun.

Emy DiGrappa (25:05):

Well, it's been such a pleasure talking to you today.

Darla Worden (25:08):

Thanks so much, Emy.

Emy DiGrappa (25:10):

Before you go, I want you to tell us how to find you on the worldwide web.

Darla Worden (25:18):

You can find me on my website at darlaworden.com. If you're interested in Cockeyed Happy, it's on the Chicago Review Press website, and if you're interested in seeing the magazine I work on, it's mountainliving.com.

Emy DiGrappa (25:39):

Excellent. All right. Thanks so much, Darla.

Darla Worden (25:42):

Thanks, Emy. Bye.

Emy DiGrappa (26:01):

Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why?, brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with support from the Wyoming Community Foundation, and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to thinkwy.org. Subscribe, and never miss a show.