MIKE LEACH (Cougfan.com/Commons)

WSU's Mike Leach doesn't get much vacation time but when he does, he travels with Ernest Hemingway in mind

PULLMAN — Washington State head man and New York Times bestselling author Mike Leach doesn’t get a whole lot of vacation time. But when he does, Pullman’s favorite polymath tends to visit places connected by an unexpected theme.

Ernest Hemingway.

“I either go to Key West or I may travel somewhere,” Leach told CF.C during an interview in his Pullman office earlier this spring. “It varies a lot. I went to Europe and Cuba last year.”

A fan of the author’s work, Leach said he likes to explore places where the writer lived and worked because, “there’s a point at which Hemingway’s life almost becomes more interesting than his novels.”

He’s also quick to point out that Key West, where Leach owns a vacation home, is the setting of 1937’s To Have and Have Not, one of Hemingway’s few works to take place in the United States.

“I’ve actually been to his house in Cuba. I know a lot of about Hemingway, I’ve read a lot about Hemingway. I’ve been to a lot of the places he’s lived,” said Leach in a series of declarative sentences that would’ve made Hemingway proud.

While Leach cites among his favorites the 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises as well as 1952’s The Old Man and the Sea — the last major work published during Hemingway’s lifetime, Leach has a special place in his heart for the posthumously published memoir in 1964, A Moveable Feast.

“It freezes that point in time, that period there right before the depression, with all the artists and everybody over there in Paris and how they ran into each other and interacted … to me, that book is fascinating,” said Leach.

LEACH RELISHES the outdoors, but probably not as much as Hemingway famously did.

“I fish sometimes, I’ve still got a place (in Key West), but I fish randomly. I know a bunch of people down there and if they’re going out I may go along,” he said.

It wasn’t Hemingway, however, that led Leach to write Geronimo in 2014 with longtime WSU professor Buddy Levy. The genesis of that book began long before the coach became a Hemingway fan.

“I’ve liked Geronimo since I was a kid,” said Leach. “When I was a kid growing up, our favorite thing when we got home from school was to play Batman and Robin or play Cowboys and Indians. I was always one of the Indians.”

While in grammar school in Colorado, he heard about libraries.

“I heard about libraries and I had never heard of such a thing. I thought, ‘What’s this? You can go there and you can get a book and you can take it with you?’ So then I hear about it and I go tell my mom and I go, ‘What is this? Why have I not been informed of this?’”

In his first trip to the library, his mother told him he could get a single book. Leach immediately asked to see the section on Native American leaders.

“I’m sure she’s thinking it’ll be some picture book she can read real fast. Well, that’s not what I had in mind, because I felt like information had been withheld from me that libraries existed in the first place.

“I got a book on Geronimo, and (my mother), like a trooper, read it every night,” he said.

Although he doesn’t recall the name of the book, he clearly remembers his mother’s rendition of it.

“Occasionally you could tell the body language would change because something bloody would happen that she was trying to withhold it, but then you could break her down and she’d tell you what it was. And she read that whole book ... so I’ve been fascinated with Geronimo ever since.”

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