Editor’s note: Open Doors is a new series in which photographer Anna Solo visits the homes and workspaces of fascinating Seacoast people.
“The perfect cocktail” is a phrase local author Robert Wheeler applies not only to his favorite libation — a simple vodka tonic with fresh lemon juice. He strives for a perfect blend in every aspect of his life, including his writing, his workspace, his home, and his relationships.
Wheeler is almost finished with his third book, and he’s already started a fourth. He does his writing in his home studio in New Castle, in a house offering water views from almost every window. It’s a classy, beachy, quirky space that Wheeler and his wife decorated to reflect their mutual appreciation for comfort, good light, and, notably, Paris. He describes his studio as a sacred space where he can concentrate on his craft.
“The (writing) process is to be appreciated and celebrated as much as the final product,” he says.
Wheeler’s primary area of interest is Ernest Hemingway’s life, travels, and writing process. Wheeler’s fascination with Hemingway began after he read the late author’s memoir, “A Moveable Feast.” He says he noticed a sense of loss and longing between each line of Hemingway’s prose, and he read the book slowly and carefully, taking notes and highlighting sections.
One winter, alone in Paris, Wheeler felt the city reveal itself, he says. The statues, the river, the art, the cafés, and the architecture all seemed to fill in the truth about Hemingway’s time there as a young husband and writer. The experience resulted in Wheeler’s first book, “Hemingway’s Paris,” a collection of stories and photographs that portray Hemingway’s time as an expatriate.
“I simply listened and wrote and held up my camera and, well, my book was born,” Wheeler says.
A full-time writer, Wheeler has developed a daily structure in which he writes early in the morning or in the afternoon, goes to the gym most days, and practices and teaches Jiu Jitsu several times a week. His small studio is filled with stacks of books, portraits of Hemingway and various visionaries, a massive map of the world, photographs and paintings of Paris, and several wooden signs with messages like “I’d rather be in Paris!” and “Simplify.” Through the small window he faces when working at his computer, an American flag is visible in the distance. The flag is symbolic for Wheeler as he works on his latest book, which is focused on Boston’s Freedom Trail.
Sitting in his studio recently, Wheeler plays a few YouTube videos of Matt Cardle, a British singer and former contestant on the reality TV show “The X Factor.” He observes the reaction Cardle’s voice gets from the audience, the sparkle in the judges’ eyes. That’s the look he wants people to have on their faces when they read his prose. “That’s how I get there. That’s how I get jacked,” he says.
Though all of his books combine text with photography, Wheeler identifies as a writer first. “I like to think that when I compose a sentence and it works beautifully, or when I take a photograph and it evokes real emotion, I hear music. I actually hear the faint sound of a symphony,” he says. Asked whether he is a writer or a photographer, Wheeler replies, “I think I’m a musician.”
Both Wheeler’s writing and his workspace reveal a curated blend of words and visuals, creating an atmosphere that feels just right — like the perfect cocktail. The result, to borrow a word Wheeler might use, is “stunning.”