Monday, August 31, 2015

And a New Review

Written by Fairhope native Natalie Green, now a citizen of Cincinnati who often thinks of home, a review of That Was Tomorrow with a personal slant.

The year is 1921. A young teacher arrives in an improbable town of deepest southern Alabama. The young woman from Philadelphia is consumed with an idealistic educator's theories for a progressive school, where children are permitted to bloom in a non-traditional structure. The town is founded as an experiment on the somewhat socialistic economic theories of a leading thinker of the day.

The teacher, an innocent born with a yearning for lasting depth and sincere joy in education, embraces the school and the town with an abiding delight. This is only the beginning of a succinct but rewarding novel that covers both the engaged, everyday lives of the town's citizens, and the underbelly of misunderstanding and suspicion that leads to such suspense as attempted assassination.

That Was Tomorrow, by author Mary Lois Timbes, celebrates a mecca for artists and artisans, poets and prose writers, free thinkers, forward-lookers, and families, for whom the town serves as a magnet. With splashes of romance and excitement set against the beautiful Mobile Bay and its high-cliff settlement on the Eastern Shore, That Was Tomorrow explores the roots of a unique and somewhat mystic small town with a population just as individualistic.

Phantasmagorical as That Was Tomorrow may seem, author Mary Lois Timbes has set it in a real town (Fairhope, Alabama, founded on economist Henry George's Single Tax theory), and a real school (the School of Organic Education, founded by pioneer Marietta Johnson). Both George and Johnson were internationally known at the time for their non-conformist stances on taxes and education.

This is what is so absorbing about the novel: its reality. Novelist Timbes grew up in the town and attended the school -- far later than the years covered by the book, but with exhaustive interviews of early residents, she grasps the wondrous atmosphere and the soul of a place out of time and out of memory. Her evocative novel touches the heart in many ways, not the least of which is its improbable fact.

When you read That Was Tomorrow, you will find yourself wishing you could have experienced such an incredible time and place. Fairhope is still there; it remains as the final town in the U.S. dedicated to Henry George's vision. Today, it serves as a destination for every sort of person with an artistic bent, from retirees to young families. The school where the young fictional Amelia King taught is observing its 107th year as of this writing -- a clear example of an extraordinary educator's mission.

This admixture of fact and fiction pays great tribute to the inhabitants of an unusual town, which has continued to thrive by the efforts of many, including those of the author's.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Goodbye, Old Friend

Gardenias from Phil Brady's yard, a few years ago
I was shocked to hear that one of my oldest friends died a less than a week ago. Phil Brady and I had a date or two when we were in high school, and he was one of the good guys all his life. I would see him from time to time, usually when we had a mutual project, but I always liked him and somehow felt he would always be there.
Phil Brady, 2013

He had a big heart, a quick wit, and busied himself with the same kind of projects I did, so it was pretty easy to keep up with him. If he had been ill, and I surmise that he had, he didn't let on. A few months ago I emailed him when I learned of the death of an acquaintance I knew had been in his writer's group, and he responded right away. He had a good sense of the priorities of life, and he lived his life accordingly.

When I had my first job at the Mobile Press Register, Phil was soon working on the copy desk. By then he was courting the beautiful Catherine, who would become his wife, and finishing college at Spring Hill. He was a strong Catholic, with a questing mind and a commitment to his church and to learning all he could about its history and the history of the world as well.

Like me, he had a career in public relations and journalism, and he retired to Fairhope just about the time I did. There was a period when I was embroiled in the survival of the Organic School, and, although he had not been a part of it before, he studied the situation and met with me on several occasions to offer support and insights. When he read the two books Marietta Johnson wrote, he said this memorable thing, "The difficulty in articulating this philosophy is that at first glance, what she writes sounds simple and basic. But when you think about it you realize how profound it is." The difficult part was inspiring people to think about it.

He and I both wrote novels, interestingly, set in the year 1921. We did not confer on this, nor did either of us see this as more than a coincidence. But I think it shows something of a like mind. That year just seemed to exemplify a time when things were less complex, a safe place where we could explore conflicts beneath the surface of an imagined serenity. My book, That Was Tomorrow, dealt with Fairhope in its heyday, and his, The Clarke County Democrats, was about a minor league baseball team in Clarke County, Alabama. I was quite taken with Phil's book, even though my interest in baseball is limited. The Clarke County Democrats rightly places the game in a day when it was magical. I wrote a review of it on amazon, which I hope sells a few books for him still.

I'm disappointed that he never finished his grand opus--a book of Civil War stories, history, and mythology. I argued with him that the world did not need another book about the Civil War, but I understood his fascination. I too grew up hearing the Southern whitewashed version of history, but I felt burdened by it rather than challenged to retell it. I wish he had lived to see it published. I would love to talk with him about it. He had wonderful stories.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Moving Again

Kingston, NY, Stockade District

No, the picture is not of Fairhope. I still visit Fairhope every winter for a month or so, but I have lived in the Northeast since December of 2007 and now am quite happily at home here.

First I relocated to Hoboken, and got very hip learning the local lore about Frank Sinatra and Chris Christie. Five years later my daughter persuaded me to move closer to her and I moved to New Paltz, NY, a fun and exciting town with a large branch of the State University and other points of interest. I love it, but the winter of 2013-14 was so brutal I was in Fairhope again for the month of February. When I returned it was still as cold as when I left, with snow and ice everywhere for a couple more months. I now own a snow shovel and a few encounters driving on ice (and the loss of a car as a result) has prompted me to supply my vehicle with snow tires.

But I love living here, and by the end of June I'll be in my own Queen Anne house in Kingston, the town where my daughter lives. I've started a blog--actually, I've had three other blogs since leaving Fairhope. For my Hoboken adventures you can peruse "Finding Myself in Hoboken," and then when I moved to New Paltz I recorded my experiences on "New Life, New Paltz" and now I've simply renamed the last one "New Life, Old House." I hope you'll check my "old house" blog and follow my adventures, or at least, now that you've found my Fairhope blog, that you'll scroll through the five years of posts about everything from the meaning of art to the history of Fairhope. I hope I continue to do as well for Kingston.

I've written two books about Fairhope, one focusing on the characters I knew as I was growing up (The Fair Hope of Heaven), and the other a novel about a young teacher in the 1920s who moves to the bohemian utopia that Fairhope once was, That Was Tomorrow. Both are available at Page & Palette in Fairhope, or online at amazon dot com.

I'm thrilled that you found my blog and I hope you'll enjoy it along with my others.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Revisiting Heaven

I returned to Fairhope Monday for a business trip. The business was to promote my books about Fairhope: That Was Tomorrow and The Fair Hope of Heaven. It is not as peaceful as it used to be, but then, neither am I. I crowded my schedule with book signings, book talks, and meetings with various people who are interested in what I have to say about Fairhope's history and the story of the Organic School.

The first speech “Nostalgia and That Was Tomorrow” at the Fairhope Museum of History went better than I expected. Intrigued as I have been by a recent article in the New York Times about nostalgia, I gave my description of it--including the diagnosis of cowbells causing brain addlement, and how the young Swiss mercenary soldiers, missing their beloved homeland with its hillsides of cows and the soothing sounds of the bells, might well have been perfectly sane to yearn for a more pleasant time and place than war on foreign battlefields.

I read a little from The Fair Hope of Heaven, about the sky and the stars, the Fairhope I remembered fondly and the one I’d heard about from those who recalled the past. I read  from That Was Tomorrow about the young schoolteacher’s reaction to her first days in Fairhope, with my descriptions of the Fairhope of the day, the unpaved streets, the wandering children pulling satsumas off trees, the goats and chickens, the occasional eccentrics saying hello. Time travel to "Old Fairhope" is always rewarding. My audience seemed entranced, and I was heartened by what appears to be genuine interest in the topic, one upon which I can expound for hours.

Today I spoke at the Marietta Johnson Museum about the Organic School and Mrs. Johnson's commitment to education reform at the beginning of the 20th century. A large audience, (large to me, anyway, probably about 40 at one talk and 30 at the other) was stimulated to ask challenging questions and kept me on my toes. At both venues I sold some 20 books total--and there will be many more sold at the book signing at the indie bookstore (Page & Palette) Friday from 1-3.

I'll wind up my trip Sunday with a talk at the Unitarian Fellowship, and return to Albany (NY) Monday. I am having a wonderful visit and expect more surprises in days to come.

Will let you know as they happen.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Fairhope From Here

Fairhope is a world away from here, but I'll soon navigate that world and be there.

Where I am, New Paltz, New York, we call it a heat wave if we have three days in a row of temperatures over 90. In Fairhope, we called it summer--and it lasted from the end of May until at least the end of September. It was "cool" if the temperature went below 90. And humidity is another story. Summer is hot everywhere, but with humidity over 75 every day, it swelters in the South in a different way. I wasn't dry until I was in my 20s and moved to Atlanta.

I will spend a week in the heat and humidity of Fairhope, alleviated, I hope, not only by the ubiquity of air conditioning, but also by the joy of seeing old friends and talking with them about my book.   I wrote That Was Tomorrow from the perspective of a young woman who moves to Fairhope from New Jersey in 1921, before there was air conditioning, and she is constantly struck by the oppressive heat and humidity. My daughter, editing and proofreading the final draft, said, "Mom, you use the phrase 'heat and humidity' way too often!" I found ways to change it a few times, but could not imagine someone traveling to Fairhope for the first time--from the Northeast--not being confronted with the phenomenon of the heat/humidity of the region.

This time it's me. I try to restrain myself when people here in New York State complain about humidity. They can't take it. After 19 years back in Fairhope I learned to. I've been away for a couple of years and usually have the sense to return in the winter months. But this is something of a business trip.

That Was Tomorrow is available in paperback, and I'll be in Fairhope from July 15-22 to introduce it to the town where it was born. My schedule is:

2 P.M. July 16 -- Tea at the Fairhope Museum
3 P.M. July 17 -- Book talk at the Marietta Johnson Museum
1 P.M. July 19 -- Book signing at Page & Palette
11 A.M. July 21 -- "Fairhope Then and Now" at Unitarian-Universalist meeting

I can take the heat and humidity--thanks to air conditioning and the purpose of the trip. I hope Fairhope loves my novel as much as it loves Fairhope!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Life on the Stage

Clayton Corzatte, an actor from Fairhope who died last weekend, had a profound effect on my own life and certainly on many others as well.

Happy-go-lucky as this picture looks, Clayton spent his life as a theatre actor, working in New York and in the regional theatre before Alabama Shakespeare Festival was even thought of. He had a shot at the movies, did a little television, but was more interested in living a life as an ordinary guy who just happened to be an actor by profession.

As I remember it, he was in the speech department at the University of Alabama, majoring in Radio/Television when the television part was in its infancy, when someone said he really belonged in theatre. The director of that department was Dr. Marion Galloway, one of those old dragons whose name often comes up with Alabama actors of a certain age. Clayton was a gentle soul even then and he was warned, "Dr. Galloway will eat  you alive."

But he had found his calling, and he hit it off with Galloway, had some success in university theatre, then took off for Barter Theater and other venues that were beginning to spring up in the 1950s. When I was a teenager he was home from Cleveland Playhouse for a visit with his family and was persuaded to do a one-man show of monologues and poetry at the then-high-school auditorium. I must have had a driver's license, because as I recall I went alone.

I remember sitting in total rapt attention to Clayton reading, among other things, the works of Dorothy Parker. I'm not just being nostalgic when I remember his performance. He read such works as "The Waltz" and "Just a Little One" as a woman, and he was convincing and downright brilliantly funny as well. I had never seen a man playing a woman -- and it wasn't a drag show. He did this without benefit of costumes or props. He simply became a woman. He even performed the agony of "The Telephone Call," about a woman obsessed with getting that all-important call (that is not going to come) from a man who has loved and left her, and left me convinced she/he was brokenhearted as only a Parker heroine (and real women everywhere) can be. It was before we knew about "He's just not that into you," and long before the concept reached me, but the day was dawning.

When I moved back to Fairhope in 1988 I asked Clayton and his actress wife Susan to help me with a fundraiser to launch Jubilee Fish Theater, which would be an Equity professional theater for as long as I could keep it going. They did some scenes that brought down the house, and Jubilee Fish became a local institution. They returned two years later for a program of one-acts and a question and answer session with the audience. He was as charming and unassuming offstage as he was talented. He and Susan were a delight to know.

When I learned of Clayton's death I had the mixed feeling one often has. I wish I had known him better. I regret that he died of complications from ALS, which means he had a bad time it it in his last years. He died in Seattle, where he had worked at the Intiman Theater for over 40 years, keeping audiences happy while he and Susan raised a son and daughter and lived a real and full life on and off the stage. He played in virtually everything in the American repertory, from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams and Kaufman and Hart. He said about his life that he was lucky. That he was, and Fairhope and the country was lucky to have him.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Positive Move

I'm in a new place now, New Paltz, New York, a sweet little town with a major university, four distinct seasons, a vibrant population, one grown daughter and two teenaged grandsons. I retired in reverse--leaving Fairhope for fair hope and another shot at a different future.

You may have been following my progress, you may not. I moved from Fairhope in 2007 to Hoboken, New Jersey, which I loved, and five years later am getting to know a different neck of the woods. My daughter actually lives in Kingston, and my grandsons are almost ready to fly the coop (the oldest is a freshman at SUNY Albany). I, on the other hand, am still in the process of finding fair hope and finding myself--writing books and blogs and learning to do better what I do best and doing my best to guess exactly what that is and why I'm doing it.

I finished That Was Tomorrow about a year ago, published it in electronic format, and now am in the process of having it published as a paperback. The story is set in 1921 in a Fairhope, Alabama, that doesn't exist anymore--a utopian colony created to prove the theory of single tax, peopled with idealists and visionaries of many stripes, including the important personage Marietta Johnson, who is a key figure in my story.

It's a story of a schoolteacher, a rather liberated young woman of her day, who moves to Fairhope to prepare for a career by working with the renowned educator. She takes her life into her own hands and women in the early days of feminism (and long before it was called that) were just beginning to do. She has a radical plan for her life, which doesn't include marriage--and she's willing to move into the adventure that was Fairhope of that time to experience life, romance, and self-fulfillment on her terms. I hope I capture the setting, the atmosphere, and the optimism of that time as I populate the novel with real and fictional characters who once lived there.

I've revamped my website in an attempt to draw traffic, billing myself as an Alabama writer of some note (in fact, you might think this writer to be the second coming of Harper Lee). I hope I'll be forgiven the overstatement as the constant use of the phrase "Alabama writer" along with "Alabama book" was seen by my web designer as a way to optimize my search engine traffic. And That Was Tomorrow is without doubt an Alabama book by an Alabama author, however non-traditional and unexpected they may both be.

Look for my website here. Look for me in Fairhope sometime in early summer, to sign books and meet you--some as old friends, and some for the first time. I shall update the blog on the website at least twice a week, often weaving the phrases "Alabama book" and "Alabama writer" into the text, but saying something as profound as I can in spite of that.