Friday, August 18, 2006

The Books in Me

August 18

Everybody has at least one book to write, whether a writer or not. I am a writer, and I've written two.

But I wonder if there are not at least another 30 or 40 waiting for me to get around to them, and if so, what's the holdup? Am I just lazy, or do I have the world's worst case of writer's block? Will I go to my grave waiting for the dam to break?

The first book was a slender volume, written in collaboration with an author who had had a rather good book published forty years before. I had written stacks of letters to him, and it was my idea that the correspondence between us would make an interesting book. Our letters mostly dealt with memories of what a unique town Fairhope was in the 1940's and 50's, when it had a population just below 3,000, and some of its citizens retained memories of its Utopian founding in 1894. Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree began with a selection of our letters and contained chapters about the people we knew who were so different from those we met in other places, before and after.

My collaborator, Robert E. Bell, was older than I by about 15 years. He was a teenager when I was a little kid attending what was then known as the Organic School, the progressive school founded by visionary educator Marietta Johnson. Bob was a carefree college kid when his family moved to Fairhope, and his perspective on it was different from mine. From an early age I was indoctinated with the philosophy of the Single Tax movement (the mission of Fairhope), and educated in the method pioneered by Mrs. Johnson, to love learning and to love life. Bob had the traditional education in a traditional small Alabama town, and he viewed Fairhope as paradise. I viewed it as an experiment with me as one of the guinea pigs.

A local publisher and bookseller named Sonny Brewer liked Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree and took it on as a project. A thousand copies were published in 2001. There were a flurry of sales that first year, and a gradual decline until the first run ran out -- about four years later. Charlotte Cabiniss, a book lover who worked at the little bookshop Page & Palette at that time, urged me to act on getting the book reprinted since Sonny had moved on and was writing his own books about Fairhope. I submitted the book to several Alabama publishers to have it reprinted, but got no interest, so I placed it with an online publisher where it now sits, not stirring much interest.

The second book, also about Fairhope, tells stories that wouldn't have fit the nostalgic tone of Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, stories about the grittier side of Fairhope -- its Single Tax history, visits by Clarence Darrow and Upton Sinclair, and Willard Edwards, who moved his family to Stalin's Russia when he found Fairhope not idealistic enough. The Fair Hope of Heaven is not without its sweet memories -- boys stealing the bell from the Marietta Johnson School's Bell Building as a Halloween prank, and hiding it for months down behind the Beach Theater, etc. -- but its mission is to inform about Fairhope in a more rounded, earthier way. Bob Bell thought Fairhope was magic; I thought so too, but I know more. And The Fair Hope of Heaven reveals some secrets and some news flashes about the changes in town.

But I have good friends who ask, why keep writing about Fairhope? They think fiction should be my milieu, and that money could be made if I just sat down, as so many writers seem able to do, and started working.

Maybe so. Dozens of stories roost in my brain, based on memories, experiences, and wishes on how things should be. I have been approached about ghost writing an autobiography, and that feels like a natural to me. I may do that. I have cartons of unfinished stories that I could get to work on and produce for a waiting world. Writing a blog every day has flexed some muscles I had forgotten, and has boosted that part of my ego that was wounded years ago, the fiction-writing part. In the meantime there are at least 50 readers of this blog who have not read Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree and some of them live in Fairhope where it is readily available at Page and Palette bookstore.

The Fair Hope of Heaven is at P &P too, and from amazon in paperback. I've written a novel, That Was Tomorrow set in Fairhope which you can find at my website.

1 comment:

johnsweden said...

Hej ff,

Just thinking about your writing dilemmas. I am now reading a book that bears some relationship to those boxes of unpublished writings. The book is Mark Rothko’s “The Artist’s Reality, Philosophies of Art”. The book has a wonderful history being written almost 65 years ago just before the artist moved into purely abstract works in late 1940’s. He wrote down these essays as book but some reason never sought to publish them. For 17 years after his death it became one of those great family mysteries where rumors of the book existence became part of the legend of the great artist but the book itself was never to be found until stumbled upon in 1988 in a manila folder by the manager of his works. It was finally edited by his son, who published the work in 2004. So, maybe there are books in your closet that some one else will publish from your collective writings. Perhaps one titled “Miscellaneous Men” and My Mother’s Habit of Misplacing Them.

The idea of the vast amount of unpublished works and how to capture this wealth of human expression has intrigued me for a long time. The “Writer’s/Library” is one of my “Kultivara Projects, for a Participatory/Kultur”. It struck one day that in any given library there are thousands books to read but no place dedicated to writing. Here is a description of the concept as I proposed it. I think might be a great idea for the Marietta Johnson School Library and the new Fairhope Library or for anybody’s library who reads this blog.

“Writing is the expressive part of reading. Libraries are a city’s most accessible cultural institutions. They are the repositories of large parts of the written cultural heritage. This initiative focuses on the stimulating act of writing by the creation of a writer’s room, or corner, in each of a city’s libraries. In this room would be all the tools of the writer, desks, paper, pens, inks, typewriters, computers, scanners, printers and bookbinding equipment. The object would be to create daily or weekly books of 100 pages or more from the collective writings of the people. The public would invited to submit their unpublished plays, poetry, letters, stories, novels etc. to become a part of the local cultural heritage. Two books would be published, one for the library’s collection and another for the author. A special author’s edition of several copies would be produced for those books of combined works. The publisher’s would be listed as the local chapter of International Kultivara Kafé Society and the City of Origin and provided with a distinctive binder that marks it as part of the city’s local written expression and cultural heritage.

Initially it can be arranged as an annual one or two-month event or a traveling exhibition rotating between the libraries, but its ultimate goal, is to be a permanent part of the library’s space run by library staff with the help of volunteers from the local chapter International Kultivara Kafé Society.

Over the years, the libraries would develop a large body of work that reflects the city’s personal evolution. In addition to its historical value, it would a wonderful resource, not only for local writers but also, for those non-local writers who wish to research and capture the true nature and the locality for their own works. For local readers, it becomes a rich reflection of the cultural environment and the people with whom they live. The library becomes transformed into an interactive Participatory/Kultur Institution with deep roots in community. “The Writer’s/Library” for you, your family, your business, your community, and for the human spirit.”