Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Grandma Moses Book

I moved back to Fairhope in 1988, expecting to live out my days there. My mother was nearing 80 and my husband, 17 years my senior, was having a hard time in retirement and was suffering from a terrible disease: Alcoholism. I thought Fairhope would be a good place for all of us.

The twenty years I lived there proved full of changes for us. I found myself through the 12-Step programs (mostly Al-Anon; but six months in AA was a huge help as well), but my husband didn't. He died at the age of 78. My mother lived many more years and made it to 92. In the meantime, I discovered Fairhope's history through working at the Marietta Johnson Museum, and dedicated myself to the recovery of the School of Organic Education as well. I did the best I could, but the school suffered one of its most traumatic periods during this time. All the while I was watching Fairhope change and savoring my memories of what it once was, and learned its deeper nature. I started this blog and continued writing as constantly as I had all my life; poems, journals, letters--and collaborated with Robert E. Bell on a book about Fairhope memories called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree.

I began to think it would be nice to live out my old age like Grandma Moses, but instead of painting charming primitives I would write novels set in Fairhope in its early days, little word pictures of the kind of people who once moved to the utopian village with an eye to changing the world for the better. Marietta Johnson would be a peripheral character in these books, as would E.B. Gaston, the single tax advocate who founded the town with a goal of demonstrating economic reform, but the books would be about other people and their adventures in the village in bygone days. Fairhope didn't last for me after both my husband and my mother died there, but it haunts me in my new home and I still have a need to write about it.

I wrote The Fair Hope of Heaven, another non-fiction book about Fairhope and some of its eccentrics and nonconformists, which I had to self-publish and has just about made its nut back. It's still around, at the local Fairhope bookstore Page & Palette and on amazon dot com. I tried to place it in independent bookstores in faraway places like Montgomery but was told that nobody in Montgomery had any interest in Fairhope. I've given and sold copies to friends all over the world who never heard of Fairhope and they love the book, but they are friends so they're probably just being nice. I thought it was kind of a Lake Woebegone Days with a single-tax slant, but publishers think otherwise.

Now I'm giving fiction a try. My first Grandma Moses book has the working title of That Was Tomorrow, but is my second choice of a working title and it too may be changed. I'm in the first rewrite stage, and damned if it doesn't read sorta like a Grandma Moses painting--quaint and maybe a bit awkward, but with heart and an old-fashioned style, and a certain sense of the place. I tried to marginalize Mrs. Johnson, but she has become a major character in spite of my best efforts. I may cut a great deal before an agent or an editor sees it, but I do not plan to self publish under any circumstances. (Famous last words)

Grandma Moses painted her first picture at the age of 78, because it was easier than baking a Christmas gift for the postman. When her work was discovered years later in the window of the local drugstore (at $3 and $5, depending on the size of the work), she was lucky that the art dealer who snapped them all up didn't say, "Very good work, but it would never be of interest to anybody outside of Hoosik Falls!"

Maybe I'll be lucky this time. My website tells all.