Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Amelia in Fairhope

A couple of years ago I decided to do it. I would write the novel that had been hatching in my mind for years, a novel set in the utopian community of Fairhope when it was at its peak, before modernity caught on, between the world wars of the 20th century when it still seemed that perhaps all was indeed possible. It was such an optimistic time in the country, and Fairhope seemed to hold the secrets of the future itself. I named my novel That Was Tomorrow.

I wanted the historical Fairhope to be a character in the novel, an inescapable paradise setting--where real people struggled with everyday problems, surrounded by the elders of the town, all of whom had moved to Fairhope to live out their personal dreams to improve the world. I wanted the novel to focus on those who were starting out in life, observed some of the flaws in the utopian dream, and learned from the reality of Fairhope. A couple would fall in love and ultimately let go of that particular magic as they left Fairhope to establish their lives in the real world. People would talk international affairs and politics while they took their families to bathe in the nude in Mobile Bay and frolic in the local nudist colony for what was known in the day as “air baths.” Children would climb in the trees, play marbles in the streets, explore the gullies, and, most of all, enjoy their days in the School of Organic Education.

I began the book in Hoboken, where my leading character was born. I would take young Amelia through a privileged childhood with a nanny from hell, a repressed woman with so many hangups that little Amelia’s only refuge was in a game that involved torturing her teddy bear in order to save him. A beloved aunt rescues Amelia and raises her with her own four children in a happy, loving family in Philadelphia, where she is sent to a progressive Quaker school and decides to become a schoolteacher herself.

In Philadephia she hears a talk by a radical education reformer, the visionary Marietta Johnson, who inspires Amelia as much as she did so many young schoolteacher of the day.

Amelia soon packs up for Fairhope, where she will encounter the settlement’s avant garde. They are iconoclasts and idealists who believe their utopia is showing the way for the rest of the world. She meets the stalwarts of the town, including not only Mrs. Johnson but also E.B. Gaston, librarian Marie Howland, and other notables who populate the town. The Fairhope of 1921 has also attracted a number of strays—the outsider fringe, some of whom are amusing, some harboring menace. Amelia is, for the most part, enchanted. She has an affair, works diligently at the new educational theory, until ultimately she moves on and leaves Fairhope to start her own school.

It remains to be seen whether That Was Tomorrow will catch on in Fairhope, or outside it, for that matter. Now available as an e-book only, if my novel develops a buzz in Fairhope I’ll publish it in traditional format and give book talks and signings, promoting it to the hilt. If you’re curious to learn more, visit my website and download the book. As an ebook it's available on amazon, and a few reviews have already appeared there.