Thursday, November 10, 2011

Signs: When Two Women Die

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, a novella about two women who died and became legends in the historic seacoast town of Marblehead, MA.

"Goodie Goodwin is a fine and earnest writer. I remember her stopping at the house a few times. She'd stop and stare at my old house, her long blonde hair blowing in the wind off the sea. 'Ed?' she'd venture, 'How are you? I know you've probably moved on by now, you being such a great old spirit, but can you give me a sign that what I'm doing is right? I know a lot of people will say it's not right.' Always made me chuckle. So, I sent her a few signs. With permission, of course."

Edward Dimond, Psychic, Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1690 - present day

I believe in signs.

My editor on the Seacoast NH article, J. Dennis Robinson recently published his new book America's Privateer: Lynx and the War of 1812. I was surprised to find in this history book, a story about a sign. While turning the pages upon just receiving my autographed copy, I stopped at the arresting image of a beautiful lynx in snow. The lynx animal has a lot in common with a privateer ship - both are lean, swift, agile and mysterious. Here's the Lynx sign story - A sculptor's friend was out hunting one day when he came upon a lynx. Knowing such sightings are rare, he ran back to his vehicle to get his camera, thinking the lynx would surely be gone by the time he hurried back. It wasn't. Showing no fear of the man with his camera, the lynx lingered. The photo was taken. Fast forward to the art exhibit where a man whose dream it was to re-create the historic Lynx comes upon the artist's sculpture of the lynx. The man took the sculpture as a sign that he was on the right track in attempting to re-create the Lynx; he commissioned two more such sculptures to be made for the historic ship he was building. According to Robinson's book, these sculptures now adorn "the port and starboard locations where the ship's anchors are secured, structures sailors for centuries have known as the cathead."

Nothing like a sign to hearten a daunting project.

I had written When Two Women Die in 1997. I carried the book in my heart for years, often trying to get it published, just as often moving on to new projects. When Kindle offered the chance to publish, I hesitated. Like any author, I wanted a physical book I could hold in my hand. But, I felt I had already exhausted that route. I was almost 60 years old. How much longer should I wait for publishing to catch up?

I asked old Ed Dimond for advice. Didn't get an immediate answer. I prayed also. I pray almost constantly, either begging God for help or gasping thank you. For a while, as I walked by the ocean, the idea would come into my head that I should see the film, The Weight of Water. "Oh, no, come on. I've seen it. I'm not a big fan of Liz Hurley and I hate Sean Penn." A few weeks later, walking by the ocean, "See The Weight of Water." Damn.

What I "hear" isn't exactly a voice. It's a thought that doesn't seem to come from me, but from outside of me. I'm not psychic. Maybe, sensitive.

I saw the film. That's when I got encouraged. Originally, When Two Women Die was in two parts - 1690 and 1991. After seeing The Weight of Water, which goes back and forth in time, I began to see my book in point/counterpoint style. Then, someone asked me to develop the novella into a screenplay. Ok, that clinched it. I re-wrote the book as a screenplay and as a novella, both formats in point/counterpoint, alternating between 1690 and 1991, the scenes and chapters getting shorter and more urgent as the screenplay and book rushed to the dramatic finale.

Along the way, there were lots of signs. I can't remember half of them because I squelched them in my fear of being laughed at, sneered at for being arrogant or just plain not believed. Not everyone can handle the universe talking to them.

I can recall, however, many a night, turning on the television, suddenly seeing something strange and relevant to the book and looking at each other, my husband and I exclaiming, "Oh, my God, it's another sign!" A sign, let's be clear, not that I am sent by God, but more like this project is in line with things. This project is okay.

Here's another sign. Most unnerving.

I walked down to the local market one evening, around 6:30 PM to get something a little different for dinner that night. Very unusual time for me to be in the store. Generally, I'm a morning shopper. Get in, get out, get on with the day. Lots of people like to hang out after work and chat at this particular market, and I have done some networking there myself, I admit. This evening, I was to network on a spiritual level.

I got my dinner - a can of Pastene white clam sauce (My mother would cringe; she makes her own) - and proceeded to the check out. There was a man standing at the only available register who was so beautiful, I hesitated. He was very tall; I'm small. He was very handsome; I was wearing old clothes, something I do when I stay in to work. His hair was long and glowing white - it literally glowed under the ceiling lights in the dim store. I stood beside him, sneaking glances his way. He kept a slight, ironic smile on his face. He bought his groceries and left the store.

I felt I recognized him from somewhere, but wasn't sure. A few weeks later, while I was re-writing, I saw that the 1996 movie about the 1692 Salem witch trials The Crucible was on Netflix instant viewing and I thought, let me check out some of the clothing details, see how they are handled. Now, I don't get all my facts from movies, believe me. I've been studying colonial history for some time and I saw a few errors in The Crucible while I watched it this time. Those lace collars for instance - forget it! Those actors would have been hauled into Salem court and fined for vanity.

I saw something else too. Right away. I saw the man who had been standing at the cash register. Tall and handsome, with glowing white hair. The actor Bruce Davison. I checked to see if he lives in town. He doesn't. We see a lot of actors here in Marblehead. Mark Wahlberg, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tommy Lee Jones, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson - oh, yes, no kidding! So, it's not that unusual or weird.

But, it was a sign. A big one. Whether the man I saw was that actor or just the spitting image, it doesn't matter. It was still pretty relevant to me.

While promoting When Two Women Die to anyone I thought would be interested, I came upon a website that celebrated the wonderful gardens of Celia Thaxter at her home on The Isles of Shoals. On that website, I also came across actual newspaper articles from the Smuttynose murders, the mysterious murders of two women on Smuttynose Island, NH in 1873. I wrote to the editor. The Smuttynose murders were the subject of Anita Shreve's book, The Weight of Water. That website was Seacoast, NH.

One more. This last summer as we drove around town, we saw in the harbor, not far from the site of both murders, unexpected and unusual visits from tall ships. The sight of a tall ship on the ocean with no modern structures to interrupt her beauty is breathtaking. We saw three tall ships in the harbor this summer. One of them was the magnificent Lynx.

©Patricia Goodwin, 2011

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.