Charlotte Bronte Resolute
Sometimes I think a writer’s life is really many writers’ lives. One of the most moving and illustrative examples of this idea is this image of Charlotte Bronte from the BBC drama, To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters. Charlotte has in her arms, safely tucked under her meager shawl, protected more than she is from the driving rain from which everyone else is running, the precious manuscript of Jane Eyre. Where would the generations of future writers be if not for the fortitude, determination, and faith of Charlotte Bronte? Faith, the thing that carries her forward along that stormy path out into the world.
I remember Betty Smith walking her dog at midnight, mailing her manuscript and wondering if anyone would ever get excited enough about her book to publish it. They did; it was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I think of Jerome Salinger sending story after story to The New Yorker Magazine, rejected every time until Ernest Hemingway served with him in Europe and called him over to the bar, “Hey, Jerry! Jerry! Everyone, this guy’s a helluva writer!”
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby only sold a few copies until the United States Army wanted to create small paperbacks for soldiers to carry with them; they chose Fitzgerald’s little book. The soldiers loved the story of the girl, the car and the house, The American Dream, reading it over and over, sharing the hand sized books, causing such a demand for the story that Fitzgerald was restored as a great writer.
I am struck anew by the long road of writing. I look at my own work - Telling Time By Apples And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, for instance. It took years and years of heavy yard work and gardening - me digging, planting, raking, weeding, pruning; me creating a wheelbarrow out of a huge tree branch to haul gigantic loads of yard waste, me planting the infinitesimal seeds, nurturing the tiniest seedlings that could drown if watered if not lifted patiently by hand out of the puddles, these would grow to be cosmos taller than me that the goldfinches used to sway on, chirping deliriously. It took the subsequent illness, followed by recovery and the slow regaining of strength, the tyranny of the garden, the terror of winter, the slow recovery of Spring, the clean, new, fresh garden! When I wrote that long poem, I was sure no one would appreciate it, but I was wrong. Everyone who has ever gardened can’t help but shudder and sigh when they read it.
Besides all the living that is required, I also make my own books (with the help of my team, my daughter and husband). Perhaps every writer should have to physically make their books at least once! I decided to illustrate Telling Time By Apples. I didn’t know anything about making illustrations, which is very different from painting or drawing. These paintings or drawings are specifically made for print, which is a different matter. I could only paint on canvas, so that’s what I did, hoping the images would have a quaint, sampler look.
I designed the cover, which was meant to have an apple flaming with autumn leaves. It was my husband who added the robin. Together, we chose the paper color to match the parchment look of the cover. We chose the typeface and the spacing of the lines and the margins. Then, I was propped up in a program called InDesign where I set the type and images.
Thanks to Amazon’s publishing program, we are able to publish and sell books. This is pretty much the process of making our books: First, years of real life agony or joy, then writing, then the physical book. My daughter often created the covers, using my design joined with her art work or photography. She took the photos of the marble on the cover of my poetry book Atlantis and the deep blue water on the cover of Dreamwater. She painted the airplane on Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse, a cover designed around her original painting and the idea of daydreaming over coffee, plus the fact that the owner of the café had been a pilot. She designed the striking, glossy black cover for When Two Women Die. And, together, we bravely created the muted grey cover of Holy Days using a vintage photo of me at three-years-old.
Woody Allen once said that he didn’t know where the words came from, no one really does, but they come and he’s grateful for them. I remember being extremely nervous at one of my first readings, in a little shop called Ironic, run by two women, one who made wrought iron furniture and objects, another who painted furniture. She had painted a lovely Italian countryside mural on the shop wall by which I was sitting. I loved being in such a charming, work-rich environment. I looked down at the book in my lap and saw my daughter’s graphic and exciting artwork on the cover of my poetry book, Marblehead Moon - a wild rendition of the moon, the stars, and the ocean that she had made when she was quite young - and I thought, “What am I nervous about? The words are right here!” I still remember the warm rush of faith that enveloped me.
You see I believe the words come from God, or, if you will, the Universe. That is my faith. One’s talent and one’s work, they are a trust handed to the writer. The writer must then carry and carry and carry that work out into the world. I am grateful for my readers, the ones whose faces beam, who proudly tell me in the supermarket, “Patricia! I read your book!” chin jutted out in pride. I remember the woman at a reading who reached out and touched my arm as I passed her after reading, on my way back to my chair. Thank you, dear heart, I feel your touch every time I despair. I remember the gasps from the crowd. Gasps! Can I really be so lucky? Hey, I also remember the potato chip bag and the crunching of chips in the audience - infinitely more compelling than poetry at times!
Lately, we have just finished publishing Low Flying, a stunning dark green book with type that truly glimmers like gold though it is only gold in color. Though Low Flying is fictionalized, it came out of many painful conversations I had over the years with women telling me horror stories about their marriages; also plenty of lurid town gossip, as well as my own experiences with an abusive boss that I wished I could - well, the imagination can be very therapeutic. In Low Flying two women who suffer psychologically abusive marriages, gain strength from the simple act of working together in the nurturing environment of a beautiful old greenhouse. So, you see, years of suffering, years of writing, months of grunt work at the computer. In writing the book, I was especially proud of the “garden quotes” at the top of each chapter which I found over years of reading, some tidbit from the garden or from poetry, literature, even movies that enlightens the thought and action to follow.
Low Flying was finished in the late ‘90s. I’ve kept it close all that time, hoping one day to get it from manuscript to actual book form. My husband, who began in the book business, is very proud of this book. Right now, we have my author’s copy on the dining room table. He admires it every time he walks by, “You got yourself a beautiful book there!” Or “Look at that shine! You’d think it was gold leaf!” Or he’ll pick it up and say, “It even has a nice hand.” That’s the way a book feels if it feels good in your hand.
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 latest novel is Low Flying, about two women suffering psychologically abusive marriages who find and nurture each other. 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.
Within this blog, Patricia writes often about non-fiction subjects that inspire or disturb her, hopefully informing and inspiring people to be happy, healthy and free.