Saturday, February 16, 2008

Once Upon a Time I Wrote a Book

February 16, 2008
When I lived in the little Southern town of Fairhope, Alabama, I wrote a book with Robert E. Bell, a man I had admired for years. Bob had lived in Fairhope in the 1950's, when I was just a kid, and had written a book which was set in the town.

Bob's book, The Butterfly Tree, caused a small sensation in Fairhope and the surrounding communities, including Mobile, the city on the other side of the bay from us. A young man with an active imagination, Bob had created a mythical village he called Moss Bayou, based upon his own youthful interpretation of Fairhope.

Fairhope itself was really quite different from Moss Bayou, but all of Fairhope was flattered to find itself represented in the firmament of Southern coming-of-age novels. I was a youngster who had been shaped by the real Fairhope, a Utopian community founded to prove the efficacy of Henry George's economic theory known as Single Tax. Bob's family had visited the little beach town since his infancy, and moved there permanently as he prepared to go to college. The Butterfly Tree chronicled a cast of eccentric characters, most of whom were based on people Bob met in Fairhope and I knew as my own neighbors. Bob's "Moss Bayou" came across as a mysterious, haunted milieu, draped with Spanish moss and freighted with a dramatis personae of personalities from the mind of a lad on the threshold of an exciting life.

When it came to my working with Bob, almost 50 years later, I had issues with his gem of a Southern first novel. It was a a beautiful, poetic little book, not unlike Capote's early work, Other Voices, Other Rooms, but it didn't represent the Fairhope I knew. As we started to work on the book which became Meet Me at The Butterfly Tree, Bob said to me on the telephone, "Mary Lois, I've written my Fairhope book. You go ahead and write yours."

Bob died before the project was completed, but I did finish the book, always with a certain amount of reverence for the original. I wrote character sketches of some of the people whom he had fictionalized, and added some of my own who had peopled my own childhood and influenced my growing up.

Meet Me at The Butterfly Tree is out there, available on or from the author directly. Information can be found at my website or on the blog I created to promote the book, the blog I wrote before I moved from Fairhope, the blog which deals with so many topics besides Fairhope it makes my own head spin.

One of my readers here, who used to live in Fairhope and has his own blog ordered the book and photographed it as you see above, next to a handy little glass of something on the rocks. He tells me the book takes him back.

It takes me back, too. There is a second book, which I'm thinking about reworking and trying to get published. I must get back to it. Not just now, but it's on my list.

1 comment:

Elmer Gantry said...

Meet Me at The Butterfly Tree does indeed take me back, although there are many things I either don't remember or was not old enough to have seen. I'd love to be able to ask my father, who would have graduated Organic sometime in the early 40's, about some of the people and structures that you have written about.

Mary Lois, had I known that you would post the photo I sent, I would have walked to out to my car to get a "real" camera instead of using the camera on my phone.

Anyway, I was enjoying you book and wanted to give you some positive and contemporaneous feedback.