I am happy to participate in this writer’s round robin after being tagged by the lovely poet Lorraine Henrie Lins (thanks, Lorraine!). After I answer the questions, I’ll tag two additional wonderful writers.
What is the working title of your book?
The working title was The Alice Book or OK FOREVER: Alice Steer Wilson’s Cape May. However, the real title – the one that will be printed on the book’s cover very soon, is Alice Steer Wilson: Light, Particularly.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
This book was more than an “idea,” it was a living organism. It had to be born, as my mother had carried the kernel of it in her heart and on her sketchbook pages since the early 1960s, well before she knew she would die of breast cancer without finishing it. We discussed titles and formats in 1997 as she recovered from chemotherapy and her first battle with breast cancer, but we couldn’t agree on a way to proceed. Two weeks before she died, I reviewed her archival slides with her. We looked at many paintings she had recorded since the 1950s, and she identified works she would like included, and why.
What genre does your book fall under?
Ha! I love this question. It’s so impossible to answer. This book is an art catalog/biography, or a visual memoir of a painter-mother by her poet-daughter, or . . . a picture book with a few poems and some stories. I’ll settle on “visual memoir” or “Painter’s Diary.”
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
When my mother was alive, people often compared her with Sally Field (in the days of The Flying Nun), and she could play the final stage of Alice’s life. For the earlier years, hmmm, I choose Ellen Page (Juno, etc). I love her quirkiness and feel she would bring the complexity necessary to portray a 1950s mother/housewife who develops her painter’s craft as she strives to excel as a homemaker.
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A woman artist known for glistening watercolors of a seaside resort is revealed as a masterful painter of record, an artistic force with which to be reckoned – by her daughter, a writer-curator and reckoning force in her own right.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I spent ten years cataloging works of art, combing through records and sketchbooks, and forming then revising a strategy and a first draft. My goal was to avoid over-explaining my mother’s work, but I erred on the side of minimalism. When two editors familiar with art books looked over that draft, they told me to write more. That was easy, as I had much to say. I wrote the second, full draft in one week last October, right before Hurricane Sandy hit. Determined to finish the book for release this spring, we ran into huge challenges with the aftermath of the storm — the designer, in Connecticut, was without power for weeks. I have devoted the intervening six months to a marathon of decisions, color proofs, and revisions for publication.
What other books would you compare this to within your genre?
Refer back to my genre answer – but, if pressed, for biographies of unsung women painters I’d recommend Honor Moore’s The White Blackbird: A Life of the Painter Margarett Sargent by Her Granddaughter. Also, My Dear Girl: the Art of Florence Hosmer, by Helen Marie Casey. As a revealing collection of Emily Dickinson’s writings, contextualized without intrusive commentary, the Paris Press edition, Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson, inspired me. I took guidance from many art catalogs, including Sargent and the Sea, Alice Neel: Women, and Van Gogh Up Close. For a fabulous new edition of writings in which the intimacy and contrasts of a famous mother-daughter duo are revealed, I can’t say enough for On Being Ill and Notes from a Sick Room, by Virginia Woolf and her mother Julia Stephen, respectively — also, like the Dickinson book, published by the wonderful Paris Press. I do not compare my book with any of these, but I drew from all of them.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My mother’s joy in her art, and the way her practice of making art transformed her image of herself in her own eyes as well as in mine inspired this book. Perhaps the most dramatic example was the way the brush in her hand eclipsed chemotherapy, oxygen tubes and all other medical interventions. She was energized whenever she had the opportunity to paint, and I feel the same way about my art, so we were very compatible in the end. My mother was competitive and hard working, but she believed that everyone is born with creative ability, and I share her sense of mission to connect with that spiritual center, the colors and words and ways to capture beautiful moments and to keep them sacred.
What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
It’s nice to look at. From a purely visual standpoint, the book offers a rich exploration of a painter’s lifework, the transformative quality of ocean light and the stamina of a community of preservationists. For those who struggle with cancer and its cures, the paintings from 1996 until her death in 2001 suggest that illness and a clear sense of one’s own mortality may open up new colors and a sense of purpose.
When and how will it be published?
Advance copies will debut Mother’s Day weekend in Cape May, on the mall. The first book party will be held Saturday, May 11th, from 3-5pm at Splash, 513 Carpenter Lane. A second book-signing is scheduled for the following weekend, Sunday, May 19th from 10am to noon at Whale’s Tale, 312 Washington Street. The publisher is Southbound Press, which was formed in 1992 for the publication of The View in Winter. National distribution networks and online ordering will be available soon. The formal publication date is November 8, 2013 – which would have been Alice’s 87th birthday.
And now . . . I’ve tagged two writers with important new books coming out soon — enjoy!
Doris Ferleger, 2009 poet laureate of Montgomery County PA, is the author of Big Silences in a Year of Rain, When You Become Snow, and As the Moon Has Breath (forthcoming 2013). She won the New Letters Poetry Prize and the AROHO CNF Prize, among others. She holds an MFA in Poetry and a Ph.D. in Psychology and maintains a private mindfulness-based psychotherapy practice in Wyncote PA.
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