Friday, October 30, 2009

amelia and babe didrikson . . .

does thinking it make it so

Best friends. The ones you shared everything with. I was thinking what that was like and remembering how it was leaving home for the first time, how much friendship mattered. And who I was drawn to. I thought about S. I met her my first year in college, she wasn't my only friend by any means. But she was someone I was devoted to. She was incredibly beautiful, and totally different from anyone else I'd ever known. From the deep South, daughter of a conservative family, we roomed next door to each other and shared an interest in pot. I think I remember her asking me if I wanted to get high. I always did. I was sixteen. It was the early seventies. I'd left home to come to this women's college, and was desperate to lose my virginity. I couldn't imagine how that would happen, where I'd meet an appropriate man. We were stuck on this pristine campus, surrounded by girls who'd gone to finishing school.
And suddenly there she was. We became fast friends. Hitched into Boston. Spent our days wandering round, looking for fun in all the wrong places . . . we found a riding stable and took off down some trails wearing the horses out to nothing, we found a guy and slept with him one night because it was too late to go back to school, we talked and talked and sometimes didn't talk, we went to see Leonard Cohen and listened to Dylan, the Band, talked about everything and nothing.We were about as different as you could get, I blurted out everything I felt, she kept it all hidden. I thought her mysterious and powerful . . . It was a certain kind of love. Then I transferred and we fell out of touch. I saw her once in my twenties and never again. Had no idea what happened to her, but when I started thinking about this book, I spent every day thinking about that time. About her. I wanted to fold her and what it felt like to have that sort of friend into my novel. I wanted a character who had her sort of power and grace. A modern day version of Amelia. Then out of nowhere an email.

So does thinking make it so? Is there some odd web of interconnected thought that wraps round the world? This was before Facebook became a way of life for my generation. Her contacting me came out of nowhere. Or did it?

I wondered how Muriel stood the endless round of questions, the same ones posed about her sister, speeches given, interviews granted. In real life everyone said how kind she was, how affable. I wondered what she would have wanted to say to Amelia. And what Amelia would have said to her. I thought about sisters, and best friends, and how age shows us so much . . . but we still miss that time when we were able to imagine the future was ours. That all we had to do was reach out and try.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

amelia and plane


Do I have what it takes? There's a question. Did Amelia ask herself that? Undoubtedly. And she answered in the affirmative. It's her self confidence that resonates. I admire it. I was raised differently. I doubt myself more than a little. I worry and worry and worry some more. But there was a time when I felt differently. Once I used to love to fly. Every time the plane took off I'd feel such elation. My first flight was to St. Paul for my sister's graduation. I was ecstatic, not just because I was going to see her, the sister I idolized, but because I was in a plane, it seemed truly miraculous. I had a window seat and watched the world slip by. There was turbulence and I actually enjoyed it, compare that to my white knuckled grip now.

I trusted the pilot would land the plane safely. But also I believed that life was open ended. I knew that anything was possible. . .where did that girl go? She grew up and realized that life was surprising. Even when you got what you wanted, it wasn't at all what you expected it to be. I became a fearful flier for a while. But then I realized, I wanted to see too much of the world, I was only hurting myself. So I adjusted. It's the destination that matters most. I want to go somewhere else . . . I want that freedom.

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure , the process is its own reward."

How on earth did she convince herself of that. Or, put in terms that make more sense to me these days, "I want some."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

so sayeth Amelia

Here are two quotes from Amelia.

"Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others."

"[Women] must pay for everything.... They do get more glory than men for comparable feats. But, also, women get more notoriety when they crash."

This morning I spent my time reading acrimonious discussions, their focus what happened to Amelia? Was she captured by the Japanese and freed, living out the rest of her life under an assumed name? Did she crash at sea and die on impact? Did she and Fred make land and starve to death waiting for rescue? Did her plane go down in Papua New Guinea, the wreckage hidden by the jungle all these years? These and other theories have their proponents. All are concerned with what went so wrong and where the wreckage got to. It was timing that made her famous. And her partnership with Putnam helped make her notoriety last. Certainly Amelia wasn't the best female pilot around, or even the first to do much of what she did. Bessie Coleman faced many more obstacles, years earlier. Bessie was the first African American to become a licensed pilot and the first American to hold an international pilot's license. She died when her plane went into a stall, a mechanic had left a wrench inside the engine.

If the mystery of Amelia's disappearance is solved, will she fade from public consciousness? Is this the only reason we care about her, the not knowing? I certainly hope there's more to it than this . . .there is for me. We all die. It's how we live that matters.

Monday, October 26, 2009

muriel amelia and mark otis

making real life into fiction

It's not for the faint of heart. Or for those who worry they're going to offend. You'll surely offend someone. But if you don't take the leap and try to re-imagine the person, you're doing your work a disservice. And you'll find no audience. Of course, thinking that you can create a full blown character who is based on a real person is one thing. Doing it is quite another.

Amelia was fair game, but Muriel. I knew she'd put herself in the public eye and written two books. But she was really a much more private person. Yet I felt certain that was the story I wanted to tell. I have an older sister who I once idolized. I thought her courageous and brilliant. I believed her to be perfect. Of course real life intervened. You might say I lost that version of my sister.

I thought of Muriel growing old and losing so many people she loved. How she continued to talk about Amelia. How she kept the faith. I wondered how that would really feel. I told myself that she was human, as was Amelia. Human beings aren't saintly. They're full of all sorts of interesting flaws. It's the imperfections that charm us. And gall us.

Amelia might have seemed saintly to the world, but not to Muriel. Muriel knew her better than anyone.

Thinking that, I began to write . . .

Sunday, October 25, 2009

she does look like her . . . but

women dare not enter

I often disagree with the New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis. I think she's a snob when it comes to commercial movies. But she's right on target with her review of Amelia. Why on earth did they tag this biopic to a romantic story line? I guess because Hollywood thinks women will only go see a romance. Hey, I see bromances all the time. I must be a teenage boy because I'm there for any superhero movie, and loved Inglourious Basterds. So what do I get when they make a movie about one of my heroines? Treacle. Whatever happened to the idea of making a movie like Silkwood, or god forgive me even Norma Rae. According to Dargis "The film “Amelia” subscribes to the Great Woman Theory of history, which . . . largely involves the great woman and the men in her life." She thinks Amelia "presented too confusing a vision of modern womanhood for filmmakers chasing what Hollywood types see as a fickle female audience."

Of course Amelia Earhart has confounded biographers, screenwriters and novelists for years. The only work of fiction to really break out was I Was Amelia Earhart. And it depended on a fictitious romance; Earhart and Noonan as cast away lovers. I guess the filmmakers might have found themselves thinking of this.

The difficulty lies in the disconnect between her public and private personae. In 1937 Amelia claimed she was looking forward to retirement. "I think I have just one more long flight in my system, after that? My lovely home in North Hollywood-California sunshine-books-friends-leisurely travel-many things!" This was the woman she presented for public view; someone who was ready to give up everything she'd achieved for the pleasures of hearth and home. Would Amelia Earhart have retired? Nothing in her life story points to that. So why did she feel compelled to pretend? Because it fit with the public view, the idea that a woman couldn't just be intrepid, she also had to be demure, charming, discreet, and traditional. Even though she dressed in pants, set flying records, lived with her husband before he divorced, and after they married took a lover, she was still Lady Lindy. The emphasis on Lady. Quite impressive that she pulled it off.

So who was the real Amelia?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

lockheed and amelia

Muriel the plane

A press release from San Diego Air and Space Museum.

"San Diego, CA - On Saturday September 5th, The San Diego Air & Space Museum is scheduled to receive "Muriel," a sister airplane to the one Amelia Earhart flew on her final flight 72 years ago. The Museum will assist with assembly and restoration of the Lockheed Electra L10-E for Grace McGuire, an aviator with hopes of completing Amelia's dream of flying around the world.

McGuire is the proud and passionate owner of "Muriel" one of only 15 L10-Es made and the only remaining one. She purchased the neglected remains of the vintage airplane in the 1980's and began to restore it to original condition. Once "Muriel" is ready to fly, McGuire plans to attempt the only complete duplication of Amelia's trip around the world. There have been several commemorative flights but never an exact duplication using the same type of aircraft, equipment and crew. . ."

You really have to wonder what Muriel would say about this, or at least I have to wonder.

Friday, October 23, 2009

the reviews are in

The Times this morning was scathing.Here's one take "a boring movie full of mockable dialogue, dreadful acting and long, supposedly poetic narration which could induce a coma if you don't have enough caffeine flowing through your veins." Please don't make me have to see it. Actually I could tell from the trailer, too many sweeping shots, and a voice over! Ugh. Another critic thought the movie was basically a trailer . . . I think I know why there's this reverence towards her. It's the filter she created still working in her favor, screening the real Amelia, keeping her at arm's length. Odd that in this confessional era, where everyone is willing to bare their navels, their souls, their sex lives, basically till you want to run screaming from them, she remains elusive. I'm sure that the boredom comes from the thinness of the characterization. Reverence can be incredibly dull. Yet I've spent three years with Amelia and I can tell you that she's intelligent, opinionated, driven, often generous and always selfish. But of course that's my take. Not Mira Nair's.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

where did she get to? part one. . .

So many theories, so little time.
After her plane vanished, there were those who believed Amelia faked her own death to escape her loveless marriage. Now why would she go to so much trouble? Her own parents divorced. Did she really have to fly almost all the way around the world to leave a man? I think this theory was popular because it played into the idea of a different Amelia. In reality she was someone who did exactly what she wanted, both romantically and professionally. She was forthright and opinionated. So once she was no longer around to protest, there were those who offered her up as the battered wife of a svengali. One biography follows this theory to its natural conclusion, making much of Putnam's control over her life. Apparently it was hard for some to believe a woman was capable of being this ambitious without a man controlling her every move.

One flaw in this theory is in imagining the planning. All the careful payoffs, the secret landing strip in the middle of nowhere . . . another is Amelia's supposed lack of conscience. There was the expense the government then went to, a quarter of a million dollars a day for search and rescue efforts.

Post feminist thinking has handily revised our image of what a woman can do or be, could we have come this far without Amelia? I wonder.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why was she smiling?

Some biographers claim Amelia's smile was calculating, not a matter of personality but vanity. She wanted to hide her teeth, so she never smiled fully. Was she vain? A funny question when you consider how she dressed, button down men's shirts and slacks, a leather jacket, and often enough a leather flying cap. She looked like a boy and one of the boys. Yet, of course that made her quite unique. And she always smiled to and for the camera. Amelia calculated her progress, she may not have predicted or planned her fame, but she clearly enjoyed it. It gave her the opportunity to do what she wanted. And be who she wanted.

Our views of her have changed, at first much was made of her husband Putnam's part in molding her and promoting her. It seems odd to me that anyone ever doubted she had the upper hand. All you had to do was read the contract she drew up with him when she married him to see that she was in charge."You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations but have no heart to look ahead. On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly... Please let us not interfere with the others' work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements." Back then, the world didn't have to know, there was no twenty four hour news cycle, no long lens bearing paparazzi. Amelia got to control her image. How powerful that must be, to show the world only what you want . . . to be able to pretend to be exactly who you want to be and have millions of fans believing it.

No wonder she was always smiling.

Monday, October 19, 2009

amelia muriel and lamb

real life versus fiction

When I first had the idea for this book, I didn't realize how difficult it would be to use an historical figure as a major character. It sounded great, hey, what about a book with Amelia Earhart in it. There had already been a best seller, though it had nothing to do with my concept. I was writing a novel that, like The Hours, had threaded narratives. Amelia's childhood was one. Sam's life in New York in 1980 was another. Out of nowhere, this middle aged Navy wife Alma appeared. Then I discovered Muriel, Amelia's sister who was alive in 1980. I decided to write from her point of view instead of Amelia's.

I was unsure how to write about a real person who was really only famous because of her sister. I worried over this. How could I do her justice? Was it fair? Yes, she'd put herself in the public domain by writing about her sister and publishing a book, but still . . .I thought a lot about aging, and about my own parents, particularly my mother. I thought about how it felt being the survivor. In the end, I decided I needed both sister's points of view. I needed Amelia alive.

Of course everyone has their particular version of Amelia Earhart. Intrepid explorer. Feminist. Sexually indeterminate icon. I needed to be sure she was mine. The bond between sisters is decidedly complicated, and these two were careful writers, yet I found a subtext. Amelia's insistence on making a grand entrance to Muriel's rehearsal dinner, flying up in stormy weather, then having to cancel, everyone worrying about her instead of celebrating her sister's big moment. It seemed at best thoughtless, at worst, selfish, why was the grand entrance so important? There were other stories where these sisters had a different take. Of course eyewitness accounts are generally unreliable and often differ. That's what makes them intriguing. With this as my jumping off point, I began to write . . .

Sunday, October 18, 2009

amelia amelia amelia

Some people are telling me what great timing, look, there's a movie coming out about Amelia. Of course, I'm not really sure that it's good for me, bad for me, indifferent . . . the trailer for the movie has these sweepings shots that remind me of "I had a farm in Africa." Yes, I loved that movie, but somehow I don't think Amelia Earhart's real life story works in the same way, I think Hilary Swank is a terrific actress and a no brainer, she looks like Amelia Earhart. But Amelia's books aren't exactly literary masterpieces. She was reticent to a fault. Hilary isn't Meryl. And Richard Gere, definitely not Robert Redford in his prime. It opens this week. Who knows, maybe it will be fantastic but is that going to matter when I've written a novel where Amelia is one of four characters, and goes from being a ghost to being alive in 1980, mainly through the force of her need to put some things to rest. People are fascinated with her, I do know that, because I was and still am and there are always books and articles and obsessive pursuits of how she died . . . those same people might even be offended by my take on who she was, I definitely take liberties. Lots of them, both with her and with her family. Wait, if they're offended then I'll actually have a chance to sell a few books. Glory be.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Setting Amelia Free at Last

This book has been three years in the making. It's about loss and love and friendship and being oh so young. When I started it, back in the fall of 2006, I thought it would be about Amelia Earhart and these two college freshmen who were just starting off . . . I wasn't sure where it would be set or what would happen in it. Just that idea. Then the story morphed, suddenly I was wondering how to stick Amelia into a book set in 1980-81 (not coincidentally when I attended Columbia Graduate School and lived on the Upper West Side). I did some research and discovered her sister was alive and then I did more research, got her sister's book, and suddenly another character appeared, Amelia's real life sister, Muriel. I spent so much time worrying how to write about someone who was real, but not famous. I felt I would hurt her, or that her family would come after me for it, but that of course presumes a lot, first and foremost that this novel is published. I know how hard it is to be published, after all in my former incarnation it took me years to sell my first novel. So that was one presumption, the other was that they would care. The fact is, she wrote her own book about her sister, and it was interesting to me, as much for what it left out as for what it described. I started thinking about sisters and best friends and how the two relationships connect. And then out of nowhere this middle aged mother from the midwest appeared in my narrative. Year one . . .
From that first draft, so many years ago, a new book emerged. One where Amelia comes to life in 1980 . . . it's become a novel that's so deeply personal, a novel about loss and missed opportunities. This blog is going to be about the process of writing, about editing and changing and transforming and selling. Acceptance and rejection. . . so out it goes to my agent.