Friday, December 18, 2009
city of belief
I met the author of City of Belief, Nicole d'Entremont at the potluck conclusion of my second course in Sudden Fiction. Taught by Eleanor Morse, an island neighbor and award-winning author, the class was an epiphany of sorts. I'd already taken a correspondence Writing for Children course with the Institute for Children's Literature. A pretty substantial course, too, in which every assignment involved research and revisions and word counts and age targets. Sudden Fiction was like vacation in comparison. Just putting pen to paper and letting your ideas wander for an hour. The even bigger surprise was finding I never drew a blank. With inspired prompts, I sailed off without provisions or life jackets. Just the wind at my back and a deep well of self to draw from.
Eleanor passed the torch to Nicole, a veteran teacher of writing, and another band of writers hunkered down under her intense guidance, to work deeper into the grooves of a chosen character. During these sessions Nicole was writing a new novel and simultaneously pulling together this story, one she'd been holding for decades.
City of Belief is set in New York City's Lower East Side in and around a soup kitchen run by the Catholic Worker's organization in the 60's. It's drawn from her own experiences as a relief worker and witness to protests and war resisters. As she edited her self-published novel, she approached me about doing the book jacket.
Pivotal events in the story happened on November 9, 1965, before a complete blackout of the city. She wanted an image of a full moon, and the city skyline.
I worked on several ideas, as usual. Not hard, since moons are a favorite subject.
Sketch one, which follows a rough sketch that Nicole showed me.
With the obligatory out of the way, I moved on to other approaches.
Sketch three, this one maybe an obligatory nod to the trippy feel of the times:
Sketch four, done as an afterthought:
Nicole had supplied me with a microfiche copy of the front page of the New York Times on that fateful day. My collage tendencies could not resist making a double metaphor of the headlines and skyline. And this one seemed to hit the right chord for Nicole.
It went through a few other refinements:
Some tweaking of the author's name placement, and then a final cover:
Nicole was on the family farm in Nova Scotia when the book went on Amazon. She's done some readings, but is not the center stage sort, has not hit the book signing trail just yet. She gave an eloquent reading at the Peaks Island Library in November,
sparking discussion about the peace movement and where it went.
She told me she was surprised to receive a good review in Commonweal, which she said is
"what's left of the left wing of the Catholic perspective."
Nicole's story is fiction yet features both real life characters and many whose names were changed but bear close resemblance to denizens of the Bowery. "I couldn't have written this in my 20's," she said.
Events that shape our lives take time to create that deep groove. City of Belief is a delicate slice of a complicated era that bears more than a single reading. It's a haunting story of sacrifice and lost futures.
I was also working on an illustration for the Lunar Calendar around the same time. There's nothing like watching the full moon rise over the ocean. And with that calendar, I know just when it will, and can dash back there to witness.
This particular moonrise worked it's way into my art for the 2010 edition, that accompanies a poem by Ryk McIntyre titled, "Pulling"....
It ends with this:
Do not think me obscure,
even on cloudy nights,
even when I am so dark
I look missing. I am nothing
if not faithful. I wax. I wane.
I pull love songs out of the mouths
of sleeping oceans, still I wonder
which of us started
this love song first.
The calendar from Luna Press keeps me grounded in a belief in the natural cycles of my life, always spiraling, ebbing and flowing. Being aware of unseen forces that connect me to this rock, fellow writers, and stories that bind.
Did you know there will be a full moon on New Year's Eve? It will rise in the east at 4:20 PM. Look for a partial eclipse and then, make a wish for peace in the New Year.