As a kind of footnote to last month’s blog about titles, I have–yes, I really have–changed the title for what I hope will be the final time. To recap: My Name is Emily Cade Ainsworth was followed by The Bustle in a House, and then by The Queens, any one of which is a perfectly adequate title. However, here we are again.
Koehler Books, the publisher of Looking for Lydia; Looking for God, always posts on their website two choices for covers, and people vote. I am beginning to think that wouldn’t be a bad idea for my title.
In the meantime. I’m Not Going to Heaven. I’m Going to Birmingham: A Novel of the South is entering its last struggles before I am left with nothing between me and those contests.
The Author’s Note for the book I am calling, for simplification, Birmingham (Alison, who was reluctant to abandon The Queens, insists on referring to it as Heaven) is an annotated list of the specific details in the background of this work of fiction that are historical. For what are most likely unspeakable psychological reasons, I cannot control my need for accuracy in the historical bits. It keeps me awake at night, and I spend an unconscionable amount of time on the Internet, pursuing red herrings with great zeal, when I could be writing. And even that didn’t keep me from the jaws of these contests.
Last week, Alison came over and read about half the novel–that would be “half” before the extra chapters, of course–and will return in two days and, we hope, complete the reading. I plan to muster the fortitude to refuse to consider more chapters, although I believe I have confessed elsewhere that, in spite of the fact that it annoys me nearly beyond bearing, Alison’s suggestions are almost always useful.
If we get the job done, then she is off to New York for a week, leaving me here, alone, at the mercy of the contests. I will scroll through the manuscript one more time to be sure I have met the basic requirements for formatting. I will pore over the details of the contests, both of which assure the writer that one slip, one error, one failure to comply, will result in the immediate rejection of the manuscript, unread. No second chances. And, I am sure, a cold day in hell before one might submit another manuscript. For those of us who have reached a certain age, this kind of threat is discouraging.
From the Prologue:
“On an ordinary morning, a fifty-year-old woman named, on the day of her birth, Charlotte Cade Gibson, sat in her sun-filled breakfast room, finishing her second cup of coffee and turning the pages of The Montgomery Advertiser, when a headline caught her eye.
‘Sixty-Eight-Year-Old Woman Shot Dead in Bar Outside Birmingham.’
She could not have said later how she knew–the unusual reference to the woman’s age, perhaps, or the location? It didn’t matter. What mattered was that she did know. Before she read the short article that followed, she knew. She knew immediately, knew the very minute she saw that headline. It was Nell.”
From Chapter Five
“Sometime in the final decade of the nineteenth century, on a farm about a hundred miles south of Birmingham, Alabama, in Tuscaloosa County, a baby girl was born to Priscilla (Prissy) Randall Claridge and Jackson Charles Claridge . . .
Prissy and Jackson had a bit of a struggle deciding on a name for this miraculous new baby, and for nearly two weeks after her birth, their daughter was known simply as ‘Baby Girl.’
‘You know, Jacky, sometimes I think I’d like to just leave it alone and let her grow up with everybody calling her ‘Baby Girl.’ It sounds kind of sweet and loving, don’t you think?’
Jackson, who thought his Prissy had hung the moon and would have done almost anything to please her, tried to find a way around what he knew was an endearing but foolish idea. He was holding the baby and walking around the front room of their two-room house, and ‘Baby Girl’ Claridge was gurgling contentedly.
‘I think that you are surely going to be the sweetest and most wonderful mother on this earth, and I am going to try hard to be a very good daddy. And I don’t believe anybody but the two of us should be able to call this little lady ‘Baby Girl.’
‘Oh, Jack, I don’t know.’
‘Prissy, I am looking right into our daughter’s eyes, right directly into them at this minute and I’m going to tell you something you might think is strange. She is saying just as clear as the bell over at the church that her name is Margery Helen and, Priss, she means for us to call her ‘Nell.’”