Cindy Marshall on Anne’s Bio & New Years Resolutions
If you took all the Cindy Marshall’s and all the Helen Kane’s
and laid them end-to-end…I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
(A Dorothy Parker-ism)
It’s New Year’s Eve, and a small part of me wonders if she chose me because she knows how much I adored the holiday…or because of how much I adored champagne. I had such a penchant for those little French bubbles! I know I let it get the better of me just that one time, but sometimes that one time is all it takes. I guess it could be said that champagne hastened my downfall–or that it awakened me to the mess I’d left behind me. No matter the verdict, I did have fun while it lasted! My author gave me that gift, after I was so certain I would have no life at all. I’m grateful for the joyous memories–they helped to squeeze out the very, very bad ones, at least for a time. So, no, I don’t mind talking to you about Anne. I guess I probably know her better than anyone; she’s my creator so, in many ways, I’m her. I must confess that Anne is not as free with her personal information as she is with mine. But that’s fine with me, really. Thinking rationally, I know that without her story-telling, I would cease to exist, whereas, with too much revealed about her, she might cease to exist. I can tell you she loves champagne as much as I do, but she prefers the brut variety of an enormously-economical brand. I think it’s fine to share that. It’s no trade secret.
Goodness, my manners! Without further delay, my name is Cindy Marshall. I’m a hero in Anne’s debut historical fiction saga, “the thing with feathers.” I would like to have been able to say I’m the hero, but I had a frailty which required me to share the designation with another unfortunate character, as well as with another–oh dear! I nearly bobbled it! I’m warned not too say too much because of something Anne calls a “spoiler.” And anyway, isn’t this interview about Anne?
She was one of four children (the sickly one), belonging to a newly-advanced catcher for the Red Sox. But things didn’t go easy, and her father suffered a career-ending injury just after moving up to the majors. Anne’s father went back to school and came out the other side a teacher of history, with a load of medical bills. There wasn’t a lot of money to go around. But Anne had a wealthy cousin who treated her to a summer vacation of girl scout camping. During the trip, the two wrote a collection of skits for their camp to perform in a talent show. They were a big hit and Anne knew she wanted to entertain people. But with a face made for radio and a voice made for silent film, she figured she’d probably do something in the background.
That doesn’t mean Anne never got out in front in life. Au contraire, Anne’s time in college was a series of frat parties, No-doze, and term papers with coffee-shop breakfast on the side. But every now and then her candle would begin burning at both ends. Whenever that happened, Anne would (in pseudo-Hemmingway style), abandon everything–including her current hair color (that might be sharing too much). She’d up and move somewhere new to refresh and perhaps see things she’d not seen before. In those early days, she didn’t simply move from state-to-state, she jumped from career-to-career, collecting as many new experiences as possible. Anne was a phlebotomist, a PBX operator and a door-to-door encyclopedia salesperson, all before she’d turned twenty-one. Lord, there were many more professions besides those, like high-stakes Blackjack Dealer, Granola Manufacturer and Piercing Jewelry Importer, to name a few. Some jobs Anne was proud of and some she wasn’t, but I’ll tell you one truth: the girl always landed on her feet. Anne had been known to act on a whim, and I believe she called upon one of those experiences when she was writing my get-away. But for that one socialite, named Percy, who chatted me up non-stop on the train, I told no one where I was going. In fact, I went to great lengths to hide it. That wasn’t my only secret, Lord knows. I suffered from severe mental defect, but I’d managed to keep that fact from almost everyone…almost. My husband was–no, I’m sorry, it still pains me. Perhaps my own New Year’s Resolution should be to make peace with my life’s sorrows. Then I might begin to reminisce about the sweet things.
You know, I could draw a number of parallels between Anne and me. She, too, had the misfortune of growing up with a mental, well, not a defect per se, but an issue, certainly. While growing up, Anne had displayed psychic abilities over-and-over, but whenever folks found out they were far from impressed. One person even told her she couldn’t be a Christian if she believed in her ability. Anne learned to keep her feelings to herself, most of the time (she could be counted on to pick winning horses at the racetrack when her daddy needed it, and she’d risked the humiliation a couple of times when it was a matter of life-and-death. Sadly, it did not alter the outcomes.) I, for one, never doubt that at times life can be stranger than fiction.
Anne eventually settled down and had a baby, then married her husband a couple of years later. Soon after, the couple abandoned their Southern California lives for a 1906 Victorian farmhouse, badly in need of repair, on Oregon’s wild central coast. Anne, her husband and her daughter, restored the home and the old carriage house, and turned it into a B&B. This beautiful Victorian was the setting of the Marshall house, my home in “the thing with feathers.” It was also the B&B setting in her second novel, “Bodie.” Anne’s writing started there, with award-winning editorial contributions to travel magazines. Later on, there was a self-published recipe and local history book. The couple had also begun manufacturing their homemade granola cereals. Before long, their line was picked up by a specialty food distributor. Anne’s family was living a dream. But then there was a car accident, and Anne suffered fairly serious, lasting injuries. Once more, things didn’t go easy. If I may, I suddenly feel the yen for some bubbly, don’t you
Anne and her husband put their inn up for sale, but the market was slow and it took a full year for a sale to happen. In the meantime, there was a nagging recurring dream which Anne had experienced for many years, about the murder of a woman in the late 1800’s, in a town named Bodie. She’d always wanted to explore that dream further. Then Anne learned her sister had a recurring dream, too–the same as hers! The writer began to postulate what it would take to make that possible. She researched the town of Bodie as best she could from her rural village of Cloverdale–but really, isn’t that tantamount to polishin’ cow patties? There wasn’t any meaty information to be found in the local libraries of easy country–land of church socials and lemonade stands. So, Anne sent for materials from U.C. Berkeley, where all of the preserved Bodie newspapers were kept, as well as information from California’s State Parks Department, and from a small preservation group called The Friends of Bodie. Well, Anne turned up an interesting, buried morsel by reading all of those old newspapers, and there was just no stopping her after that! She investigated recurring and genetic dreams, read books written by a renowned regression therapist at a Boston University, and even had her husband take them to Bodie for their annual vacation. It was when her boots touched Esmeralda dust that Anne knew she was going to write a story about Bodie.
It was the first story she wrote, but it became her second novel, some seventeen years later. Again, not unlike me, Anne lost a few years. She’d had some other successes, such as having two of her short stories published, and then a movie producer made an offer on the rights to “Bodie.” While the manuscript was being haggled about, Anne wrote her next novel–the one about me, sort of. She’d found a vintage photo of me during the restoration of her inn and decided she would one day write a story about it. You see, although I was smiling in the photo, Anne somehow knew I was sad. She’d thought often about what could make a pretty young girl so horribly sad. I could tell you how close she came to the truth, but you wouldn’t believe me. And why should you? I’m a literary character. I’m not her, even if at times she is me.
With two recently-published short stories and two completed manuscripts, one being optioned for a motion picture, we all believed Anne’s star was on the rise. And yet, my story was the last thing Anne wrote for more than fifteen years. Oh, she wanted to write, but there’s no rest for the wicked. In order to keep up the house payments until the businesses could sell, Anne began working full-time jobs between her post-accident surgeries, while her husband ran the inn by himself. Pain medications weren’t cutting it, money was tight, depression set in from chronic pain, and then the movie deal fell through. When Anne’s most recent surgery was completely undone by an aggressive physical therapist, and she debated another surgery and three more months of eating baby food through straws, she gave up writing entirely. Naturally, I thought of my friend Helen Kane during those dark times.
When I’d first met Helen, I had been living in Chicago for a couple of years. While many of my important and affluent customers referred to me as, “the toast of Chicago,” Helen Kane was a popular nightclub singer and stage actress from New York City. The actress had a love for champagne to equal my own, and we traveled among the same social circles. It was only a matter of time before we met. It was at a nightclub where she was singing, and we hit it off immediately. This was after her shiftless second husband, Max Hoffman, Jr., a mediocre actor at best, left her penniless and alone in Chicago, in 1933. Months later, Helen and I shared a magnum bottle of champagne with her show’s director and one of the producers from her last Broadway show. We over-indulged, just a bit. When Helen got up to sing another song, she finished the number with a slight shoulder roll and a batting of her lashes–mannerisms she borrowed from me, plus a little, “oop-boop-be-do,” borrowed from a young black girl she saw perform with a jazz group in Harlem. Then she giggled like a little girl and all the men in the club went mental! My slightly pudgy friend was reborn; she was suddenly more popular than beer. Every girl wanted to copy her Flapper-esque style, and every man wanted to date her. Her writer-friend in New York, Dorothy Parker, once complained of her, “You can’t throw a brick in any direction without hitting a Helen Kane.” (Miss Parker could be quite a pistol.)
But then the poor dear had to sue her studio, Paramount, for the theft of her persona and signature phrase, which they copied for a comic-strip character they named “Betty Boop.” The lawsuit dragged on almost two years and, surprisingly, did not look to be going in her favor. Soon the Betty Boop character was more popular than Helen, herself. She had no love interest in her life and everything seemed to be heading south: career, wealth, the lawsuit, her failed second marriage. Helen grew very depressed. Of course none of this ever made it into Anne’s novel, but it’s true just the same. I got Helen to snap out of her depression with a pep talk and a fountain of champagne one wild New Year’s Eve, where Helen met husband number three–the love of her life. But for Anne it took a lot more time, a lot more champagne, and a great, big, giant pep talk–but not from me. It came from Glenn Beck, the cable television host
Mr. Beck was performing a Christmas Special from a location called Wilmington, Ohio. It’s a town that was beating the poor-economy odds by everyone pulling together; their successes fueled their hope, and hope spurred everyone to give their all. Mr. Beck had made an impassioned challenge to folks watching his show to get up and do something, anything, to better their situations. He prodded his viewers to stop blaming others for their failures, to take some chances, and make some changes in their lives; he challenged folks to help themselves or help another. Well, my creator took up that champagne-induced challenge for her 2011 New Year’s Resolution, and just look how things turned out for her (big smiles, here).
The anniversary has rolled around again. It’s just minutes before midnight and I am all gooseflesh and shivers at the prospect of a brand new year filled with new opportunities. It has been my humble pleasure to tell you Anne’s story, and now her New Year’s Resolution for 2015: Read more, write more (finish “Grog Wars II”), and mentor someone this year. Just like Mr. Beck did for Anne, we hope we can inspire some of you folks to take a chance or make a change in your own lives during this shiny New Year.
Oh my! It’s midnight! Can we all drink a toast to that?