After months of contract discussions, an Option Agreement was signed by all parties in October. Work has begun on the screenplay. I have been advised that these things take a very long time to come to fruition. I am thrilled and excited that the first steps are being taken. It would please me very much if my grandmother's story reached a wider audience.
One of the satisfactions of having written the book has been hearing from people who have discovered and appreciated the story. It continues to be a joy to connect with distant relatives or interested folks from all over the country. Many have expressed that they heard similar stories from their own families.
I never really envisioned the story going quite this far, although I always believed it was such a unique story that with the right exposure many people would appreciate it. I wanted very much to write the story I found in the Little Brown Suitcase, partly, because my sister and I are members of the last generation who remember hearing stories about the lost fortune from the people who lived it.
I decided to self-publish because at my age I did not want to wait to find a publisher who would love my book. Self-published authors are not accorded the same respect as authors who have a publisher backing their work. Still, I am not sorry for the decision to self-publish. When you choose the do-it-yourself method, however, the book only goes where you take it. So I feel very fortunate that the book was noticed by people with the ability to bring the story to life in film.
Who do you think should play some of the characters? Someone has suggested that Pierce Brosnan play Astor IV. What do you think? Let me know. It is fun to consider.
I will post movie updates in this space.
If you have read this space before you may remember that while I was writing the chapter in the book about little Elsie and the bears, a young black bear appeared in the backyard at the edge of the lawn. We see bears occasionally here on our ten acres. At the back of the house there is a large meadow surrounded by tall fir, alder and cottonwood trees. Until the land behind the house is developed, as is planned in the future, wild animals still roam near by.
Late summer and early fall are often times when a bear or two appear. They like the berries, pears, plums, grapes and apples. One destroyed the cherry tree one night several years ago. He sat in the crook of the tree and pulled each branch to him, snapping them beyond repair as he ate every cherry on the tree.
Last year a bear was getting into the old, old apple tree in the front meadow. It does not have apples every year. Last year it did. After several nights of finding a bear in the tree during evening "critter check," Jim fashioned a metal sleeve around the trunk so the bear's claws could not dig in and allow it to climb up into the tree. The next night's check revealed a mother bear had boosted her cub up over the metal. The cub was out on the branches knocking apples down to Mom.
This year for the first time a bear appeared in the llama field at night. The llamas signaled their fear with nervous high pitched noises. Jim heard their cries when going out to get wood for the wood stove one night. He walked down toward the barn and found the llamas all together near the barn looking down the hill. An investigation with the flashlight found a bear lurking at the edge of the trees. Now, the bears had never bothered the llamas. This was a new situation. Fortunately, for the bear, when Jim returned in a few minutes with a weapon to scare him away, he was gone.
A funnier incident happened early one morning as the gray mist of dawn made it difficult to see across the meadow. I could see a dark blob lumbering toward the house. I knew by the gait it was the bear. We think he may be the same one from two years ago. He looks about four years old now and he is bold. He comes for food in the daylight. Mostly the bears come stealthy and silent in the dark of night to raid whatever food source is available.
That morning the bear went to the apple tree at the edge of the lawn. Normally we would open the door and give a yell to make him go away. This time we knew the apples were all gone. He had stripped the tree already. We decided to watch and see what he did. He walked around and around the apple tree with his nose in the air sniffing to see if he had missed any apples on the limbs above. When he found they were all gone he headed for our large plastic compost bin with a locking lid.
He had been to the compost bin before, too. As it happened I had thrown away some burned bagels and there were apple peelings, also. So there were tasty bear treats to be had inside. After a walk around the bin he sat down with a leg on each side of the bin and squeezed the locked top releasing it. He carefully set the lid down beside him using both paws. Then he dug in and enjoyed the bagels holding them in his mouth as he looked around to make sure he was safe. Once in a while he hit some coffee grounds and shook his head and went spit, spit. He has not been back since that day. The fruits of the yard are gone and no doubt he has curled up for a few months in some old stump or hidden place in the woods to sleep the cold weather away.
Bears in the backyard, dance around the tree.
Bears in the night time, bears we cannot see.
Gone are the apples and the plums and the cherries.
Gone are the grapes and the pears and the berries.
Quiet as mice feet treading on sand,
Bears patrol the neighborhood
Bears prowl our land.
In June almost two years ago on a beautiful sunny afternoon, I took the laptop out on the back deck beside the pond to work on the book. I was working on the story in chapter three about little Elsie and the bears. If you have read the book you will remember the story. It is a story that my sister and I had heard many times when we were young.
The yard was quiet except for birds flittering and twittering through the trees. I was completely absorbed in my writing when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a movement in the yard. I looked up and saw a young black bear at the edge of the lawn. Bears rarely come in the daytime. They come stealthily in the at night in the fall to harvest the fruit from the trees. So it was entirely unexpected and such a coincidence that one would appear when I was writing about the little bears.
My sister said perhaps I had better not go on any boat trips until after I had written about the Titanic. As someone who becomes seasick at the drop of an oar, that advice was easy to heed.
After I had sorted and read and re-read the documents in the little brown suitcase I began to internalize the information. So when I started writing the words flowed out the ends of my fingers almost unbidden. It seemed as if long dead relatives were there whispering in my ears. At times it seemed as if I were a mouse in the corner and the dialogue and scenes were taking place before my mind’s eye, and I merely the reporter, recorded it all.
I thought that the Astors would probably not talk to me when I began to recording their story, but they, too, insisted on speaking their own lines as if they were hovering around my shoulders giving me clues to their thoughts and feelings. Now, mind you, I did not actually hear voices, but the writing came so easily. All the information was like a child that I needed to deliver.
I have anticipated questions about what is truth and what is fiction in my book. One must consider that questions may be asked. It is possible that Katie Couric may one day say to me in an interview, "What parts of your book are true? What parts did you make up?" One must be prepared for such questions.
I did not write the book as a way of proving the truth of this story. As Oscar Wilde once said, "The truth is rarely pure and never simple." There are probably many stories of the Astor/Emerick connection. I can say I know that my grandmother and her family believed in the story represented in my book. All of the events in the book were suggested by material in the little brown suitcase or by stories that my sister and I remember hearing when we were children. By the time we were adults the stories had ceased to be a topic of conversation at family gatherings.
The fiction in the book is in the scenarios and in the dialogue. We will never know exactly how all these things occurred. I wanted to engage the minds and emotions of the reader. I wanted to make readers care about this story. It is a wonderful story. I take very little credit for it. I would not have had the imagination to make up these events.
I believe some will find their truth in this story because they have heard of it even in a vague way from their families. Some will believe it is wishful thinking and chalk it up to my imagination. We will never really know if it is the gospel or fanciful myth. Still, information in the little brown suitcase says my great grandfather was there when the lining of the old sea chest was slit and the will was found. The will was authenticated. I cannot prove that is true and it does not really matter to me at this point. The story is a part of Americana. Astor affected the way our country developed from Astoria, Oregon to New York City. It is a part of all of us. A part of our heritage.