Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spooky, Special GLIMMERGLASS

Under Its Spell, Marly Youmans Writes, And Writes...

Jim Kevlin/
Kingfisher Tower and the source of the Susquehanna are among the locales that have figured in Marly Youmans poems, novels and stories.


‘T here’s something very cozy, being up in your room, writing, when it’s snowing outside,” Marly Youmans said the other day, sitting in the back room, a modern kitchen attached to one of Cooperstown’s earliest homes at Main Street’s east end.
Up there one night – it was a Twelfth Night, Epiphany’s eve – she looked out and there were 12 deer, led by a stag, crossing the bridge over the Susquehanna River.

I saw the twelve crossing the bridge.
They paused to meet my eye
Before floating along the ridge
Where river mansions lie

Youmans – she’s a prolific writer, with numerous novels and books of poetry to her name, and six more books (including “Glimmerglass,” a novel) at various publishers – didn’t intend to find herself here.
She was born in Aiken, S.C., the daughter of a professor of analytical chemistry, and was raised in Louisiana, Kansas and Delaware before returning South to Cullowhee, N.C., where her
father taught at Western Carolina.
“I was a passionate reader,” she remembers. “I was wild to read.  I didn’t go anywhere without a book.”
She graduated from Hollins College in Roanoke, Va., did graduate work at Brown and Chapel Hill, and in the 1980s found herself teaching at SUNY Potsdam, an associate professor.
There, she met Michael T. Miller.  The couple moved to Albany for his medical school.  They had married and, while pregnant with her first child, she wrote her first novel, “Little Jordan,” (1995), which begins with a 13-year-old girl finding a little girl’s body along a river in the South.
She had sent the manuscript to David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston, never thinking it would be rejected.  “I was just very innocent, because I was a poet.”  It wasn’t.
The couple moved to Cooperstown for her husband’s residency at Bassett and, pregnant with her daughter, Rebecca Miller (a CCS grad, now a student at Bard), wrote “Catherwood” (1996) in the backyard of their Fernleigh Drive home, listening to her son play.  (Son Ben Miller is now a college student in the Carolinas; son Nate Miller is a CCS eighth grader.)

On chilly days the women cut and sewed around the fireplace, but on sunny days they carried a bed rug outside and sewed on the grass.  Baby Edmund would lie on his back, clouds reflected in his round eyes.  When Cath held the child, she imagined the two babies sitting close together, one unborn, separated from the other only by a narrow wall.

In “Catherwood,” inspired by the woods and terrain between here and Albany, the heroine goes to visit a neighbor, gets disoriented and spends months in the wilderness. It was a Literary Guild alternate.
“I thought of it as a souvenir of Cooperstown,” she said, “because I would never be coming back.”
The family moved to UNC Chapel Hill where Miller was head resident.  He then served a fellowship at Duke, before joining a practice in Greenville, N.C.  When that didn’t seem to be working out, “I just knew we were going back.”  She told her husband, “I would never live north of Cooperstown,” and here they are.  He is a Bassett neurologist.
Busy enough with two kids, she plunged into a Civil War novel, “The Wolf Pit” (2001), set in the Union prison camp at Elmira, visiting the scene, exploring archival records.  She would write until 4 a.m., then get up at 7 to get Ben and Rebecca ready for school.
“When I’m writing,” she said, “I think about it all the time.”
The South.  Elmira.  The wild Upstate woods.  In “Ingledove” (2006), Youmans created Adantis, a fantasy forest world, where Ingledove accompanies her brother in search of a serpent demon.  “Val/Orson” (2009), the tale of a stolen twin, plays out among the Sequoias.
“Am I whimsical?” she asks of these various settings.  “I just get easily bored.  A lot of writers write the same novel over again.  I’m not interested in that.”
Edward Taylor, “our only metaphysical poet,” influenced her, as have Indian captivity narratives, “a lot of Puritan writings,” Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales,” and – of course – Cooperstown and Otsego Lake.

The creek surged above the bank – the boy was gone – and she flashed away, her feet sliding on patches of ice, past the cottage with its seven doors wide open, past the firs, and through the formal stone gateway with its arch and ironwork griffins.  A wave tangled with her feet, slammed her to the ground.  She picked herself up and raced on in deepening water.

“Glimmerglass,” due to be published next year in the U.K. – “one of my stranger books” – is set in a fictionalized version of that stone gatehouse on Route 80, across from Pierstown Road.  (The Rev. Sam Abbott, former Christ Church, Cooperstown, rector, and his wife, Edith, lived there when they moved to town, and Marly got to know the house quite well.)
“It’s the story of a woman who’s a failed painter, never been married.  She doesn’t like her life.  She comes to Cooperstown and thinks she can begin again.”
Not to ruin the anticipation, suffice it to say it involved a young man and scenes “on the lake and under the lake,” Youmans said.
Fans or would-be fans will have the chance to hear Marly talk about her work at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7, at the Village Library of Cooperstown, along with novelists Alice Lichtenstein of Oneonta and Peg Leon of Middlefield’s Beaver Meadow section.
Or you can look forward to “A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage,” based on her father, Hubert’s, early life as a sharecropper’s son who ran away from home repeatedly, then serve in World War II as a tailgunner.  Even before publication, it won Mercer University Press’ Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction for 2010.
Or you can plunge into the poems, stories or novels for more depictions of local scenes, however obliquely, of Kingfisher Tower, the source of the Susquehanna, Hidden Island...

At midnight I went down to the lake, and there
I saw the Northern Lights as seven swords
Of long-dead kings that glimmered in the sky.
They were as thin and cold as icicles,
Set evenly above a shoal of cloud—
The winter’s glittering eyes drew low to see,
Its glories made into one burning look.
I stepped onto the marble arrowhead
That points the way to North forevermore,
And though I stood below a canopy
Close-crowded with the bright burrs of the stars,
And though I held my love, and though our children
Were safe and sleeping at my back, I met
And knew a loneliness beyond all heal.

Meanwhile, Marly Youmans will keep writing.  “It’s how I navigate through my life.”

Editor’s Note:  The excerpts are, respectively, from “The Kirkyard Deer,” “Catherwood,” “Glimmerglass” and “The Exile’s Track.”  “Catherwood” is a novel; the rest are poems.

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