As famous as she was from winning the National Book Award for The Sea Around Us, Rachel was averse to public speaking and aggrandizement, much to the chagrin of her agent. When The Edge of the Sea hit the New York Times Bestseller list in the fall of 1955, she had numerous requests to speak at public events and declined most of them.
She was a solid "NO" to the numerous requests from magazines to run a profile on her as well. Rachel didn't see her author life as a brand and didn't seek the attention. I'm not sure if she was afraid of the scrutiny she would receive by allowing the press into her personal life, or her natural shyness, but it doesn't mean she wasn't focused on the success of her work.
Indeed, The Edge of the Sea and another book about life at the sea, albeit, a non-scientific and philosophical take, Anne Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea exchanged places on the top ten list throughout 1955-56 on various news outlets. Rachel takes note of it in letters to her friend, Dorothy.
"...I truly-even now-don't expect The Edge (The Edge of the Sea) ever to reach #1 spot, but I'd be happy that it is Mrs. Lindbergh's book and not something sensational or trashy."
Trashy included the book about a woman who under hypnosis discovers she'd lived another life decades earlier. After years of being at the top ten, Rachel doesn't hold back on her disdain for losing rank to Bridey Murphy (1956) which hit #1 on Chicago Tribune in 1956. "I think this silly Bridey Murphy thing is going to scoot right up and crowd Mrs. Lindbergh...The Edge by the way is No. 6- up one." And then weeks later, "That wretched Bridey Murphy thing has displaced Mrs. Lindbergh! That is really a blow. "
Rachel didn't have to deal with today's social media spotlight that casts rays well beyond the reach of newspapers or magazines of her time. And she wasn't in a position to write anything with a pseudonym like Elena Ferrante, you don't get the chance to write a biography of the sea, and a scathing indictment against the chemical industry anonymously. Yet, her detachment from public scrutiny allowed her to write one of her most challenging work of all--Silent Spring (1962). And then all hell broke loose.
With that in mind, I've gotten to 7k words in this novel set in Maine that has Rachel as a 'macguffin' in the story. And I'm thinking with the holidays coming, this might be time to shut down my own social media, and detach myself from that public for a few weeks so I can keep writing.
Happy Holidays everyone! See you in the New Year.
Rachel had a best friend, Dorothy. They met in Southport, Maine, where both owned a summer cottage. They wrote to each other constantly while Rachel was working on her book The Edge of the Sea (1955). In fact, Rachel dedicated the book to Dorothy and her husband Stan Freeman. Their friendship provided Rachel with stability she needed while maintaining her household (her mother passed and she had to adopt her niece's son, Roger) and adapting to her fame after winning the National Book Award for The Sea Around Us.
In her letters, Rachel told Dorothy:
"All I am certain of is this: that it is quite necessary for me to know that there is someone who is deeply devoted to me as a person, and who also has the capacity and understanding to share, vicariously, the sometimes crushing burden of creative effort."
It may sound glamorous, but being an author means spending a boat-load of time alone. Just you and your laptop at a cafe, desk, library. Whatever. Rachel spent a lot of time writing at her home in Maryland so she could spend her summers in Maine with Dorothy. They would watch the tides, collect specimens, and listen for veeries singing in the woods.
Rachel had other, less personal connections, scientists she relied on for data, editors, nature writers, and people of influence in the world of literature. Unassuming by nature, she was not shy about approaching people for assistance and guidance. That's a benefit in the world of writing. Writing, as Rachel says in another letter to Dorothy: "is hard and full of anguish and disappointments, but I also know it brings deep satisfactions and rewards that have nothing to do with best-sellerdom."
Many of those satisfactions are in making connections with librarians, archivists, authors, and the many people involved in the publishing process. And let's not forget the readers. It may only take one avid fan, as Dorothy was for Rachel, motivating an author to keep going. It helps having people believe in you.
Source: Always, Rachel. The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman 1952-1964. Edited by Martha Freeman. 1995.
Hi, I'm an author of contemporary and historical fiction. My next novel features a young protagonist living on the coast of Maine who pretends she's doing research for Rachel Carson to impress a boy. Join me as I procrastinate writing the novel by blogging about Rachel.
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