In Part 6 of this “All-True” series, I blogged about Beth Pearson and her amazing team who, among other things, flagged every place in The Four Ms. Bradwells where I quoted material from elsewhere, and made suggestions where permissions might be needed to include the quotes. To be honest, I’ve been frightened enough of the permissions process to avoid it in my first two novels, but since Ginger in The Four Ms. Bradwells is a poet who prefers quoting others’ lines to revealing herself, I recognized that this time I might bump into some permission issues. Then something happened on the way to the end of the novel: I heard John Felstiner read from his wonderful book, Can Poetry Save the Earth? And the poem he read was Jane Kenyon’s “Let Evening Come.”
This was at a salon hosted by the wonderful writer Marilyn Yalom at her home on the Stanford campus – a group I’d just been invited to join, where I knew almost no one except Marilyn and John’s wife, Mary. So I’m sitting in a room full of strangers – all of them writers, and pretty swanky ones, too – and I’m listening to John read, and I’m trying really hard not to start bawling right there in my seat, because this poem is so moving.
Bottom line, I found a place for the whole dang poem in The Four Ms. Bradwells, and decided it was time to learn about the permissions process.
Which turns out to be easier – if somewhat more expensive than I’d imagined. Let’s just say there was an excerpt from a New York Times column that I’d wanted to use that is not in the book.
But “Let Evening Come” is included in full, thanks to a few emails and a conversation with Frederick T. Courtright, who handles the rights for Graywolf Press. I sent an email with the language Random House likes to see, and he sent me a letter with the language he prefers – and a price that did make me gulp, but, really, it’s such a beautiful poem. So I called him – no, the price was not negotiable – and asked if he could expand the permission to include, among other things, e-books. He added some more dollars to the bill, and I gulped again. I suspect what I’m paying to use this one poem exceeds the average advance for a volume of poetry, but it is such a beautiful poem.
So he sent me a new letter, and I forwarded the letters to Random House to make sure they were ok with the language. And I countersigned the letters and pulled out my checkbook and sent the package back to Mr. Courtright. Easy!
Well, except the writing the check part.
It was a little harder to find a Latin expert to check the Latin I’d used in the novel. I put out feelers to several people I knew whom I thought might know a Latin expert. Nothing.
Then I was at the Tucson Book festival with my best friend, Jenn DuChene, and I started whining about the dearth of Latin experts in the world, and it turns out – surprise of surprises – that she actually knows a Latin expert. A few emails later I was connected with John Downey, who didn’t even want to charge me for his work. He was delightful to work with, and I sent him a check anyway, and I think he’s now the Latin expert on Random House’s list.