An old saying claims everyone has at least one book in them. For Mobile author Charlotte March, just the one might be enough.
“I didn’t start to work on this until I was about 61 or so. It’s my first and most likely my last but one I’ve been writing most of my life,” March said.
She hasn’t been artistically idle, having penned short stories and essays for years. However, her saga set in historic Mobile grew within her long before she began its decade of creation, the first six years of which were research.
“A friend met Arthur C. Clarke once and asked him what advice he would have for aspiring writers. Clarke said, ‘The only answer is to get a pen and a paper and put the pen on the paper and if you can write, you’ll find out and if you can’t, you’ll find out,’” March said. “So I got my pen and paper and said, ‘If I can write one chapter, then I can write two.”
Her book, “Jubal Leatherbury,” begins in the titular protagonist’s fourth year of life with his 11-year-old brother and parents on the outskirts of Mobile, surrounded by scenarios and happenings now mythologized in contemporary Azalea City. However, the abuse Jubal suffers at his mother’s hand is anything but picturesque.
“The father is loving but inattentive. When he finds out about Jubal’s treatment it is a devastating, life-changing experience for them,” March said.
Jubal is spirited away and raised by a grandmother in New Orleans, then returns to Mobile 18 years later. He’s reintroduced to his hometown.
“I wanted to show Mobile then, businesses and pleasure activities like going across the bay on the bay boats for picnics. I brought in Mobile Yacht Club, which at that time was in Monroe Park and built 600 feet out into the bay, but a hurricane took care of that,” March said.
Young Leatherbury doesn’t make connections easily. He maintains barriers, both exterior and interior.
“You learn there’s something not quite right about Jubal. He’s reclusive, he doesn’t interact well with other people. He thinks there’s something wrong with him but he doesn’t know what it is. He knows he’s handled with kid gloves by his grandmother and his father but he’s a damaged person,” March said.
Jubal’s Louisiana experience as an accountant in the timber trade lands him a similar job in north Mobile County. It’s there he discovers troubling partnerships between the public and private sectors.
“Jubal encounters prisoners and the way they were rented out by the state, how they were given, body and soul, to the timber industry and railroad industry. I did a lot of research on that and it was incredible, worse than Third World,” March said.
The revelation stirs repressed memories of Jubal’s early childhood treatment. The new course it sets for him leads northward and toward reconciliation of his own struggles with those around him.
Originally checking in at over 1,000 pages, March knew the lengthy tome would scare away readers, as it did agents. It’s now a pair of volumes, the first about 550 pages and the second close to 800.
March’s primary career was in nursing, attending school in Birmingham and working in an emergency room during the Civil Rights era before she married. She moved to her husband’s hometown of Mobile where she became a nursing instructor until she started having kids.
When March’s husband took a job abroad they picked up stakes. Landing in the Himalayan foothills, they found beautiful scenery but also terrible need.
“I spent about 12 years working in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan as a midwife in a refugee camp outside of Dhaka and kind of as a home health nurse in the mountains of northern Pakistan. When we retuirned to Mobile I worked at Mercy Medical hospice for about 10 years, which was also one of the best things I think I ever did,” March said.
She has been retired about 15 years. The last two-thirds of that time has been in service to this story.
March admits a greater purpose to the Leatherbury tale. It points to the depths of the human condition.
“People not unlike myself are just unburdened by what happens to people in prison. I grew up on the novel ‘Les Miserables’ and was so impressed by what cruelty can do to a person who under other circumstances might be a really good person,” March said.
She had to build a story around it to make it palatable. Her cues came from a regional model.
“Harper Lee wrote a very famous story that’s universally considered delightful, but she really made people think about racial injustice in Southern courts,” March said.
March’s book can be ordered through its website, juballeatherbury.com, or through Amazon.
More than mere polemic, she said it’s a full journey of the human heart.
“A friend told me not to mention prisons, just to tell people it’s a love story because there is a romantic love story. It’s also about a kind of love story between father and son, and a kind of David and Jonathan between friends,” March said.