The Author

Martin Marcus and Carol Durbin pursued their dreams with a tenacity so fierce they overcame all obstacles but one: Death

Martin's ashes were scattered across the back stretch at Calder Race Course. His sisters, the track chaplain, and friends from Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia joined Carol in the winner's circle. Before the ceremony, Carol ran her fingers through the bag of ashes, assessing the material's odd texture. A friend was taking pictures on his cell phone. Carol held up the bag for him, saying it would make a great Christmas card. "Happy Holidays from Carol and Martin."

"When somebody passes away, people tend to idolize him -- all of a sudden he becomes perfect," says Alexandra Scott, the friend from L.A. "Well, no one's perfect. He just was a very special human being because of his drive. None of us should get to a point in life that you're dying, but he knew and he never gave up. That's so admirable."

Jonathan Postal
Carol Durbin has been tireless in promoting the first and last book written by  her long-time companion Martin Marcus, shown here in better days
Jonathan Postal
Carol Durbin has been tireless in promoting the first and last book written by her long-time companion Martin Marcus, shown here in better days

Carol immediately cleaned out the bedroom, which to her seemed more like a hospital room. She got rid of the huge adjustable bed. She cleared out all the medicines and the wheelchair and all the things Martin needed to make his last days bearable. The caregivers who'd marched in and out no longer visited. When something interesting happened during her day, she had no one to tell.

"I was working late one night, about 11:00, trying to get ready for the book, which was due to come out," she says. "I had promotional material to prepare. I had bookstores to contact. I had a lot that was keeping me busy. And that night, as I was sitting there, it came to me: Did Martin ever exist? Was he real?"

A month after Martin died, Carol received a box of books at the apartment. She picked up one copy of Freedom Land and held it. Flecks of freshly cut paper tickled her nose. She turned over the novel in her hands, assessing the cover, the spine, the excerpt quoted on the back. She opened to the dedication, which was to her.

"I wanted to say, 'Martin, look what we've done. Look what you've done -- forget about me -- what you've done.'" It's one thing to share something with your best friend, she thought. It's another to share with the person who was in the trenches with you.

One review, in Publisher's Weekly, called Freedom Land "riveting" and "remarkably well crafted." Wrote the reviewer: "Marcus gives us sharply defined characters and weaves an intricate narrative of conspiracy, subterfuge, and vivid, bloody action. Historical-adventure fans will eat it up -- and anxiously await this talented rookie's next work."

When the Toronto Globe and Mail asked Miami author Edna Buchanan to name three books that explain the allure of Florida, she offered up T.D. Allman's classic 1987 analysis Miami, City of the Future, Marjory Stoneman Douglas's Everglades masterpiece River of Grass, and Freedom Land. Buchanan called Marcus's "meticulously researched" book a "passionate first novel, alive with the heart-stopping action of its vibrant and doomed real-life characters."

The Little River branch of the Miami-Dade County Library. It's a rainy Saturday afternoon. On a television in the center of the main room, kids watch a video of Disney's Lady and the Tramp. It's the moment in the film when the two lead dogs fall in love over a shared platter of spaghetti, a rather touching scene for a cartoon. Instead of watching, a trio of the more hyperactive patrons commence a track meet around a pair of circular tables littered with children's books.

"Excuse me, sirs, please sit down!" shouts a woman at the checkout desk. "Please sit down right now!"

This branch of the library is more day-care center than research institution. The gray metal shelves sag with Spanish translations of the adventures of Clifford the Big Red Dog (La Navidad de Clifford) and English-language science primers on iguanas and Black Holes and Other Space Oddities. Today, near the front door, stands a new and unusual display: a large poster of the cover of Martin Marcus's book.

Carol Durbin walks in at 2:00 p.m., shaking the rain off her umbrella. She's wearing a long green linen skirt and a white tank top that reveals her angular shoulders. Hoop earrings draw attention to her coppery hair. She introduces herself to the librarian at the desk, then points her umbrella at the poster of the book cover. The two talk for a few minutes. Periodically they scan the room for someone who's lived more than twelve years. Almost no one fits the bill. Carol was going to read from Martin's book this afternoon, as the poster advertises. The librarian recommends cancellation.

"I could turn off the TV and force them to listen to you," she explains, "but they'd only be doing it 'cause I made 'em, and they're not gonna sit still and that's not gonna be good for nobody."

Writing a book, as difficult as the process can be, is usually only half the battle. Much like every new mother learns, the hard part starts after delivery. With a million and a half books in print, it's easy for one title to vanish unnoticed. To land any kind of attention, especially if you're a first-time author with a minor publisher, you have to get out there and pitch the book as if you were hawking soap, cereal, or stereo equipment at an electronics superstore. Try to hustle up local press, hoping it leads to more press nationally. Agree to speak anywhere they'll let you.

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