"Act boldly and unforeseen forces will come to my aid," says Carol Durbin, relating some words that were favorites of Martin L. Marcus, her partner of thirteen years. Marcus, who passed away last month after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), certainly took that expression to heart. Thoroughbred horse trainer, real estate developer, and entertainment executive, Marcus, a Philadelphia native, died right before he could add another credit to his résumé: author of a novel. For the past five years, he had been working on the historical epic Freedom Land, the tale, based on actual events, of how more than 1000 escaped black slaves allied themselves with the Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole War and took on the U.S. Army, gaining their freedom in the process. The book, newly published by TOR/Forge, will be introduced during a reading and reception this Saturday at Books & Books.
The idea for the novel arose in 1983 after Marcus read a newspaper article about the 150th anniversary of Florida, says Durbin, who met him in 1989 through a personal ad he placed in this very newspaper. "He was fascinated by the Seminole," says Durbin, "because they were the only tribe that never gave up their freedom." He first co-wrote Red, White, and Black, a screenplay on the subject, which was eventually optioned by a production company but never got produced. In 1995 Marcus regained the rights to the script. Stricken with ALS in 1997 and confined to a wheelchair after a fall in 1998, he nevertheless embarked on the literary project, convinced the story needed to be told. "Every time he looked in books or on the Internet, he was amazed at all the information that was out there that people didn't know about," says Durbin, who helped with the two-year research process.
Freedom Land was the name of a Seminole territory that offered haven to escaped slaves. Working on the book became a haven of sorts for Marcus, who also was active in causes to help the disabled. So determined was he to finish the work, although almost entirely paralyzed by 2000, he often typed with one finger. Eventually when he lost the use of his hands, he would dictate to Durbin or a typist.
Now Freedom Land is in the hands of a Hollywood agent and Durbin hopes it eventually will be made into a miniseries. In the meantime, she's plugging the book at independent stores. Since she's not the book's actual author, the major chains won't allow her to conduct presentations at their outlets. "I'll just find another way to get the word out," promises a determined Durbin. "It's a challenge that I embrace."
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And Marcus's tenacious example certainly taught Durbin plenty about braving the odds. Before Marcus passed away, he had begun writing two more books: Inadmissible Evidence, a chronicle of his later life, and a sequel to Freedom Land. "So many people don't know what to do with their lives," Durbin says. "Martin was definitely someone who believed in the Wayne Gretzky school [of thought]: 'Every shot you don't take, you miss.'"