It's difficult to rival the plot twists in any book that's sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, but the dramatic arc of Margaret Mitchell's writing career is, in many ways, just as compelling as the love life of her heroine's, Scarlett O'Hara. But that book had never been written -- until the publication this month of Ellen Brown and John Wiley Jr.'s “Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood” (Taylor Trade Publishing, $26.95).
“We were the right people at the right time,” says Brown, a Richmond environmental lawyer who once owned a rare book business, Liberty Hall Books. In 2008, when she was assigned to write an article about local “Gone with the Wind” collector Wiley for the rare books magazine, “Fine Books and Collections,” a light went off. “John had the ‘Gone with the Wind' background and contacts and I had the legal and writing background,” she says.
The 75th anniversary of the original book's publication comes in June, so the new volume comes on an important anniversary.
Before they could begin writing, the writers had to fly to Atlanta to get three levels of permission from lawyers representing the Mitchell estate. Once granted, they worked only from original documents, creating an encyclopedialike index of footnotes. “Because I didn't have any background with ‘Gone with the Wind' and didn't know the lore,” Brown says, “I came to it with a fresh set of eyes and said, ‘Let's question everything.'”
Their manuscript was nearly complete when Brown unearthed a key element that changed everything: Lois Cole was Mitchell's closest friend and the person at Macmillan perhaps most responsible for Mitchell's manuscript seeing the light of day. After lengthy discussion, Cole's daughter, Linda Barnes, drove from Indiana to Richmond, granting Brown and Wiley an hour and a half with a thin sheaf of closely guarded personal papers. “It was amazing,” Brown says. “It completely turned on its head the story of how ‘Gone with the Wind' came to be. What she gave us was enough to really tell it the right way.”
And in this case, the story behind the story is the riveting equivalent of a literary thriller. “I hope it appeals to people who aren't just ‘Gone with the Wind' fans,” Brown says, “because it's a women's story, a legal story and a story about writing. The fact that it's ‘Gone with the Wind' is icing on the cake.”
Ellen Brown and John Wiley Jr. will launch “Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood” on Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Page Bond Gallery, 1625 W. Main St. Information at http://www.pagebondgallery.com.