Thursday, February 25, 2016

Pulitzers and Oscars and Harper Lee's Lawyer

Zestful Blog Post #148

When writing or speaking about the craft of writing, I often give examples from famous books. As it happens, a great many famous books have been made into movies. This is not by accident, I tell my audiences. Stories that resonate deeply in the human heart find their way around.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one of the first novels I ever read. I remember being so young I didn’t know what rape was, and I didn’t understand that Mr. Ewell did NOT fall on his knife. Growing up, I read the story dozens of times, and still reread it every few years, in spite of having been told by a college professor that it was a contemptible book. This professor, in the middle of teaching Saul Bellow’s Mr. Sammler’s Planet, somehow found a way to bring up To Kill a Mockingbird and sneer at it, because in the end, the little white children are safe “and everything’s all nicey-nice.” I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t recap the plot of Mr. Sammler’s Planet if my life depended on it.

Harper Lee’s smash hit book was made into a terrific movie, which is as beloved as the book. I’m writing about this because it’s Oscar time. The film version of Mockingbird won a few Oscars. I’m getting to my point.

Which has to do with Harper Lee’s other book, Go Set a Watchman, which got published last year. Just to get this straight, Mockingbird brought tons of attention to Lee, who hated the attention, who retreated from public life, who said she’d never publish another book, but oh, my gosh! Her lawyer “finds” this ol’ manuscript—just now!—and gets an idea! And at the age of 88, after having a stroke and being in an assisted-living facility, Harper’s like, cool, I’d thought that stack of paper was lost for good! Let’s dust this puppy off and publish it! Heck, yes. I can’t wait! And what’s more, I really don’t need to do any edits, or even talk to the publisher myself; my lawyer will handle everything. She has my best interests at heart.


So the book, which I haven’t read because I’m boycotting it, reportedly portrays Atticus Finch as a racist, and puts an ugly coda onto the one brilliant gift Harper Lee gave the world. Do we think Watchman is going to win the Pulitzer? They’re talking about making a movie of it. No doubt they will. Suppose that’ll win some Oscars? A Pulitzer and some Oscars?


And that’s my point.

Here’s a tiny gift for you, dear reader who has stuck with me all the way to the bottom: Advance notice of our latest giveaway: Starting at midnight Pacific time tomorrow, Friday, The Actress (Rita Farmer mystery #1) will be free on Kindle through the weekend. In honor of the Oscars, naturally! This is the first time it's been free. Also, stay tuned for a newschat coming tomorrow with more announcements. I’ll post it here on the blog as well as send it to my newschat list.

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  1. I'm boycotting Go Set a Watchman myself. I've read enough about it to know I never want to read the book. If Harper Lee knew better not to publish it when she was younger, she never should have been talked into releasing it when she was obviously too old to realize what she was agreeing to. Shame on the publishing house for taking advantage of her. They muddied her name forever.

  2. Exactly, Michele. I think her age alone wasn't enough to enfeeble her, but combined with the stroke and whatever other medical issues she had, she was easy pickings.

  3. The Actress was my first Elizabeth Sims novel and I haven't stopped buying the print versions of both Rita Farmer and Lillian Byrd.

  4. I cannot agree more with you about the unique beauty of Lee's first work and the disappointment surrounding the second.
    Thank you for your offer (I'm in!) and one more thing: I'm presenting a talk, "How to Get Started--and Keep--Writing" tomorrow here in Portugal, and promoting You've Got a Book In You as a resource. Have a great weekend.

  5. Big Stan, bless your heart. And Tricia, that's fabulous about your talk! Best wishes on it, and thank you for telling your audience about YGABIY. I appreciate that very much.


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