Tag Archives: author

To Read It or Not To Read It….

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero…”
– G. K. Chesterton

There’s a debate in the literary world that most of you have probably heard of in some form or another. A “new” novel by Harper Lee was just released yesterday. It’s called Go Set a Watchman and was apparently written prior to To Kill a Mockingbird.

GSAWNow, depending on which story you hear or believe, the overall gist is that Harper Lee supposedly provided this book to her publishers, and they felt that there was a better story to be told—a story that the world needed to hear. They wanted the same characters that were in her book, mind you, but wanted the story moved back a few years. Altered a bit. Told from the viewpoint of the little girl, “Scout,” instead of the grown woman Jean Louise that is telling us the story in Go Set a Watchman.

Now, before I go any further, I want to give you this disclaimer. I have not read Go Set a Watchman. Not yet. Will I?

Therein lies the question.

Harper Lee is an incredibly private individual. I’m not going to profess to be a Lee scholar by any means, but I do know that she will not give interviews and detested the amount of publicity she received after To Kill a Mockingbird became such a phenomenon. So, why would she allow this publication now?  Ah, therein lies the rub. Did she allow it?

I read one article that stated:

Residents of Monroeville [where Lee now lives] gossip that Ms. Lee is mentally infirm these days, does not recognize old friends, could not possibly have signed off on the publication, never wanted to do a second book. But those who are closest to her scoff at such conspiratorial theories, saying Harper Lee, now 88 and admittedly frail, remains fully capable of making up her own mind.

Quite the fodder for controversy there, huh? Did she or didn’t she?  Is she a frail little 88-year-old woman (now 89, I think) who is being taken advantage of by those who stand to benefit from the profits that this new book will bring in?

Or is she truly what the article I mentioned above says she is?  (Click on the link to check it out if you haven’t already.)  Is she a little old lady who wrote a book long ago – back before the digital age where there would have been copies upon copies of drafts saved on a hard-drive or flash drive somewhere – who truly misplaced the draft?  According to the article, she was delighted when it was found.

I have to interject here for a second while I imagine this scenario to be true. I’m a writer too…obviously not of the caliber of Harper Lee…but a writer nonetheless. And recently, I lost a portfolio full of poetry that I had written over the past ten years. Why were they not saved on a computer somewhere? I don’t know. I just know they were in a folder and I lost them. I was devastated. I searched the house over to no avail…only to find it months later hidden in the back of my closet. I can’t think of another word to describe that feeling other than joyous. All of that work hadn’t been for nothing! My work had been found. Was it any good? I don’t know. A few of them had already failed to win anything in various writing contests I had entered them in, but did I care? No! It was my work and it was found.

Could I have, on some minuscule scale felt what Harper Lee felt when her baby, her novel was found? Did she care that it had once been deemed “not good enough” for publishing? I’m betting not. And when it was suggested to her that it was time to publish it, would she have denied such a suggestion?

Hmmm. I wonder. Some think she would have. And that she did.

But all of that “Did she or did she not want it published?” stuff aside, I think the bigger, truer issue lying behind the controversy is what has been revealed now that reviews have been released. Turns out, Atticus Finch – the protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird – might have had a darker side.

Now, trust me, I get it. I get the reaction that literary lovers of Atticus are feeling. We LOVE Atticus. Atticus is the true epitome of goodness. He lives in our hearts as a hero, as a true pioneer of equality and justice. But you know what? He isn’t real. Really. He’s not. He’s a product of one author’s imagination…and only after influence from others as to what and who he should be. So, did Harper Lee really create Atticus Finch? Or did we?

Go Set a Watchman was written first.  What that means is that Harper Lee’s original intention was for Atticus Finch to be who he is in this book. Again, I look at this through the eyes of a writer. Do I have the right to tell Miss Lee that the image I have in my head of her character is better than the one she had? Is that my place? Like many others, should I thus refuse to read a book that tarnishes the glow that I put on this beloved man who touched my heart the first time I read this book at the tender age of 18?

I don’t know. But you know what? I don’t think so.

What it comes down to for me is this: there’s a new book out there. It’s a much-talked about book. A much-anticipated book. And a book that’s shrouded in conspiracy. Am I going to read it?

You bet your patootie I am.

Am I doing a disservice to Harper Lee if the rumors are true? Am I reading something that an author intended to keep to herself?  Possibly. But my writer’s heart just somehow knows that an entire novel could not possibly have been written only to keep hidden from readers’ eyes. Look at the history of it…she presented it to publishers years ago. Does that sound like a hidden manuscript?  I just can’t believe it is.

In my heart of hearts, I feel like this is the story that Harper Lee wanted told.

Will my mind change after reading Go Set a Watchman?  Will I wish I had never picked it up? Will I wish that my memories of Atticus Finch remained the way I had him – in all his saintly glory?  Hmm. Who knows?

But I can tell you this…I’m definitely going to give myself the chance to find out.

***

The only way you can truly get to know an author is through the trail of ink he leaves behind him. The person you think you see is only an empty character: truth is always hidden in fiction.”
– Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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What A Novel Idea

“I like the challenge of trying different things and wondering whether it’s going to work or whether I’m going to fall flat on my face.”
– Johnny Depp

chapteroneSo, have I mentioned that I’m writing a novel?

Finally.  After all of these years of writing poetry and essays, I finally decided to bite the bullet and give a novel a try.  I never thought I could do this.  First of all, I have never been the greatest at that whole “follow through” thing.  Oh you know how it is – you get these great big grandiose ideas in your mind, and maybe you even actually start on them, but to follow through?  Ok, I’m out.  That follow through thing takes too much work.  On to the next great idea…

You feel me?  Been there yourself?  Oh yeah – when it comes to follow through, jumping ship has always been my superpower.

And another reason I’ve been hesitant to write a novel?  Well, I’m not exactly a ‘fiction’ writer.  Most everything I’ve written over the years has just been observations of the world around me, not something that I  made up in my mind.  Yes, yes, I know all books don’t have to be fiction.  There are plenty of great non-fiction books out there in the world.  But something I came across once in some “how to be a writer” article or another was this piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten.  It said that there is something important that you need to remember when you are ready to take on the challenge of writing a novel.

“Write something that you would like to read.”

Although at first glance that seems pretty obvious, there’s actually much more wisdom to that than you might think.  While I have always written poetry and essays, when I go to a bookstore, are the poetry and essay books the first ones I head to?  Nope.  I like novels.  Fiction.  I love them.  I eat them up.  I love the ones about family connections, the ones about mysteries, the ones with a strong, likeable heroine as the main character….all that stuff.

So, why am I not writing that?

Well, other than the reasons I’ve mentioned before, there’s also the big reason.  The reason that we all have whenever we’re afraid to rise to any challenge in our lives.  What’s that reason, you ask?  Well, I think you know.

I’m afraid I’ll fail.

What if I spend all this time writing a fiction novel…and it blows?  You know?  I mean, it’s highly likely for that to be the case.  I’m not a novelist.  I’m a beginner.  It may never get read by anyone except my boyfriend Richard.  (You know he’ll be forced to read it. I’m sure he already thinks I’m a little crazy for talking about these characters as if they were real people as it is…)  It may never get published and may just remain a pile of words sitting on a computer hard drive somewhere for the rest of my life.

Or.

Or…maybe someone will like it.  Maybe it will get published.  And read.  And (as is the most important thing to me…), identified with.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Eh.  Either way.  It’s time to try, right?

I compare it to when I first started running.  I remember the absolute glee I felt the first time I ran one mile without stopping.  (Quotes?)  And then the first time I ran an actual 5K.  (Poetry?)  And then the pride and accomplishment I felt when I ran my first half marathon.  (Essays?).  Well, now it’s time to rise to the challenge and take it a step further.  Just as I never thought I’d be able to get this far with my running, I also thought I’d never get this far with my writing.  I have an essay published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, for Heaven’s sakes!  That’s a big deal.  And I’ve ran not one, but two half marathons.  The lesson to be learned is that I can do things that I never thought possible.

Maybe it’s time to step up my game?

So here’s to the future.  Here’s to a finished novel (good or bad) and to a full marathon one of these days.  It doesn’t have to be the best – it just has to get done.  It just has to.

Bucket list, make room.  A few more things are about to join the ranks…

***

“I want to challenge you today to get out of your comfort zone.  You have so much incredible potential on the inside.  God has put gifts and talents in you that you probably don’t know anything about.”
– Joel Osteen

Books

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.”
– Vera Nazarian

booksOk, I’m bustin out the geek card for this blog.

I’m going to talk about how much I love books.  And, holy crap, do I love books!  I mean, I really really love books.

I saw the picture to the right on Facebook the other day, and I felt a little tingle in my stomach.  Seriously, I’m that big of a nerd!  I know that feeling of ‘magic’ that it’s referring to….the feeling of holding a book in your hand, smelling the pages, wondering what other life is waiting inside for you to slip into.  It’s addictive, man, I’m tellin’ ya.

And, admittedly, I do have a slight problem when it comes to that kind of addiction.  I’m obsessed with buying and owning these books, but I don’t exactly always get around to reading them.  You know what I mean?  It’s like the food thing – you know how when someone thinks they’re crazy hungry so they pile their plate with food and then they’re not quite able to finish it?  You call that your eyes being bigger than your stomach, right?  Or something like that.  Well, I have that problem with books.  My eyes are bigger than the amount of free hours I have in a day.  So, with that being the case, I own a huge bookshelf, overflowing with books, and I could honestly bet you that there are about 1/3 of them sitting there unread.

Eh.  Oh well.  I’m sure there are worse addictions to have.

librarySo, with this book addiction of mine comes another addiction.  The library.  Holy cow, the library is the greatest thing ever invented.  EVER.  I mean, hello?  There are thousands of books just sitting there waiting for you to borrow them and read them. For free!  What kind of person doesn’t take advantage of that?  Books.  For you to read.  For free.  Duuuuh!  Ok, am I the only person that gets this excited about books?  Please tell me I’m not.  Please?  Anybody?

I’m lucky enough to work right down the road from the local library.  And, apparently, I spend quite a bit of time there.  Just yesterday when I went by to check out a book, one of the librarians said, “I haven’t seen your name on the ‘hold’ list in a while.  Everything ok?”  Heh.  Um, wow.  Ok, first of all, I don’t even know this lady.  I’ve seen her quite a few times, of course, but there are many librarians that file in and out and I didn’t recall having seen her any more often than anyone else.  But apparently, she remembers me.  Strangely, that made me kind of proud.  See?  Nerd.

I have turned to that library so many times over the years.  Problems with the kids?  Head to the library.  There’s a parenting book for that.  Stressful day at work?  Head to the library at lunch.  Grab an easy read and sit in the stillness for an hour before you have to jump back into reality.  Relationship problems?  Head to the library.  Breathe in the quiet and calm and check out a book about relationship issues and find out where you’re going wrong.  [Funny tidbit on that topic: a friend of mine was going through a rough time in a relationship recently, so I went to the library and checked out my ‘go-to’ relationship book for her to read.  When I gave her my precious breakup bible, she realized there was a piece of paper stuck in it.  What was it, you ask?  A receipt.  My receipt.  The receipt from the last time I checked the book out was still in it.  Ha!  Apparently I’m the only one who reads that thing.  Isn’t it time for them to just give it to me??  By the way, the book is called “It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken” by the author of “He’s Just Not That Into You,” Greg Behrendt and his wife, Amiira.  It rocks.]

chickensoupAnd now that you know what a nerd I am about books, you’ll have a better understanding for why I’m so incredibly excited about what is getting ready to happen to me.  One of these days over the next few weeks, I’m going to get home from work and there is going to be a box waiting at my door.  And inside this box is going to be ten brand new books that haven’t even been released in the stores yet.  And you know why I’m getting that box of books?  Because my name is listed in them as an author.

My name is listed as an author.

Holy crap, just typing that sentence gave me goose bumps.  This silly blog that I started just nine short months ago, and that now is bordering on 13,000 views, has led me to this.  Because I took the chance that someone might like something that I had written, I am going to be a published author.  A published author!  The closer it gets, the more real it becomes.  My name is going to be listed among other writers in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game.  Me!  The lover of the written word, the nerd who can’t stay out of bookstores, the girl who is known on a first name basis by the librarian…I am now going to walk into these places knowing that somewhere within them lies a book that has my name in it.

Somebody pinch me!

Kind of strange how life works out sometimes, isn’t it?  I am so grateful to all of the authors that have come before me.  The ones who have written the many books that I have read and have shown me what pleasure can come from reading someone else’s story.  It blows my mind to think that I am going to be sitting on their side of the table now.  Somewhere someone will be in my place – they will be the nerd sitting at the bookstore or at the library or on their couch with their cat.  They will pick up this book and start reading a story that touches them in some way, and they’ll look to the name of the author, and it will be mine.  Mine.

Full circle, people.  Life always finds a way to come back full circle.

This is the stuff dreams are made of.

***

“It is the writer who might catch the imagination of young people, and plant a seed that will flower and come to fruition.”
– Isaac Asimov

Chicken Soup

I have been kind of keeping something a secret.

Oh, I don’t know why really.  I guess at first I wasn’t sure whether I should say something when I wasn’t 100% positive that it was going to be true (I’m still not sure really, but I’ll explain that soon enough).  Then, I was a little embarrassed to say something about it.  Not sure why that is either really.  I guess I just didn’t want to put the cart before the horse or whatever.  And then, finally, I was afraid to say something in fear of…well, I don’t know…jinxing it maybe?

But, alas, as my ever-helpful boyfriend said to me about my fear of the jinx (while quoting the great philosopher, Andy Griffith):

There’s no such thing, Barney.”

(Full of wisdom, that one is.)

Ok.  So, jinx be darned, I’m ready to spill my guts.

See this?

chickensoup

This is the cover of a new Chicken Soup for the Soul book that is being released on December 24.  And guess what?

There’s a very strong chance that one of my stories will be in it.

EEEEEEK!

Ok, let me back up a little and explain.

About four months ago, after starting my blog and getting some pretty positive feedback from people, I decided to try on a little confidence and see how it fit.  I started submitting some of my works.  Mostly, I entered a few little contests here and there (one of which I won!), but then I started looking into submitting works for publishing.  I stumbled across a webpage that listed various publishers and Chicken Soup for the Soul was on the list.  When I saw it, it was like a light bulb went off in my mind.

That’s it!

I had always had trouble deciding how to describe my writing.  My grandmother, who is not techno savvy AT ALL and has thus, of course, never seen my blog (and probably has never even heard of the word ‘blog’), would ask me “Well, Melissa, what is it that you write?”  I was stumped.  I had no idea how to answer that. The things I write certainly don’t fall into the “novel” category (I can barely hold a thought long enough to make a complete sentence, much less maintain a thought for the entire process of writing a NOVEL!  Sheesh!);  they aren’t short stories really (they aren’t long enough for that, and they’re not fiction); they’re not “essays” exactly, but that was what came to closest to describing them I supposed.  But I still couldn’t quite explain to her (or to anyone) what they were exactly.

And then I saw the request for submissions to Chicken Soup and realized that those were exactly what I write.  Just like what the Chicken Soup books are filled to the brim with, I write short little nonfiction personal accounts from my own life that I hope will somehow make a difference to someone else.  As my friend Chris Hansen once said in a Facebook status, “We are more alike than it seems.”  He followed it up with the following quote :

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”
– Thích Nhất Hạnh

That was my goal.  I wanted many people from many walks of life – no matter their age, religion, social status, whatever – to look at the stories coming from this one little person floating out here on the planet along with them and think, “Hey! That sounds like me!” 

So, I decided to take a chance.  I sent in a submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul. 

Now, I know a lot of my blog readers are “closet writers” –  I know this because you tell me so with your “I wish I had the courage to do what you do” emails – so I’m going to describe a little bit about the process. (And for those of you who are not writers, I’ll try to keep it short so I don’t bore you to tears.  Or, if you want, you can skip this part.  You’re not going to hurt my feelings, I promise.)

First, I perused the Chicken Soup for the Soul webpage and found the “submit your story” link in a column on the left (which I’ll post at the bottom of this blog for you closet writers I referred to earlier…you know you wanna!).  When you click here, it will give you a list of some possible upcoming book topics.  You then submit your story based on one of these topics.  The story has to be nonfiction – it has to be something that happened to you or someone you know – and can’t be made up.  You actually have to sign a release form later swearing to the truth of what is contained in the story.  The submission is entirely electronic – you just copy and paste the story on to their site and fill in some info about yourself – and Voilà!  You’re done.  It’s that simple.  (And it’s free!)  And then what happens next?

You wait.

If your story isn’t chosen, you just don’t hear anything at all.  I’ve read that they can get thousands of entries on each individual topic. (Holy cow!)  And I’ve also read that it can sometimes take up to FOUR YEARS to hear back from them even if your story is chosen, depending upon when the production date is scheduled for that particular book.  So, if your story is chosen among the entries, you get an email from them letting you know.  (And that email gives you a small little heart attack and makes you cry…or so I’ve heard…) Then, you go on to provide them a small bio about yourself and sign release and waiver forms with regard to your material being printed in the book.

This is the step that I’m at now.  I have just sent in all of my legal forms and wrote a short bio about who I am (50 words or less – that was hard!) to be printed in the book if my story makes the final cut.  According to the assistant publisher (who I’ve spoken with by phone and email a few times at this point), the “vast majority” (her words) of the stories that have made it this far will be printed in the book.  However, if you’re familiar with the Chicken Soup books, you know that each book is divided into different sub-topics.  She explained that sometimes one sub-topic will be “too full” so to speak, and they may have to leave some stories out to keep it balanced.

So…it’s not 100% for sure that I’m in just yet – but I sure am starting to get my hopes up!  Keep your fingers crossed for me!  (And toes and eyes and whatever else you got…)

When (if?) I’m chosen to appear in the book, the next step will be that I will receive a printed copy of my story to proofread and edit if necessary.  Once the editing process is complete, and the book is bound, I will receive ten copies to keep, which I will receive prior to its release date of December 24.  One month after publishing, I’ll receive $200 payment for my story.

Wow.

I mean, the money is cool and all, but at this point – who the heck cares!?  I’m soooo close to having my work published in a national best-selling book.  Oh. My. Gosh.  As my daughter said when she heard the news, “I don’t understand why they pay you.  Shouldn’t you be paying them?” 

Yeah.  Exactly.

So, for the next few months, I am probably going to be a nervous wreck.  This could be such a huge deal for me.  This is big, folks.

But you know what?  I think that even if I am one of the unlucky few that have made it this far and yet don’t quite make it into the book in the end – I think it’s still pretty big, regardless.  Out of hundreds, maybe thousands, of submissions, my story was chosen.  Wow.  I’m honored, humbled, and blown away that this is happening to me.  And I have each and every one of you who are reading this right now to thank.  Because of you taking the time to read this blog and giving me your positive feedback over the months that I’ve been baring my soul for all the world to see, I have gained confidence.  I have started to believe that I’m actually a writer.  And because of that belief – I have taken a chance.  And it may possibly have paid off.

Big time.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming along with me on this crazy ride.  I’ll keep you posted!

***

“If you wish to be a writer, write.”
– Epictetus

Links:

Link to submit to Chicken Soup: http://www.chickensoup.com/form.asp?cid=possible_books

Link to read more about the Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game book and/or to pre-order a copy on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1611599296/102-7001014-7473727?ie=UTF8&tag=chisouforthes-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=1611599296