Tag Archives: novel

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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Tales of a First-Time Novelist

“Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions.” – Paulo Coelho

I am awake at 3:00 a.m. to write this blog post. Why? Well…see the quote above. It’s my “human condition.” I can’t help it. I have something I want to share.

As some of you may know, I am in the process of writing my first novel. The idea first popped into my mind over a year ago, and it has taken me this long to crank out the first nine chapters. Why? Heck, I don’t know. I’m a writer. Writing is my thing. It’s what I do. But writing fiction?  Whoa. As they say in Oz, that’s a horse of a different color! 7dbbefcc1a588d2c161143a661a1019d

Fiction is hard for me. It engages imagination. And that’s something that I think I might still be somewhat lacking in. Now, seeing and capturing reality on the other hand?  Oh yeah, I got that one down pat.  There are so many real things out there that we walk past every day that beg for their stories to be told. These are the things that capture me and won’t let go until I obey their commands and immortalize them onto a computer screen. Thus, this blog you’re reading. (My first published work, Lessons Abound is exactly that as well – a collection of essays that stem from everyday life events.)

But fiction?  Well, fiction doesn’t quite work that way, as I’m learning. There are no reminders. No smorgasbord of random, everyday events. Nope. You have to choose one story line and stick to it. And where does that storyline have to come from?

Sigh.

Me.

That’s it. Just little ole me.

I have to pull all of this stuff out of my head. And this is quite new for me. While I definitely still draw inspiration from the life around me, most of what I’m writing in my fiction novel has to be drawn from the recesses of my own mind. I’ve recently shared the first nine chapters of my novel with a few willing, and extremely helpful readers. While I’m waiting on feedback, some of the early thoughts that have trickled in have had this somewhat common theme to them:

“Is your story autobiographical?”

Ha. Oops.

So, no. The story is not autobiographical. But I’m a nonfiction writer, man. This fiction stuff is hard. While I’m playing around with my imagination for the first time, I’m having a teensy bit of trouble letting go of reality in order to do so. So I had to find a compromise. I’m making these characters into people I know by making them all pieces of me.  Does that make sense? In order to write a story that people are going to believe, as the author I need to know these characters. I need to know their surroundings, their upbringing, their hopes, their dreams, their fears. I need to know what makes them tick. And right now, while I’m still trying out my fiction sea legs, I’m going to keep one tiny little foot anchored on the shore of reality. I’m giving these characters lives and personalities that I know and understand. Heck, even the “bad” guys in the story are going to possess some of my not-so-endearing qualities. They almost have to. They come from me, right? You-only-learn-to-beIs this what all authors do?

I don’t know. But I’d be willing to bet maybe so. Especially in the beginning. Maybe as fiction becomes more second nature to me, I’ll learn to loosen that grip on a reality just a bit more and let my imagination take over the reigns. For now, though, yes; you’re going to see pieces of me in this writing. Some of them may be things you already know. Some of them may surprise you. But trust me – while you may see me in this story, the events are still 100% made up.

Clear as mud? Well, good. Glad we got that settled.

I’m so grateful for the brave souls who have dedicated their time and energy to reading the first draft of my first nine chapters. Writing is a very lonely process.  I sit at a computer screen night after night and do this alone. Some nights a few pages will flow out. Some nights I add a comma in a sentence somewhere and then go to bed. I never know if my muse is going to show up or not, but I keep trying. And sometimes I feel like I’m doing this for nothing. I’m a writer. I write so it can be read. And if I’m the only one reading it, what’s the point?  So, thank you, early readers. I hope you know how much this means to me. Truly. The readers are just as important as the writer in bringing a story to life. More so even. I couldn’t do this without you.

And now that I’ve gotten these characters’ personalities set up in a way that I know and understand, let’s start getting that imagination cranking and make them do some crazy stuff.  Shall we? 😉

***

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
-E. L. Doctorow

Random Sparks

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
– Albert Schweitzer

So, if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know that I start each blog out with a quote. And I’m willing to bet that a lot of you just skim right over it and get right to the meat of the blog post. Am I right? Do you do that? Ha! Busted! (You didn’t know I knew that, did you? Surprise! I know ALL…muhahaha).

rekindleWell, that’s all well and good…you just skip all the quotes you want to there, buddy.  But this time – well, this time, you’re not allowed to do that. I’m putting my foot down, by golly. This time I’m going to make you read the quote. Go on now. Go back up there and read it and then come back. I’ll wait.

Are you back?

Did you read it?

Okay, good. Now, I wanted you to read that because this whole blog post is going to center around the concept that it presents. I’ve seen the quote many times before and it never occurred to me (until today, that is) that those encounters with human beings didn’t have to necessarily be “deep” or earth-shattering, per se.  They didn’t even have to be personal. In fact, sometimes you don’t even need to have known the person at all.

Case in point.

I had to go to court this morning. Now, hold your horses. Don’t go spreading rumors that I’m a criminal or anything. It was just an old humdrum run-of-the-mill court appearance for a traffic offense. Ya know, my usual. (If you don’t know me personally, or you missed this blog, let’s just suffice it to say that I’m not the luckiest gal in the world when it comes to vehicles.)  So there I sat, reading a novel that I brought along and waiting for my name to be called, when the person beside me struck up a conversation.

Her – “Is that a good book?”
Me – “Yeah, actually, it’s great.”
Her – “I’ve heard a lot about it, but I haven’t read it yet.”

This polite conversation eventually lead to my asking her about the book she was reading. (We were the only two people in the building holding actual books, by the way, instead of playing on our phones.) She told me she was reading a book about writing.

Me – “Oh, are you a writer?”
Her – “Well, yes, I guess you could say that.”
Me – “That’s great. Me too. Sort of.”

(You’ll always find that in writers…that hesitation to call ourselves a “writer.”  What is it about that title that seems so distant? So unattainable? Why do we feel so undeserving? Sheesh.)

So, this polite chitchat ended up launching us into what was to become what I am now calling an hour-long best-friendship. Together, we discussed all things writing…from the way writers see the world differently (we made up so many stories about people in that courtroom that it would make your head spin) to the pros and cons of certain kinds of publishing. As it turns out, my new random friend who was afraid to call herself a writer actually makes her living being a writer. She quit her job and started publishing romance novels on Amazon six months ago. The income she has generated from doing so has actually been enough for her to live on. Wow!  (And incidentally…she hates romance novels. That’s just where the market is heaviest right now and she wanted to get a good, firm foundation before diving into the stuff she really likes – young adult and fantasy novels).

By the time my name was called, I felt so “recharged,” it was crazy.  I wanted to run out of that courtroom and plop down in front of my computer and write and write and write. (Of course, I didn’t. I had to go to work. Sigh. But you get the idea…)  My inner spark had just been “burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.” How about that!?

All of this lead me to remember something. I had a favorite uncle – Uncle Jeff – who passed away from heart complications when he was only 33 years old. Just prior to his death, he underwent a fairly new surgery that placed a machine inside of him that would pump his heart for him. Had he survived the operation, he would have lived a “normal” life except for one small detail…he’d have to actually “plug himself in” periodically. Yep, you read that right. Thanks to the marvels of medical technology, people are able to live normal, healthy lives all while being kept alive by a man-made machine pumping their hearts for them – and my sweet uncle was almost one of them. I remember having a conversation with him just prior to the surgery. He said something along the lines of, “All I have to do is make sure I’m near an outlet and I’ll be fine.”

Hmmm.

Maybe my random hour-long best-friend was just that. An outlet. A power source. Something to re-charge me just when I needed it most.

So, as we bid goodbye to 2014 and say “howdy do” to 2015, I challenge you all to do just this…keep an eye out for those power sources. Got it? Recharge as often as you can…don’t miss a single opportunity. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t let a spark just pass you by without allowing it to do its job. Recognize it! Engage it. Talk to that stranger…spend time with that aging wisdom-filled grandmother…surround yourself with artistic friends…dive into those novels.  Let’s spend 2015 reigniting those flames, shall we?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a novel to work on…

Happy New Year!

***

“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

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