I Never Knew Harper Lee

Harper LeeI think the greatest sin of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is the feeling of doubt that it gave me.

Before Go Set a Watchman, I naively thought I knew Harper Lee. Many of us believed that. There was such a beautiful personal quality to To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout and Atticus were not fictional, they were real, and we assumed that real people hid behind their smiles and hugs. Harper was Scout and, of course, her father was the noble and great Atticus.

They were friends and I visited with them often, in both film and book. Before Go Set a Watchman, I would watch the movie once a year, crying in the same two places each time (when Scout is told to stand for her father as he is passing and when she sees Boo in the corner). And I have read the book more times than I care to mention. A part of me still dreams of the first time that I will read it to my kids.

There was a moment in the 2000s, that I shared the same literary agent as Harper Lee. And I would beg (beg!) the agent for news on Harper. I imagined, if I played my cards right, there could be a friendship there. It would begin with a call, that slight southern warmth in her voice. “I was told you wanted to speak with me?”

Awkward at first and then the talk would grow. I would laugh at her sarcastic wit. And I would do a little dance the first time I was able to get her to laugh.

Of course, that call never happened, and my agent at the time just allowed my daydreams to take place.

But, like I said, that all changed with Go Set a Watchman. Continue reading

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Banned Books Week (Sept 27 – Oct 3)

BBW-logoWe are in the midst of Banned Book Week, that time each year when readers and authors alike scan articles and essays about attempts to ban books from libraries and schools over the last year and wonder “What the heck is going on here?”

I’ve had the pleasure for the last three years of doing the book reviews for my local NPR station (WKAR) as part of their show Current State, and each year I try to take on another book that has faced the always surreal argument for censorship.

  • This year I reviewed The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. You can listen to my discussion or read my review via this page.
  • Last year, I reviewed Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You can check that our here.
  • During my first year as part of Current State, I discussed the importance of this holiday and why we need to reflect on it via this audio essay.

I’ve also snuck in over the years other authors that have faced censorship, including (with links) Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Judy Blume, Harper Lee, and J.K. Rowling. In the future, I will be reviewing Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, so this is not slowing down for me anytime soon.

I hope you enjoy checking out some of these book reviews and try to read something a little controversial this week.

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, August 2015

OpusThis is an odd time we live in, especially for us old-school nerds. Star Wars is back (and maybe without too much CGI), a new Ghostbusters film is being made, dinosaurs and terminators are in the movie theaters (not always a good thing, from what I hear). Beloved comic Bloom County is back and looking EXACTLY as it did during its heyday of the 1980s (even mocking Donald Trump who is probably going to win the Republican nomination). Then there is Harper Lee…

Harper Lee…

I reviewed Go Set a Watchman on WKAR (which you can read and hear here), and everyday I get more and more annoyed that it was ever published. I’ve even taken to reading reviews of people that give it good reviews to try and find some way to justify it beside the money. They all take the same tact to their argument- Well, if you consider the time she was writing and this is only an early draft and, my favorite, if you look at it as a piece of history. No, it’s not a piece of history! It was released by the publisher as a sequel (!) to To Kill a Mockingbird. And they did not push it as a “growth” piece, a chance to see the evolution of Lee as a writer. Everything they did was to present it as a follow-up, the continuing story of Scout and Atticus. Heck, even Reese Witherspoon did the audiobook! You don’t call a major actress in to do an audiobook of some kind of little historical literary oddity.

I don’t want to join the speculation on whether Harper Lee wanted this book published or not. But there are two points that always seem to come up for me. 1., If she wanted this published, why didn’t she try to find it in the 60s, the 70s, or the 80s. Why now? 2. As an author, I have many things I have worked on that I wouldn’t want published. Yes, they have a beginning, middle, and  end, but that doesn’t mean they are publishable.

Frankly, Go Set a Watchman destroyed an American classic and if I was the editor I would have burned that copy before releasing it. Yeah, I would’ve taken the bullet and gone down in history as the guy who destroyed a Lee manuscript. And I would have done it proudly. The ironic thing about this is, yes, the publisher and Lee (well, her lawyer who oversees her finances) are making truckloads of money, they have destroyed a cash cow. Mark my words, in ten years To Kill a Mockingbird will no longer be a bestseller or even taught in schools. Go Set a Watchman will destroy the yearly flow they expect from Mockingbird. It won’t happen right away, but it will happen.

Okay, that is all very doom and gloom of me. Let’s talk about happier things, because it is August and summer. Here’s one… Continue reading

New WKAR Book Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Current StateOn WKAR’s Current State, I reviewed the new (and it is still weird to say this) book by Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman. This might have been the hardest review I ever had to do on the show for many reasons, as you will see below.

You can listen to my new review here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-go-set-watchman-harper-lee

If you would rather read my review, you can do so below.

Hey, did you know Current State has a podcast? If you subscribe, you can download episodes and segments (and you can find me every other Thursday). Here is a link to find it on iTunes- https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wkar-fm-current-state/id594609653?mt=2

If you want to check out my other book reviews for WKAR’s Current State, you can do so via links on this page. Continue reading

My Ten Favorite Books: In My Head…

BooksBusy editing… busy reading… busy reviewing… and it’s summer.

Oh, I’m still here, just locking down my new book. And the new Harper Lee is out today (wow, it is sooo weird to type that). and I need to read it fast for my book reviews.

But I haven’t forgotten about this site! No you guys are still in my heart and head, so I thought I would share a quick list.

If you ever want to get into the head of an author ask them their 10 favorite books. Nothing will give you a better insight into their mind and creativity. So here is mine…

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- Easily, one of the few perfect novels in literature. Not a word out of place.

2. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut- My favorite from one of my favorite authors.

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Great to read, better to read aloud.

4. The Abortion by Richard Brautigan- The obscure work in the list. Love this book and the bookstore in it (which would be called in today’s world “Amazon.com.”)

5. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury- Beautiful, beautiful…

6. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis- When I was a kid and I visited new houses I would check every closet for Narnia. (Honestly, I still do that from time to time.)

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- You read this, right? Kind of a big deal in American Literature, especially right now (new book and all).

8. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- A huge influence on how I set up family scenes and develop characters.

9. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens- This is a story stolen by the business of Christmas, but once it was just a wonderful novella. Well, it still is and it is great.

10. Middlemarch by George Elliot- A literary epic, grand and at the same time filled with wonderful little moments and characters. Also one of the most beautiful endings.

Now I’m off to read this new book by Harper Lee (again, crazy we get to say that).

NEW WKAR Book Review: The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

Current StateThis time on WKAR’s Current State I review the new book on Harper Lee, The Mockingbird Next Door. This nonfiction work is by Marja Mills.

You can listen to my review online here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-marja-mills-mockingbird-next-door-wkar

You can also read my book review below.

If you want to check out this new book by Marja Mills, you can find it on Amazon.com here.

I hope you enjoy my new book review! Continue reading

Taking on the Princesses. Me vs. My Two-Year Old Daughter’s Heroes

ScoutFor years I dreamed of Scout.

That is how I used to imagine my future daughter. Smart, inquisitive, able to stand up in a fight and not playing with dolls, finally growing into a person like Harper Lee. Inventive. Creative. Empowered.

That is not to say I envisioned myself as an Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. I’m not that great, and when I do heart-to-hearts with my kids they are never that lyrical or profound. Usually, it seems to me, that my big parental moments are always about the importance of sharing and taking turns (from toys to parents). Ah, the life of a father with two little ones.

Whatever the case, my daughter is over two now, almost two and a half, and all of the popular girl trends I hoped to avoid with my daughter have taken over and laid waste to my Scout dreams. Where there should be overalls, there are pink leggings, where the toys should be educational and gender-neutral, her likes lean towards the pink aisle of the toy store, the one boys avoid like the cooties.

Yes, my daughter is a full-on little girl, surrounded by Care Bears, babies that need rocking, a lot of pink, and I am at a loss… and then there are the princesses. Continue reading

Hidden Away: The Marvel of Disappearing Writers

Covered in dustIt takes courage to be an artist.

Many people don’t realize this in that first moment they pick up a pen or paintbrush, but they are put on display with the creation the second of its completion.

My favorite example of what I mean comes from being married to a dancer and choreographer. See, when a dancer performs, especially in a piece that they have created, their audience is watching many things.

Yes, the hope is that the audience is focused on the artistic performance, expression and emotional message of the piece, but an audience does so much more than that. They also may compare the dancers in the piece (which are better, which are worse), they might try to find the artist’s personality in it, they may look for mistakes, they may even study the bodies of the dancers. Of all of the art forms, this is in my opinion the most exposed and bravest.

But when you are writing a book, in the beginning you are alone, probably sitting in front of a desk someplace, a large drink with caffeine right nearby (well, that is me); it’s hard to remember that the real world is out there. However, it is out there and if your creation finds an audience, the audience will find you…. Continue reading

What I Learned From Having a Literary Agent

Snoopy Attempting The DreamFor five years, my books were represented by a big agency out of New York City. While I don’t want to name any names, I think I can safely say that this agency has a long history and has been associated with such writers as Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, and John Irving. (Yeah, I have two degrees of separation between my books and Scout!) Their clients are a who’s who of writing over the last one hundred years and as a writer and literature buff I could not have been more thrilled.

Thrilled? No, let me correct that.

I bragged! I gloated! I patted myself on the back every chance I got! I was big man on literary campus and it was only a matter of time before everyone knew my name. Start preparing the Booker prize trophy now… Wait, do they do a trophy? Or is it a medal? I have no idea (if it’s just a certificate that would be lame).

There is this wonderful Hollywood dream for artists that when someone of importance finds their work that suddenly everything is going to be streets of gold from then on and all the hard work is over. (Remember “The Standard Rich and Famous” contract in The Muppet Movie?) Well, I fell for that dream hook, line and sinker; and over the five years I was signed with this agency my career was stagnant.

Those five years are never going to come back. Continue reading

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, March 2012

It’s March in Michigan and you can feel the shackles of winter breaking all around us… To be replaced, of course, by the wet shackles of non-stop rainstorms. February and March are always such dreary months in the state of the mitten. Glen Phillips has a song that says “winter pays for spring.” Nah, in Michigan I can point to two overly depressing months as being the cost.

So usually, around this time of the year, I am drawn to lighter entertainment. This is not the time for a serious novel for me.  You won’t see one on the list. I’m looking for fun and comfort here. For example, just check out the first on my list:

Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schultz (1979-1980)

It’s become a tradition for me and my mom. Every year, I get the box set for Christmas of the next two installments in the Complete Peanuts series. And each year around this time, these collections save me from the natural funk around me… Which is hilarious to consider since the world of Mr. Charles Brown is not exactly a nice place to live.

It’s cruel, it’s full of sarcasm, and your friends have no problem pulling a football from you, letting you land right on your back. Ouch. Continue reading