Tag Archive for: Harper Lee


By AB Plum

Sorry, Facebook. Despite your recent pronouncements that longer posts engage people at a deeper level, nothing beats face-to-face conversations. Sorry, Twitter. Good conversation requires more than 280 characters.

These heresies lead me to think about people I’d like to talk to at a dinner party. Politicians, celebrities, and sports figures don’t get invites. Instead, I prefer eight authors. 

In no order, here are the “giants” I would ask for an evening of food for thought. 
Overlook the minor point that many of my would-be guests are deceased.

Louisa May Alcott, how much did you tone down Jo to get Little Women published?

Henry James, was the governess sexually repressed or was her imagination overly active from being isolated with two precocious kids?

E.A. Poe, which is your favorite short story and what influenced you to write it?

Marion Zimmer Bradley, what influenced your decision in The Mists of Avalon to tell the story of Arthur from five different female viewpoints?

Neil Gaiman, how many versions of the first line of The Graveyard Book did you write?

Harper Lee, how much of Huckleberry Finn is in Atticus Finch?

Rick Riordan, when do you plan to publish another Tres Navarre novel?

Charlaine Harris, what is it fans missed in your conclusion of Dead Ever After?

Obviously, I’ll have to host another dinner party with more authors. I’m thinking at least 1,000 more magicians with words and ideas and stories that have stayed with me for years. While I’m working on my list, whom would you invite?


AB will have to postpone her dinner party for a few months until she publishes The Broken-Hearted Many, Book 6 in The MisFit Series. Release date is February 23. Then comes the final installment in the series, The Whole Truth, due in late April.

Go Set a Watchman – a Draft Not a Sequel

Go Set A Watchman – a Draft Not a Sequel by Debra H. Goldstein

Once upon a time, a book by Harper Lee titled To Kill a Mockingbird was published.  The book was tightly written, had beautiful descriptions of the people living in a small southern town, and provided a moral compass for generations of readers. Despite the awards the book won and the adoration of the public, Ms. Lee said she wouldn’t publish another book and she held true to her word until 2015 when, after the death of her sister, who also was her personal lawyer, a manuscript “discovered” in Harper Lee’s sister’s lockbox was published.

The found manuscript, Go Set A Watchman, was explained as being the original Harper Lee version that after a year of rewriting under the guidance of her editor became the To Kill a Mockingbird published in 1960. Supposedly, her then editor felt the draft manuscript was flawed but believed the parts dealing with the main character as a child with the story told from the child’s perspective were strong enough to build a book around.

The editor was right.

My disclaimer at this point:  since I began writing novels and short stories, I read differently.  Rather than reading simply for enjoyment, I can’t help taking books apart structurally.  Although Go Set A Watchman deals with events and characters after the time of To Kill a Mockingbird with flashbacks to the main character’s childhood, it is not a sequel.  It is a draft.

Repetitive passages, instances of showing not telling, point of view shifts, and even a nickname reference without establishing a set-up for it are problematic – especially since readers are so familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird.  The book isn’t bad, but it isn’t the story or even the characters associated with Mockingbird unless it is a passage dealing with the children.  Those passages are engaging. A careful reader will find many full paragraphs and partial references made to events or actions that are fleshed out in the final To Kill a Mockingbird manuscript.  Some characters are left out, others added and there are major differences between the arthritic Atticus of Watchman and his dignified characterization in Mockingbird.  Most importantly, some of the points that Harper Lee subtlety made in lines readers recall after closing the last page of To Kill a Mockingbird can only be found in long speeches or between the lines in Go Set A Watchman.

If there had been no To Kill a Mockingbird, Watchman would have been read as a first novel with little to no lasting impact.  Although Scout is a young woman in this book, to call it a sequel is a shame.  It should be read and perhaps even taught in schools as what it is — a draft that with revision eventually became a masterpiece.

Fun & Name-Games

By Laura Spinella
Imagine if Dickens had penned Otto instead of Oliver, or Jane Austen
found herself smitten with Doolittle before Darcy ever crossed her mind.  Would these grand works of literature have
been influenced by something as basic as a name? Fast forward to modern times and
it’s clear that name choice is no less critical. Had Margaret Mitchell been in
more of a Susan mood, Scarlett might
not have resonated in quite the same manner. And what about Scout? Her name feels
like a fingerprint on Harper Lee’s character, a curious tomboy through whom the
reader views the world. While all the parts have to come together, nothing cues
the music or gets us on board like a character’s name.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the writing
process, and something I stumbled on by accident… or error.
Years ago, my staple income was writing for a regional magazine
in Salisbury, Maryland. After yet another yawning interview with hospital’s latest
CEO, or maybe it was the manager of a restaurant in town, I did what I always
did. On the drive back to my desk, I recast the subjects. Along with savvier
bios and backgrounds, I gave them far more illustrious names. They weren’t
necessarily exotic or catchy, just a better fit for the personal history I’d embellished.
This was all fun and games until an intriguing alias ended up in the piece I’d
been assigned. I told the proper story about the new director of parks and
recreation, but I’d accidentally given him the name I conjured up. Yeah, it
wasn’t good. You can misspell someone’s name, an unprofessional but forgivable faux
pas. But dish up a Sunday spread, photos included, and call him something other
than the name his mama gave him and, well, it’s an embarrassing clue that maybe
you’re not cut out for real news
      It’s all good now as I’ve traded those
tarnished credentials for the kind of writing that embraces a bad habit. Deciding
a character’s name is one of the perks of the job and, I think, one of the most
critical elements.  I don’t revisit a
character’s name once I’ve handed a story over to my editor or filed a wannabe
book in a drawer, but in the moment nothing seems quite as important.
was fortunate to have a Madonna moment—no, not an epiphany, just a character strong enough to stand on one name: Flynn. He actually has a first, middle and last name, but Flynn’s
single call sign ended up being as integral to his character as his dark past
and questionable psyche. There’s an interesting footnote here and why I mention
it, perhaps highlighting how deep the name process goes. Flynn’s name was fashioned
after a professional baseball player I admired as a teenager. The book’s
protagonist and real-life Flynn have about as much in common as a Kardashian
and Supreme Court Justice, but that just demonstrates how something so small
can trickle down to the heart of a novel.  
With my current WIP, the name hunt is no less intense, as
if I might have to swear to it on a bible. Some of those names—Levi St John, a surname
my husband suggested over burgers at the British Beer Company, Aubrey Ellis, swiped
from an author I admire, and Frank Delacort,  guttural and obstinate—floated in on a breeze.
Others, like Dustin Byrd, had to be coerced and cajoled. It was an effort to capture
the right combination of syllables and sounds to attach to his quirky
character. Curiously, Violet Byrd, Dustin’s mother, also plays a part in this
book. As I wrestled with this task, casting and deleting a dozen possible choices,
it occurred to me how much easier the name-game would be if I could have just
asked her.  
Laura Spinella is the author of the award-winning novel, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER and upcoming novel, PERFECT TIMING. Visit her at www.lauraspinella.net