Writing Wins and Woes: Recluse series; Harper Lee

No recluse series would be complete without Harper Lee. I know. I know. You are saying “Where is JD Salinger?” and he is coming, oh yes, he is coming. In fact, I plan to conclude my series with this recluse of all recluses. For now, though, I love Harper Lee. I love the mystique of her, the Southern Mistress aspect of her, her book and the lengendary movie made about her book. I love how she could write one book and be forever cemented in history. Wait, what? She’s written two books and possibly another in hiding? Who could have imagined that from an almost ghost-like writer?

I  discovered something new about Harper Lee, well, a lot of new things to be honest, that I didn’t know when I began my research. Although I knew that Lee helped Truman Capote with his book, In Cold Blood, I didn’t know that they were childhood friends and lived right next door to each other. In fact, the only thing separating the two was a stone wall that Lee hurtled over whenever she wanted to hang out with her friend. Lee was a tomboy and let’s say, Capote was not. He was picked on for his odd way of dressing and his delicate manners and Lee often came to his defense.Truman was somewhat of an outcast, having been abandoned by his parents and living with relatives.

Lee was born in 1926, Nelle Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama. She kept her ties to her childhood home and lived there for quite a while, even though she later split her time with New York City. Lee went to an all girls school in 1944 and was nothing there like the recluse she was known as later in life. She was in glee club, Honor Society and was even the editor of a humor magazine, Rammer Jammer.  She decided she wanted to be a lawyer but soon found out that her true calling was writing and dropped out of law school following a summer as an exchange student.

In 1949 when she was 23, she moved to New York as a writer. Of course, she couldn’t just be a writer. That didn’t pay the bills at that time. She became a ticket agent for a few airlines. Then she formed a friendship with the Browns. They were  husband and wife, involved in Broadway composing, who were asked by Capote to “keep an eye out” for Nelle Lee. They did far more than that. They gave her a gift of a year’s support while she wrote and helped her find an agent. That was how, To Kill a Mockingbird, came to be. It’s almost a fairy tale.

What’s even more magical is Part Two of this saga where a writer who many wonder “Is she still even alive?” suddenly comes up with an encore to one of the greatest books ever written. How does it happen that there is a sequel to Mockingbird just sitting around waiting to be discovered. “Oh, I thought I threw that away,” she said. That couldn’t be planned better by Hollywood producers. I’m sure if Go Set a Watchman, had directly followed Mockingbird, there would have been outrage and disappointment from the fans but because it came along so much later, far past the point of hope for another book from Harper Lee, it is greeted with wonder and incredulity and yes, a teensy bit of scandal as it knocked the character of Atticus Finch from his pedestal.

Wait? There’s a Part Three? We don’t know yet. Apparently there is some 176 pages of another novel of hers gathering dust, too. In my research I found that she had been working on a book about an Alabama serial killer, shades of Truman Capote!, loosely titled The Reverand. I hope this is the one spoken in whispers of, because I’d be far more interested to read this book than Go Set a Watchman.

Writer’s Journal: I am a third through the book of letters written by Barbara Newhall Follett a young woman I blogged about last year. She was the person who wrote a novel when she was 9, published it at 13, followed it with another at 14 and then in her 20’s married and disappeared off the face of the earth after a quarrel with her husband. Does the Robert Durst story come to mind here? Nobody knows what happened to her. Well, her first novel was destroyed in a house fire and she had to completely rewrite it. Yes, at the age of 9, which she did and to her opinion, better than before. So, why can’t I do that? I had some 5 chapters of my novel erased by my Open Office program and I am floundering with rewriting it. I was almost finished and then Wham! It’s gone. I keep telling myself, “You’re not as talented as a nine year old.” I worked some on this mess this week and find the story is basically weak, so in order to continue, it is going to need a massive redo. 1593


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