The Literary Mystery of Harper Lee’s sequel/prequel

Author Harper Lee

Harper Lee in 2007

As I write this, bookstores and online book vendors are getting ready to sell something unusual. After sixty years of mostly silence, the “missing” manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, that Harper Lee wrote before she wrote her masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, will be officially on sale on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. Some will love it, because Lee wrote it, some will hate it, because it isn’t just like To Kill a Mockingbird, and many people won’t care, because they don’t read. I don’t know if I will like it or not, but since I read, eventually I will tackle it.

Part of the mystery is why publish this manuscript, and why do it now? Let’s go back some sixty years. Nelle Harper Lee, daughter of a lawyer in Monroeville, Alabama, dropped out of law school to focus on her writing. Her daddy wasn’t pleased and told her that she could now support herself. So she worked days booking airline flights and wrote in her spare time. Then, friends gave her sufficient funds to work on her writing full time for a year, so she quit her job and focused on writing. In 1957, Nelle Harper Lee won a contract for her debut novel, Go Set a Watchman. Lee’s editor of the time suggested that Lee go back and rewrite the book, focusing on the events which were told in flashbacks. Having spent a year on GSAW, I’m sure Lee had mixed feelings about this more than a rewrite, but new authors have to trust experienced editors, so Lee went back and worked for two more years. The result her her labors was To Kill a Mockingbird, which was instantly successful, being selected for various book clubs. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the excellent movie version of the book added to the fame (and fortune) of this lady from a very small town in Alabama.

Not much has been published about Nelle Harper Lee, largely because she seemed unprepared for the trappings of fame which accompanied the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. Not long after the movie’s successful run, she became a literary recluse; not granting any interviews. She kept up with her friends, but she did not want to talk about her now very famous novel.

While I am certainly not famous, and don’t expect to be, I do get it. Really. My least favorite part of being a writer is answering all of the “why” questions which come from readers. For whatever reasons, many readers can’t let the work speak for itself, so they want more and more from the author. (I’ve always thought that Stephen King’s Misery is a backlash against obsessed readers.) Apparently, Ms. Lee was also not confident in her other work, so she didn’t finish her other projects after TKAM, nor did she make any efforts to have the first manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, published. Apparently, she was content to split time between her apartment in New York City and her home in Alabama.

In 2007, Ms. Lee had a stroke; she already had severe hearing loss and macular degeneration. Her older sister, Alice, an attorney, had handled many of Lee’s financial affairs, but the Lee sisters both relied upon her literary agent to handle much of the business side of publishing, especially collecting the considerable royalties from the ever popular novel. Alice Lee’s own health began to fail her when she was in her nineties, so, increasingly, people less loyal to Nelle have had greater access to her and to her finances. Without going into detail, the copyright to TKAM has changed hands a couple of times, law suits have been filed against various parties over the rights, and over rights to merchandise bearing the name of the famous novel, and a considerable amount of greed has been part of the landscape. Finally, a judge did rule Ms. Lee, who is now confined to an assisted living facility, competent to make the decision to publish this long “lost” work, and it will be available for purchase. Based on pre-sells, it is already sure to be a bestseller.

Fifty years from now, scholars will be writing papers on this matter. By all accounts, Ms. Lee had forty years of good health and good mind, and during that time, she did not seek to publish the previous manuscript. So the question is, did Harper Lee, who did not have much confidence in her later work, want readers to see this early manuscript? Or is it being published to fatten the wallets of the “handlers” of the elderly and failing Harper Lee?

That’s why this is a literary and legal mystery.

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Honor Among Thieves— a Star Wars novel

Honor Among Thieves coverThus far, my favorite Star Wars novel is Steve Perry’s Shadows of the Empire, which takes place between the film The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. Familiar characters from the film are necessary, but Shadows also introduces the memorable Dash Rendar, and by fleshing out what happened between Han Solo’s freezing in carbonite and Luke and Leia’s rescue, Perry’s novel seems quite organic.

There have been quite a few Star Wars based novels published since Shadows, but with the upcoming new Star Wars movie, it is natural that a new story, with the original characters, come to market, along with a zillion tee shirts. So, we have James S. A. Corey’s Honor Among Thieves, which takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, as Han continues to try to raise money to pay Jabba the Hutt, and Leia is involved in leading the rebellion, which is not just a war, but a fund raiser. Someone has to pay for all those X-wings. Anyway, a valuable spy sent a message indicating that she needs to be recalled, and Han needs the money, so he’s off to make contact, pick up Scarlet Hark, and pocket another reward. Nothing in their universe (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) is simple, however, and Han’s little errand gets complicated really quickly.

(spoiler alert)

One of the best ways to create suspense is to raise the stakes, and they are quite high in this novel. No, there is not a Death Star (twice is one too many IMHO) but a device that kills hyperspace travel is high stakes indeed, and Han, Leia, and Luke end up converging in an effort to wrest control of the hyperspace dampener from the Empire.

To be honest, I didn’t like Honor Among Thieves as much as I did Shadows of the Empire, but I did like it. Readers who want to revisit a young farm boy Luke, the pivotal Princess Leia, and the roguish Han Solo should pick up or download a copy of Honor Among Thieves. Before you know it, you’ll be right back in the groove, wondering when Darth Vader will swoop back into the action. This is a great way to get in the mood for the new film.

Monuments Men— on DVD

Monuments Men film posterA friend mentioned that she had seen and liked Monuments Men when it was in theaters, but I didn’t get around to seeing it then. However, it is out on DVD so hubby put it in the Netflix que, and we saw it recently. The cast is, perhaps, the best part of this effort. Lots of big name stars have roles, including Matt Damon, George Clooney, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett. Essentially, this is the story of the men tasked with finding and protecting the art which was stolen by the Germans during World War II.

The script is good, but not especially memorable. In this film, however, the dialogue takes a back seat to action and suspense. And, there is certainly an element of education in the film. In order for the suspense to work, the audience must come to care about the historical artifacts and those who worked so hard to restore them to their rightful places. As my friend said when she recommended it, the movie isn’t great, but it is good, and it helps modern viewers appreciate the risks and hard work of those who went to war to help preserve these works.

Oddly, there are few people now who care enough to publish accounts of the destruction of art, as is happening in the middle east, much less go to war over it.

Unbroken– the book (review and commentary)

Unbroken coverWhen I was younger, one of the genres of movies and television that was quite popular was stories from World War II. While I wasn’t alive for it, of course, many in my parents’ generation had fought or knew those who had. Indeed, on a wall in my house is a framed picture of my uncle, A.L. Dodd, Junior, who was killed a few weeks before the end of the war in Europe; he was in Germany, in the Ruhr valley, when he was shot by a German machine gunner. So, the war was quite real to us. We enjoyed the stories, because they were entertainment, but knew that the war had affected most everyone in America.

After seeing the film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, I was telling my sister about it, and she said, “Clearly, you don’t know the whole story. Read the book.” And, with lots of other reading and a bit of teaching, it was almost six months after hearing that advice before I got around to reading the book by Laura Hillenbrand. OMG, why did I wait so long? The movie is very good, but the book is great. Maybe I waited, in part, because I don’t usually like biographies.

As told by Hillenbrand, Louis Zamperini was quite a character, from his earliest days. His parents didn’t quite know what to do with him, and he might be described as a juvenile delinquent. His brother convinced the school authorities to allow Louie to get involved in sports, and Louie was gifted in running. So gifted, in fact, that he became an Olympic runner, and a very good one. He might have known even more fame as a track star, but World War II got in the way. After his plane crashes in the Pacific, Louie and two other Army Air Force survivors were adrift for a very long time. Then, on the brink of death, they were captured by the Japanese. Yes, Louie was still alive, but he faced incredible brutality.

One of my elderly friends is a survivor of a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. She was interned there as a child, one of several children of a missionary who fled there from China, because the parents thought that being in a U.S. territory was safer for their children. The treatment she and other family members endured was brutal, and toward the end of the war, the prisoners were scheduled to be executed before the Japanese withdrew. She was saved because some American volunteers broke down the fence and escorted the POWs to safety. My friend, to this day, cannot understand Americans can embrace Japan as our friends and allies. To her, they were a barbaric enemy, who starved her family and killed far too many non-combatants.

Hillenbrand does explain the brutality, through Louie’s account, and accounts by other prisoners. But she reinforces the brutal nature of the Japanese POW camps with survival statistics. According to Hillenbrand, only 1% of American POWs held by the Germans or Italians (the European theater) died, but in Japan 37% died. She also goes into the cultural differences which led to the cruelty, not as an excuse, but to let readers know more about the “why” which must come to the mind of her readers.

(spoilers)

The film, Unbroken, closes with the end of the war. That is a good stopping point for a Hollywood film; the audience can go home knowing Louie made it out alive and was welcomed home by his loving family. But, as my sister noted, there is more to the story. The book has a subtitle Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption and it is appropriate. While I do not fault Jolie for leaving out the “redemption” part, the story is incomplete without Louie’s problems adjusting to “normal” life after the horrific experiences he had in Japan and how finding religion gave him the peace he desperately needed. The author continues to cover multiple story lines, including “Phil” the pilot to “the Bird” who was the most sadistic of the Japanese prison guards.

The entire story is important, and those who watch the movie get only the middle, so I encourage readers to tackle the book by Laura Hillenbrand. While it isn’t a quick read, it is certainly worth your time.

The Machine— a film review and commentary

Science fiction has long been a successful genre for film, far more so than for books. Perhaps it is the visual nature of science fiction, especially action/adventures, but even more cerebral films (2001 A Space Odyssey and A.I. for example) have had box office success. Most science fiction films nowadays are big budget affairs, but that was not so in the 50s. Recently, hubby chose a British science fiction film, The Machine, from the streaming offerings at Netflix. And while it was clearly rather low budget, the film is certainly worth an evening of your time, having scored 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. Few of the low budget films of yesteryear had the winning assets of this movie.

Set in a near future UK, which is involved in a cold war with China, a computer guy who is working for the Defence Ministry is attempting to restore the brain function of injured soldiers. During the opening act, our main character, Vince, hires a young woman, Ava, to help him with programming. They hit it off, professionally and personally, and the audience learns that Vince has a daughter , Mary, with Rett syndrome, and success at work might help his daughter as well. When Chinese agents murder Ava, Vince ends up using Ava as his model for a weapon/AI who is known as “the machine” and this robot is quite an amazing being.

(spoiler alert)

As the film moves along, Vince’s daughter dies, but he has used his knowledge to scan Mary’s brain. The scans are precious to him, and these become leverage that his boss uses against him, because the boss doesn’t want an amazing artificial intelligence, but a weapon. The machine is trained as a super soldier, after Vince performs a procedure that he claims takes away its sentience, but as Vince is now of little value to the boss, the machine is ordered to kill Vince. The machine leads a rebellion, with the wounded soldiers as her platoon, and Vince is saved.

Although the film isn’t as action packed as a Hollywood blockbuster, there is suspense. And, the ethics of research as well as the use of weapons provide food for serious thought. While the secondary characters lack much development, the main characters, Vince and Ava/the machine, enjoy a development and the actors (Toby Stephens, Caity Lotz) portraying them are very good.

Again, The Machine, is a very good science fiction film, which blends near future warfare with lots of ethical debate.

Return to Dakistee and Retreat and Adapt by Thomas DePrima

Recently, I decided to catch up with the further adventures of Jenetta Carver (and her clones Christie and Eliza) by reading books 8 and 9 in the Galaxy Unknown series by DePrima. Book 8, Return to Dakistee, did not sound too entertaining in the blurb, but I have enjoyed the series so I decided to forge on, and I am glad I did. Like many series, the further along it goes, the more important it is to have read the previous books, and that is true of Return to Dakistee. The main character in this entry is not Jenetta Carver, who is off doing admiral things, but her clone, Christie, who is a mere Lt. Commander. In a way, this book is more interesting because a more junior officer has to please the officers over her as well as lead the ones below her in the hierarchy. And the ending is a bit of a shock.

In Book 9, Retreat and Adapt, the main character is again Jenetta Carver, who has been almost boringly successful in her leadership of Space Command forces. However, a new threat has taken out two of the “invincible” ships that Space Command relies upon, and Jenetta’s orders to the remaining forces are to avoid engaging the enemy, but keep tabs on them. While the Space Command forces are in retreat, it is up to Jenetta to come up with a plan, and she does. Will it work? Or will this new threat take over the known galaxy. That’s the suspense of this yarn, and I won’t ruin it for potential readers, but I will say that DePrima does a good job of looking back at history for his plotline.

My appreciation for indie authors is no secret, but I have seldom followed a series through nine books. Okay, I did read David Weber’s Honor Harrington series beyond that point, and I have read that many entries in the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. But those are written by great writers! Thomas DePrima isn’t in the same league. However, I have really enjoyed these tales by DePrima. Fans of space opera should certainly hop over to Amazon and check out the series.

Reviews for Trinity on Tylos

ToT_cover_final_webLGRecently, my science fiction novel, Trinity on Tylos, got a mention on the Goodkindles site. While preparing the copy, I did a web search for reviews, because I wasn’t too sure how many of those are still available. Surprisingly, I found a few, which were done based on the first edition, published by Whiskey Creek Press. Although they got the title wrong, I got a fairly good review from “The Romance Studio” site. Apparently that title is difficult, because the folks over at Books for a Buck misspelled it, too, but it is a decent review. And, the one by Harriet Klausner appears on several sites, including Bookreview.com. The best review I received was over at Fallen Angels Reviews, of course. While searching, I also noted that my efforts to publicize it have resulted in pirated copies online. Oh, here’s another one! And another one!  I guess I should be flattered that someone thinks it is worth stealing. 🙂 I’m proud of Trinity on Tylos, and I created the Kindle edition to attract new readers, so I hope the Goodkindles listing will help. Check it out!

Comic Book or Space Opera? Guardians of the Galaxy is both

Netflix streaming is my media of choice these days, but sometimes my husband decides to find a “family” flick for us to rent on DVD and last night we settled down in front of the home screen with popcorn and Guardians of the Galaxy. I’d heard it was good and thought our young adult son would like it, but wow, did my husband like it, too.

When I was growing up I read masses of material, but not comic books. (Actually my beloved mother once said, “Tobacco Road and comic books are the ultimate in trash.”) I’ve related that story several times and an English teacher friend quipped, “Pam, you are old enough to read Erskine Caldwell.” Maybe I am old enough to read comic books, too, but the inclination just isn’t there. However, I can and do watch films based on comic books, and I also really liked Guardians of the Galaxy.

However, unlike most such stories, the main character isn’t a super hero. Not really. He’s a regular guy from earth who was kidnapped as a child and his sole connection to his past is a Sony Walkman cassette player and a homemade cassette entitled “Awesome Pop Tunes.” Those truly awesome tunes from the seventies form the basis for the movie’s sound track. They are not just sounds, but are a basis for the character’s development, and the result is …well…awesome.

Since the film is set in space, there is quite a lot of fantastic world building (and character building, too) with CGI that is simply amazing. This film has a great cast, including Chris Pratt as the earth-born “Star Lord” character; Zoe Saldana, of the new Star Trek, as the main female lead, and Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as voice actors for CGI characters. Even Glenn Close convincingly plays a minor character. This film’s plot is all over the place, which is great for a space opera. Those need to have multiple settings, and this film has several. The space battles are amazing, the color palette is magnificent, as the attention to every detail.

Guardians of the Galaxy is great entertainment and those who are not fans of the Marvel comics series can enjoy it, although there are plenty of small references to please such fans. Grab it on DVD or Blu Ray and have fun!

Happy Birthday, Will (iam Shakespeare)

Yes, it is Shakespeare’s birthday. At least, this is the day scholars believe is likely his birthday. He was christened three days hence, and in his time, it was typical to have that ceremony three days after the birth. Alas, however, many students and therefore many people in our country have studied very little of the Bard’s works.

My daughter got a good background in Shakespeare, because she took honors English with the absolutely fabulous Janet Schwartz. Alas, my son was not a well-liked or accomplished student, so he was in a different sort of class in high school. His ninth grade teacher began Romeo and Juliet, but abandoned the effort during Act III. When I found out, my husband and I took him to see R & J at the Shakespeare Tavern, in Atlanta. Later, he studied Julius Caesar, but I don’t remember that he actually read MacBeth, but we did see that at the Tavern, too. I’ve enjoyed most everything I saw at the Shakespeare Tavern, although they do like to emphasize the baudy aspects.

As a student at Piedmont College, I took Shakespearian Tragedy with Dr. Greene, and it was sometimes difficult, but I am so very glad I took it. That course covered the typical plays: Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. Apparently, many colleges are abandoning the Bard. I know I’m old school, but Mr. Shakespeare’s works are among the finest in western world literature, so invest some time in reading a play or a sonnet or watching some Shakespeare!