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Tag Archives: authors

That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird

So, the biggest news of the week, publishing-wise, is that Nelle Harper Lee, the beloved author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will have a new book coming out in mid-July. Go Set a Watchman is supposedly the book Lee submitted before submitting Mockingbird, and follows Scout as an adult, going back to the small town that shaped her. Cassie wrote a beautiful piece about the upcoming release, and asked that I write about my thoughts about the release, and I told her I was scattery (as I am!) but I’d been thinking about it a lot this week. I didn’t think I had it in me to write a whole post about it, but started writing…and here we are.

I’ve talked about this before (probably ad nauseum) but Mockingbird is, most sincerely, one of my favorite and most formative books. I think it’s the same for so many people. We want to be (and hope we are, deep down) Atticus; we identify with tough little scrappy Scout; our collective hearts break for Boo. Some of the most beautiful lines in literature come from the book…

“Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. ‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’”

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” 

His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears.
“Hey, Boo,” I said.
“Mr. Arthur, honey,” said Atticus, gently correcting me. “Jean Louise, this is Mr. Arthur Radley. I believe he already knows you.”

“Atticus put his face in my hair and rubbed it. When he got up and walked across the porch into the shadows, his youthful step had returned. Before he went inside the house, he stopped in front of Boo Radley. ‘Thank you for my children, Arthur,’ he said.”

 And in looking for these online to get the wording exactly right, I teared up at the power of them. It’s been so long since I read the book for the first time – I don’t even remember the first time I met the Finches, honestly, whether it was in high school or early in college – and I’m still moved to tears by the simple beauty in Lee’s words.

I’ve read the book more times than I can count; I held off on watching the movie because I didn’t think it could possibly have the power of the book, but oh, was I wrong. Gregory Peck was Atticus Finch. His calm authority gave me chills. I saw a beautiful production of a theatrical version of it a couple of years ago which moved me to tears; the actor who played Atticus gave the most beautiful reading of “Thank you for my children, Arthur,” perfectly tear-choked and stiff-upper-lipped, and I audibly sobbed in the theater. (I wasn’t alone in that.)

All of this to say, when a friend posted that Go Set a Watchman was going to be published in July, my heart jumped. Of course it did. These characters have become my family over the years. A book showing me what happened to them? A book following Scout into adulthood, giving us a peek at Jem, seeing if they’ve kept in touch with Dill, letting us know if Atticus has kept his idealism with everyone around him trying to beat it out of him, letting us know if Mayella turned out alright? How can I not want that?

Then news started coming out that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t what Lee wanted.

Short version: Everyone knows that Mockingbird was Lee’s only book. She’s been a bit of a recluse ever since – not Salinger-level, or anything, but not going around the world singing “I WROTE MOCKINGBIRD, WHOO-HOO, LOOK AT ME!” (And side note, there have been rumors for years that her dear friend Truman Capote actually wrote Mockingbird – because of course a woman couldn’t have written something that luminescent, and she never followed up on it, so WHAT IS SHE HIDING? And then there are other rumors that Lee wrote Capote’s In Cold Blood, so how about we just assume they each wrote their own books and let people have their successes as neither of them have, that I know of, ever accused the other of nefariousness?)

Her sister was her lawyer for years, until she recently passed away. Lee has had a stroke and, by most reports, isn’t of sound mind. Her sister was very protective of her, and it’s come up that it’s very suspicious that this long-lost manuscript has suddenly surfaced upon her death. People are saying she’d sign anything anyone put in front of her these days, and without her sister to look out for her, she just might have signed off on a book she never wanted published. It’s a savvy move from the publisher – the book was announced just a few days ago, and is currently #5 on Amazon’s pre-order list of Contemporary Fiction and#10 in the Kindle Store for Contemporary Fiction. And Mockingbird? #1 with a bullet, baby. Topping the list currently on Amazon in the Kindle Store for Literary Fiction, #1 in Literature and Fiction in the United States, and #1 in Legal Fiction. Take THAT, John Grisham! I’m not saying, if this is true, it’s not a completely slimy move…but financially, it’s savvy.

She's kind of adorable, right? I want her to be my neighbor. I want to hang out with her and talk about birds and crocheting and words, words, words.

She’s kind of adorable, right? I want her to be my neighbor. I want to hang out with her and talk about birds and crocheting and words, words, words.

So what’s a reader to do?

There’s no way I couldn’t read this book. I have to. Everyone’s going to be reading it. It’s going to be like when the last Harry Potter book was released and I couldn’t go three feet without seeing someone with that gigantic book in their hands because they didn’t want to go even minutes without reading it. This is going to be a global discussion when it comes out. A global discussion about a book? How can I not be part of that? And the sheer fact that more people are reading Mockingbird – how can I not love that? But I’m torn. What if Lee – this woman who introduced me to Atticus and Jem and Scout and Dill and Boo – didn’t want this book flying around in the wild? What if it’s not up to her standards and that’s why it hasn’t been released until now? Don’t I owe more to this woman who’s been such a force in my life, whose given me so much? None of us will ever really know what she wants, will we? Do we let the book speak for itself?

Yes. Of course I’ll read it. And I have the highest hopes that seeing all of my old friends again, these people that I consider family, will be everything that I hope it will be. I will talk to my most beloved readers about it and we will discuss and argue and fight over our favorite lines and characters and it will be glorious.

And I will hope in my heart of hearts that my beloved Nelle Harper Lee, even if she didn’t want the book released, will understand that I’m reading the book out of love. I’m being given another chance to see people I love. How can I say no to that?

It’s just that it feels a little like killing a mockingbird.

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I believe life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive

Can I write a post in 45 minutes before work? WE SHALL SEE.

This week was quite momentous because a., it was my last official week being on the board of directors at my theater, and b., I HAD AN ADVENTURE. Oh, and other things happened, like I got a new scanner at work so now I’m totally the queen of scanning. My boss likes to give us all Game of Thrones names so I told her mine probably had to be Scansa Stark now and she approved. Plus other things. It was quite a week. Like, if this week was a line graph, the line would totally have spiked on this week. SPIKE!

BUT, anyway, leaving all those other adventures and good things and such behind, on Thursday I totally had an adventure.

I was SUPPOSED to be at the final board meeting, but a few months ago, I read somewhere that Neil Gaiman was coming to Saratoga to do a reading. I have a very short list of authors I swoon over. I LIKE a lot of authors, but my swoon-list is not very long. Neil Gaiman’s on the swoon-list. (That’s not a naughty thing, by the way. That’s more of a “OMG SUCH PRETTY WORDS” thing. I don’t want to bone the authors on my swoon-list. Well, most of ’em, anyway.)

So I immediately went to the bookstore’s site and bought the ticket and went to write it on my calendar and…uh-oh. It was the same night as the final board meeting. But it was his last American signing tour. How could I miss such a thing! COOL AUTHORS HARDLY EVER COME HERE!

I gave my apologies to the board, of course. I mean, what would you have done? It was Neil Gaiman!

So a week before the reading, friend Chris (who I met on Twitter, and he’s not even a murderer!) commented on my blog asking if I was going to see Neil Gaiman. Well! Yes I was! And well! So was he! And friend Tim, ALSO a Twitter friend! Also not a murderer! What a fortuitous turn of events! So we chatted all week and they were going to be there before I was so they would save me a seat and that is so nice of them, sincerely. So not ONLY was I excited about the reading, I was excited about seeing Chris and Tim!

On Thursday night I left right after work. The venue opened at 4. I get out of work at 4:30. I WILL BE FINE! I thought.

Yeah. Apparently rush-hour traffic is much worse than I factored in, plus there was some construction.

I didn’t get to Saratoga until 5:20. It’s half an hour away.

There’s a huge parking lot. It had not a single open spot in it. There was a very bored cop in his car in the lot. I asked him nicely if he had any idea where else I could park. “This is a parking lot,” he said, unhelpfully.

“I know. I’m sorry. It’s full. And I’m not familiar with the area,” I said.

“There are parking garages,” he said.

“Oh! Good. Where?” I replied.

“On Broadway.”

Did I not mention I’m not familiar with the area? Pretty sure I did. I mean, just look up a few lines, it’s right there.

“Could you tell me where on Broadway? Sorry. Not from here,” I said.

He ROLLED HIS EYES. “Go OUT HERE,” he said, as if I was very slow, pointing very dramatically, “and DRIVE until you see a PARKING GARAGE. Then PARK IN IT.”

Well! Saratoga’s Finest, ladies and gentlemen, let’s give ’em a hand.

So! At this point, I was late, lost, and overheated because I don’t have AC in my car. It was 5:40. The reading started at 6. I’d told Chris and Tim I’d be there at 5:15.

So as almost anyone would do in this situation, I started weeping.

I drove around Saratoga, weeping, and saying “I DO NOT SEE A PARKING GARAGE I HATE YOU SARATOGA” and I didn’t even care that people thought I was a crazyperson. Yep. Totally did that. Not even too proud to tell you about it.

I finally found a garage. Now, whether or not it was a PUBLIC garage is debatable. It had no signage. It wasn’t on Broadway. It was about 3 blocks away. I didn’t even care. I would have taken whatever ticket they gave me at that point, and even would have dealt with ne’er-do-wells stealing my car.

Text from Chris: “We’re here!” Like from half an hour ago.

Panicked return text: “JUST FOUND PARKING! On my way. Weepily. Be there as soon as I can.”

I totally shagged ass over to the venue and got there in what ended up plenty of time because it didn’t start on time anyway. Chris and Tim totally saved me a seat. I got a book (part of the ticket price) and a bookmark telling me I was in signing group F. There were a lot of people there. F seemed like not a good sign.

But! I had plenty of time to chat and catch up as I have not seen Chris in a while and he didn’t even care that I probably had the remains of weepy-face. He’s good people, that Chris.

The reading began!

I didn’t take notes. Sorry, you guys, I’m a terrible correspondent.

The first part was being recorded for public radio so I guess you can hear it if you care about such things. It’s supposedly airing right after the 4th of July or something. The moderator was…um. Stuffy? He was stuffy. I mean, he could have been WORSE. He wasn’t ill-informed. He spoke clearly. But he had very little personality.

Neil Gaiman, however. OK, you know what’s terrible? You love an author, and then you hear them speak, and they’re just kind of dead inside. And you think. “HOW DO THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS COME OUT OF THIS PERSON?”

Nope. I never wondered how the beautiful words come out of Neil Gaiman.

He’s funny and personable and intelligent and quick-witted and warm and speaks well, and nothing seemed rehearsed, yet everything was perfect.

He talked about his childhood a little, and his wife, and the new book (which I haven’t started yet, but I will) and naughty jokes and I laughed. A lot. Because he seemed like someone you could really hang out with. And I loved that about him. The beautiful words on the page I’ve been reading for years came from the exact perfect person.

Then he read a little from the new book, answered some questions from the audience, and read a little from a new book coming out in September…and it was time for the signing.

OK, now. 1,500 people were in the place. 1,500, you guys. Each of us had the option of getting 2 books signed – one personalized, one signed. They encouraged as many people as possible to opt out of the signing, and take a signed book instead. Not many people did this. Let’s say 10% at most. That leaves what, 1,350 people? 2,700 books to be signed, hypothetically. And it was already 7:15 or so when he started.

I don’t even want to think about the logistics behind such a thing. The hand cramping. The people that want to chat. SO MANY PEOPLE. I mean, as an author, you’d really dig that, I suppose, on some level. If it weren’t for those people, you wouldn’t be able to do your thing. Those people pay your bills. But on the other hand…that’s got to be not only a hand-cramp, but a psychic drain. 1,350 people. 2,700 signatures.

Chris and Tim didn’t stay for the signing. Chris has two young kiddos at home and Tim…I don’t know, I didn’t ask, maybe he’s hand-raising a baby zebra for all I know. BUT! When they left, they gave me and Tim’s friend their bookmarks.

WE WERE NOW IN GROUP B!

THE SECOND SIGNING GROUP!

OMG, that is huge. I told Chris I totally knew the best people. He laughed and I gave him a hug goodbye. YAY! So nice to see you, Chris and Tim!

So we waited for a bit and then they called group B.

We stood in line for about an hour. Maybe an hour and a half.

In the line were a strange group of people. Quiet normal people (myself being one of them – I wrote a long message to a friend to make the time go faster and killed my phone battery); affected Gaiman fans (the people behind me knew EVERYTHING GAIMAN and were not at all afraid to talk about it, loudly, in snotty tones, to one another, correcting one another – “heh, no, actually, that happened on page 76 of Neverwhere, dear, heh heh heh”); a girl who had all of his book titles written on her hightops; and, most distressingly, a family who brought two small children who were having trouble behaving, so they were acting up (it was a long line, of COURSE they were!) and the father kept SCREAMING at the kids and it was making me so sad. They are like four and six, sir, what the hell are you making them wait in a line for a book signing for? That’s just cruel.

As we waited, people kept coming around and telling us to do things. One lady told me I had to open both books to the title page and KEEP THEM OPEN because that was the page he would sign. “I’m about an hour away from his table, so I’ll put a bookmark there and keep them in my purse, thanks,” I said. “YOU NEED TO KEEP THEM OPEN TO THAT PAGE,” she said. “Mmm-hmm. And I will. In an hour. When I get to the table,” I said. She stood there glaring at me, which I didn’t notice for a minute. When I did, I thought, oh, we’re going to have a power play? OK. I’m hot, I’m cranky as hell, and I totally have to stand next to the Bickersons in front of me and the Know-It-Alls in back of me FOR OVER AN HOUR because you sold A KAJILLION TICKETS. I stared her down in return. She was not expecting this. She wandered off eventually, which means I won.

Then a woman came around and wrote our name on a post-it so Neil Gaiman didn’t have to ask our names, which would save him time. I’m down with that. The people beside me were not. “I want HIM to write it, NOT YOU,” they said. Um. She’s just spelling it for him, sweetie. He’s still signing the book. Tell the nice lady how to spell “Slow on the uptake” and let her write it on the post-it, ‘kay?

Then we got to the table. And I started getting nervous. Because there was Neil Gaiman. THERE WAS NEIL GAIMAN.

Now, I would have LIKED to be the kind of person who said, “Mr. Gaiman, thank you. Thank you for Shadow and thank you for Mr. Wednesday, and thank you most of all for Samantha’s speech because I also believe in things that are true, and things that are not true, and things where nobody knows if they’re true or not. And thank you for getting me, even though I know everyone probably says that to you? Because you get a lot of us, somehow. That’s the magic of your writing. But thank you anyway. I don’t know that you can ever hear that enough. Thank you for getting me when it seemed no one would, and thank you for moving me to tears and laughter and making me feel things so deeply I hurt for your characters, and thank you for your words. Just, thank you.”

What I actually said?

Well, he said, “Amy.” (Because of the post-it.) “Well. Hullo, Amy.”

And I said, “Hi. HI.”

And he laughed. And said, “Thank you for coming.”

And I said, “I’m here. Here I am!”

And he laughed again. And signed my books.

And I realized my time was almost up. So I said, “Thank you. Thank…thank you. Thank you.”

And he looked up, and he laughed. And said, “You’re so welcome.”

And I said, “Have a good night.”

And he said, “I shall try.”

And I left.

I know you all expect me to be quick with the repartee. I am sorry I have let you down so miserably.

It was just…it was Neil Gaiman, you know?

Some of my most beloved characters came to life in that mind. I can’t even…

Yeah.

So then I went home.

And now I have to go to work and answer phones for the Capital District so please to excuse me. And if there are typos in here, ignore them, I have 2 minutes to get in my car so I have no time to proofread this bad boy.

There is my story of The Time I Met Neil Gaiman and Was Unable to Tell Him That He Helped Me Get Through Some of the Hardest Times of my Life.

*bows*

(Happy weekends, all. Supermoon tomorrow! I am very excited about this supermoon. I feel it is very timely and will be very lovely. Everyone go revel in the supermoon tomorrow. Amy’s orders. Not to be ignored. Go go!)


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