I’veÂ experience many wildly talented and creative people who are terrified toÂ put theirÂ creativeÂ work out into the world. I am one of these people.
It’s scary out there. It’s much safer to not risk anything. To not write the controversial blog posts. To not write the book that you really want to write. To not say what youÂ truly think when someone asks your opinion. But I alsoÂ believe thatÂ safety is overrated.
When did you lose your creative voice? Is there an incident you can trace it back to? Or is this something that simply fell by the wayside in the midst of a busy life? Have you reached a point in your life where you’d like to reclaim your creative voice?
Not using our voicesÂ in the service ofÂ our writing, our painting, our fill-in-your-creative-endeavor, is not onlyÂ the world’s loss, butÂ we loseÂ respect for ourselves and we undermine our creative journey. Especially if we know we have things to say and we keep quiet. You know exactly when you do this. YouÂ might actuallyÂ feelÂ your face grow warm just thinking about it. It is our secret shame.
So here’s what Seth has to say about reclaiming our creative voices. See what you think:
When Did You Lose Your Voice?
All these microphones, all this amplification, and we’re stuck, unable to use them. Not because the amplifier doesn’t work, but because we are unwilling to use it.
The Internet has given anyone with something to say the freedom to say it. It has given us the freedom to connect, the freedom to be generous, and the freedom to make a difference. And we (all of us) refuse to use this freedom to the fullest, because we can’t bear to live with the internal narrative it would create–the narrative of responsibility and risk and failure.
To be really clear here, I don’t think you’ve lost your voice, not at all. I think your voice is there, it always has been, but the thought that you might be able to use it is paralyzing.
Don’t fight this feeling of dread. Don’t fight this fear. Acknowledge it and speak, regardless.
Is it easy? Of course not. If it were easy, you’d already be doing it. Just as the marathon runner is exhausted, the person with a loud and clear voice is afraid.
But she speaks, regardless.
First in a whisper if you must, but begin.
What do you need to begin to speak in a whisper, in order to honor your creative voice? What do you need to say into the microphone, however timidly? xo
P. S. If you’re interested in this topic you may also enjoy my book Fearless Writing for Women: Extreme Encouragement & Writing Inspiration.
I miss you! If you haven’t heard from me lately it’s because I’ve beenÂ a tad busy.Â The good news is:Â I’m having aÂ super-focused and productive year so far.
First of all, my first box set,Â called Southern Secrets,Â is out as of this week
It contains my latest novel Temple SecretsÂ and my earlier novel The Secret Sense of Wildflower all inÂ one ebook and at a great price.
Secondly, I hired a wonderfulÂ author’s assistant last week to help meÂ finish thingsÂ faster and more efficiently in my author business.Â This is quiteÂ a leap for me since I was an author assistant myself when I first started out as a writer (20 years ago). So it’s like I’ve come full circle. (Doing the Gratitude Dance!)
I am also working on two novels this year. The first is the sequel to The Secret Sense of Wildflower.Â It takes place 14 years later andÂ is nearing its final draft. I’ll be handing it off to my First Readers soon.
If you’d like me to send you an email when the sequel is available, sign up here.
I’ve been working on the second novel for over a decade. It’s still in the Top Secret stage. (You know how I love secrets!) The setting is Charleston, SC, the summer ofÂ 1964. The civilÂ rights movementÂ has ignited, the Beatles have just put out their first American album, andÂ Bonanza and Bewitched are gracing television screens. I had a lot of fun researching this novel. You’ll be hearing more aboutÂ this oneÂ in 2016.
By the way, if you were alive in 1964, I’d love to hear what you remember about it!
Another secret I’ve been keeping:Â I have been exchanging email lettersÂ with a younger writer here in the mountains of North Carolina. I hope to post these letters on this blog in the next few weeks. I think you’ll enjoy this dynamic exchange between two women at different stagesÂ of lifeÂ searching for theirÂ authentic selvesÂ through writing.
So that’s my update and why you haven’t heard from me as much, and why I’ve been missing you and wanting to touch base. I’m writing like CRAZY and trying to keep up with the rest of my life, as well. It’s all good.Â
Feel free to leave a comment on this post or send me an email and let me know how you are. As always, I love hearing from you. xo
Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina and loves secrets.
Novelists often reveal themselves in their writing. While telling a great story is always the most important part – not the writer’s life – Â the creators are behind the scenes leaving breadcrumbs for readers to follow along the way.
My latest novel, Temple Secrets, may not be about my lifeÂ exactly, but it certainly reveals what fascinates, intrigues and interests me.
If you’ve read more than one of my novels or short stories you will start to see themes and patterns that are like my fingerprint as a writer.Â I’m putting more of myself into each successive novel, so my latest one, Temple SecretsÂ reveals than most.
With that in mind, here is a list of 13Â Things I reveal about myself in the writing ofÂ Temple Secrets:
1. Ancestors are important to me. The sense that we arenâ€™t alone; that people came before us; that some may even be watching over us.
2. Secrets make people do strange things. Everybody has them. Sometimes we even keep secrets from ourselves.
3. The spirit world, or the invisible world, (think ghosts, spirits, the secret sense) is very much underestimated.
4. Female characters and female voices are underrepresented in our culture, so I have a mission is to get more female characters out into the world who are courageous and have integrity and humor.
5. I think characters over forty are the most interesting.
6. I think happy endings are possible in life, and that itâ€™s only to the level that weâ€™ve experienced sorrow that we can experience joy. Readers have told me that my books make them laugh and cry. This pleases me.
7. I love to make people laugh, so my books often have humor in them. When I was younger, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. As a girl, I would sneak into the den late at night to watch Joan Rivers on Johnny Carson. Since my comedy act never hit the road, I became a writer instead. Well, first I became a teacher, then a psychotherapist, and then a writer. It was by no means a straight path to writing. I grew into it.
8. The archetype of the old wise woman shows up in nearly everything I write because I have trouble finding them in real life. Women, in general,Â are very reluctant to claim these parts of themselves. We need this wisdom more than ever.
9. I am fascinated with death, so there is usually at least one death in my stories. To me, itâ€™s the bigger story. However, I rarely kill off an animal, especially a dog. (The exception was Aunt Sadie’s dog dying of old age in The Secret Sense of Wildflower. Iâ€™m still sad about that.)
10. I think laughter opens us to a deeper emotional experience.
11. Sometimes when people are obnoxious in real life, I create a character with some of the same characteristics and then kill them off in the course of a story. Or they are found out for who they really are. I am very good at disguising these real people in the skins of my fictional characters. By the way, it’s not just me. A lot of novelists do this!
12. I always write about things that interest me. I write the story that I would love to read, trusting that other people will enjoy it, too. Since I spend years writing a book, I have to love the characters and understand them. After I release a book, I often grieve the loss of not having the story in my life every day.
13. I think we are all trying to find our way â€œhome,â€ in one way or another. Home being a place where we feel the most authentic.
Does anything surprise you? As always, I’d love to hear from you. Comment here or email me at susan (at) susangabriel.com. If you’re feeling a little shy, instead of commenting, please consider posting this on your favorite social media platform.
From the Front Porch: Creativity Interview with author, Susan Bernhardt. Susan writes cozy mysteries, is a follower of this blog, andÂ has beenÂ a writer friend for several years. I’mÂ honored to introduce herÂ to you.Â Welcome, Susan!
Tell us a little about yourself. Perhaps what do you do for a living and where you live?
My name is Susan Bernhardt. I’m the author of The Ginseng Conspiracy and Murder Under the Tree, the first two holiday novels involving amateur sleuth, Kay Driscoll. My hometown in northern Wisconsin was an inspiration for the quaint setting of my mysteries. The Kay Driscoll mystery, Murder by Fireworks, is due out this Fall.
An avid reader of mysteries, I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, Inc. and the Wisconsin Writers Association. My holiday mysteries are listed on Cozy-Mystery.com and Cozy Mysteries Unlimited under Halloween and Christmas.
When not writing, I love to travel, bicycle, kayak, and create culinary magic in my kitchen. I work in stained-glass, daydream in my organic garden, stay up late reading, and eat lots of chocolate.
When are you the most creative?
I’m most creative when out among people. I love to people watch and get inspiration for my writing from real life, drawing from my own experiences and those around me. I love to travel and visit art museums.
What inspires you and why does it inspire you?
Art inspires me. There is art in everything. Nature inspires me. People inspire me.
Share a favorite quote:
â€œFirst they came for the communists, and I did not speak outâ€” because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak outâ€” because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak outâ€” because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak outâ€” because I was not a Jew; Then they came for meâ€” and there was no one left to speak out for me.â€
â€• Martin NiemÃ¶ller
What creative project are you working on now or do you hope to work on?
I’m currently writing A Manhattan Murder Mystery and have just finished my first draft. I’m looking forward to self-publishing this novel. My other mysteries are traditionally published.
Share a photo that has meaning to you.
A couple of years ago we took a road trip back to Colorado with my son and daughter-in-law. We used to live in Boulder County in Colorado. This photo was taken during that trip when I am climbing in the beautiful Flatirons.
Name one or more of your favorite books. What do you love about it/them? If they changed your life in any way tell us why.
I met two friends in a writing group who literally changed my life by introducing me to a new world of literature. I had mostly read cozy mysteries books and even though my new interests were still mostly mysteries, they were vastly different. The first book was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafÃ³n. To this day, it is my favorite book and to sum it up in one sentence, it is a novel about the love of literature. I have read other books by this author, and went on to Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez, Arturo PÃ©rez-Reverte, Donna Leon, and many others.
Name one or more of your favorite songs or pieces of music and tell us what you love about them.
I still love and listen to the music I enjoyed in college: Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cat Stevens, etc. Luckily my husband who is into classical and jazz, also enjoys my favorites. We have many duplicate albums.
Name one or more of your favorite pieces of art (painting, sculpture, etc.) and tell us what you love about them.
I love Edgar Degas’ ballet and bath paintings. I love his focus on the movement of the ballet dancers. They have such life. I talk about Degas’ dancers in my WIP when the protagonist goes to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. His bath paintings are simple, yet beautiful. I also love Vincent van Gogh’s art. Again, the movement, the colors, his genius, the brushstrokes, his art captured me.
What were you like as a child?
I was the youngest of seven children. My siblings would say I was spoiled, but I wasn’t. I think I was incredibly sweet…lol. I loved playing outside with friends and games inside with family and friends. I visited my library on a weekly basis. A pretty normal childhood.
What is your favorite place to be in nature? (In general, and also one or more specific places.)
I love the beach, more specifically Lake Michigan. It’s beautiful. I have many great memories spending time there with family and friends growing up.
Tell us about something youâ€™re proud of having created, participated in, etc. (not your offspring, please! 😉
I’m proud of my Kay Driscoll mystery series.
As a public health nurse, I started the first Health Check in the Home in the State of Wisconsin. I’m proud of that. Also I have been a volunteer RN at our local free clinic since its start, eight years ago.
I work in stained-glass and have made many beautiful lamps, vases, and pictures. I made the inserts for our kitchen cupboards.
Is there somewhere youâ€™ve traveled that has influenced your creative life? If so, tell us about it.
My husband and I have been fortunate to have traveled to many countries in Europe and most of the states in the United States. All these experiences have influenced my creative life and me as a person. Travel opens one’s mind to new ways of thinking.
What are you grateful for? (Today and/or in general.)
I’m grateful for what I have, for being alive, for my life lessons, for laughter, and for choices. I’m grateful for my wonderful husband, family, and friends. I’m grateful for new experiences.
A favorite show on television? White Collar
A favorite meal? A Thai dish.
A talent you wish you had? Playing the piano.
Whatâ€™s on your nightstand? Book, Kindle, lamp, notebook and pen for jotting down writing ideas.
Susan Bernhardt is the author of the Kay Driscoll mystery series. Her hometown in northern Wisconsin is the inspiration for her mysteries which include: The Ginseng Conspiracy, Murder Under the Tree and Murder by Fireworks coming out this Fall.
Thanks to Susan Bernhardt for giving us such a wonderful peek into her creative life. Below, you’ll find more information about her books and how to connect with her. In the meantime, feel free to comment about what you liked about this interview orÂ ask her questions.
The Ginseng Conspiracy (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 1) – http://amzn.to/1oPTsiw – On her way to attend a Halloween Ball, Kay Driscoll, a newcomer to town, witnesses the murder of a local professor. When the official coroner’s report rules the cause of death to be accidental and the community accepts the judgement, Kay decides to uncover the truth for herself. Through her personal investigations, Kay exposes a complex conspiracy, woven deep within the thriving local ginseng industry, that involves some of the more prominent figures and families of Sudbury Falls. With her new friends, the free-spirited herbalist Deirdre and the untamed modern woman Elizabeth, Kay discusses new clues over tea and pastries at Sweet Marissa’s Patisserie, their crime-fighting headquarters. As Kay gets closer to the heart of the conspiracy, additional murders happen in quick succession. Before long, Kay learns that the villains are gunning for her, too. Phil, her musically talented but preoccupied husband, determined to keep her safe, withholds from her the one thing she needs most: the truth.
Murder Under the Tree (A Kay Driscoll Mystery Book 2) â€“ Â http://amzn.to/1tC5krR – While Kay attends a Christmas tea at Hawthorne Hills Retirement Home, a beloved caretaker dies from an allergic reaction to peanuts. When the official coroner’s report rules the cause of death to be accidental, a small group of residents suspect foul play and call upon Kay to investigate. Kay uncovers sinister plots of fraud, revenge, and corruption at the Home. During this Â Â Â Â season of peace on earth, good will to men, additional murders occur. Despite multiple attempts on her life, and with the support once again of her best friends, Elizabeth and Deirdre, Kay continues her quest for bringing justice for the victims. Kay’s first Christmas inÂ Sudbury Falls is an unforgettable one, with equal amounts of celebration and danger. ‘Tis the season to be sleuthing!
Your host: Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including her latestÂ comic novelÂ Temple Secrets. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.
What is your view on muses? Do you have one? Want one? Need one?
The followingÂ quote by American mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell hasÂ some really interesting thingsÂ to say about where inspiration comes from.
As for me, I think of my muse as a part ofÂ me thatÂ waitsÂ for me to sit, get still and open myself to whatever story I’m working on. I’ve had years of practice calling on my creativity and imagination in the service of a novel, so it doesn’t seem all that magical to me anymore. But I’m totally open to expanding my view.
Here tis’. See what you think:
Anyone writing a creative work knows that you open, you yield yourself, and the book talks to you and builds itself. To a certain extent, you become the carrier of something that is given to you from what have been called the Musesâ€”or, in biblical language, ‘God.’ This is no fancy, it is a fact. Since the inspiration comes from the unconscious, and since the unconscious minds of the people of any single small society have much in common, what the shaman or seer brings forth is something that is waiting to be brought forth in everyone. So when one hears the seerâ€™s story, one responds, ‘Aha! This is my story. This is something that I had always wanted to say but wasnâ€™t able to say.’ There has to be a dialogue, an interaction between the seer and the community.
From Joseph Campbell, â€œThe Power of Myth” (with Bill Moyers). (Thanks to my friend, Nancy Mason, for sending me this!)
I love the part about the “seer and the community.” My translation of that would be that there has to be a dialogue between the writer and the reader. That’s the ultimate. To write is a lonely endeavor and only half the process. To share it withÂ readers completes the circleÂ whereby the community is hopefully enriched. In other words, readers rock my world!
Comments? Questions? I welcome your thoughts. xo
Want to become a monk with me? I ran across this Monk Manifesto on Krista Tippet’s blog over at OnBeing a few days ago and loved it. The subtitle for the post is: Seven Principles for Living With Deep Intention. If you know me even a little, you probably know thatÂ a title and subtitle like that is something that will draw me right in. I write with deep intention, and I like to live that way, too.
Like many of us, I then started thinking of all the people I wanted toÂ emailÂ the Monk Manifesto toÂ with a personal message. Something along the lines of: Want to become a monk with me? I wanted to sendÂ it to people I love and care about–the kindred spirits I’ve met on my journey as a writer and beyond. Then I thought:
Oh, I have a blog. I have a way to spread cool things to the people I love and care about.Â
So here it is, dearÂ ones. See what you think:
The Monk Manifesto: Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention
Monk: from the Greek monachos meaning single or solitary. A monk in the world does not live apart but immersed in the everyday with a single-hearted and undivided presence, always striving for greater wholeness and integrity.
Manifesto: from the Latin for clear, means a public declaration of principles and intentions.
Monk Manifesto: A public expression of your commitment to live a compassionate, contemplative, and creative life.
The Monk Manifesto
1.Â Â I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.
2.Â Â I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.
3.Â Â I commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom I can share my deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.
4.Â Â I commit to cultivating awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.
5.Â Â I commit to bringing myself fully present to the work I do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express my gifts in the world in meaningful ways.
6.Â Â I commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures my worth by what I do.
7.Â Â I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.
In the meantime, I think we should seriously think about becoming monks together. Are you in? xo
Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina and wants to become a female monk.
If you lovedÂ films likeÂ Chocolat, The English Patient, and more recently 1,000 Times Goodnight, you are no stranger to Juliette Binoche.Â SheÂ hasÂ acted inÂ over 40 feature films and has won all sorts of awards. An acclaimed actor,Â she is also aÂ versatile, intelligent and creative woman.
I ran acrossÂ a recentÂ webchat sponsoredÂ by The GuardianÂ where Juliette BinocheÂ had this to say about regret and jealousy:
Regret is not a feeling I live with. I did make mistakes but I hope I learned from them. Usually the difficulties make you feel more what you need and what you don’t need. It allows you to grow and really follow your intuition. Making choices from your head is never a good choice but being in touch with your heart, no matter what mistakes you’ve made, you will never regret it.
When you see a film that has been acted by another actress and that is very well acted – I have always experienced joy. Because great art makes you feel better. It never diminishes you.
I went through times that were not always easy but I have always tried to be in a creative mode through theatre, films, painting or dance. When you make that choice, there is no need of jealousy.
I love the idea that great art makes us feel better and therefore never diminishesÂ us or makes us jealous of the artist.Â I’m also intrigued by the idea that regrets come from the decisions we make with our heads instead of our hearts. I know my decision to pursue a writing career was a heart decision, and one I’ll never regret.
What do you think? (Or should I say, what do you feel?)
I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re feeling shy, consider sharing this post on your favorite social media platform.
Juliette Binoche is currently touring the US in a production of the play, Antigone. I am currently writing like crazy on a new novel, as well as the sequel to The Secret Sense of Wildflower. It’s all good. xo
Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.
Susan GabrielÂ is an award-winning author of a seven novels and a Kirkus Best Book Award of 2012. In the month of August, The Heroic Journal takes a look at her personal heroic journey and how she found her way from being a psychotherapist to a highly acclaimed author:
This is the beginning of an interview I did recentlyÂ forÂ my friend Missy Bradley-Ball’s monthly newsletter. Missy’s newsletters areÂ one of the few things I get genuinely excited about seeing in my inbox. Like her, theyÂ are full ofÂ depth and thoughtfulness.
If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she was the first person I asked to doÂ the From the Front Porch: Creativity Interviews. You can findÂ her interviewÂ here.
For her August newsletter, Missy asked me someÂ GREAT questions about my journey as a writer. I call them ‘great’ because they are questions nobody has ever thought to ask me before, so they were interesting for me to answer.
I’m not sure if I’d callÂ my journeyÂ heroic (*blush), but it’s something to aim for at least. Click below to go to the interview:
I’ve been going through papers from different writer’s conferences and writing workshops I’ve attended over the years, and I found a shortÂ excerpt from a book called Letters to a Fiction Writer. I don’t think this advice is just for fiction writers, but for anyone who has something they need toÂ express creatively. See what you think.
The … fiction writer–you–carries a burden of sorts. You are lugging something around that seems to be part of your being, or, as we would say now, is ‘hard wired’ into you, so much so that you have become its container, but the only way to express it–almost literally, to bring it out–is to write it. What ‘it’ is, in this case, is a piling-up of selves, of beings, and of stories that are being experienced from the inside. What is it like to be you, to be me? You can’t answer that question by answering it discursively. You can only answer it by telling a story. That’s not therapy. You’re not sick. You’re just a certain kind of human being. It’s exactly like the necessity the musician has in humming a tune or playing a piano, or the necessity as artist has in doodling and sketching and drawing and painting. It’s almost involuntary. Something needs to get out. Not expressed but extruded. As the composer Camille Saint-Saens remarked, ‘I write music the way an apple tree produces apples.’
—-Charles Baxter from Letters to A Fiction Writer, edited by Frederick Busch, W.W. Norton, 1999.
Does this short passage resonate with you? I love the quote by Camille Saint-Saens.Â What would happen if we allÂ did whatever creative endeavor calls usÂ “the way anÂ apple tree produces apples”?
Try it. Even if it’s for just an hour. Write an old fashionedÂ letter to a friend, dance around your kitchen, hum a song that is yours to sing. Tell your story in whateverÂ medium makes sense to you. If you do, you may find a spark of purpose that you didn’t have before.Â Â xo
As a southern writer who has revered and admired Harper Lee for decades and considers her classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the best southern novels of all time, I will not be reading Go Set a Watchman, the just published second novel by Lee.
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about how excited I was that a new manuscript had been found written by Harper Lee. Like many, I thought this was the best literary news of the century. Then pretty quickly, new information came to light. Miss Lee’s lawyer was the one who found the manuscript, after Harper Lee had already moved to an assisted living facility in Monroe, Alabama. Reports that she was nearly deaf and blind and a bit wobbly of mind and body, which most of us would be at 89 years of age, began to surface.
Fast forward a few months and the president of HarperCollins shows up at the assisted living facility to give Harper the first copy of Go Set a Watchman, allowing for a perfect photo op of Harper Lee smiling at the cameras, the ‘found’ book in hand.
On July 14, 2015, Go Set a Watchman was released to the world and the reviews are coming in. They’re not good. But still I’ve been debating if I ‘should’ read it. Friends are asking if I will. Like many readers, I want to experience more of Harper Lee’s talent and her fine storytelling. But I’ve ultimately decided that I won’t read the book, and here are my 10 Reasons Why:
1. No writer I know would ever want an early draft of one of their novels published. No way. Never. Writers have been known to create bonfires in order to burn early drafts. Really big bonfires. In fact, this is probably why shredders were invented. Perhaps it was summer and some mechanically-minded writer, who had a stack of early drafts, didn’t want to build a fire, so he or she built a shredder instead. Early drafts of novels are like diaries that you hope no one ever sees because they reveal too much. They are full of mistakes and dullness and undeveloped ideas and under-developed plot lines. This is why prominent reviewers are calling Go Set a Watchman a “mess.” Ouch.
2. Harper Lee was intensely private. Famously private. She was a literary celebrity. Everybody wanted something from her. A decade or so ago a neighbor published a book about her and she never spoke to them again. Why would she become less private in the last year? Why would she now allow people to get a piece of her? And an untidy piece, at that. This makes no sense to me.
3. This is not a “new” book. She did not write another book after she won the Pulitzer Prize for To Kill a Mockingbird. I imagine she knew she couldn’t top what she’d already done. This is an early draft of Mockingbird. A draft that her editor rejected because it wasn’t good enough to publish. The editor then suggested she write the story from the point of view of a young girl. a.k.a. Scout. Sometimes editors and agents offer really GREAT advice. This advice changed her destiny.
4. Her older sister was known as her “protector,” which implies to me that Harper Lee wasn’t that great at saying ‘no,’ and her sister was much better at it. Her sister died a couple of years ago and I wonder if this book is now published because her sister wasn’t there to say ‘no’ for her. Her lawyer evidently didn’t see the need to protect her when she ‘found’ the manuscript in Harper Lee’s empty house. Does anybody know how much she is getting as a finderâ€™s fee?
5. First novels are notoriously autobiographical. As someone who has edited a lot of first novels, trust me, this is true. Writers are usually working through their issues in their first novels. Go Set a Watchman is a snapshot of Harper Lee’s struggles at that time, as a young woman in her mid-twenties. Do you remember yourself at that age? Would you want your unrevised, naive thoughts to go in a novel that millions of people will read as your long-awaited NEXT book? I honestly don’t know of anybody who would, unless it was Donald Trump.
6. Writers, especially novelists, change things in a book through many drafts. Sometimes dozens of drafts. We change things even in the galleys, our last look at it before the book goes to print. Manuscripts are constantly evolving and (hopefully) getting better. Harper Lee did not revise any of this book. She wrote this early draft in the 1950s. She didn’t read the galleys last spring. She has no idea what’s in there. No writer does that unless convinced or coerced into thinking it is something of value in its raw form.
7. In the current publishing empire, it is common knowledge that “the bottom line” is all that matters. Profit and loss statements are created for every book published, and if theyâ€™re not guaranteed to make a certain amount of money, they are dropped. If Harper Lee had been an unknown writer who sent in this manuscript of an early draft I’m guessing she would have been rejected many times, and the manuscript deemed unsellable. The professional reviews Iâ€™ve seen call it a mess and uneven. That “mess” became something great. It became To Kill a Mockingbird.
All early drafts of first novels are a “mess.” That’s why writers rewrite and revise for years. That’s how self-publishing got a bad name, because of all the writers who put their messes out there without taking the time to rewrite and let the novel evolve.
8. Harper Lee’s legacy has been changed forever. A legacy she and her sister closely guarded until recently. If I read the book aren’t I giving the publishing empire exactly what they set out to get–my dollars? If they really have the best of intentions, why not donate all the proceeds of the book to fight illiteracy or world hunger?
9. Conscientious authors think of their readers above all else. They are out to write the best story they can because readers are out there waiting for them. Harper Lee has had legions of readers waiting for a really long time. If she were able to consider her readers, she would make sure it was as great a story as To Kill a Mockingbird. She would take the time to go in and rewrite and take it up a notch or two or three and make sure she delivered. Because of age, or for whatever reason, she wasn’t able to do that. Steps were skipped. Other people made decisions that she couldn’t make for herself. Forgive me, but I don’t trust these other people.
10. Finally, the tenth reason why I won’t be reading Go Set a Watchman: I don’t think Harper Lee would really want me to.
Well, that’s my 2 cents. What do you think? Have you read the novel yet? I welcome your thoughts. xo
Susan Gabriel is the acclaimed southern author of The Secret Sense of Wildflower (named a Best Book of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews) and other southern novels, including Temple Secrets, Grace, Grits and Ghosts: Southern Short Stories and others. She lives in the mountains of North Carolina.