YA Guy finally got around to reading Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN. It’s not really a YA novel—in fact, it’s even less YA than its predecessor, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD—and I’ve been extra busy this semester teaching overloads and juggling writing projects. But I finally got a break on the teaching side, and before NaNoWriMo starts next month, I had a chance to sneak Lee’s novel in.
When WATCHMAN was published last year, a lot of people were disappointed, even devastated, by what they took to be the sequel to MOCKINGBIRD. They were troubled, first of all, to discover that this “sequel” wasn’t very well written (more about this later). They were upset by some of the events that occurred in the fictional Finch family as the thirties turned into the fifties. And they were dismayed to discover that saintly Atticus Finch had, apparently, become a racist and a Klansman in his declining years. For those who saw WATCHMAN as Lee’s carrying forward of the story she’d first told in MOCKINGBIRD, all of this seemed like a betrayal of a beloved classic.
But as we know now—actually, as we knew all along, only this wasn’t talked about much within the publishing industry because it might have hurt sales—WATCHMAN is manifestly not the sequel to MOCKINGBIRD. Quite the contrary, it’s Lee’s first draft, her first attempt to tell the story of Jean Louise Finch and the racial history of Maycomb County. She wrote it before MOCKINGBIRD, submitted it to her editor, Tay Hohoff, and was told that it needed drastic reworking before it could be published. Hohoff suggested that she refocus the story on Jean Louise’s childhood, the days when she was (to quote WATCHMAN) “Scout Finch, juvenile desperado, hell-raiser extraordinary” (49). That’s exactly what Lee did, and MOCKINGBIRD was the result.
WATCHMAN, in short, was never meant to be published, any more than any first draft is meant to be published. It got published only after Lee’s advancing age and infirmity made it impossible for her to block its publication. Had it been published by a scholarly press, with an editor to provide the context and annotate the text, one might have argued that it got published for academic reasons, as a means of providing students and teachers insight into a classic author’s writing process. Being published as it was, however, it’s quite clear that it was published largely to make a bunch of people in the publishing industry (and not Lee herself) rich.
Given that history, part of me wishes it had never been published. It really isn’t a very good novel; though the writing is confident at the sentence level, the plot is slow and fractured, the characters (including the adult Jean Louise) dull, the romance between Jean Louise and her childhood chum forced and uninteresting. To the extent that it’s harmed Lee’s posthumous reputation in the eyes of some, it’s unfortunate that her wishes regarding its publication weren’t respected, or that (as said above) it wasn’t at least published in an academic manner.
But if the reader in me, the lover of literature, feels this way, the writer and the teacher of writing feels differently. What WATCHMAN tells us is that writers, even writers of Lee’s immense and astonishing powers, seldom if ever get it right the first time; it’s by swallowing their pride, accepting the limitations of their first efforts, and engaging in the arduous process of revision that writers are able to do what they do. With NaNo approaching—and with so many people both inside and outside the publishing industry rushing to put inferior work out there simply because the “market” demands it or electronic publishing facilitates it—I think it’s important to remember that drafts are just that. They exist for a reason, but they’re not ends in themselves.
I can’t wait to re-read MOCKINGBIRD, which I plan to do now that I've finished reading it in draft form. I haven't read it for years, and I’m eager to be reminded of what Lee’s persistence, humility, and hard work enabled her to produce.
Friday, October 21, 2016
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
So here's something fun YA Guy just discovered: a student made a pillow out of my SURVIVAL COLONY 9 cover image.
As Joe Walsh says, it's tough to handle this fortune and fame. Everybody's so different, I haven't changed.
But seriously, this is a nice tribute. It's good to know somebody likes my book enough to want to sleep with it every night!
And here's another nice thing: you can win a signed copy of the two-part Survival Colony series, including SURVIVAL COLONY 9 and SCAVENGER OF SOULS, right here at YA Series Insiders.
You won't be able to sleep on them--they're hardcovers--but you can stay up late reading them!
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
YA Guy's excited to be celebrating the release of BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES by Yvonne Ventresca! I absolutely loved this book, which I had a chance to read before publication--check out my review here. Then read the book's details and teaser, and be sure to enter the giveaway below!
Publisher: Sky Pony Press Publication: October 4, 2016
Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a supernatural connection. Since her mother discourages these beliefs, Ella keeps her cemetery visits secret. But she may not be the only one with secrets. Ella’s mother might be lying about how Dad died sixteen years ago. Newfound evidence points to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not as a result of a tragic car accident as her mother always claimed. After a lifetime of just the two of them, Mom suddenly feels like a stranger. When a handprint much like the one Ella left on her father’s tombstone mysteriously appears on the bathroom mirror, at first she wonders if Dad is warning her of danger as he did once before. If it’s not a warning, could her new too-good-to-be-true boyfriend be responsible for the strange occurrences? Or maybe it’s the grieving building superintendent whose dead daughter strongly resembles Ella? As the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, Ella becomes terrified about who—or what—might harm her. Soon the evidence points to someone else entirely: Ella herself. What if, like her father, she’s suffering from a breakdown? In this second novel from award-winning author Yvonne Ventresca, Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be.
Excerpt from Black Flowers, White Lies
I take the stairs down. Once the stairwell door closes behind me, the basement seems darker than ever, as if the electricity is off. The light on my phone helps guide me to the laundry room. I flick the switch. Nothing happens. Not even the one good light turns on.
Maybe Norma’s in the middle of fixing the lightbulbs. She could have turned off the circuit breaker or something. But when I open the dryer, the drum light turns on as I dump the clothes into the basket. The electricity is working after all.
The light from the dryer illuminates the space and something catches my eye. I focus my phone on the wall to my left.
“No.” I back up, banging into the open dryer door.
One word is scrawled in red capital letters across the wall: DAUGHTER. A bloody handprint drips in the space underneath.
I grab the basket. A cat T-shirt falls, but I don’t stop. I need to escape, fast. The elevator takes forever. The doors slide open. I expect demons, monsters, ghouls. It’s empty.
On our floor, I race to our apartment, fumble with my keys. My hands tremble too much to open the lock. “Blake!”
When he opens the door, I drop the basket to grab his arm. “Come with me.”
“El, what’s going on?”
I can’t speak on the elevator ride to the basement.
“Seriously, are you okay? You’re scaring me.”
“I’ll show you.”
I turn my phone light on when we leave the elevator and pull him into the dark laundry room. I illuminate the wall but can’t bear to look. “See?”
He’s quiet. I figure he’s as frightened as I am.
I turn my head and shine the light where the red scrawl was minutes before.
“Why are we in the dark?” Blake asks, flipping the laundry room switch.
The lights come on. The sudden brightness makes me blink as I stare at the blank wall.
Yvonne Ventresca’s latest young adult novel, BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES will be published by Sky Pony Press in October 2016. Her debut YA novel, PANDEMIC, won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. In PANDEMIC, a teen struggles to survive not only a deadly outbreak and its real-life consequences, but also her own personal demons. Ventresca's other works include the short story “Escape to Orange Blossom,” which was selected for the dystopian anthology PREP FOR DOOM, along with two nonfiction books, PUBLISHING (Careers for the 21st Century) and AVRIL LAVIGNE (People in the News).