So you can read my books

Monday, April 28, 2014


“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

On this day in 1926, I was born in Monroeville, Alabama.

I was stunned by the immediate and overwhelming success of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).

I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but,

 at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement.

Public encouragement.

I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.

Perhaps this was why, despite forecasting more books, I have published only three short magazine articles since, all in the 60's. 

Which of us knows truly why we have done what we have done.

Nor have I lightly broken the silence and anonymity into which I quickly retreated,

But Samuel Clemens' ghost has hounded me to speak for his friend, Roland.  

He says like his HUCK FINN, my book is the distilled essence of the great American novel.

Yet I do not break my silence to rid myself of a ghostly pest.

I break it for the tall man in black, Captain McCord, who keeps shooing Clemens from my table at Meilori's.  He so reminds me of my Atticus Finch.

Then, again, maybe I do not relish being categorized and sorted. 

We Americans like to put our culture into disposable containers. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way we treat our past.

We discard villages, towns, even cities, when they grow old, and we are now in the process of discarding our recorded history, not in a shredder, but by rewriting it as romance.

We are eager to watch docu-dramas on television; we prefer to read a history of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of Mad Anthony Wayne's last mistress.

Now there is nothing wrong in reading historical fiction--

perhaps two-thirds of the world's classics are written in that form. But these are impatient days; more than ever it seems that we want anything but the real thing:

We are afraid that the real thing might be dull, demanding, and worst of all, lacking in suspense.

Dull, boring?  Oh, my.

Wordsworth was right when he said that we trail clouds of glory as we come into the world, that we are born with a divine sense of perception.

As we grow older, the world closes in on us, and we gradually lose the freshness of viewpoint that we had as children. That is why I think children should get to know this country while they are young.

I would like to show children my own town, my own street, my own neighbors. I live on the corner.

My next-door neighbor is a barber, and his wife owns a dress shop.  My down-the-street neighbor has a grocery store, and my neighbor down the hill is a teacher.

My neighbor to the rear is a doctor; behind him is a druggist.  If children were visiting--from abroad or from other parts of the country--

They would have cookies and ice cream for them, and take them to the park with the lake and the swimming pool,

And my cook, Mary, would make them an enormous cake covered with caramel frosting,

and for dinner give them fresh vegetables from the garden and Southern chicken cooked right. And then we would let them alone, to explore on their own.

It's stifling to have adults with you all the time when you are a child, to tell you about everything and explain things away for you.

There is no sense of discovery for a young, exploring spirit when adults are with you all the time to give absolutely straight answers to everything.  And now you know why I named my narrator, Scout.

And that is quite enough about me, readers.  I will go back to my iced tea and chatting with the sad-eyed Captain McCord.  Perhaps I can make those dark eyes smile.


  1. I loved this visit from Harper Lee. By writing about her childhood she truly wrote a classic.

    Garrison Keillor wrote a lovely piece for National Geographic about growing up in Minneapolis, and he captured that intense sense of place and people and memory, and how these things shape us.

    By the way, my dear Roland, you are a wonderful writer who should have thousands of readers for your stories! I ranted a little bit to you on my own blog about this matter. You should know that you are damn fine at what you do.

  2. How right she is. And truth is frequently more fabulous than fiction. More frightening, more touching, more heart warming. And often stranger...

  3. I used to help a band called 20/20 Blind they changed their name to 'Atticus Finch".

  4. Reality is always more interesting (or strange) than fiction.
    Never wrote another book? How odd.

  5. Childhood does shape us to some extent, some love their childhood and the small towns, some feel stifled and just want to get away. This effect of how we feel about our childhood we can't see until we get some distance from it.

    Re-reality vs life:
    I wrote a scene for a suspense tale in a courtroom, a beta reader said that it couldn't happen,(she is a published author of historical fiction) but a week or so later, it did happen in the news, and I knew of other incidences. Life is stranger than fiction and more deadly.

    Too bad Harper Lee only wrote one book, but sometimes it's enough.

  6. I loved TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (as did anyone who has read it, I believe). I always wondered why he didn't write another novel. I suppose that too much success can be as daunting as too little. So many prolific writers didn't garner ANY real success in their lifetime. It was only many years later that the world "discovered" them.

  7. Helena:
    Thanks for the kind words here and on your blog. Whatever it takes to draw attention to your books, I lack -- in spades! :-)

    I have resigned myself to writing without notice for the rest of my life -- as my cancer surgeries prove: there are worse fates!

    I'm glad you liked Harper Lee's words to us on her birthday.

    Elephant's Child:
    Truth often breaks my heart in non-fiction. Reality is too often cruel and callous. :-(

    What kind of music did the band, Atticus Finch, play?

    Yes, unlike reality, fiction has to make sense!

    She helped her friend, Truman Capote, write IN COLD BLOOD -- going from place to place, helping him research and question those involved.

    Up until that point, she had been writing a book focusing on ordinary small town life. She never took back up writing after her work with IN COLD BLOOD.

    Perhaps she thought that her book of the ordinary would never appeal after the extremes of IN COLD BLOOD.

    As children we are wet cement -- as we age it takes more to make an impact on us: and it is usually chiseling experiences that do it.

    We usually realize how precious certain aspects of childhood were when we cannot go back and say Thank You.

    Life is odd in its twists and turns. Trust your own instincts with your scenes. Write YOUR book not someone else's. :-)

    I will probably not even be discovered after I am gone! Enjoy the writing journey for just spinning a tales for a few. :-)

  8. The band Atticus Finch was/or is a Christian Rock band. I haven't kept up with them in years since moving away from Houston. I went to church with Schon Alkire the bassist, and helped roadie in the Houston area.

  9. I think Harper Lee's visit on your blog is my favorite so far, and the other ghosts didn't make it easy.

  10. Chrys:
    Harper is one of a kind. :-) Mark Twain says so!

  11. How great that Harper Lee came to visit you and Capt. McCord. I know I would like his dark eyes too. It is clear she does.