Book In Review: Go Set A Watchman

This morning, amidst my second cup of coffee and a snuggly five-year-old, I finished Go Set A Watchman (GSAW). I’m aware of the never-ending controversy this book stirs in so many people, because it’s not the great piece of Southern fiction that To Kill A Mockingbird is. Only today, I read this article on The Guardian about people wanting refunds.

GSAWAnd I get that. Not because I think they should get a refund (I don’t—they both bought and read this book), but because there is controversy behind the publishing of GSAW. Nelle Harper Lee didn’t want this book published according to her friends, because it was a rejected draft of TKAM and in her old age she’s being exploited. As a writer, I know I wouldn’t want unedited manuscripts to see the light of day. I know I would want control of what is published and what is not. For those of us who see it from that point of view, it’s sad that an elderly person is being exploited for the sole reason of making money. That’s not why a writer writes. A writer writes to send a message, for catharsis, and to share their love of words and ideas with others.

But I started this post to review GSAW since I read this book (did not buy it—I actually read most of my parents’ book and then was gifted my current version). And I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads. As I said in my pre-review post, Atticus as a racist doesn’t bother me. Why? Because he’s a product of his time, place, and circumstance. GSAW starts right after a big Supreme Court decision, which one can only assume since we are never told, is Brown vs. Board of Education. The talk in Maycomb surrounds the evils of the NAACP and desegregation.

At the beginning of GSAW, Scout comes home to visit her family from New York, where she’s been living for some time. If you know anything about  Nelle Harper Lee (who prefers to be called Nelle—Harper is her pen name), then you know she lived in New York for some time. Many aspects of this book seem autobiographical, and they probably have to do with how she grappled with her upbringing and her thoughts on racial issues, which differed from so many people who she had grown up with and known her whole life. When Scout comes home, she’s greeted by Hank, her intended fiancé and she’s whisked away to a house her father built after she had grown and left home. Atticus enters the scene unchanged from the Atticus we all knew and loved in To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM). And Scout still looks at him like a hero. She still holds him up on a pedestal, because he’s her daddy, the person she feels most akin to.

We quickly learn that some of our beloved characters from TKAM are no longer players in this book. I won’t put many spoilers in this blog for you, in case you’re still interested in reading the book. We also learn that Scout is still a tom-boy and sees fit to wear pants all over town (oh, the horrors), and she’s still assertive and fiercely independent.

She finds out that her father and Hank are not who she has always thought they were and much of the book is her having to cope with those thoughts and feelings. Haven’t you felt that way? Learning someone is different than your perceived notions. I think this happens a lot as you transition from a child to an adult, and this is the point Nelle Harper Lee intended to make in this book (draft really). Even the title of the book, GSAW, comes from a Bible verse referencing a “moral guide.” Each person has his/her own conscience and has to follow it the way they see fit.

The title Go Set A Watchman comes from the Bible verse, Isaiah 21:6, and is mentioned in the book on several occasions. The verse simply says, “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” A watchman is a prophet who can serve as the moral compass for the town. And in this book, the watchman is Scout. She has the power to be the one who can make ethical changes in the town of Maycomb. She can show her comunity that everyone should be treated equally and that segregation is not a horrible evil, but instead a chance to elevate and equalize a race that had been beaten down for so many years. Despite the fact that Scout knows and loves Maycomb and that no matter how long she’s in the North, it still feels like home (any Southerner will tell you this!), she also sees herself different and apart from the community because of her views on equality and rights for all people…not just whites. To me, this is the takeaway from of this book, and it simply would not have worked if Atticus’ characters wasn’t as complex. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Now, do I think this book should have been published? No. The read was okay. The majority of the book is third person and in the point of view of Scout, but there is one chapter told from Atticus’ point of view. There are also some scenes with too many ellipses (I hate these. I prefer em dashes) and where Nelle Harper Lee delves into the first person or second person without warning. This does work in some books, but in GSAW, not so much.

Overall, I gave it 3 stars because it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t TKAM either. It was never intended to be. It was never intended to see the light of the day, so if you can go into it looking at it that way then you won’t be disappointed.

Next Up On The To Read List: Cold Sassy Tree.


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Write What You Want

Today, I had the pleasure of reading What We Most Want by William Kenower. It seemed like a sign for me to have stumbled upon this article, because I had no idea what I wanted to write this morning. And until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know I wanted to write Southern Literature either.

I dabbled in many genres. I wrote No Turning Back, a woman’s fiction, love triangle, with an unexpected ending. After writing that book, I wrote The Devil Within in about two weeks. After finishing The Devil Within, I felt like I couldn’t finish anything else. I wrote a Southern psychological thriller or coming-of-age or who-knows-what-genre-it-falls-into-because-I-hate-classification called Little Birdhouses. Then I toyed around with a story about swingers (I’ve since shelved this–thank God!). I started several nondescript manuscripts, but I couldn’t put myself into any of them and I didn’t know why.

About a week before I attended Midwest Writer’s, Anna Kate’s voice invaded my head and told me to write her story–the one I’ve been holding on to for fifteen years and is set in rural Alabama in the 1920’s. I finally felt ready to do her story justice–even though it’s truly a labor of love, with tons of research, because let’s face it: I’ve never been a tenant farmer’s daughter. At Midwest Writer’s, someone asked me what I wrote, and I had a sudden realization it was Southern Literature or Southern fiction, or whatever you want to call it. And it makes sense. Because it’s who I am and it’s what I want to write. We all know I love to write tragic stories and what better fodder for stories than the tumultuous South! I started writing what I wanted, and the words started flowing. Writing Southern fiction makes me happy and it made me LOVE my work, just like William Kenower said in his article. Be true to yourself.

About once a week, with my Writing Wenches, someone brings up that we should all just write about falling in love with your stepbrother, because these books do well. It’s tongue-in-cheek, because none of us are ready to sell out. The point being, you might make a ton of money doing that (doubtful, because writing to trend when you don’t love what you’re doing can make you burn out quickly), but you wouldn’t be happy. If you don’t write what you love then the words are just symbols on a page with no meaning. Your reader can pick up on your enthusiasm in your writing from the feeling and emotion that the words tend to take when you’re writing something you love. If you love writing step-brother romances then I say go for it!

As for me, I’ll take the inspiration I received from reading The Sound and the Fury, Cold Sassy Tree, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and To Kill A Mockingbird (among thousands of other Southern novels I read), and I’ll write what I love. 

What do you think? Do you write what you love? When you read a book, can you tell if the author was truly inspired and loved what he/she was doing?


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The Devil Within by Lauren Greene

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by Lauren Greene

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Bald is Beautiful

Today, I’m not going to write about Southern Literature. Instead, I’m going to discuss alopecia areata, because I read Four Women Bond Over the Beauty in Their Baldness yesterday, and it had me thinking about my journey with alopecia.

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Hello from Bald Lauren! I’ve had alopecia since I was five years old. I remember being at a parade with my mom and saying, “What’s this little itchy bump?” Then I suffered through the worst case of chicken pox (I still have a scar in between my eyes). And after it was all over, my hair felt out but only in patches. My parents dragged me to doctor after doctor, and those doctors didn’t know much. It’s an auto-immune disorder, my parents were told and most likely genetic. My immune system was attacking my hair follicles. I suffered through steroid shots in my head, UV treatments, creams, etc., but nothing worked. The hair came and went. I was bullied by a boy named Rondre at school, who thought being different was a bad thing (I recently looked this boy up, and I was disappointed to find he looks like a successful entrepreneur. I thought for sure he’d be in jail!).

Then after puberty, my hair grew back…mostly. And I came to terms with my alopecia. Before puberty, I was afraid for anyone to know I had bald spots. My mother used to cover them with barrettes, so I could relate to the girl in the article above who said she lied about wearing wigs. It’s hard as a child to be different. I didn’t want anyone to know I had alopecia, and for a long time this held me back. But then it always shaped me by making me more accepting of people who are different than I am.

When my beautiful daughter (above) was about one and I quit breastfeeding, my hair felt out again, but this time all of it fell out. At first, I didn’t feel like I was struggling with it, but for women hair and beauty tend to go hand and hand. I felt fat, bald, and ugly and I decided I had to do something about it. I started exercising, and I started telling myself, “I’m a beautiful woman, with or without hair.” Because I am. And hair and beauty don’t go together. That thought is silly and unproductive. I became accepting of myself. I became more confident, and I also started talking about alopecia. I found when I talked about alopecia my confidence in myself grew. People are afraid of what they don’t know, so informing sets them free, so to speak (I know–total cliche).

Having alopecia has certainly been a challenge for me, but without it I wouldn’t be the person I am. It shaped me into a writer. It made me overcome trials and tribulations, and it clued me into human nature. Most adults and children are accepting, if you explain it to them. I have a tag line, “I don’t have cancer. It’s alopecia.”  I count myself lucky, because alopecia is not life threatening. It’s just something I have to live with, and heck it’s pretty nice not having to shave my legs.

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Thoughts Before Reading Go Set A Watchman

Perhaps one of the greatest books of all times in Southern Literature is To Kill A Mockingbird. Thus, I’ve been hesitant to read Go Set A Watchman, especially after having read this New York Time’s review. Growing up in the South, Atticus Finch was one of my childhood heroes. Although, I didn’t grow up in the same time as Scout, Jem and Atticus Finch, racism still ran rampant in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1980’s. Racism is still prevalent today in much of the country–not just the South. Although we have come a long way as a country.

When I attended the Midwest Writer’s Workshop last week, Ashley Ford an amazingly put-together 28 year old woman said, “There are no heroes and villains,” and she’s right. It’s all about perception. As a child, I perceived my parents as super human. They were my heroes. I remember as a teenager having the startling realization of my parents as people in a relationship, and it made me see them differently.

If we are to believe Go Set A Watchman is the first draft to To Kill A Mockingbird, then in the mind of Harper Lee, Atticus Finch started out as a racist and then evolved into something else. As a child, Scout sees her father as an amazing man, ahead of his time, defending a black man at trial. As a grown up, her perception has changed and she sees he is a racist like most of the other white men in Alabama at that time. “That doesn’t make him bad,” my friend Julie said last night at dinner. Atticus Finch is simply a product of his time.

Now, I haven’t read Go Set A Watchman yet. (I’m on page 20). I’m interested to see how my assessment will change as I read through it. I’ll report back afterward!

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The Dreaded “R” Word: Revisions

Before I left for the Midwest Writer’s workshop, I had been working on a Southern Literature piece called Little Birdhouses. I wrote Little Birdhouses almost a year ago. It sat in a drawer gathering dust and vintage while I worked on finishing up No Turning Back and The Devil Within, and I pulled it out to start revisions in May. I’m a horrible procrastinator, as I’ve talked about before, and I didn’t get far with my revisions before wanting to stop. Something about the ending didn’t click in the correct way. It frustrated me not to know what wasn’t working!

At #MWW15, I attended Lori Rader-Day’s session on #AmEditing. When I edit, I think I tend to go for the little things first. Lori Rader-Day said there are no rules to editing but top-down editing, i.e. looking at the bigger picture, is probably the place to start first. In other words, don’t get caught up in the little things until the big things are fixed (there is a life lesson here too). The three types of editing are:

  • Structural — Also known as developmental. Big Picture. Print off your work. Read it OUT-LOUD. Look for scenes that are repeats, don’t make sense, or are in the wrong places. Look for anything that might need to be cut.If you notice smaller areas, such as line edits to be done make a comment to fix it, but do it later.
  • Line Editing — Fixing individual lines. Cutting lines that don’t make sense. Grammar.
  • Copy Editing — Proofreading. Getting ready for copy. Improve format and style of the text.

Rader-Day spoke a lot about how editing works at the publication level too. The big take-away there for me is not to be afraid to cry, but don’t let it deter you from the work to be done after you’ve used up your whole box of Kleenex.

And finally, here are Rader-Day’s FIVE HACKS for editing:

  • Pair Up With Another Writer: This helps you, as the author, to figure out what you hate about your own writing. Sometimes, we know something is missing or not working, but we can’t put our finger on what it is. Often critique partners can help point out what the missing piece is.
  • Plotters: Go through and make sure the plotting didn’t stifle the writing. (I think this is what she said, but I’m a pantser, so honestly I just wrote down the word plotter and moved on — Sorry!)
  • Pantsers: No, not someone who likes to de-pants someone, but someone who writes without outlining. A pantser may be lost in the book, so it could be helpful for them to reverse engineer and outline. This way they can see the story ARC and figure out what can happen next if they’re at a point where things aren’t working.
  • Save As: Save all your revisions as a different file, so you don’t delete something permanently that might actually work! I suggest saving to the Cloud, hard drive, and sending to your email. You want to make sure to have back-up.
  • Write Book Jacket Copy For Story: This narrows your focus and helps the author remember what they wanted to say in the book in the first place!

Do you have any editing tips that work for you? 


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Here’s What People Are Saying About The Devil Within

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Sometimes the best books are the worst books. We wish this sort of thing didn’t happen in the world but it does. This book follows the life of young William who loses his mom and siblings in a car wreck. He is left to be raised by his father who you could say is God fearing to the extreme. In his attempts to shape up William he actually breaks God’s laws himself. The writing is strong, emotional and brilliant. I wanted to reach into the book and cuddle that boy, bitch slap his dad and steal him away and feed him pancakes and love. I can’t recommend this book enough, it is gripping from beginning to end.
 — Susan J.
The Devil Within was a heart wrenching page turner. Written through the eyes of a young boy dealing with a loss that no child should endure; the story takes the reader through his journey of self realization, acceptance and love. I read the book in one night! I didn’t mean to but I just couldn’t put it down.
— Shanna
Couldn’t put it down
I was given a copy in exchange for an honest review. I loved this book. I was impressed with the subject matter and how well it was written. My heart ached for William and all that he went through. By the end I was in tears. Great book and very well written.
–Katrina
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