The Bereaved comes out in August, and the launch party is days away. I wanted to share some fun stuff with you. For one, there’s a Goodreads Giveaway going now through the end of the month. (Click the link there to enter.) No charge to enter, of course. Don’t be silly. Of course I want you to win a copy!
Then there’s The Bereaved book trailer. I’m working on posting it to the site here; it goes live on Friday on social media. Which, by the way, for me now is mostly Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, although I am definitely on TikTok, and I have a toe in the water at Spoutible and Post, and my old account still lingering on Twitter, aka X. Follow the links on the main page to find me!
The Bereaved book trailer:
And then there’s just the joy of holding the book and seeing friends reading or receiving their books. This makes me so very happy.
Thanks, Simi, Ann, Laura, Lisa, Dad and Glenn!
Not to go bonkers here, but it’s all part of the book release, marketing and all that. More to come! Stay tuned.
Four women with extensive book world experience have launched Sibylline Press, which will focus on publishing “the brilliant works of women authors over the age of 50,” including memoirs, narrative nonfiction and fiction. Sibylline Press will release six books in fall 2023 and six in spring 2024 and will be distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West. The company also has an unusual publishing model, which involves Sibylline authors being deeply involved in the promotion of their books and other Sibylline titles.
The Sibylline founders are:
Publisher Vicki DeArmon, who has a publishing, bookselling and entrepreneurial background that includes founding Foghorn Press at age 25. (Foghorn was distributed by PGW.) After 13 years, she sold Foghorn to Avalon Books, now part of Hachette Book Group. She was also marketing and events director of Copperfield’s Books in Northern California for eight years, and has consulted to California independent bookstores, creating the “Everyone Gets a Book” holiday program that is still used by the California Independent Booksellers Alliance (CALIBA).
Rights and special sales director Anna Termine, who has worked in both trade and academic publishing for more than 30 years, specializing in rights and licensing. Termine and DeArmon established the Independent Travel Publishers Association together 35 years ago.
Design director Alicia Feltman, who is a web designer for the American Booksellers Association’s IndieCommerce platform and CALIBA as well as for Copperfield’s, where she worked with DeArmon on various projects.
Under the Sibylline publishing model, authors of all of a season’s titles will participate in shared tours, advertising and a promotional strategy that “celebrates the brilliance of women over 50.” Authors will contribute to the marketing budget and receive a generous royalty until their contribution is paid back at which time the royalty returns to a traditional one.
DeArmon commented: “We are a traditional publisher. But even as a traditional publisher, we’re pushing against some long-held lines, giving our authors unheard of support and access. We believe that the better an author understands the industry, the better she can work within it and with us to achieve success for her book.”
Sibylline Press’s Fall list includes three memoirs and two works of historical fiction and one mystery series:
These Broken Roads: Scammed and Vindicated: One Woman’s Story by Donna Hayes, the memoir of a Jamaican immigrant who gets scammed and robbed of her life’s savings by the “love of her life” met on an online dating site, but overcomes hardships to find success.
Becoming Maeve: Coming Out in Corporate America by Maeve DuVally, the memoir of coming out transgender in one of the most high-profile financial institutions in the U.S.
Reading Jane by Susannah Kennedy. After the suicide of her domineering mother, the author discovers diaries spanning 45 years that challenge and upend long-held truths in this memoir.
The Bereaved by Julia Park Tracey. In 1859, after her husband’s death, a grieving mother tries to support her children in New York City, losing them to the Home of the Friendless and the Orphan Train, then sets out to reclaim them. Based on the author’s family experience.
The Pocket Book by Patricia Reis. In this work of historical fiction, upon the death of her cold father, a suppressed 50-year-old woman begins an ancestral quest in Ohio in the 1800s, awakening secrets and herself.
The Rotting Whale: A Hugo Sandoval Eco Mystery, the first in a new mystery series by Jann Eyrich. Steeped in the noir of The City, the old-school inspector with his trademark Borsalino fedora, is a media darling, reluctant bachelor, and people’s hero fighting the good fight in a modern era that attempts to eclipse the old San Francisco Sandoval loves. In his first case in the series, he must find his sea legs before he can solve the mystery of how a 90-ton blue whale became stranded twice in a remote inlet off the North Coast.
Excited to announce that I have signed a contract and my historical novel, The Bereaved, will be in bookstores in fall 2023. Prepare yourself for nattering and humblebrags with a side of shameless self promotion.
I have never read To Kill a Mockingbird. This is cause for alarm among you many literate people, but you needn’t think me unlettered. In high school I read Poe, Shakespeare, JD Salinger and Carson McCullers; lots of plays, many short stories, and certainly some fat summer beach reads, too (The Thorn Birds, Jaws, Roots, Shogun and Hotel, to name a few). In college I majored in journalism and had no cause for deep American reading, and no affinity for Southern lit, but I did read Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. I went on to study early 20th-century British literature for my master’s degree, and drank my fill of Woolf, Joyce, and Orwell. I still read scads of early and mid-century Brit lit. It’s my crack. But I didn’t have Harper Lee on my radar for pleasure reading until now.
I’ll add a caveat to my preamble that I realize there is an issue with the release of Lee’s first draft/second book. I have read her biography and understand the nature of her friendship with Truman Capote, her anxiety about meeting people and the “sophomore slump” that often hits young, successful authors who feel unequalto producing as fine a work again. I also recognize that there are claims of elder abuse and mixed opinions about the role of Lee’s sister as protector or as censor. History will judge those who abused Lee’s trust, I’m sure.
With all that in mind, I set out to read Go Set a Watchman before reading TKAM, in hopes of seeing which felt the more true. GSAW was written first, as the earlier draft of TKAM, so they say, but her agent and editor did not think it would sell. Lee rewrote the story from the young Scout’s viewpoint and had a bestseller on her hands. She eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for her work. That’s pretty heady stuff.
“For thus the Lord said to me: “Go, set a watchman; let him announce what he sees.” Isaiah 21:6
It is but a quirk of fate that in the past month, there was an assassination of nine African-Americans in Charleston, SC, and the Confederate flag has at last begun to come down. The #BlackLivesMatter and #Occupy campaigns have raised the African American issue in the media — and a new generation of activists are tired of waiting for justice and equality. As well, in the past few months I have been engaged in family history research and have been grappling with my own Alabama roots and heritage of slave-owning in my DNA. White privilege? Yes. So much yes.
* * *
I opened Go Set a Watchman with virgin eyes and no idea other than generalities on what to expect. And was — riveted.
Scout as a young woman — Jean Louise — is New York City-cynical, streetwise, on vacation to Maycomb, Alabama. Her brother is dead. Her beau, childhood friend Hank, is on hand to woo her back to small-town life. Attorney Atticus Finch, whom she calls by his first name, is her father, crippled by arthritis, a longtime widower living with his pushy Southern matron sister, Alexandra. Adult Jean Louise is a sexual being, pushing the boundaries of Southern small-town mores by behaving like the child Scout; a late-night swim with her beau creates a furor. She’s also enlightened, having crossed the border into Yankee territory and lived and worked alongside a rainbow of skin-tones. She returns to find Maycomb charmingly simple, the same as always, but smaller in size and in their way of thinking. The problem isn’t that home has changed; it’s that she has changed.
The era is the 1950s and the Civil Rights movement is underway, with integration and the like on the agenda. The whites of Maycomb don’t like it, and their “citizens’ committee” looks a lot like the KKK. The N-word is thrown around with vitriol and Jean Louise is alarmed — she thinks of herself as color-blind. There is an incident whereby a white neighbor is accidentally killed by the grandson of Calpurnia, Jean Louise’s African American surrogate mother — their housekeeper as she and Jem were growing up. When Jean Louise comes face to face with a grieving Calpurnia, the young woman knows everything is different, that black and white are not the same, at least not down in Maycomb. And when she discovers her father and fiance in a citizens’ committee meeting, she realizes her whole life has been a lie.
I will say no more about the plot — too much already, perhaps. But to turn to the Atticus problem: I am familiar with the figure of righteous Atticus waving his figurative sword at prejudice and racism, despite not having read TKAM or seeing the entire movie. He shows up as a cultural touchstone in films, books, essays and news articles. The Atticus I find in GSAW is an aging man of his era; he was steeped in racism in small-town Alabama from his youth, and whatever his personal beliefs, the tint of the standard philosophy is going to seep in. I read his protests to adult Scout as plausible — he’s at the meeting to keep an eye on things. He’s in the group but not of the group. Hank is there because he wants to succeed in small town life; it would be social suicide not to participate — plausible today but frankly, reprehensible. Atticus is a character with his own moral compass who’s dragging his feet into the new era; he is less obstructionist and certainly less vocal and violent about it than his sister or the neighbors. Is he a good guy? A bad guy? He’s a racist — but they all are. What I don’t follow is Dr. Jack Finch, Scout’s uncle (Atticus’s brother), teaching a brutal lesson fraught with bizarre classical literary references, to Jean Louise on hero-worship. That final episode seems overwrought and histrionic in the extreme. Dr. Finch is the oddball in the bunch, acting as Greek chorus to show Jean Louise her errors.
What is hard to read, especially in light of current events — and as I said above, I read a lot of novels from the early 20th century, weekly, in fact; I am used to seeing non-PC expressions like “nigger in the woodpile” or “worked like a nigger” in those dated texts — what strikes me as much harder to swallow is the infantilization of the African American race as a whole by the characters, including Jean Louise, that continues today. “The Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people…They’re [the NAACP are] trying to wreck us,” Atticus says. While Jean Louise argues for a race’s humanity, all the characters accept the belief that the Negroes have miles to go before they sleep, even as the population is being oppressed and prevented from enjoying their civil rights (no wonder they have so far to go). I see this attitude still alive in the world today; African Americans are “that way,” are “like that,” fill in the blank as you wish. They are Different from white people, and don’t know better, and have to be protected from themselves (cue talking heads nattering about black-on-black violence instead of the centuries of causes for violence in a shell-shocked community). And the stratification endures.
As a text, as fiction, Lee’s work is stellar. Jean Louise is a thoughtful character, sympathetic and well drawn. The scenes where African American characters have agency are few and far between, despite a story that purports to have their interest at heart, but what is there is sharp and very keenly felt. Calpurnia calling Jean Louise “Miss Jean” for the first time upon the girl’s menarche, or Calpurnia’s silence when Jean Louise arrives to commiserate over the tragedy, speaks volumes about the strict racial divide. Hank’s unsuitability as a mate for Jean Louise, the class division of this same society, is portrayed in the subplot. Setting, language, dialogue, plot and characters are beautifully crafted for a first novel, and I am in awe of Lee’s youthful skills.
Where the book fails for me is the denouement, the confrontation between Scout and her father. I don’t think it works. The strange tutelage of Uncle Jack feels dropped in from another planet. I have trouble following his Red Queen logic, and so does Scout, for that matter. And I certainly don’t buy the neat reconciliation that ends with Jean Louise remembering not to bump her head on anything difficult in life, like racism in her town, or her beau’s KKK connection.
I have not yet cracked the spine of TKAM. I look forward to reviewing that story, and then, comparing and contrasting the two, side by side, as an author’s oeuvre and as documents of our national racist heritage.
I’m writing while I sit by my husband’s bed awaiting his back surgery.
I’m writing while I drive home late at night.
I’m writing when I get up at 3 a.m. to let the cat in. Or out.
I’m writing when it looks like I’m reading. Or spacing out. Or chopping vegetables.
Because, for me, writing doesn’t look like writing until the last 10 percent.
“Genius is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” — Thomas Alva Edison
Writing — for me — is like that, too, sort of. It’s all in my head until the last bit, which is writing it down (on paper or screen). I don’t sit at my desk and wonder what will come. I write all the time, and then sit down and let it out.
And that’s about all I have to say. Tomorrow I have an essay to write. A chapter to finish. Some poetry that is weeping my name.