Both, really. Publishing’s been repurposed.
Consider the case of Harper Lee, the adamantly reticent author of To Kill a Mockingbird. She’s 88 and in an assisted-living facility, mostly blind and deaf and in frail health. For decades, she refused to entertain the possibility of writing a second book. Flat out dismissed the notion.
Right up until her lawyer slash friend discovered a long forgotten manuscript in “a secure location” in Monroeville, Alabama — Lee’s hometown. It was the first draft of Mockingbird and was entitled Go Set a Watchman. The announcement flabbergasted the publishing world. Eyebrows shot up and dollar signs glittered in beady eyes. This is better than a government bail-out, ladies and gentlemen, this is To Resuscitate a Mockingbird. A salvation for publishing.
But at what price? Well, that’s complicated. It could be pretty costly for the legacy of Harper Lee, something she spent her life protecting.
See, first drafts are notoriously raw and unfinished. Very rarely are they publication-ready.¹ And, apparently, Watchman was no exception, since Lee’s editor at the time rejected it. However, the editor had been captivated by Scout’s childhood flashbacks and asked Lee to write a new version from the child’s perspective. So, being a good girl, Harper Lee did. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.
Which leaves us to wonder: if Harper Lee was, say, 40 and in robust health, would she be agreeing to publish this thing? There must be a reason she used it as wrapping paper for 60 years. I mean, no one abandons work they invested so much of their heart in. We don’t simply cast it aside and move on to the next project.
Particularly writers. If anything, we’ll tweak and revise forever. Which is what she was doing, I believe — polishing and shaping and amending Watchman into Mockingbird, not in addition to. Nevertheless, the book is scheduled for release on July 14th. Publisher HarperCollins plans an initial printing of 2 million copies and it’s currently at No. 4 on amazon.
Not to be outdone, Dr. Seuss (dead since 1991) has several new books coming out. First up is What Pet Should I Get? I thought it was a parody, What Pet Should I Get? — isn’t that a working title? His widow, Audrey, and his secretary slash friend exhumed the nearly-completed manuscript from a box at his home. It might’ve been written between 1958 and 1962 and is set for release on July 28th — 2015?! Now No. 33 on amazon.
Anything for a buck, I guess. But, you know, these books could just as easily be dazzling triumphs, absolute masterpieces, and I certainly hope they are. For the authors’ sake, not the publishers’.
Copyright © 2015 Publikworks
¹No less an authority than Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
2 responses to “: is it gold digging or grave robbing? :”
Excellent post. I truly hope it doesn’t diminish Harper Lee legacy. At the least, I hope it’s being handled by a decent editor.
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I’m with you, sm, that would be incredibly sad. I stumbled across an excerpt and took a very quick peek, intending to go back for a more leisurely look, but I couldn’t find it again. D’oh!
I’ll keep searching.
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