Harper Lee

Phyliss Miranda sig line for P&P BluebonnetHarper Lee, the elusive novelist who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that was writtenHarper Lee from a child’s-eye whose view reflected racial prejudices in a small Southern town recently died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 89, in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

Although I read a dozen articles about her death, they were about the same through the eyes of the Associated Press.  The information that I found the most intriguing was in her biography.

One thing of interest was that her full name was Nelle Harper Lee.  Her first name was her grandmother’s name spelled backwards.  Lee dropped the Nelle because she didn’t want people to mispronounce it.  Her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature and part owner of the local newspaper.  For most of Lee’s life, her mother suffered from mental illness and rarely left the house.  It was believed that she may have had bipolar disorder.

Although Lee was the youngest of four children, she was scrappy as any of her brothers. Not to mention she was brilliant.

One of her best friends, and who as authors today we’d call a critique partner, was Truman Capote, then known as Truman Persons. Lee often stepped up to serve as Truman’s protector.  Truman, who shared few interest with boys his age, was picked on for being sensitive and for the fancy clothes he wore.  While the two friends were very different, they both had difficult homes lives.  Truman lived with his mother’s relative after largely being abandoned by his own parents.

“The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to– in private – surrounded by books and the people who loved her,” Michael Morrison, head of HarperCollins U.S. general books group, said.

Gregory PeckTo Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, a little over a half a century ago, quickly became a best-seller, won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a memorable movie in 1962, with Gregory Peck winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus, plus the movie winning three Oscars. As the civil rights movement grew, the novel inspired a generation of young lawyers.

By 2015, its sales were reported to be more than 40 million worldwide, making it one of the most widely read American novels of the 20th century. When the Library of Congress did a survey in 1991 on books that have affected people’s lives, I was second only to the Bible.

Lee herself became more mysterious as her book became more famous. At first, she dutifully promoted her work. She spoke frequently to the press, wrote about herself and gave speeches..

But she began declining interviews in the late 1960s and, until late in her life, firmly avoided making any public comment at all about her novel or her career. Other than a few magazine pieces for Vogue and McCall’s in the 1960s and a review of a 19th-century Alabama history book in 1983, she published no other book until stunning the world in 2015 by permitting Go Set a Watchman to be released.

”Watchman” was written before “Mockingbird” but was set 20 years later, using the same Harper Lee Both Bookslocation and many of the same characters. Readers and reviewers were disheartened to find an Atticus who seemed nothing like the hero of the earlier book. But despite unenthusiastic reviews and questions whether Lee was well enough to approve the publication, “Watchman” jumped to the top of best-seller lists within a day of its announcement and remained there for months.

Much of Lee’s story is the story of “Mockingbird,” and how she responded to it. She wasn’t a bragger or a drinker like many authors of her time. She was not a recluse or eccentric. By the accounts of friends and Monroeville townsfolk, she was a warm, vibrant and witty woman who enjoyed life, played golf, read voraciously and enjoyed plays and concerts. She just didn’t want to talk about it before an audience.

One of the most interesting things I found about her life really doesn’t differ a great deal from today’s readers.  Although eventually To Kill a Mockingbird was released as an e-Book, she wasn’t all that pleased with the decision.  In her words, like many of ours, she said, “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that ‘Mockingbird’ has survived this long ….”

As most students who grew up in my era, To Kill a Mockingbird was required school reading.  However, I read mostly Granny’s True Confession mags she hid under the bed in the room I stayed in every weekend, plus of course, required class reading.

When I got older, the first real romance novel I read and it’ll always be my favorite is The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss.  After I got caught up on her older books, I turned to LaVyrle Spencer. There are so many to choose from but my favorite of all is The Hellion and later Hummingbird.  For me, as I remember, The Hellion, was the first truly bad-boy hero I’d ever read.  Just writing about it today makes me want to find my copy and read it again, but since I’ve got to get the second book in the Kasota Springs series finished for Kensington, I guess I’d best save the reading of The Hellion and The Flame and the Flower until it’s winter and I can curl up with hot tea in front of the fireplace and read.

My question to you all … what is the book you literally “cut your teeth on” when you began reading historical romances?

Being the first day of March, I can truly smell all the freshness of spring here in Texas.  To one lucky winner I will give you an e-Book of the first book in the Kasota Springs series, The Troubled Texan.

The Troubled Texan GoodValentines Short Story, Harper Lee, and Linda's books at BN

This was a fun shot at Barnes and Nobles and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a picture.  To Kill a Mockingbird, Filly Linda Broday’s Texas Mail Order Bride, and the Valentine’s short story collection from Prairie Rose Publications, Hearts and Spurs which features P&P Fillies Linda Broday, Tracy Garrett, Cheryl Pierson, Kathleen Rice Adams, Tanya Hansen, and Phyliss Miranda.

Phyliss
A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

Visit her at phylissmiranda.com
Updated: February 29, 2016 — 8:19 pm

11 Comments

  1. Phyllis, I’m so glad you wrote about Harper Lee. I often think that winning a Pulitzer ruined her as a writer. How do you follow that kind of success? How do you live up to reader expectations following such amazing success? The answer is you can’t. The lesson for writers is don’t ever, ever win a Pulitzer. It’ll ruin you.

  2. Thanks, Margaret. I found her story amazing. I think you make a great point and certainly understand how it could happen. We all set goals and it’d be hard if you hit the highest right off the bat instead of working up one level at a time. Thanks for leaving a message, my friend. Hugs, Phyliss

  3. I have read so many books I couldn’t answer your question. I agree with margaret that the pressure of winning a pulitzer that made it tough to continue writing.

    1. Hi Kim, glad you stopped by. I believe you and Margaret are correct. I just want to win a RITA someday and I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished a ton. I can’t imagine the pressure put on Harper Lee. Hugs from Texas!

  4. Hi Phyliss, what a wonderful tribute to Harper Lee! I remember reading TKAMB for the first time when I was fifteen…it’s one of those books I wish I hadn’t read yet so I could relive every word again. Wow.

    I think my first tooth-cutting historical romance was Bride of the MacHugh by Jan Cox Spies. I just pulled it out of the attic the other day for a re-read.

    1. Hi my friend, Tanya. Thanks for your kind comments. I wrestled a bit trying to decide whether writing about her was what our readers would like and it’s way too long, but was hard to cut down. She was certainly an amazing lady. I haven’t read “Bride of the MacHugh”, so gotta go to the used book section and get it. If you liked it, I know I’ll love it. Take care of yourself, my California Filly. Love, P

  5. This will tell my age but my first book was Peyton Place.

    1. Hi Goldie, well I guess I have to admit, now that I think of it, Peyton Place was probably the first real juicy romance novel I read. Glad you stopped by and left a note. I know my blog was too long then you add Super Tuesday I’m surprised anybody left any comments. You have a wonderful week. Hugs, Phyliss

  6. Phyliss, this is really interesting. And one thing struck me that one of the news reporters said the other day was that she maintained a lifelong friendship with Gregory Peck. He came to visit her often. I wish I could’ve known her. I would have loved to sit down with her and talk about books. And life. She had the most beautiful smile and a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

    The first romance I read was way before Kathleen Woodiwiss came along. The title was Angelique by Anne Golon. I was a junior in high school and I checked it out of the library. It was a beauty and the beast kind of story and oh man, it stirred my imagination!

    Thank you for including that photo of my Texas Mail Order Bride sitting beside To Kill a Mockingbird! That was an amazing moment.

    1. Hi my precious friend, Linda. I had read about Gregory Peck, but didn’t realize they have a close relationship. How cool. I’m like you, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could sit down with her and talk writing. She was scrappy and I don’t think, from the pictures I saw she probably didn’t wear a lick of makeup until later in life. Everything I read about her was pretty much the same … what you see is what you get. Thank goodness you read “Angelique” since it stirred your imagination; otherwise, we wouldn’t have the wonderful writer Linda Broday. I couldn’t resist posting the pix of the books together on the end cap of the customer service desk at BN. Kudos to a great lady and friend. Love, Phyliss

  7. To Kill A Mockingbird was published while I was in high school and wasn’t on any required reading list yet. I actually just read it a few years ago. Sorry I waited so long. I have the movie on the shelf, but am waiting for my husband to read the book before we watch it.
    I am not sure if I am going to read Go Set A Watchman. From what I have heard, I will not like the changes in some characters.

    The first romance I read was THE PRIZE by Julie Garwood. I couldn’t read the rest of her historicals fast enough. She then switched to contemporary stories. Historicals and Westerns, both historical and contemporary, are my favorites.

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