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Tuesday
Jul142015

Go Set A Watchman should never have been published. Also, there is no Santa Claus. Sorry kids

Truth sometimes hurts, like a cinder block dropped on your head. But, sometimes it's needed. So here's the flat of it my friends--this book should never, NEVER, have been published. I'm not talking about changing the storyline, or the new and unimproved racist Atticus. I'm talking about trampling the wishes of an 89 year old woman.

Yes, this book is from Harper Lee and that's head turning for sure. And it's cool for fans and a windfall for booksellers. YAY, you! And for Harper Collins (no relation) it's like flying a fleet of B-52s over their NYC office and carpet bombing them with gold bullion.

But *rubbing forehead* that doesn't make it right. 

Here's what we know:

  • Up until she was 88, Harper Lee never wanted to publish another book. And fans BEGGED her for more. Publishers threw mountains of money at her. But she still said, no thanks. Her sister, Alice, was her attorney and gatekeeper, and in Lee's nursing home years, she saw that those wishes were honored. 
  • In 2011, Lee's agent Sam Pinkus, a representative from Sotheby's, Justin Caldwell, and an attorney, Tonja Carter, visited Lee's safe deposit box and discovered a rejected manuscript called GO SET A WATCHMAN. That book would later be rewritten and renamed TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

(Side-bar: All authors have early trunk novels. We can't part with these books because we've invested so much time in them, but NO AUTHOR IN HIS OR HER RIGHT MIND WANTS THIS STUFF PUBLISHED. Leesha, if you're reading this, if I should fall off a cliff and die, please give that early manuscript a nice Viking funeral. Thanks!)

  • January 2012, Tonja Carter becomes durable power of attorney for Harper Lee. 
  • Jump to 2014, three months before Lee's sister Alice dies, Tonja Carter "discovers" this manuscript. Harper Collins rocks the world by announcing they will publish this long lost book about an older Scout, insinuating that this is some kind of sequel. They know it's not, but hey, marketing. 
  • Today GO SET A WATCHMAN is released. Sales of the initial 2 million copy print run are projected to generate $40 million. The profits will go into a foundation run by (insert ominous Darth Vader music) Tonja Carter.

If you watch the PBS special by Mary McDonagh Murphy, we see a very old Harper Lee being presented with her "new" book. Curiously, they only show stills, not actual video. We also hear audio of Ms. Lee being asked, "Did you ever think you would see this published?" She answers, "Of course I did, don't be silly." 

In a recent interview on CNN, Mary McDonagh Murphy was asked, "Did you believe her?" Murphy couldn't really answer that question. And neither can the rest of us. We can only go by what Ms. Lee desired until she was 88, until her sister died, until a new attorney thought otherwise. 

GO SET A WATCHMAN is a priceless artifact. It's an amazing study in how an early, rejected draft can become a timeless classic. But I can't bring myself to read it. Sometimes when you pass a train wreck, you should just look away.

Wednesday
Jun172015

Hey, let's all talk about race. Wait, where are you going?

With Mat Johnson and Marie Mutsuki Mockett. Amazing how many halves can make us whole.I was at Mixed Remixed in LA this past weekend, a festival celebrating the mixed race experience in film, literature, music, and art. While at the same time the general public was reacting to the whole Rachel Dolezal thing. Yowza. What a cultural confluence. 

I'm going to err on the side of positivity here and say that Mixed Remixed was, and I believe I'm using the scientific term here: UTTERLY AMAZEBALLS. 

As a kid who grew up never feeling Chinese enough (because I didn't speak Cantonese like my dad) and never feeling white enough (because I ate stuff like chicken feet and dried cuttlefish that freaked out my Caucasian friends), Mixed Remixed was like Camelot. It was magical. Everyone had gone through their own weird, bi-racial journey. It was a giant, collective, beautiful validation. When author Mat Johnson said, "I am a racial optical illusion," we all said YES. When Fresno's Poet Laureate, James Tyner said, "I would walk with my people if I could find them," many of us shed tears.

I won the 2015 Storytellers Prize for Literature. The Daily Show's Al Madrigal won for Film & Television.But then circling the whole thing like a fanboy at a Star Trek convention was the spectre of Rachel Dolezal. The white/black elephant in the room.

I just feel sorry for her. I don't sense malice in her actions. Just a desperate (albeit deceptive) clawing for a comfortable place in the world. I understand that.

And I get the outrage. But Internet outrage is all pitchforks and pumped shotguns. It's like locking someone in an old stockade and letting villagers pelt them with rotten fruit. The act itself is ugly and tragic and is the opposite of healing.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a big-hearted take on the matter. And attendees at Mixed Remixed definitely weighed in. Meanwhile I'm still looking at this spray-tanned train-wreck and looking for the love. What do you think?

Monday
Jun082015

Congrats to the Class of 2015. Now please, get off my lawn

School superintendent, Tammy Yaeger Lacey, warms up the crowd in a sweltering gym.

Last Friday I had the surreal pleasure of giving the commencement address at Great Falls High (where my wife, Leesha, went to high school).

Not wanting to give a normal speech, I decided to crowdsource all of my advice from Facebook and Twitter—creating a Top-10 list. It went over fairly well. And by fairly well, I think people momentarily forgot that it was 165° in the gymnasium. Or maybe the heat added a factor of delirium, thus making my speech more tolerable.

Speaking of speeches, folks have asked for a full transcript. Unfortunately, I don't write these things down, I kind of dance upon talking points as I speak. But, I do have the Top-10 list, so here 'tis with my commentary as delivered.

Top 10-Bits of Advice Crowdsourced from Social Media

  1. When in doubt. Be kind. (Phhh, that’s kind of lame).
  2. Be yourself but always assume that someone is recording you with an iPhone.
  3. Remind them that just because they've graduated from high school that does not mean they are extra special. Actually, just the opposite. (Congratulations, you just accomplished something that everyone in this room has accomplished, so yay us!)
  4. Please get a job. Any job. Because your parents are broke. (This one actually mentioned a name that I won’t share because I don’t want to embarrass anyone…especially you, Taylor).
  5. For the love of God, don't rely on spell check to get you thorough life. (That quote was actually misspelled).
  6. Enjoy your metabolism while you can.
  7. Get off our lawns!
  8. Christopher Walken was right, the world needs more cowbell.
  9. You won't remember this speech; you just want to get to the all-night grad party. (Be safe).
  10. According to Google, a middle class family spends roughly $240,000 to raise a child to the age of 18. If we assume a modest 8% return on investment, then these kids owe their parents approx. $259,000 dollars. I'm sure their parents will let them pay it off over 20 years. By the way your first payment of $1080.00 is due on July 5th (my math might be a little off). Good luck.

The crowd cheered for the metabolism one and especially the last one. Also, I had a cowbell and a drumstick hidden at the podium which came in handy for number eight.

A huge THANK YOU to: Jaye Wells, Rey Waltz, Briana Wipf, Jeffrey Henkin, Maryke VanBeuzekom, A. Cheryl Curtis, Jennifer Dues Bruggeman, Dee Dolores Leh, Helen Dowdell, and Lorna M. Fong. 

Wednesday
Apr292015

A bystander's view of the Hugo Awards

I have always been a lurker in the world of science fiction. From when I trekked to the Seattle Coliseum to hear Gene Roddenberry speak in the 8th grade, to sitting in on one of Connie Willis' classes at the Hugo House three years ago, to waiting in the wings when Harlan Ellison was elected to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. I even cut my writerly teeth by attending Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp in 2006.

But it wasn't until Hugh Howey invited me to submit a few stories to the Apocalypse Triptych that I actually had some synthetic, nano-tech-infused skin in the game. And because of that, I joined the World Science Fiction Society so I could officially vote in the Hugo Awards. Not for myself (I don't even pretend to that kind of greatness) but I had hoped to vote for The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin.

Much to my chagrin, this amazing book didn't make the ballot because a disgruntled group of conservative writers who felt slighted by the Hugos decided to emotionally vomit all over the voting process.

It's much more nuanced I'm sure, but to an outsider, that's what it looks like.

*Tantrum. Barf. Point fingers of blame.*

And I get it. I love Orson Scott Card's work and have always found him incredibly supportive of struggling writers. But I disagree with his political views, which have begun to obfuscate his stories. And I've participated in online writing communities where people were banned for unpopular opinions, which never sat well with me.

While it would be easy to block all the people I disagree with on social media, I don't, because living in that kind of monoculture bubble starts to feel...creepy...like the Stepford Wives. And I don't want to live in an echo chamber.

But holy gazortz, for this group to throw a hissy-fit and just burn the thing down is pathetic, and just plain unproductive. People tend to be builders or wreckers, and this type of action speaks volumes about who they really are.

Writers easily fall into tribes. And award shows like the Hugos are always a vexing combination of brilliant, dazzling work, and a high school popularity contest. But this year, it's a meanlingless pile of slag. ALL ABOARD!!