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Friday, February 6, 2015

Writing sequels

Contains commentary from The Daily Beast


Normally, writing a sequel is just a matter of skill -- characters and setting have to be reintroduced informatively enough to let the new reader enter the series readily and easily, without the same alienating feeling of arriving in a room in the midst of an animated conversation that means everything to everyone there, but is foreign country for the new arrival.  And, at the same time, the reader who knows the previous book or books should not be bored with what might seem like unnecessary repetition.

If the book that came before is a mega-seller, and maybe even a classic, the challenge might seem insurmountable. The publisher and agent nag, and hugely tempting advances are offered, but what if the next book is a flop?  Think about that book that followed The De Vinci Code, for instance.  Can anyone even remember its name?

So it's no wonder that when a sequel to the immortal To Kill a Mockingbird is announced, doubts are expressed.

"Harper Lee promises a new novel - or does she?" asks Malcolm Jones on the Daily Beast.

For decades after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, the question that occupied most readers’ minds was, when will she write another novel? As the years passed, the question became, will she write another novel? And then, as Lee moved into her 80s, the question changed again: why didn’t she ever write another novel?

Now, out of nowhere comes the news that indeed there will be at least one more book from Lee. Go Set a Watchman is a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, taking up the story of Scout and Atticus some 20 years after the time of the first book. Scout returns to Maycomb, Alabama from her home in New York City to settle unfinished business with her family and her town.

According to her publisher, the Watchman manuscript was written beforeMockingbird. Lee’s editor at the time was especially taken with the flashbacks in the earlier version and asked her to fashion a novel out of Scout’s memories of childhood. “I was a first-time writer,” she said in a recent statement, “so I did as I was told.” Her revisions became To Kill a Mockingbird.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, Go Set a Watchman, never published, is the first draft of the book that’s sold more than 40 million copies.

Sadly, this latest Harper Lee news raises more questions than it answers. 

But plenty of people believe it.  The day that the sequel was announced, it shot to the top of the Amazon bestseller list -- and it is not coming out until July!

1 comment:

Joan Curry said...

This is not so different from the practise of publishing, usually after a writer's death, the letters, diaries, old MSS, reminiscences of friends (however distant)shopping lists and anything else that people can find. If that new(old) MS had turned up after Lee's death, would there be the same distress about it? Just asking...