Would’ve Been Kinder to Stab Me in the I: How Harper Lee Ruined My Life

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

They say, Never Meet Your Writerly Heroes. I can see why. Writers are very much human, as in INCREDBILIBY flawed individuals. I mean, have you met me?

Then again, I’ve had the privilege of meeting three of my all time writerly crushes. In all three cases (Christopher Moore, Tim Dorsey & Robert Crais) they were perfectly lovely people. Not a one got drunk and tried to slip me the tongue (as opposed to a great storpicy a friend of mine has about a certain, now dead, author named Hunter and a wild night in Boulder, CO). Much to my chagrin I might add, but that’s a post for another time, and probably another blog – Fifty Shades of Crap You Don’t Want to Know about Me.

What I wanted to discuss today, is Harper Lee and Go Set a Watchman. Yes, I am going to whine and there maybe a few spoilers (which I learned after reading the 1st chapter online so they aren’t exactly spoilers for the whole book so I don’t feel too bad about spilling some secrets).

To Kill a Mockingbird was and is my favorite book. It has been since I first read it at the not so tender age of 18. I won’t go into the whys, but to me, it’s nearly the perfect novel. What added to the mystic was the lore of Harper Lee--having written only one perfect novel, and then never having published another word. It was/is my idea of the best writing career.

For so many years she was incredibly protective of her privacy and her rights. And then Go Set a Watchmen was announced. I, like so many others, was thrilled with a squeal to Scout’s story. I imagined all the ways in which the tale would enfold, about how Scout and Jem grew up, about who they became in the wake of the events of that summer.

That excitement faded under the elderly abuse accusations and later the investigation into those charges. But I hung in, pre-ordering my copy. And days before the release, the publisher put chapter 1 online…

Are you freaking kidding me? Jem’s dead? His death gets a throw away one paragraph?

My innocence is lost.

To Kill a Mockingbird will never be the same for me again. Which is why I’m sharing that factoid with you, so your illusions are shattered too. Misery loving company and all.

Which brings me to the point of this post, as a writer, I need to make sure I never do that to my readers. I can kill off characters all I want, but I need to do it in a way that acknowledges the sacrifice of time and attention my readers have put into my books.

I am not blaming Harper Lee for killing Jem off, nor with how she did it, as I fully believe she didn’t intend this book to meet the reader’s gaze. Not really at least.

Which is my second point of this post, as a writer, you don’t fully have control over what happens after you sell as book or aren’t in control of your rights anymore. So be careful in whatever decisions you make, now and going forward, i.e., who you leave your writerly estate too.

Did you read Go Set a Watchman? If so, what did you think? If not, why not? And do you have any other examples of when a writer you love destroyed your faith in writerly humanity?


Now come talk smack to me on facebook, twitter or on my website.  Or better yet, leave me all of your writerly estate. I vow not to Go Set a Watchman your stuff.

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer on Email
J.A. (Julie) Kazimer
J.A. (Julie) Kazimer is a writer living in Denver, CO. When she isn't looking for a place to hide the bodies, she spends her time with a pup named Killer. Other hobbies include murdering houseplants. She spent a few years as a bartender and then wasted another few years stalking people while working as a private investigator before transitioning to the moniker of WRITER and penning over 15 titles. Visit her website at jakazimer.com.

10 thoughts on “Would’ve Been Kinder to Stab Me in the I: How Harper Lee Ruined My Life

  1. I haven’t read Lee’s book yet, but I expect I will eventually. I definitely would like to read your “Fifty Shades of Crap You Don’t Want to Know About Me” which is an awesome title for a memoir.

  2. Thanks for writing! IMHO, no one can take your Atticus from you. Or, your Scout. When you read, the story and its characters are yours while you are reading. No one else (I presume) is in your head except you, and your reading of the author’s voice. That voice is yours while you read and for as long as you remember (and probably embellish, poke, or otherwise embody the story), it is also yours. No one can take that from you, unless you let them.

    Seriously. Not even the published early version of the story you read changes that. Same thing for other genres. Han Solo shot—not first, not second—he simply shot Greedo the Bounty Hunter.

  3. Oh, there are a lot of books in the world. I won’t be reading GO SET A WATCHMAN. I will spend my time reading other books. Contempt prior to investigation? Maybe. But in the end, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a classic. It’s been a bit smudged by the sequel, but not really. I mean, we still THE GODFATHER movies even after part III.

    The whole story behind GO SET A WATCHMAN is so murky. Should it have been published? Sure. The more books the better. It’s like Star Wars. Better bad Star Wars movies than no Star Wars movies.

  4. I, for one, do not plan on reading your memoirs Julie. Not because I don’t think that they’re interesting, but because I’m worried that it will tarnish my image of you. For example, in my world the only reason your favorite authors didn’t slip you the tongue is because you did it first.

    That being said, I think the most telling thing here is that Harper Lee didn’t publish the book herself. It was posthumous right? So it isn’t cannon. She gave us to kill a mockingbird, that was her gift to us. Did she write more stories in that universe in her spare time? Good for her, but if she didn’t publish them, clearly they were not meant for us.

  5. Great post.

    I haven’t read Go Set a Watchman, and I’m not sure that I will. As I read reviews and comments by the author’s fans, it seems to be a general consensus that this book wasn’t published before, because she probably didn’t mean it to be.

    The book that disappointed me with a death was Veronica Roth’s Allegiant – it was the last book of the trilogy. She killed the main character for no reason that I could discern. And when you kill your main character, I think your readers will demand the death serve a purpose other than making a bold literary flourish.

    Subsequently, I did not read her last book.

  6. I will read “Go Set A Watchman” as soon as the reservation at my public library is available. I don’t think it should have been released until Ms. Lee’s passing, so I don’t wish to support that blatant money grab by purchasing a copy.

  7. I may be alone, but I read Mockingbird as a little girl’s idealized view of a father who seemed to her larger than life. I would not be surprised if, after going away for several years, that child now grown should return to find the scales of idealism stripped from her eyes. I don’t find Watchmen at all a bastardization of Mockingbird, but a more realistic take on it. But then even as a teen I never found Superman Finch a credible character.

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