Tag Archives: author

‘The Murder of Stephen King’ novel pulled from release

James Patterson decided that an upcoming novel, “The Murder of Stephen King,” wasn’t a good idea after all and is having the scheduled Nov. 1 publication withdrawn.

In a statement released this month through Little, Brown and Company, Patterson said he didn’t want to cause King or his family “any discomfort.”

The book was intended as a tribute to King, a King-like story of an obsessed fan out to get the writer.

But Patterson, who co-authored the 150-page novel with Derek Nikitas, said he had learned that fans in real life had “disrupted” King’s home.

“My book is a positive portrayal of a fictional character, and, spoiler alert, the main character is not actually murdered,” he said. “Nevertheless, I do not want to cause Stephen King or his family any discomfort. Out of respect for them, I have decided not to publish ‘The Murder of Stephen King.’”

Despite the jarring title and Patterson’s best-seller status, the novel ranked just No. 30,491 on Amazon.com.

King had no involvement with the book and declined to comment when asked about it by The Associated Press.

Patterson told the AP last week that he and King don’t know each other, although there is some public history between them.

In a 2009 interview with USA Weekend, King said Patterson was “a terrible writer but he’s very successful.”

Patterson, speaking to the AP, shrugged off the remarks as “hyperbole.”

The novel about King was a featured work in the prolific Patterson’s BookShots series of brief, inexpensive fiction.

As a replacement, he will be releasing the novel “Taking the Titanic” in November.

Henry Winkler dreams of a Tony, stars in new NBC reality series

During an hour-long chat at his Los Angeles home, Henry Winkler does impressions of George Foreman, Terry Bradshaw and William Shatner (his co-stars in the new NBC reality series Better Late Than Never), walks like a ninja who suddenly sports jazz hands, and improvises a scene as the intolerant acting coach he plays in a new HBO comedy.

The 70-year-old entertainer is visibly animated as he discusses his career, which spans four decades and counting. But the overriding vibe from the former Fonz is one of gratitude. It’s not long before he launches into how thankful he is for the opportunities and success he continues to enjoy.

“I live by tenacity and gratitude,” he said. “I am grateful for every inch of earth that I tread on in my life.”

Acting remains a passion. Winkler is also a successful author of children’s books (his 32nd was just published) and travels the country as a motivational speaker. And he’s a doting grandfather of four, including 4 1/2-year-old Ace, a redheaded sprite who calls him “Papa” and stays close to him during this interview.

(Ace just started requesting Winkler’s Here’s Hank books as bedtime stories. “I think I’m about to faint,” Winkler said.)

His next television endeavor is Better Late Than Never.

The four-episode reality series follows Winkler, Foreman, Bradshaw, Shatner and comedian Jeff Dye on various cultural and culinary adventures in Asia.

As an executive producer, Winkler helped assemble the quintet, who barely knew one another before embarking on the 35-day trip through Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand. But talk about your bonding experiences: Together, they appeared on a Japanese game show, studied with samurai warriors, danced in a K-pop video and befriended elephants at an animal sanctuary.

Now “it’s friends for life,” Winkler said. “It might have been the trip of a lifetime.”

He’s so confident about the show — “to the point that I will come to your house and do the dishes” — if each episode isn’t better than the last.

“The reason that it gets better and better is — if you feel us being a tight unit in the first (episode) — it gets tighter and tighter and we get looser and looser and more outrageous with each other,” he said.

Winkler is also embracing the outrageous in scripted form with Barry, a new HBO series that starts production in January. Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader stars as a middling hit man who finds unexpected community among a group of theater hopefuls in Los Angeles. Winkler is their cantankerous acting coach.

Rather than describe the role, he breaks into character.

Winkler studied drama at Yale and has pursued the craft with vigor since he graduated. He only started writing children’s books when he had difficulty shedding the Fonz persona after Happy Days ended its 10-year run. But he’s never stopped looking for the next great part. Even now, he still goes out on auditions and dreams big.

“It makes me so happy,” he said. “And now that I’m getting better, that I’m more relaxed, that I’m more in touch with what I’m doing, it’s like I step into nirvana.

“My favorite role is the next role I do,” he continued. “I love going to work.”

Winkler’s joy and gratitude is palpable. He knocks on the wooden table when he mentions his hopes and blessings. He’s kept every single script from Happy Days (and every other show and film he’s done) and had them bound in hardback leather like a treasured collection of encyclopedias.

“You cannot take for granted one single second,” he said.

Though he is still yearning for one particular piece of hardware.

“Here’s my bucket list,” Winkler said. “I would like to see my grandchildren thrive. I would like to work until I absolutely cannot anymore. I would like to win a Tony. I watch the Tony Awards and cry every year. I love it. That is my dream. That is my dream. Whatever it is, that is my dream: to win a Tony.”

His thank-you speech may already be written.

In ‘Papa,’ Hemingway returns to Cuba via the silver screen

Ernest Hemingway left Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro’s revolution, as relations with the United States began to fall into a deep freeze. Over five decades later, the author of “The Old Man and the Sea” returns to the island thanks to the magic of the silver screen.

“Papa: Hemingway in Cuba” opens Friday in U.S. theaters as the first full-length Hollywood feature filmed on the island since the 1959 Cuban Revolution, having wrapped even before Havana and Washington’s historic announcement that they would restore diplomatic ties.

“Hemingway left as the doors were closing, and left his beloved home of many, many years to come back to the states and die 18 months later,” said Adrian Sparks, a veteran stage actor with a striking resemblance to the Nobel Prize-winning author he portrays in the movie, in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “Now Hemingway has come back to help open the doors again.”

“Papa,” as Hemingway was affectionately known, lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1960. He took his own life in Idaho in 1961, after having won the literary Nobel for classics such as “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” He also won a Pulitzer for “The Old Man and the Sea,” which he penned in Cuba.

Directed by Bob Yari, “Papa” is a U.S.-Cuban-Canadian production based on an autobiographical script by Denne Bart Petitclerc, who died in 2006. The Petitclerc character in the movie is a young journalist called Ed Myers, played by Giovanni Ribisi, who befriends Hemingway in the late 1950s after sending the novelist a letter.

Through a series of visits to Havana, Myers bears witness to his hero’s greatness, his mutual love for Cuba and its people, and the afflictions that torment him.

“There’s been numerous films about Hemingway. This is the first one that deals with this time period of his life,” Sparks said. “It’s a very delicate time. It’s a powerful journey that the story makes and tries to understand who this man is.”

Joely Richardson, Minka Kelly and James Remar also star.

The film depicts a number of real-life Havana locations associated with Hemingway such as the El Floridita bar, where he was known to down prodigious quantities of lemony daiquiris, and the Ambos Mundos hotel, where he lived for a time. The 1950s cars that prowled Cuban streets then and still do today provide a period backdrop.

Filming took place over nine days in 2013 and again in April-May of 2014, Yari said. It was in December 2014 that Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced that the United States and Cuba would negotiate a historic thaw in relations.

Due to decades of bad geopolitical blood and the U.S. economic embargo, now 54 years old, previous Hollywood productions set in Cuba like “The Godfather: Part II” or 1990’s “Havana” were shot in stand-in locations, such as the Dominican Republic.

“Papa” is the first feature with a Hollywood cast and director to be shot on the island, although there have been other productions such as Wim Wenders’ 1999 documentary “Buena Vista Social Club.”

On the heels of “Papa” and the resumption of diplomatic ties, a number of U.S. productions such as “House of Lies” and the “Fast and Furious” franchise have already filmed there or sought permission to do so.

“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have been able to accomplish what we set out to do, which is kind of bridge a barrier between the two people of Cuba and the U.S.,” said Yari, who produced the Oscar-winning “Crash.” “The arts, I think, are the biggest bridge to kind of overcome governmental issues.”

“The Cuban people and the American people really aren’t enemies, and they shouldn’t be enemies. Hopefully this film will help kind of heal that bridge, that gap that has been created between these two people,” he added.

The director said the biggest hurdle was getting Washington’s blessing to shoot in Cuba. “Papa” qualified as a docudrama since it’s based on real events, and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer helped secure permission.

The $3 million production also had to do without backing from a bond company, a necessity for independent projects, since no company had any experience with Cuba, Yari added.

Cuban authorities gave the crew rare access to shoot inside Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s former home 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of Havana, now a museum where visitors are only allowed to gaze through the windows. The government also lent one of his old typewriters as a prop and approved the island’s official film institute to help with sets, wardrobe and local actors.

“One of my takeaways was really understanding well not only that Hemingway was loved in Cuba, but how much Hemingway loved Cuba,” said Sparks, who has also interpreted “Papa” in a play by John de Groot.

 

Book Review: ‘Ashley Bell’ is 1 of Dean Koontz’s best

Dean Koontz outdoes himself with his latest journey, which solidifies his reputation as one of the best storytellers in the book business.

Koontz’s stories get labeled as horror, but the lyrical writing and compelling characters in “Ashley Bell” aren’t commonly seen in that particular genre. Koontz stands alone, and this novel is a prime example of literary suspense if one is forced to classify.

Bibi Blair lives by herself, is engaged to a Navy SEAL and has published a novel and several short stories. One day while sitting at her computer, one side of her body starts to tingle and she realizes something is wrong. Doctors run tests and determine that she has a rare form of brain cancer. Even with chemotherapy, she has at most a year to live. She tells her doctor, “We’ll see.” That’s when the novel takes off.

Blair has a miraculous recovery, and she doesn’t understand why until a mysterious woman gives her a psychic reading, revealing that she’s lived so that she can save a woman named Ashley Bell. Who is this woman, and what does Blair need to do to save her?

Evil people want to harm Bell, and they’re determined to eliminate Blair as well. She’s cheated death once and feels that it’s her destiny to save Bell. What Blair doesn’t realize is that Bell has ties to her past, and various people she’s known might be involved in what has become a vast conspiracy.

Elements of other Koontz novels are on display, such as a prominent plot point involving a golden retriever and a diabolical villain who’s both charismatic and cruel.

How our lives are shaped by our memories and how much our childhood influences our adulthood are prominent themes of “Ashley Bell.” The major plot twist comes a bit early, and the book flirts with being too bulky. But Koontz knows what he’s doing, and the baffling story with the stellar character of Bibi Blair makes this thriller one of his best.

On the Web…

http://www.deankoontz.com/

This abundant life | Letters to the Future: The Paris Climate Project

I just flushed my toilet with drinking water. I know, you don’t believe me: “Nobody could ever have been that stupid, that wasteful.” But we are. We use air conditioners all the time, even in mild climates where they aren’t a bit necessary. We cool our homes so we need to wear sweaters indoors in summer and heat them so we have to wear T-shirts in mid-winter. We let one person drive around all alone in a huge thing called an SUV. We make perfectly good things — plates, cups, knives — then we use them just once, and throw them away. They’re still there, in your time. Dig them up. They’ll still be useable.

Maybe you have dug them up. Maybe you’re making use of them now. Maybe you’re frugal and ingenious in ways we in the wealthy world have not yet chosen to be. There’s an old teaching from a rabbi called Nachman who lived in a town called Bratslav centuries ago: “If you believe it is possible to destroy, believe it is possible to repair.” Some of us believe that. We’re trying to spread the message.

Friends are working on genetic editing that will bring back the heath hen, a bird that went extinct almost 80 years ago. The last member of the species died in the woods just a few miles from my home. Did we succeed? Do you have heath hens, booming their mating calls across the sand plains that sustain them? If you do, it means that this idea of repair caught on in time and that their habitat was restored, instead of being sold for yet more beachside mansions. It means that enough great minds turned away from the easy temptations of a career moving money from one rich person’s account to another’s and instead became engineers and scientists dedicated to repairing and preserving this small blue marble, spinning in the velvet void.

We send out probes, looking for signs of life on other worlds. A possible spec of mold is exciting — news conference! News flash! Imagine if they found, say, a sparrow. President addresses the nation! And yet we fail to take note of the beauty of sparrows, their subtle hues and swift grace. We’re profligate and reckless with all this abundant life, teeming and vivid, that sustains and inspires us. 

We destroyed. You believed it was possible to repair.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.

Stephen King ponders death in new 21-story ‘Bazaar of Bad Dreams’

Stephen King has always addressed his “Constant Readers” in prefaces or afterwords to his books. He likes to share what inspired him or what he was thinking about when he wrote it.

But with the release of “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams,” King takes it to another level. Each of the 21 works of fiction in the collection features at least a paragraph, sometimes a few pages, from the author introducing it or sharing some detail to enhance reader appreciation.

Or as he writes in an invocation to his “bazaar”: “Everything you see is handcrafted, and while I love each and every item, I’m happy to sell them because I made them especially for you. Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

The most toothsome of the bunch are “Morality,” an exploration of how far someone will go for a payday, and the longest of the lot, a 60-page tale called “Ur” that mocks today’s Kindle culture and contains more than a few veiled references to King’s beloved Dark Tower mythology.

This being King, there’s lots of death in these pages. And while there’s a smattering of the supernatural — n abandoned car on the Maine turnpike whose grill does more than catch bugs — there are also quite a few mediations on mortality. “Afterlife” tells the story of a man who dies from colon cancer and gets to keep living the same life; “Obits” mocks the TMZ-ification of media, featuring a columnist who can kill people by writing their obituaries in advance; and “Under the Weather” tells the story of an adman who can convince anyone of anything, including that his wife is just like the title says.

King fans will find a few clunkers here as well, according to their taste. I personally didn’t care for the two bits of poetry in the collection. King acknowledges in one of his intros that he’s a born novelist and that even short stories are a challenging discipline for him, so why bother sharing a few scraps of verse?

All in all, though, it’s a meaty collection with interesting insights into the creative process of a writer who caused many sleepless nights. Well worth keeping on your bedside table for those evenings when, as King puts it: “… sleep is slow to come and you wonder why the closet door is open, when you know perfectly well that you shut it.”

‘Twilight’ anniversary editions reversing genders

Call them Edythe and Beau.

For the 10th anniversary of her “Twilight” series, Stephenie Meyer is offering a gender swap for those millions caught up in the saga of Bella and Edward.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on Tuesday released a “Twilight/Life and Death” dual edition of Meyer’s first of four main novels in the best-selling vampire series.

The original book has been paired with “Life and Death,” a narrative that reverses the author’s famed romance between a teen girl and male vampire, instead having a human boy (Beau) fall for a female vampire (Edythe).

According to Little, Brown, the alternate version contains nearly 400 pages of new material. The book was in the top 500 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list.

Man of letters: Fans leave notes at Kerouac’s former home

Letters pile up outside the vacant corner house on 10th Avenue North at 52nd Street South in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Some are folded neatly into envelopes and sent through the Post Office to jam the mailbox to overflowing.

Others are written on crinkled scrap paper, hand delivered and stuffed inside the front screen door.

Jack Kerouac, once the home’s owner, died at a St. Petersburg hospital in 1969, but you wouldn’t know it from the correspondence he receives from grateful fans of his novel “On The Road” and other works.

“You remind me to stay true to who you are and to nurture the wanderlust gene in all of us,” reads one letter, handwritten by “Cindy” on stationery adorned with colorful butterflies and flowers. “I hope you’re writing, unrestrained, with a shot & a beer.”

A nonprofit group wants to create a Kerouac museum from the 1,700-square-foot, one-story house, built in 1963 and valued today at about $190,000. But John Sampas, Kerouac’s brother-in-law and executor of his estate, told the Tribune last week he has changed his mind and doesn’t want to sell.

Meanwhile, the letters keep pouring in.

“It’s become a cosmic mailbox that can reach the heavens,” said Pat Barmore of St. Petersburg, president of the Friends of the Jack Kerouac House, which took care of the house until a property manager was hired a year ago.

Tour buses also park out front so sightseers can try peering through the curtains inside, Barmore said.

Margaret Murray, secretary of the friends group, said she rarely drives by without seeing fans in the yard or parked across the street, catching a glimpse of where their hero lived.

“Drive by tomorrow and you’ll likely see someone staring at it,” she said. “Visit a few days after the current stack of letters are taken away, and there will be new ones.”

With permission from executor Sampas, the Tribune read a handful of the notes recently left inside the screen door.

“Cynthia” of Texas put her thoughts on yellow Post-it notes. She said she not yet read “On The Road” but plans to as soon as she returns home from her Florida vacation.

“I feel blessed to have been able to drink your favorite drink at your favorite bar ‘Flamingo,”” she wrote, speaking of The Flamingo Sports Bar at 1230 Ninth St. N., St. Petersburg, where Kerouac spent time during a stint in the area that stretched from 1964 to his death on October 21, 1969, at the age of 47.

His favorite drink, according to the Flamingo, was a shot of a whiskey with a beer wash.

“I hope you are writing in peace wherever you are!” Cythia added.

Another letter written on a small piece of lined, white paper is signed “Friend of Jack” and says, “I prefer to think of myself as a free spirit and a person who follows a path of her own choosing. You have always been my inspiration.”

It’s a common theme, Barmore said — appreciative fans making a pilgimage to a site associated with their idols.

One prominent example, Murray noted, is the burial place in Paris of “Doors” frontman Jim Morrison.

Throngs of tourists surround Morrison’s grave. Gifts are left. Some people scribble on the tombstone.

“I think people still reach out to Jack Kerouac out of a desire to connect with something bigger than themselves,” said Kristy Anderson, a filmmaker producing a documentary on Kerouac’s life in Florida. “He has touched the lives of many and will continue to.”

Kerouac’s longtime friend, musician David Amram, said he believes the late author would appreciate the attention.

“This new generation has come to Kerouac by reading his books, as he wanted,” Amram said. “That is opposite to what he felt happened when he was alive.”

Kerouac struggled with his fame because he thought it had more to do with his pop culture identity than his books, Amram said.

“He would say, ‘They are ignoring me,’?” Amram said. “And then he would say in his Lowell, Massachusetts, accent, ‘I’m an author, I’m a writer, why don’t they read my book?’ Even in the times before reality TV, when being a celebrity seduced most people, he was a modest person who didn’t want that. He only wanted people to read his books.””

Amram believes this contributed to the alcoholism that would kill Kerouac.

“People looked to him to perform for them, to be the Jack Kerouac character they envisioned rather than himself. They expected him to be a vocal leader in this new movement. He just wanted to write.”

There were two sides of the St. Petersburg version of Kerouac, filmmaker Anderson said _ one who wished to be left alone by fans who would stalk the house and one who openly pined for attention.

This Dr. Jekyll half usually appeared with some liquid encouragement, Anderson said.

“That Jack was usually the drunken Jack. And he drank a lot while living here. As much as he sometimes hated his fame, he would also go to a party and introduce himself as the ‘famous Jack Kerouac.’?”

On another occasion, she said, Kerouac and a friend were at an upscale bar in the Tampa Bay area dressed like “bums” and very drunk. The gameshow “Jeopardy” was on the television and the answer in need of a question was “He wrote ‘On The Road.’?”

“His friend, who wants to remain anonymous, said Jack jumped up and started yelling, ‘Me. I did.’ And they were kicked out,” Anderson said. “I don’t think the bartender believed he was Kerouac and thought he was just a loud drunk.”

A typewritten letter from Kerouac to his agent from September 1968 recently was sold by Boston-based RR Auction. Who made the purchase has not been announced, and it is up to the buyer whether to go public.

The letter was a pitch for his next book, to be titled “Spotlight.” He died before he could finish it.

“Spotlight” was to be an autobiography on the years following his rise to fame from “On The Road.”

“That would have been a fascinating account,” Anderson said. “It may have included his time in Florida.”

Among the episodes described in Kerouac’s letter are bar fights in a number of cities, bad experiences during television appearances and his frustration over people always recognizing him in public.

“I order my lunch but everybody’s yakking so much around me I begin to realize right then and there that ‘success’ is when you can’t enjoy your food anymore in peace,” he wrote, speaking of a meal experience in New York.

The auctioned letter was written in Kerouac’s native town of Lowell, during a brief visit away from St. Petersburg.

But considering St. Petersburg was his full-time home at the time, it is possible the book might have been written here, which would have added further allure to his local home, Anderson said.

The Friends of the Jack Kerouac House wants to buy the author’s house and use it in a way that honors Kerouac. Barmore, the group’s president, was disappointed to learn it’s off the market but said the group will keep raising money in case it becomes available. Options they’ve discussed include a Kerouac museum, a rent-free residence for talented writers where they could concentrate on their work, and moving it to a local college campus for a writing program.

The next time friend Amram vacations in Florida, he plans to stop by the house and perhaps leave a note of his own.

“I am so happy that people are still moved by his words and go out of their way to thank him,” he said. “Fortunately, Jack’s beautiful spirit has survived.”

One letter left at the home by “Jackie Z,” written on a piece of paper torn from a notebook, speaks of how Kerouac’s spirit has affected her. The letter seems to capture Amram’s own memory of his friend.

“When your books became popular, maybe it wasn’t like the be all end all experience, but I respect that so much,” Jackie Z says. “You wrote your personal, beautiful books not for glory or fame, but because you needed to write, needed to commemorate the people you met & experiences you had because they were transformative, colorful, MAD. You’re pretty mad & you lived it right.”

Harper Lee’s new novel is a story of lost innocence

Like her classic “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee novel out on July 14 is a coming of age story.

And not just for Scout Finch.

“Go Set a Watchman” is set in the famous fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, in the mid-1950s, 20 years after “To Kill a Mockingbird” takes place. Scout Finch, now a grown woman known by her given name Jean Louise, is visiting from New York, unsure of whether to marry a local suitor who she has known since childhood and enduring a painful contrast between her new life and the ways of her hometown.

Scout is no longer the tomboy we know from “Mockingbird,” but has transformed from an “overalled, fractious, gun-slinging creature into a reasonable facsimile of a human being.” She is “oppressed” by Maycomb, finds it petty and provincial. And she is shaken by the response to Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1954 that declared segregation in schools is “inherently unequal.”

There is nervous talk of blacks holding public office, and marrying whites. One prominent resident warns Scout that the court moved too quickly, that blacks aren’t ready for full equality and the South has every right to object to interference from the NAACP and others.

“Can you blame the South for resenting being told what to do about its own people by people who have no idea of its daily problems?” he says.

That resident, to the profound dismay of his daughter, and likely to millions of “Mockingbird” readers, is Atticus Finch.

“First Woody Allen, then Bill Cosby, now Atticus Finch,” tweeted New Republic senior editor Herr Jeet, responding to early reports about the book. “You can’t trust anyone anymore.”

In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, Atticus risks his physical safety to defend a black man accused of rape. He invokes the Declaration of Independence during the trial and argues for the sanctity of the legal system. Privately, he wonders why “reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up.”

“I just hope that Jem and Scout come to me for their answers instead of listening to the town. I hope they trust me enough,” he says, referring to Jean Louise and her older brother.

In “Go Set a Watchman,” a 72-year-old Atticus laments the Supreme Court ruling and invokes the supposed horrors of Reconstruction as he imagines “state governments run by people who don’t know how to run ‘em.”

A tearful Scout tells the man she worshipped growing up: “You’re the only person I’ve ever fully trusted and now I’m done for.”

Lee’s attorney, Tonja Carter, said she discovered the book last year. It has been called by Amazon.com its most popular pre-order since the last Harry Potter story.  Anticipating fierce resistance to the portrayal of Atticus, publisher HarperCollins issued a statement late Friday.

“The question of Atticus’s racism is one of the most important and critical elements in this novel, and it should be considered in the context of the book’s broader moral themes,” the statement reads.

“’Go Set a Watchman’ explores racism and changing attitudes in the South during the 1950s in a bold and unflinching way.”

Lee is 89, living in an assisted facility in her native Monroeville, Alabama, and has not spoken to the media in decades. In a statement issued in February, when her publisher stunned the world by announcing a second Lee novel was coming, she noted that “Watchman” was the original story.

“My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) from the point of view of the young Scout,” she said.

HarperCollins has said “Watchman” is unaltered from Lee’s initial draft.

The current book will certainly raise questions, only some of which only Lee can answer. Why did she approve the book’s release after seemingly accepting, even welcoming, the fact that “Mockingbird” would be her only novel?  How well does she remember its contents? Did her editor resist because of its political content? How autobiographical is “Watchman,” which roughly follows the path of Lee’s life in the 1950s? Does she consider the Atticus of “Watchman” more “real” than the courageous attorney of “Mockingbird”?

And how surprised should any of us be?

Atticus is hardly the only old man to fear change, or seemingly enlightened white to reveal common prejudices. Around the time Lee was working on “Watchman,” an essay by Nobel laureate William Faulkner was published in Life magazine. Faulkner had long been considered a moderate on race, praised for novels that challenged the South to confront its past. But in “A Letter to the North,” he sounds like Atticus as he considers the impact of the Supreme Court ruling.

“I have been on record as opposing the forces in my native country which would keep the condition out of which this present evil and trouble has grown. Now I must go on record as opposing the forces outside the South which would use legal or police compulsion to eradicate that evil overnight,” he wrote.

“I was against compulsory segregation. I am just as strongly against compulsory integration. … So I would say to the NAACP and all the organizations who would compel immediate and unconditional integration ‘Go slow now. Stop now for a time, a moment.’”

Jennifer Morales writes about Milwaukee’s characters

Meet Me Halfway (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015), the fiction debut by Jennifer Morales, is subtitled Milwaukee Stories for good reason. Milwaukee is as much a character in the novel as any of Morales’ others: high school students Johnquell and Taquan, Johnquell’s mother Gloria and his aunt Bee-Bee, the elderly Frances and Mrs. Czernicki, and dedicated teacher Mrs. Charles.

This collection of nine interconnected short stories is largely set in present-day Milwaukee, although one titled “Prelude to a Revolution” takes us back to the late 1960s, setting the tone for the other stories’ portrait of the racially divided city of today. 

WiG spoke with Morales in April, before she embarked on a book tour for Meet Me Halfway.

I always like to begin by asking fiction writers who their influences are? I’m influenced by everything I’ve read, but I think the real influences on my fiction writing are the day-to-day storytellers in my life. My late grandmother used to love to hold court at the dining table and tell us stories that made her laugh and cry like they were happening again right there. My mom has an almost painfully acute eye for detail, and my dad, who had schizophrenia, used to tell me the most fantastic stories about his (fictional) life as an FBI agent in charge of hunting down Nazis. In my political and performance lives, I’ve also spent years listening to politicians, ministers, actors and activists tell stories — when they are talking, my writer ear is always attuned to how they frame a narrative for audience effect.

The format of Meet Me Halfway is linked stories, with different narrators. Why did you choose that configuration as opposed to framing it as a straightforward novel? I came to fiction writing after many years of writing poetry, so I think my natural tendency is writing in shorter forms. After writing “Heavy Lifting,” the first story in Meet Me Halfway, I felt compelled to try to bring in a wide range of Milwaukee voices. I kept asking, “Who does the character in the last story need to encounter in the next one?” I wanted to show the diversity of the city and the many ways that people interact — for better or for worse — across group boundaries in a deeply divided place.

What was the inspiration for “Heavy Lifting,” the original story? The long answer comes from my 23 years living in hyper-segregated Milwaukee. I came from a racially mixed family in the Chicago area and had a diverse group of friends, so I was absolutely shocked to see how sharply segregated my new hometown was. In Milwaukee, I served on the city’s school board and was active in community causes, as well as being a mom to a diverse bunch of kids, a writer-in-the-schools and a middle-school Sunday school teacher. So I got to know many young people and see their struggles with the city’s racial legacy first-hand. As an elected official trying to convince senior citizens to raise their own property taxes to support the schools, I also got to hear the voices of many of the city’s elders.

From all that history, you get the short answer: I was lying on my couch one day after getting back from an exhausting MFA in creative writing residency and noticed my bookshelf was leaning and probably should be moved. Even though I hadn’t been able to write anything for a week, I suddenly stood up, grabbed my laptop and wrote the first half of “Heavy Lifting,” about a black Milwaukee teen moving a bookcase for his elderly white neighbor. I don’t know where Johnquell and Mrs. Czernicki came from, but they popped into my head and threw me off the couch. So I knew I had to write their story down. 

How did you know that you wanted to develop the characters into a full-length book? It’s really simple: I fell in love with my characters and I wanted to know more about their lives. I kept wondering about people who played minor roles in one story — What would they do in their own story? What are they like? What do they need to learn? — and then, next thing I knew, I’d be off writing another one. 

Teachers, from opposite ends of the spectrum, play a prominent role in Meet Me Halfway. As someone who is a teacher, what can you tell me about your approach to writing about teachers? Teachers are my heroes. Although I teach writing workshops, I have never been a full-time classroom teacher. Those who do that job day after day, year after year in the K-12 schools have my deepest respect and gratitude. That said, teachers are human, too. They can be jerks and bigots and sometimes fail to understand their students. I wanted to reflect the full range — from the astute, caring, almost super-human ones, to the pompous, discriminatory examples.

As a former school board member, public school parent and education researcher, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to see teachers in action, but the Stu character is based on an experience I had as a student. Stu is modeled on a racist substitute teacher I was subjected to in my high school history class —  a class normally taught by a teacher I practically worshipped. He also was a Vietnam vet, like Stu, and used that status to bully us into parroting his version of U.S. history. 

You make use of dialect, in “Pressing On” and “Fragging,” for example. My characters speak a range of Milwaukee “Englishes.” There’s Frances, who speaks South-Side-white-Milwaukee-ese, and Netania, who is a native English speaker whose language is inflected by her parents’ Mexican Spanish. And there are several black characters who speak different Milwaukee variations on African American Vernacular English (AAVE). There are also black characters who speak what linguists call “Edited English” — the language of the white professional class. I wanted to represent all those voices because I love language and I have had close relationships with people who speak each of these Milwaukee dialects.

“Fragging” deals explicitly with the clash of cultures that different forms of English can provoke. Johnquell has a conflict with Stu, the substitute, over his use of what Stu calls “gangster” English. But Johnquell is capable of speaking multiple English dialects. His school friend Taquan comes from a working-class black/Puerto Rican home and he speaks a deeper AAVE that is also influenced by his mom’s native Spanish.

Everyone’s home language deserves to honored and heard with care because that’s our heart language — the language our families talk to us in, the language we first heard our names spoken in.

One of the reasons that I saved “Pressing On” — Taquan’s story — for last is because I think many middle-class white readers will be challenged by his voice. I wanted them to be invested in the series of stories before getting to Taquan, so that they take the time to hear him and see him for the funny, resilient, good-hearted kid that he is and root for him to succeed.

What can you tell me about the queer characters in Meet Me Halfway, including Netania and Aunt Bee-Bee? As a queer woman, I felt it was really important to include some kind of LGBT storyline in a book about inter-group relations and I managed to build in two: “Menudo,” which is about Bee-Bee surprising herself by falling in love with Netania, and “Misdirected,” in which Gloria meets an older lesbian who tells her a painful story about gay life in Milwaukee in the early 1960s. 

There is another gay character, the quiet but not closeted Theo, in “That’s the Way Cats Are.” He’s a gay man navigating life as a single senior citizen and doing pretty well in a place that struggles with racism as much as Milwaukee does. Other forms of discrimination can be pushed to the background, but we have to combat all types of oppression simultaneously. Both “Menudo” and “Misdirected” get at those intersections, by touching on racism as well as queer issues. 

Milwaukee is not a city that has made its way into much contemporary popular or literary fiction. What would it mean to you if Meet Me Halfway changed that? Well, I’ve been saying that Meet Me Halfway is both a love letter and a mugshot (laughs). Milwaukee is an amazing place and I wanted to show how much diversity, brilliance, resilience and energy there are in its people. On the other hand, I also felt like I needed to capture some of the ways racism infects daily life in the city and challenge Milwaukeeans to change. So, the stories come across as both a paean and an indictment, and that’s how I feel about the place — “You’re wonderful, now change.”

After 23 years in Milwaukee, you have relocated to Viroqua. What will you miss most about Milwaukee? I’ve been living in rural Wisconsin now for about a year and I know what I miss: the people. Viroqua has its forms of diversity — there are dairy farmers who have been here for generations, Amish folks, artists and back-to-the-landers, with a scattering of people of color — but it’s not the kind of energetic mix you find in a big city. I miss the range of voices and cultures and the way my world shifts when those voices and cultures bump up against each other and sometimes blend.