09 February 2015

Harper Lee and Me

Okay, the picture on the left is not current.  It's my very first author photo used by Berkley Prime Crime in 2007.  It's even my natural hair color which is rare because I began experimenting with solutions to get away from being red-haired when I took the city bus downtown and bought my first package of hair dye from Silver's Dime Store at age ten.

Between then and my current "platinum blonde," a product of age and getting tired of touch-ups every few weeks, I've had brunette, auburn,
strawberry blonde, honey blonde, platinum blonde and even a pinkish mauve.  No, I wasn't ahead of the times.  That pink was a big mistake--the result of attempting an at-home color job.

What's the point of telling you all this?  Or to be blunt about it, what the heck does anyone care how many countless times I've changed my hair color?  I'm trying to show you that I've always embraced change.  That is until I signed the contract to release Kudzu River.

My readers were accustomed to the cozyesque Callie Parrish mysteries, and I feared I would offend some of them with Kudzu River, but it was a story I'd felt compelled to tell for years.  It was also a story that Bella Rosa Books, my most recent publisher, would not print because they only publish "family-friendly" writing.  When Odyssey South Publishing, a new southern company, accepted it, I grabbed the chance regardless of the reactions I might receive, but I feared those reactions..

The above quote from Harper Lee sums up what I felt I'd need when Kudzu River was released. I was positive that my usual readers would not like its grittiness and those who liked Kudzu would all be a different population from Callie's fans.  

Speaking of Harper Lee (and who isn't this week?) it ticks me off that this woman, who wrote a classic of our times and has had her one and only book required reading for students for years, has taken more than her share of flak through those years.  Regularly, some critic claimed that Lee's friend Truman Capote must have written To Kill a Mockingbird because anyone who writes that well would have written another one.  Now, "another one" is being released in July.  Reports are that though this book takes place from Scout's pov twenty years later than Mockingbird, it was written first.  The commentator stated that readers will probably be disappointed because Lee had not yet developed her skills when this was written.  I wanted to reach into NPR through my car radio and snatch that man right into the seat beside me so I could demand to know if he's read the coming release.  I'm sure this book will be a smashing success financially, but I don't know how Lee could need the money with the royalties she must receive every year from all those students having to buy Mockingbird. However,  if the coming book is "bad," why, at age eighty-eight, would she want it published? 

This is purely speculation, but perhaps Harper Lee is like so many of us writers less successful than she.  Maybe she just wants to see her first born in print.  Or, thinking like the mystery writer I am at heart, could it be that the manuscript has not been lost all these years as news reports claim?  Did Harper Lee not want this published but was manipulated into it at her advanced age?  I'm hoping to see an interview with her.  If any of you have seen a recent interview with Ms. Lee, please send me a link.

Back to my first born, Kudzu River was begun before the first Callie Parrish mystery, and it has gone through three name changes.  Teacher, Teacher became Red Flag which is now Kudzu River. An established writer who has been on the N Y Times Best Seller list told me years ago (when Teacher Teacher received its first rejection) that nobody's first book sells.  Just count it as "practice."  Instead of shoving it into a drawer and forgetting about it, I've spent years "practicing" on this book.

So far, Kudzu River has four reviews on Amazon, and I love and appreciate every one of them, but here are two from FaceBook that were posted with their full names.  I repeat these because they are from regular Callie readers:

From  Brenda:  Fran Rizer . . . My book review of Kudzu River . . . loved it.  It was my kind of book.  Mystery, murder, and love all entwined together.  I couldn't put it down.  You need to write a Book II.

From Watson:  Just finished reading Fran Rizer's Kudzu River  Can books keep you on the edge of your seat?  This one did==all the way through.  I've read a lot of books--probably thousands.  This is one of the best.

The reviews on Amazon are longer.  I invite you to check them out at Fran Rizer, Kudzu River, Amazon.com.  Also, if you're not familiar with kudzu, check out Youtube, Phil Ruff, "Kudzu video."  He tells all about kudzu in a song that he has authorized us to use in the trailer for Kudzu River.

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you.

Continuing to embrace change, my next book is horror, and I'm currently writing a children's book.



  1. Fran, your article made me grin. Your openness is what makes Callie endearing. Having been privileged to read early excerpts from Kudzu back when it was Teacher, Teacher, I need to buy an authographed copy of Kudzu River.

    I've also read claims that Harper Lee wrote Truman Capote's books, which has since been disproven by a cache of letters. Personally, I think they helped each other, which friends do, and in this case literary genius friends. They each wrote their own works, but who's to say they didn't try out passages on one another, much like you and I have done (also with RT, Dixon, John Floyd, James Lincoln Warren…).

    This New York Times article sent in by ABA might answer some of the questions about Harper Lee.

  2. Leigh, thanks for your comment and for the link to the article ABA sent you. I read that last week, and perhaps the fact that Ms. Lee had a stroke and has been in assisted living and the photo with the article was from seven years ago have something to do with my wondering how involved Harper Lee is in this release. Note also that her sister, who was a lawyer and Lee's companion, died last year. I'm certain the book will make someone lots of money and I sincerely hope that Harper Lee is fully aware and approves of this publication as those speaking for her indicate. If so, surely someone will talk her into a current interview though she disliked all the publicity about MOCKINGBIRD. Please don't interpret any of what I said in the blog or this comment to mean that I don't think an 88-year-old would be incapable of making the decision to release her first born. I attended a party yesterday with an aunt who is 89 and as sharp as you or I. I also have a reader who has attended every launch for the six Callies and plans to be there for KUDZU's launch on February 21st. I met her at my very first book signing and have become friends with her. She is 94 and smarter than I've ever been or ever will be.

  3. Fran, you've every right to embrace change as you've the talent for it. I've read your "Callies" and your horror novel and think they were all wonderful, as well as wonderfully different. I look forward to reading "Kudzu River" this week. Best of luck with it!

  4. David, thanks for your kind words. I believe you embrace change as much as I do with your fantastic short stories, horror (THIRTEENTH CHILD) and thriller (THE PURPLE ROBE). I hope you like KUDZU RIVER.

  5. Fran, I'm looking forward to reading "Kudzu River" - it's on my list!
    I totally agree with Harper Lee's "develop a thick hide" - which is something that every artist needs. After the third time you've wallpapered your office with rejections, you know you're not in for the money! :)

  6. Eve, I confess that I do love money sometimes (mainly when I've run out), but I agree wholeheartedly that most of us don't write for the money. Some people say they write because they love it. I think those of us who persevere beyond the rejections continue to write because we are addicted to it.

  7. What I think will be very interesting, is that this new book of Lee's will be a testament to the time it was written. This is very unusual. We read books from the 60s that were released in the 60s, of course. But this is like a true time capsule: buried at the time of its creation, and unearthed decades later.

  8. Melodie, you're right, but it will be a book written during the fifties since it was written before MOCKINGBIRD, which was released in 1960. I do know that I will pre-order and set aide the day the book is delivered so I can read it straight through. I'm looking forward to meeting the adult Scout.

  9. TKAM hooked me in the first paragraph and I couldn't put the book down. A true masterpiece that I suspect was written by Lee with little or no help from Capote. Like you, I am looking forward to this one. I am not sure what to expect, but I'm sure it will be a worthwhile read. Of course we won't have the anticipation of Boo Radley's emergence. I'll be interested to see how that is handled.

    And Kudzu River is on my "must read" list.

  10. Like everyone else, I loved TKaM. I read it long ago and re-read it fairly recently. I think it had everything going for it: it was a mystery, a coming-of-age story, a Southern novel, and a (partly at least) legal thriller, and managed to successfully combine the two things we've always called "literary fiction" and "genre fiction." Great characters AND a great plot. It even had a surprise ending--and produced one of the few movies that was as good as the novel. In this case, it's hard to believe that a sequel (sorry--a prequel) could be an equal.

    Looking forward to the new book anyway--from both Lee AND you, Fran.

  11. Herschel, like you, I was hooked at the very beginning of MOCKINGBIRD. Then I taught it when I was a secondary English teacher. After my retirement, my grandson was required to read it in FIFTH GRADE and again in the ninth. (I thought fifth was a bit young, but he said I was just old-fashioned and that fifth graders know about rape these days) What is great and unusual for me is that I never get tired of it, even knowing the ending.

  12. John, I doubt that a sequel/prequel will match MOCKINGBIRD, but it still irritates me to read it criticized negatively before it's even released. I love your lists and agree that this is list-worthy both in the book department and the movie category.

  13. Fran, this BBC article says both Harper Lee and Tonja Carter are upset by the fuss.


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