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To Kill a Mockingbird: another reading

1 Aug


(I recently took place in a rereading of To Kill a Mockingbird for an online book group called Red Clay Readers. The group is sponsored by Alabama Media Group, the company I work with; I was asked to kick off the group reading with an analysis of the first chapters. When I reread the book–for the umpteenth time, since it is my favorite of all time–the following is what I came up with. Do you love To Kill a Mockingbird? How does it resonate with you now?)

To Kill a Mockingbird

Let’s start before the first chapter.

In my preparation to reread To Kill a Mockingbird once again, my first important question was: which copy should I read from? I have six different copies held on bookshelves throughout my home.

The one I decided upon quite casually was perfect for this Red Clay Readers project.

My 1993 hardcover edition includes a foreward by author Harper Lee, in which she argues against any introductions to her novel. “I associate Introductions with long-gone authors and works that are being brought into print after decades of internment…Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble,” she wrote.

To Kill a Mockingbird is far from long-gone; projects like this one remind us of its durability and beauty and legacy, to both new readers (perhaps some of you) and old friends (like me, and many others of you).

And so, while Lee herself might wonder at our endless discussions of her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1933 novel, we shall indeed discuss again.

To Kill a Mockingbird’s first two chapters immerse us immediately into two of its most important elements—its place and people. Its setting, in fact, is a character all its own; the town of Maycomb (based on Lee’s hometown Monroeville, halfway between Birmingham and the coast) is as alive as narrator Scout and her father Atticus.

The book’s first pages provide a fascinating Alabama history lesson, as readers are introduced to how the Finch ancestors settled into Maycomb. An early description of the town is one of my favorites in the entire book:

“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Soehow, it was hotter then…Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”

Place remains a prevalent theme throughout the novel, but in the beginning we see it primarily as the setting for the youngest characters’ adventures. Later on, it will come to serve as the stage for many deeper issues.

Those youngest characters take center stage in the first two chapters. We meet and quickly come to love Jem (Jeremy Atticus) and sister Scout (Jean Louise) Finch, along with neighbor friend Dill (a character based on Lee’s real-life childhood friend, Truman Capote) as they make their way through a Summer and start of the school-year in Maycomb.

Jem is wise, Scout is precocious, together they are at-odds and yet protective of one another. Dill is eccentric (he is, after all, from exotic Meridian). They are friends, co-conspirators and innocents as the story begins.

We also, of course, “meet” Boo Radley, described by Scout as the “malevolent phantom” who lives in the old Radley Place on the Finch’s street. As Jem accepts Dill’s dare to run across the street and touch the Radley house, the readers know there’s more going inside the house than the townspeople gossip about.

Other characters are introduced and, while Calpurnia and Atticus will become vastly important and central as the book progresses, for now they are in the background of the story of the children’s adventures.

When the second chapter takes Dill home to Meridian and the Finch children to school, the first sense of where the story might be going is hinted at. There are glimpses of the haves and the have-nots (or the have-somes and have-nots, since Atticus explains that everyone in Maycomb is poor), as Scout tries to instruct her teacher Miss Caroline to no avail of how the class system works.

“That’s okay, ma’am, you’ll get to know all the country folk after a while. The Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back—no church baskets and no scrip stamps,” she tells her, when young Walter Cunningham won’t take lunch money from their teacher. “They never took anything off of anybody, they get along on what they have. They don’t have much, but they get along on it.”

As I read the first two chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird yet again (my first time was in ninth grade English class, the most recent was last year), I was reminded again of the book’s power. Lee’s language, the eternal voice of Scout (which is sometimes criticized; how could a six-year-old speak with such authority?), the mystery of Boo Radley, the sense of place—it all still works.


Friday Links

24 May

I hope all of you are having a productive week of writing, and that you are looking forward to a long Memorial Day weekend.

To help you finish your writing week off with strength and to guide you into the weekend, I’d like to share some informative and inspirational links. They cover a wide range of writing topics, but all have something good to say.

~ If you want to write a novel (or, perhaps, have already completed one) and are dumbfounded by the process of finding an agent, check out this interview with novelist Cassie Alexander on how it worked for her. Click here for the article from Writer’s Digest magazine…”How I Got My Agent: Cassie Alexander”

~ If you are reading this blog, chances are that you are a lover of all things Web-related. The Internet is a source of great information, but there is SO much to be found online that it can oftentimes be overwhelming. The Webby Awards are given each year by members of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and focus on such varied categories as Best Political Blog, Best Visual Design, Best Writing, and much, much more. Click here for the list of nominees (and links to them)… “16th Annual Webby Award Nominees and Winners”

~ Are you a poet, or someone who simply loves to read good poetry? It can sometimes be intimidating to read and/or write poetry, especially when you consider all the different stylistic elements that come into play. (from the Academy of American Poets) has a handy list of poetry-related terms in its latest issue. Click here to read it…“Poetry Glossary”

~ Do you ever feel bombarded by a voice inside your head that says you’re not good enough? Or that questions your writing dreams? Every writer has had moments of doubt, but you cannot let the criticism you heap on yourself take over. An editor at Psych Central shares her insights into how to  end such battles with yourself in the latest issue of The Writer magazine. Click here to read this short yet insightful article…“How to Battle Your Inner Critic”

My new book is here!

11 May

I’m so excited to announce the arrival and release of my new book for writers. It’s now in my hot little hands and for sale from the back of my van. (I jest. Well, sort of. But not entirely.)

The book is a practical, how-t0, hands-on, step-by-step guide for getting published today. It’s perfect for anyone who has dreams of getting published, but doesn’t quite know how to get started and where to go.

The entire publishing process is covered in the book, with everything from coming up with marketable ideas, to writing query letters, to writing leads, to working with editors (and everything in between) highlighted.

It also includes a number of “extras”–“Writer Spotlight” interviews with professional writers and editors, “Writing Advantage” sidebars, sample query letters and articles, and learning exercises with every chapter.

The chapters in the book will give you a good idea of what you can expect between its covers:

1: Magazine Writing Today

2: Writing Features for Newspapers

3: Writing for Online Publications

4: Writing for Trade Publications

5: The Magazine Article

6: The Writing Process

7: Generating Ideas

8: Marketing Your Writing

9: Query Letters

10: Research & Interviews

11: Writing a Feature Article: Structure

12: Outlining, Drafting, Revising

13: Writing a Feature Article: Style

14: Final Steps to Publication

15: Business, Legal, & Ethical Practices

The book will be marketed as a textbook to college feature writing and magazine writing courses, but it is also a wonderful resource for aspiring freelance writers (or successful writers who want a jumpstart to their work).

I’m looking forward to talking about the topics in the book to writing groups and at writing conferences in the next months. If you would like to have me as a speaker for your group, let me know and I will get you on my schedule (email me at; comment on this post; or visit me at “Cheryl Sloan Wray” or at “Writing with Cheryl” on Facebook).

If you’d like a copy of the book, let me know and I can mail one off to you. It retails to colleges for $31.95, but I can sell individual copies for $20. (I’ll even autograph it for you!)

A new book is always an exciting thing…and I’m especially excited that my book is designed to help writers find publishing success.

(Look for more things here related to the book soon. I will be posting some excerpts, speaking news, and other items related to it.)

Have a wonderful…and productive…Friday and weekend.

A fun little tease…

26 Mar

Working on a book can be a laborious process.

There’s all the planning; then the drafting and writing; then the rewriting; then the proofing.

It can sometimes seem like you’ll never hold the book in your hot little hands.

When you start to see signs, though, of the book being “real” it becomes very exciting. You can see the end of the tunnel, the culmination of the creative process. (And then you can look forward to the sharing of the book with other people.)

I’ve just seen the cover designs of my new writing book, and I am quite excited (to say the least!).

I thought I’d share a peek of the back cover with all of you, mostly because I want to share my excitement with someone other than my husband and daughters but also because the cover gives you an idea of the content of my book. It gives an outline of the book chapters and special features found in its pages. (Click on it for a larger view.)

I’m really looking forward to having this book available soon (it will be sold both as a textbook and also as a popular book for aspiring writers). I will be doing some book signing events and also speaking with writing groups and at writing workshops as a way to get it out there. (And I hope I will see some of you at these events.)

The path to publication…ALWAYS exciting!