What if one is all you have?

Sometimes I think Miss Nelle Harper Lee got it right. She certainly got it right the first time when she wrote the perfect novel. She never wrote another one. Her friends and her publisher were exasperated by her refusal to write another book. But her fear that to write another one might take away from the perfection and beauty of To Kill a Mockingbird, especially if it weren’t quite up to snuff, makes perfect sense to me. I’ve often been disappointed by sophomore books by acclaimed first novelists. At best, they were average; at worst, they should have been burned before reaching the publisher. I’m someone who, upon finding a delicious page-turner, eagerly awaits the second and subsequent attempts. Or when I find an established author, will read everything of theirs that I can lay my hands on. It’s very disappointing when the next one falls flat, or fails to hold my interest for not even a paragraph.

Then there are authors who don’t really come into their own until their second or third novel. In this case, I’m thinking of Pat Conroy whose wonderful novel The Prince of Tides is number two on my list.  It was actually his fifth novel and, in my opinion, by far his best to date. Anyone who has read Mr. Conroy’s beautiful prose knows that all his works are semi-autobiographical in nature. Sometimes when one has emotional wounds that run deeply, one book can’t contain it all. Writing is an exploration of and, hopefully, a balm for those hurts.

John Grisham is one of the most prolific and successful modern writers, and I confess, I’ve been a huge fan. His first novel was actually A Time to Kill.  He shopped it around for a couple of years, getting turned down at all the major publishing houses, before it was picked up by a small publisher and only 5,000 copies were released.  All the while he was working on his second novel, The Firm, and with that one, he landed a contract with Doubleday. After it debuted and was such a smashing success, Doubleday bought the rights to his first novel. The rest is history.

We will never know if Harper Lee had another brilliant novel in her, but we can all be thankful that she knew there was the one.

Excerpts from To Kill a Mockingbird:

Miss Maudie Atkinson to Scout:  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Atticus to Scout:  “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Excerpts from The Prince of Tides: 

The best first sentence(s) ever:  “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.”

“I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton; my arms were tawny and strong from working long days on the shrimp boat in the blazing South Carolina heat. Because I was a Wingo, I worked as soon as I could walk; I could pick a blue crab clean when I was five. I had killed my first deer by the age of seven, and at nine was regularly putting meat on my family’s table. I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the low-country, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders…..

“When I was ten I killed a bald eagle for pleasure, for the singularity of the act, despite the divine, exhilarating beauty of its solitary flights over schools of whiting. It was the only thing I had ever killed that I had never seen before. After my father beat me for breaking the law and for killing the last eagle in Colleton County, he made me build a fire, dress the bird, and eat its flesh as tears rolled down my face. Then he turned me in to Sheriff Benson, who locked me in a cell for over an hour. My father took the feathers and made a crude Indian headdress for me to wear to school. He believed in the expiation of sin. I wore the headdress for weeks, until it began to disintegrate feather by feather. Those feathers trailed me in the hallways of the school as though I were a molting, discredited angel.

‘Never kill anything that’s rare,’ my father said.

‘I’m lucky I didn’t kill an elephant,’ I replied.

‘You’d have had a mighty square meal if you had,’  he answered.”

13 thoughts on “What if one is all you have?

  1. Dear SusieQ,

    So good to read your words again! I’m delighted to arrive here in your new digs with a couple a furry purry ones in my lap. I’m super curious to learn how you like WordPress versus Blogger.

    This post is proof once again that we are kindred spirits. I absolutely adore Pat Conroy, he’s possibly my favorite contemporary author, and I’ve read all but the latest of his books. I love his first book “The River is Wide”. My favorite though is “Lords of Discipline” and “Prince of Tides” is a close second. Which one of these two books has that glorious description of a white dolphin? Do you know what I’m talking about?

    My least favorite Conroy book is “Beach Music”. I felt he wandered and could have improved the book by shortening it. I bought his latest book, “South Beach”, when it first came out (in hardbound!) but a friend told me that it wandered even more than “Beach Music”. Hence I have not cracked it open yet. Perhaps he should not write any more books with “Beach” in the title, or get a new editor, or maybe he should listen to the one he has.

    The first John Grisham I read was “Pelican Brief”. I read a half dozen others of his. I didn’t realize that “Time to Kill” was his first novel. I like his stuff, as pulp fiction goes. I far prefer Scott Turow for that genre, he’s a superior writer.

    Love the passages you chose. Will you be covering our other fav “Lonesome Dove” soon? Do you belong to Goodreads?


    • Hi Diana!

      So you found me…you three might be the only ones, because I already chickened out and took down the post on Bear Swamp leading here. Buh-gawk!

      I’m still learning my way around WordPress, so I can’t really say too much. It seems more “professional”, or something. I can’t really put my finger on it. I don’t know that I’m going to do that much here, but it’s a way of expressing myself without all the extraneous matter that I seem to get bogged down with on Bear Swamp. If you read my “Why I’m Here” page, you’ll see what I mean.

      Pat Conroy just begs to be read aloud, doesn’t he? In fact, sometimes when I’m alone, I’ll take one off the shelf and just read a few passages to the dog and cats. They find it very soothing, and so do I. I’m pretty sure the white dolphin description is in POT, but it’s been a while since I read either of them. I actually read POT three times, can you believe that? I agree with you on Beach Music. It took me forever to get through those first 9 or 10 chapters, but then it got much better and I was crying by the end. I haven’t read any of the later ones either. South Beach got such lackluster reviews, that I hated to be disillusioned. Loved The River is Wide, too…a very short book for Pat!

      I think if I want to do a critique of Lonesome Dove (the book), I’ll have to re-read it. It’s been twenty years and my mind’s a little fuzzy. Larry McMurtry is a gifted storyteller as well. He writes the kinds of books that you never want to come to an end.

      No, I’m not a member of Goodreads, but it’s not the first time someone has suggested it. I guess I’d better check it out.

      Thank you for coming over, sweetie!


    • Me too, Char. She wrote brilliantly and is the epitome of thinking that you can’t improve upon perfection. I was so sorry I didn’t think of doing this post on the anniversary of the book, but at least it’s still the anniversary year…


    • Wanda, I noticed that you haven’t done much blogging lately either. I really like this simple, no-fuss place where I can just write down whatever I happen to be thinking at any given moment. It suits me.

      Welcome to my place!


  2. This post has been sitting here, open, on my laptop, since it popped up on Google Reader yesterday. And I am just now, at last getting to read it! Yes, it was that kind of day yesterday.

    Oh it’s wonderful to read your words about books. I would just love to see you continue these reviews. You’ve read so much (unlike moi), and I like how the books are embedded in you, and you speak from the heart.

    I have only read one Conroy novel, POT, and I adored it. He got under my skin . . or I felt that what he wrote was already under my skin, and he brought it to the surface. It’s the authentic nature of his writing, and his life, and the way it is anchored in place that really appeals to me. I heard his video interview on South of Broad, and how he said his editor chopped 500 pages! Well he’s fabulous, and I loved your review.

    We were just talking last night about people who succeeded at writing one novel, like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. I believe my favorite Fugitive Pieces was her first novel. It’s astonishing, really.

    Brava, my dear. As these come to your surface, I look forward to you sharing very much.


    • Hiya Ruthie!

      I can assure you, I don’t remember every book I’ve read! Just the ones that made a huge impression on me…the ones where I think, ‘If only I could write like that…’. I should remember much more about POT since I’ve read it three times. Looks like I’ll have to read it again to refresh my memory. Is there a Cliff Notes? Of course, it’s not so much the story, but his telling of it, the absolute love he has for the English language, the way he caresses every sentence and every word. It’s a beautiful thing.

      Can you imagine chopping 500 pages from a novel?!! I could never even write 500, much less have enough left to make an entire book! He is fabulous.

      Did you ever read Swan Thieves? I wonder how it compared to Fugitive Pieces.

      Thank you, my dear, for the lovely compliments.


  3. Thanks for pointing the way over here, Susie. I too loved Prince of Tides and did read several of his other novels, including Beach Music, which I can’t remember anything of… I could not be a revewier of books because I don’t pay enough attention to the details, and within a month have forgotten even the important stuff. I do remember when I loved something, though!

    I am beginning to feel pressured by the blog demands – no, not beginning to but feeling MORE pressure! It’a all self-generated, of course, and that makes it a bit stupid. I think I’ll throw the rest of the Greek trip up and then leave for a while.

    Anyway, I very much enjoyed reading what you had to say here. It’s a different side of you – one I’ve seen before, but not often. I like it a lot. I like the fun Susie, too, but I can’t always match that kind of personality, do you know what I mean? And I’d be very happy to have the occasional thing to read and to get off the hamster wheel that blogging feels like these days. And I would also be anonymous next time around.

    Looking forward to seeing you here whenever you feel like it. I’m going to go and read “Why I’m Here’ now.


    • Deb, you aren’t alone in your feelings. Several of my blog friends have voiced the same things and are trying to slow down the “hamster wheel”. And, of course, it IS all self-induced. I don’t want to extricate myself completely, but it is nice having more time to do what I need and want to do besides blogging.

      The main reason I started this blog was that I wanted someplace I could write without restraint whatever I feel, and I can’t really do that on the other one. I didn’t want my friends, or family, to wonder if I’m “okay” if I write something a little downbeat. I’m not always “Sweet Susie”…sometimes I can be a real bitch…yeah, me. Here I can be snarky or bitchy, whatever gets me goin’.

      Thanks, my friend, for the nice things you said. 🙂


  4. I don’t know about Swan Thieves.

    I did also love Prince of Tides, the movie. Those scenes when the kids jump off the dock and go under water to drown out the sound of fighting parents . . . oh man.


    • Oy vey! I meant Winter Vault…I got my authors mixed up.

      That is a very powerful scene and something every child who witnesses those kinds of things probably wishes they could do. I loved how they form a circle underwater and hold hands.


  5. Love TKAM. Jason and I were just talking about Harper Lee the other day (as we contemplated baby names). While I understand her reluctance it does seem an awful waste of talent, no?
    Still haven’t read Conroy, but have Prince of Tides of my shelf.
    It’s nice to see you around again 🙂


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