Alabama GirlsI hemmed and hawed over purchasing Charles J. Shields', MOCKINGBIRD, the unauthorized biography of Harper Lee, the author of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The hemming and hawing was mostly over the fact that Miss Lee gave Mr. Shields the cold shoulder, which he admits frankly in the opening. I do believe public personalities deserve to have their privacy, if they so choose, and should not be subject to cameras being shoved in their faces or strangers appearing on their doorsteps.
But being a writer with Alabama roots, I succumbed to my desire to know more about how one of my all-time favorite books came to be. So I hope Miss Lee will forgive me my curiosity.
I'm happy to say Mr. Shields did not raise the hairs on the back of my neck with sordid tales. For the most part, his accounting of Harper Lee's life seemed to be told with a desire for accuracy and a measure of respect.
What really grabbed my attention was the description of young Miss Lee's character. So much of the young woman Mr. Shields portrayed in his account is embodied in my heroine Gracie Lynne Calloway from my story WALTZING WITH ALLIGATORS, which will on shelves in 2008. Gracie is a rough and tumble girl who has little use for pretense or fancy clothes. Like the persona Shields describes as Miss Lee, she has an aversion to nosy reporters. Gracie goes so far as to land facer on one overzealous member of the press during the course of my story. Neither Miss Lee, nor Gracie, suffer fools without comment. Both are intensely loyal to family and friends.
A good chunk of the book covered Miss Lee's relationship to Truman Capote and her assistance while researching his novel, IN COLD BLOOD. I'll spare you my own feminist remarks regarding his treatment of Miss Lee and just say I preferred reading the parts about her childhood and the supportive friends she made in New York during the creation of her book.
In the end, I came away with not just a renewed respect for brave story she wrote, but with a respect for the writer, Nelle Harper Lee. She's my kind of woman.