No Phone Zone

So yesterday I was working away when my cell rang. Mom was on the other end, worried because she had been calling the house and not getting an answer. It was then that I discovered the cable modem had malfunctioned and none of my phones worked. It occurred to me that I should have known something was wrong–I had worked all  morning in blessed silence–no telemarketers interrupting my thoughts.

imagesI’m working now on a biographical  novel of Mrs. Robert E Lee that covers the years from 1830 to 1860. No phones back then, and so I have access to many of her letters, journal entries and even some of her recipes written in her own hand. All of which would not exist if she and the General had been able to stay in touch by phone while he was away. Not that I would want to give up my phones. I’m thankful for all the good purposes they serve–instantly summoning help when we call 911–staying in touch with friends and family in real time. And now, with my smart phone, I have the ability to snap a picture on a moment’s notice. Though I don’t generally do selfies. But phones have become a weapon of destruction, thanks to drivers who try to text, talk, and operate a 6000 pound vehicle all at the same time.

Last month here in San Antonio, a new city ordinance went into effect, prohibiting drivers from using cell phones while behind the wheel. No exceptions. In the first month of enforcement they handed out over 1000 traffic citations, at $200 each, to drivers caught talking or texting while driving. It’s a good rule and one I hope they will  continue to enforce.

I’ve been thinking about Alexander Graham Bell, the man who first gave us the telephone. I can’t help wondering what he would think of the way his invention has evolved.I’ve decided that tomorrow, I’m going to turn off my phones while I’m writing. Thanks to that malfunctioning modem, I’ve rediscovered the marvelous beauty of silence.

The Abuse of Authors

Two events this week have set me onto my high horse. First was the announcement from author Tess Gerritson regarding her lawsuit against Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema. It seems she had a deal with New Line for the movie that became GRAVITY starring Sandra Bullock. But in the interim between signing her deal and the release of the movie, Warner Brothers bought New Line and one of their directors “wrote” the movie based on Tess’s story, and made GRAVITY without giving her any credit or the money she was promised. She sued and was told that Warner was under no obligation to honor the New Line contract. The decision was based on some sort of shortcoming in the original filing, and her legal team is now crafting an amendment that may give her another chance to recover what is morally, if not legally, hers.

The second event was the announcement on Tuesday that Harper will publish Harper Lee’s  “Go Set a Watchman”: in July. The press release says “Watchman” was the original book that Lee intended to publish but her editor was so taken with the voice of the young girl “Scout” that Lee was asked to revise the book to tell the story from Scout’s point of view. That book of course became “To Kill A Mockingbird”  which won the Pulitzer Prize and to date has sold more than 40 million copies. “Watchman” is set in the 1950’s and is about Scout as a grown woman, looking back on her childhood. Like most of the rest of the world, I loved Mockingbird and under different circumstances I would be overjoyed with the announcement of another Harper Lee novel. But by reliable accounts, Harper Lee who is now 88 years old, is frail and significantly debilitated after a stroke. Two of her family members, speaking anonymously said that at the funeral of Miss Lee’s older sister Alice a few months ago, Miss Lee sat in her wheelchair mumbling to herself and shouting at inappropriate times. Yet the press release announcing this new novel contained an extremely lucid quote from Miss Lee, giving the background on the book and expressing her delight that this new novel will be published. When her editor was asked about this apparent disconnect, he said that he is confident she is fully cognizant of the situation and is looking forward to publication. But he admitted he has not seen her or spoken to her in more than 8 years.

I’m not making any wild accusations that I can’t prove. But it makes me uneasy that this frail woman, alone now in the world except for her lawyer and editor and a few friends suddenly discovers a manuscript she thought was lost and is in good enough health to participate in its publication when just three months ago she was wheelchair bound and nearly incoherent. Especially coming as it does on the heels of a 2013 lawsuit in which Miss Lee sued her then literary agent whom she said duped her into signing over to him the copyright of Mockingbird.She was 87 years old then and said she did not remember signing such a document.The suit was settled in September of 2013.

What is it about our culture that makes it okay to steal an author’s work, exploit it for gain without paying for it? Or in the case of Miss Lee, perhaps taking advantage of an infirmity? Miss Gerritson and Miss Lee are at least lucky enough to have the financial resources to fight back. Most authors don’t. Not every author has to fight movie companies, but even modestly successful authors must be constantly on guard against pirates that steal their work and put it up online, free for the asking. For every pirate site that is discovered, there are others that go undetected and book sales suffer for it. This is simply theft and those who take advantage of pirate sites are just as despicable as the pirates themselves.

In other countries, Japan for instance, or Argentina, which in 2011 considered paying published authors a monthly stipend to allow them to continue creating literature, writers are honored and their work is valued as important to the culture. Here, not so much.


A Rainy Day Playlist

We’ve been living in drought conditions for years down here. Rain is cause for celebration and today we’re getting a nice, cold soaking rain. The kind that replenishes the eleven huge trees on our property  and refreshes my spirit, too. Days like this are so rare that I find it hard to do anything except curl up beside the window with a cup of hot tea, put on some music and relish every drop of rain.  Here’s what’s on my rainy day playlist today. Do you have a favorite rainy day song? Leave a comment and let me know!

Who’ll Stop the Rain  Credence Clearwater Revival

Kentucky Rain  Elvis Presley

Fire and Rain  James Taylor

Have you Ever Seen the Rain  another great rain song by CCR

Rainy Days and Mondays  the Carpenters

I Wish it Would Rain   the Temptations. An oldie, but wow, what a goodie. David Ruffin’s voice is amazing

And my favorite of all time  Rainy Night in Georgia  Brook Benton. Conway Twitty has a nice version of it, too.

Happy rainy days!


Mary Lee and Selina Gray Are the Subjects of My New Novel!

Normally I post here on Thursdays but I am too excited to wait that long to share my news. I have just finalized a deal with Thomas Nelson/ HarperCollins to publish a biographical novel about the extraordinary friendship between Mrs. Robert E Lee and Selina Gray, a slave at Arlington House.

Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee

Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee

Selina was just eight years old in 1831  when Mary Anna Randolph Custis married the dashing Lt. Robert E Lee, widely regarded as the handsomest man in the army. During Mary’s long stays at Arlington House, her childhood home, while her husband was posted elsewhere, Mary and Selina formed a strong bond. Selina has been variously described as the head housekeeper at Arlington House, and as Mrs. Lee’s personal maid. But the two forged an unusually intimate friendship. According to family lore, when Selina told Mrs. Lee she wanted to marry Thornton Gray, Mrs. Lee arranged for the wedding to take place in the same parlor at Arlington where she and the future General Lee were married, and by the same clergyman, the Reverend Dr. Keith.

Selina Gray (r) with two of her children. Photo NPS

Selina Gray (r) with two of her children. Photo NPS

Mrs. Lee and her daughters, Mary ( Called “Daughter” to distinguish her from her mother) Annie, Agnes, and Mildred taught Selina and numerous other Arlington slaves to read and write. They did a wonderful job in Selina’s case–the few examples of her writing that survive are nearly perfect in spelling, grammar and sentence structure.

Mary, by virtue of her marriage to General Lee, the most beloved figure of the Old South earned her place in history. Selina earned hers in a more dramatic way. When Mary and her children were forced to flee Arlington at the start of the Civil War, Mary handed the house keys to Selina and with them, the responsibility for the home Mary loved. When Union soldiers began pillaging the mansion, Selina intervened with the general in charge, and  saved many of the treasures of Arlington House, treasures that had once belonged to President Washington. Even though Selina would not be free until the end of 1861, her affection for the Lee family and her extraordinary loyalty to Arlington House led her to stare down the interlopers with a warning, “Don’t you touch Miss Mary’s things.”

I can’t wait to write this story, due out early next year. I hope you will enjoy it.