Bitter in the Mouth: How a Mockingbird Gave Birth to a Little Canary

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I've read To Kill a Mockingbird many times since, and each time I find something new, something that thrills me as a reader and a writer. I'm uncomfortable describing it as a "coming of age" novel, because to me it's so much more. Unless, "coming of age" means, in fact, a heartbreaking indictment of the flawed world that adults have created for their children to inherit. The genre probably does mean that, and perhaps that's why these narratives that we read in our youth mean so much to us and stay with us for the rest of our lives like the truest of friends.

When I decided to set Bitter in the Mouth in the American South, I immediately turned to To Kill a Mockingbird for inspiration. I also read Truman Capote's first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. It's a perfect companion read with Lee's novel, as Capote and Lee were friends from childhood and he was the real-life inspiration for the character Dill, the impish instigator who brightened the long summers for Scout and Jem.

As I re-read, the first thing that struck me was how Scout is an absolute credit to her nickname. She's smart, outspoken, independent, and brave. She's everything that a girl should be in 1935, 1975, 2011, and beyond. Lee's characterization of Scout made me think about how many girls begin our youth this way, and how these interior traits -- so delicate because they are just forming -- get clumsily and cruelly chipped away. How the focus of attention is then too quickly directed toward the outside of our bodies. I began to think about my characters, Linda Hammerick and Kelly Powell, as coming from the same bright, sturdy stock as Scout, and that these three girls would have been fast friends.

Continued on page 4:  Cheeky Writing


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