Scribbling Scrivener Reads: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers was first published in 1940. The story takes place in an unnamed Depression-era Southern town and revolves around the lives of John Singer, Mick Kelly, Biff Brannon, Jake Blount, and Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, a diverse group of all trying to survive life. We follow each character’s hopes and dreams, ups and downs, in heartbreakingly written narrative. The center of the group is the deaf-mute John Singer. Each of the other main characters gravitates toward him, frequently visiting him to unload their burdens and dreams.

John Singer, a man who starts the novel off living with his equally mute, though not deaf, roommate and best friend Spiros Antonapoulos. But circumstances cause the pair to be separated when Spiros is sent away to an insane asylum. It’s after this event that each of the other characters gravitate toward Singer, using him as an outpost to express thoughts and desires they can’t tell anyone else.

Overall, I loved this book. The characters were extremely fascinating and well-developed with the exception of one. The secondary characters are often just as well-developed as the main characters. The prose is lovely and McCullers does a fantastic job utilizing the setting to mirror each character’s journey. The book’s themes carry over to today showing a modern reader just how far we have or haven’t come as a society.

To me the two strongest, most interesting characters are Singer and Dr. Copeland. Singer starts the novel happily going through life doing his job in a jewelry store while his roommate, Spiros, who is also mute but not deaf, works in a candy store. They do everything together and it’s Spiros which gives Singer strength and is the one person he can communicate with. He believes Spiros understands him though the reader at times wonders if Spiros truly has full mental capacity.

When Spiros is committed, this sinks Singer into a depression and causes him to move into the boarding house owned by Mick Kelly’s family. It is here that we start to see the other characters gravitate toward him believing him to be a great listener (he is as he learned to read lips). Others speak to him, treat him as some kind of wise person, but he rarely speaks back. His only form of communication, besides the sign language he used with Spiros, is pencil and paper. Without Spiros, Singer’s emotions become pent up until he can let them out when he visits Spiros. Others trust him with their deepest thoughts and desires yet he trusts no one but Spiros.

My other favorite character is Dr. Copeland, the town’s black doctor whose patients are the black community. Through his work he sees the injustices, prejudices, and lack of opportunity which exists in his community. He tried to fight this by raising his own children to be as educated and socially conscience as him. Yet none of them show the same need for education and desire to fight. Instead they, like everyone else, work just to survive each and every day. They are simply too tired to fight and Dr. Copeland is too old and sick to fight.

Dr. Copeland is a hard man to love. His relationship with his children is strained. Yet despite his gruff manner, many of his patients have named their children after him. But he doesn’t see this as having a positive impact on the community. Dr. Copeland would rather see his patients and their children stand up and fight and work to improve their lives.

Through the doctor the reader is given a front row seat to so many social issues America still struggles with today. We see how difficult it is for the black community in the town to trust any white person as so many of the whites in the town look down upon them. But in Singer Dr. Copeland finds himself trusting a white person for one of the few times in his life believing he is understands the struggle. So he starts visiting Singer to vent his frustrations.

Jake Blount is one of the characters I find myself rather ambivalent about. He wanders into the town, a true vagabond, and spends the first few weeks of his time in town hanging out all day at the New York Café. At first he’s a drunk but eventually stops and begins work at the local amusement park. He fancies himself an intellectual, a communist, and indeed he is well read. His nomadic lifestyle gives the reader a broad glimpse into the Depression.

Like Dr. Copeland he wants to fight an oppressive system. Unlike the doctor, he has the energy to try. He tries a few times to rally his co-workers to protest and to educate them, but those efforts fail. Like the other characters, Singer is his outpost believing very much like Dr. Copeland that this is a man who understands. He has no idea Singer often can’t clearly read Blount’s lips enough to understand what he’s saying.

My two least favorite characters are Brannon and Mick Kelly. Brannon because I felt he was underdeveloped and really didn’t fit into the rest of the narrative. Most of his time in the novel is spent working at the New York Café which is in the same building as his home. He rarely leaves and this is the problem for me. Though his café attracts Singer, Blount, and Mick Kelly, overall he is disconnected from the world at large. Brannon comes across as almost void of emotion even after his wife dies. His point of view didn’t add anything to the story nor gave any insight into the other characters. He also has, by our standards, an odd affection toward Mick. It may very well be a fatherly instinct as he has no children of his own, but even Mick gets a creepy vibe from him.

My other least favorite character is Mick Kelly. She’s the only female main character and is the youngest. The middle child in a large, poor family she starts off the story as a tomboy. Mick is tough yet very motherly in that she is the primary caretaker for her two younger brothers though her mother is alive and well. As the novel progresses she transitions into what would be considered more ladylike mainly inspired by when Singer moves in. She develops this odd crush on him, stalks him, and waits for him to come home each day. It’s not made clear what the attraction because she’s often tongue-tied around him.

Unlike Brannon, she has some fascinating characteristics such as loving classical music even stealing away in the night to listen to music as it flitters into the open from people’s radios. She starts composing her own music and practices after school on a piano located in her school’s gym. But then a horrible accident forces the family into deep poverty and eventually she makes a fateful choice.

On a scale of one to five pencils I’d give The Heart is a Lonely Hunter four pencils. It’s heartbreaking and completely honest in its portrayal of a group of flawed people.

Weekly Musing: Jealous Much?

An interesting blog topic I found suggested talking about whose writing career you are most jealous of. Provocative and in my opinion, if handled correctly can come across as more inspirational rather than full of green-eyed envy. The topic certainly got me thinking. There are certainly authors whom I’m inspired by, but that’s from a prose standpoint rather than their careers. In that respect then yes, I admit to being jealous. As a reader I respond to authors who paint a beautiful, emotional picture and give me a story full of unique, interesting characters. As a writer, I’m jealous of authors who are able to paint a beautiful, emotional picture within a story full of unique, interesting characters.

But is there one author whose career I’m jealous of? After much consideration the answer is no one’s. Sure there are authors whose level of success and income level I’d like to achieve even a tenth of, but do I envy them in the dictionary definition? No.

I have a few reasons for this. The first is it’s not a natural part of my personality to be jealous of people. Am I envious of the seemingly easy way some are able to write without the tremendous amount of effort and numerous drafts I have to go through? Hell, yeah. I’d love to be as quick as them. Yet though I’m envious, I’ve learned each writer works at his or her own pace. Truly there is no one correct path to success.

Another reason is because so much of publishing is luck that it doesn’t make sense to be jealous. Every author has been rejected, waited for that one publisher or agent to take a chance on him or her. Many well-known authors have even changed publishers for one reason or another after becoming A BIG DEAL. Due to the cyclical nature of the business, a manuscript rejected today may very well be picked up in a few years. Or with the proliferation of self-publishing an author could take a chance and publish their book themselves and see what happens. A lot of it comes down to being at the right place at the right time.

Finally, my last reason is once I began writing more actively, I began to understand the amount of work that goes into each story. Even bad stories take a lot of time. If anything, most authors never come close to earning enough for the hundreds, possibly thousands of hours of work they put in. In fact, most authors do not make the kind of money J.K. Rowling, Stephen King,  E.L. James, Ken Follett, or other very well-known authors do. They are the exception rather than the rule. Realizing this early on I think lessens the need to be jealous of another author’s career.

Instead of being jealous, remember success didn’t come easily or overnight no matter how out of nowhere it seems. Far too often we don’t hear about the work that was put in. More than likely it’s the same amount of work you currently are putting into your career. Unfortunately, there are so many uncontrollable factors which go into success it is easy to become jealous. It may seem like they had it easy or didn’t receive as many rejections, but they still struggled and lamented their luck. As much as you can, turn that jealousy into fuel for inspiration. Jealousy is normal, we are all humans, but do not let it prevent you from working toward your dreams.

Weekly Musing: 2017 Goals

Happy New Year one and all! I hope for everyone’s sanity 2017 is a much kinder year to us all. And since we are now in a new year, it’s resolutions time. I’ve always disliked the word resolution because I associate it with everyone getting super excited believing they will achieve their goals only to pretty much give up by the end of January. Instead, I like to use the word goal as I think it lends itself to being more obtainable.

Because I view this time of year as a chance to set goals, I’ve been thinking of what would be most achievable for me.

As always, I have the continuing goal of working to improve my writing. But one thing I want to stay away from is getting caught up in all the posts and articles of writing advice. Knowledge is power and while I enjoy learning, too much information for me has negative side effects. I noticed I was getting to the point where a voice in my mind developed overanalyzing if what I was working on was worth it. In order to save what little sanity I actually have, I’m going to reduce the amount of time I spend reading about the writing craft. After all, shouldn’t my time be used to actually write, which is the best way to get better.

Another goal is when I get to the next stage in my career, that’s when I will start looking for information. To read and try to absorb information about things I’m not ready for just feeds into my natural ability to overthink.

One of the big things I want to accomplish this year is to have a “finished enough” draft of the historical fiction novel I’ve been working on for years. To me this means finally get the plot the way I envision it, to do justice to the main character the way he sounds in my mind, and to be polished enough to reveal it to the world for feedback.

Because I took the last few months of 2016 off from submitting short stories for publication, I will start submitting again. In conjunction with this, I’m going to work on composing new stories. A wrinkle I’ve added is organizing markets into ones which offer a flat fee vs. those who pay by the word. I want to go after the higher paying markets first and work my way down. I figure this strategy is a way to recognize my work has more value than I give it credit for.

In 2016 I was unable to attend any writer conferences or workshops due to timing and funding concerns. This year I would like to attend at least one, hopefully two. Unfortunately, one which had been taking place where I live decided last year to suspend operation indefinitely. On the other hand, I’m fortunate to live in an area which has lots of opportunities.

I’d also like to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. Hopefully I’ll get that historical fiction novel finished enough by then to take a chance on drafting a new piece. My brain is teeming with ideas and characters that are dying to be let out of their cage.

Finally, I hope in 2017 I will finally be able to truly let myself go on the page. To be comfortable allowing the characters be who they are no matter how unlikable they may be at times. To be dark, sad, and angry. To be light, fluffy, and in love. I know I hold back on the page because I allow myself to absorb others’ criticisms of when authors go to uncomfortable places or make a character unlikable even when it is justified and well done. I struggle with not wanting to be conventional, yet desiring to be published and seeing conventional is what seems to sell and is embraced by the general reading public. I guess what I’m trying to say is I want to find my voice and style.

That’s it for my 2017 goals. I hope whatever your goals or resolutions are, you find the energy to keep going. Realize too that it’s okay if you stumble and take a break. So good luck to everyone out there and Happy New Year!