Just finished my next book! I’ve been working on this baby for more than a year, and that doesn’t count the months before I started the actual writing, when I focused on research. This book – no title yet – demanded a lot of research. I had to learn about the tools a carpenter would keep in her truck, the type of projects she would do, which ones she would like and which ones not, what her hands would look like at the end of the day. I had to learn about an architect’s road to licensure, what her office would look like, and how she might approach a project. I had to learn how a locally-produced, home-renovation tv show might be taped, the prep work that would go into it, and the people who would be on the set. I’m clearly summarizing it for you, but you get my drift.

18693728So when I recently picked up a book that had been widely and positively reviewed, I was drawn to it for the way in which the author did her research. The book, which is non-fiction, is The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills, and its focus is on the life of the very, very elusive Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird. Ms. Lee never wrote another book after this one, and, increasingly and insistently, shunned the public eye. How, then, did Marja Mills come to befriend Harper Lee and her sister, Alice, to the extent that she ended up renting the house next door (at Harper Lee’s suggestion, no less) for a time?

This was what fascinated me. Oh yes, I was interested in learning about Harper Lee, her town, her friends, and the South, all of which I did. But what most intrigued me, still does, about the book is the quiet, gentle, insightful way the author won the hearts of these women. There was nothing nefarious about it, nothing stealthy. From the start, she was blunt about why she had come to town, but she wasn’t frenetic about it.  Afflicted with lupus herself, her lifestyle was, of necessity, more quiet and measured than some.  Beyond that, she genuinely enjoyed the sisters and their environs, and respected their needs to a fault.


I think back to the research I’ve done, not only on this latest book but on so many others before it. Granted, I never made a source the subject of my book, but simply wanted information about a particular field. Some of my sources were standoffish. Men, especially, were wary. I have a feeling they weren’t sure how what they said would be used in a family-drama-with-love-story-and-sex book.  Women were usually warmer.  Several became friends and remain so to this day. In all these instances, I have utmost respect for my source and his or her work. I never pay sources, other than to name them in my Acknowledgment page and, when the book is published, send them a signed hardcover copy. Some send me thank you notes in return; others do not. I like to think that those who read the actual book felt good about their part in it.

So. Where is my book right now? It’s in the hands of my editor, who loved it, to my relief, and will now “mark it up” with small edits. She wants me to add three brief scenes, which I’ll do at the same time that I incorporate her edits into the manuscript. And that title we don’t have? It’s coming. I’ll let you know as soon as we zero in on the one.

In the meantime, I do recommend The Mockingbird Next Door. Do you ever read non-fiction? If so, are there any books you want to recommend?

Share this:
Posted in


  1. Paula Scott on August 8, 2014 at 6:57 am

    I haven’t read this book, though I do like to read biographies in addition to fiction. I did read this in the paper a while back:

    July 14, 2014
    Normally, I would not respond to questions about books written on my life. Miss Mills befriended my elderly sister, Alice. It did not take long to discover Marja’s true mission; another book about Harper Lee. I was hurt, angry and saddened, but not surprised. I immediately cut off all contact with Miss Mills, leaving town whenever she headed this way.
    I understand that Ms. Mills has a statement signed by my elderly sister claiming I cooperated with this book. My sister would have been 100 years old at the time.
    I enclose a copy of my first statement about this book. After my stroke, I discovered Marja claimed I cooperated with this book. I released my first statement in April 2011. I also enclose Marja’s letter to my attorney at that time. Neither my attorney nor I have retracted my original statement. Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood.
    Harper Lee
    And her original statement from 2011:

    April 27, 2011
    Contrary to recent news reports, I have not willingly participated in any book written or to be written by Marja Mills. Neither have I authorized such a book. Any claims otherwise are false.
    Harper Lee

    • Barbara Delinsky on August 8, 2014 at 7:40 am

      Definitely, thanks for posting, Paula. I, too, read of this disagreement. The decision becomes whether one thinks that Marja Mills is a liar, or whether Harper Lee, herself, being in her late 80’s, may confuse permissions. Honestly, I don’t know. I’d guess the truth falls somewhere in the middle. That said, Ms. Mills’ book sheds very positive light on Harper and Alice Lee, their friends, and their town. If anyone were to write a biography of me, I only wish it would be half as flattering!

      • mary branham on August 8, 2014 at 10:21 am

        I want to read the Mockingbird Next Door . I love your books and cannot wait to read your new one.

        Whether or not the book was written without harper lees approval if it is so flattering I see no harm.

  2. Diane on August 8, 2014 at 7:24 am

    I read this same letter from Ms. Harper about The Mockinbird Nextdoor. Thanks for posting.

  3. Vivian on August 8, 2014 at 7:59 am

    I read and actually enjoyed the book. I don’t think it revealed any deep, dark, family secrets and shows that the author held the Lee sisters in high esteem. Sad that there is so much controversy surrounding the book and that Ms. Lee feels it was done behind her back and without her permission.

  4. Dianne on August 8, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Last spring my book club read a memoir called The Favored Daughter by Fawzia Koofi. It has stayed with me and with the other women in my book club. Heres a link to Goodreads for it.

  5. Meredith A. Rutter on August 8, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Yes, I do enjoy nonfiction, with a special fondness for memoirs/biographies. My most recent memoir favorite is Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill (not about illness, just about being old). Two general-nonfiction favorites recently are Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City and Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. Oh, and a terrific book (which I read because I have a sociopath in the novel I’m writing) is The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout.

  6. marijo Kusiciel on August 13, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    I just finished reading “Sweet Salt Air”. Thank you for the wonderful story-many thanks. Being a 79 yr. old widow, I can only dream thru books-yours are the best. I will relive the story for days. I have enjoyed your previous books too.

  7. Paulette Stripland on August 18, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Just finished Sweet Salt Air and I’m so sorry it is over!!! It was one of the best “reads” in a long time! Reading has been my escape since I discovered my grandmothers “True Romance” magazines hidden under her bed when I was eleven! I’m 69, a grandmother, retired educator and a “would be” writer! I’ve always thought I had at least one good book in me but “life” and lack of confidence seem to get in the way! Can’t wait for another book! Any chance of a trilogy of Sweet Salt Air? Any suggestions for a “would be” writer?

  8. Ann armenti on September 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Ms. Delinsky,
    Sweet Salt Air was by far one off your best written books. I was so sad when I came to the end ? I hope this is the first of a trilogy!

Leave a Comment