Just Mercy

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson traces his journey as a young idealistic lawyer establishing a legal practice dedicated to defending the most underrepresented and his path through the judicial system with one of his first cases. That client, Walter McMillan, insists that he’s innocent. Bryan quickly finds convincing evidence that he is telling the truth. Getting that evidence through the courts, runs into one boondoggle after another.

The book reads like a long episode of Law and Order with side issues along with the main story. The tension builds as almost, nearly, and not quite run a thread throughout. I found myself wanting to shout encouragement to hang in there and hoping for that forty-five minute mark reprieve.

Some favorite quotes from the book:
•    On capital punishment: “I couldn’t stop thinking that we don’t spend much time contemplating the details of what killing someone actually does.”
•    “Jackie’s name was always followed by ‘She’s in college.’ I had begun to think of her as Jackie ‘She’s in College’ McMillan.”
•     “I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other.”

The trouble is this is not fiction where one is confident that the good guys will win in the last fifteen minutes and all will be well. While the writer gives signs of hope in his last pages for our justice system, much still hangs in the balance. Striking to me was how often those with criminal tendencies had experienced horrific abuse as children. Perhaps our interventions need to begin much sooner.

This was not a comfortable read but a compelling one. The meaning of the title becomes clear toward the end in a paragraph that brings closure and includes another favorite quote, “The power of just mercy is that it belongs to the undeserving.”

Just Mercy is a book for those who care and are willing to hear what Bryan Stevenson ultimately learned from that early client over their long association, “Walter made me understand why we have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.”


Out of Season

In the old nursery rhyme,
    Christmas is coming,
    The geese are getting fat.
Few of us rely on fat geese any more as Christmas signals. Our indicators seem to come earlier and earlier and are already all around us. According to my calendar, there are still eleven days to Halloween and more than two months until Christmas.

I find it disconcerting to walk into stores with competing Halloween and Christmas displays and interesting that Hancock’s flyer in the Sunday paper had the Christmas fabric sales right below those for Halloween. Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, gets squeezed into grocery ads or ignored altogether.

I’ll admit I’ve given up on this and have adopted an attitude of, “If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em,” and am learning to juggle the holidays. I went to our church’s Fall Festival as a farmer Saturday afternoon and attended the first extra choir rehearsal for Christmas music on Sunday afternoon. I’ll probably even check out Hancock’s to see if I need to replenish my stash of Halloween and/or Christmas fabric.

Getting ready for Halloween, I need to stockpile for trick-or-treaters. For Christmas, I think I’ll also follow the rest of the rhyme’s suggestion and make charitable plans with hopes of doing better than a penny.
    Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat;
    If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
    If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!


Ode to Autumn (Okay, just a jingle to fall)

An overnight sight appeals to my eyes,
September’s lilies bring morning surprise –

Signaling that the time has come
For feet to spring and spirits hum.

Fall foggy haze follows early showers
While morning glories meet night’s moonflowers.

Black-eyed Susans with faces showing
Join with yellow goldenrods’ glowing.

Anoles sneak up to peek over flowers.
Armadillos root beneath rose bowers.

Hot cocoa sports a marshmallow top.
Homemade autumn soup simmers, “Pop, pop.”

I grab parched peanuts to shell on the fly,
But sit to relish sweet potato pie.

On the field, comes the call,
“All right folks, let’s play ball.”

Backers cheer.
Rude ones jeer.

Up from seats with heavy hefts,
Angry fans call, “Can the refs.”

An interception comes all the way back,
The stadium responds “yakkity-yak.”

If there’s a time we have it all,
I've got to say it must be fall.


About Failure

What one learns at a writers’ conference may have as much to do with life as with writing. Keynote speaker Candice Ransom began the session with her presentation “Keep Calm, Carry On (But Don’t Pitch a Fit).” I wouldn’t have guessed that her theme would be in praise of failure.

She spoke specifically to the writers gathered for the Southern Breeze SCBWI conference in Birmingham, knowing she spoke to those who experienced failure in the form of rejection letters on a regular basis. She admonished the group to realize that those who managed to publish a book sometimes heard that anything less than 7,500 sales was still considered a failure. She took us through a passage in her own life much longer than I can put in this blog when she experienced both personal and professional difficulties. I sounded like one disaster piling on the other like two teams of football players after a loose ball.  

Giving up her writing in the midst of anxious waits in hospital corridors might have seemed the most logical thing to do – inertly accepting her fate like the ball at the bottom of that heap. Instead, she took her writing with her to keep her company and give her a focus besides her worries as she awaited doctor’s reports and test results.

With the string of difficulties behind her, she now has books coming out again along with speaking invitations to writers’ groups like ours.

Her take-aways were certainly good for writing, but perhaps they were even better for living. She advised us, in the face of failure, to keep calm and carry on. She added, “If we aren’t failing we aren’t doing anything interesting.”


Countdown to Revolution

What a good choice I made to read Countdown (published 2010) and Revolution (published 2014) for my birthday celebration! This wasn’t a shot in the dark since I am a fan of Deborah Wiles’s previous trilogy – a gentle trio for summer reading in the shade of an oak tree with a supply of apples. I was in for a surprise. Gripping replaced gentle.

Both books, set in crisis periods in American history, seem to interrupt the story with pages of memorabilia from their time periods until you realize those pages inform the story. Franny’s community in Countdown, living in fear during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, learns to “duck and cover.” Tensions between her mother and older sister escalate as Jo Ellen insists on becoming involved with what her mother perceives as a radical group at college that may get her into trouble.

Revolution, set in 1964 with its “twist and shout,” finds Sunny sorting out her family that becomes more blended with every turn. The bigger issue becomes the Civil Rights Movement as it comes to Greenwood, Mississippi. I found it touching as Sunny recalls being six “when everything was simple, and I always knew just what to do.” Freedom Summer brings a yellow-haired young woman activist to town that reminds Sunny of her missing mother. The reader recognizes Jo Ellen from Countdown.

I’ve heard an expression, “too good for kids.” I’d never say that, but I would say, “too good to be limited to kids.” A win for Revolution would be no surprise to me, either once or twice, as it is on the long list for the National Book Award and in the Newbery Award chatter.

Thinking about the yet-to-come last book in the trilogy, I have questions. I’m heading to the SCBWI WIK 14 Conference in Birmingham today where Deborah will be presenting. I can wait on the first two questions, but I may elbow someone to get out of my way so I can ask her the third.
•    Which character(s) from the first books will appear in the third?
•    Which historical turning point will it cover?
•    How soon will it be out? I hope I don’t have to wait another four years!