If you thought Harper Lee was done making headline news this year after the publication of the divisive To Kill a Mockingbird companion novel Go Set a Watchman, be thankful that this news is far less controversial and far more endearing. Coretta Scott King Award winner G. Neri will publish the fictional middle grade novel Tru & Nelle, inspired by Truman Capote and Harper Lee's childhood friendship. Though fictional, it's the first book to center entirely on Capote and Lee's, aka "Nelle's," famous bond growing up in rural Alabama.
Ghetto Cowboy and Yummy author Neri, whose first name is Greg, told The New York Times that he was inspired to write Tru & Nelle in February 2014 while watching the Academy Award-winning 2005 movie Capote, starring the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the author.
"I was just kind of sitting there, and I couldn't believe no one had taken it on," Neri said. "Both she and Truman used their real lives as fodder for their fiction, and I figured if they did it, maybe I could do it too."
Neri pored over biographies and interviews from the To Kill a Mockingbird and In Cold Blood authors, but he said his "richest" material came from talking with Capote's cousin Jennings Faulk Carter, who spent a lot of time around Capote and Lee as children and relayed many stories of their childhood antics.
"These stories were amazing — they were colorful and outrageous and funny and tragic," Neri said.
Capote and Lee met during one childhood summer in their hometown of Monroeville, Alabama — a story fictionalized at the beginning of Tru & Nelle. Two of the greatest Southern writers of all time bonded over their mutual love of detective novels, and as they grew older, they inspired each other in their work. Capote's character Idabel Thompkins in his novel Other Voices Other Rooms is based on Lee. Dill, Scout's friend in To Kill a Mockingbird is allegedly based on Capote, and it's not hard to see why from the book's description:
He was a short, square-built, cotton-headed individual with the face of an angel and the cunning of a stoat. He was a year older than she, but she was a head taller.
According to the Times, The two writers famously drifted apart after the release of In Cold Blood, when Lee allegedly felt she wasn't credited properly for her work on the true crime novel, relegated to the acknowledgements section. Lee traveled to Kansas with Capote to interview townspeople about the crime and type up notes for the book.
But Tru & Nelle doesn't get into the sadder, later part. Instead it focuses on those "colorful, outrageous, funny, and tragic" stories from their childhood bond. One story in particular is drawn from real life, when members of the Klu Klux Klan showed up at a party Capote was hosting because the hate group heard there would be African Americans in attendance.
Neri's Tru & Nelle may be written for a middle grade audience, but any fans of the writers (i.e. pretty much everyone) will want it on their shelves come spring 2016.