Stashed Away–The Secret Letters

This is part three of a series on letter-writing in fiction.

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Secret letters can create many routes in a novel, and they offer the ultimate versatility to your story. These secret letters that suddenly appear in a book, they allow some of the deepest twists possible in storytelling. The story becomes the owl with its head turned all the way around, and you might even be able to stand the plot on its head at the same time.

I’ve noticed that the novels with secret letters don’t set out to be epistolary. Those secret letters are not referenced in the beginning of the book. The narrator never alludes to letters or secrets in that way. Then, the secret letters surprise everyone by showing up like a poof of dusty magic.

You can make it subtle, while retaining the lucidity of the scene and the significance of that moment in the storyline. In Multiple Exposure, Ellen Masters is legally adopted by her grandmother and grows up with a distant relationship to her mother. When her mother comes for a rare visit to see Ellen graduate from high school, Ellen’s mother finds all of the letters with money still stuffed inside that she and Ellen’s stepfather mailed to Ellen over the years. Prior to this scene, the narrator, Ellen, has never let the reader know that her mother and stepfather mailed letters and money to her. It should come as a bit of a shocking revelation on the part of the narrator to the reader for many reasons. The scene shifts again quickly, and this serves as a striking memory flash. Those letters are never mentioned again in the book, and there’s no reason to do so, as they served their purpose in the story.

You can make secret letters have a generational impact by revealing an even bigger secret decades later. In my second novel, Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel, I used the idea of secret letters again, and they lead to the revelation of a secret that changes the family structure (for this blog, I won’t spoil the story and reveal that here). These letters are about the history of the Ballard family and are never seen by the narrator, Robin Ballard. She hears the story of the secret love letters from her Great Aunt Cora, whose heart is broken as a young woman by not receiving anymore letters from her secret lover. She tells her great niece about it decades later: “I don’t think my heart stopped hoping I’d open the mailbox and find my name written by his hand until I finally married someone else and moved away from there. It was like the mailbox could never be the same again.” For Cora, the letters are painful, but for her great niece, Robin, they are a revelation.

To read more about Multiple Exposure, my
first novel about narrator Ellen Masters who is trying to raise her daughter, hold down a career and home, all while facing the fears that surface due to her husband’s deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq and a shocking murder that takes place close to her home, visit thorncraftpublishing.com

You’ll also find more information about my second novel, Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel, which follows the generational stories of a middle Tennessee family and the various talents of the Ballard family, from shaman, to moonshiner, to singer, and more.

Parts One and two in this series are about the confessional letter and passing notes in high school, respectively.

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Flashback: Passing Notes in High School

This is part two of a series on letter-writing in literature.

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The days of passing paper notes in school are fading from our culture. When I was in high school over twenty years ago, we used notebook paper and created elaborate folds, code words, and nicknames. We knew where to pass notes between classes, when to pass them during class, and even who could be trusted to pass a note without reading it. Now, most students simply send texts and emails to one another with their phones.

In her novel, The Mosquito Hours, Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo reminds the reader about these changes in communications and letter writing. The epistolary novel doesn’t have to be a book about letters mailed and received through the post office. DeLorenzo shows how friends write notes in school, and she shares the correspondence between best friends Vivian and Raine in high school. DeLorenzo allows the reader to see Vivian and Raine’s code words. This reveals the slang and cultural trends, but it also makes the reader feel intimately involved in the relationship between the friends. Showing the letters expresses their relationship in a way that we wouldn’t have understood without the notes. We can see Vivian as a high school girl, even though she is a young grandmother during the current time of the story. The notes act as flashbacks to reveal a different time in her life. Thus, the notes show us their relationship rather than a character telling the reader about their past.

To read more about The Mosquito Hours by Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo, a novel suggested as a Best Summer Reads of 2014 on OnPoint Radio, visit www.thorncraftpublishing.com

Next week, I’ll continue writing about letter-writing in literature. See last week’s post on the Confessional Letter for part one.

The Art of Letter-Writing: the Confessional Letter

IMG_9508Writing letters is an art that I value, and in Thorncraft, we enjoy seeing the practice within stories. How about all of you, writers? Is letter-writing part of your practice? There’s nothing like receiving someone’s handwritten thoughts in your mailbox.

I love when letters show up in books, even if it’s for a moment, as in Grace Among the Leavings by Beverly Fisher. One of the reasons I loved this novella, other than the young, inquisitive narrator Grace, was the confessional letters that were written during the events of the book. The letters reveal the central conflict and show depth of character where the readers might otherwise easily make judgments to disregard characters who commit a violent crime.

We, the readers, gain further insight into the people living in the rural south during the US Civil War by watching how they receive letters. Grace is the only member of her family who can read, and she is still in the process of learning, so the family must send for the preacher to read any letters aloud to them.

We see the dependence of the community on the preacher and those who can read and write in order to communicate for them. The novella reminds how important it is to cultivate the ability to read and to write, to correspond via letters and wait patiently for a response.

I’ll be sharing more about letters in books in the coming weeks in a series about the importance of the art of letter-writing.

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Visit thorncraftpublishing here to read more about Grace Among the Leavings by Beverly Fisher. The book has been adapted to the stage by Kari Catton and Dennis Darling. It has been performed as both a one-act and a two-act play.

The Pleasure of Messy Readers

I lone a book to a friend and smear a few places with the cherry pie I am eating so that she will read comfortably. I fold a page at the corner. I smudge the ink.

I want to know that you have lived in a book. Smudges, smears of food, flagged pages, underlined passageways, highlighted words, circled phrases, creased spines, fanned chapters, notes in the margins, and oh the hidden agendas that we derive from books. Whips of innuendo, delights that you read over and over, favorite scenes, snippets of memorized dialog, questions to drum up sweat in the pondering, and relative texts to consider.

Yes, I am the messy reader, doing so with abandon. Borrowing a text is impossible, as I will not return it in the same condition. My books have even become crinkled and warped to double their size on occasion from my habit of reading in a swimming pool during the summer months.

I give with the same rules. If you borrow a book from me, I expect you to return it with smudges, crumbs, tears, warps, and more. Otherwise, you certainly didn’t adventure far with the book, nor did you eat anything delicious while reading. Eat and read. Adventure and read. Read and go. Read and slurp. Snort-laugh and read something funny. Read and cry about something that deserves your tears and interest. Explore and read. Mainly, don’t fear books and pages and words. Any snob who ever made you feel like you should be intimidated by some paper was a really good snob, and now is the time to defeat that snobbery. Words and paper can be serious, yes, but also fun and playful. Even the serious parts need some smears of cherry pie. Books need and feed on adventure as much as you need books. Feed. Read. See. Do. Enjoy to the fullest and show the traces of your enjoyment, in a book.