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 Trail of Words: Running Words from 5K to Ultra

Words lead to not only more words, if you keep writing, they also create paths and spaces. I didn’t believe the land of words could be so much like trail running when I convinced myself to make words the focus of my career. I had to be careful, to share the trail with my authors, to know when to go it alone, to understand how to step back and “rehydrate” my author’s brain while being a publisher who represents other authors, and most enchanting, to discover new beauties and struggles on the writer’s path just as I discover them on the running trails.

I started a blog way back in 2005 with Yahoo360. It was like a couch-to-5K for my writing life which had soured into a ritual of grading English Comp papers and writing way too much feedback to the students. At first, like trail running, blogging hurt and I was getting about one hit an hour. How could this go anywhere? My forehead rested on the desk. I stumbled through writing about pregnancy and staying on target with one blog post a week. I was passed by professionals, out of my league. Winded and exhausted after those first attempts, I got wise and followed the people in social media to the MySpace blog world, and led a happy blogging life at blogspot, too. After a short time, I was content with these familiar trails, and I knew people on them, and it didn’t hurt so much anymore to expose myself as a writer. I blogged about motherhood and students in my classes. This was not nearly enough, even with thousands of hits. I yearned to write something more. It was time to add distance and a faster pace to my writing life. Through social media, I found Her Circle Ezine, and eventually became the Editor-in-Chief, wrote my own novel in the meantime, & tried to shop it.

The run was going strong and even getting hot, and my writing revealed more, new adventures. I helped with The Institute of Arts and Social Engagement with Misty Ericson, wrote articles about Mexican women for Lake Chapala Review magazine, interviewed bands & musicians for a Nashville music magazine, felt inspired to create books by women, and took odd writing jobs. Sometimes, I felt smothered by the trail. I couldn’t see my way out of it to the next place. There were traditional maps, but they weren’t working for me. I was in an endless loop. So, out of frustration, I started Thorncraft Publishing to publish my own novel, and then people joined me. I read Beverly Fisher’s novel, decided to publish another author, loved Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo’s work, jumped at the chance to publish her work too, and life kept going. The vistas open up sometimes, and allow more space. The trick is to keep going through the stumbles, brambles, heat, and more, until you reach new paths. Now, we’ve trained up for “ultras,” and in the running world this means 30+ miles per run. In our world of words, this means multiple books published every year, a literary magazine, a stage play, and more.

What’s happening now:
We have a new author at Thorncraft, Salty Teague. She and I wrote a book together earlier this year and launched it at Parnassus Books in Nashville. Seasons of Balance: On Creativity & Mindfulness is a self-help creativity journal, with poetry and stories thrown in the mix with affirmations and meditations. The book was chosen as a regional Wounded Warrior Project book, and Salty and I spent a beautiful afternoon at an event at The Yoga Mat that honored caregivers of Wounded Warriors.

The literary yoga journal, BreatheYourOMBalance Volume One will be finished later this year. Our open reading period was a success. Salty chose 28 contributors for the first volume of BreatheYourOMBalance: Writings about Yoga by Women (Forthcoming, Fall 2016). The contributors range from homeschooling moms to nurses, from yoga teachers to yoga beginners, from university professors to students. We are featuring the contributors on the Thorncraft website, so that you can read about them individually.

Salty and I continued working with everyone at The Yoga Mat by having writing workshops. Our next one will be Sunday, October 9. We are excited to partner with The Yoga Mat for Volume Two of BreatheYourOMBalance, which will focus on yoga and healing. Volume two will not be published until 2018.

Salty and I were promptly inspired to get going on a children’s book together. We’ve been planning it since last fall. You’re going to love the adventures of Luna the dog and Salty the raccoon. Forthcoming, 2017.

In 2015, Grace Among the Leavings by Beverly Fisher was adapted for the stage by Kari Catton and Dennis Darling, and performed at New Salem’s Theatre in the Park in Illinois. It was further adapted into a one act play by John McDonald, and performed in June 2016 at the Roxy Regional Theatre. We have more plans for “Grace” on stage in the future.

imageMelissa Corliss DeLorenzo is working on a new novel, but no word yet on what it’s about. She’s back on the blog, usually writing every week. She has several events this fall in Massachusetts, including the New Bedford Book Festival.

Check our Events page at thorncraftpublishing.com to stay up to date. The publishing website is updated weekly with the newest announcement and events.