So now I've blabbed about how the P.S.
book has brought contributors and their friends together (including my own reunions
). Now what do I have up my sleeve, you wonder? For my third blog post, I wanted to address a question people often ask me about the book: Why letters? Why are they unsent? Okay, that's two questions (hey, people are nosy, what can I say?).
Before I begin, might we pause for a moment of silence to commemorate the lost art of letter writing? I mean, think about it... what's the last letter you wrote? With texts and tweets and tootz (what, you don't know what a tootz is? Okay, I made that up), the craft of putting pen to paper is dying. And might I say, I'm ever-so-glad that I'm not a "digital native," because I actually remember passing notes and scribbling W/B/S (write back soon, don't you know) and cramming ten-page missives into sticker-filled envelopes. I'm also thankful that I've kept all these letters, which are currently sitting happily in a big garbage bag in my storage closet. Maybe I'll turn them into a "real letter" collection one of these days for a book, what do you think?
Last week, while visiting my dad in Chicago, he showed me a letter he'd recently unearthed from his grandpa. I too have saved letters from my grandpa, shown here, in which he tells me how to stay on that balance beam (his advice: glue). I mean, how cool is that, to have keepsakes from past generations? Remember this the next time you feel tempted to jot down a quick e-mail to your friends and family, and maybe pick up a pen instead. Okay, the lecture is over, now on to the burning questions of the day:
Q. Why letters?
The first time I was asked this question was a week ago exactly to the minute. I was in the green room (and yes, it's actually green — a nice minty color to be specific!) at WGN studios in Chicago, ready to go on TV to discuss P.S. The producer had just shot me some questions the host might ask, and the first one was, "Why letters?" As soon as he left me alone, I started pacing and trying to think of a decent answer. The thing is, I simply thought it would be juicier if they were in a letter format but I didn't really know how to articulate why. And then it came to me: When you're reading an essay, you the reader are the one being addressed, but when you're reading a letter, it's like you're eavesdropping on someone. And who doesn't like a good eavesdrop now and again?
When asking writers to contribute to the collection, I found that most of us have some kind of letter already formulated in our heads that we're dying to press "send" on. Sound like you? If so, you can actually write your own letter on our book website, don't be shy now!
Q. What's up with the "unsent" letter aspect?
This question was a surprise to me. It seems that some people literally think that I happened upon these letters while walking down the street or something, or that I asked writers to send in actual letters they'd written and then creased and put into their desk drawer never to see the light of day. But I can see how it can be confusing, given the book's title, so let me clear 'er up. All 36 of the letters were written for the purpose of the book. That is to say, whether I found a contributor through word of mouth and assigned her a particular letter topic after talking to her, or whether she found me through my spreading the word about the project and sent in a full letter for me to consider (and from about 200 submissions, I chose 10 this way), these were all letters crafted for the book.
It's been super-cool to hear about contributors who have actually gone on to send their letters. Now, sometimes this just isn't possible, because the friend has died, or is estranged, or in one case is imaginary, and well, in another case, is Sarah Palin! (And, on the other hand, there are those who have been hoping their friend did not see the letter because there are some not-so-nice missives in there as well!) But from Jill to Tracy to Alice to even myself — I wrote to my childhood pal Diane, whom I literally met on the kindergarten bus — it's been a bonding adventure for those who stuck to the sweet "tribute to my friend" side of the fence.
Q. Who are you and what are you doing here?
Okay, so I just threw that one in there, because it's one that people don't necessarily ask in such a way, but may be secretly wondering. In fact, I don't even know whether some of my own friends get what my role is in this whole anthology madness. The best way I can explain my role is to compare it to being a producer/director. I'm behind the scenes, asking contributors to write, working with them on their letter theme, going back and forth with them through the editing process, coming up with letter titles, getting them paid, being their advocate against overzealous copy editors, and figuring out the order for the letters (which is great fun, kinda like making a mix tape back in the day when I used to do such things... let's see, "Wanna Be Startin' Something" goes first... ). I also wrote the introduction to tie everything together, and I served as a contributor too. My name is on the cover, yes, so in effect it's "my" anthology, but just like the director of a movie, my anthology would be nothing without all 36 contributors. A mhwa to all of them for a marvelous job!
Please let me know if you have any more burning questions and I'll be happy to answer!