If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our April author interviews: Perennial author Susan Wittig Albert--4/5, Sasscer Hill, horse racing insider--4/12, English historical, cozy author, TE Kinsey--4/19, Debut author, Susan Bickford--4/26.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in April: Heather Baker Weidner (4/1), Christina Hoag (4/8), Susan Boles (4/29). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 4/15--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 4/22--Kait Carson.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th. In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!

Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Epistolary Novels on my Bookshelf

Margaret S. Hamilton


I spent the month of January recovering from an illness, sitting in the winter sun reading tattered paperbacks from my all-time favorites shelf.


I first discovered epistolary novels—those written in the form of letters—when I read Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase. I was fascinated how Kaufman built her story about the adventures of a young and inexperienced teacher, Sylvia Barrett, at a New York City public high school, using classroom dialogue, student papers, memos in her faculty mailbox, and the contents of the classroom suggestion box to portray a chaotic high school environment. Sylvia’s letters to her college friend, Ellen, and to her faculty mentor, Bea Schachter, reveal her wry gallows humor. Sylvia ponders a tough decision--to continue teaching at Calvin Coolidge HS or accept a position at the posh Willowdale Academy, where every student has a desk, a textbook, and a desire to learn. Mimeographed memos in the sixties are now floods of e-mails, but school bureaucracy remains the same, or perhaps worse, with the implementation of a maze of rules, regulations, and standardized tests.



I paged through Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw, written in the form of letters from twelve-year old Leigh Botts to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw. Leigh replies to Mr. Henshaw’s questions, and with Henshaw’s encouragement, makes the transition to writing his own journal entries in the form of letters addressed to his mentor. Leigh takes Henshaw’s directive for characters to solve a problem or change in some way and applies it to himself and a problem he’s having at school--someone is stealing food from his lunchbox. With the help of a kindly clerk at the local hardware store, Leigh invents a lunchbox alarm. For years, as an elementary school “writing mom,” I used the writing prompts from Cleary’s book in my own lessons.


I wish I had read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower before my older kids started high school. It would have helped me appreciate the tumult of everyday life, both in the classroom and after school. Set in the early nineties, Charlie writes letters about his freshman year experiences to an unnamed friend. Charlie is traumatized when his childhood friend commits suicide. He is befriended by two older student-mentors, and finds himself in situations involving sex, drugs, and alcohol. At the end of the school year, Charlie is hospitalized for mental health treatment after he acknowledges his childhood sexual abuse by a relative. Charlie’s writing is extraordinary for a fourteen- year-old; the obstacles he tries to overcome ring true.


Before my last trip to London, I re-read Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road, a collection of letters Hanff wrote to Marks and Company, a London used book store, from 1949 to 1969, with replies from staff member Frank Doel. Hanff was a struggling New York City playwright and screenwriter with an eclectic taste in books, Doel a reserved book seller. Hanff became aware of stringent food rationing in England, and sent the shop staff food parcels, holiday greetings, and snapshots. Doel sent her beautifully bound books and made suggestions for future acquisitions. After twenty years of correspondence, Hanff learns that Frank Doel, her longtime correspondent and friend, has died. In subsequent books, she visits London and meet Frank’s family and the shop staff. When I visited London, I walked up Charing Cross Road from Trafalgar Square and found the approximate location of the bookshop, though it’s no longer there.

And finally, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Bernadette Fox’s story is told through the eyes of her fourteen-year-old daughter, Bee, supplemented by Bernadette’s e-mails to her virtual assistant in India, electronic missives from the PTA, e-mails between two women who are feuding with her, letters from her husband to a psychiatrist concerning her, and correspondence and a retrospective architectural journal article about Bernadette, a noted young architect and MacArthur Award winner.  Bernadette disappears, presumably overboard, from an Antarctica cruise ship. Bee and her father make the same trip, Bee convinced that her mother is still in Antarctica.

Bee is a good kid, bright, close to her mother and fiercely protective of her. The “normal” of Bee’s life includes invasive blackberry vines growing through the floorboards of her home. Her mother knows all the lyrics to the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, spends her days on her computer in the Airstream, “Petit Trianon,” in the backyard, and orders take-out food for dinner every night. Bernadette eventually confesses to Bee that she “never considered (herself) a great architect, (but) more of a creative problem solver with good taste and a soft spot for logistical nightmares,” which includes the current state of her life.

After a fifteen-year hiatus from architecture, Bernadette discovers an opportunity in Antarctica for a new project, designing and building a replacement South Pole station, with all construction materials flown in from the States. Because the South Pole is on a shifting ice sheet, Bernadette’s proposed building “would have to be a wind-powered crab-walking igloo.”

We know Bernadette will succeed, not only as an architect and construction manager, but as a mother and wife, in a new Seattle home free of wild blackberry vines.

I’m back at work at the kitchen table, having absorbed the magic of novels written as letters, wondering how I can carry the technique forward into my own writing. Letters and e-mails reveal much about a character, but also slow a narrative to a crawl.

Readers and writers, what is your favorite epistolary novel or short story?





Jim Jackson said...

I recall thoroughly enjoying The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. It's an epistolary novel consisting of increasingly concerned letters from Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood (a junior tempter) who is having a difficult time securing the damnation of "The Patient." I found it an interesting and novel way of dealing with the issues of temptation and Christian faith.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

My favorite one was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.They were an aunt and a niece. Unfortunately, the aunt died either before it came out or shortly after. It was a book pick for both of my book clubs and there wasn't one person in either book club who didn't love it. In fact, I think I'll go back to read it again.

My middle-grade book The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club, is mostly written with letters; letters from an elderly woman traveling about the country on the track of jewel robbers, and the letters my students wrote to her believing Alice VanBrocken was a real person because I sent the letters I wrote as hers to family and friends throughout the country and them came to my class stamped and unopened from these different places. I used those of six boys and six girls and changed their names slightly. In the last week of school, my sister - much younger than Alice VanBrocken, visited the classroom posed as her. My students were so excited and lined up for her autograph after she gave her little talk.

Also, my students always wrote to me in the notebooks I gave them to use as journals starting with, Dear Mrs. Alden, and wrote to the prompt or free writing about anything they wanted to write about every day, and every evening, I wrote back to them in the same way.

Warren Bull said...

I wrote a short story using only messages left on an answering machine.

Grace Topping said...

Interesting sounding books. I'm old enough to remember when the movie, "Up the Down Staircase" came out. I didn't realize that it was based on a book of fiction.

Margaret Turkevich said...

Jim, I haven't read The Screwtape Letters. Interesting!

Gloria, I love reading about your school projects. I read the Guernsey book when it came out. It's time for a re-read.

Warren, answering machine messages would probably be text messages or tweets, but it's a great concept.

Grace, enjoy the book. I remember the movie with Sandy Dennis.

KM Rockwood said...

I can think of lots worse ways to spend your time when you're under the weather!

I think it's time to revisit some of my old favorites.