Friday, October 28, 2011

Never Put A Date On YOur Dreams

Never Put A Date On your Dreams

“With competition growing exponentially, authors are told to be aware of and not be hesitant to adopt or use new and different components of style.” Advice given but not easily taken.  By no means do I go on record opposed to technical advances. I simply  mourn the disappearing art of Letter Writing, especially in literature.
Epistolary writing is fiction told through the medium of letters, but I like to think of letters as voices, their stories told in beautiful prose. If you have ever researched collections of old letters and viewed their graceful, rhythmic lines, you understand what I mean. Past generations knew how to “turn a phrase”.
A glorious history of letters exists in literature. The genre became popular in the 18th century, but gradually became subject to ridicule and fell out of favor. It revived in the nineteenth century. Consider Frankenstein and Dracula were written in epistolary style! Along came Alexander Graham Bell and in 1875   letters were once again put in shadow by the invention of the telephone.
Not totally put on the shelf however, letters as a literary form made notable appearances in contemporary novels. Some of them even included diary entries, newspaper clippings, book excerpts and the like. Stephen king’s Carrie used epistolary structure and Ronald Munson used epistolary style in Fan Mail. Others followed suit; a favorite of mine was Barbara Hambly’s Homeland.

Cell phones, BlackBerrries, iPhones, etc. arrived in our 21st century, entering  the fast communication scene with Texting as  a popular mode  of communication. It is doubtful I will personally use texting, but the characters that people my stories, perhaps will. Letter writing was partly the inspiration for my first novel, Four Summers Waiting, Five Star, 2006 (now available on Kindle). The discovery of authentic family letters and diaries of my children’s ancestors helped me to create the setting and social milieu for that Civil War story. I used some of the actual diary excerpts and letters in dialogic epistolary style (giving the letters of the characters) throughout the book. A line from a letter, contained  in Four Summers Waiting written by  Civil War surgeon, Henry Simms to his beloved Maria, is an example:

Washington City is a frightening place to be as the month of May approaches. It should be filled with birdsong and blossoms and I long to be showing you the cherry trees in bloom . . .
I hope and dream that things will some day come full circle for I remain an old fashioned devotee of letter writing. I’m sure you can tell by now that I live up to my by-line,

                           Never Put a date on your dreams.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Mary,

I enjoyed your blog. You've discussed a very important topic.
People e-mail and text these days and few write letters. It's a lost art. I think historical novels benefit from use of presenting through letter writing. The 18th century novel was an experimental form and very exciting. Richardson's CLARISSA for example uses letter writing effectively to create character. Stephen King broke through with CARRIE which is a very creative novel and uses letter writing, as you noted.
Diary and journal writing in novels is also very effective.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

I hope there are others who think the art of letter writing is important and will not remain a lost art. Thanks for commenting.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Receiving a handwritten card or letter from a friend is still one of the most delightful events, and also one of the rarest. I have realized recently that I treat emailing with some friends as letter writing--delaying answering, taking time to compose, including interesting comments on life here. But for the most part I too miss letter writing and am one of the guilty ones.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Mary: I so agree. I treasure the few letters I still get, but alas, I'm guilty of no longer writing letters. I do most everythikng with emails. It's just way easier--sad but true. I sometimes wonder what historical novelists will use (or biographers for that matter) because to them, letters are invaluable for learning about some 18th or 19th century historical character. What will they to research, try to retrieve old emails?