Twice a month, The Rumpus brings your favorite writers directly to your IRL mailbox via our Letters in the Mail programs.
We’ve got one program for adults and another for kids ages 6-12. Next month, subscribers will be receiving letters from Adrienne Celt and James Greer, and Elisa A. Bonnin and JC Peterson, respectively.
Curious about our authors? We spent some time asking about their favorite books. Take a peek!
Adrienne Celt is the author of three novels, including End of the World House, Invitation to a Bonfire, and The Daughters. Her work has been recognized by the 2015 PEN Southwest Book Award, a 2016 O. Henry Prize, the Glenna Luschei Award, and residencies at The Lighthouse Works, Jentel, the Willapa Bay AiR, and Ragdale. Her writing and cartoons have been published (or are forthcoming) in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, TriQuarterly, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Zyzzyva, Strange Horizons, The Paris Review Daily, HAD, and many other places. She lives in Tucson, AZ.
The Rumpus: What book(s) made you a reader? Do you have any recent favorites you’d like to share?
Adrienne Celt: I read voraciously as a kid, and we spent a lot of time at the library, so I could choose a lot of different titles. But the first book I remember giving me a little thrill of, “I didn’t know you could do that” was Edward Eager’s Half Magic. It was such an absurd concept—you have to wish twice for everything, or it only comes half true!—that it felt more plausible and more brilliant to me.
In terms of recent favorites, this could not be more opposite from Half Magic, but I can’t get Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. Sarah Moses) out of my head. In the world of the novel, all animal meat has become inedible due to contamination, so cannibalism—of a factory-farming variety—has become legal. Obviously it’s an incredibly disturbing book, but it’s written with a cool confidence and very clever structure, so it ends up feeling human, awful, and suspenseful all at the same time. Is it “enjoyable?” Hard to say. But I really admire it.
Rumpus: How did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Celt: I more or less always knew this! I was a precocious reader, and was in love with art and storytelling from a very young age. I did briefly consider going to graduate school for either philosophy or Russian Studies (my two majors) when I was in college, but when it came time to apply to grad school (which was several years after college, for me; I needed a break), I knew that I wouldn’t be happy devoting myself to anything but fiction. Which was a nice way to approach it, because then, going back to school was a gift.
Rumpus: What’s a piece of good advice or insight you received in a letter or note?
Celt: A friend of mine in college once told me, in response to a letter I had sent him, “Adrienne, you’re a true correspondent!” That’s not advice, exactly, but it made me feel that writing letters, which was something I already enjoyed, had true value for the people that received them, which was a lovely thing to hear.
Rumpus: Tell us about your most recent book? How do you hope it resonates with readers?
Celt: My new novel End of the World House came out earlier this year, from Simon & Schuster. It follows two adult best friends, Bertie and Kate, as they navigate a kind of “slow apocalypse” (i.e. our world, but a little bit worse) and their own upcoming separation…and then they get caught in a time loop at the Louvre. The time loop, to me, was a way of examining how many elements of our lives we can get stuck in (work, ambition, friendship, love, art, etc), while also giving me an opportunity to focus in very keenly on place. Noticing where the characters were in the moment, what they were doing, seeing, touching, tasting. And it was an interesting structural challenge too—how do you communicate what is happening to the reader without getting repetitive? What little signposts will help them see when a new loop begins, if the characters aren’t aware of it? When do you need to shake things up?—which made the writing process kind of like a game. Though it also made the revision process a real bear.
I hope it resonates with readers who feel, as I often do, simultaneously bogged down and scared of change, and also with anyone who’s ever questioned the way that narratives about tech and art get written into the public consciousness and become oddly indelible (which is to say: why do certain people get famous? Why do certain people build power?). And a lot of people have told me it’s funny, which I appreciate.
Elisa A. Bonnin was born and raised in the Philippines, after which she moved to the United States to study chemistry and later oceanography. After completing her doctorate, she moved to Germany to work as a postdoctoral scientist. A lifelong learner, Elisa is always convinced that she should “maybe take a class in something” and as a result, has amassed an eclectic collection of hobbies. But writing will always be her true love. Publishing a book has been her dream since she was eight years old, and she is thrilled to finally be able to share her stories. Dauntless is her first novel.
The Rumpus: What book(s) made you a reader? Do you have a childhood favorite you still like to return to?
Elisa A. Bonnin: I started reading really young, and at that age, I would read just about anything. Most of the books I read were older books that my mother had in the house, like the Anne of Green Gables series, but once I became able to pick my own books, I started reaching for fantasy. Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series was one of the first series that I picked out myself, and I reread them several times as a kid. I still have the books with me now, although I haven’t read them since high school and they’re incredibly dog-eared from being carried around in my schoolbag all day!
Rumpus: What excites you most about writing books for kids?
Bonnin: Reading was a huge part of my life as a kid, and I loved reading fantasy books in particular. I loved being transported to other worlds, and the sense of wonder I got from seeing people my age do cool and heroic things in far-off places. I enjoy writing books for kids and teens because I get to give other young readers that same sense of wonder. I write the books I would have loved to read at that age, and it’s exciting imagining how my readers will react to the characters and world that I build.
Rumpus: How did you fall in love with writing?
Bonnin: I started writing when I was a kid, at eight years old. My first story ever was written on notebook paper, and was about a fairy princess who gets trapped in the human world and has to find her way home. I loved writing it so much that I wrote several more all about her adventures, and all throughout elementary school. I decided then that I wanted to be a writer, and basically looked for any opportunity to write.
Rumpus: What’s your best advice for creative kids?
Bonnin: Write what you enjoy!
When I was a kid, dreaming about being a published author, I thought that I needed to be coming up with my own original stories, that that was the only way I could ever get better. But in high school, I started writing fanfiction. I had so much fun. I was having so much fun that I wrote every day, and I would dream about getting home from school to write. I’d write thousands of words and post them online. By the time I finally got published for my original fiction, I’d written more than a million words of fanfiction, and all of that writing helped me become a better writer.
I truly believe that if you write what makes you happy, if you have fun while writing, that enjoyment will show in your work. And you will improve, because any amount of writing will make you a better writer.
Now, I’m talking about writing because I am a writer, but I think this applies to any creative outlet too. Do what you enjoy, because what you enjoy is worthwhile. If you enjoyed creating something, even if it’s something you can’t sell, even if it’s something that isn’t perfect, the act of creating it is never a waste of time.
Rumpus: Tell us about your most recent book. How do you hope it resonates with your readers?
Bonnin: I actually have two books coming out this year! Both of them are YA fantasy books. One of them, which came out on August 2, is called Dauntless. It’s set in a Filipino-inspired world, and it’s about two girls who fall in love but who have to stop their peoples from going to war with each other so that they can be together. My second book, Stolen City, comes out on September 20. It’s a heist novel, about twin thieves that steal magical artifacts back from their city’s colonizers, and maybe end up stealing the whole city back in the process.
What I love about writing fantasy is that I get to write fun stories that transport readers to fantastical worlds. I love writing about magic, adventure, epic action scenes, and all of the things that made me love fantasy books as a young reader. So at the end of the day, I hope that readers enjoy my stories, find themselves transported to alternate worlds, and maybe get inspired. If my readers enjoy my work, I’ve done my job as a fantasy writer.
But I’m also hoping that readers who don’t often get to see themselves represented in fantasy can find themselves in my books, placed in heroic roles. In Dauntless especially, I really hope that young Filipino readers and/or young queer readers will be able to find themselves in Seri, Tsana, Eshai, and all the characters that surround them.