Letters in the Mail: July Spotlight

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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. This month, subscribers receive letters from Natalka Burian, and Keely Parrack and Kaitlyn Wells, respectively.

 

 Letters in the Mail

The Rumpus: What book(s) made you a reader? Do you have any recent favorites you’d like to share?

Natalka Burian: There are so many first love books still on my shelves but the one that I found most electric in those early days was E.L Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I loved the grand schemes and endless possibilities that the Kincaid kids wandered into. It was definitely the first book that made me fall in love with New York. Recently, I can’t stop talking about Chantal V. Johnson’s Post-Traumatic and Ly Tran’s House of Sticks. I’m also Mieko Kawakami’s #1 fan; she could write her name on the back of a napkin and I would wait in line to read it.

Rumpus: How did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

Burian: I was plagued with self-doubt and didn’t really write fiction until I was in my 30s. I studied literature in college and in grad school and writing anything of my own felt presumptuous and ill-advised. It was only when I was a sleep-deprived new mother that my guard came down enough to experiment with writing fiction.

 Rumpus: What’s a piece of good advice or insight you received in a letter or note?

Burian: I’ve received many cards and letters over the years with lots of good (but often generic) advice during major life events like birthdays, holidays, and graduations. But the truly best note I ever got was from a beloved friend many, many years ago emphatically urging me to listen to Tidal, the new Fiona Apple album. I wish I had kept that note, but it was the purest and most beautiful endorsement I’ve ever read.

 Rumpus: Tell us about your most recent book? How do you hope it resonates with readers?

Burian: My new book, The Night Shift, is all time-bending magical realism, two of my very favorite things. It follows Jean, a young bartender in early 2000s NYC, who discovers secret passages in the backrooms of bars, restaurants, and theaters all over the city. It’s really a love letter to New York and found family, and I hope readers will feel that love. 

Rumpus: What is your best/worst/most interesting story that involves the mail/post office/mailbox?  

Burian: When I was a kid our mailbox was nearly a mile away down our very long driveway (I grew up on a farm.) When my brother and I went to get the mail it was a major activity. In the summer especially, that mailbox was our only link to the outside world. The feeling of adventure and excitement on a summer afternoon, kicking up dust and sweating through my t-shirt, hoping for a note or a postcard from my godmother or grandparents, is unforgettable.

Rumpus: Is there a favorite Rumpus piece you’d like to recommend? 

Burian: In the spirit of The Night Shift, I have to recommend Monica Prince’s poignant and practical “Cure for Last Night’s Leftovers.”

 

 

Letters for Kids

The Rumpus: What book(s) made you a reader? Do you have a childhood favorite you still like to return to?

Keely Parrack: When I was really young I remember loving I Am a Bunny by Richard Scarry; there was something about that sweet bunny running abut having adventures and sheltering beneath the red mushroom that appealed to me. We lived in a small town but went on long walks in the woods every weekend, and there’s something about being out there in nature that I loved. Well, still do!

One of my absolute favorite picture books, that I still have with me today, is That Other Tiger by Miroslav Zahradka, it’s set in the countryside of India, and is about a tiger that doesn’t have stripes like the other tigers, and gets bullied and beaten up and flees, and is very sad until a group of children befriend it and take it to the zoo where it becomes the zoo keeper and everyone loves it. The emotional heart of the story touched me, the way the tiger was so scared and sad until the children overcame their fear and helped it, and the illustrations are gloriously vibrant!

Going to the library was the best thing ever and I remember becoming obsessed with this twin series, I can’t even remember the titles or the name of the author but there were about 30 books and each one featured twins who lived in different parts of the world, I loved finding out about other cultures and places.

And I also still have my favorite poetry collection, Hist Whist—which is all sorts of scary or atmospheric poems, from Queen Nefertiti to The Mewlips. I didn’t realize at the time they were mostly “adult” authors writing poems for adults, but I loved the language and the creepiness they evoked, and that was also my first introduction to Shakespeare and Tolkien! As I got older I loved Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, The Children of Greene Knowe series by L.M. Boston, and The Wolves of Whilloughby Case, by Joan Aiken. 

Which all makes sense for me writing nature based picture books and young adult thrillers, which tend to also be set in nature!

I have always loved to read, it’s like breathing to me. You can never have too many books or too big a TO BE READ pile!

Rumpus: How did you fall in love with writing? 

Parrack: I think because I was always reading, writing, especially writing poetry, didn’t seem that different. The first poem I remember writing for school was about a mouse. I think it was loosely based on Hickory Dickory Dock—except my mouse got stuck and didn’t run down and had to be rescued. I was six. So I always was drawing and writing poems and stories on scraps of paper. 

At school it was harder, as I am not great at spelling or grammar and was also, according to my report cards, a bit of a day dreamer, which can get in the way! As I got older I was known for writing “interesting” short stories, fantasy, ghosts stories and science fiction. I think this was because I’d consumed so many books, and the more books you read the better writer you are, as you have more ideas, not only of what can be in a story, but how to put a story together. I honestly can’t imagine not writing, even if I never had another book published I would still be writing away. 

When I first moved to America, I wrote journals full of poetry, on the culture differences, and how different the landscape and animals were. I think it was my way of staying sane. And all of this fed into me starting to write books for children!

Rumpus: What’s your best advice for creative kids?

Parrack: Don’t worry about your spelling and grammar, just get your ideas out, write from your heart. Figure out if this is what you want to say and how you want to say it. It might take a few tries and a few fresh starts. Then after you’ve got what you want to say down and it feels right to you, go back and check the spellings and grammar. That’s the polish you give it so other people can understand what you want to say.

Also try and try and try again, the first attempts are just you waking your brain up! And most importantly have fun! 

Rumpus: What is your best/worst/most interesting story that involves the mail/post office/mailbox? 

Parrack: When I had my baby, we lived in a condo, so the mail would arrive and be put in these boxes and you had to go and walk to them to get your mail. When my son started learning to walk, I would take him to the mail box everyday, and on the way we would walk past trees, and rocks, and notice all the birds and insects and lizards sunbathing, and all the sounds around us, like the breeze in the trees, and the crunch of leaves.. We’d even walk up this big hill that overlooked the freeway to watch al the cars crawl by. It was our grand daily adventure, and took a long time as little legs get tired easily. 

And this daily walk to get mail became my first published story “Leaf Song,” where my son, Luka, and I walk through an autumn day, throw leaves into the air, and linger to smell the wood smoke, and be happy knowing we’d get to go on the same walk together the next day. So in a way those walks to the mail box with my little toddler son, became the start of my writing career!

Rumpus: Tell us about your most recent book? How do you hope it resonates with your readers?

Parrack: I have a YA novel coming out Sept 6, Don’t Let in the Cold, a fun fast paced thriller set in Tahoe during a blizzard, which I hope teens will love! And another nature based picture book coming soon. It’s still a secret, so all I can say is I love it to pieces and it’s going to be beautiful! I promise to tell you more as soon as I can!!