September Spotlight: Letters in the Mail

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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.

How we already looking ahead to apples and crisp leaves and back-to-school? Next month, subscribers will be receiving letters from Kate Beaton and Kathleen Rooney, and Nick Courage and Michelle Mohrweis, respectively.

 

Letters in the Mail

Kate Beaton was born and raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. After graduating from Mount Allison University with a double degree in History and Anthropology, she moved to Alberta in search of work that would allow her to pay down her student loans. During the years she spent out West, Beaton began creating webcomics under the name Hark! A Vagrant, quickly drawing a substantial following around the world.

The collections of her landmark strip Hark! A Vagrant and Step Aside, Pops each spent several months on the New York Times graphic novel bestseller list, as well as appearing on best of the year lists from Time, The Washington Post, Vulture, NPR Books, and winning the Eisner, Ignatz, Harvey, and Doug Wright Awards. She has also published the picture books King Baby and The Princess and the Pony. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands is her first full length graphic narrative. Beaton lives in Cape Breton with her family.

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

Kate Beaton: The first book I remember reading where I knew I was “a reader” as in, I knew I read more or more specifically than other kids – because every kid likes to read up to a certain point right – was a book I found as a kid called Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld. It was published in 1956 and that was definitely the copy I had, I remember the cover and illustrations perfectly, it was about these boy detectives in Ancient Rome. I thought it was thrilling but I couldn’t get any of my friends to look at it, so that was like hmmm. Maybe I have particular tastes. I just read The Unquiet Bones by Mel Starr which is about . . . a medieval doctor detective, which shows my particular tastes have not changed like at all, haha!

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

Beaton: I don’t know about writer specifically but I always knew I wanted to be doing something creative in a storytelling way. I was always making things that way, it seems like something built in. I feel like it must be that way for almost anyone who does this.

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

Beaton: People were really kind when I started making comics. I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t know anything about comics at all. A friend told me – you need to make gutters between your panels! I was like “what are gutters??” Gutters are the spaces between comic panels, and here I was just drawing a single line to separate my panels without any spaces. Making gutters is good advice. I was green as grass. 

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

Beaton: Well my name is Katie Beaton, and my husband is Morgan Murray. And we live in a small village where there are a lot of similar names—lots of Beatons. Morgan is not so much a usual name though, I have to say. So sometimes I do get packages for other Katie Beatons, that is not unusual. But one day, we get a package marked for Morgan Beaton, and the civic address is almost our house, but not quite, just down the road, but we don’t know anyone named Morgan Beaton. So we don’t know what to make of this. Is it for us? Should we open it? Even more alarming, there is definitely something alive in this box. Morgan and I are looking at each other in a little alarm – there are no holes in the box either for air? What is this Morgan Beaton up to if they are a real person! We decide to drive to the address on the box to find out. All of a sudden the doorbell rings and it is a Canada Post delivery person sweating heavily who says “we made a mistake.” Morgan Beaton really is a neighbour who just moved down the road, and the box was full of day old chicks, which you can get delivered alive through the mail.

Sign up today to receive her letter next month. 

 

Letters in the Mail

Kathleen Rooney is the author, most recently, of the novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (Penguin 2020). Her poetry collection Where Are the Snows, selected by Kazim Ali as the winner of the X.J. Kennedy Prize, is forthcoming from Texas Review Press in September 2022, and her novel From Dust to Stardust will be published by Lake Union next year. She lives in Chicago, with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay, and teaches at DePaul.

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

 Kathleen Rooney: When I was really young, my parents got me a book called I Wish I Had a Computer That Made Waffles whose subtitle was “Teaching Your Child with Modern Nursery Rhymes” and it was formative. It taught me very early on that poetry was everywhere and could be about anything—funny or sad, whimsical or serious—and made me a lifelong reader of poetry.

As for a recent poetry book, I highly recommend Ada Limon’s The Hurting Kind.  

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

Rooney: My poetry collection Where Are the Snows was selected by Kazim Ali as the winner of the X.J. Kennedy Prize from Texas Review Press and he writes that itis somehow desperately tender and wickedly incisive at the same time,” and that it’s a “smart, fierce, and intelligent take on contemporary life that everyone should read. It is a generous book that invites a reader in, and generative in the way that good poetry always is. Read a couple of pages of this book and you need to put it down and go make something, whether a poem or a sculpture or a major life decision, as you prefer. Any of the three would be in the spirit of this wild and wonderful work.”

I love that so much because that’s exactly what I hope it will do for readers. Inspire them in the sense that if they read it, they also want to make something. I appreciate getting that feeling—like an invitation!—from books myself that I’d be honored if my book can do that for somebody else.

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

Rooney: It’s never happened, so it’s not really a story, but I have an abiding fear that I’ll accidentally put a library book in the mailbox (as if to “return” it) and/or accidentally try to mail a letter in a library return dropbox. Does this phobia plague anybody else? I wonder!

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

Rooney: Yes! Anything image-and-text by Kelcey Parker Ervick, but especially “The Habit of Art: A Year of Daily Painting.” Kelcey is a Rose Metal Press author. My co-editor Abby Beckel and I have published her novel-in-flash Liliane’s Balcony, as well as The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová, a biographical collage of found texts, footnotes, fragments, and images by and about the Czech fairy tale writer, whom Milan Kundera calls the “Mother of Czech Prose.” Next year, we’ll be publishing The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Graphic Literature: Artists and Writers on Creating Graphic Narratives, Poetry Comics, and Literary Collage which she’s co-editing with Tom Hart.

I love how in “The Habit of Art” she asks and answers the question of “What happens when you commit to painting—or to any form of creating—every day for a year?” and explains how it causes a person to exist differently. 

Sign up today to receive her letter next month. 

 

Letters for Kids

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

Michelle Mohrweis: There’s so many books that hooked me as a kid. To be honest, I think storytelling always has had its claws in me. I used to go to the library and bring home STACKS of books. I’d read at dinner, under the covers at night, and when walking home. When I was a teen, I rebelled not by going to wild parties, but by sneaking away to the local bookstore instead! I once even had a teacher get mad because I’d read instead paying attention to math!

Whether books, comics, video games, or tv, I can’t get enough of a good story. Growing up, I spent a lot of time reading series like The Boxcar Children and the Wayside School books. Later I fell head over heads in love with fantasy. The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce and the Farsala Trilogy by Hilari Bell are still some of my favorite series! I reread them whenever I want something familiar and comforting.

Rumpus: What excites you most about writing books for kids?

Mohrweis: I love all the possibilities! Whether in real life settings or fantasy, kids do some amazing things! I love writing books that capture all the moments of childhood: The fun, the silly, the awkward, the uncomfortable. As a kid, reading about characters going through the same things as me really helped me figure out my own life, and I hope my writing can do that for kids now.

Rumpus: How did you fall in love with writing?

Mohrweis: Good question! I honestly don’t know. I remember writing stories alongside my brother in elementary school… and then arguing about whose story was better! I remember telling my 4th grade teacher I’d be an author one day. She later helped me cement that goal by telling me about a young writers contest that I entered and won. I remember being on the stage crew for my high school drama club and working on stories while backstage waiting for the scene changes to happen during our plays. In college I would write stories in the margins of my notes. Writing is in my blood. It’s a part of my life and who I am, and as far as I can remember, I’ve always been in love with it.

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

Mohrweis: Keep going, whatever your process! Also, it’s okay if your writing/creating process doesn’t look like how other people do things.

I mentioned in my letter than I’m autistic. I’m also ADHD, and I don’t write like most people. I can’t sit down and write. Instead, I pace around and use dictation software, software that lets me literally say what I want and the computer types it for me! Or I’ll take a bike ride to brainstorm ideas, then do quick 5-minute bursts of writing when stopped at the benches along the way. I just can’t sit still and write! My brain doesn’t work that way! So instead, I include movement into my writing.

So find what works for you. Maybe that is sitting down and writing. Maybe it’s writing while walking, or doing handstands, or talking to your computer. But whatever works for you, it’s valid and awesome!

Also don’t be afraid to stop dreaming. The best stories come from our imaginations, and the more you embrace your creativity, the more fun your stories will be!

Rumpus: Your letter is all about birds. What’s your favorite bird fun-fact?

Mohrweis: Did you know that parrots can live for a long time? I mean a looooooooong time. Winnie, my African Grey parrot, is 21 years old. He’ll probably live to be around 50. Meanwhile Cockatoos can live for over 60 years. Some parrots live even longer. Have you ever seen a Macaw (the really colorful ones)? There’s a Macaw that lived to be over 100 years old!!!

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

Mohrweis: I don’t know if this counts as interesting, but I can’t tell you the number of times I get lost on the way to my local post office. If it weren’t for gps navigation in cars, I might never be able to send a package or letter again! Instead, I’d be wandering around my city, holding my letters and looking hopelessly lost for all eternity.

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

Mohrweis: Unlike my letter, The Trouble With Robots isn’t about birds. In fact, I don’t think there’s any birds in my story at all, though I should totally write a story one day with a bird as a pet. Birds are so much fun, and I can just imagine a story where a character has to watch over a super loud parrot. But anyways, no birds in this story.

Instead, the story is about two girls who are 100% opposites and HATE each other. But when they get thrown together on the same robotics team, they must learn to work together or risk their team getting cancelled. It’s full of robotics silliness and fun, but also deals with some heavy topics like grief and missing friends who moved away.

I really hope that my readers will have fun with it, whether they do robotics or not. I also hope that readers will see themselves in the story. Evelyn, one of the main characters, is autistic and bi like myself. Allie, the other main character, is ace. I never saw books with autistic characters or with LGBTQ+ characters when growing up, so I’m really excited I get to help change that for readers now. 

Sign up today to receive their letter next month.