November 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. Next month, subscribers will be receiving letters from Rita Zoey Chin and Eloisa Amezcua, and Maggie Horne and Esme Symes-Smith, respectively. Read on to hear a bit more about how these writers got started.

 

Letters in the Mail

Rita Zoey Chin is the author of the widely praised memoir, Let the Tornado Come. She holds an MFA from the University of Maryland and teaches at Grub Street in Boston. Some of her other writing can be found in Guernica, Tin House, Marie Claire, and Flash Fiction America (W.W. Norton, 2023). Her first novel, The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern,  is forthcoming from Melville House on October 4, 2022

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

Rita Zoey Chin: Is it cheating to say that every book I’ve ever loved has made me a reader? When I was very young, two of my favorite books were Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and The Little House—they both taught me how deeply I could care about characters. Then it was Judy Blume, V.C. Andrews, and Stephen King who kept me up many nights when I should have been sleeping.

 Recent favorites are Julia Armfield’s Our Wives Under the Sea and Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here. Both of these novels explore love in wholly original and unforgettable ways.

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

Chin: As far back as I can remember, I was writing stories and poems, so I suppose I was a writer before I ever thought about being a writer. My natural way of approaching and interrogating what it means to live in the world, and within myself, has always been through writing, which for me is, in part, an act of quieting so that the truest essence of a thing can rise.  

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

 Chin: My novel, The Strange Inheritance of Leah Fern, is about an empath who begins her life as a carnival star but then is abandoned inexplicably by her mother at the age of six. Leah grows up an outcast in a small town, and by her twenty-first birthday, the gentle man who raised her has died and she’s completely alone—or so she thinks. When she receives the ashes of a dead woman she barely knew but who claims to have known her mother, she is launched onto a journey that, piece by piece, will solve the mystery surrounding her mother’s disappearance and that will teach her unexpected lessons about what it means to love.

 I hope that readers—particularly those who feel like misfits or who have been abandoned or lost, those who deeply feel the states of others, those who turn toward wonder—will find hope, magic, and love in this book. 

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

 Chin: My most interesting story involving the post office is actually not mine but Leah’s, because the unknown story of her mother—which is the mystery that haunts her own story—is told in letters sent to post offices across the U.S. and Canada via general delivery. Like a treasure hunt, each letter reveals the post office location of the next letter, and each letter unwinds a little more of the story. 

Turning to my own story, I was a runaway for many years of my childhood, and because of this, I was regularly institutionalized. I’m not exaggerating when I say that receiving a letter in the mail when you’re a teenager in lockup feels like a small miracle, every single time—not only that someone took the time to pen words to you, made the effort to write your name and temporary address on an envelope, spent the money on a stamp, but that the letter traveled the circuitous route to where you sit behind a pane of glass with bars on it—that it found you.

Sign up today to receive her letter next month. 

 

Letters for Kids

After cutting their teeth on a steady diet of fan fiction in the Southwest of England, Esme Symes-Smith wandered north to Wales for their degree in literature and creative writing, then promptly migrated to Missouri after meeting their wife on Tumblr. Esme has been a ghostwriter, an editor, a frozen-yogurt seller, and a caffeine purveyor. They now wrangle preschoolers for a living and have a severe tea problem.

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

Esme Symes-Smith: When I moved to America from the UK, there was only book I brought with me (transplanting your whole life in a couple of suitcases means space is precious) was LADY KNIGHT by Tamora Pierce, the last book in my favourite series. I picked up the second book first (yeah yeah…) when I was ten years old and I fell headfirst in love with the scrappy protagonist determined to prove themselves in a world made for men. LADY KNIGHT was the first book I ever preordered, and I bothered my local bookseller ruthlessly until it was in my hands. I still read it and I still love it, with my kid’s signature scribbled on the title page, now joined with the author’s autograph fifteen years later, and well-worn pages. These books have always been a piece of me. 

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

Symes-Smith: The readers. Kids are the most passionate, most loving readers and it is an absolute privilege to write for the new generation of book-worms. I hope my stories will feed hungry imaginations, and maybe even inspire new stories. 

Rumpus: How did you fall in love with writing? 

Symes-Smith: Fanfiction. Writing for people excited for my words, whether they were friends crowded around a library table as they passed my printed stories between them or strangers on the internet subscribing to my fic. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand grammar and I existed in cliches, they were eager to read and I loved being read.

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

Symes-Smith: Do it because you love it. Finish the thing. Be proud of yourself, always.

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

Symes-Smith: My grandparents used to take me on a summer vacation for two weeks every year, and I would always write postcards to the rest of my family and friends. One year I was sad because my postcard didn’t reach its recipient—my other grandparents, but ten years later it finally arrived in the letter box! Better late than never!

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

Symes-Smith: SIR CALLIE AND THE CHAMPIONS OF HELSTON is the first in my middle-grade fantasy series about a nonbinary kid who is determined to earn their place as a knight in a strictly gendered world. I can’t wait for you to meet Callie—a true ‘ask forgiveness not permission’ protagonist—as they fight for justice for their friends, making mistakes and doing what is right no matter the consequence. But I really hope that readers come away with an understanding that courage comes in many shape and sizes. Callie isn’t the only brave character, in their brash, loud way. Prince Willow is brave as he shows kindness and compassion in the face of cruelty; Elowen is brave by nurturing her power quietly, knowing herself even as she wears the façade of a dutiful daughter, and her brother—Edwyn—is brave by protecting her even when it puts himself in danger. 

Courage is as vast in range as people are. I hope you find a character whose courage is like your own.  

Sign up today to receive their letter next month.