For me, it all began in a little bookstore in Ventura, California. It was a friend’s birthday. Odd, but I can’t remember which friend! That’s an unusual thing because I rarely had more than one or maybe two. I suspect it was the pastor’s daughter, but I wouldn’t put a lot of money on that.
Mom and I went into a new little bookstore near Newberry’s and asked what the owner suggested for girls of my age. She gave us Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy by Jean Webster. After reading the back, I decided that they were perfect… and that I’d read them before the party.
I suppose now is when I should tell you that I also learned to wrap gifts properly that day. In the bookstore. By the owner herself.
Such a kind woman. I forgave her eventually—sometime after I’d saved enough to buy those books for myself.
I’d never read an epistolary novel before, but those opened a new world to me. There were the Screwtape Letters, of course, and a couple of years ago, a book written in 1888—Wired Love. That was a delightful book recommended by some of my readers. Epistolary by telegraph. Oh… and right now it’s free. No idea for how long. Since then Ella Minnow Pea has also been recommended, I think by the same person.
I’ll be reading it soon.
Then there was the ever-so-popular The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book that everyone had been raving about. I finally gave in and listened to it on audio. Twice. Okay, probably five times now. It’s a delightful book, and aside from a very few scattered words that I didn’t appreciate (but were never gratuitous), clean.
I couldn’t help but wonder why people find these books so intriguing. Is it our naturally curious natures? Maybe because we’re gossips at heart? Why are epistolary novels so riveting (when they are, anyway?)
I posit that they foster a unique connection.
You see, one of the arguments in favor of first-person writing is that you have a deeper emotional connection to the book and its primary character. I can see that… sometimes. It’s also one of the biggest drawbacks. First person POV also tends to lend itself to a lot of navel-gazing. Excellent authors can avoid these and other pitfalls, of course.
However, epistolary novels, which are written in first-person, of course, have a unique advantage. The character self-censors him or herself. Let’s face it. No matter how close we are with a friend or loved one, when we write to them, we don’t vomit every thought we’ve had on the page. That isn’t always true of first-person novels.
There’s something else, though. Epistolary novels also demonstrate another oft-ignored truth.
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If You Want to Make Genuine Connections, Use Words
And the written word holds power that we tend to forget, especially in this digital age. Once upon a time, if you wanted to thank someone, you took out a piece of paper, wrote a few carefully-chosen words, and mailed it. Now we zip a text or instant message with, “Thanks.”
In fact, thank you notes have become so rare that people sometimes receive a thank you note for a thank you note! No exaggeration.
To this end, fellow author (and my dear friend) Cathe Swanson started a ministry, Love Letters, designed to encourage people through the handwritten word! She advocates taking the time to write a short note, long letter, or something in between every week. Sign up HERE: to get her weekly emails of encouragement.
I don’t want to denigrate communication in any form. I get amazing emails every week from readers who are encouraged by my books or who want to encourage me when they know I’ve hard a hard week. That’s just such a beautiful and important thing. Still, when it comes down to it… you still need to do what the kindergarten teachers say. “Use your words.” (I cannot stand that phrase, by the way. Thought you should know.)
Someone asked recently why I don’t have any epistolary novels if I love them so much.
She didn’t believe me. I’m almost sure of it because her next question was, “So, what are they about?”
I’ll tell you what I told her. The Stamped with Love series is about a new Rockland matchmaking service that you’ll actually first read about in Random Acts of Shyness. The owner of Stamped with Love thinks that modern couples have gotten lazy in their “get to know you” period because of the “instant-ness” of our society. So, she has set up a service that matches people who get to know each other through letters only.
I first came up with Isaac and Dorcas’ story in With Love, Isaac and got right to work on it. I’m about 50% done. However, as I worked, a new idea came to me. And another. Suddenly, I had a trilogy. I will stop with three. Definitely. Without a doubt. I will.
So, Dear, Juan and P.S. Marry Me? were born. I am now officially revealing the covers (although the words on P. S. Marry Me? are actually not about the book at all)
And, of course, With Love, Isaac is actually book two, so I have to write a first… first.
Aren’t they pretty?
Oh, and one more thing about this series. For a long time, you will only be able to get them on my website! I’m even going to do a special price for those who buy the whole series upfront, and I’ll have a referral reward thing to help you earn the next exclusive-to-my-site series. FREE. I’m excited about this new project. I hope to have the first book available in 2023, but here’s the thing. I’m not releasing the first until I can be sure that I can release all of them no more than six weeks apart. Squeee!
However, all the talk about epistolary novels got me thinking. Why hadn’t I done it before? I mean, if it’s one of my favorite styles, why on earth didn’t I do it before now?
Then it hit me. I have. Sort of.
I have a few books that are partially epistolary. Past Forward is one. Kari’s journals are a huge part of that book, and they’ll be an even bigger one when I tell her story.
Webster’s Bakery has an epistolary nature to it. You just haven’t gotten to read that yet. Sorry! Soonish.
The Vintage Wren also has the blog posts every day. That also counts as “epistolary.”
There’s a little bit in Tarnished Silver (and a perfect Christmas read… just sayin’), and that’s when I remembered the most important one. Carol and the Belles! That book begins after two penpals write back and forth across the Atlantic for decades! The release bonus of that book even included some of their childhood letters! Not to mention, there’s a letter at the beginning of every chapter in Penelope’s Pursuit.
Look, if I haven’t convinced you on the importance of letter writing by now, I never will, but I’ll say it again.