Book Fests Encourage Storytelling

I am so grateful that people still read real books and participate in book festivals in their communities. I recently participated in my first book festivals as a new author– one in Mankato, MN, the other in St. Paul. MN. There is a vibrant and collegial writing community in this state and wonderful support of writers by the public.

At the Mankato sale, I was fortunate to share a table with author Rob Jung, and to be next to another seasoned writer, Eleanor Jane. Both were extremely generous in the sage advice they offered me as a new author. In between customer visits, I enjoyed learning about their experiences with writing and selling books.   

It was a real treat talking with the folks roaming the aisles looking for that special book they could read themselves or give to a loved one. I would often begin these interactions by asking the simple question, “Do you write letters?” Many answered by saying that they “used to,” but not anymore.” Some scoffed, insisting that “no one writes letters anymore.” A look of sadness would typically follow. When I assured them that that there are still many devoted letter writers out there, they seem surprised, almost relieved.

At this point, many would tell me their special letter stories, many reminiscent of those I heard when writing my book. There were some remarkable stories that touched my heart. Others that amazed me.  Why? Because letters represent everything that is interesting about being human–the good, the bad, the creative, the caring, the confounding, the challenging, and the fascinating.

Here are some of the interesting tales and comments I heard during the festivals. I give you only short quotes (paraphrased) to give you a sense of the breadth of stories I heard.  

“I had a box of old letters that I saved for decades, and I decided at one point to throw them out. I don’t know why I did that, and I am so sorry now.”

“I have all my parents old love letters from World War II. They are fascinating and such treasures.”

“I have all my grandfathers’ letters from WWI.”

“I don’t write letters anymore because no one writes me back. Forget about letters, I would love it if people would at least send me a thank you note for all the gifts I have given them.”

“An old letter we found recently, totally by accident, provided the missing link in our family tree we had not been able to figure out before.”

“When I was a kid, I played in my grandparents’ attic. I found an old cubby hole in the wall filled with all of their love letters. I have them all now.”

“I write letters, but no one writes me back. Should I keep going? It is discouraging!”

“We recently found a letter never posted at my parents’ house when we were cleaning it out. It was 50 years old. We decided to try to send it to the person it was intended for. It ended up reconnecting those two people after five decades of no communication.”

“A Bachelor farmer uncle of mine held a torch for a young girl in his small town when he was very young. He did not have a romantic bone in his body and made a mess of courting her. His beloved ended up leaving town and moving to Wisconsin.

Not long ago, a teacher in Wisconsin was shopping at a garage sale where she found 70 years of my uncle’s love letters to the woman he had never forgotten.

The teacher bought them and was using them in a class of hers to show students how to write letters. Eventually, she decided to try to find a family member of the bachelor farmer so that she could return them to their rightful owners. She succeeded and now I have all of them back again.”

“I try to write 60 letters every quarter.”

I know that the more I do book festivals and other events, the number of stories told to me will only grow. There are endless possibilities because we are endlessly fascinating creatures. I look forward to hearing more of the wonderful, intimate stories people share with me. Most people seem to know why letters matter so much, with several coming to my table simply to congratulate and thank me for writing a book about handwritten letters.

The pleasure, I tell them, is all mine.