Carolyn See is a wonderful writer and astute book reviewer. I love her novel, The Handyman, and gave it as presents to writer friends one year. Her book, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers is my best friend forever—book, and Carolyn by extension. She advocates for writers and understands how lonely, boring, scary, and exciting it is to be such a person. Her chapter, “Charming Notes,” has brought me some gratifying connections with writers I will never meet.
She advises to send a charming note to someone whose work you admire. “These notes are like paper airplanes sailing around the world, and they accomplish a number of things at once. They salute the writer (or whomever you choose). The notes are also saying: I exist too. In the same world as you. Isn’t that amazing?”
Over the years I’ve followed her advice and written some charming notes. A month ago I read an article by Joyce Dyer in The Writer’s Chronicle. The title caught my eye—“Let Me Think About That: The Memoirist as Ruminant.” Like See’s novel, I’ve copied the article for several friends, writers who aren’t writing memoirs at the moment like me. I looked up Joyce Dyer and found her email address through Hiram College and sent her a charming note.
Here’s what I wrote in one of those awful boxes you have to use as a way in, followed by a bit of our exchange:
This box isn’t the place to write a fan letter. I have read and reread “Let Me Think About That” in The Writer’s Chronicle. It’s one of the best articles I’ve read on almost any subject, but especially memoir. I would love to gush some more, but if this is the forum then let it be.
Thank you for liking the essay, Barbara! I’m so glad you wrote, and so very glad it rang true for you. Your note brightened the afternoon. I know there are many versions and views of memoir, but I tried to put on the page a little of what working in the genre has taught me. I’ve gotten closer to understanding it, I think, as I’ve stopped trying to impose my will on it. I just begin, and see where the genre takes me. Sometimes I end up on a dead-end street, but not always anymore. Joyce
Hi Joyce. Now you’ve brightened my gray afternoon on Bainbridge Island, WA. I wrote a memoir, Getting to Home, in 2009. It started out as a how-to book for older, single women who were like me—the only girl in the all-male-orchestra of construction, but something more was pushing me into a memoir. I have found home, just not in the house the book chronicles. Home for me isn’t really about a house after all. Home exists inside me.
I loved your note, Barbara, and thank you for taking time to send it to me. The idea of your memoir is terrific. It’s so difficult to sell these things, though. Don’t you hate the Business of writing? There’s so little pleasure in it.
See what a charming note will get us literary-shut-ins on a gray afternoon in winter!