Even though Letters Never Sent has only been out a week and a half, I have been overwhelmed by the support I’ve gotten from friends, family and people that I’m only just getting to know. I’ve been amazed and humbled at the interest and also, thrilled with some of the great questions folks have asked — everything from context and setting to what I did to research the novel. I’ve tried to answer each individual question, but I also thought (since there seems to be a fair amount of curiosity about the process) I’d share the answers to the three most common ones here. (You might want to grab a cup of coffee for this because I can ramble on with the best of them.)
What research did you do for the novel?
Well, I read A LOT — particularly as pertaining to the social norms of the time and social movements regarding woman and women’s rights. The fact that Kate left her hometown to go to the city to work at the Sears glove counter was kind of a big deal because she was almost defiantly stepping outside of the socially-accepted norm of getting married and having children. I found the accounts written by women like Kate, who actually bucked the system and embraced these new freedoms, to be fascinating reading.
In addition to slang, clothing styles,and food and beverage prices, I also spent a lot of time researching women’s health issues. Not to give away any of the plot, but certain health care/procedures were more accessible (and common) than I realized. It was surprising to learn how successful women in the 1930s were at finding the resources that they needed. In some ways this proved to be both good and bad.
The part of the research that was the most fun was when I went to Chicago for a long weekend to get a feel for what Kate, Annie and Claire would have seen and experienced. Before leaving Kansas City, I had researched Near North Chicago and identified some places where the characters could have lived. Once there, I was able to look at the buildings and determine which ones I wanted to use. I even chose their rooms based on the outside windows . From that point, I was then able to walk the routes Kate, Annie, Claire and Margie would have walked to work and around the city. I also spent the better part of one afternoon at the Chicago public library where I gazed up at the 38-foot Tiffany glass dome, touched the Carrara Marble and sat in the reading room where Kate loved to hide away and read. There were also visits to museums and the grounds of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
What got left out of the novel that you would have liked to have seen in it?
I spent a lot of time researching the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. I looked at tons of pictures, postcards and read accounts of the amazing (for the time) things people were able to see and experience. For anyone interested, you can see great, grainy black and white videos of the crowds, the exhibits and of course, Sally Rand and her famous fan dance on Youtube. Having Kate, Annie and Claire there for only a day was tough. I could have written chapters about all there was to see and do but in the end, it didn’t push the story forward. Alas. Pictured at the left is what the grounds look like today — essentially an open field with walking paths.
Do you listen to music and if so, what did you listen to when writing Letters?
I DO listen to music when I write — but only specific songs. Prior to writing, I typically create a playlist that is specific to each novel. There are songs that are the “soundtrack” to the characters and then songs that set the mood. For Letters, I listened to a lot of Billie Holiday (even though many of her recordings were from 1935 – 39), some Glen Miller, Jack Cooper and Ethel Waters. But I also listened to some more contemporary music that I thought personified the characters. I won’t share with whom I associated each song (I’ll let you figure that out). But here’s the non-period playlist I listened to when writing and editing:
“Breathe Me” — Sia
“Jar of Hearts” — Christina Perri
“Slow” — Grouplove
“Little Round Mirrors” — Harvey Danger
“Wild One” — I Am Harlequin
“Knut” — The Unwinding Hours
“Wild World” — Cat Steven
“Never is a Promise” — Fiona Apple
“The Wire” — Patty Griffin
“White Flag” — Dido
“Me and My Charms” — Kristin Hersh
So, I’m guessing by now your coffee is cold but if you want to chat or ask additional questions, please feel free to drop me a line. I’ll do my best to answer — or at least make up a creative lie. And until next time, Moran …out!