Mary Angela https://maryangelabooks.com Author of An Act of Murder Tue, 08 Jan 2019 14:48:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 Gitchie Girl Uncovered: An Interview https://maryangelabooks.com/2019/01/gitchie-girl-uncovered-an-interview/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2019/01/gitchie-girl-uncovered-an-interview/#comments Tue, 08 Jan 2019 14:48:24 +0000 https://maryangelabooks.com/?p=7093 On November 17, 1973, five teenagers went to Gitchie Manitou State Park, which is located on the South Dakota/Iowa border. Ranging in ages 13-18, they were looking forward to a night of conversation, music, and fun. Three men with guns soon appeared, posing as police officers. But they weren’t the police. They were brothers, and in fact, one was on work release from prison. Without motive, the Fryer brothers killed four of the five teenagers. Sandra Cheskey, just 13 years old, was the lone survivor of the mass murder that shook the heartland.

Sandra never spoke about the murders or that horrific night. Rumors, untruths, and skepticism followed, but she shut them out, convincing herself she’d moved on. It wasn’t until years later, after reading Phil Hamman’s memoir, Under the Influence, that she wondered if she should share her story to help other rape victims and trauma survivors. Sandra knew Phil and trusted him since he was good friends with one of the victims. In 2016, Gitchie Girl, a nickname Sandra was given after the crime, was published, and deep recovery began as she told her story on paper and in person.  The authors, Phil and Sandy Hamman, focused on Sandra’s Cheskey’s account, which made it a very different true crime novel. Today the authors have agreed to talk about the second book, Gitchie Girl Uncovered, which releases today. Please welcome Phil and Sandy Hamman!

What made you decide to pursue a second book about the Gitchie Manitou murders? Did you plan on writing a sequel from the beginning?

We had no plans for a second book at the beginning. Our original purpose was to tell Sandra Cheskey’s story. We vastly underestimated how many people would be drawn to Sandra’s story and thought it would appeal to local folks who remembered or heard about the crimes. As we started going to book events, we kept getting many of the same questions that weren’t answered in the first book. We hadn’t planned on writing a sequel, but the interest in the story led to the second book.

What’s the difference between Gitchie Girl and Gitchie Girl Uncovered? Should readers read book one before reading book two?

Gitchie Girl tells about the mass murders but focuses on Sandra Cheskey’s life. Gitchie Girl Uncovered gives readers a closer look at the killers and their backgrounds. It also reveals some strange twists and bizarre discoveries made by the investigative team. We wrote the second book so that it can be read independently of the first book. We recap the murders in the second book and then go down a different path.

Gitchie Girl Uncovered will include more information about the Fryer brothers and the investigation. Did that information make the book harder to write than book one?

Yes. It was harder because the information came from several people we interviewed as well as a variety of legal documents, investigative reports, and court transcripts. There are thousands of pages of documents, and we had to read through a lot to get to the most interesting information. In the first book, we primarily relied on Sandra’s life story and interviews with her.

How did you research Gitchie Girl Uncovered? Did any information surprise you?

In addition to all of the documents we mentioned, we were surprised when we went to the Dickinson County Courthouse to research the trials. This is where the second murder trial was held, and all of the physical evidence was moved to the evidence locker at the courthouse. It was mind boggling to walk through row after row of evidence from so many different trials. When we got to the Gitchie Manitou shelf, there was quite a bit of physical evidence which we outline in the second book. It was an emotional experience for Phil when he found his best friend’s eyeglasses in an evidence bag. The glasses were found on the ground where the executions took place.

We also spent a full day as well as many phone conversations with five Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents who worked the case. Their stories brought the book to life. There were many other people associated with the crimes who shared their stories including the person who delivered Sandra (she was born in the backseat of a car), one of the ambulance drivers, a counselor, and parole officer.

Sandra Cheskey, the lone survivor of the Gitchie Manitou murders, was a major focus in book one. Will her story continue in book two?

We talk about Sandra throughout the second book as well and tell more about her life struggles. She experiences anxiety to this day that she traces back to the traumatic events.

You write true crime novels. What draws you to the genre, and what are you working on now?

It seems that we fell into writing true crime since Phil knew the lone survivor, Sandra, and the boys who were murdered. Once we found some success in this genre, we stayed in the groove. True crime is becoming more popular, and the stories are of interest to us as well.

Both of you are teachers. Does writing influence your teaching or teaching influence your writing? How?

I think this applies to Phil more than me since he works with high school students every day to help improve their writing. He shares how to continually improve and polish a writing piece, for example, by using stronger descriptive words. He shares his drafts with the students and demonstrates how he rewrites a piece multiple times. Then they are able to read the first draft of a chapter compared to the final as well as the writing skills involved in doing so.

Phil and Sandy Hamman

Do you have any book signings or presentations planned for the area? Where might readers find upcoming events?

We have many events planned starting in late January. The first will be at Barnes & Noble in Sioux Falls on January 26, 2019 at 10:00 AM. I have included a link to our Facebook author’s page which is where we will post the other events. http://bit.ly/29MtujI

Thank you Phil and Sandy Hamman for the interview. See you at Barnes and Noble!

Website: http://www.philhammanauthor.com

Purchase the book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

 

Would you like to read my previous interview with the authors? Click here.

 

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Well, it’s time for a blog about Christmas letters. Ha! https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/12/well-its-time-for-a-blog-about-christmas-letters-ha/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/12/well-its-time-for-a-blog-about-christmas-letters-ha/#comments Mon, 17 Dec 2018 18:18:37 +0000 https://maryangelabooks.com/?p=7074

Do you like Christmas letters? I do. But I know a lot of people don’t. They see them as permission slips to brag about … well, everything. Family, jobs, pets, vacations—if something great happened, chances are it will be covered in the Christmas letter. The past couple years, I’ve seen fewer Christmas letters, and some say it’s due to social media. Because people share so much about their lives online, they don’t send letters. Now that I’m online, I realize it’s true. Keeping in touch is easier than ever before. But that doesn’t mean Christmas letters are any less fun to receive.

Ironically, the first Christmas cards were sent to avoid writing letters. In Europe, a man looked at his growing stack of correspondence and decided to create a generic response he could send to everyone.  Not responding wasn’t an option; good manners required a reply. Thus the first Christmas card was born, appearing in the 1840s with the general greeting, “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You.” Christmas cards made it to the U.S. 35 years later, in 1875.

When did people start writing letters to accompany their holiday cards? I’m not sure, but I do know that The Atlantic was already poking fun of Christmas letters in 1954. According to the hilarious article “From Us to You,” every good Christmas letter starts with “well” as in “Well, it’s Christmas time again.”  It also has lots of exclamation points and the word “Ha!” spread liberally throughout.

All jokes aside, I think a good Christmas letter is personal, revealing a fun detail or story about the writer or the family. It’s also written in a font that readers can see without a magnifying glass. Letter writers could take a cue from my students, who are famous for increasing the font size to meet page requirements. Most of all, Christmas letters should be fun, not a chore. If you don’t know where to begin, take a suggestion from Garrison Keillor, who said to begin a letter with the present moment: “I’m at ballet with my daughter, and the Waltz of the Snowflakes is blaring from the speakers in the studio … for the third week in a row.”

Keillor also said, “We shy persons need to write a letter now and then, or else we’ll dry up and blow away.” Even though Keillor was talking about personal letters, I think the same could be said for Christmas letters. They might be the only letters being written today—or at least the longest form of communication beyond a text or email. It’s good to share. So get out that stationery, and jot down a few lines. Someone might be waiting for a Christmas card or letter right now, and a hello will make all the difference in their holiday season.

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Grateful for Readers Giveaway https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/11/grateful-for-readers-giveaway/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/11/grateful-for-readers-giveaway/#comments Mon, 19 Nov 2018 14:07:10 +0000 https://maryangelabooks.com/?p=7036 Writing is a solitary act. What happens between a writer and the page is personal. My kids tease me about going down the rabbit’s hole when I go downstairs to write, but it’s a pretty accurate description. With each step, the real world recedes. The laundry disappears, the grading disappears, the grocery list disappears. Copper Bluff comes into focus, and I am there again in Em’s bungalow, Dickinson at the porch window switching her tail.

But I am not alone. I was reminded of this recently at the launch of A Very Merry Murder, where I was surrounded by family, friends, and readers. Sharing something you love is never easy. There’s always the chance it will be rejected. Time, money, and effort can be invested without return or interest. And that doesn’t even acknowledge the personal risk of such an endeavor.

But the risk felt less risky surrounded by supporters, people like my husband, who has encouraged my writing dreams since the beginning; my daughters, who have been my cheerleaders on the bad days and my defenders on the really bad days; my mother, who has read so many drafts of my writing she deserves an honorary PhD; and my friends and relatives, who have bought my books and shared them with others.

That doesn’t even touch on readers, like you, who have taken a chance on an author who isn’t a best seller and who have invited the Prof. Prather series into your hearts. If you didn’t know it by now, the series is made up of a big part of mine. Your attendance at events, your emails, and your reviews have brought many bright spots into my days. “Thank you” doesn’t begin to express my gratitude for your kindness, but thank you.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to remember our blessings, so go ahead! Share one thing you’re grateful for and/or a Thanksgiving tradition. When you do, you’ll be entered into the giveaway for this Barnes and Noble tote bag. Isn’t it fun? The giveaway runs from November 19-21.  I’ll notify the winner via email and post the winner’s name on the blog.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Gift of Education https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/08/the-gift-of-education/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/08/the-gift-of-education/#comments Tue, 21 Aug 2018 03:01:54 +0000 http://maryangelabooks.com/?p=6959

Old Main, University of SD

Every semester, I tell my students how important school is, yet sometimes my words fall on deaf ears. I state it as strongly as possible: college can change your life. But for students who’ve always known college was in their future, it’s hard for them to understand. For me, it was much easier.

I graduated from high school early, at semester time. I was glad to escape the classroom and be out on my own, making money. At the time, a computer manufacturer had just moved into town, and I could make a nice wage working the night shift. I was eighteen, life was good, and college wasn’t part of my plans.

After a few years of technical support, however, life was no longer good. I was unhappy with my job, and the only other option was management, which didn’t appeal to me. Manage a bunch of people who disliked their jobs as much as I did? That didn’t seem like the path to freedom either, but at this point, anything was better than taking tech support calls. I entertained the idea.

I was writing in the morning and in the evenings, but I certainly didn’t have a plan for my work. I wrote as a hobby; it was a creative outlet, like reading. Publishing a book was something other people did, people I couldn’t even guess about. Even after completing a romance novel, I didn’t realize writing was something I should pursue.

Then my husband found a job that moved us to Vermillion, SD. I turned down the management job to go to school full time at the University of South Dakota, and the direction of my life turned, too.

I went to college to learn to write, but what I actually learned was that my life had possibility. All those things I thought I couldn’t do? I could. It wasn’t a quick transformation. It was slow, like a minuet: a high score on a history test, a compliment from a teacher, a scholarship. Even after graduation and writing a literary novel for my master’s thesis, I didn’t sit down and think, Ah! I can publish those books now. But I did start teaching.

Teaching was a second education. I belonged to a community I didn’t know existed, a community I’m still proud to be part of. The longer I taught classes, the more I thought about writing until, eventually, I picked it up again with a new idea: someone might want to read my stuff. It was then I began writing with a goal in mind.

It’s hard to teach possibility. You can feel it, you can dream it, but it’s not in a book. I can’t have students turn to page ten to learn about their potential, nor can I make them feel my past poverty. Sometimes I wish they knew what I knew: education is a beautiful gift. Whether or not they choose to open that gift, however, is entirely up to them.

 

 

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Dreaming Again of Manderley https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/07/dreaming-again-of-manderley/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/07/dreaming-again-of-manderley/#comments Thu, 12 Jul 2018 21:01:06 +0000 http://maryangelabooks.com/?p=6922

English Berries and Cream tea and one of my favorite mysteries

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” I could have uttered the best-loved first line myself. Though it’d been years since I read the novel, I instantly remembered. Manderley. How could I ever forget?

I returned to Rebecca for its strong sense of place. I, like the novel’s characters, am enchanted with the setting. The blood-red rhododendrons, the dark woods, the restless sea—they are as real to me as my own wooden fence. Never mind I haven’t been to Cornwall, the place Daphne du Maurier imagined as she wrote the novel (“Author’s Note”). I’ve been to Manderley, and that’s even better.

Du Maurier depicts the ancestral home using traditional gothic qualities: “a carefully described landscape and setting, a sense of the uncanny, and the impression that events are out of kilter with the rational world” (Buzwell). How readers suffer like our unnamed narrator, wanting to know the west wing’s forbidden secrets. We have the east wing and the rose garden, sure, but the large room in the west wing—the one that faces the sea—we long to fling open the window, tear away the coverings, and expose its mysterious past.

For a while, we settle for the library and tea, the dog Jasper at our feet. (It’s certainly better than old Mrs. Van Hopper and her bridge games.) Life at Manderley is good, or is it? Our curiosity must be satiated, so on we go. When the narrator finds herself in the west wing, the “mist upon the window-glass, as though someone had breathed upon it,” fear seizes us. This is Rebecca’s room; it’s herbreath upon the window. Must she take not only the book’s title but our dear Manderley too?

Isn’t this bookmark fun? It uses pressed flowers.

Although she never appears as a ghost, Rebecca dominates the novel, haunting much more than rooms. She lives in the minds of the characters, even our narrator’s, though the two never met. First we envy Rebecca; she must have been something very special. Then we start wondering about those rhododendrons. We wander through Happy Valley—down to the cove, the cottage—picking up clues like a child picks dandelions, mistaking weeds for flowers. By the end, we sense Rebecca laughing at us, “God how funny … how supremely, wonderfully funny.”

It’s hard to move on after a book like Rebecca. We pick up another novel, thumb a few pages, and set it down. We don’t want to leave, but when we do, we won’t leave empty handed. Novels with strong settings give us so much more than a story. They give us a place to return to. For us book gypsies, there’s nothing better. Like a traveler, we will always have our snapshots, our mementos, our memories of Manderley.

 

What books do you go back to, readers? Any special books you reread? How about books with strong settings? Please share for a chance to win a package of English Berries and Cream from Plum Deluxe, the tea featured in the picture, and the pressed flowers bookmark.

 

“Author’s Note” Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier. 1938.
Buzwell, Greg. “Daphne du Maurier and the Gothic Tradition.” British Library.

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A Journey Down I-90 West, or Memory Lane https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/06/a-journey-down-i-90-west-or-memory-lane/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/06/a-journey-down-i-90-west-or-memory-lane/#comments Thu, 14 Jun 2018 14:23:12 +0000 http://maryangelabooks.com/?p=6893 Recently, my family and I traveled to the Black Hills, a 365 mile drive across the state. I always look forward to the trek though I’m not sure why. I’ve made the drive many times, and not much has changed. I stop at the same places I did with my parents years ago on summer vacations.

As a kid, I liked to pick up brochures at rest areas, and my dad indulged me. In South Dakota, rest stops look like teepees, and I thought that was cool. Dad never minded stopping, and Mom never drove. If she had, we would have blown through the state in our Chrysler LeBaron like a black streak of lightening. But a stop with Dad was memorable. He made eating sandwiches at a dirty picnic table fun, recounting the previous miles with stories and jokes. The hours didn’t seem daunting at all the way Dad told them.

I was happy to get out of the car, away from my older sister and brother who monopolized the backseat. Always trying to catch a few Zs, they didn’t have a lot of patience for people who weren’t as interested in sleeping as they were. But there were too many things to look at—mostly the sweaty pamphlets accumulating in the backseat. Even though I knew I wouldn’t go to half of the attractions, I liked reading about them. And Dad was happy to get more.

When we came upon a brown road sign, I would get excited because I knew it signaled something important, and chances were, Dad would stop. I wasn’t particularly fond of history and in fact don’t remember the accounts of most of the places we went. But I do remember stopping and reading signs, walls, and plaques. Gazing over the prairie, the Missouri river, the Badlands, I thought they were interesting because he did.

Truthfully, I don’t remember much of our vacations. Fragments and souvenirs come to mind: a pink cowgirl hat, a Sioux Indian headdress, the feel of the spray of Old Faithful Geyser as I watched it with my mother. Knowing how hard it is, as a parent, to plan a family trip, I wonder at the fickleness of my memory. I chide myself. Who am I to forget the important stuff? Then I think of Dad. He would say this is the important stuff.

How easy it is to forget. To fill our schedules with activities until all we remember is how busy we were. Yet what I remember of summer vacation is stopping—and my dad, of course, whom I miss every day of my life, but especially on Father’s Day. It’s the perfect day to stop and consider the important stuff, and people, like Dad.

 

 

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Malice Domestic Wrap-up https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/05/malice-domestic-wrap-up/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/05/malice-domestic-wrap-up/#comments Fri, 04 May 2018 17:19:36 +0000 http://maryangelabooks.com/?p=6834

Malice Domestic logo

Last weekend, I attended Malice Domestic, a conference for traditional mysteries in Bethesda, MD, where writers and readers discuss topics related to the genre. If you’re considering attending a conference or wonder what happens during a typical weekend, read on!

Being a relatively new author, I’m always curious about what conferences work, and by “work” I mean add value. Malice Domestic works for me. I’ve attended the conference twice and both times was surprised at how intimate it felt despite the large number of attendees.

Friday morning, I participated in Malice Go Round, which is like speed dating between authors and readers. Each author has two minutes to “pitch” his/her book to a table of ten readers. Despite going too fast, it was a lot fun. I connected with many mystery fans that I never could have reached on my own.

Me and fellow tea drinker Samatha McGraw from teacottagemysteries.com

On Saturday, I met more authors and readers during the panel, Bookish Sleuths. Like me, the authors on the panel had sleuths who were bibliophiles, and we answered questions about our protagonists, settings, and bookish indulgences. I listened to a few panels, too, and even met someone in my tea group (Plum Deluxe)! I also met Marie from Cozy Experience who was doing live interviews on Facebook. To listen to my interview, click here.

Louise Penny is the one in red.

Rhys Bowen’s late afternoon interview with Louise Penny was a special treat for everyone. Louise Penny, the guest of honor this year, talked about her Chief Inspector Gamache novels as well as her personal triumphs and losses. She discussed writing, alcoholism, fear, and even the loss of her husband. The interview was truly heartwarming.

By evening, everyone had cast their ballots for the Agatha Awards and dressed for the banquet. The winners were announced by category: historical (In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen), contemporary (Glass Houses by Louise Penny), first novel (Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett), nonfiction (From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women who Created an Icon by Mattias Boström), short story (“The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn” by Gigi Pandian), and young adult (Sydney Mackenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead by Cindy Callaghan).

The weekend ended as quickly as it began, and Sunday I was on a plane back to South Dakota. For someone living in a rural state, I think attending conferences (when possible) is important. For readers, conferences connect people with similar interests. As one reader at my banquet table said, “I never knew this world existed!” The same could be said for authors. Living in a small city, I don’t meet many mystery writers, nor do I get to talk with them about the writing craft. It’s wonderful to share similar experiences, and I hope to meet more authors and readers next year.

Interested in finding out more about Malice Domestic? Click here.

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Cover Reveal: A Very Merry Murder https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/04/cover-reveal-a-very-merry-murder/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/04/cover-reveal-a-very-merry-murder/#comments Mon, 16 Apr 2018 13:00:01 +0000 http://maryangelabooks.com/?p=6800 I’m so excited to announce book three, A Very Merry Murder, coming in October 2018

It’s December in Copper Bluff, and from hillside to hallowed hall, everyone is merry—or will be as soon as semester break arrives. Students are studying, professors are grading, and Emmeline Prather is anticipating the university-sponsored holiday concert. Friend and colleague Lenny Jenkins will be accompanying the visiting quartet, Jazz Underground, and Em can’t think of a better way to kick-start the holiday season.

But before she can say “Jingle Bell Rock,” trouble arrives at Candlelight Inn, the bed and breakfast where the quartet is staying. One of the band members dies unexpectedly, and suspicion falls on Em, whose altercation with the man ends with him on the floor. He never recovers, and now she’s worried her reputation might not either.

When Emmeline starts to see parallels between an Agatha Christie novel she’s teaching and the victim, Lenny claims she’s read one too many mysteries. But as the clues unravel, so does the murderer’s patience. Em is close to finding the truth, but will the truth—or the murderer—push her over the edge? It will take a Christmas miracle to solve this case, but if there’s one thing in surplus this time of year, it’s faith.

Book Three of the Professor Prather Mystery Series

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Lions, Lambs, and Spring Break https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/03/lions-lambs-and-spring-break/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/03/lions-lambs-and-spring-break/#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2018 03:37:50 +0000 http://maryangelabooks.com/?p=6773

March 6 at USF. I’m counting this as “In like a lion.”

The March saying goes, “In like a lion, out like a lamb” or “In like a lamb, out like a lion.” But what happens when it’s lion in and lion out? South Dakota weather can feel that way some days. Well before the snow melts, I’m looking for a small sprout or seed to plant, anything to green up the gray days of early spring. This year, I traded seeds for paint and plants for brushes, and using the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante as my inspiration, I renovated my bedroom. I painted it “Sea Glass” and bought a furniture set called “Summer Breeze,” tossing in a Tommy Bahama comforter for good measure. I bet you can guess what I was thinking: island retreat.

My all-time favorite series

Short of an airline ticket, a nanny, and permission from my university, I’m not sure how else I’d get away right now. So I’m reading a lot of books in my new bedroom. Books have been my one-way ticket to all-inclusive delights for many years now. The blue-green paint and new bedding are just upgrades to my accommodations.

If you’re a college student, you might be lucky enough to take a spring break this month, and if you’re a teacher, you might be lucky enough to hear about one. I get to listen to all the exotic places my students will be traveling the next two weeks (and how their travel plans will be interrupting our normally scheduled programing). Sometimes, seven days just aren’t enough. I completely empathize.

Okay. So I bought ONE plant.

In Passport to Murder, Professor Prather is about to embark on the spring break of a lifetime. Prather is traveling to Paris for the week with a group from the university. Unfortunately, murder ensues midflight, and a colleague’s death brings her back to Copper Bluff—and reality. However, Emmeline decides she doesn’t need a trip to Paris to lift her spirits. She has a mystery, her beloved Copper Bluff, and her dear friend Lenny Jenkins to make it a spring to remember.

The Woman in the Window is on my spring break reading list. I save nail-biters for those late nights!

Like Em, I dream of getting away but soon realize books take me just about every place I want to go. Right now I’m reading a steamy historical romance that takes place in 1806 Scotland. How much farther away from South Dakota could I really get? Which reminds me of a quote I recently discussed with my classes. Frederick Douglass wrote, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Although he wasn’t talking about fiction, he might have been, for it also has the ability to free you from so many things: tedium, circumstance—even location. All I have to do to escape the remains of South Dakota’s winter is open a book and go anywhere this spring break takes me, no passport required.

 

Do you have any plans this spring, readers? Let’s hear them!

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Love: The Beginning and End of Everything https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/02/love-beginning-end-everything/ https://maryangelabooks.com/2018/02/love-beginning-end-everything/#comments Sat, 10 Feb 2018 14:31:53 +0000 http://maryangelabooks.com/?p=6726 F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote in a letter, “I love her, and that’s the beginning and end of everything.” He was, of course, talking about his own dear Zelda. February is the perfect month to celebrate love letters such as the ones between Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Unlike valentines, letters go beyond holiday love to reveal the myriad nuances of our strongest emotion.

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald  is a remarkable collection. The letters are accidentally poetic, brutally honest, and thoroughly haunting. Beginning with the couple’s jazz age courtship in August 1918, they end with Scott’s final letter to Zelda just two days before his death (he died on Dec. 21, 1940). In the correspondence, both writers pour out their souls, writing about art, love, and inspiration, but Zelda’s passages, written at various states of mental stability, are especially poignant.

In the fall of 1929, Zelda tried to run their car off the road, and this was (in my opinion) the beginning of her breakdown. Some experts say she was schizophrenic, but I can’t be sure. Zelda wrote, “Twice horrible things have happened to me because of my inability to express myself.” One thing is certain, however: women suffered due to experimental treatments for mental illness and depression in the 1930s. Zelda herself died in a fire, locked in a room on the top floor of a sanitarium. Scott, an alcoholic, was no less tortured. Zelda was not only the love of his life but also his muse, and after her breakdown, life would never be the same. Like Gatsby, they both express a desperate desire to repeat the past.

“I wonder why we have never been very happy and why all this has happened—It was much nicer a long time ago when we had each other and the space around the world was warm—Can’t we get it back someway—even by imagining?”                                                                                         –Zelda, 1930

Sometimes imagination is the only way to get through these heart-wrenching passages, but they’re worth it. They will forever change the way you think about the famous pair—and perhaps love as well.

If you’re looking for a shorter (and lighter) collection of love letters, you might try the fun Letters to Juliet, which explores the phenomenon that inspired the movie by the same name. Each year, thousands of writers from around the world send letters to Juliet of Verona (the real-life inspiration for Shakespeare’s Juliet in Romeo and Juliet). They receive answers from her “secretaries,” volunteers who have taken up the mantle on Juliet’s behalf.

Early letters can be traced to the late nineteenth century, or at least the first picture of them can be. Seen here, it shows several notes behind Juliet’s sarcophagus. Who was the real Juliet of Verona? The answer could be its own blog, but Letters to Juliet cites Istoria della Citta di Verona (History of the City of Verona), dated 1336, as the first reference to the star-crossed pair: “The bodies of the unfortunate lovers were, by their common will, placed in the same monument, which of vivid stone was considerably above ground […]” (qtd. in Friedman 28).

Shakespeare’s inspiration for his famous tragedy, however, isn’t the most interesting aspect of the book. Much more detailed scholarship exists for true Shakespearean devotees. What recommends this book are the letters themselves. From lovelorn to love-struck, the writers wait for answers to age-old questions like these:

“I’ve asked myself many times, how it is that we fall in love: do we trip, lose our balance and fall, scraping our hearts? Do we crash to the ground, on stones? Or is it like staying on the edge of a precipice for all time?”                                                                                                    —letter from Poland

 

I’ll wait while you sigh and clutch your bosom, readers. Then please share your favorite love stories, poems, letters, or books in the comments below! I’d love to hear your picks for February.

 

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