The fall book season is upon us! Over the coming weeks, a brilliant cohort of Book*hug’s Fall 2021 authors will be sharing their thoughts on the writing process, the books they read while penning their own, and their favourite themes and takeaways. Lindsay Zier-Vogel starts us off with a discussion of her debut novel, Letters to Amelia.
Underscoring the power of reading and writing letters for self-discovery, Letters to Amelia is a story of the essential need for connection and our universal ability to find hope in the face of fear. Its protagonist, Grace Porter, is reeling from grief after her partner of seven years unexpectedly leaves. Amidst her heartache, the thirty-year-old library tech is tasked with reading newly discovered letters that Amelia Earhart wrote to her lover, Gene Vidal. Letter by letter, Grace understands more about Amelia while piecing her own life back together.
Zier-Vogal is a master at letter writing and Letters to Amelia features several scattered throughout the narrative. In the following interview, Zier-Vogel reveals her fundamental hopefulness, her admiration for feminist icon Amelia Earhart, and her passion for the written (and enveloped) word.
B*H: Can you describe what your book is about?
LZV: Letters to Amelia is a novel that explores the connection, intimacy, and transformative potential of writing and reading letters, especially in this digital age. It explores heartbreak and finding hope in the midst of overwhelming grief. It also examines the underdocumented facets of Amelia Earhart’s life—the clothing line she created, her work as a nurse’s aide in Toronto during WWI, the child she may or may not have had in the early ’20s—rather than her disappearance.
B*H: Can you describe the ideal reader of your book?
LZV: Someone who is curious, empathetic, introspective, adventurous, and an escapist. And maybe a letter writer.
B*H: What about writing your book surprised you?
LZV: I realized how hard it is to tell a full narrative story through letters. Originally, the book was only going to be written in letters, but the retrospective, remove of letter writing made it too hard to tell a story and sustain the narrative that I wanted to tell.
One of my very favourite parts of writing the book was writing in Amelia’s voice. I was daunted until I started and was surprised by how easy it felt.
B*H: How did you know that your book was finished?
LZV: I’m not sure there was a definitive moment when I knew it was done. I definitely felt it getting closer and closer—more and more complete, and I am endlessly grateful for my writing group, The Semi-Retired Hens for their insight and feedback throughout the writing process. I definitely celebrated (with a paper plane cocktail!) when I pressed send on the final copy edits.
B*H: What did you read while writing your book?
LZV: I spent a few years writing Letters to Amelia so I literally read hundreds of books! Some of my favourites I read while I was writing it include:
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
- Writers & Lovers by Lily King
- The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
- The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya
- Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder by Julia Zarankin
I also read a lot of letters Amelia Earhart wrote to her mother.
B*H: What new book, or books, are you looking forward to reading?
- We, Jane by Aimee Wall
- Care Of, by Ivan Coyote
- Astra by Cedar Bowers
- Suture by Nic Brewer
- Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett
- The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall
- Gutter Child by Jael Richardson
B*H: What do you want readers to take away from your book?
LZV: I hope that readers remember the power of letters in their lives—the joy of opening an envelope, the intimacy of unfolding a piece of paper, of seeing handwriting. I hope that readers learn a bit about Amelia Earhart’s extraordinary life and that there is always room for hope and the potential for connection, even when it feels like all is lost.
Lindsay Zier-Vogel is a Toronto-based writer, arts educator and the creator of the internationally acclaimed Love Lettering Project. After studying contemporary dance, she received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has been widely published in Canada and the U.K. Since 2001, she has been teaching creative writing workshops in schools and communities. Her hand-bound books are housed in the permanent collection at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto. As the creator of the Love Lettering Project, Lindsay has asked people all over the world to write love letters to their communities and hide them for strangers to find, spreading place-based love. Lindsay also writes children’s books. Because of The Love Lettering Project, CBC Radio has deemed Lindsay a “national treasure.” Letters to Amelia is her first book.