My favorite pen, and a little Madonna, ready for a charming note to appear

The author Carolyn See spoke at the first Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference I attended and said something I’ve never forgotten:

Write a charming note to someone in the literary world five days a week, to someone who makes your hands sweat. Do it for the rest of your life.

I thought that was a great idea.

But I didn’t find a way to take her advice. I went back to my busy executive job instead.

Now that my book is in the galley stage, and I have more discretionary time, I want to write letters to people who have influenced me. Haven Kimmel will be among the first to get a letter.

If you were to write five letters to writers, which five would you pick?

My New Beginning today is to finish my letter to Haven Kimmel.

What’s yours? Don’t forget to chart it here.

85 Days Until Blush Launches


Shirley Showalter


  1. Warm Ginger on June 20, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Yann Martel – I interviewed him when he won the Booker Prize (2002) but didn’t read his wonderful Life of Pi until last year. I was nervous in case I didn’t like it! Anyway, I loved it (phew) and it sparked an exploration of my spirituality that’s made for an interesting year.

    Peter Maas – His book Love Thy Neighbour is simply the best one I’ve read on the war in the Balkans. Made me think about how blurrily divisive concepts of race and religion are and how close any country can be to civil war as a result.

    Lemony Snicket – His Series of Unfortunate Events is a wonderful collection. My seven-year-old is racing through them and as a result, he casually tosses words like delectable and sombre into his conversation. He builds the story slowly, uses long, meandering paragraphs and lets the narrator intrude into the story to explain big words (and hence expands kids vocabulary in a fun way). I want to thank him for breaking the rules so beautifully.

    Malcolm Gladwell – an original thinker and I love that he uses his own curiosity to challenge perceived wisdom on whatever topic takes his fancy.

    Angela Stoner – my mentor and a beautiful crafter of poetry and stories. Fortunately, I do write to her regularly and let her know how much she has given me.

    My goodness, I could keep this list going all night!

    • shirleyhs on June 20, 2013 at 7:31 pm

      What a wonderful list, Warm Ginger. I hope that the writers you love will feel the grace of your observations about them and their work, even if you don’t send them handwritten letters yet. There will be time for that when your son is older, perhaps.

      So glad you have so many writers to appreciate.

      And that you have night when we have day. 🙂

  2. Jerry Waxler on June 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Interesting! Probably Kate Braestrup since I’ve been using her memoir “Here if you need me” for years when anyone asks me for my favorite.

    Actually, I’ve also been using Haven Kimmel’s name, my favorite example of how an ordinary person can write a successful memoir.

    Until now, I wouldn’t have known what to say in a letter. Now that I’ve published Memoir Revolution, I could ask them if they would like a review copy. Not a bad idea.

    So how do you find these email addresses? I guess if they want to be found, they’ll post them somewhere. If not, it’s probably not likely to reach a receptive audience.

    Thanks again.

    Best wishes,
    Memory Writers Network

    • shirleyhs on June 20, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      Hi, Jerry, glad you mentioned Here If You Need Me, which is another favorite of mine, also.

      Sometimes authors have addresses posted on their websites, and they can usually be approached through their publishers also.

      All best with your book! I know it will be helpful to the many people who want an overview of the field as they consider writing their own memoir. I know I enjoyed reading it very much.

  3. Marian Beaman on June 20, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    I have fished out from a hat box a hand-written note of gratitude from a dear colleague dated Feb. 2013. In the note she explains that her missive to me was prompted by a letter she had received from a friend who every day during 2012 wrote a snail-mail letter to people important in his life, a busy professor who publishes both word and music! Unfortunately, I have broken the chain.

    My list? Just two for now:
    Alexander McCall Smith – Isabel Dalhousie Series & No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series: Scottish mystery lite set variously in Scotland and Botswana. His other profession as professor of medical law flavors his plot lines. Literary equivalent of herbal tea and a cozy fire, says the dust jacket.

    George Vaillant – Aging Well, the Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study by a Harvard psychiatrist, full of wisdom about embracing an encore career. My take-away: Combine the fruits of maturity with the recovery of childlike wonder. I’ll read it again when I am old!

    But first I must reply to a charming hand-written note received today on a napkin from CareBear Cliff.

    Great question, Shirley . . .

  4. shirleyhs on June 20, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Glad you were inspired to fish out that letter, Marian. Proof that all good deeds stay with us one way or another.

    I have read about George Vaillant, but I don’t think I’ve read his major work. I’d love to hear more about it, because one of the topics coming up on my 100 Day marathon will certainly be the joys of the encore career.

    CareBear Cliff sounds utterly charming, just like his note.

    • Marian Beaman on June 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm

      I would also reserve stationery for Haven Kimmel too: loved her life story, her wit, her writing style. She’s a wizard.

      One more: Adam Gopnik–anything he writes in the New Yorker I will read.

      • Jerry Waxler on June 22, 2013 at 6:19 am

        I hope you don’t mind if I ask a followup question. (Hopefully Marian Beaman is listening.) I am a student of the book length memoir, and also becoming increasingly curious about the shorter form. Usually called “essays” there seems to be a whole culture “out there” of fabulous authors writing shorter pieces, with a very different style and structure than memoirs, and yet which serve some of the same purposes. Is reading the New Yorker the only way to find such essays? Where else do you find them? At least with memoirs, I could go into the bookstore, or keep an eye on the buzz among memoir readers, but I have not yet tapped into the buzz about life essays.

        Memory Writers Network

        • Marian Beaman on June 22, 2013 at 8:52 am

          Alice Munro, Canadian author, comes first to mind. I found her in the New Yorker, but then explored her other work often published as short story collections. Her themes are the stuff of memoir as for example Lives of Girls and Women (1971) “a collection of interlinked stories published as a novel.” Another title Who Do You Think You Are? (!971) . . . and the list goes on with more recent publications.

          You posed the question of memoir in two literary forms. Critic Charles May grapples with the connection between the book length memoir and essays or stories. Here’s a link that may pique your interest:

  5. shirleyhs on June 22, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Good question, Jerry! This might deserve a post all its own. Hope others add.

    Here are some magazines I have heard recommended by other writers: Reminiscence Magazine:


    More (for women or about women)



    • Jerry Waxler on June 22, 2013 at 10:54 am

      Interesting! Thanks, Shirley and Marian. There’s a whole new world waiting for me, and you’ve given me a couple of terrific entry points.


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