[Guest Post] Why Seanan McGuire Mostly Sends Postcards

Today’s guest blogger is author Seanan McGuire, who lives in Northern California (for now) with two enormous blue cats, a large assortment of creepy dolls, and an unnerving number of books.  She writes things.  We aren’t sure she sleeps.

When I was little, I was obsessed with writing and receiving letters. I was a child before the dawn of email (I got my first email address when I was 14, and it was so exciting), but I had a typewriter, and I loved the idea that I could reach out and hear from someone on the other side of the world.

Then, when I was twelve years old, I wrote a letter to my favorite author. It was a labor of love; it said, several times, that I was twelve years old (and that he was my favorite author). Because I was twelve, I didn’t know that I needed to spell out the name of my home town in the return address. I lived in Pleasant Hill, California, at the time, and I always wrote “P.H., CA” and the zip code on the top corner of the envelope.

My favorite author wrote me back. His entire reply was him scolding me about forcing him to waste his time looking up my home town in his atlas, since apparently the zip code and abbreviation was not enough to get the letter to me.

I was twelve.*

I sort of soured on letters after that. I still enjoyed receiving them, but I was wary of sending them out, because what if I did something wrong? What if I made another mistake, and wasted someone else’s time? I became an increasingly poor correspondent. It was easier than risking error.

Then my grandmother sent me a postcard.

What was this mysterious gift? Why, it was a postcard. A colorful picture, suitable for hanging on the fridge or tacking to my bedroom wall, with a message written on the back. A mini-letter, requiring no reply—in fact, there could be no reply, because there was no return address. Gasp!

I went to the stationary store and bought a book of postcards as soon as I had a chance. I filled them out and sent them to people I thought would like them, people I thought would appreciate the pictures, people I thought might need a little pick-me-up. And they were delighted! Because everyone enjoys getting mail, and everyone likes a letter, but sometimes the feeling of obligation a letter can carry with it is more than people necessarily want.

I love postcards. I have a shelf of them, waiting to be filled out and sent to my dearest friends. I send postcards for all sorts of nonsense reasons, but mostly because everyone likes a letter, and no one likes to create an accidental obligation or waste anyone’s time. Best of all, postcards are an inherently limited medium: no matter how much time you spend on them, you know they can’t get longer than the available space.

Sometimes a little limitation is exactly what a person needs to pick up the pen.

seanan has cats
A picture of Seanan’s cats. Because.

(*Don’t do this. Just…just don’t. If he had included a note about spelling out the city in a reply that was largely about other things, like the contents of my letter, he might still be my favorite author today.)

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11 Replies to “[Guest Post] Why Seanan McGuire Mostly Sends Postcards”

  1. I’m sorry that happened to you. Words are weighty. We not only have to watch the words we say but the words we write, too. I hope all the postcards on your shelf find a home with someone 🙂

  2. Imagine being grumpy about a 12 year old’s letter, rather than appreciating that a twelve year old wrote you a fan letter!! I love the cat photo, and in the spirit of a fan letter, and that I was *once* 12 years old, I was very excited to see the author of the Newsflesh & Parasitology trilogies was writing a post for Lettermo!! I’m off to tell my cats about it!

  3. Great post about the good and the bad of correspondence. I’m surprised the author bothered to respond at all; must have needed to vent. But then your grandmother saves the day for snail mail!

  4. I sandwich postcards between 2 pieces of clear thin plexi-glass, clip them together with tiny binder clips (or something similar), drill 2 holes at the top, insert metal rings attach a length of chain and hang it on the wall. It’s easy to life down if I want to reread the backs or rotate out the various cards periodically. It could also be hung as a kind of room divider over another piece of furniture. Thin plexi is very lightweight. Mine hangs in my dining room.

  5. Dear Seanan,

    Wonderful post. I wish you could send it to that author. I’m so glad that his reply didn;t completely turn you off writing and that you are now other people’s favourite author. I’ll bet you craft your responses to fan mail very carefully.

    Great piece; thank you.


  6. Oh. My. Gosh. What a sad commentary on grumpy authors with nothing better to do than disillusion a child/fan.

    I, too, am glad your grandmother introduced you to the wonderful world of postcards. I love sending them out; in fact, probably half of my LetterMo mailings this year will be PCs.


  7. Postcards have been such a huge part of my life. In high school, friends and I would always seek out the best, most interesting postcards, and they would end up as decorations for our walls. My older sister was also a tremendous correspondent – more so than I would have been if I’d had a much younger sister when I went away to college. I do have a few letters from my youth (mostly from college) but I have a plethora of postcards from high school on up, and I adore them. Some still live on my walls, but I also adore reading them.

    All this is to say – I have always sent postcards, and my Lettermo challenge is mostly postcards. Postcards rule! 🙂

  8. Postcards do indeed rule. Since finding the Postsnap app (www.postsnap.com) I’m literally sending one every week, so easy, just grab my phone and send a postcard with my own photos and it gets there in a few days!

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