Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

[Guest Post] The Letter Game – Caroline Stevermer

Today’s guest blogger is Caroline Stevermer, who has written nine and a half novels, if you count Sorcery And Cecelia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician as half a novel each (since they were written with Patricia C. Wrede). She lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her most recent letter game (written with Ellen Kushner) is the short story “The Vital Importance of the Superficial,” which appeared in Queen Victoria’s Book Of Spells.

Ellen Kushner taught me to play the Letter Game when we were in college.

What is the Letter Game? I checked just now and there is a Wikipedia entry for it. Here’s part of the entry:

A letter game involves the exchange of written letters, or e-mails, between two or more participants. The first player writes a letter in the voice of a newly created character; in this first letter, the writer should establish their own identity and that of their correspondent, should set the scene, and should explain why they and their correspondent must communicate in written fashion. In subsequent letters, plot and character can be developed, but the writers should not talk about plot outside of the letters and the characters should never meet.

I play a slightly looser version of the game, in that the first letter writer isn’t necessarily correct–the second letter writer could be someone who intercepted a letter intended for someone else, for example.

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline StevermerWhen Patricia C. Wrede and I were writing Sorcery and Cecelia, we allowed ourselves to gossip about the characters but we agreed never to discuss the plot. I’d played the Letter Game before (and have since), but the sheer delight of playing the game with Pat comes through in those letters. We didn’t know we were writing a novel. We were just playing the game.

According to my recollections (Pat may see things quite differently) once we finished up the last letters, we felt confident we had a book on our hands. Pat, the consummate professional, had been keying her letters into a file on her computer all along. (I didn’t yet have a computer.) She made certain the manuscript was complete and presentable. Before we sent it to our literary agent (we had the same agent in those days), Pat and I made a few changes, mainly to remove some loose ends that didn’t contribute to the plot. Terri Windling purchased the novel for Berkeley Books. Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, it went out of print almost instantly. Harcourt Brace bought it and its two sequels, The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician, years later and reissued it in hardcover. Digital editions are available from Open Road Media.

Since we didn’t realize we were were writing a novel until we were nearly finished, it is tricky to talk about the writing process. I said before, we were just playing the game. But this Letter Game was set in a place and time we both knew well, the intersection between Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, and all the fantasy we’d both read all our lives. The regency romance provided a clear template to follow.

In both sequels, we had gone beyond the regency romance template. We had characters who were in established relationships. More difficult still, in The Grand Tour we had characters who were in the same place at the same time. We got around that difficulty by alternating between extracts from Kate’s journal and portions of Cecy’s legal deposition recounting the events they’d been embroiled in.

TL;DR: The Letter Game is great. Give it a try. (Bend the rules.)

Best,
Caroline

P.S. Pat adds: Speaking of bending the rules… Since Sorcery and Cecelia came out, I have had mail from all sorts of people who’ve played the game in different ways, including a pair of eighth graders who used it as a history class project (each playing a cousin from opposite sides in the American Civil War), a group of about ten people playing a cross-universe version in which none of the characters were able to meet physically, and another couple who each played multiple characters who were all corresponding with each other (and most of them were lying to some characters and conspiring with others). The game is very adaptable.

21 thoughts on “[Wayback Repost] Why do letters seem more daunting than email?”

  1. Having been a letter writer for several years now, I don’t particularly find this challenge all that difficult, other than remembering to do it every day instead of when the whim takes me to write. And since I may not have a penpal’s letter to answer, then I need to think outside my normal circle of penpals and write to others. I saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with a few old penpals that had lapsed, family members that live outside of the city, friends I haven’t seen in a while, and strangers or persons of stature. I think it’s a great challenge and maybe it will even boost the joy of those who process all this mail and deliver it to us. 🙂

      1. Yesterday the commenting seemed broken. I was commenting on the printable cards to slip into letters explaining LetterMo, but this WayBack showed up at the bottom of every post I opened. Sorry about that~

  2. I love your post. And I totally agree.

    Email, tweets n twitters, FB comments all have their place and moment in time where they are the appropriate way to respond.

    However, sending a letter, postcard, or notecard is the only way to connect with someone on a more personal, even intimate, level.

    The act of sending a missive does take time, but more importantly it takes thought. What paper will I use? What will I add (stickers, washi, etc.)? What will I say? Combined these choices will be a bright spot in someone’s day. Added bonus? It was created specifically for them.

  3. Great article on postcard apps but you should also take a look at Postsnap’s easy to use postcard app.
    http://www.postsnap.com
    https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/postsnap-best-postcard-sending/id650814139?mt=8
    The app offers a number of unique features compared to the other apps reviewed including:
    – Guest checkout with Apple Pay
    – Extensive personalization options including collage layouts, stylish borders which can be adjusted in size with a slider and the option to add editable text in a variety of font types and colors and position it anywhere on the cards
    – iPhone and iPad support
    – Apple Pencil support
    – Facebook and Instagram integration
    – US postal address verification and UK postcode lookup
    Cards are printed and posted in our facilities in the UK, USA and Australia on the same or next working day and so cards typically arrive quickly. Enjoy!
    Stephen Homer
    Founder
    Postsnap

  4. I love Tomoe River paper for letter writing. I buy 100 sheets at a time and print my own mermaid stationery. I found an envelope that I like and ordered a mermaid address stamp and finish it off with mermaid washi tape.

  5. I too love journals to pull apart for writing. For me the most important aspect of the paper is the pattern. I love to have some colour and some design on the paper. I’ve managed to find a number of nice colours and designs at one of my local “Home Sense” discount stores in the book section. Most of the small journals are a perfect size to fit in the envelopes I use. If not I just give one edge a bit of a trim (but sometimes I really like the ripped edge look too!) ;P

  6. Hi, Christmas cards & more recently a letter (a bill) from the UK to Australia have taken 3 weeks to arrive. The exterior of these envelopes were stamped with a mark such as this from the latest envelope:
    DLC 992-4
    14:55
    26/07/2017
    The example quoted arrived at the Australian address on 28/07/2017, unfortunately it contained a bill dated 06/07/2017 which had to be paid within 14 days, by 20/07/2017.
    Why is the post so slow? What does the DLC 992-4 stamp signify? Would appreciate your feedback.

  7. My letter that I wrote was in September. The person who it was for still hasn’t gotten it and it’s now November….
    I don’t understand why it’s taking this long. I live in AZ and he lives in NY. I want answers.

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