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LETTER WRITING: "More than kisses, letters mingle souls." John Donne

Harper Lee. William Styron. Donald Hall. Kaye Gibbons. Katherine Applegate. Lisa Wingate. Brian Selznick. Glenn Taylor. Each one, an author or a book that resonated with me so much that I found it absolutely necessary to let them know. And the best part, they each wrote a note back to me. Early on, the note was written or typed, signed, inserted into an envelope, sealed, stamped, and sent on its way for me to discover inside my mailbox. And then the moment, when carefully releasing the sealed flap, I couldn't breathe -- at least not normally, until I did, holding the watermarked paper close to the light and reveling in its delicacy and strength -- two seemingly disparate characteristics that when melded produce nothing short of grand. And, for the more contemporary authors, receiving an email in my in-box is pretty darn close to the same experience -- a letter from an author of a book that when finished a wish that it wasn't yet over surfaces. It is perhaps the closest of moments -- a rather intangible moment of intimacy -- that connect the reader and writer until they meld into one. A union that is nearly sacred, for the gift of words that transforms into gifts that help you look at the world in a different way, that introduce you to an idea that formerly was not entertained, and that offers more than a glimpse of clarity.

With Harper Lee, the gift was one of easing racial tensions one person at a time until the tension is eased -- over time. Styron brought to light a better understanding of the depths of depression, and Donald Hall revealed the deep love he shared with his beloved, Jane Kenyon. And for so many of my students, ELLEN FOSTER became their savior, while Applegate and Wingate spoke with me not only as lovers of their words, but as supporters of my own fiction for young readers. And when my niece received a hand-written letter from Selznick, she became an even more ardent reader. After all, isn't that one reason why we tell stories?! As I read Taylor's A HANGING AT CINDER BOTTOM, all I wanted to do was take him out to dinner for providing moments of tremendous mystery and laughter to my world.

And it's in the reading and re-reading of these treasured letters that my quest to continue to sit down every day at my laptop and type one word after another propels me to do my very best -- always my very best, for to do otherwise would certainly sell not only myself short, but each and every writer whose work graces my bookshelves.

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