I began writing Letters To My Mother in 1978 when the events that inspired the story – a romance between a 19 year old coed and a biochemistry professor - were fresher in my mind than they are now, more than thirty years later. Because I didn’t own a typewriter, I transcribed the text longhand in a series of notebooks and then in the early eighties, when my employer began installing computer terminals in its programmers’ cubicles, I started entering the text, secretly, on the company’s mainframe. Unknown to me, my first readers were the computer room operators. Certain of my anonymity, I printed drafts of the chapters as I progressed, until one day when I received a printout of chapter five covered with exclamation marks and comments. Years later one of the operators confessed to me that the staff used to rip my chapters off the printer and pass them around the computer room for everyone to read. With my cover blown, it was back to writing in notebooks.
When the manuscript was close to completion, I got busy with other projects and put the notebooks, computer printouts and loose sheets in a box and forgot about them. In 1996 my husband and I sold our house and the box went into storage, where it remained for twelve years. In March 2008, when the box finally caught up with me, I dug out the manuscript, went into a frenzy of rewriting and committed the text to my PC.
At that point the novel still lacked a title, a beginning, and an end. Coincidentally, two years previously I had written an essay, Lettere a mia madre, for an Italian class, a true story about finding my mother’s entire correspondence in some cardboard boxes after her death. Among these letters to my mother were the ones I sent to my parents from college, and it occurred to me that this essay would work as a “frame” for the novel. I translated Lettere a mia madre from Italian to English and it became the prologue and the final paragraph of my story as well as the title.
Anyone who works with computers knows the necessity of backing up essential data, and I am somewhat obsessive in this regard; I printed the novel, committed it to a CD, and copied the text to a secondary hard drive. One day when browsing Google, I realized that I could create a blog from the novel, not for others to read, but as the ultimate backup. When I finished this task, some time in late April 2008, I naturally began to wonder if anyone else might want to read it. I managed to get the blog included on several online novel sites, installed tracking code to give me information about who was accessing my blog, and sat back to see what would happen. Not much. I was getting about four hits a day, maximum, and while a few people did advance from chapter to chapter, the overall numbers were disappointing. A few months later, when my book was accepted for listing on a popular Canadian website, the number of hits rose dramatically.
Letters To My Mother is about a love affair between a shy, gifted student and the university professor she works for. It is listed in the romance category on the web sites I mentioned above, but readers who go to my blog expecting a “romance novel” in the traditional sense – at least as I understand the meaning of the term – are going to be disappointed. First of all, Letters violates the taboo of age difference - David is 28 years older than Kate. Second, romance novels stereotypically have happy endings, and while I wouldn’t say Letters To My Mother ends unhappily, Kate and David don’t go sailing off together into the sunset either, though this was one of the many conclusions I did consider.
Knowing how few novels sent to literary agents and publishing houses survive the vetting process, I’m simply not masochistic enough to consider submitting my novel for publication; if I were, I'd need to make a number of changes: Kate and David would certainly have to be closer in age and at the end they'd either have to be married, engaged, or about to be. But that's not the story I wanted to tell.
Turning on my computer and seeing that someone in Bangalore, India is reading chapter seven, that another person in Sydney, Australia is reading chapter three and that someone else from a town I’ve never heard of in West Virginia is on chapter seventeen is reward enough.