Monthly Archives: February 2010

Jackson Free Press Person of the Day

The Jackson Free Press in Mississippi designated me “Person of the Day” for February 23. I was hoping the honor would come with a prize, like a new car. But it’s just this newspaper article. Which is still an honor.

Wilmington Star News Review by Ben Steelman

Here’s a link to a review of Letter to My Daughter by Ben Steelman in the Wilmington Star News, February 20.

WRKF-FM Interview with Jim Engster

Here’s a link to “The Jim Engster Show,” WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge, which aired February 19. My interview comes in about three-fourths of the way through.

WWNO Interview

Nice interview today with Fred Kasten on WWNO New Orleans “The Sound of Books.” I especially like the music you hear at the end, “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”
Here’s the link:’s.New.Novel.’’


Hello from New Orleans. I’ve recently moved back to Louisiana after many years abroad. It’s good to be here again; carnival season is in full swing, and I can hear the parades a few blocks away on St. Charles Avenue. My novel Letter to My Daughter comes out on February 16, Mardi Gras day, and though I didn’t choose the date, I’d like to think that it’s propitious.

This is supposed to be a blog, I know, but I don’t expect I’ll be doing much essaying here. Instead, I’d like to use this space as a forum to talk to readers about the book. So if you’ve made it to this page, and if you have any questions or comments about Letter to My Daughter, I’d be happy to hear from you.

And just to get you started, here are some sample questions and answers. (Your questions, I’m sure, will be better.)

Q: Hello. How are you?

A: Fine, thanks.

Q: What inspired you to write Letter to My Daughter?

A: I talk about this more on “The Story Behind the Book” page, but the short answer is that the novel came to me in a dream. Strange as it may sound.

A few years ago, I was in India on a fellowship to do teacher training. At the end of my stay there, I went on a camel safari in Rajasthan. I was actually working on another novel at the time, and I wasn’t thinking anything at all about mothers or daughters then. But I went to sleep in a tent in the desert, and when I woke up the next morning, I knew the whole story, beginning to end. I jotted down notes in my journal, and began working on a draft a few months later.

Q: Why did you write the story in the form of a letter?

A: Again, it was the dream. I dreamed the novel as a letter. I suppose I could have recast it as a standard narrative, but the epistolary form fit the story. Besides that, I like the idea of personal letters. The whole process seems quaintly old fashioned now—sitting down and picking up a pen and writing a letter on paper to someone. But for the generation of Laura, the mother in the story, writing letters was much more common than it is today.
In researching this novel, I especially enjoyed reading letters written to and from American soldiers in Vietnam. Most of those soldiers, you know, didn’t have university educations; they went to Vietnam straight out of high school. But in spite of their limited writing technique (or maybe because of it?), their letters have an immediacy and vividness that’s still very affecting. I tried to capture some of their style and feeling in the letters from Tim to Laura.

Q: You’re not married, you don’t have any children, you didn’t fight in the Vietnam war: how did you come to write a book so far removed from your real life experience?

A: Right: single, no daughter, no military experience. No tattoos, either. But this is what fiction writers do, isn’t it? We get to make up other worlds, hopefully ones more interesting than our own. I actually spend most of my time sitting indoors at a computer, and who would want to read about that?

Q: You once worked as an actor. Do you think your acting experience helped you in writing this book from the point of view of a female narrator?

A: It’s funny, one agent I sent an inquiry letter to seemed angry that I should even try to write this book. “HOW CAN A MAN WRITE A STORY FROM A MOTHER TO A DAUGHTER???” she wrote.

I think my experience as an actor did help with the writing of it. A good actor prepares for a role the same way a writer creates a character: by imagining a complete biography for that person. So as a writer or an actor, you should know not only what your characters say and do, but also how they sound, how they walk, what they love and hate, what they had for breakfast that morning . . . everything. All this helps to find the “voice” of a character, whether in acting or writing. And in my own case with the female narrator, growing up with three talkative sisters probably didn’t hurt, either.