Sunday, February 28, 2010

Letter #59

Letter writing topic for Sunday, February 28, 2010:

Today is the last day of February this year, which may be a disappointing thing for those who were born on Feb. 29. There won't be another Feb. 29 until the next Leap Year, which will be 2012. Do you know someone who will be missing a birthday this year? If so, write them a birthday letter today! Just because Feb. 29 isn't on the calendar, don't forget the person!

(Oops. I knew I would be busy with Thinking Day yesterday, and I thought I had set up Letter #58 to post automatically, but something went wrong. It was a little bit late. I apologize.)

Letter #58

Letter writing topic for Saturday, February 27, 2010:

Today, our Girl Scout region celebrates Thinking Day, a day on which we think about -- and learn about -- Girl Scouts all over the world. Our troop requested and was assigned to have a booth about Egypt. Well feature both ancient and modern Egyptians and Egyptian life in our booth. We're fortunate in that one of our Girl Scout moms visited Egypt last year, so the girls have a lot of information about the country and many nice things to decorate the booth with.

Today, write a letter about your favorite "foreign" country, a country that's not your own.Have you visited there or do you wish to visit there? What do you like about it? What type of food do they eat there? Have you tried it before? Share with someone!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Letter #57

Letter writing topic for February 26, 2010:

According to some sources, February is the Great American Pie Month. Today, write a letter about your favorite pie. Maybe you can include the recipe. Maybe you'll write about the pies of your childhood.

When I was a little girl, my Mama had a tiny little glass pie plate, and when she made a pie, she took the leftover pie crust dough and filling and made me my very own little pie. Wasn't that sweet of her?!?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Letter #56

Letter writing topic for February 25, 2010:

At our house, we're right in the middle of Girl Scout Cookie sales....Thin Mints, Carmel deLites, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Peanut Butter Patties, Shortbreads, Thanks-A-Lots, Lemonades and Daisy-Go-Rounds are everywhere. Today, write a letter to someone about your favorite Girl Scout cookie (or your favorite cookie of any kind).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Letter #55

Letter writing topic for February 24, 2010:

Today, write a note of hope and encouragement for a friend who is dealing with a difficult situation right now. At the very least, let her know that you're thinking about her and that you sympathize with her plight. Your letter may be just the ray of sunshine she needs.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Letter #54

Letter writing topic for February 23, 2010:

Oh! But, I'm so late with this post today. We've had more snow...just an inch or so, but enough for the school district to cancel classes today. I've been running behind all day.

Today, write a letter to someone who helps you and/or others out and deserves a "Thanks. I appreciate you." I know you probably tell them that all the time, but sometimes those "Thanks!" in passing just fade into the darkness. Put it down on paper and mail it to them. That way, they can read and re-read it as many times as they need to, to remember how much they are needed and appreciated.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Letter #53

Letter writing topic for February 22, 2010:

According to some Internet sources, this week is International Friendship Week, sponsored by the International Society of Friendship and Good Will. Today write a letter to a friend who lives in another country. If you don't have such a friend, consider some of the pen pal sites that are out there on the Internet and make a new international friend today. (Here's a post I wrote last year about some of the pen pal sites.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Letter #52

Letter writing topic for February 21, 2010:

At 5-something o'clock this morning, Lady, the dog we "rescued" after seeing her wander the highway a few months ago, woke us up barking and barking and barking. As best as I can tell, she's scared of the dark and just stands there barking to scare off whatever might be out there. Of course, around here, there could really be all sorts of things out there in the dark -- deer, wild hogs, skunks, coyotes, etc. Lady finally quieted down, but, naturally, I couldn't get back to sleep.

So, I'm thinking about dogs. Until late last year, as long as my husband and I have been married, we've only had cats. When we were kids, we each had a dog or two, but it just hadn't worked out for us to have a dog in our adult lives. We really didn't want a dog when we found Lady (we have/had more than enough cats), but after someone apparently dumped her out on the highway, we we couldn't stand to see her die out there. After several days of observing her on our way to and from work, one evening we saw the dog sort of lying on the side of the road. Hurt? We couldn't tell. We drove on down the highway, discussing the dog. Finally, my husband turned around and went back. By that time, the dog was running down the middle of the highway, toward the direction we had been going. We drove past a little ways and then, turned around. When we got near and slowed down, the dog came up by the driver's side door. My husband pulled over on the side of the road, and I opened the door and called to the dog. She (only we didn't know she was a "she" then)  came around to the passenger side, tail tucked under and crawling on her belly to me. She was dirty, covered in grease or oil and a little bit skinny, but not emaciated. I drove home while my husband held her in his lap...and she's not a small dog. The vet says she's part Doberman.

We took her home with us, and she's been here ever since, barking, chewing up stuff, chasing cats, getting sprayed by skunks, but desperately loving us every minute of the day. 

Today, write a letter with a story about a dog. Tell someone about your pet, one you have now or had in the past. If you don't have or never had a dog, write about another pet or a neighbor's dog or the dog you always wished you could have.

Happy letter writing!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Letter #51

Letter writing topic for February 20, 2010:

Today, write a letter of support for your favorite Olympic athlete or team. You can send mail to the following address by inserting the specific athlete's name or the team on the top line. Don't forget to use the correct postage. The games will continue for about another week.

{Athlete's Name/Team}
Olympic Village Vancouver
2010 Athletes Way
Vancouver BC V5Y 0A8

Friday, February 19, 2010

Letter #50

Letter writing topic for February 19, 2010:

Today, just write a simple letter to a friend. Nothing fancy, nothing special. Just a keeping-in-touch note that will most likely brighten her or his day.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Letter #49

Letter writing topic for February 18, 2010:

Today, write a "bell ringing" letter to a friend. What in the world is that, you may be asking.

Let me explain.

A while back, not long after I started this blog, I started following the "An Explorer's View of Life" blog by Barry Fraser. He lives in Canada, and I have no idea how I came across his blog. It's likely I linked to it from someone else's blog. His blog, at that time, was a general, life's experiences type of blog. He often wrote about his dog, Lindsay, and sometimes about his wife, Linda. On Fridays, he posted pictures from around his community.

Then, almost a year ago, Barry was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. As Barry has dealt with the diagnosis, the treatment and the life changes that have gone with such things, he has continued to blog. As you can imagine, there are days that his posts start the tears flowing. And, as Barry's blog has hundreds of followers, I'm sure there are tears flowing all over the world as people who have never known him outside his blog read about his struggles.

Today, Barry has his last chemotherapy treatment (at least for now). It is a tradition at center where he gets his treatment that as the patients leave the building after their last chemo treatment, they ring the bell. And, when they ring the bell, everyone nearby stops and applauds.

Barry is ringing that bell today at 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

After he announced this on his blog, many of his followers/readers wrote to say that they would ring a bell at that time, too, to help celebrate his victory. You can read about the bell on his blog here and here and here

So, today, in honor of Barry and his last chemo treatment, today, write a letter ringing the bell for someone. Someone who has accomplished something, who has overcome such a great struggle, someone who has persevered, someone who deserves to ring a bell.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A New Book To Read

The February 2010 issue of "Better Homes and Gardens" mentions a new book to be released this month, The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. 

According to the publisher, The Postmistress is a novel about the loss of innocence of two extraordinary women -- and of two countries torn apart by war.

On the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II in 1940, Iris James, the postmistress of Franklin, a small town on Cape Cod, does the unthinkable: She doesn't deliver a letter.

In London, American radio gal Frankie Bard is working with Edward R. Murrow, reporting on the Blitz. One night in a bomb shelter, she meets a doctor from Cape Cod with a letter in his pocket, a letter Frankie vows to deliver when she returns from Germany and France, where she is to record the stories of war refugees desperately trying to escape.

The residents of Franklin think the war can't touch them- but as Frankie's radio broadcasts air, some know that the war is indeed coming. And when Frankie arrives at their doorstep, the two stories collide in a way no one could have foreseen. 
The Postmistress is an unforgettable tale of the secrets we must bear, or bury. It is about what happens to love during war­time, when those we cherish leave. And how every story - of love or war - is about looking left when we should have been looking right.


It began, as it often does, with a woman putting her ducks in a row.
It had occurred to Iris a few weeks back— at the height of summer when tourists jammed the post office with their oiled bodies and their scattered, childish vacation glee— that if what she thought were going to happen was going to, she ought to be prepared. She ought, really oughtn’t she, to be ready to show Harry that though she was forty, as old as the century, he would be the first. The very first. And she had always put more stock in words set down on a clean white piece of paper than any sort of talk. Talk was—
“Right,” said the doctor, turning away to wash his hands.
Iris supposed she was meant to get up and get dressed while his back was turned, but she had not had the foresight to wear a skirt, thinking instead that her blue dress was the thing for this appointment, and no matter how thorough a man Dr. Broad was, he’d have turned around from the sink long before she’d gotten it over her head, and then where would they be? The leather banquette on which she lay was comfortably firm and smelled like the chairs in the reading room at the public library. No, she would stay put. She slid her gaze from the ceiling over to the little sink at which the doctor stood, rubbing his hands beneath the gurgle. He was certainly thorough. Well, there must be all sorts of muck down there anyone would want to wash their hands of. And as the next step was the certificate, she ’d be the first to insist that nothing chancy landed on that page by accident.
He straightened, turned off the taps, and flicked his fingers against the back basin before taking up the towel beside him. “Are you decent, Miss James?”
He directed the question to the wall in front of him.
“Not in the least.”
“Right,” he said again, “I’ll see you in my office.”
“For the certificate.”
Nearly to the door, he paused with his hand outstretched, glancing down at her. She gave him her post office smile, the one she used behind her window, meant to invite cooperation.
“Yes,” he said, and he grasped hold of the handle, pushing it smartly down and pulling open the door. She waited until she heard the latch click softly after him before she rose, holding one hand to the loosened pins in her hair and the other around her front. She felt a bit as she did in the mornings, unbound by bra or girdle, herself come loose. All fine in the security of her own bedroom, but here she was in the middle of Boston, in one of the discreet buildings fronting the Public Gardens, after lunch on a Thursday in September. On the other side of the door, the steady rhythm of a typewriter clattered through the quiet. The tiles were cool under her feet and she reached first for her underthings, leaning against the banquette as she drew one stocking on, then the next, snapping the garters firmly. Hanging from the back of the chair, the cups of her brassiere pointed straight out into the room— like headlights. She smiled, pulling the bra on, and for the third time that afternoon, she thought of Harry Vale.
A single rap at the door. “I’m ready when you are, Miss James.”
“I’ll be right in,” she called back.
Everything had been genial. Everything had been perfectly nice. The doctor’s office was the sort to glory in— thick green curtains pulled back from high windows, just skimming a rich gray carpet. The secretary in the outer nook, typing away. The hush of order as she had taken Iris’s coat and slipped it onto the wooden hanger. And the doctor, just right, too. How he’d opened the door and held out his warm hand to her, half as greeting, half as a hand up from where she sat waiting. And he’d led her through into his office, signaling the chair in front of his great oak desk as he continued around it to his own position. He’d even pressed his fingertips together under his chin, his serious eyes upon her as she placed her pocketbook upon her lap. They’d spoken briefly of Mrs. Alsop, exchanging pleasantries about the woman from whom Miss James had acquired Dr. Broad’s name, just as if they’d all been acquaintances bumped into in the lobby of a traveler’s hotel. The doctor had listened and smiled, asking Iris if she got to Boston often.
It had all cracked slightly, with her request. Not audibly, but noticeably enough for Iris to recognize that the doctor was going to need some prodding: that the capacious room notwithstanding, Dr. Broad lacked imagination. He was happy to examine her, he told her, leaning back in his chair. But why the piece of paper?
“I would have thought every man might like to have such a thing?” she suggested.
Dr. Broad cleared his throat.
“Perhaps that’s a bit familiar of me,” she concluded aloud, watching the man across the desk from her inch his hands along the arms of his chair, making as if to rise.
“Why don’t we begin?” He smiled and did rise, bringing the interview to a halt. So she had not had a chance to answer the question fully. And opening the door between the examining room and his office, she could see, by the studied lifting of his head from what occupied him at his desk, that she ’d not be given another chance. He was very busy. She was just one of many women he tended to.
“Please,” he said, “have a seat.”
“Everything’s in order?”
“You’re perfect,” he answered.
His eyes remaining on the paper before him, he took it up and handed it across the desktop to her. “Will that do?”
She reached and took the page in her hand and looked down.
This is to certify that Miss Iris James was examined on 21 September 1940 and found to be Intact.
She had been right. There’d been no skimping on the paper. Dr. Broad’s stationery was beautifully creamy, nearly linen. And though he’d obviously had little enthusiasm for the project, he’d written it all out wonderfully. She thought he might have won a handwriting prize in school.
“It’s perfect,” she smiled up at him. “Thank you.”
“Glad to help,” he said, and graciously stood behind his desk as she rose and moved to the door. For several moments he remained standing, listening to her there on the other side of the door, asking for her coat from Miss Prentiss, and then for the quickest bus route from here to South Station. Their voices were light and agreeable, the lilt and tone of which he usually managed to ignore while working inside. Then the outer door opened and shut, and, after a pause, Miss Prentiss resumed her typing. He walked over to one of the two windows facing down into the Public Gardens.
He almost missed her. She had emerged so quickly from his building that she was across the street and around the corner pillars of the Gardens, walking swiftly away from him up the outer walk. She carried herself like someone under review, shoulders thrown back, her head pulled up. “What a queer character,” he mused. He followed her the fifty- odd feet she remained in sight, until eventually she was swallowed up by the city and the distance. He turned back around to his desk. “I thought every man should want such a thing,” she had said right there.

And bombs were falling on Coventry, London, and Kent. Sleek metal pellets shaped like the blunt- tipped ends of pencils aimed down upon hedgerow and thatch. What was a hedgerow? Where was Coventry? In History and Geography, Hitler’s army marched upon the school maps of Europe, while next door in English, the voices recited from singsong memory— I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made. Bombers flew above the wattles, over an England filled with the songs of linnets and thrush. There were things being broken we had no American names for.
There was war. What did it mean, War? Stretched out upon the pages of Life, the children of Coventry stared up into an inquisitive camera. We could see them. They looked unafraid there in the ditch dug for safety. Their hands spread- eagled against the dirt walls for balance, the two girls still in skirts. There was a boy with no expression. He looked back at us straight, and the collar of his jacket was fastened by a safety pin. He was already there, in the war.
Where our boys were not going. The president had promised. He spoke bluntly, as if he were one of the people, but he wasn’t, thank God. Nobody thought so. When he said the boys would not fight in foreign wars, we believed him, though we had listened to the names of the French towns falling the way people listen to the names of medicine before they are taken ill themselves. Now the talk was of a German invasion. Would England stand? Their tanks and trucks, their guns, hulked useless on the other side of the Channel where they’d left them at Dunkirk. But when we were told the Brits had dragged cannons out of the British Museum, wheeling them down to the Thames, we nodded. Bombs had crashed down on London now for sixteen nights. Buses were stopped in the street. Babies hurled from their beds, we were told. Still, in the morning, one by one, Londoners crept back out into the light and we cheered them. England would stand. Nobody knew the ending. Buchenwald was as yet only a town in Germany, where sunlight splattered the trees. Auschwitz. Bergen- Belsen. Simply foreign names. It was the end of summer and the lights were still on.

In South Station, Iris made her way toward the train for Buzzard’s Bay, amusing herself by watching the transfer of mailbags into the freight cars at the back. It happened rarely that she traveled with the mail, but it gave her exquisite pleasure to take a seat in the foremost car, the very front seat if she could manage it. All these letters, all these words scratched out one to the other, spinning their way toward someone. Someone waiting. Someone writing. That was the point of it all, keeping the pure chutes clear, so that anybody’s letter— finding its way to the post office, into the canvas sacks, the many-hued envelopes jostling and nestling, shuffling with all the others— could journey forward, joining all the other paper thoughts sent out minute by minute to vanquish—
The stationmaster announced the departure of the Buffalo Express and she gazed up at the clock and watched the hand stitch one second to the next. In another minute her train would be called, and she’d join the crowd boarding, pulled back into the shape of her name and of her person. She’d be Iris James, again. Postmaster of Franklin, Massachusetts.
Where Harry was. And the new place in her chest that seemed to have been made by him— that flipped and moved when she caught sight of him on the street, or in line behind others at the post office— bounded. A year ago, he’d just been Harry Vale, the town mechanic, nice enough, good for a spare tire and a chat. And then, one day, he wasn’t. He was something else. For he had walked into Alden’s Market not too long ago and come slowly up behind her so that when she turned around, a can of creamed corn in one hand and plain in the other, there was nothing to do but raise them both to him, offering a choice. He looked at her and then down at the cans, seeming to consider the two very carefully. Finally, he put his thick hand out and pointed to the plain. She nodded. He’d have to tip his head up to kiss her, Iris found herself thinking.
She’d never imagined it would come to her, but here it was— Harry Vale had looked at her with the look that signaled something’s on. And he had done it in plain sight. Never mind Beth Alden watching at the counter. Never mind the heat bolting from the canned goods at the back of the store. She patted her pocketbook. Was it odd what she had done? Well, so what if it was. What she had said to the doctor was God’s own truth— any man would want to know he was the first, she was sure of it— and she could give Harry the paper, beautiful and clean as a white dress at the end of an aisle, which she was too old for, and anyway white was her least becoming color.
At Nauset, Iris descended the Boston train and walked the four blocks through the central town on the Cape to find the bus out to Franklin. Mr. Flores sat in the shade cast by the bus and pushed himself up onto his feet, ambling forward. She had reapplied her lipstick and combed her hair as the train had pulled into the station, which was a good thing because he was staring.
“Hello, Miss James. Good trip down?”
“Yes, thanks.” She looked him straight back in the eyes, daring him to ask her anything more.
He nodded and pointed her toward the bus’s open door. Iris pulled herself up the three short stairs and into the bus. There was a foreign couple, a couple of stray women sitting alone, and an assortment of men clustered around Flores’s seat at the front of the bus. Iris nodded and made her way toward the back, past a young woman with her head in a thick book, the curve of her neck laid bare as her hair swept forward. She did not look up, and she didn’t stir as Iris passed her by to find a seat three rows back.
Iris reached into her skirt pocket for her cigarettes, shook out a Lucky, and considered the head and shoulders of the little child- woman reading in front of her. A runaway, thought the postmaster, though she was quite well dressed in a sensible blue suit, her brown hair cut short and feathering along the straight edge of her collar. In any case, she was the sort who needed tending, the small- breasted women who tip their faces up to men, smiling delightedly as babies. At last the little creature turned slightly, as if to meet Iris’s gaze, aware of her attention, and gave a noncommittal smile— a mechanical response like a hand put out to ward off the sun. Iris nodded, companionably, exhaling smoke. It’s all right—she addressed the woman’s back, now turned away again— I won’t bite. The bus bounced a little as Mr. Flores climbed up behind the wheel and swung himself into his seat, and the engine roared to life, shaking the floor under Iris’s feet.

Vronsky was making love to Anna.
Emma read the sentence again, distracted by the pillar of a woman behind her. Did Tolstoy really mean making love? She couldn’t think so. Having sex? It would be so bald written on the page like that. Surely they can’t have been making love here and there like this in the nineteenth century. It must refer to something else, something more benign. She flushed, a little guiltily. Not that having sex wasn’t benign— of course it was, it led to babies, after all. Though the things that she and Will had begun to do in the dark had nothing whatsoever to do with babies. But Anna and Vronsky? They had been constrained, wasn’t that the idea? Perhaps it was the translation. She flipped to the cover of the book and read the name beneath Tolstoy’s— Constance Garnett. Emma thought she understood. Vronsky had whispered something loving to Anna, or soothed Anna lovingly, or something like that, and Miss Garnett had used other words instead, painting what ought to be a pink scene— scarlet. Probably a spinster; the pathetic type who reads passion into the twist of a shut umbrella. Like that woman in the back of the bus.
She pushed her bottom back a bit against the seat on the bus so that she sat up straighter, the doctor’s new wife in a very attractive travel suit with a matching scarf thrown around her shoulders. She stared out the window. Since she had said to Will Fitch two weeks ago— hurriedly, afraid to look up at him, Yes. Yes, I will. I do— something firm and satisfying and entirely new had entered into the frequent chaos of her mind. As though Edward R. Murrow’s voice, that brave, impassioned masculine voice, full of its own urgency and volume, had laid down the track upon which she now hummed. Clarity ran upon that track, and purpose.
Pamet. Then Dillworth. Finally Drake. Closing her eyes, Emma recited the names of the towns she knew only through Will’s letters, in which the geography of her new land was mapped by the various ailments of the people he treated. Heart disease. Bursitis. A pair of twins delivered in Drake, which was a miracle, wrote Will, given that the mother had neither the time nor the means to get off the Cape quick enough—
“Is your Bobby turning twenty, twenty- one?” The man’s voice in front of her broke in.
“ Twenty- one.”
“They won’t send ’em over there. Get them trained up, okay. Hell, have them build a few bridges! But they won’t send ’em.”
The second man didn’t answer right away and stared out the window. Emma found herself watching the strict profile of his nose and chin as if for some sign. The trees flashed past. “Sure they will,” he said, turning back to his companion.
It served her right. Emma sat back, annoyed at herself for listening in. She had heard it this morning and tried to forget it, had forgotten it in fact, but now here it was again. The draft had passed in Congress, and all men of serviceable age were to report to the draft boards that had sprung up in every town, little and large, like mushrooms after a rain. Not that it would matter to her, she protested to the slight reflection of her hands on her lap in the window. Will wouldn’t go. He had said as much. (Though not definitively, she corrected, scrupulously honest even in her worry.) He shouldn’t go, she amended. He certainly had cause to plead hardship. He was the last in line of the Fitches. He was the sole doctor for miles— and she had just married him.
Anyway, he couldn’t leave her. There was a central fact to everyone’s life, she thought, a fact from which all else stemmed. Hers was that she had been utterly alone in the world— until she met Will. She had lost her mother and father and brother in the epidemic in 1918. They had died in a fever dream, and she had lived; and now, it had been so long, they might have never lived at all. There was a house on a hill, far from the sea, where she had been born. And a town she remembered full of the flappings of flags, which she realized now was her memory of the tents they all lay in, out in the field, because the hospital was gorged with the sick. The memory she might have had of her mother was blotted out by a nurse’s face, wrapped in a mask, bending over her in her cot, checking to see if she breathed.
Now it would start, this next part. The orphaned girl with the serious eyes and the mole at the base of her throat was now the doctor’s wife, with a husband, a house, and a town. Marrying Will had pulled her through the dim gray curtain of unaccented time. The time spent in a shared room at the top of a boardinghouse, her stockings drying on the ladder- back chair. She was going home. She tried a smile in the window glass. Home. To Will.
Emma slid the Federal Writer’s Project guidebook on Cape Cod out from her satchel, turning to its section on Franklin: The bait at the end of the sandy hook sticking fifty- odd miles into the Atlantic, the town of Franklin waves slyly back at the shore. The first thing one loses there is a sense of direction. Ringed by the yellow- white sand dunes and water on all sides, North and South seem to switch points on the compass, and the sky is no help. It is a place swollen by fish and the smell of fish, of cod oil, of the broken spars of whale bones and masts spat back from the sea onto the broad swath of beaches behind the town. Pilgrims of one sort or another have always come: first the Puritans, then the Portuguese whalers, and then at the turn of the last century artists arrived, wrapping their scarves on the tops of old dories and painting them; and policemen’s daughters who have come down from Boston mixed with the parti- colored crowds, saying wasn’t it fun, wasn’t it something how the Mediterranean sons of fishermen walked arm and arm with the Yankee gold while the bright lights of the summer theaters glow out into the dark—Christ! She flipped the book shut and stuffed it back. It was as purple as the Garnett.
Mr. Flores hunched low over the wheel, peering into the slanting light, and Emma felt the road spinning her closer and closer in. The stark white houses of Woodling passed one after another. Through the Tralpee forest they went, the squat beechwood flinging away on either side, until at last the bus reached the crest of the hill before Franklin. And as the bus stuttered at the top in the beat before descending, she sat up straight wishing— suddenly, unaccountably— that the line between her and this town would snap. Mr. Flores’s fist paused above the gearshift. The dunes spread wide around them.
For a brief instant, Emma felt they might fly. The sky through the broad front window called. And she nearly stood up in her seat, imagining herself able to continue straight, the road falling away as the bus rode forward into the illimitable air. But the gears caught, and the bus shuddered down through the high hills of sand. Down they rode until the tarmac pulled free of the dunes and curved toward the sea, jogging alongside the gray harbor into town.
The bus churtled past the stark lines of the shingled roofs triangling into the September evening. The flag snapped in the wind above the steep pitch of the post office, and the bus slowed to a crawl as Mr. Flores negotiated the narrow street shared now with people walking, hallooing to the bus, on bicycles spinning alongside. The town unfolding outside the window, she put her hand out upon the seat in front of her, a flush rising in the hollow of her throat. She had prided herself on how quickly she would get the names of all the townspeople, showing off her knowledge to Will, whom she imagined would return every night as if to a theater of her making, delighting to find himself in his familiar town, revealed and illumined now by his Emma’s perceptions. Emma meant to be an asset to him in this way. He would be the best doctor because his probes need not be blind.
But the flesh was a different matter. Arriving, as she had, straight into the center of the town, the slightness of her imagination struck her full force. For here they all were already. Two women in conversation on the corner broke off to stare as the bus pulled to its stop. The town was not waiting to start up with her arrival. The town was clearly already itself without her. The door swung open and she smelled the sea in the air. She sat still in her seat for a moment, collecting her gloves, marshaling the courage to find Will in the crowd, certain he was just there on the other side of the bus waiting with that impatient, exacting smile of his. The woman from the back of the bus brushed past, causing Emma to look up, and then she made out Will’s head above the line of some others coming toward the bus, his long body tipped forward. One felt that he had much on his mind, and much to do. He had caught sight of her through the glass and he waved. She waved back and the scarf slipped off her shoulders as she bolted up now, she was that happy, and through the empty bus toward the door.
“Hiya.” His head came around the open door and he was up the stairs just as she arrived at them and he reached for her and pulled her directly into his arms. She raised her mouth to his and the warm familiar lips pressed hers, softly at first and then more deeply as he gathered her even closer so she could feel the whole hard length of him against her skirt. Though they were right out in public, she closed her eyes and moved into the grotto of their kiss where it was dark and cool, her lips opening under his, and then with a happy moan she pulled herself away from his lips, back out into the light.
“Hiya.” She smiled up at him breathless, a little prick of pride rising at the sight of him right there before her. How had she managed it? She had sat beside him in restaurants, on buses, walked next to him on the streets of Cambridge, the familiar length of his stride a comfort, almost like knowledge. They knew each other this way. He had shepherded her around, his arm under hers, his hand at the small of her back propelling her into smoky rooms, and back out again. They had talked and laughed. They had even quarreled. And then, suddenly one afternoon in the spring, he had asked her to marry him. It was crazy, mad— but that was part of the story, wasn’t it?— Dr. Lowenstein had written to take him into the practice and he had stuffed the telegram in his pocket and gone down on his knees right there in the Back Bay post office. And she looked down at him and began nodding before he had opened his mouth. They had arrived at the pact like children. It was the next step, the only step, the serious one. As if, joining hands, they had closed their eyes and jumped, without even holding their breath.
He leaned down to read the title of the book in her hand, still holding tight to her as he did. Her scarf had slipped off her shoulders and the long triangle of her bare skin gave off a bright heat like summer grass.
“Like it?” he asked.
“Could they have been making love in the nineteenth century?” She pulled her gaze away, offering up the last thing, least important, that had rested on the shelf of her mind.
“I don’t see how we’d all have gotten here if they hadn’t.”
“No, no. Look.” She opened the book right there on the top step of the bus and rippled through the pages, sharply aware of his eyes on her shoulders and arms. They had kissed. They had touched each other through layers of silk and wool. Through jackets and trousers and blouses and skirts, but his eyes might as well have been hands now, her skin prickling and flushing as he put his foot on the stair next to hers and his jacket slid open. “There,” she pointed.
He looked down and read, “Vronksy was making love—
“It’s so naked,” she said and then blushed, “to say it like that.”
He pressed against her. “Like what?”
“On the page. Wouldn’t the readers have been shocked? I am.”
“You are not,” he whispered.
“I am,” she giggled, leaning her shoulder into his. “I really am. A modern reader.”
“It meant something else. Everyone understood.”
“Courting,” he answered, his smile lighting up the impossible inches between them.
“Oh,” she sighed happily. “Well, you would know.”
“Come on,” he put his hand under her elbow to draw her down the stairs. “Let’s go home.”
Through the open door, a suitcase sailed off the busman’s hook, flying for a moment in the air until it crashed down and split, cracking open upon the sidewalk neat as a tapped egg.
“Oh!” cried Emma.
Will stopped where he was at the door of the bus, staring down at the voluptuous explosion of what must be Em’s underthings cascading over the popped sides of the case. They were numerous, silky, and a twilit blue, tossed and flung in a delirious striptease, showing themselves like sirens. He squeezed Emma’s hand tucked in his behind his back.
“No one saw,” he said to her. “I’ll step around and help Flores. That’ll give you a minute.”
Emma nodded, letting go of his hand, and slipped off the last of the bus stairs onto the pavement. She had to fight the urge to fling herself onto the smashed case and cover the strewn clothing with her body, but that woman from the bus was leaning against the railing on the pavement, watching.
“Shall I help you pick up?” she asked.
To her own surprise, Emma found herself nodding. The two of them kneeled down without another word to gather the stockings, the soft bras, and the slight blue panties from the ground. The woman was so quiet and so careful with Emma’s things that the bride’s throat closed over with tears.
“It’s only clothing,” the other woman said quietly. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
“I know,” Emma whispered back.
“Then don’t let him see you cry. He’ll think you are ashamed.”
Emma’s hand hovered over a nightie and she flushed up. What did this woman know about Will or about what he would think? She tossed the thing into her case.
“I’m not ashamed in the slightest.”
Iris heard the warning in the girl’s voice and glanced across the suitcase at her. “Fine,” she answered. And then, as an afterthought, she added, “I’m Iris James.”
Emma looked into the woman’s square but not unpleasant face framed by dark red hair pulled back on either side like curtains. “Hello,” she answered.
“And who might you be?”
Emma threw the last of the things in the suitcase and closed the lid.
“Emma Trask,” she answered, and then blushed— “I mean, Fitch.”
“Nuts,” said Iris with a disarming smile. “The doctor’s bride. And here I had pegged you as a runaway.”
It was the first time Emma had laughed in days. And she would always remember that bubble of her laughter overtaking her there on the sidewalk at Miss James’s feet, her things disarranged, the green slant of the trees behind Miss James’s head, and the evening sun warm on her own back. Will came around from the side of the bus and reached out his hands to pull her up to him. It would all be all right, she decided there and then. And she had laughed out loud again, falling into the circle of Will’s arm.
“Thank you,” he smiled down at Iris. “You’ve been a great help.”
“You’re very welcome, Dr. Fitch,” Iris answered.
“Let’s go home,” he said to Emma.
“All right.” She smiled. And he grabbed her suitcase with his free hand, never letting her loose from his side. Several paces away, Emma turned her head in the crook of Will’s arm and saw Miss James waiting out the stream of cars before slipping in and crossing the road.
“Who’s that?”
“Postmaster James.” He wanted to kiss Emma right there again on the street, but picked up his pace instead.
“Hey,” she protested, laughing, but she skipped along beside him, not taking in anything at all of her new town except the dank smell of the sea, and the heavy air, and the thunk thunk of the waves against the seawall to her left. Straight through the thick of town and out toward the older, quieter part where the steep- angled houses softened as the afternoon wore down. Anyone watching— and everyone was, Emma knew it, it was a small town, after all, and she had to be the topic of most dinner tables, why not? she was young and fairly attractive and he was their doctor!— anyone watching would probably notice how easily the two fell into step as if they’d been walking together for years already. Anyone would have commented on that, and the lamps lighting up inside the houses they passed seemed to Emma a silent strain, like a low murmur beneath the chat, of approval and attention. She straightened herself a little in reply.
Perhaps this was why, when Will reached slightly ahead of her and pushed open a gate, looking down proudly, she hesitated. Here she was, at last. She glanced up at the house, which looked just like all the others along the way— steep- angled roofs and grayed shingles, a wide front porch and a door the color of the shingles, unpainted. They walked slowly toward it, and when they reached the porch steps, Will put his hand under Emma’s elbow. Someone was speaking inside the house, a woman, and as Emma rose up the steps toward the screen door, the urgency in the voice drew her in, as though the house were talking. “For Christ’s sake,” Will muttered as he pulled open the door. “I left the radio on.”
She walked toward the voice. Down the hall she could see through to the kitchen where Will had put beach roses in a jam jar against the window to welcome her. The evening sun splintered through the water and the flowers hung there like pink stars. At the back of the pub, there’s a scoreboard, the woman on the radio said. And tonight, it reads RAF 30, Luftwaffe 20. Although it has been a bad night for the British, it’s been worse— she paused— for the people of Berlin. RAF 30, Luftwaffe 20. There it stands, the score that London keeps each night the Battle con—
Will reached to turn it off. “No”— Emma pushed gently against his hand— “no, who is that?”
“Who is what?” She was tinier than he remembered— he could wrap his arms around her and nearly hug himself, too— and he pulled her in to him and felt her heart just there against him, waiting. That was how it felt just then. Embedded in that whole sweet length— breasts and small belly and hips— her heart waited against his as they pressed together in the sweetening dark, listening to the woman carrying the war toward them, so urgently Will couldn’t stand it, he couldn’t stand there waiting anymore, and just as the woman on the radio slowed to say “This is London, Good ni— ,” he did, at last, snap it off.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake .” Frankie Bard leaned back against the chair in the broadcast studio and closed her eyes. “That came off too high, didn’t it?”
Murrow was silent. She opened her eyes. “Too high and too fast.” She grimaced, agreeing with what he hadn’t said.
“You’ll get it.” He stood up and reached for his hat. “Your type always does— ”
She looked up in time to catch the grin. “My type?”
He leaned toward the studio door. “Mix a martini neat as she can shoot a bear— isn’t that right?”
“That’s right.” Frankie stood. “But New York won’t like it.”
He jerked open the studio door. “Hell with New York. You did fine.”
But New York wouldn’t like it one bit. They’d had this same trouble with Betty Wason, in Norway. The door swung slowly closed behind him. A woman’s voice ought not to be telling America about men fighting. It was too high, too thin. It got too excited. For Christ’s sake. Frankie bent and flicked off the microphone. Mr. Paley’s right- hand man refused even to hire women in the CBS top office as secretaries. Hospital junkets, daily life, that sort of thing— the kinds of thing you might hear in the shops— but for God’s sake women shouldn’t be reporting the war. Men were over there dying in the skies above London. She pushed the pages of her script together into a neat pile, switched off the light in the studio, and reached for the door. Women really ought to marry and settle down and have babies. Women ought not to walk bareheaded under the German bombs looking for vivid word pictures to paint for the people back home.
So there, she chuckled, and rounded the third set of stairs, climbing her way back up from the underground studio to the street level. She pushed open the heavy back door of Broadcasting House into the blacked- out city waiting for the night’s sirens.
When the bombs started at teatime on the seventh of September, there had been nothing to distinguish that moment as the beginning— there was no way to know what was coming, or why or for how long. War dropped down and settled. Four hundred people died in the first minute of the Blitz. Fourteen hundred were left blown up and bleeding that first night, and now seventeen nights later there was no way to know who was still alive— every night new numbers, and you don’t say, Murrow instructed Frankie, “the streets are rivers of blood. Say that the little policeman you usually say hello to every morning is not there today.”
The new moon had risen over the smoking rooftops, and for a moment one could remember the sky without the bombers and the bright rocketing lines of antiaircraft fire over the chimney pots and the distant medieval spires of Westminster Abbey.
She walked briskly along the shuttered house fronts noting with a reporter’s eye tiny slits of light escaping from some of them. Beyond prayer, beyond chance, for some people lay the simple reward of staying put. Come what may. The moon glinted on the chrome bumpers of the taxis. From the big public shelter along the north side of the street she heard someone singing “Body and Soul,” and the man’s voice in the gray quiet of the moonlit street made it all human. Frankie smiled. War weather.
There was a pattern to the night attacks, the high uneven drone of the Luftwaffe planes rising like a deadly song to a crescendo around midnight. The searchlight shot straight up into the blackness where, singly or in pairs, the German planes flew like shuttlecocks up and back down the river— a relentless rhythm. The incendiaries dropped first, firebombing the darkened city, forcing it alight and ablaze, cutting open a pathway for the others to follow. Those came down screaming, or whistling, the heaviest ones roaring like an express train through a tunnel. Worst of all were the parachute bombs that floated gently, silently down to kill. Frankie turned off Oxford Circus onto the Wilmot Road and began the walk home. Two fi re trucks streamed through the emptied streets, racing with their shrouded headlights like blind sirens to the fires. There was heaven, there were the shelters underground, and then here on the street—between the gunners and the gunned— was Middle Earth. In Middle Earth at night, everything was turned upside down in a brilliant kaleidoscope of dizzy bright death set against the black silhouette of London.
A month ago, before the bombs had begun in earnest, Murrow had pulled off a broadcast from five points around London, bringing home the sounds of the bombarded city at night. Frankie had stood with him, watching him poised at the mouth of the bomb shelter down in the crypt of St. Martin’ s- in- the- Fields, moving the microphone cable out of the way of the Londoners as they descended, a courteous escort underground. There had been no way to know whether the Germans would bomb that night, but Murrow concentrated on the steady beat of the people walking in the dark, walking home or down into the shelter, their footsteps sounding like ghosts shod with steel shoes, he said. And when the air raid started, the long swooning climb up the octave in the sky, Murrow’s tense, excited voice narrated the incoming drone of the Luftwaffe, here they come, you can hear them now, and Frankie had felt untouchable then, immortal, holding the microphone up to the night. Here and now. Do you hear this? She wanted to add her voice to Murrow’s, wanted her voice to find the ear of the listeners on the other end of the cable. In that moment, through the air, the Germans plowed straight into an American living room and Frankie was holding the curtain back so they could hear it better, and it was a dare. I dare you, she thought now, to look away.

"Some novels we savor for their lapidary prose, others for their flesh and blood characters, and still others for a sweeping narrative arc that leaves us light- headed and changed; Sarah Blake's masterful, The Postmistress, serves us all this and more. Compassionate, insightful, and unsentimental, this masterful novel is told in a rare and highly successful omniscient voice, one that delves deeply into the seemingly random nature of love and war and story itself. This is a superb book!"
-Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog

"The Postmistress is the fictional communique readers have waited for. Sarah Blake has brought small-town American life and ravaged Europe during WWII to us with cinematic immediacy. The romantic, harrowing -- and utterly inimitable-- story of radio journalist Frankie Bard (appalled yet intoxicated by tragedy as no character I've ever read before) contains the uncompromised sensibility found in the writings of Martha Gellhorn. The Postmistress belongs in what Gellhorn called "the permanent and necessary" library."
-Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and Devotion

"Great books give you a feeling that you miss all day until you finally get to crawl back inside those pages again. The Postmistress is one of those rare books. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. Sarah Blake seamlessly moves from inside one character to another, in a novel that reminds us of a time when the news travelled from post to paper to radio and that is how we learned about the world. The Postmistress made me homesick for a time before I was even born. What's remarkable, however, is how relevant the story is to our present-day times. A beautifully written, thought provoking novel that I'm telling everyone I know to read."
-Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help "An unforgettable, insightful, and compelling novel The Postmistress engages the reader's instincts at the deep level of fight or flight. For WWII radio reporter Frankie Bard, however, the gut response to horror is see and tell. Sarah Blake's prose perfectly recreates the cadences of passion and of the inner life while also conjuring up the wrenching, nightmare suspense of history in the making."
-Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab's Wife and Abundance, a Novel of Marie Antoinette

"To open Blake's novel of World War II and the convergence of three strong women is to enter a slipstream, so powerful are its velocity, characters, and drama. How can you resist Frankie Bard, an American journalist of gumption and vision who is bravely reporting on the Blitz from London? Her distinctive voice and audacious candor are heard on radios everywhere on the home front, including Cape Cod, where Iris James, in love for the first time at 40, keeps things shipshape at a small-town post office. The third in Blake's triumvirate of impressive women, Emma, the waiflike wife of the town's doctor, is not as obvious a candidate for heroism until a tragedy induces her husband to join the war effort. As Frankie risks her life to record the stories of imperiled Jews, Iris and Emma struggle to maintain order as America goes reluctantly to war. Blake raises unsettling questions about the randomness of violence and death, and the simultaneity of experience--how can people frolic on a beach while others are being murdered? Matching harrowing action with reflection, romance with pathos, Blake's emotional saga of conscience and genocide is poised to become a best-seller of the highest echelon."
-Donna Seaman, ALA Booklist, Starred review

"Even readers who don't think they like historical novels will love this one and talk it up to their friends. Highly recommended for all fans of beautifully wrought fiction."
-Library Journal, Starred Review

Why did you decide to set your novel in the period immediately before the United States was drawn into World War II?
To be honest I fell into writing a World War II novel by accident. The Postmistress started with a picture in my head of a woman in a small post office in Cape Cod, looking down at the letter she is supposed to deliver in her hand, and simply pocketing it instead. In order for her action to have some kind of narrative consequence, I knew I had to set it quite a ways back in the past, and I simply chose WWII because I had some letters from then between my grandparents. But I also wanted to write about WWII if I could, without the straitjacket of hindsight, so I thought it would be easier and more interesting to imagine the time before everyone was sure where they were headed, before the war had crystallized into “The Good War,” as it came to be called and our participation in it was certain—a time when Americans were still going on with their lives, and the war was safely “over there.” I thought questions of responsibility and our involvement with other people’s conflict and sorrow could be better imagined with the freedom of uncertainty.
How did the events of September 11, 2001, influence this novel?
My husband and I and our two sons had moved to Washington DC a month before the attacks, and our youngest was seven weeks old. At the time I was reading about the German U-Boats along the coastline of the Eastern Seaboard, and of our refusal to dim our lights, not being convinced that the threat warranted that kind of measure. We had hired a Russian woman to look after our baby in the mornings, and September 11 was her second day of work. I remember coming downstairs and seeing her standing in front of the tiny television, shaking her head, saying darkly, “This is the beginning. They will come to poison us next.”
I remember thinking how Russian, and took my baby from her; but then the two of us stood side by side in silence watching, the truth of what we were actually in the middle of sinking in slowly, and in layers. My husband was in Maryland at the University without a car and the Metro shut down, and no phone, and as the day wore on, I had that first initial shock that everyone must have to some degree or another during an emergency—that the fabric had torn, the systems had evaporated. There was no overseer. We were in fact, on our own. In truth, he was not in danger; it was a matter of worry only, and he made it home in the end because our nanny’s husband, also Russian, knew all the back routes in and out of the city and simply got in the car, drove to the University of Maryland, and found him having never laid eyes on him.
But that weird silence, and the subsequent days afterward in DC—the F16s flying overhead, the tanks downtown—brought home to me how terrifying and how confusing it must have been immediately after Pearl Harbor, when no one knew whether we were in danger from an air attack from Japan. The unreal question, are we in danger? Right now? was on everyone’s lips in DC, and I thought repeatedly of those U-boats in so close without our knowledge. Who could say? That day certainly showed me enough to be able to imagine Frankie’s understanding during the Blitz—in war there is no protective curtain, nothing between you and it. And that is what she’d like America to understand.
“Get in. Get the story. Get out,” Edward R. Murrow instructs his reporters. But Frankie can’t manage to do that. She comes across a war story that is too much for her. What is it that overwhelms her? Are war reporters today any better equipped to cope with the emotional and spiritual impact of what they encounter?
When I was researching Frankie’s character, I asked one of the journalists I spoke to who had covered Bosnia and the first Gulf War, what was difficult about returning home. He said he realized he had been in danger of becoming numb, of becoming what he called a “tourist to other people’s suffering.” Frankie refers to the story of the postmistress and the widow as the war story she never filed. It was too much for Frankie because she realized that the stories she was writing, the truths of war, were not stories—they were people. And the question she keeps being asked, What’s the story? sounds more and more to her to be heartless and beside the point. She returns from Europe with too many unfinished stories in her hands, ironically the very thing that propels her up to Franklin to give Emma Will’s letter. There, faced with one more person touched by the war, a person who doesn’t know what has happened yet, Frankie goes mute. She can neither be the ending nor bear the ending.
I can’t speak for war reporters today, but one of the most influential pieces of reporting written while I was working on The Postmistress was not about war at all. It was Nicholas Kristof’s heartbreaking story of the death in childbirth of Prudence Lemokouno in 2006 in Cameroon. Kristof was reporting conditions for laboring women and watched as she died needlessly—for lack of blood and because the doctor had gone home—though Kristof had given blood to save her. In the end, all Kristof could do was report. His pieces called to mind Martha Gellhorn’s anguish over refugees during WII: “In the end we became solitary stretcher-bearers, trying to pull individuals free from the wreckage. If a life could be saved from the first of the Gestapo in Prague, or another from behind the barbed wire on the sands of Argeles, that was a comfort, but it was hardly journalism. Drag, scheming, bullying and dollars occasionally preserved one human being at a time.” Both of these journalists inspired Frankie’s anguish and rage.
You’ve commented that this isn’t so much a war novel as it is a novel about how we cope with the knowledge that there is war and suffering in other parts of the world while we calmly continue to go about our daily routines. It’s about how we deal with the news, and what we do in response to it. Today it’s Afghanistan and Iraq and Darfur. In decades past it was Sarajevo and Vietnam. And in the late 1930s and early 1940s it was the suffering of the British under German bombing, and the plight of millions of European Jews. Is it simply human nature to put out of our minds suffering among people that we don’t know, or that we feel we can’t do anything about?
Anyone who has had a death in the house knows that surreal double-life that occurs when the world goes on outside the house, groceries are bought, and people walk up and down talking on the street outside, while someone is dying in the world inside the house. This doubleness, and the isolation it can create, is something I have thought about a lot. I suppose I have often tried to imagine not only the terror but also the disbelief that war victims and refugees suffer—that they are invisible to, or seem to be invisible to, the rest of the world. That someone simply is killed, just like that. While life goes on.
I don’t know if it’s necessarily human nature to put suffering out of our minds when we can’t do something about it—it seems more complicated than that, since we often can’t keep ourselves from looking. Susan Sontag’s book Regarding the Pain of Others probes this terrain quite usefully. She remarks that too much emphasis is placed on remembering and perhaps more emphasis needs to be placed on thinking. The hard part seems to me what do we do about knowing what we know?
Some of your characters pose this debate in religious terms. Iris, the postmistress, sees herself as doing God’s work by making sure the mail moves without a hitch, helping to maintain the divine order that underlies reality. But another character says, “There is no God, only us.” Does war have a unique way of crystallizing these kinds of spiritual questions for us?
The story Thomas tells Frankie on the train was told to me, roughly as is, by a woman I sat next to on a plane long before I knew that there was going to be a Frankie in my novel, long before I had begun to collect and research stories like this one of escape from the Nazis. And I remember thinking my god, at every point this man could have as easily been killed as helped, and at each point he was stopped and then simply walked through another gate, to freedom. On the one hand, it seemed that if there was an argument for divine providence or intervention, then here it was. On the other hand, it seemed equally a story about the terrifyingly random nature of human generosity—each man at every checkpoint could have decided not to let Thomas through. At each point, Thomas’s fate lay in the hands of another human being. Thomas’s luck holds until he runs into the last checkpoint, which leads Frankie to decide as she says to Max her editor, “it’s nothing but an empty sky up there.”
That story was seminal for me in putting together the questions of accident and design I was wrestling with in the novel. That said, of course, war doesn’t crystallize anything for those who go through its trauma—it immobilizes, if often numbs and mutes. I can raise this question because I am off the battlefield.
One of your characters is convinced that the Germans are about to land on Cape Cod at any moment. How close to being right was he?
Though there is no evidence of a German U-boat beaching in Cape Cod, there were numerous close calls. As early as February of 1941, Germany’s Admiral Donitz ordered a feasibility study of a surprise U-boat assault on the East Coast, and by January of 1942, the first U-boat rose successfully undetected into the channel of New York Harbor. That same submarine went on to nearly run aground on the sand-spit of Fire Island.
Throughout most of 1942, German U-boats ran so close to the Eastern Seaboard that they watched the dark silhouettes of people walking up and back along the beachside promenades against the lights of hotels, cars, and houses. The high hulls of the tankers steaming towards Europe with food and supplies were lit up as well, making of them fantastic, easy marks. Of 397 ships sunk by U-boats in the first six months of 1942, 171 were sunk off the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida, some within view of people on shore.
What sort of research did you do for this novel – about the history of radio, America in the pre-war years, the Blitz, and the stories of the Jewish refugees?
This book took me eight years to write; in part because as the story line grew, it took me deeper into libraries and museums. I read countless books on the years between 1932 and 1945, of history, of autobiography, of speeches and news articles. I read the novels written during those years as much for colloquial speech as for dress and mannerisms. I thumbed through a decade of Life Magazines. I saw as many movies made during those years as I could. I interviewed a postmaster, a midwife, several journalists, and a Navy sub commander. I spent hours in the Museum of Radio, the National Postal Museum, the National Archives, and the Holocaust Museum here in Washington DC.
You have a Ph.D. in Victorian literature, and at one point your narrator calls Iris “a Dorothea Brooke for a snappier fiction,” in reference to the heroine of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Do you see the influence of Victorian fiction in your own work?
Yes, very much so. I’ve always loved sinking into the whole worlds Victorian novels hold—complete with many characters talking or arguing the issues of the day. But Henry James’s complaint lodged against the nineteenth century novel, that it is a “loose baggy monster,” captures perfectly the troubles and strengths of the Victorians. Victorian novels often move laterally—progressing sideways at a slow walk rather than hurtling forward. Middlemarch, for example, was giving George Eliot trouble in the writing, until she realized she could put the two novels she was working on together and bound them in the frame of a town, of Middlemarch. The Postmistress, no matter what I did, kept expanding sideways like this, the three story lines sidling off from each other, until I found a way to train them together—using the radio broadcasts to travel back and forth between the stories and the places. Frankie observes at one point, “Every story – love or war – is a story about looking left when we should have been looking right.” What does she mean by that? How is it connected to the Greek myth of Theseus?
Literally, Frankie writes this after the doctor has been killed by a taxi—an American’s accident in London—because he is not looking in the direction he should be. But it is her ironic realization too by the end of the novel—you can’t see what’s coming even when you are looking. She thought she was bringing the doctor’s letter to Emma, and instead she is bringing the news of his death. This is her realization when she responds to Iris’s telling of the story of Theseus. If Theseus had remembered to change his battle sails, his father would never have died. For Iris, the myth exemplifies the horror of accident, the necessity for vigilance. For Frankie, the myth brings home to her that these accidents, these human mishaps, are the reasons stories get told. They are the story. That is the pathos and drama of being human.
There’s an epigraph from the famous World War II reporter Martha Gellhorn at the beginning of your book: “War happens to people, one by one. That really is all I have to say, and it seems to me I have been saying it forever.” Does that quotation echo your own intention with this novel?
Absolutely. I was very much influenced by Martha Gellhorn’s reporting—by her mix of outrage and matter-of-factness, and above all else by her capacity to see each and every person she interviews or puts into a story, as a human being first.
 For more information about the book and the author, visit her Web site at On that site, you also can read the first chapter of the book and read about other books she's written.

Letter #48

Today, write a special occasion letter. Look through your files, notes, calendars, etc. and find someone with a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion coming up and write them a letter. Oh, I'm not trying to put the greeting card industry out of business. Send a card, too, if you'd like, but be sure to write a letter. It'll mean so much more than printed words on a store-bought card.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Letter #47

Letter writing topic for February 16, 2010:

Today, commit a Deliberate Act of Kindness. Write a letter to someone's boss telling her or him what a great experience you had at her or his business because of the employee you're writing about. A waiter, a cashier, a receptionist, a teacher, whoever you come in contact with every day. Look hard if you have to, but find something great that they did today or yesterday or even the day before. Maybe the cashier always has a bright smile or the waiter always remembers what you want to drink. Now, do a little work and write a real letter. Find out the name of her or his boss. Then, do a little more research. If it's a large corporation, find out the name and address of the top boss, the CEO or president, and send a copy of the letter to her or him, too.

I know the anonymous, Random Acts of Kindness thing is popular. In fact, the Kind Over Matter blog is one of my favorites. But, this time, make it more deliberate than random. Sign your name, so the boss will know the compliment came from a real person, a customer.

Go ahead, make someone's day...with a letter.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Another reason to write letters

This morning, I came across a list on the Internet that was probably left over from Valentine's Day. It was a list of 10 suggestions for "rediscovering the romance" in your relationship, to put it politely.

Number 4 on the list is:

Write love letters. Describe why you fell in love with each other and why you still love each other.
 The list is featured on a Web site sponsored by two organizations, HealthyWomen and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. If you'd like to see the entire list, look here.

Letter #46

Letter writing topic for February 15, 2010:

In the United States,  today the federal holiday Washington's Birthday (although the first U.S. President George Washington's birthdate was Feb. 22), also known as Presidents' Day (since the 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was born on Feb. 12). Since this is a federal holiday, there will be no mail service here today, and most banks and government offices are closed.

In honor of the holiday, today, write a letter to President Barack Obama. You may send mail to him at:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Sunday, February 14, 2010

St. Valentine

According to some quick Internet research, the stories surrounding Saint Valentine have been altered many times throughout history, often to suit the needs of whichever ruler or writer was doing the changing. Apparently, there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine.

One version of the story that links the martyr/saint Valentine to today's traditions of Valentine's Day cards and love notes is that a priest named Valentine was imprisoned for performing marriages. Some stories say it was because he was performing Christian marriages; other versions say it was because he was performing marriages for soldiers, and the Roman emperor didn't want the soldiers to be distracted by married life. Either way, Valentine was in prison, awaiting his execution, which was ordered, according to legend, because he wouldn't convert to paganism and he tried to convert the emperor to Christianity. Before he was beheaded, he performed a miracle, healing the jailer's blind (and maybe deaf) daughter. The night before his execution, so the story goes, he sent a note out to a young girl (maybe the jailer's daughter) and signed it "From your Valentine."

The histories offer a lot of details that somehow connect that story to our modern-day Valentine's, but it is a good excuse for writing a letter! Happy Valentine's Day!

Letter #45

Letter writing topic for February 14, 2010:

Happy Valentine's Day! Today is not only St. Valentine's Day, but it is also the wedding day for a friend's daughter. Today, write a letter about your wedding day. Write it to your spouse, write it to your children, write it to a stranger, but tell them about the day you got married. What if you're not married yet? Tell someone about the wedding day you imagine.

Have a lovely day!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Letter #44

Letter writing topic for February 13, 2010:

The news says that yesterday, Friday, Feb. 12, 2010, 49 out of 50 states in the USA had snow on the ground. Although Hawaii has a mountaintop that often has snow on it, it did not have any snow yesterday. Still, 49 out of 50 is impressive. In honor of this winter wonderland, write a letter today about what you like about winter. Oh, for some people, it may be a stretch to find something, but surely you can find some little something you enjoy...the beauty of a snowflake, the lack of grass to mow, the excuse to snuggle under a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa. Now, warm up your writing hand and write that letter!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Did you see this giveaway?

Leslie Jenkins over at the Sharp Stick in the Eye blog is having a stationery giveaway! Just link on over there and tell her which card design of hers you like the most and which is your favorite season, and you'll be entered in the drawing! But, hurry! The contest ends at midnight Monday.

Letter #43

Letter writing topic for February 12, 2010:

Today is the first day of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Today, write a letter about your favorite Winter Olympics, luge, snowboarding, ice skating, etc. Do you have an Olympics-related memory to share? Which sport do you think you'd enter if you could?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Letter #42

Letter writing topic for February 11, 2010:

Today, here in our little corner of Texas, we're having a snow day. We've only had a few inches of snow, and school was canceled when there was only about an inch of snow on the ground. But, around here, that's enough to cause chaos all over.

So, today, write a letter with a snow story in it. Recent, old, real or imagined, tell your snow story to someone today.

Stay warm!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Making Hearts Sing with Letters

“One of the things that makes my heart sing is a letter in the mail.’’
-- Lois Barry, author
(as quoted in an article in "The Observer" newspaper from La Grande, Oregon) 

Here's another letter writing book that I've put on my plan-to-buy list. I first read about Lois Barry's "Always First Class" on the Letter Writers Alliance blog. It sounds like a great book!

And, according to the newspaper article, Barry is working on a second letter writing book!

Letter #41

Letter writing topic for February 10, 2010:

Today, write a letter of invitation. Invite a friend to dinner, to go for a walk in the park, to drink coffee at the nearest fast food restaurant, whatever fits with your life and lifestyle. Maybe there's a person that you'd like to become better friends with, or maybe an old friend has drifted away. Maybe you're feeling disconnected from a family member, or maybe there's a rift you'd like to repair. Extend your hand today with an invitation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Letter #40

Letter writing topic for February 9, 2010:

There are only five more days until Valentine's Day. Today, write a love letter. It doesn't have to be to your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend or significant other. It can be to your son or daughter, or to your parents, to your best friend. Let someone know that you love them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Letter #39

Letter writing topic for Feb. 8, 2010:

On this day 100 years ago, the Boy Scouts of America organization was incorporated. In honor of the Boy Scouts birthday, today, write a letter to a Boy Scout. If you don't know one personally, write a letter to a Boy Scout troop, leader or other volunteer.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Letter #38

Letter writing topic for February 7, 2010:

Today, include a photograph with the letter you write. Tell the person you're writing to about the photo. Maybe the photo is one you take today of your backyard covered in snow. Or, maybe it's one of you and your letter's recipient when you were kids. If you're not sure about some details, ask the one you're writing to. Maybe he or she remembers what's going on in the picture. It's always fun to get a little something extra in a letter.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Letter #37

Letter writing topic for February 6, 2010:

In honor of Retha Casto's letter that sparked in investigation of the post office closings (see yesterday's blog post), today, if your post office was closed in the past five years, write a letter to the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission ( and tell them why you need your post office.

If you think your post office might be threatened because no one thinks it's important, speak up. Let the officials making such decisions know that it is important to you. Enlist your fellow letter writers to speak up, as well. It's time to make a difference.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Woman's Letter Sparks Investigation of Post Office Closings

According to the Associated Press, a letter from Retha Casto in Hacker Valley, W.V., has prompted the federal Postal Regulatory Commission to investigate whether procedures were violated when her local post office, as well as 96 others in 34 states were closed over the past five years.

Read the AP story here. Scroll down the page a little and look on the left for "Related Stories." Click on "Handwritten letter from Retha Casto to Postal Regulatory Commission" to see a pdf of her handwritten letter.

It's an interesting story! And, it shows the power a handwritten letter can have.

Letter #36

Letter writing topic for February 5, 2010:

Today, write a letter about your community. Tell someone about what it's like where you live. Describe your town or city, the shops, the streets, the people. What do you like? Dislike? What's new? What hasn't changed in a hundred years? Share a corner of your world with someone far away.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Stamps Released Today Honor Distinguished Sailors

From the U.S. Postal Service today:

Four revered U.S. Navy icons were commemorated with a First-Class salute with the dedication of the Distinguished Sailors collectible stamps.  Available nationwide today, the 44-cent stamps immortalize four sailors who served with bravery and distinction during the 20th Century:  William S. Sims, Arleigh A. Burke, John McCloy and Doris “Dorie” Miller.

The dedication ceremony took place today at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, DC.

The stamps, designed by Phil Jordan of Falls Church, VA, are based on photographs from Navy archives. Text along the top of the stamp sheet identifies the four sailors, the approximate date of each photograph, and a ship named in honor of each sailor.

William S. Sims
Commander of U.S. naval forces in European waters during World War I, Sims (1858-1936) was an outspoken reformer and innovator who helped shape the Navy into a modern fighting force. Frustrated by the Navy bureaucracy, he circumvented his superiors to get the Navy to adopt improved gunfire techniques that increased firing accuracy as ships rolled through ocean swells. He also is noted for promoting the convoy system that grouped ships closely together as they were accompanied by small numbers of Navy escorts while crossing the U-Boat infested Atlantic — saving countless lives in both world wars. The stamp features a detail from a 1919 photograph of Sims and depicts the crest of the destroyer escort USS W.S. Sims (DE-1059), commissioned in 1970.

Arleigh A. Burke
After serving as one of the top destroyer squadron commanders of World War II, Burke (1901-1996) had an equally distinguished postwar career in which he played a major role in modernizing the Navy and guiding its response to the Cold War. During World War II, he gained a reputation for brilliance and innovation while commanding Destroyer Squadron 23, known as “the Little Beavers.” The squadron fought in 22 separate actions in a four-month period, sinking or helping to sink nine enemy destroyers and downing 30 airplanes. He later served an unprecedented three terms as the Navy’s highest ranking officer — Chief of Naval Operations — to speed construction of nuclear-powered submarines and initiating the Polaris Ballistic Missile Program. His stamp, based on a 1951 photograph, depicts the crest of the guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), commissioned in 1991.

John McCloy
Described by a shipmate as “like a bull” who couldn’t be stopped, McCloy (1876-1945) holds the distinction of being one of the few men in the nation’s history to earn two Medals of Honor for a rescue mission during the Boxer Rebellion in which he was wounded, and during the 1914 Mexican Revolt for intentionally exposing his boat to draw enemy fire to identify their positions for retaliation by U.S. cruiser gunfire. Shot in the thigh, he remained on post 48 hours until the brigade surgeon sent him to a hospital. In 1919 he was awarded the Navy Cross as commander of USS Curlew, which engaged in the “difficult and hazardous duty” of sweeping mines in the North Sea in the aftermath of World War I. His stamp is based on a circa 1920 photograph and depicts the crest of the destroyer escort, USS McCloy (DE-1038), commissioned in 1963.

Doris Miller
The first black American hero of World War II, Miller (1919-1943) became an inspiration to generations of Americans for his actions at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Serving aboard the battleship West Virginia as a mess attendant — the only job rating open to blacks at the time — Miller helped rescue scores of shipmates wounded or trapped in wreckage. He was later ordered to the bridge to help move the ship’s mortally wounded captain. Never trained in its operation, he manned an unattended 50-caliber machine gun to fire on Japanese aircraft until ordered to abandon the bridge as fires raged out of control. He was later awarded the Navy Cross. Miller was promoted in June 1943 to Officer’s Cook Third Class aboard the new escort aircraft carrier Liscome Bay and was killed in action on Nov. 24 that year along with more than 600 shipmates when an enemy torpedo sank the ship during the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. His body was lost at sea. His stamp is based on a 1942 photograph and depicts the crest of the destroyer escort USS Miller (DE-1091), commissioned in 1973. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr., portrayed Miller in the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor.

(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service. © United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.)

Letter #35

Letter writing topic for February 4, 2010:

"Encouraging Letters" is the most popular search phrase that brings people to this blog. I suppose there are many situations in which people might want to write an encouraging letter...when a friend is out of work or a relative is sick or when a child has some problems in school or when an older person has to move into an assisted-care facility... I think the most important thing to say in a letter of encouragement is "I'm thinking of you." Sometimes, it's difficult to say, "I know what  you're going through," because maybe you don't really understand it. But, you can still know that they are in pain and you can offer to help if you can. Say "I'm here for you." Even better, say "I will be there Monday at noon."

Today, write an encouraging letter to someone who needs to hear a kind word.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fancy letters

The current issue of Somerset Life magazine has a challenge in it for readers to create embellished letters. The "Creative Living Idea" uses a letter from Sherry Lynn Brodowsky to illustrate the idea of a decorated letter and then issues a call for such fancy missives to be sent to the magazine by the deadline of April 15, 2010.

For more information, pick up a copy of the Winter 2010 issue of Somerset Life.

Letter #34

Letter writing topic for February 3, 2010:

Today is the birthday of American painting and illustrator Norman Rockwell. He was born on Feb. 3, 1894, and died on Nov. 8, 1978. He is most known of his painting which depict a snapshot of American life, from a Thanksgiving dinner to a baseball game, Rockwell captured the emotions, the expressions, the details of what it was/is to be an American.

Write a letter today detailing some part of your life. Describe what it's like when you take the dog for a walk or pick the kids up from school. Share a little snippet of your life with someone today.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Letter #33

Letter writing topic for February 2, 2010:

Today is Groundhog Day. According to tradition, if the groundhog (or, maybe any hibernating animal) sees its shadow today, we're in for six more weeks of winter. Now, here in my part of Texas, it's a gray and cloudy winter morning, so I'm guessing no one is seeing his or her shadow today. But, up in Gobbler's Knob in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and is predicting some cold weather ahead. Maybe it's a regional thing...I'm ready for spring!

Today, write a letter to someone telling them about your plans for the spring. Do you plan to plant a garden, do some spring cleaning, take a vacation? Share the news!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Letter #32

Letter writing topic for February 1, 2010:

Today is National Freedom Day, officially designated by U.S. President Harry Truman in 1948. It was created to promote good feelings, harmony, and equal opportunity among all citizens and to remember that the United States is a nation dedicated to the ideal of freedom. February 1 was chosen as National Freedom Day because it was the day in 1865 that President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery.

Today, write a letter about what it means to you to be free.
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