On February 6, I sat down Lindsay Zier-Vogel to talk about her debut novel, Letters to Amelia. Published by Book*hug Press, it is part epistolary, part historical and all love! We talked about letter-writing, motherhood, and Amelia Earhart. What I felt so deeply in our conversation was love. Lindsay’s passion for letter-writing; her love of history, and her experiences as a mother are all bound up in this gorgeous novel and I hope you will all get a chance to read it.
You can check out the video of our full conversation and reading here.
The novel opens in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. You also have your own handbound books there and I urge people to go and see them. Can you talk about your experiences with the TFRBL and how it influenced the writing of Letters to Amelia?
I just love that library! I spent quite a bit of time there while I was doing my Masters and before I knew who the characters were in Letters to Amelia, or what the plot was, I knew I wanted it set there. I’m so grateful to John Shoesmith, the outreach librarian at the Fisher, who took me on tours of the backend of the library (deeeeeep into the sub-basement!) and answered all of my very practical questions about the realities of working in a library.
The letters between Amelia Earhart and Gene Vidal feel so real and authentic I had to look up whether they were in fact fictional. There must have been a lot of research that went into writing these letters. What inspired them? Were there other writers or biographers who were particularly influential?
I looked at a lot of Amelia’s archived and digitized letters that are housed at Purdue University to get a sense of her handwriting and the physicality of the letters. I originally hoped Amelia’s books and many articles would provide an entry into her written voice, but I found them to be quite formal and highly edited, lacking the personal quality I was looking for. Eventually, I found a collection of letters she wrote to her mother from when she was four years old until her disappearance—Letters From Amelia: An Intimate Portrait of Amelia Earhart by Jean L. Backus—and reading these letters unlocked her voice for me.
The heartbeat of the story for me is love, particularly motherlove. Amelia Earhart is this fearless, grounded, big dreamer and Grace is so afraid she won’t be able to raise a fearless dreamer. How did your experience as a mother affect/influence the story?
The story really took shape when I was very pregnant with my second child, and though I had taken many running starts, I began writing the book as it currently exists when she was a newborn. It was so helpful to be just on the other side of pregnancy to be able to write about the experience, something I couldn’t have done when I was deep inside the reality of it with my first child.
“I found a collection of letters (Amelia) wrote to her mother from when she was four years old until her disappearance…reading these letters unlocked her voice for me.”Lindsay Zier-Vogel
I love when I read a novel and am introduced to characters so vivid, they could have their own novel, or short story: Patrick (a priest for 30 years); Jenna and Eric and their pregnancy dreams; Pat and Mike in Newfoundland. Do you create sketches or profiles for tertiary characters?
Patrick and Pat and Mike came very clearly, very quickly in early drafts, but it took a few passes before I really figured out Jenna and Eric’s stories. My writing group is in love with Patrick and they are petitioning for fan fiction about Patrick. I ended up cutting a lot of Patrick scenes and they’re still in mourning about it.
Grace takes an Internet dive into all the theories/conspiracies behind Amelia’s disappearance. Do you have your own theory? What are your thoughts on this obsession?
I, like Grace, prefer to focus on Amelia’s deep, rich life, rather than focusing on her disappearance. She was such a remarkable human and is so much more than her death. It’s pretty rare that someone truly disappears, which I think it what fuels the obsession with finding out THE TRUTH (all caps!), and I also think the impossibility of ever finding out what happened also fuels that often-obsessive search. My theories vacillate depending on the day. Some days I think she crashed into the ocean, some days I think she and Fred landed on Nikumaroro, though thinking of her agony is often too much for me to bear.
“People often say putting a book out into the world is like birthing a human, but for me it feels more like sending a kid out in the world—it’s so exciting and a little terrifying, but mostly just so wonderful.”Lindsay Zier-Vogel
Have you written any more letters to Amelia since completing the novel?
I have! One! I wrote it the day the novel came out—on September 7, 2021. I took a picnic and the book to the lake, and sat on the edge of the water, where Amelia fell in love with flying and wrote her another letter.
At the heart of the novel is love and reading Letters to Amelia it’s all I felt. Love and a strong connection to you as its author. How did it feel putting the final touches on LTA and then seeing it in print?
Holding this book in my hands is truly a dream come true. Seeing the words (my words!) in print is surreal and still just so thrilling. As soon as it had a spine, and those beautiful end papers, it stopped being just mine, and now exists out in the world. People often say putting a book out into the world is like birthing a human, but for me it feels more like sending a kid out in the world—it’s so exciting and a little terrifying, but mostly just so wonderful.
Lindsay Zier-Vogel is a Toronto-based writer, arts educator and the creator of the internationally-acclaimed Love Lettering Project. After studying contemporary dance, she received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Her writing has been widely published in Canada and the U.K. Since 2001, she has been teaching creative writing workshops in schools and communities. Her hand-bound books are housed in the permanent collection at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto. As the creator of the Love Lettering Project, Lindsay has asked people all over the world to write love letters to their communities and hide them for strangers to find, spreading place-based love. Lindsay also writes children’s books. Because of The Love Lettering Project, CBC Radio has deemed Lindsay a “national treasure.” Letters to Amelia is her first book.