Q&A with Lea Redmond: Letters To My series

Hand-written letters simply don’t need to have the same kind of structural coherence as, say, an essay. It’s okay for letters to roam a bit; it’s part of what makes them beautiful. They’re more like a spontaneous conversation or a daydream.

We sat down with Lea Redmond, author of Chronicle Books Letters To My series and asked her a few questions about how the idea was born and where she see the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Q&As after this. 

 photo provided by Chronicle Books

photo provided by Chronicle Books

Write_On:  Tell us about yourself! What’s your background and how did you get started with your Letters To My Series and Leafcutter Designs?

Lea: My first love was art. And my second, Philosophy. I eventually found a way to combine my love of objects and my love of ideas, and have spent the past decade designing dozens of thoughtful, playful items that encourage people to find creativity and meaning in their daily lives. I started my design studio, Leafcutter Designs, on a bit of a whim, with a quirky art project called the "World's Smallest Post Service." One day when I had my teeny tiny post office set up in San Francisco, an editor from Chronicle Books stumbled upon me there, and that's how our many collaborations began.

Write_On: What inspired you to create the series?

Lea:  The "Letters To My..." series is inspired by an assignment I enjoyed back in high school. My 9th grade teacher had us write letters to ourselves, to be returned a few years later upon graduation. I love how such simple tools -- paper and pen and time -- allow for us to essentially time travel, corresponding directly with our younger selves. So simple, yet pure magic! 

Write_On:  How do you come up with the writing prompts in your Letters To My series? We’ve found having prompts or reasons to write so helpful.

Lea:  My creative process is based on intuition and profusion. I make a big list of prompts that sound fun and interesting to me, and then my friends, family members, and editors help me reduce the list to just a dozen prompts per book. The goal is always to design prompts that will resonate with almost anyone and everyone--prompts that get to the essence of the relationship the book is highlighting. Also, I try to write prompts that are specific enough to be provocative, yet also open-ended enough that the letter writer can truly make it his or her own. I want to be the spark, not the answer.

Write_On:  Have you always been a fan of snail mail? In your opinion, is writing letters less prevalent today? If yes, why?

Lea:  Oh yes! I have had quite a stationery collection since I was a young girl. Also, I have a wax seal with my initial on it and I'm not afraid to use it! Certainly fewer letters have been sent since the explosion of email and text messaging. Their speed is seductive and we are always anxious for news! On the one hand, this is super sad. At the same time, I love emojis! So, I think what's most important is to remember what each communication format is best at, and to choose wisely. If you want to quickly let your boyfriend know you're thinking of him, sure, text him a quick emoji kiss face. But if you want him to know how you really deeply feel, consider composing a heartfelt love letter on real paper and dropping it into the mail. Or, if you're going to break up with him, probably best to meet face-to-face! The key is to thoughtfully choose the best medium for what you have to say, and not to just send a text message or email simply because they are fast, easy, automatic, or addictive. 

Write_On:  What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

Lea:  I truly love writing letters. Once I get started, it's too much fun to be difficult. But getting started is the tricky part! I know that composing a good letter takes time and thoughtfulness, so it can be tough to carve out the time to slow down and actually do it. Last week I wrote a nice long letter to a friend from a cafe without wifi. It can be helpful to go someplace without internet to write letters, and to turn off your phone! Make a date with your stationery and postage stamps. Put it in your calendar and make it a special treat for yourself. It can be such a pleasure once you get some momentum!

Write_On:  What does your writing process look like?

Lea:  Most of my writing happens on my computer and I must admit that I love the copy/paste function! Writing a hand-written letter is a very different game because you cannot copy and paste. To make the linearity of a letter a little easier for me, I sometimes jot down a list of topics I want to address in the letter, so I have a bit of a plan in my head before I bring my pen to the paper. Also, I've realized that hand-written letters simply don't need to have the same kind of structural coherence as, say, an essay. It's okay for letters to roam a bit; it's part of what makes them beautiful. They're more like a spontaneous conversation or a daydream.

Write_On:  Are the Letters To My intended to be written over time? Are they meant to be gifted or held onto?

Lea:  All of the "Letters To My" books are intended to be kept together as a bound keepsake collection of letters. If you writing in "Letters To My Future Self," then of course that book is for you to keep and enjoy in the years and decades to come. You can even start opening them before you've written them all. If you're filling out "Letters To My Baby," then you can simply write a letter whenever you're inspired to, especially because your baby won't be able to read for quite some time anyway! You might want to gift the book to the "baby" at age 18 or 21. Generally, with the series, you can write all the letters immediately and gift the keepsake book to its final recipient ASAP, or you can slowly complete the letters over time, eventually gifting the book whenever its ready. It's up to you!

Write_On:  What can you tell us about the connection between writing and personal relationships?

Lea:  One of the joys of relationships is beautiful, heartfelt, clear communication. Letter writing is important because different words come out of us depending on whether we are writing them, typing them, texting them, or saying them in person. I think letters are a wonderful opportunity to say the most complex and deep stuff--things that otherwise might go unsaid forever!  

Write_On:  Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

Lea:  Most importantly, writing and receiving letters is a joy! It's a tangible pleasure to choose the stationery and postage stamp, to carve out a contemplative moment or two for some thoughtful writing, and to send it off to someone you care about. Sure, you can write a heartfelt email; but why not put those words onto a beautiful piece of paper, drop it into a mailbox, and let your recipient's hands hold that same exact piece of paper that was once in your hands? Somehow, this just feels a little closer, a little more intimate, a little more heartfelt. And the world always needs more heart.

LEA REDMOND is a creative consultant and the brains behind the Letters to My series, The World's Smallest Post Service, Connexio, My Museum journal, Lucky You!, the Tandem Activity Book, and Conversation Dice. Her creative workshop, Leafcutter Designs, offers curious goods, surprising services, and projects for participation: www.leafcutterdesigns.com. She lives in Oakland, California.

CHRONICLE BOOKS

One of the most admired and respected publishing companies in the United States, Chronicle Books was founded in 1966 and, over the years, has developed a reputation for award-winning, innovative books and quality merchandise. The company continues to challenge conventional publishing wisdom, setting trends in both subject matter and format, maintaining a list that includes titles in fine art, cookbooks, children’s books, music and popular culture. To visit Chronicle Books online, go to www.chroniclebooks.com.