Friday, July 15, 2011

Author Interview: Abby Slovin, author of Letters in Cardboard Boxes

Please give a warm welcome to Abby Slovin, author of Letters in Cardboard Boxes!  Abby has stopped by today to answer a few questions and let us know a little more about herself and her novel.

If you missed my review yesterday, you can check that out HERE.

Author Interview
Letters in Cardboard Boxes
Abby Slovin

GL:  Per my usual, I always start by asking you to share a little about yourself.

Abby: Well, I’m a native New Yorker. I live in Jersey City with a wonderful husband and our adopted and quirky Pug/Chihuahua mix.  I love to spend time outdoors and travel. I commit at least one fashion faux pas a day, sometimes on purpose though many times not. And, I love to garden though I’ve been trying to garden successfully for years without much luck, so if any readers have any solid gardening tips, please contact me.

GL:  I’m afraid I can’t help you in the gardening department!  I have successfully kept two African violets alive in my kitchen window for an impressive amount of time.  Everything else I try to grow…well…

GL:  Also, every writer has to share—when and why did you begin writing?

Abby:  I’ve enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. It’s always been a real escape from the world and also a way to make sense of it. Even more than writing, I’ve always been fascinated by the art of storytelling. To be able to hold someone’s attention the entire way through a story, to produce emotion in people, that’s something that will never get old to me. I’m completely thrilled by it. 

GL:  You most certainly produced emotion in Letters!  Wonderful storytelling…

GL:  Letters in Cardboard Boxes deals with some pretty serious topics, particularly aging and Alzheimer’s/dementia. I can’t imagine someone writing such a realistic portrayal without having experienced something similar in their own lives. Is this true for you?

Abby:  I think each of us has experienced loss in some profound way, myself included, which is why I feel the story has the ability to reach so many readers on a personal level. Aging is so central to our lives and yet I feel like many times –- as a society mainly -- we prefer to not look at it, or avoid it, similar to our main character in Letters. It’s such a complicated and personal process, and I hope I’ve portrayed the struggle in ways that feel real and honest to people.

GL:  Having experienced at least losing someone through Alzheimer’s, I can say that your portrayal is definitely accurate and honest.  It may take years for the disease to completely take over, but then suddenly you are standing over someone you love and wondering how you got to that place, when exactly the light in their eyes disappeared.  It is a feeling that has taken me many years to understand.

GL:  In this fast-paced age of computers, email, and text messaging, there are less and less letters being written. Are you or were you ever a frequent letter writer?

Abby:  When I was younger, letter writing was definitely more present in my life than it is now, and I think the way people communicate has really changed with the popularity of email and text messaging. There’s a bit less anticipation, more instant gratification, with correspondence today, and I really feel like something has been lost with the decline of letter writing. It’s something you can’t put to words, but you really feel it when you see an empty mailbox with only coupon books and credit card applications. I remember when I was younger, the anticipation of waiting and waiting and then finally receiving a letter. It was really a very powerful experience and I try to push this idea in the beginning of Letters. As the novel opens, we see that Parker has reached a point in her life where she doesn’t even check her mail anymore and, as we realize that letter writing was once central to her, we see that not checking her mail actually represents a significant change in her life.

GL:  Letters will be released chapter-by-chapter on your website ( beginning in September. What made you decide to present your novel this way?

Abby:  I’ve been thinking about different ways of releasing this novel over the past few months and this way made sense to me in a way that other, more traditional routes, did not. The online chapter by chapter release of Letters takes the Book Club concept and expands it so that people can contribute on their own time and with as much depth as they choose, but it also allows readers to connect with an evolving group of contributors around the country and the world. I think reading is such a deeply personal experience -- where we read, how often we read, how quickly we read -- but at the same time, reading allows us to connect with others, to learn from the experience of others and deepen our understanding of things. So, I couldn’t think of a better way to release a novel that is inherently about the very shared experience of loss, than to give people the opportunity to experience it together, to share how this fictional character’s experience relates to their own and to the experience of other readers. I’m hoping that the shorter, digestible chapters encourage more readers to get involved than if it had been a lengthy novel all at once.

So, this format allows Letters to be less static, and more a changing, moving work based on who is reading it, when they read it, and what they contribute to the discussion content. It’s extremely exciting to me to have my novel presented this way, and I think this format will allow the story to grow over time.

As far as I know, no one has tried this before, and I’m really interested to see how it turns out.

And, as a side note, I think my response to this question and the question before it is very telling because it shows that technology and all its progress is really a mixed bag of outcomes.

GL:  I love that you are releasing it this way, and I am excited to see how it all plays out!

GL:  What types of discussion are you hoping to see as the chapters are released?

Abby:  The best kind of discussion, in my mind, would be the kind that has readers connecting with the novel on a personal level and also with one another. I would be really excited to see readers responding to one another’s viewpoints and feedback, in addition to the questions that are posed at the end of each chapter. If the community can build on its own and really create meaningful discussion, then that would be a wonderful thing to see.

And, since the Letters online discussion really has the potential to pull in so many personal connections to loss, I'm hoping that the discussion also focuses on some of the more positive messages that come from the novel. Specifically, we have the ability to cope with difficult moments through the relationships we build. And, the importance of being open to experiences, allowing people in to our world when we might otherwise prefer to stay closed off. And even that aging is a complicated process, one to enjoy and find humor in as well. I truly hope some of these more positive elements find their way into the discussion as well.

GL:  Will Letters be available in print?

Abby:  Eventually, yes, Letters will be available in print sometime after the online release is complete. Any readers who are interested in having a print version or anyone who might be interested in assisting with the actual printing of Letters In Cardboard Boxes should definitely contact me.

GL:  I saw on your website that a photographer has created an entire series inspired by your novel. Can you tell us more about that?

Abby:  I’m really excited about this aspect of the Letters release and it’s been made possible by a very talented artist. Aimee Oberstein has been working over the past few months on a series of photographs inspired by the novel, which will appear on the novel’s cover, the website itself, and included in each chapter release. The photographs represent a really diverse interpretation of the novel. Some of them are literally interpreted from specific scenes, others are more reflective of the themes of the novel and are more abstract. It’s sort of like the “bonus” material on the movie DVD, where readers will get additional content to enjoy while reading the novel.

GL:  I cannot wait to see these photos and have this whole new dimension to the novel!

GL:  Can you tell us a little about your other work? What have you done/published, and what are you planning for the future?

Abby:  This is my first serious work of fiction and I’m in the middle of a few other projects now. I’ve actually dedicated an entire section of my website for readers to give feedback on these new projects and “vote” for the story they would most like to see finished. I would love it if your readers visit this part of the site if they’re interested, and it’s called “What Should I Write Next?” 

My other work, which includes a collection of poetry and a handful of short stories, can also be found on the website, and if readers have feedback on those pieces, they should definitely contact me as well.

Maybe this is terribly obvious from this interview, but I really value feedback and discussion around my writing. For me, my writing means a lot more once readers put something of themselves in it.

GL:  It is wonderful that you are so open to your readers!  After all, once you put something out there for the world to see, you are not just writing for yourself anymore.  Bravo for working so diligently to get everyone involved!

GL:  Parker and Dotty write make-believe letters about places they are visiting all over the world. What are some of the most interesting places you have been?

Abby:  I’m forever changed by a trip to Alaska a few years ago. I think it was the way that nature just dwarfed me and everyone around me as we stood there. It was just amazing. 

GL:  Who are some of your favorite authors?

Abby:  I’ve been influenced by a lot of different pieces of literature, but in terms of authors who have repeatedly changed me with their writing, I would say I’ve been deeply influenced by the wit and style of Woody Allen and Kurt Vonnegut and the quirky, meaningful relationships depicted in novels by Charles Baxter and Ruth Ozeki.

GL:  What book do you believe has taught you the most about life?

Abby:  This is a really hard question because many stories have impacted me at certain moments in my life for different reasons. I think I’ll regret narrowing this down later, but if I had to choose one, it would be One Hundred Years Of Solitude. There’s just so much in there about life, family, generational ties, politics, and emotion. This novel has deeply influenced my life and my understanding of life. There’s even a hidden quote from this novel in Letters that, to this day, still gives me the chills when I come across it in One Hundred Years Of Solitude.

GL:  Dotty and Parker enjoy the colder months the most. Which season do you prefer?

Abby:  I really appreciate that you picked up on this detail in the story. I definitely share their preference for the colder months of the year. For me, it’s a time when the world slows down a little, feels a bit more introspective and calm. While I enjoy the energy of the warmer months, I always feel rushed and the winter gives me the chance to collect myself. But it goes beyond a preference for the colder months. I feel like I’ll always need to live in a place with four seasons. The cycle and the changes that take place within a year are important to me, which is why Letters deliberately takes place over the course of one year exactly.

GL:  If you could define yourself using a single color, what would that color be?

Abby:  Wow, what a tough question to end with! I guess I like the color Blue as a descriptive color for myself. It feels very open, fluid, accessible. But I also like that Blue can be a contradiction at times; it can be a calming color, but also a color that energizes. It’s one of those colors that can have different meanings depending on when you catch it. I like that.

Note from the Author:
There are a few ways that people can get involved in the online chapter by chapter release of Letters In Cardboard Boxes. The first is to visit the website that will host the online release:

The novel also has its own Facebook page, where those who “like” the novel will be updated on the chapter releases, news, a discussion on the novel’s cover, and also connected with SNIPPETS, a facebook-only feature that will provide quotes from the chapters the week before they’re set to release. The link to the Facebook page is:

Readers can also sign up to receive weekly chapters delivered to their email address (sign up is available on the website).

And, anyone who has any kind of question should feel very open to emailing me at I would love to hear feedback, questions, or comments about Letters In Cardboard Boxes, this interview, or any of my other work.

Thank you!

Please be sure to visit Abby's webpage to learn more about Letters in Cardboard boxes and sign up to start reading when it is released in September!

Thank you so very much, Abby, for stopping by and sharing with us!  I am eagerly looking forward to the interactive release of Letters, and I am sure we will be seeing you again!