I don’t know about you, but I love, love, love getting a letter or greeting card or email from my friends and family. I tend to get wrapped up in their daily goings on, or whatever person or event is causing them grief or joy. Sometimes I’ll hold on to the letter or save the email so I can read them over and over again just because of what is written, how it’s written, or just…because. I so adore my friends and family. I’d imagine some of you may feel the same way.
But how would you feel if you received a letter, addressed to you, from overseas, from someone you didn’t know? How would you feel? Wouldn’t you be curious?
Well, that’s what happened to Mr. G.L. Solomon, living in Sydney, Australia. In Naomi Bulger’s novella, Airmail, his very lonely, very mundane, very routine life takes a turn when he receives a letter from a woman he doesn’t know, who lives in New York. This odd, mysterious, quirky woman, Anouk, continues to write letters to him, confessing the random workings of her mind, and he continues to read the letters, still content in his life, sitting in his home halfway across the world. Until, that is, one day she writes him, claiming to be writing from “the other side.” Believing Anouk is in trouble, Mr. Solomon steps out of his comfort zone and into her world in New York, leaving all that is familiar to him, determined to help her in any way he can.
What happens from that moment on, can be nothing but life changing for Mr. Solomon.
Airmail is a brilliantly written novella by Naomi Bulger. It’s one of those stories that lingers in our minds long after the book is tucked away.
I had the opportunity to hook up with Naomi this week and ask her a few questions about the story, and I am thrilled to share our conversation with you!
I love the premise of Airmail. What inspired you to write it? Were the characters based on anyone you knew?
Thank you! If I’m honest, insomnia inspired me to write Airmail. I originally had a completely different story in mind, one in which a girl traveled the world writing letters to a stranger, and through those letters the stranger (and the reader) would learn about her adventures, her romances, her journey. But while I was writing I went through a particularly bad bout of insomnia, and I guess it really messed with my mind. It probably didn’t help that I wrote under a flickering fluorescent light a lot of that time, too. Before I knew it, the girl had a ‘reverse stalker’ and within a very short period of time, she was (or believed she was) dead! She never got to leave New York. I struggled for a while with trying to wrestle the book back to my earlier vision but, in the end, I gave up and decided to keep writing and see where the story would lead me.
To answer the second part of your question, the characters aren’t based on people I know, but the old man, Mr G.L. Solomon, was created in part by a close friend. I was struggling to write the character of an old man in a way that convinced even me, let alone anyone else. So I work-shopped him with my friend, an actor. I gave my friend a brief outline of the old man’s character, then started posting letters. I would hand-write the letters in the character of Anouk, and send them to my friend’s house (addressed to Mr G.L. Solomon) in airmail envelopes. I even pasted used US stamps onto them so they seemed to come from New York, rather than my Sydney house around the corner. After reading the letters, my friend would talk with me about the old man’s reactions. Things like, “He can’t read Anouk’s handwriting” came first. Then “He has developed a routine around how and when he reads the letters,” and, “He used to be annoyed when they came, but now he is curious to know more.” Together, we built up a picture of this curmudgeonly old man, who is so very real to me today.
How long did you take to write Airmail?
This was a quick book to write, I’d say only six weeks. But that was the first draft. Subsequent drafts and work with editors in both Australia and the US took literally years.
Is there a message in Airmail that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t think I wrote Airmail with a message in mind, it’s not a book that’s intended to teach. That said, I think the central message that came out of this book is to “own your own stories.” Things happen to us in life: the very good, the very bad, and a whole lot of everyday stuff in between. But if we try to edit any stories out of our memories, even the bad ones, we are not being true to ourselves. Everything that happens to you in your life helps make you who you are, that unique and special you.
Airmail has a very unique cover. Who did the design work?
I love the cover of Airmail, it was done by my publisher’s in-house designers. I talked with them about the kind of mood I wanted to create, for example the vintage postage feel, and sent them some Polariod photographs I had taken myself during my research for Airmail. But I was prepared for something completely different, and willing to accept their marketing know-how over my aesthetic. They came back with this cover, even using some of my Polariods on the back, and I just loved it.
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This is definitely a not-to-be-missed read. And….no book review would be complete without a giveaway! So go ahead and leave a comment below, be it a question or random thought, and I’ll put your name in a hat, from which a winner will be drawn and announced tomorrow.
Speaking of tomorrow, I’d love it if you would join me when I give you the low-down on Naomi. She so deserves a day of her own…Yeah, she’s that good.
I have a three-strike rule.
Regardless of how I initially feel about something, I’ll do it – going somewhere, seeing someone, whatever. Within reason, of course, but I’ll make an effort. The three-strike rule goes like this – whenever obstacles pop up, making it difficult to do said task, I’ll move past it and keep trying. I will go so far as to ignore the second obstacle that tells me “Do not pass go, do not collect $200,” and keep going, but I usually draw the line at the third obstacle when I will take notice and throw in the towel. I’m just persistent that way.
I know that before any decision, large or small, I really should listen to my intuition to see if what I am about to do is the right choice, but I don’t, so thus the reason for the three-strike rule. Some sort of a compromise between my impetuous and conservative natures.
But one year I didn’t heed the signs and just burst through them, guns a-blazing. Why? Because I thought what my family and I were about to do was so damn cool, so renegade, so free.
Well, that one year I spent pushing the envelope, was a year I’ll never forget. About nine years ago, I was bored and needed a change. Fortunately, the ex and I were on the same wavelength and, being that I could work on the road via satellite internet (we had bought a mobile one), there was nothing to stop us. So we sold almost everything we owned, put some stuff in storage, bought a 34-foot motorhome, and headed across the country.
We started out in March, I think it was, and mapped out a route going south from Central California down towards Arizona. It was our intention to stay south and make our way up to Indiana in time to see the Indy 500 (my ex’s big dream). Everything was going fine until we were in Huachuca City, Arizona, and it started to snow. We were headed towards Albuquerque, New Mexico when the weather channel reported tornado warnings popping up everywhere.
Let’s mark that as sign #1.
So we turned back around, warmed up in Palm Springs for a couple of days, then headed towards the northern route, thinking we might have a better shot at missing one of those tornadoes. But, as it turned out, they chased us.
Halfway across a seriously long stretch of lonely highway in Wyoming, where the wind howled like a banshee, our awning let loose and damn near turned into a parachute. Trying to get it back under control in a hurricane-like wind was really hard.
A smaller sign, so we’ll mark that as sign #1A.
In South Dakota, in the middle of the night, I remember staring out the window of the motorhome in total disbelief at a lightning storm – not one of those storms when the sky lights up every few minutes or so. No. In this little display, the sky lit up nonstop. Literally nonstop. The rain was coming down so hard, I had to yell at my ex to be heard. NOAA radio tracked a tornado 30 miles away, headed in our direction. The crazy part was that no one in the RV park was freaking out. The office was closed and there was nobody to ask what to do. For a girl who grew up in Southern California, this was incomprehensible. I was looking for some underground shelter, but none existed. Anywhere. All I could do at the time was hope that the storm would fade away before the tornado got too close.
I raised my cup of tea (with a shot of brandy in it) to sign #2.
There continued to be storm after storm, and we continued to look over our shoulders, storm after storm. This entire time I was working full time via the satellite, homeschooling the boys, and with the added lessons in the force of Mother Nature, my nerves were being stepped on.
Another shaker-upper happened somewhere between South Dakota and Indiana, on a really busy freeway, going freeway speed, when we came way too close to demolishing a truck that was at a standstill in one of the lanes. No hazard lights, no flares, no nothing. Do you have any idea how hard it is to stop a 20,000-pound vehicle going 70 miles an hour? It’s possible, with a little bit of time, but we had none. Fortunately, the shoulder was clear and my ex was able to steer around the truck before swerving back onto the freeway. Can you imagine what that looked like? I’m thinking that wouldn’t have been a happy ending for anybody if the shoulder hadn’t been clear.
My heart hammered at sign #3.
By then, my nerves were crushed. But, damn it. Stuff like this happens all the time, doesn’t it? So with our blinders firmly strapped on, we forged ahead.
Finally, we made it to the Indy 500. My ex went by himself and left me and the boys at the RV park. It didn’t take long for the weather to turn sour. Then…guess what…sirens. Loud sirens. And I’m not talking police or fire truck sirens. They were sirens of the natural disaster type. Tornado type. I got out of the motorhome, looked at everyone running around, and said in my calmest voice to the nearest woman dashing by, “Where are we supposed to go?” Her reply in her most frantic voice was, “To the lower bathrooms!”
The bathrooms? Was she kidding? The bathrooms? Hiding from a possible tornado with winds up to 100+ miles an hour in a bathroom? Seeing no other option, I did whatever any good woman would do…I called the ex and told him he’d better come back, I grabbed the boys and their bike helmets, and headed for the bathrooms, which, to my untrained eye, were pathetically inadequate.
The women and children sat in the bathroom and waited, listening to portable radios for news of disaster, while the men, macho as they were, stood outside the bathroom door, arms crossed over their chests, like some sort of sentry, looking at the sky. Not terribly comforting. I felt better under the sinks with my arms wrapped around the boys and my arm linked through the plumbing.
Let’s label that as sign #4, shall we?
As it turned out, a tornado had touched down three miles from where we were. Too close. Hell, any tornado touching down in the same state was too close. But did we heed that sign? No….
We continued east, determined to make it to the coast and head south to Florida. Still the storms chased us. NOAA was our constant friend. I was beginning to find it a little difficult to enjoy the scenery when I was always looking to the sky. We stayed at a couple of RV parks where tornadoes had dropped down not two days before we arrived. Sign, sign, sign. By the time we made it to Niagara Falls in New York, I was done. I wasn’t quite up to pressing our luck by heading east any more. Besides, by turning around, we were going to be headed straight into the very same storms that chased us. Kind of a buzz-kill.
We made it back in one piece to California, a little wiser, a little traveled, a little in debt, with memories wonderful and not so wonderful. It was fun for the most part, but in all honesty, I think I would have been better off listening to that little nagging voice in my head that kept telling me to turn us around. The stress made me a little bitchy, a little closed off, and a whole lot paranoid for months afterward whenever clouds rolled in. Tornadoes, to me, are too unpredictable and as crazy as it sounds, I’d take a California earthquake over a tornado any day.
P.S. At one point the Indy 500 was postponed because a tornado had touched down not too far from the track. Sign. And all of the tornadoes? It was reported to be the worst tornado season on record – Typically 500-600 tornadoes in the season, this one had 500 in the month of May alone. Just my luck.
So, do you listen to that “inner voice?” Do you have a three-strike rule? Where do you draw the line?