Brady Lea (brady) Thu 23 Jan 14 10:33
Fawn Fitter, <fsquared> has recently launched a new blog project: <http://a-certain-party-i-love.tumblr.com/> Fawn says of the project, "When I bought a box of old papers at a flea market in 2002, I planned to sort through the contents and resell the most interesting bits on eBay â but that was before I realized that the box contained more than 100 love letters dated 1940-1943, all in a single hand. I put them into chronological order, began reading, and quickly realized Iâd stumbled on something wonderful: a love story that also included popular culture, left-wing politics, and of course, the encroaching inevitability of World War II." And about Fawn herself: Fawn Fitter has been writing for a living for more than 25 years. She's written hundreds of articles for publications ranging from Cosmopolitan to Entrepreneur; one book, Working in the Dark, the first book about navigating the workplace while coping with a mood disorder; and a lot of marketing copy for the technology industry. A WELL member since 1992, she helped launch and still hosts the Byline conference for freelance writers. She's also a history buff, a flea market fan, and a nosy parker who would read everyone's letters and diaries if she could. Which is why she's so excited about this project. You can find Fawn on twitter: @fsquared And you can find out more about her professional life at: <http://fawnfitter.com/> Thanks for joining us, Fawn. I am super-excited about this project.
Brady Lea (brady) Thu 23 Jan 14 10:51
Hi, Fawn. I can't wait to get into the stories that will unfold on the new blog. Once again, that's: <http://a-certain-party-i-love.tumblr.com/> But before we get into the actual story discovered inside one fortunate flea market purchase, tell me a little about a more personal love affair: the one between you and flea markets. Has this been a life-long love? On-again/Off-again? Do flea-markets love you back? Do you ever break up and get back together? This topic is going to be LURID, peeps.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Thu 23 Jan 14 12:50
My attraction to flea markets is passionate to the point of scandal. I've always loved yard sales, antique shops, that kind of thing -- I can't resist the hope of finding a treasure among other people's old castoffs. When I lived in Boston, I went to the Brimfield Fair, which is basically 5 miles of antiques fair, and practically swooned with excitement. Here in the Bay Area, I've scored great finds at both Alemany and Alameda Point, everything from picture frames to vintage sweaters to a 1949 Parker '51' fountain pen with sterling silver cap. (I also love fountain pens, but that's for another topic, namely the fountain pens topic in the Obsess conference.) So yeah, I'd say flea markets love me almost as much as I love them. I try to stay away, I do. It's an expensive habit. But it's soooooo satisfying that I can't give it up. Oh, flea markets, I wish I could quit you.
Brady Lea (brady) Thu 23 Jan 14 17:38
So, there are two intros to the story on the tumblr in question. <http://a-certain-party-i-love.tumblr.com/post/73552133767/how-i-got-here> (That's about how Fawn got here, see how her titling gives away bits of information? She's a pro.) and: <http://a-certain-party-i-love.tumblr.com/post/73553096238/introducing-leon- and-elly> (Again, crafty titles let us jump right in.) Before we get into their story, let's stick with your tawdry flea market affair, which you admit above that you've been paying for. (This is the gotcha journalism of the new Inkwell.) I live with an avid flea-marketer/estate-sale-goer/dumpster-diver, and we have a name for the box of crap genre of finds. We call them: a box of crap. You're a writer, a teller of stories. How quickly did you go from looking for random treasures to covet or sell on eBay to realizing that you had a box of story? And, as a follow-up, once you figured it out, were you like totally freaking the hell out?
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Fri 24 Jan 14 12:38
Well...here's a lurid revelation: I am a voyeur. I grew up on Anne Frank's diary and Harriet the Spy. If I'd had a big sister who kept a journal, you'd better believe I'd have crept into her room to sneak-read it. As an adult, I absolutely love published journals and letters. I really, really, no I mean it REALLY love other people's private papers. So as you can imagine, this wasn't the first time I'd bought a batch of love letters at a flea market, although it was the biggest batch ever. So yeah, I knew I had a box of story as soon as I realized the box contained multiple letters in the same handwriting -- story was what I was looking for! Not necessarily to do anything but roll around in and enjoy, though. But then I started reading some of the letters and discovered that they were literate and funny and clever and jam-packed with interesting details, and I realized I had a really GOOD story. I didn't freak the hell out until I realized all the other stuff in the box was from the same family. That's when I started thinking I might be able to 1) track them down and return their family papers, and 2) get them to talk to me about them. That's when I started actually flailing around with excitement.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Fri 24 Jan 14 17:36
Also, having seen some of the stuff your resident box-of-crap-finder brings home, I know I am a rank amateur by comparison.
Brady Lea (brady) Sat 25 Jan 14 09:40
I know you are early in the process of getting this blog going/sharing the story with us, but HOLY CRAP, just a few posts in and we find out you met Leon! Not just Leon, but his daughter. Peeps, here's where Fawn talks about Finding Leon-- <http://a-certain-party-i-love.tumblr.com/post/73959449188/finding-leon> --and being able to return his own love letters to him years later. I am super-excited for the story you found in the Box Of Crap but having the actual writer of those letters and his family in the picture! As you are now looking at sharing this story with the world and putting into a larger context, does knowing Leon's family could be reading it give you a certain approach? (Maybe not approach-- I guess I wonder if it adds a kind of self-consciousness.) (And peeps, check the whole thing out-- a couple other posts I haven't mentioned yet have excerpts from Leon's letters. It sure does make one wistful for a golden age of letter writing, when people didn't write a whole parenthetical paragraph that started with the words, "And peeps.")
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sat 25 Jan 14 16:09
I'm not sure how knowing Leon's family affects the way I'm thinking about this. If his kids had any objections or concerns, I would try to be as respectful of that as possible, but Leon knew I wanted to publish his letters and gave me his written permission to do so, and in the end, that's what matters most. Fortunately, his kids don't object. Earlier this year I spent several months transcribing the letters from the photocopies I made before I gave the originals back to Leon, and once I was done making the transcription, I sent it to both his daughter Robin and his son Roger. Robin was thrilled from the start. Roger was happy to cooperate with me, but preferred at first not to read the letters himself because it seemed to him like an invasion of their privacy. I told him at the time that I absolutely understood -- nobody wants to think about their parents having sex! -- but that I didn't think he'd read anything that would make him uncomfortable. I got email from him last week saying that he finally decided to read them and that while he was amazed at how "crazy in love" Leon was, nothing in there was especially surprising or shocking. The family's story in the many years AFTER the letters is good, too, but I'm saving that for later. And Leon's most common phrase was "Ennehoe," for "anyhow," so "and peeps" is nothing!
Brady Lea (brady) Sat 25 Jan 14 17:48
Just from what you have posted so far, I have a time-travel crush on Leon. by the way, the FAQ mentions Fawn's meetings with Leon, what he was like in person, and starts to lay out the cast of characters. <http://a-certain-party-i-love.tumblr.com/faq>
(katecat) Sat 25 Jan 14 18:13
also have crish on Leon! "A side room was the men's c-----r which I visited once as I am not like you." hahahahaha fawn this seems like a marvelous project!
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sat 25 Jan 14 18:38
Leon must have been a force of nature at 25, I'm just saying. I think the more I post, the more people will be crushing on him!
99 Percent Pseud Free! (mim) Sat 25 Jan 14 19:30
(OK, I am so slow... men's... what? center?)
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sat 25 Jan 14 19:43
Paulina Borsook (loris) Sat 25 Jan 14 20:36
fawn, what's your greatest ambition for all this? documentary? coffeetable book?
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sun 26 Jan 14 00:15
A few years back, a New York Times intern wrote a book called The Red Leather Diary about a diary she plucked from a trash heap that turned out to have been written by a rebellious upper-class teenage girl in 1920s New York City. She reconstructed as much of the girl's life as she could given the contents of the diary and eventually managed to track her down as a 90-something retired in Florida. That's what I'd like to do with Leon's letters and Elly's diary, except more so. I want to put them into the context of what was going on in both the US (which was heading toward war) and the wider world (which was already at war). I want to get a sense of what Cleveland in 1940 was like and why Leon might have decided his best bet for building up a marriage nest egg was to take a job in Washington DC. I want to research how the US Army during WWII usually treated soldiers who had been Communist Party members or otherwise not entirely politically kosher, and I want to find out whether Leon's experience was typical. I want to get into the long history of left-wing politics among American Jews in the '30s. And so forth. Popular history, with Leon and Elly as the springboard.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Sun 26 Jan 14 09:09
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Sun 26 Jan 14 10:14
What a great story. I've got the blog bookmarked. Fawn, have you come across anything similar before that got you intrigued, but you didn't follow through out of concern for effects of publishing on the survivors/living descendants of those involved?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Sun 26 Jan 14 10:28
fawn --- have you thought of what kinds of publishers you might want for this? epublishing not great for stuff with images (and i assume this book would have them)
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sun 26 Jan 14 12:51
loris, I haven't considered it yet, honestly. I still need to build up an audience, write a book proposal, find an agent... One thing at a time. debunix, I've bought small groups of love letters before, but never did anything other than read and enjoy them and then sell them on eBay. Most of the time there were no more than a handful of letters, and they never had enough detail to let me even start looking for the writers' descendants. There are also ownership issues, as well -- I might have physical possession of a letter, but if I'm understanding copyright correctly, I don't have the right to publish it until I have permission from the person who wrote it or that person's heirs, or until that person has been dead for 70 years. I've definitely never found anything that made me worry about what the effects might be of publishing it. I'm not even sure what that might be. A secret second family? A connection to a serial killer?
Paulina Borsook (loris) Sun 26 Jan 14 13:32
oh just imagining what the finished project might look like...
Nancy Montgomery (nan) Sun 26 Jan 14 16:01
Wow, reading your blog post about how you got to meet Leon gave me chills! I so hope you find a publisher and get to see your project to its completion. But meanwhile, thanks for sharing it on your blog.
Cliff Dweller (robinsline) Sun 26 Jan 14 16:24
What a great find, and a wonderful project. I have a peculiar kind of find. A friend who was going through her aunt's things was ruthlessly culling the photographs. She came across and wanted to throw out a collection of about 40 2x3 mug shots, probably taken in Ketchikan, Alaska in the 1920's. Almost all were men, all holding a number in front of them. Written on the backs of many of them were notations such as "robbery, 18 months." There are no names. My friend believes that her grandfather, an optometrist who was also a photographer, must have taken them for the police. I couldn't bear to see them thrown out, and am trying to figure out what to do with them. The picture quality is excellent, and the people have such character. It's very compelling.
yay! encroaching death! (tpy) Sun 26 Jan 14 18:22
fawn i am loving this topic and your blog. do the letters come from a time when they were already committed to each other or was there some wooing?
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sun 26 Jan 14 19:43
It's clear from very early on that the reason Leon had left Elly behind in Cleveland to take a job in DC was to earn money so they had something in the bank to start their married life on. They weren't OFFICIALLY engaged yet, in the sense of his having bought her a ring (one of the things he was saving up for!), but it was clear they had already decided they were going to get married. Still, I also get the impression that right until shortly before the wedding, he was still afraid she might change her mind.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Mon 27 Jan 14 15:00
Blog updates on Monday and Thursday mornings, by the way. Which means that there's a new post up today!
Marcus Porter (mkanoap) Mon 27 Jan 14 18:38
I love this so far, I'm so looking forward to seeing it unfold. With Leon's first letter I find myself obsessing of two unimportant details. The first, when he teases her about the c____r, is he referring to her having a smaller bladder, or to her having a shyness about using public restrooms at all? I assume the former, but have loved ones from whom the opposite interpretation might apply. The second, only slightly less trivial curiosity, I wonder about the meaning of his comment about the smoking car where " believe it or not, a pipeful lasts one hour in there." I wonder if he is referring to the thickness of the smoke being enough to just enjoy the secondhand smoke of the other smokers, or if convivial smokers kept him supplied with tobacco.
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