I don’t know about you, but I’m planning a late game reboot. Rest, repair, and fun are the must haves on this holiday wish list. And, lots of reading.
To get started, we have a lovely book to add to your holiday stack, and a Q&A with one of its authors, Lorraine Tosiello.
Lorraine Tosiello read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in the first grade, and again most years of her childhood. That set her off on her life journey of reading, working as a physician, motherhood, traveling, and general rabble-rousing. Rereading Little Women in later adulthood renewed her Alcott enthusiasm and years of study resulted in her first novel, Only Gossip Prospers: A Novel of Louisa May Alcott in New York.
In May 2022, Tosiello’s second novel, written with Jane Cavolina, came out with Clash Books. The Bee and the Fly: The Improbable Correspondence of Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson presents a lifelong exchange of unknown letters between Dickinson, the reclusive poet, and Alcott, the most renowned author of the time.
The book’s authors, Tosiello and Cavolina, were high school friends. Reconnecting forty years later, they found that they were very nearly the spirit of Louisa and Emily in the world today. Researched for over five years and drawing heavily on biographical facts, the book’s luminous letters present a believable friendship that explores the questions of family responsibilities, women’s growing influence in the literary world, the cost of fame, and the power of sorority.
Without further ado, Lorraine Tosiello!
At OIP, we love the fact that everyone has their own set of “classics” (i.e., books, songs, recipes, comics, food, objects, movies, shows, etc. that shaped you). What were some of your favorite childhood “classics”?
Childhood was a long time ago for me as evidenced by this response:
Book: Little Women (duh)
Food: Pasta, with GRAVY (not sauce) every single Sunday and Wednesday (that was implied in an Italian American family at the time)
Song/Movie: The Beatles were the sound track of my pre and early teens. Fun fact: I actually went to see the Beatles movie Help on a school holiday that occurred because the Pope came to New York for one day. All Catholic schools were closed, so that the faithful could go to see their leader, so I faithfully went to see mine! It's hard for anyone to imagine today the overwhelming changes that the Beatles made in society, or that a Pope had never visited the Western hemisphere before that date (1965).
Where would your adventure be set: underwater or in space?
Space: I would definitely prefer a space adventure. I am fascinated by the thought of endless galaxies, the infinite expanse, the wonder of how or where or when it could end, and the endless variations of life that are possible.
Favorite word / font / letter?
I do have a favorite letter and it is "L", but it's got to be a big looping L in an ornate script. I loved signing my name over and over in scribbles when I was a child. I named my first child Laura, so she could have fun writing her name too. But then, they stopped teaching script in the schools…
What are some things you enjoy doing off-screen? (*your very own digital disruption):
I guess it's no surprise that my number one activity is reading, I think it's a prerequisite to be able to write! Travelling is a passion, with Italy being my most visited country. But I've been to less travelled places like Iceland and Africa as well. When home, I walk (on the beach when I am at the shore) and go to museums (when I am in the city).
Snacks while you work–yes/no? If yes, what’s your go-to?
Is coffee a snack ? Or is it a drug? But it's coffee, all the time.
What are some of your favorite tools-of-the-trade?
I use a good online Thesaurus, it's essential for not reusing a common word too often, and since I write about Louisa May Alcott, I have her Letters and Journals (both edited by Myerson and Sheely) near my desk at all times.
You are hosting a party. Who’s coming? Where and when? What’s being served?(Fictional characters and locales are welcome.)
Of course I would invite Louisa May Alcott (which would obviate the need to have Jo March) and Louisa would love to have Henry David Thoreau and Abraham Lincoln to speak to, for me I would have John Lennon and Giuseppe Garibaldi, who I think would get along well. I'm still shell shocked from the pandemic, so all entertaining is outdoors, so a simple garden party with cold salads and lemonade will do.
What mashups do you wish existed?
This mash up exists in my mind and I may have to write it myself: Caravaggio (tortured Baroque 16th century Italian painter) gives advice to Rufus Wainwright (tortured Baroquish 21st century songwriter/singer). Maybe not as sweet as Louisa and Emily but I think these two have a lot in common.
I loved The Bee & The Fly! It is a book that inspires conversations about writing, family, friendship, publishing, the costs of fame, and the power of collaboration. Would you share a bit about the origin story for this project and the process of making it?
The book began very much like the epiphany that the protagonist has in the Prologue. I went to visit Orchard House (Alcott's home) and the Homestead (Dickinson's home) in the same weekend, and had a strong sense immediately that the two writers "could have" known each other. They certainly knew so many people in common: Emerson, Higginson, Helen Hunt Jackson. I came home form my trip ready to write, but felt that the Dickinson letters should come from someone with her sensibility. Enter Jane, an author and book editor who was a high school classmate of mine. We had not seen each other in 40 years! But we connected by email and the first time we met, I asked her who her favorite poet was, and guess who it was? After that, we made a timeline of each woman's life and historical events. Then, the letters came organically. They were not written in strict time sequence. we would write back and forth answering each others letters and it became pretty clear that Emily was content with her lot and Louisa was frazzled and burdened with her fame. I think they certainly would have supported each other, encouraged each other, read each others work. Some of the connections we found between the two women (Mabel Loomis Todd, and the Norcross cousins, for instance) were never discussed by scholars before.
The Bee & The Fly is an epistolary novel framed by a modern day discovery of letters between Emily Dickinson and Louisa May Alcott. Did your experience writing this book change the way you thought about letter writing in your own life?
At the risk of sounding like the oldest person on earth, I am going to admit that when I was growing up, I wrote letters all the time, to my cousins in New Jersey. Back them, an out of state call was considered "long distance" (therefore more expensive) and we children never had the ability to speak on the phone. So we wrote a letter every week or two! Even now, if I really want to get someone's attention I will drop them a line in the mail. I don't know how historians are going to be able to document any kind of personal correspondence now that there are no letters. Let's hope people are still journaling...on paper.
Thank you so much, Lorraine!
In the spirit of friendship and good mail, we are delighted to host a giveaway later this week on Instagram for a chance to win your own copy–and a copy for your friend—of The Bee and the Fly: The Improbable Correspondence of Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson. Our apologies to friends abroad; at this time, the giveaway is for those living in the United States. Be (see what I did there…) on the lookout for more information via OIP’s IG!
The Bee & The Fly: The Improbably Correspondence of Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson by Lorraine Tosiello and Jane Cavolina can be purchased from the amazing Clash Books and your favorite bookstore.
IN OTHER NEWS:
A reminder that submissions for Playing Authors officially closes on December 1. If you miss the deadline for our inaugural anthology, don’t fret. General Submissions open the same day! Feel free to submit your best work (30,000 words or less) through our General Submissions portal which runs through March 1, 2023.
Also, make a note for the month of May, 2023. We plan to open a very special *no fee* submission window for the entire month to celebrate OIP’s first anniversary. Huzzah!
We have so many fun things planned for 2023, including some lovely objects to purchase. Make sure you check out our Instagram and sign up for upcoming quarterly newsletter (*launching in 2023*).
At OIP, I’m beyond lucky to collaborate with people I adore, and operate a family business. Working with Drake, Alex, and all our families are part of what makes building OIP so much fun. The other part is you–people reading, submitting work, and supporting this venture. Thank you! It is such a privilege and pleasure to read your work and get to know you. It is also a privilege to return back to my home state of Indiana, and build a life here for myself and my family.
Thank you so much for supporting OIP and building this community! To your comfort and joy.