In the Flesh is a monthly reading series held the third Thursday of every month at the appropriately named Happy Ending Lounge, and features the city's best erotic writers sharing stories to get you hot and bothered, hosted and curated by erotic writer/editor Rachel Kramer Bussel (Best Sex Writing series, Do Not Disturb, Spanked, Dirty Girls, etc.). From erotic poetry to down and dirty smut, these authors get naked on the page and will make you lust after them and their words. Themed nights have included True Sex Confessions, Revenge of the Sex Columnists, GLBT Night, and Comedy Sex. Readers have included Laura Antoniou, Mo Beasley, Susie Bright, Lily Burana, Jessica Cutler, Stephen Elliott, Martha Garvey, Gael Greene, Andy Horwitz, Debra Hyde, Maxim Jakubowski, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Tsaurah Litzky, Suzanne Portnoy, Sofia Quintero, M.J. Rose, Danyel Smith, Grant Stoddard, Cecilia Tan, Carol Taylor, Veronica Vera, Zane and others. In The Flesh debuted in October 2005. Contact rachelkramerbussel at for bookings, press, or questions. Click here In The Flesh: Los Angeles. “…writer and host Rachel Kramer Bussel welcomes eroticism of all stripes, spots and textures to the Happy Ending lounge on the Lower East Side.,” New York Times UrbanEye newsletter, August 15, 2007 email rachelkramerbussel at for booking or other information or interview requests

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Interview with Samara O'Shea, author of For the Love of Letters and Founder,

(I'll be doing occasional interviews and/or posts about what's happening with In The Flesh readers. Come see Samara tomorrow night and bring money to get her book from Mobile Libris, after you hear her read I think you'll definitely want a copy!)

For writers and non-writers alike, letter lover Samara O’Shea, author of the new book For the Love of Letters: A 21st Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing, is an inspiration. She’s taken her passion for letter writing to a whole new level, first with her website, and now with her book. What really shines through the most in the book is her willingness to express things in letters she wouldn’t be able to express any other way, to family, friends, and lovers. She’s a dedicated student of letters and some of the historical ones she presents are rife with anger, love, and other emotions. There’s a section on erotic letters, but, perhaps surprisingly, that wasn’t my favorite (though I did enjoy it). This book will remind even people who write every day that there is more to writing than professional publication and that authentic human communication can happen all in the form of one true letter full of conviction that’s from the heart. You can hear Samara read an erotic letter by James Joyce (one she was unable to reprint in her book, despite her letter to his grandson, Stephen Joyce, which you can read on her site) at In The Flesh Reading Series on Wednesday, May 16th at 8 pm.

Do you remember the first letter you ever wrote?

I have memories of early letters, but I can’t say with certainty which one of them came first. I remember mailing a letter to a girl named Lori in my 3rd grade class. I asked her to be my friend. How embarrassing! I also wrote to my cousin Kate on a regular basis all through my elementary school years.

What made you start your site Is there a typical client of yours?

First and foremost I wanted to promote the idea of letter writing in the tech world (as in you can be tech savvy and still take the time to writer letters). If someone stops by the site and thinks it’s ridiculous to have me write a letter for them but walks away with a renewed interest in letter writing, then mission accomplished. Most of my clients are women and they usually ask for love letters.

How many letters are you commissioned to write in a given week or month? How long do they usually take you and what do you do when you draw a blank initially?

There is no consistency with this. Some months I have no requests and other months (usually following some coverage on another web site) I write five letters a day. Requests have slowed down since I updated my website. I think (hope) this is because there is a book with all my letter writing advice in it and people would rather give it a go themselves using the book as a guide then ask me off the bat.

It depends on the type of letter, but it can take me from a half hour to an hour to write. I always draw a blank initially, but I do that with everything I write—with every chapter in my book, with every article, even with letters I write for myself. I always have an I can’t do this moment but then I calm down and realize I can. When I draw a blank for a client, I read their request carefully and highlight the main points they’re looking to make and that leads me right into writing their letter.

Why do you think someone would hire you to write their letter for them? Is this kind of letter less powerful for the recipient than one actually written by the person?

I think people come to me because they are suffering writer’s block and they know they have something important to say and need help saying it. It’s also, admittedly, an absurd idea and I think people are curious as to how it works. A letter that I help someone write is in no way less powerful than what they would write themselves. It’s still their emotions that are driving the letter.

What are your favorite and least favorite kinds of letters to write?

As expected, I love writing love letters—for myself or for others. They make me feel as though all is well with the world. Although there’s no letter I completely dislike writing, I’d say cover letters or any type of professional letter would be my last pick of letter to write.

Do you write letters daily or on some set schedule, or when the mood strikes you?

I write when the mood strikes, which has been often lately. I wouldn’t say everyday,y but at least four or five times a week (I’m referring to handwritten letters). Ironically, I stopped writing letters to concentrate on writing the book and I’ve had to remind myself that it is something I really enjoy.

How have email and the Internet played a role in modern-day letter writing? Have they detracted from the art of letter writing by making it too simple and common of an act, or have they added to it by making people more likely to send a letter?

Everyday e-mails are not letters, but letters can be sent via e-mail. I’ll explain. I don’t consider the quick e-mails we toss off to each other to be letters. What makes a letter a letter is the language used and the emotions driving the words. You can certainly write something eloquent and meaningful and send it using e-mail, but those e-mails tend to be few and far between. Everyday e-mails have made communication faster but have removed the fluency from our language. Letters are a wonderful way to reclaim this. The Internet, on the other hand, at first appeared to be a hindrance to letter writing but has actually enabled letter writers to reach a wide audience.

What were the hardest and easiest parts of your book to write?

The most difficult parts to write were the first sentence in each chapter. I don’t know why but so much pressure comes with writing a first sentence. Once I got through the first sentence the rest of every chapter was a joy.

Tell me about the last letter you wrote and the last one you received.

The last letter I wrote was on Saturday—it was to my mom for Mother’s Day. I gave her two letters—one from me and the other was one that Louisa May Alcott wrote to her mother just after her first book was published. I found it so endearing and appropriate that I copied it and gave it to my mother. Don’t worry I didn’t plagiarize. I told my mom the story and I dated the second letter December 26, 1856.

Now tell me about a letter you wrote but never sent.

Funny you should ask. Just last month there was a letter I wrote and never sent. It involved a man (of course)—one that I was crazy about. He said he would call and after four days went by I knew that he wouldn’t. I wanted to write him and say, “Look I know you’re not interested, but if we ever run into each other things don’t have to be awkward.” There really is no cool way to say that though. You come off looking like a fool no matter what. I wrote the letter anyway and read it out loud to my sister. Writing and reading the letter made me feel much better, so I never sent it.

For someone inspired to write a letter, but not sure who the recipient should be, do you have any suggestions?

What a fun question! I say pick someone (anyone) whose day you’d like to make. Write to that old friend who you’ve been meaning to get back in touch with for years or thank someone for a recent favor they did for you.

You wrote on your blog recently about the power of writing letters to ourselves, and observed that, "We talk ourselves into wanting life the way that it is instead of accepting the challenge of making it what we want it to be." Can you elaborate on this statement? Is writing letters to ourselves a form of therapy?

It sounds strange I know, but I think we end up lying to ourselves more than we’ll ever admit. Sometimes on a large scale—as in pretending you love the person you’re with only to avoid being single—and sometimes on a smaller scale—as in not going for a promotion because you don’t want to deal with the potential rejection. The craziest part is we get so used to internal lies that we end up believing ourselves and living unsatisfying lives. Journaling, or writing letters to yourself, is a great way to figure out what’s going on within. It doesn’t happen overnight, but once you have many journal entries to look back on you’ll notice patterns and recurring themes. I came across a quote recently: “During the act of writing, I have told myself something I didn’t know I knew.” I wholeheartedly agree!

You've read many books of letters. Which one has left the biggest impression on you, and what did you learn from it?

The books that always leave the strongest impression on me are collections of letters. I love getting lost in other people’s lives and language. With that in mind, I’d say Sylvia Plath’s letters tend to really effect me as do Sarah Bernhardt’s. Sylvia’s letters are so elegant and insightful while Sarah’s are so dramatic. It’s funny, she was always acting even when she was writing letters.

Out of all the letters posted on your site, which is your favorite?

The letter my 10th grade heartthrob Mark wrote me. It still makes me giddy. On the site it’s called the “summer camp” letter and the link can be found on the bio page.