Interview with Rebecca Marshburn, Letter[s] to my [ex] Lovers

Rebecca Marshburn is the author of Letter[s] to my [ex] Lover[s], a book about “the growing, bending, broken bits of love in the many forms in which it comes, and goes”. It catalogs a series of letters written over the course of ten years.


Tell us about the origin of Letter[s] to my [ex] Lover[s]. How did the idea come about?

People have asked me that before, and I often fumble over the answer. The truth is that there are so many truths about the origin of the book. It was a way to share my experiences with others in the hopes that, during their dark times, they’d know they weren’t alone. It was a way to reflect on my own decisions and behavior. It was a way to celebrate what was and is and had come before. And it was a way to practice writing—an art form I sometimes think I’m good at and other times want to burn. But I’m pretty sure that’s the way most people feel about it.


What was it like going back and reading through all of your old letters?

Most of the time, it made me smile. Sometimes, it brought me back to the same place I was when I wrote the letter. That usually ended in one of two ways: Either I felt reassured that the ending was the right thing, or I felt an ambiguous, lurchy knot take root in my stomach—I always feel sadness in my stomach. Not the inside part that digests, but the soft, fleshy bits in the belly. When that feeling arrived I would skip the letter and hope that, maybe, it’d be better to read tomorrow.


How did the book evolve as you worked on it?

I knew that I wanted to have my hand in it, not just as a producer but as an artist, if I can say that word and believe it. I wanted it to be a finished object that someone would feel really good about buying and I also wanted it to have zine-like qualities that I love so much for their personal-ness. So I worked on ways of incorporating personal touches into professional materials, like handwriting the names of my lover[s] and hand-painting the covers with the same stencils I used to create the graphics you see throughout the book and website. And the illustrations! They were the result of a collaboration with a really cool gal and that’s something I hadn’t originally envisioned for the book.


Were there certain letters that didn’t make it into the book?

Oh yes. The prologue says “I wrote you hundreds of letters you’ll never remember…”. Well, that’s true. There are so many letters I didn’t include. I tried to choose letters that illustrated the general trajectory of my feelings across time without belaboring the reader. You can tell me if I chose well.

There are also letters that my [ex] lover[s] had written to me. I didn’t share them for a few reasons, one for the sake of their own privacy and two for the sake of the reader—I wanted to allow the reader to imagine the other side and how they would feel, or had felt, if and when they wrote or received a similar letter.

And there are two other letters that I wrote during the time it took me to produce the book. They didn’t make it to print, but I will be sharing them in their drafted states with people who come to the show.


How was the project received by ex-lovers?

Those I told received it well, if not with a general air of merriment mixed with suspicion. But they were all up-front about their feelings and gave their permission or their blessing. Some of them were editors, which was both touching and tough. Some were supportive but didn’t want, or couldn’t want, to see the book. One asked me to use his real name instead of a pseudonym. And one I asked to “not use the book as a doorstop, at least, not until you read it.” I think he’ll oblige.


Proceeds from the book will go to one of three non-profits of the purchaser’s choice. How did you select these particular organizations?

I chose the nonprofits based on three criteria: That their mission support a key element that makes something like book writing and book reading possible (for all people of all backgrounds and orientations), that they were based in a city where some part of the book was produced, and that they have a good rating on Charity Navigator, so buyers could feel confident that their dollars would be well used by whichever organization they chose.


How has the process of making the book impacted how you view your relationships?

It’s made me think more about my decisions, and my reactions, and the way I deliver my words, and how it all has the potential to hurt someone (and myself) even without my intending it. One time, when one of my [ex] lover[s] asked me to leave his house after delivering his letter to him in person, I called my dad from the airport. Before he could say hello, I said “Dad, I think I’m doing it wrong.”

Sometimes I still wonder if I’m doing it wrong.


Letter[s] to my [ex] Lover[s] will debut at Capp Casa on February 16 with a one-night show featuring a reading by Rebecca Marshburn.

You can register for the free event here.