Guest Chick: Mary Winters

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to Mary Winters, author of Murder in Postscript! We’re so intrigued by her new Lady of Letters series (and what a gorgeous cover)!

My Medieval Muse

In college, I detested Medieval English. I was like the math major who bemoans taking a literature class. (When am I ever going to use this?) And I disliked the professor even more, which is saying something since I loved school and was a bit of a (ahem) nerd. I distinctly remember a student asking the professor if she could abbreviate his last name. His answer was, “No, you may not.” I also remember his frequent use of the word ubiquitous, but I digress.

One day, I was sitting moodily in class, probably pondering the meaning of the word ubiquitous, when he passed out another assignment. This one required our third text, the slim volume for which I had begrudgingly paid forty-nine dollars. I brought all three books to class, every day, in case I had use for them and was prepared for the assignment. The other students were not, so it was sent with us as homework.

When I arrived home, I opened the book to see what forty-nine dollars had bought me, and after reading a few pages, I had my answer: magic. The book was The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, and from that moment on, I liked Medieval English a good deal.

The book contains letters between a man name Abelard and woman named Heloise who begin a tumultuous love affair that ends with him castrated and her in a convent. For a student who craved action-packed plots, it didn’t get any better than this. Abelard was an envied scholar and Heloise a brilliant linguist. That I read in the introduction. But it was the writers’ personal correspondence that instilled a curiosity in me that persisted throughout college.

In fact, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise was the gateway to my general interest in women’s letters, journals, and diaries. Over the next several years, I devoured the missives of Zelda Fitzgerald, a creative in her own right who lived in the shadow of her famous husband. I pondered the minutia in Virginia Woolf’s diary, fascinated by her everyday domestic woes. I studied the letters of Susanna Moody, Emily Dickinson, and eventually, Laura Ingalls Wilder. In fact, my master’s thesis, a novel (please don’t read it) was based on the main character finding her grandma’s journal during the auction of the family farmhouse. The novel includes several historical journal entries written from the grandmother’s point of view.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that Murder in Postscript contains a letter from my agony aunt sleuth to her readers in every chapter, and yet had you asked me a year ago where the idea came from, I might have said it dropped from the sky. But in fact, I’ve been studying women’s correspondence for years. At times, it was the only place I could hear women’s voices, shouting to be heard.

Do I have my Medieval English teacher to thank for this revelation? Perhaps. He did allow me to answer that very important question all students have at some time in their academic careers. When will I use this?

It turns out, dear reader, every single day.

© Julie Prairie Photography 2016

Mary Winters is the author of Murder in Postscript, the debut novel in A Lady of Letters mystery series, which received a starred review from Library Journal.

A longtime reader of historical fiction and an author of two other mystery series, Mary set her latest work in Victorian England after being inspired by a trip to London. Since then, she’s been busily planning her next mystery—and another trip!

Do you now, or have you in the past, corresponded with friends, family, or a penpal via handwritten letters? Do you keep a daily journal or diary? Please share in comments.

28 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Mary Winters

  1. Mary, I was pulled right into your college English class with you. For so many, college opens doors we never even imagined we’d walk through, heh? But your discovery of the fascination one can experience upon reading letters written by others to someone else other than ourselves… well, that made me think of that British TV show LETTERS LIVE. The show is a raving success, so you are most assuredly onto something with this series.
    Best of Luck,
    Pam website:


  2. Letters? Oh yeah! Before email and text, veterans lived for “mail call.” Ask and they’ll share the impact of letters sent and received, whether in boot camp or deployed overseas.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary, so nice to meet you–and thanks for guesting with Chicks today. Huge congrats on the pub of Murder in Postscript–I saw the beautiful cover and intriguing title on social media last night and IMMEDIATELY clicked. One glance at the storyline and I was hooked–can’t wait to read! Had to chuckle re: your professor. I had one who fancied himself an actor as well as an academic, and gave dramatic renditions as he read aloud. He leaned in when he thought anyone wasn’t listening, and he tended to spit his words. I paid strict attention. Anyway…my “journaling” is pretty much my to-do list. Sad.


  4. Mary, congratulations on the new series! I occasionally find an old letter I wrote or someone wrote me and it’s like a time tunnel. And I journaled from high school until I met my husband – mostly about my love woes, so you know why I stopped, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Congratulations on the book, Mary, and the wonderful essay! My medieval English teacher was a charismatic cutie–I remember him, but no Middle English.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I used to write letters, but I’ve never been super good at it. I’m too lazy to it regularly. And now, with modern technology, I’ve pretty much stopped.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Correspondence is a lost art. I continually decry its degeneration into email and, even worse, texting, with their atrocious grammar and frivolous abbreviations. A thoughtful letter provides so much more than mere communication of information – it can be an actual window into the soul of the writer. Composing a good letter requires the writer to slow down, consider his thoughts carefully when deciding what to commit to paper, thinking about how the reader will understand and react to the text without other clues that the physical presence of the correspondent could provide, such as facial expression, tone of voice and body language. A skillful writer can include all of that and more in a missive, which is why the letters of great writers have so much literary value.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Congrats on the book, Mary. Murder in Postscript sounds like a novel I will enjoy reading very much!
    I relished the Middle English and Poetry class I took in college, which included Canterbury Tales (LOVED), and Beowulf (loved a little less)! And I even liked the prof!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Vickie, and thanks for having me! I liked the Canterbury Tales too. Although I think I read them in another class…


  9. The medieval class that I dreaded? Beowulf. And no, I don’t use it–nor the Old English I had to (kind of) learn–every day. Though I was rather fond of the monster, Grendel. And I adored my teacher!

    As for letter-writing, bemoan the fact that it’s fast becoming a lost art, due to email and even worse, texts, as our modern form of communication. And I value the precious letters I have from my youth when we did still correspond in longhand.

    Thanks so much for visiting the Chicks, Mary, and congrats on the new book–it looks terrific!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for having me, Leslie! Beowulf was not my favorite read. I never understood it then, and I wouldn’t have the patience to read it now.
      Glad you saved your letters! The few I have are precious to me as well.


  10. I love handwritten letters. I have all of my mother and Father’s letters during WWII and all of mine and my husbands from his time in Viet Nam. I had copies made of many of my parent’s letters, so I could read them without worrying about ruining them due to their age. So now I can read them whenever I want. It is nice to reread them to see how much in love they were (they married in 1941) and how passionate my husband once was. I also was a Fine Arts major and later became certified in English to teach it and many of the books we had to read were wonderful and many were ruined because the prof picked them to pieces. I got Maria diRico/Ellen Byron’s latest catering mystery today, so Happy Bookday to her.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a gift to have those letters, a gift you can open again and again! Yes, as an English major, I also heard some books picked to pieces. Not fun!
      Happy reading! I know you’ll love Ellen’s new release.


  11. Mary: Chiming in to add my congrats about your new series! I really appreciate letters and used to have several (local and international) penpals while growing up. I also kept all the love letters from my hubby!


  12. Mary, your book sounds absolutely wonderful, and I very much enjoyed hearing the college class backstory. (I had a year of 18th Century British Satire that had me pondering my choice in majors.)

    I have never kept a journal–probably because I can’t read my own handwriting–but I love the idea. The closest thing I have is Facebook, which serves up occasional reminders of past posts and pictures.

    Thanks for hanging out with us, Mary, and huge congrats! ❤


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