Self-portrait and notes created by Elliott Holt
"I have expensive taste in paper," says writer Elliott Holt of the personalized stationery she orders annually from London. " I write thank-you notes. You have to pick your own font. Mine feels very 'me.'"
But Holt also has an interest in more contemporary forms of communication: Already a winner of the Pushcart Prize for short fiction, she drew attention during last fall's inaugural Twitter Fiction Festival when she tweeted a murder mystery from three discrete fictional accounts. Her first novel, You Are One of Them, comes out this summer and hinges on different forms of correspondence. In 1982, two 10-year-old best friends Jennifer and Sarah write letters to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, who responded only to Jennifer with an overseas invitation bringing her international fame. Thirteen years later, and 10 years after Jennifer's supposed death, Sarah is summoned to post-communist Russia by an e-mail implying that the young ambassador might still be alive.
"E-mail was still a novelty in 1995," Holt writes in You Are One Of Them, before carefully re-creating the new technology's strangeness. As she says now, "You could never have imagined the way our notions of connectivity would change with e-mail. International borders could break down. And of course notions of identity also changed, because it's a lot easier to impersonate someone online."
Holt worked at a Moscow ad agency in the late '90s -- around the same time much of her book takes place. "None of my Russian colleagues grew up with advertising, and it was amazing how quickly they wanted to speak ad-speak," she remembers. "So much of the book is about the way people and ideas are packaged and sold."
The same holds true for her work on Twitter. "I think Twitter intrigues me because it can feel sort of intimate but it's not really. It's a performance," says Holt. "The fascinating thing about creating these three characters is that it makes you wonder, 'How many other people out there are fake?'"