The Art of Letter Writing & Postal Fidelity

Ink pen explosion–all over my hand and fingers. That hasn’t happened in a long time since the computer took over and I usually type out most of my work. I was addressing an envelope to my friend who inspired the concept of postal fidelity in the last chapter of my novel.

I’ve been writing letters since I was in third grade. First, to my pen pal, Victoria, who actually goes by the shortened name, Tori, and has for many years (decades in fact) but I’ll always know her as Dear Victoria. She made the writer in me materialize early. Complete with a penchant for exaggeration, her name inspired reverence and intrigue. I was really putting letter writing to practice by addressing someone as Dear Victoria. And, she was mysterious and exciting simply by living in California, with the name Victoria. California was a state I had never visited and doubted I would ever visit since a weekend in the Great Smokey Mountains was as far as my parents were going in our Ford Pinto at that time in their lives. Now, they’ve followed me much farther than they ever imagined.

Though we no longer write letters, Dear Victoria kept me writing for decades, trying to tell her stories about my life and make it seem more exciting. My letter writing expanded to include friends in school and elaborate notes with secret codes and nicknames. Love letters to a boyfriend and recorded cassette tapes of poetry readings and love songs, my letter writing grew and grew. Envelopes addressed to soldiers from my family–in Germany, Kosovo, Iraq. I bought quill pens, wax seals, and parchment paper—got all fancy. I decorated the envelopes & called it Happy Mail. And then, email came along and took over. Facebook status updates. Tweets. I lost my touch, and put all my efforts into fiction and editing. Writing interviews.

I finally saw letter writing as a prelude to my creativity with a longer work. However, my mailbox (the real one by the road) was empty for too long. Sad even, flag always down. A friend from graduate school moved away and sent a postcard, and I sent a card back, and then a letter arrived, and I scurried to write a response. And one of my close friends deployed to Afghanistan, and I berated myself for not writing to her enough.

Hand-written letters allow us to get lost in writing, to forget about editing, to avoid our reliance on the delete key, and to allow the ink to flow across the page. Within letters, I can see the way my friend’s pen strokes show that she is tired, or annoyed, or angry, and they also show how excited or frantic she might be. A sealed envelope invites anticipation and personalization that email cannot offer.

Now, my grad school friend and I write back and forth with dedication for a while, but life takes over periodically and we stop writing, then we pick it back up again. We’ve written two letters in about a month. The pen explosion felt like an old signal, the start gun of a long run with writing and creating.

What gets your creativity in motion?

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All of the Social Admissions (Omissions) I Didn’t Give To You

So I need to get it out of the way. I get writer’s block when blogging, or tweeting or facebooking about my personal life & what to share. The advice out there is that I should write about my everyday life as part of my author’s platform. You know, I should tell you about my day–if I think the clouds look pretty, what I’m eating for dinner, where I drink coffee and what kind, if I have worn a hole in my favorite pair of socks (my laundry–I’m told to describe it to you, the norm, and comment on your laundry, if your dog chewed the remote control.) I should also provide you with the small dramas of my life–if I scored delicious vegetables at the farmer’s market, if I stood in the warrior pose for over 10 full breaths, if I crashed the car into the neighbor’s tree for leaving it in neutral and failing to put on the parking break, if I didn’t plant a garden & got so angry at its absence that I refused to do one moment of yard work until I had to push mow tall grass this summer, if my oldest daughter currently has a sass mouth only with me & I’m tired of doling out consequences and discussing right choices today. at. this. moment. sometimes., if she also earns As in school, if strep throat has been my nemesis already this season, if the library and a beer at the pub are my idea of a good time in my normal life, if Amsterdam is my idea of a good time when I take a break, if I’m running and failing to reach my target mileage since I gave birth & I also need to give myself a break b/c I broke my toe and kept on running with a purple appendage b/c I just need to run on some days<–yes, all of those are true. [I'm also advised to end this paragraph with phrases like, "So there you go!" in order to feel liberated from social networking writer's block.]

You see why I would rather create characters, take a walk, live live live. But, all of those social networking strategies are touted as essential to any artist's platform. I plunge in, thumbs ready. I enjoy reading & writing, don't get me wrong, but I'm weighed down by the time and demand of social media, of interacting on and personalizing a huge message board. I go back and forth about whether or not this transparency is a good thing, an essential component to human culture, or if it would be better to stick with my basic bohemian lust for the bare necessities. I write this all on my notepad on my phone right now. I see the irony, but there's still a shiver up my spine about that, about how complicated it is to do what you love & try to make a living at it while discussing the personal or what I think about all of the "hot" topics out there. Soup, anyone?

Sometimes, You might simply want to say, Look at this, read this–Here's an article, an interview, about a group doing important work, something informative. But in reality, many people just want to read about your dinner, your sassing, breaking your toe, and the like so they can like it. I think this transparency is a product of our economic trends and its a way to support that system = I'm not supposed to get too deep, too cerebral, so I'll stop there.

And, I'm here… in my office above the garage in my house, and I have recently read a friend's status update that notifies me that her daughter also has a sass mouth. I might as well tell you that I'm currently starving and have been interrupted five times by the phone ringing. I drink too much coffee & haven't had enough this morning. My dog wags his tail. He needs a haircut and so do I. So do I. We'll leave it at that for now. Not so nicely wrapped up so that it still has the feeling of a cross between an admission between friends and my laundry list.
Ah, yes. Maybe the spell has broken and I'll do this again sometime.

Podcast, Interview and Book Giveaway

I’ve been working on the collaborative project, Her Circle Ezine, for about five years. Before my novel, Multiple Exposure, was published, our podcast producer and host, Claire Hart, asked me to participate in the One World Café Virtual Reading Series. I was thrilled to be considered for the podcast series, a section that Claire maintains on the website.

Since I gave birth earlier this year, I haven’t been able to get out to a lot of reading events. First, I’m trying to be a good Mom, and second, a novelist promoting her work. Most days, I’m trying to negotiate the time to send an email, tweet, or post to facebook (and write?!) between naps and feedings. So, Claire’s podcast offer was one I could manage. Claire recorded us from her apartment in Germany, while I Skyped in from my home in Tennessee. But, have no doubt, it was not seamless–the baby was awake and baby talking, baby happy shrieks, so I had to ask my husband to hurry home and watch the baby while Claire and I recorded the podcast.

That’s one of the topics Claire and I discuss in the interview–how to juggle family and professional responsibilities.
So that I don’t tell you all about it, you can listen to it here.
There’s also a chance to win a free copy of the book…click on the link to find out how.

Playing pretend with children & creating characters

Cindy’s stuff

Anyone with an imagination can help with character creation. My 6 year-old daughter recently began playing pretend, though she calls each one a “game” and creates a new character to play. Today, she has been Cindy from Texas, who was a veterinarian, but “it became too much, too boring”, so a year ago, she moved to Tennessee, where she is a kindergarten teacher. She has four pets who moved with her from Texas, a dog that fits in a purse, a baby bear cub, and two white rabbits. She wears red boots and drinks chai spice tea with vanilla soy milk. I’ve noticed that her habits include saying, “You shouldn’t have,” when she’s offered something to drink or eat.

I’m keeping a record of these characters that she creates…that we all create.
 Many days, she asks Terry and me, “who are you today in the game?” And, we make up characters too. 
This is a great family interactive game and a way to invigorate your writing.  
Is there any way that you include your family in the writing process?