The Magic of Mail

brown paper envelope on table

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

Yesterday I received my first piece of legit fan mail. I mean, an actual handwritten letter from someone I did not previously have any contact or association with. She wrote because she had read a copy of Train of Thought and it reminded her of her own Amtrak trip years ago. And she had to write to tell me all about it.

It’s a delightful letter, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading every line of its four pages. (I may or may not have already reread it a few times.) It’s humbling to think a perfect stranger not only read my book but felt compelled to dig out matching stationery, stamps, and a pen and write to me all about her own train adventure. In this day and age, who does that? Well, besides this woman. And me, when I write back to her (using a typewriter, of course).

Typewriter enthusiast and occasional actor Tom Hanks agrees with me. In California Typewriter, he admits that, if someone takes seven seconds to send him a thank-you email, he’ll delete it. But if someone takes seventy seconds to type him a real, paper thank-you note, he’ll keep that thing forever.

He’s right. Through LinkedIn, I recently I got back in touch with a friend from elementary school. She’d moved away when we were kids, and we wrote letters back and forth till our first year of college.  A few weeks ago, I sat up late one night and reread every single one of her letters to me from the 1970s. I was laughing and crying and reliving those fun, naïve days. I then snapped a picture for her of all of those letters spread across my desk. She was amazed. Next I’m going to scan each one so she can have as much nostalgic fun rereading them as I did.

The fun of receiving personal mail never gets old. It’s why I eat the cost of a few stamps sending Christmas cards to people who live just a few miles—or even just a few blocks—from my house. There’s something about opening that mailbox and seeing your name on an envelope that doesn’t have the electric bill inside. Something that says, “Hey, I thought about you today…”

The bigger tie-in? It’s simple. Tom Hanks is onto something here. Make the world a little smaller while you still can. If you want to truly touch someone’s life in a quiet but unmistakable way, write a letter. Use stationery. Get out an envelope. Buy a stamp. Then wait for the magic to happen.

What sorts of personal mail or letters have you kept over the years?

 

NaNoWriMo 2018: And so it begins…

Somehow, today starts my fifteenth year of participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Somehow, I’ve completed the previous fourteen and won. Somehow, two of those books have become available to the public (here and here).

Will this fifteenth attempt turn into something Amazon-worthy? Only time will tell. But if Day One is any indication, I’m excited to see what happens this month. Wherever this new story takes me, I’ll be traveling there with my IBM Selectric II typewriter for the first draft, with my trusty NaNo Rhino cheering me on as a mascot. (I’d call him a muse, but he’s a bit of a jerk and doesn’t always like to help me solve plot dilemmas. He’s too busy eating leftover Halloween candy. Jerk.)

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Why a typewriter, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked. (Actually, no, I’m not. I get tired of this question after the 237th time.) I use a typewriter because sometimes—just sometimes—you need to see the paper move. Physically move. And you need a device that makes it impossible to self-edit along the way. During NaNoWriMo—during any first-draft stage—you need to move forward, always forward.

Don’t look back! That’s what I hear when I listen to the hummmmmming of my Selectrics. They’re marvelous beasts for typing for long periods of time. I often have to tear myself away from the keyboard because it’s such a delight to use. Give me a Selectric keyboard over any computer keyboard any day.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, leave a comment and tell me what your process looks like. Mine involves not only the Selectrics and the rhino mascot, but also copious amounts of caffeine, a lot of ’90s alternative music in the background, and a heavy reliance on voicemail.

 

Can You Keep a Secret?

5-SecretAgentManny_PrintProof2-FRONT (LindaHPLaptop's conflicted copy 2017-01-11)

Today I’m ordering a proof copy of this book—Secret Agent Manny—so I can make sure it looks pretty and beautiful and marginally correct. Wait, I mean, to make sure the margins are correct. We typesetters care about these things.

This book started as a dare (as most great books do) … by two writer friends of mine, Fara Linn Howell and Jim Watkins. The first line of the book (“There’s been an incident at the house”) was spoken to me over the phone by my electrical engineer husband while I was at a writing conference … and Jim and Fara thought it was a perfect jumping-off point for a story. Then again, bungee jumpers think high bridges are perfect jumping-off points, and I think they’re all insane.

That year, their idea turned into my NaNoWriMo novel, written on my IBM Selectric. And I’ve been tinkering with the story ever since. This past autumn I spent five wonderful days at Forest Edge Cottage in Kane, Pa. (in the Allegheny Forest), where I wrapped up the story on my Smith Corona Coronamatic.

Yes, I use typewriters to write fiction. Don’t get all up in my face about it. If these particular typewriters were good enough for Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury and Charles Bukowski and John Irving and James Baldwin, they’re good enough for me.

Plus, I have no real hobbies to speak of.

Anyway, now Secret Agent Manny is edited, typeset, and proofread. And it’ll soon be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website. (Don’t panic. I’ll post direct links once the book’s available. Take some deep breaths into a paper bag or something before you faint. I said, don’t panic!)

If you’re going to see me at a conference or festival this year (like this one, or this one), I won’t mind if you wait till then to get a copy (so I can sign it for you and make it worth ten or fifteen cents more than you paid for it).

Otherwise, watch out, world! Secret Agent Manny is coming your way—sometime in May!

Soon . . .

It’s almost here again. Not just Halloween—with its promise of fun-sized candy bars for weeks because I always conveniently over-purchase for our trick-or-treaters (#sorrynotsorry)—but also what I like to call NaNo Eve.
For the past 13 years, I’ve spent Halloween night watching bad horror movies (usually AMC’s Fear Fest) and prepping for the start of National Novel Writing Month in November. This will be Year 14. And, as usual, I’m so excited I can barely think of anything else. This one event, paired with my discovery of Alphasmarts back in 2004, has made November my favorite month each year.

 

So, just as I’ve done for the past 13 Halloweens, I’ll spend Tuesday night gobbling tiny Kit Kat bars and cute little Hershey miniatures, sipping coffee into the wee hours, waiting for midnight so I can start on this year’s 50,000 new words of fiction.
But, unlike the past 13 years, this time I won’t be starting a brand new project. NaNoWriMo now allows participants to work on a previous fiction project, as long as all the words written in November are new to the project. And since I have a few previous NaNo novels that aren’t quite done, this seems like the year to tie up some loose ends rather than unravel new ones.
In fact, I’m modifying even that new take on the old rules a little bit further. The past two NaNo novels have been upcoming books in my Red Ink cozy mystery series. Each one needs about 25,000 words to finish the story.
You can see where I’m going with this.
So, I’m hoping to finally see complete first drafts of both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website in about a month. It’s making me feel so grown-up and responsible. Pretty much new feelings for me.
And because I can’t just wing it from scratch this time, I’ll spend the next two days rereading what I have so far on both novels, so I can hit the ground running at midnight on Tuesday night. I’m nervous about doing NaNoWriMo this way, but then again, I get nervous trying out a new flavor of coffee creamer. Your mileage may vary.
Let me be clear that I’m not nervous about doing NaNoWriMo yet again on a typewriter. I’ve found it’s the best way to churn out new fiction. Been practicing on both the Selectric I and the Selectric II this past few weeks. I even bought a few new “golf balls” for each of them.
The fingers are getting itchy. I’m ready.

Erma-Gerd!

So, here I sit in a glorious hotel suite a few miles from where, tomorrow, I’ll be entrenched among other people of like mind. I’m at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. It starts tomorrow. A few of us have come in a day early to get our heads cleared, to get settled here in this strange land of Ohio.

And then tomorrow, the craziness starts.

I’ll come home inspired, exhausted, and thrilled. I’m so ready to start. Because yes, even introverts get out into the world sometimes and have fun.

I’ll just have to curl into a fetal position for most of Sunday afternoon. But it’ll be worth it.

 

And the Beat Goes On . . .

This past week I released both the print and Kindle editions of my cozy mystery, The Scarlet Letter Opener. Not the first novel I’ve written, but the first novel I’ve put out there in the big, wide world.
And it feels a lot like watching your firstborn grow up, move out, get married … all those overused empty-nest clichés. It feels like all of them, but a lot more personal because, if your novel flops, you can’t blame it on anyone else but yourself. Nature, nurture, whatever. It’s all crap when you release a novel. Well, you can try to blame it on the cover designer or your beta readers, but that’s just a passive-aggressive device to avoid blame, and it’s not fooling anybody.
Anyway, a few of my trusted friends  [read: I’m pretty sure they’re not going to kill me in my sleep] finally convinced me that it was time to step up to the plate and shoulder the blame.
Wait… this isn’t coming out the way I had expected. Not really enticing anyone to read the book, am I?
Let me skip all the boring crap about how a writer’s creative yet blocked mind works and get right to the important stuff. The pertinent facts and rules:
1. The Scarlet Letter Opener, a cozy mystery, is now available on Amazon.com.
2. Please buy it and/or borrow it from Amazon.com.
3. If you buy and/or borrow it and enjoy it, please leave a favorable review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Authors rely heavily on those reader reviews (especially the good ones).
4. If you buy and/or borrow it and don’t enjoy it, keep it to yourself, all right? Nobody wants to hear your negativity.
* * * * *
In other, semi-related news, another novel should be showing up within the next few weeks. This one’s a lot more serious. The cover reveal should happen later this week. Rules 2–4 above will still apply. You’re officially on notice.

The Writing Process

Well, how exciting is this? (That was a rhetorical question, so don’t even bother answering it.)
I was tagged by thriller author Catherine Lea to write about my writing process. I eagerly jumped at the chance … only to realize when it was too late that I really don’t have a process.
But let’s walk through my “process” anyway — if only as a negative example to the rest of you who might want to actually be successful someday…
I’ve got the bits and pieces (very large pieces, in most cases) of ten novels now. About half of those are actually written all the way through (in first draft form, at least). The rest are in a state of confusion or frustration, percolating in a [figurative] drawer somewhere until I can work through a sticky plot point or add a few more interesting characters to bolster the boring ones I currently see on the [figurative] page.
But, all but one of those novels has started at midnight on November 1 of any given year between 2004 and now. You see, I am at heart a terrible procrastinator. And, the only thing that has nudged me out of that slump has been National Novel Writing Month, which starts each year precisely at midnight on November 1 and ends with a whimper at midnight at the end of November 30.
At the end of every November, I have at least 50,000 words written on that year’s new novel project. Half the time I keep writing and finish the novel. The other half of the time — well, that’s where the [figurative] drawer comes in.
The two novels that are on the verge of seeing daylight (Secret Agent Manny and also The Scarlet Letter Opener) were both in the best shape at the end of their respective Novembers. So, those will be the first ones published.
A few other projects have special places in my heart but need a little more work — in particular, Do-It-Yourself Widow (which placed as a runner-up in Jerry Jenkins’s Operation First Novel contest a few years ago), and also Gray Area (the only non-NaNoWriMo novel in the bunch, which placed as a semifinalist in that same Jenkins contest a few years before that). We’ll see how quickly I can tidy those up.
Right now, as I work on Secret Agent Manny, my writing process looks like this:
  • Get up to feed hubby breakfast at 6 a.m.
  • Wave to hubby as he leaves at 6:45 a.m.
  • Head back to bed at 6:46 a.m.
  • Sleep until it adds up to something close to 7–8 hours of sleep.
  • Get up again, this time to feed myself breakfast and coffee.
  • Catch up on DVRed TV shows from previous night, if needed.
  • Head up to home office and go through bajillion emails from companies I have unsubscribed from thirteen times already.
  • Answer the 2–3 valid work emails.
  • Go back downstairs to grab veggies for guinea pigs, Bob and Frid, who have been wheeking at me from across the office ever since I got upstairs. Realize that I have just reinforced the wrong habit of coming upstairs without the veggies by doing it yet again today.
  • Look at clock. Panic that it is nearly noon already.
  • Shower. Dress.
  • Sit back at desk. Go through the half-bajillion new emails from other companies from whom I was sure I had unsubscribed back in 2010.
  • Continue with paid freelance work for other writers: typesetting, proofreading, copy editing . . .
  • Tell self I should take time to do my own writing once in a while.
  • Stare longingly across the office at the writing desk I set up two years ago — you know, the one I dust faithfully every week.
  • Sit at writing desk boldly. Feel invigorated and empowered.
  • Open diary program and tell it all about my day, which sounds suspiciously like the last entry in the diary program, from 2011.
  • Give myself a self-imposed deadline for finishing first draft of novel.
  • Talk myself out of self-imposed deadline because it’s not like I’m going to fire myself or anything.
  • From the office window near the writing desk, glimpse mail carrier coming up the sidewalk.
  • Squeal in delight that the mail is here, scaring Bob and Frid, and run downstairs to get the mail.
  • While I’m down here, do a load of laundry, start dinner, and mow the grass.
  • Weep uncontrollably at my own mortality.
****
And this is precisely why Secret Agent Manny isn’t done yet.