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Last day of LetterMo — Leap with Joy!

February 29, 2016 in Journal

A leaping unicornToday is the last day of the 2016 Month of Letters! How did you do?

Some of you managed to send mail everyday this month, which is fantastic. That’s at least 24 packets of joy you sent in the mail, and from what I can tell, some of you sent a lot more than that. Make sure you get your Winner badge.

Some of you managed only a couple of pieces. I don’t want to hear you say that you “failed” at Month of Letters. This challenge is about making connections and slowing down to think about just one person at a time. Any step towards that is a good thing. You made someone’s day brighter and that can never be considered a failure. So focus on what you did achieve.

And it is also Leap Day, so… we have a special leap day badge for you. If you take your mail to the post office and ask them to hand-cancel it, then you’ll wind up with the rare February 29th date.

So… Since this is all about connections, share the connection that made you happiest.

[Wayback Repost] How long is mail taking for you?

February 27, 2016 in Journal

This post was originally published on February 22, 2013. It’s reappearing today as a Wayback Repost, so you might see some old comments below. Feel free to continue the conversation!

postmarkHello everyone, as Mary mentioned yesterday I’m doing a tiny bit of guest posting here in the last days of LetterMo. I actually spent the first part of the month in her wonderful company and was inspired to even greater letter writing heights by her example.

Jumping off the Day 20 post about time delays, I find myself fascinated by the variance in the time delay between when I send a letter and when the recipient receives it. Before I started Month of Letters, I had a vague idea that first class mail took three or four days, maybe a day or two longer if I sent it all the way to another coast. However, as I get in reports from people who get my letters, I realized that mail is taking longer than I assumed. Sometimes up to a week and maybe a few days more.

When I mentioned my surprise on Twitter, I learned that the difference in time depends on many factors, including where one mails their letters. Most of my letters from earlier in the month went to the mailbox for the postman to pick up on his normal route. That probably means that the letters didn’t get processed until the day after I mailed them, which delays their journey. This same issue can crop up even if you drop a letter in a public mailbox depending on the time of day. The way to assure that your letter is processed faster seems to be taking it to the post office directly, but even that is subject to variance unless you head to your city or town’s central post office.

None of this is particularly bad, mind you. That letters take a while to get to their destination is part of the fun. I just had to adjust my own expectations. Since I recently took a long trip and wrote to people back home, a few times I saw the person I wrote to before their letter came!

I now pay a great deal of attention to postmarks and dates to see how long it was between when the letter left the writer’s hand and it appeared at my doorstep.

How long are your letters taking to arrive? And how long are they taking to get to you?

[Wayback Repost] Looking for someone to write to? How about brightening a sick child’s day.

February 25, 2016 in Journal

This post was originally published on February 1, 2012. It’s reappearing today as a Wayback Repost, so you might see some old comments below. Feel free to continue the conversation!

PostPals Header

Do you need one more person to write to?

PostPals is a service in the U.K. where people can write to a seriously ill child. That letter, postcard, or gift will be forwarded to the child. This is a letter that you probably won’t get a reply to, but one that you can know has made someone happy. The website has a list of children, each of which has a page with their photo and story. I warn you, it is difficult to visit and read about how much they have had to endure.

“It is a very wonderful thing that people who do not know you, have never spoken to you, can take the time and trouble to make a difference to your life in such a special and significant way. It is not just about receiving a card, so many other things are within it- compassion, warmth, friendship, support and love and we can never truly explain how that helps”, Kelly Mum to Chloe G, 7 ALL

A letter seems like a very small thing to send, but worth the little bit of time that it takes.


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[Guest Post] The Letter Game – Caroline Stevermer

February 24, 2016 in Journal

Today’s guest blogger is Caroline Stevermer, who has written nine and a half novels, if you count Sorcery And Cecelia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician as half a novel each (since they were written with Patricia C. Wrede). She lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her most recent letter game (written with Ellen Kushner) is the short story “The Vital Importance of the Superficial,” which appeared in Queen Victoria’s Book Of Spells.

Ellen Kushner taught me to play the Letter Game when we were in college.

What is the Letter Game? I checked just now and there is a Wikipedia entry for it. Here’s part of the entry:

A letter game involves the exchange of written letters, or e-mails, between two or more participants. The first player writes a letter in the voice of a newly created character; in this first letter, the writer should establish their own identity and that of their correspondent, should set the scene, and should explain why they and their correspondent must communicate in written fashion. In subsequent letters, plot and character can be developed, but the writers should not talk about plot outside of the letters and the characters should never meet.

I play a slightly looser version of the game, in that the first letter writer isn’t necessarily correct–the second letter writer could be someone who intercepted a letter intended for someone else, for example.

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline StevermerWhen Patricia C. Wrede and I were writing Sorcery and Cecelia, we allowed ourselves to gossip about the characters but we agreed never to discuss the plot. I’d played the Letter Game before (and have since), but the sheer delight of playing the game with Pat comes through in those letters. We didn’t know we were writing a novel. We were just playing the game.

According to my recollections (Pat may see things quite differently) once we finished up the last letters, we felt confident we had a book on our hands. Pat, the consummate professional, had been keying her letters into a file on her computer all along. (I didn’t yet have a computer.) She made certain the manuscript was complete and presentable. Before we sent it to our literary agent (we had the same agent in those days), Pat and I made a few changes, mainly to remove some loose ends that didn’t contribute to the plot. Terri Windling purchased the novel for Berkeley Books. Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, it went out of print almost instantly. Harcourt Brace bought it and its two sequels, The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician, years later and reissued it in hardcover. Digital editions are available from Open Road Media.

Since we didn’t realize we were were writing a novel until we were nearly finished, it is tricky to talk about the writing process. I said before, we were just playing the game. But this Letter Game was set in a place and time we both knew well, the intersection between Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, and all the fantasy we’d both read all our lives. The regency romance provided a clear template to follow.

In both sequels, we had gone beyond the regency romance template. We had characters who were in established relationships. More difficult still, in The Grand Tour we had characters who were in the same place at the same time. We got around that difficulty by alternating between extracts from Kate’s journal and portions of Cecy’s legal deposition recounting the events they’d been embroiled in.

TL;DR: The Letter Game is great. Give it a try. (Bend the rules.)


P.S. Pat adds: Speaking of bending the rules… Since Sorcery and Cecelia came out, I have had mail from all sorts of people who’ve played the game in different ways, including a pair of eighth graders who used it as a history class project (each playing a cousin from opposite sides in the American Civil War), a group of about ten people playing a cross-universe version in which none of the characters were able to meet physically, and another couple who each played multiple characters who were all corresponding with each other (and most of them were lying to some characters and conspiring with others). The game is very adaptable.

[Wayback Repost] Posting A Compliment

February 23, 2016 in Journal

This post was originally published on February 5, 2015. It’s reappearing today as a Wayback Repost, so you might see some old comments below. Feel free to continue the conversation!


As I mentioned last year, I start out each Month of Letters by sending people postcards because they’re low pressure and I like sending beautiful art and photos along with my correspondence. This year I’m doing the same, but with another specific goal. The idea sparked when I read this NY Times column by Mandy Len Catron. It’s about how to fall in love with anyone, though this is the part I found very compelling:

The moments I found most uncomfortable were not when I had to make confessions about myself, but had to venture opinions about my partner. For example: … “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things you might not say to someone you’ve just met” (Question 28).

Much of Dr. Aron’s research focuses on creating interpersonal closeness. In particular, several studies investigate the ways we incorporate others into our sense of self. It’s easy to see how the questions encourage what they call “self-expansion.” Saying things like, “I like your voice, your taste in beer, the way all your friends seem to admire you,” makes certain positive qualities belonging to one person explicitly valuable to the other.

It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.

Yeah, why don’t we?

I’ve decided to make an effort to compliment my friends and loved ones more over the next year and hope to turn that into a habit. And what better way to do so than via a postcard?

I fill the small space on the back of each with what I like about the recipient: the ways in which they’re awesome, why I admire them, how much better the world is because they’re in it. A small rectangle of love and happiness.

My goal is to send out at least three of these a week on top of my regular letter writing activities. Too bad there’s no badge for that 😉

[Guest Post] A PenPal For Over 30 Years

February 21, 2016 in Journal

Today’s guest blogger is LetterMo Community Member Heather Cunnah, a busy mum to 7 children, of which 5 still live at home. She blogs about cross stitching and her family on a regular basis and says that “I could never dream of the day that I was without these things. Letter writing and stitching is part of who I am!” You can find her on Twitter @xstitchchick.

I am now 44 years of age and from around the age of 10 years old I have always had penpals, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t. I started off by writing to friends in the area that we moved from in 1979 (see I am showing my age!) then I saw penpal adverts in weekly comics/magazines and it all started from there.

I used my pocket money to buy my stationery and stamps. In those days a first class postage stamp was around 15 pence. On my morning walk to school I passed the post box, which was very handy indeed as I could post my letters of a morning on the way to school! Returning home from school to find mail most days was fantastic.

A very dear friend of mine saw an advertisement in a magazine about an organisation that could match you up with a penpal abroad. Well imagine my excitement!! She gave me the page from the magazine (checking there were no hunky pop starts on the reverse side haha!). So I sent off for the information package and form to fill in. The organisation, which was called the International Youth Service (IYS) If I remember rightly, charged 40p for every pen-pal they matched you with.


I could choose the age and nationality of my penpal. Wow, amazing! My penpalling went on from there and every year or so I would use this service to find a new pen pal and I haven’t looked back since.

It was so exciting sending letters abroad and way back then (the “olden days”). I used aerogrammes to write to my penpals abroad. They were great for short and quick replies but since nothing was allowed to be enclosed in them they did restrict my letter writing. Have any of you heard of them or even used them?

aerogrammeThey were basically a sheet of airmail paper that once written on folded up a certain way then stuck together to make an envelope. When you bought the aerogramme the postage was included in the price which was why nothing was allowed to be enclosed. I used them for a short while then started using ‘proper’ paper and envelopes so I could add little extras in with my letters or over the envelope in stickers. I still do that today.

I still write to many of my penpals that I have had for years. It has been great growing up with them and watching each other’s family grow. I have even met a number of my penpals, one is now a very good friend via social media. Another penpal, from Australia, came and stayed in our house for a week as he was doing a tour around Europe. I still write and email him very often. He has “watched” my children grow up. He came to stay a few months after I had my first child so it is fantastic that he has met most of my family.

Some of my children are showing a great interest in penpals, particularly now as I start to get ready for LetterMo, and my youngest girls have a penpal or two each and are looking to expand their letter writing and picture drawing. I think it’s important they learn the art of letter writing and written communication.

This day and age it’s all about the computer and e-mail–both of which I do not let them use too often without supervision–plus letter writing is a great activity to do together. The children really enjoy coming home from school to find a letter or postcard waiting for them… I understand that feeling very well! It is like watching myself in a mirror.

I really take great pleasure in taking over the dining room table when I write my letters. I keep the letters I need to reply to in a folder which is in my “penpal basket”. That is where I keep all my stationery; these days itt’s getting harder and harder to find good quality paper at great prices. I know when I buy paper I always have to buy extra as my girls always pinch some off me!

Heather Letter Station

During my many years of penpalling I have met some brilliant people and I hope over the next 30 years I meet many more. I hope that we have all received many letters and cards during February and that we form lasting friendships.

[Wayback Repost] Reacquainting after a long silence

February 20, 2016 in Journal

This post was originally published on February 19, 2013. It’s reappearing today as a Wayback Repost, so you might see some old comments below. Feel free to continue the conversation!

I was thinking about you this week, while I was off at a writer’s retreat. Besides all of the novels and short stories that were in process, a number of the guests were also Month of Letters participants. Even some who weren’t got into the fun and wrote a couple of letters while there. As we start the last full week of the Month of Letters 0204121208-00Challenge, it occurred to me that one of the wonderful things that a letter will allow you to do is to reconnect with someone from your past. Perhaps this is a teacher that influenced you, or maybe a friend that you’ve just fallen out of touch with.

Why not take a moment to get back in touch?

Does that feel awkward? Perhaps. So allow me to offer some suggestions.

Don’t feel like you have to open with an apology for the long silence. Everyone knows that life happens. Start out, instead, by letting them know that you were thinking about them. Be specific. “I’m having a cup of coffee and remember how we used to hang out at our favorite coffee spot” or “It’s snowing outside right now. Remember how we used to have snow ball fights?”

Tell them a little of what’s been happening in your life, but don’t feel like you need to cover everything. There will be time for that later. Pick one or two highlights that you wished you’d had the opportunity to share at the time. “I finished editing the UK edition of Shades of Milk and Honey this week” or “I went to Grandma’s 108th birthday party, which was such fun.”

And then– this is important — ask them questions. “I’ve been wondering about you since your move. How do you like Seattle?” or “You used to give the best book recommendations. Read anything good lately?” or “How’s your mom?”

Finally, don’t be disappointed if they don’t write a letter back. In fact, include alternate contact information to make it easy for them to get back in touch with you. A letter is a wonderful thing, but it can be intimidating too. You remember that, don’t you? The purpose of your letter is to reestablish contact, so do your best to make it easy for them.

So how was your week while I was away? I was thinking about you.

[Guest Post] Dear Spock, From: Genghis Kahn – Amber Benson

February 19, 2016 in Journal

Today’s guest blogger is Amber Benson, an actor, writer, director and maker of things. Until recently she did not own a television. Follow her on Twitter.

When I was a teenager, I was an obsessed letter writer. We’d moved from Orlando, Florida to Los Angeles and writing (coupled with the occasional expensive long distance phone call) was the only way I could stay in touch with my friends.

Obviously, this was before the advent of the internet and email–yes, I’m old–and though it required more effort to buy paper and envelopes and stamps, there was a real joy in putting my thoughts down in such a tactile way. You had to really think about what you were going to say and it made me feel closer to my friends than writing an email ever has.

Amber Benson Mail

This is a letter for me, ‘aka Genghis Kahn,’ from my friend, Tanja, ‘aka Spock’

The real art to writing a letter–for me, at least–was in the addressing of the envelope. As evidenced in these pictures, we spent a lot of time and energy entertaining ourselves with our ‘art’––and annoying the crap out of the post office.

[Guest Post] Writing the Elderly

February 18, 2016 in Journal

Today’s guest blogger is LetterMo Community Member Sarah, who enjoys writing letters to keep in touch with and encourage family and friends. She helps care for her grandmother who lives with her family and runs three blogs: Sarah’s Scribblings about the mail she sends, Simply Shoeboxes about packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, and Simply CVS about deal shopping at CVS Pharmacy, and is on her church’s media team.

I’ve enjoyed taking part in LetterMo the last three years, so am so excited to have this opportunity to guest post, and especially something as near and dear to my heart as mail for the elderly.

In spite of the fact I grew up hundreds of miles from my great aunts, and my paternal grandparents, it seems I’ve often been around the elderly. When I was in preschool and early elementary school my grandmother who lived near us worked at an adult daycare, so my mother, sister, and I volunteered there often doing projects with the elderly participants. That’s also where I had my first pen pal, one of the participants… although I don’t think I was reading yet and my mom had to help me!

Then in middle school I “babysat” my great-grandmother one afternoon a week. High school and college brought attending the traditional service at our church where most the other worshipers were elderly. Through those experiences I learned how much the elderly long for and enjoy interaction with the younger generation, and I learned how much a hug could mean.

But, as I said earlier, my great aunts and one set of my grandparents have never lived close to me, how could I be a part of their lives to encourage them? Then my grandmother moved in with us, and I saw how she would light up when she got a card from her nieces and nephews. She would show it to us when we went in, often repeatedly. One time a nephew wrote a letter and she was THRILLED, kept reading it, and saying how she didn’t know if she ever got a letter like that.

And with that, a light bulb went off in my head.

I had already started sending more mail in general, so why not try to send them something more often? As I’ve taken part in A Month of Letters Challenge I started sending Valentine’s cards to my great aunts. Then it grew to trying to send something from my family every month or so, just simple things like dollar store cards for New Years, Valentines, St Patrick’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, while trying to include a note about something that’s going on around here or the weather. This year I was sure to get all their birthdays, so we are doing that, too.

Holiday Cards

The response blew me away! No, my mailbox didn’t fill up, although I did get a couple responses; most of them are either getting too old or have too many grandkids to whom they need to send cards to write often. But when they do write, or when I get a chance to see them occasionally, they are sure to mention getting them.

A few years ago I got a chance to visit my great, great aunt, that’d I’d only met once, in a nursing home in another state. She had notes and photos displayed that I’d sent! As my aunts were trying to tell her daughters–who I had never met–who I was, they said they knew who I was, I guess in part from the photos and notes I’d sent. Another great aunt told me it made her feel “like we love and care about her” and her daughter kept telling me that it really meant a lot to her mom. Another great aunt told me she really appreciated getting them, and her daughters said she always reported to them when she’d heard from me. That great aunt even told my aunt at a family shower how she really liked getting cards from me. Another one was eager to show me how she displayed and kept them all! I think every one of them, and a number of their children, have mentioned to me how much it means. I could not have imagined how big a deal it was for them!!!

In a way I’ve become the family “newsman” giving updates on my immediate family, and sometimes sharing photos of larger family get-togethers or of a mutual family member in the armed forces I saw online. Of my seven great (& great, great) aunts, only two are online or texting at all, and that’s pretty limited. So, if no one contacts them the old fashioned way, whether by phone or mail, they really lose touch and miss their extended family they so care for. This is true for so many of the elderly today, and some as they start to have problems with their hearing, it becomes hard to keep up over the phone. Their only contact may be through the mail.

But it’s not only the elderly we’re close to that appreciate us writing. Of those I write, only a couple had I seen even yearly as a child. I saw the same thing with my grandmother last summer when she had a to stay in the hospital and nursing home for a month. My mom signed her up with the Facebook page “From the Heart” and a number of people from across the country sent her cards. To her it didn’t matter that she didn’t know them, she was just thrilled to get cards and kept showing them to us and everyone else. Her roommate even said the room would be dull once she left and took her cards, so I sent her one!

Cards in nursing home

And as a caretaker for my elderly grandmother, I know how encouraging it is for the caregivers, too. Being a caregiver can be a hard, thankless, and lonely job. Often one is so busy with providing care it’s hard to find time and energy to do much cheering. In our case, we’re the only children and grandchildren involved in her life and care, and her sister-in-law and nieces and nephews are out of state. So, when someone (especially one of our friends) takes the time to send her a card or note it helps us feel less alone. Also, when she was in the nursing home, we had the cards from From the Heart sent to a friend’s business (without a PO Box, we don’t like giving our address out online) and picked them up from time to time, and then every time we visited her, we gave her one when we left so she had something to look forward to/do after we left. It really was a great help and stress relief to us.

Would you consider adding the elderly to your letter writing list to put some mail in the hands of someone to whom it may mean the world? If you have older friends or family members, that is a great place to start. Or ask your friends or pen pals if they have one they’d like you to write, especially if they are caring for them.

If not, you can check with your local nursing homes, adult day cares, or senior center to find people in your community in need of some mail cheer. If you’re a member of a church or other religious or social group you could check with them. I know our church keeps a list of homebounds and highlights one in the bulletin each week as well as collects cards at Christmas to be hand delivered to them and I have seen a similar thing at another church.

There are also places online to find people to mail to, as I mentioned earlier “From the Heart” is one we’ve used personally. I hope you can do this and find it as rewarding as I do, maybe not in getting mail, but in knowing you’ve helped and brighten someone else’s day!

Hands with card

[Guest Post] A Letter That Stayed With Me – Paul Cornell

February 17, 2016 in Journal

Today’s guest blogger is Paul Cornell, a writer of SFF in prose, comics and television. His Shadow Police urban fantasy novels continue this year with Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? and his Witches of Lychford novella will also get a sequel this autumn. His episode of Elementary will be screened in March and his comics prequel to the Warcraft movie is out in May.

ElephantmenI can think of a couple of letters that made a big difference to my life.

The one from Virgin Books editor Peter Darvill-Evans, stating that “if I wasn’t careful” I’d be writing one of the first original Doctor Who novels had me leaping up and down in my hallway, until I started to wonder what he meant by “careful”.

But the one I’m going with was much earlier than that, from Richard Starkings, who at the time was editor of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, and who I’d written to for some advice on getting into comics. What he sent me in return was hand-written and ten pages long, and I kept it for decades. (I lost a lot of stuff over the years because I tended to have ex-girlfriends who wanted to burn things.) It was full of good advice. But, more than that, it assured me that to make the leap to writing professionally was possible.

Richard is, quietly, still a big deal in comics, as a letterer for just about everyone, a marketer of fonts, a file preparation guy, and the creator of his own comic, Elephantmen. He’s also the heart and soul of the business, someone who’s done every job, who’s still helping everyone to do their best. He doesn’t get enough recognition for that.

So I thought that, by remembering his letter here, I’d get to say that about him.

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