Thanks to everyone who posted pictures of their postcards sent and received on the #lettermo tag this year! We re-shared quite a few, and these are the favorites. You can see many more on our Instagram account.
4th February, 2017
Ruth: Some years ago, the laurel I inherited from my father turned into a tree with leaves to spare; since then, I have stopped using dried bay leaves and now rely on the supply of fresh ones that I have always to hand. The fresh leaves impart a more vibrant, brighter flavour to my culinary concoctions, one that I notice particularly in my marinara sauce. But I miss the more robust quality of the dried leaves and may buy some to use with the just-plucked foliage from my father’s tree.
Obsessed as Jaynie and I are with language, I cannot help but see how like cooking the writing process is, particularly when it comes to word choice and diction. We start with some basic content and then enhance the flavour, the significance by making judicious choices about the herbs and spices we add or the vocabulary we employ. I suppose we could even say that acquiring an extensive vocabulary is as necessary to a writer as is a wide range of pigments to a painter.
Is it my imagination, or does adding laurel leaves bring out a more triumphant note in soup than adding bay? Or does a laurel, like a rose, smell as sweet by any other word? And does it matter whether Shakespeare wrote “by any other word” or “by any other name”? Whether what Hamlet wishes would resolve itself into a dew is “ too, too sullied flesh” or “too, too solid flesh”? I would say yes, it matters, but that the different inflections have equal value and the discussion about the connotations sharpens our verbal palette.
Really, it’s all about having sufficient choices to bring out the flavours of food, the contrast between shade and light, the nuances of a text, about experimenting with diverse spices and tints and turns of phrase.
6th February, 2017
Jaynie: I do rather adore Ruth’s culinary metaphor there. Well done. A perfect analogy for the carefully crafted literary piece.
Perhaps my advice here, in regards to refining the vocabulary, is to give over your manuscript to a well-read third party with the pointed directive to examine whether said vocabulary engages; whether the reader is immersed in the narrative, spellbound by the ongoing action, enamored with vividly drawn characters. For if the vocabulary is spot on, it will not be noticed. It might occur to your reader, on some level, whilst immersed in your story, that this character or that event was indeed marvelously described, but she or he will be enthralled.
A poverty-stricken vocabulary, one that is limited in scope, can quickly become tedious and repetitive for your reader. It is not that one must learn multisyllabic words and utilize them ad nauseam; one can write beautifully with a simple, direct, precise prose—indeed, often this style is to be preferred. Acquiring a rich vocabulary, however, as Ruth has so aptly put it, stocks your herb shelf to bursting. And if you want a simple four-ingredient soup: pumpkin, chicken stock with a little ginger and salt, carefully combined, it will be delicious. There is, however, in these simple recipes, a secret of which all accomplished cooks are well aware: the ingredients themselves should be even more thoughtfully selected since each will have to carry more of the gustatory burden; I would recommend farmers-market fresh, preferably organic. In this respect, while the narrative prose might be clear and straightforward, the words themselves should be most carefully chosen and thoughtfully combined.
If you have, however, a more extensive repertoire to hand you can, should you so decide, experiment with all kinds of fusion cuisine. Perhaps you might want to delve into the layered intricacies of a freshly made Thai curry or the herbaceous brightness of Vietnamese spring rolls? Or the decadent layers of a rich chocolate-mousse cake? Okay, I’m starving. Whose idea was it to feature culinary cuisine in a vocabulary-feature anyway?
But, in all seriousness, I would have to say that the absolute best source of vocabulary enrichment comes from great works of literature. From W.E.B Du Bois to Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, to the poems of Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson, from the Great Bard to Fydor Dostoyevsky. I mention, of course, very few of the many works available to the reader of contemporary writing.
These works are rightly deemed classics because their magic is pervasive and perpetual. Subsequent generations continue to be enthralled by these literary masterpieces because the vocabulary contained therein is not only a rich repertoire of the mother tongue but because these writers wield it with such wondrous facility. Read and learn. That’s what I do.
7th February, 2017
Ruth: Jaynie, I want to pick up on your idea of “fusion cuisine” because that’s so very much what English is. While the most notable “fusion” was thrust upon the Anglo-Saxons by the Norman-French almost a thousand years ago, English has sponged up words from Hindi (shampoo), Italian (sprezzatura), Yiddish (mishegas), Arabic (candy), Spanish (renegade)… I am pleased to see that your list includes authors beyond those in the DWM (Dead White Males) Club. We can also grow our word-hoards by reading authors magazines—magazines offer us a phenomenal smorgasbord of modern eloquence.
The two-lane Miracle-Gro route to vocabulary proliferation runs through dictionaries and thesauri. Word-of-the-Day calendars offer verbal boosts in palatable doses. And language courses—try Latin or Greek—can provide the building blocks for understanding new words we encounter, even when there is not a dictionary in sight.
There are some wonderful books about words as well. Two of my favourites are both about that unparalleled compendium, The Oxford English Dictionary. The first is Ammon “I’m reading the OED so you don’t have to” Shea’s hilarious Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages; the second, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester, an intricate and compassionate portrait of the relationship between the Civil War doctor who contributed literary examples to accompany definitions and the professor who was the driving force behind the greatest lexicographical feat in history.
But I would suggest that merely reading won’t make one true friends with new verbal acquaintances. As with all deep, meaningful relationships, the way to cement the bond is to use your friends. Casually drop them into dinner conversation: “Darling, don’t prognosticate doom for your siblings just because your connection to them is tenuous.” Keep a vocabulary journal and write flash fiction based on three words culled from your collection. And write letters, lots and lots of letters.
9th February, 2017
Jaynie: I think that you make a critical point, Ruth, insofar as usage is concerned. In order to render your newly acquired vocabulary (or those marvelous words you have been hoarding for fear of sounding pretentious in conversation) fluid, smoothly integrated with the more mundane verbiage that often constitutes daily back and forth, you have to actually use it. Use it in speech and use it in prose. These words need to flow trippingly from your tongue and your pen, otherwise they are jarring to the ear or the eye; they lack the natural rhythm that attends to well-lubricated language. They do not sound authentic. And in order for your letters to successfully engage your reader, the words you use must come across as vividly authentic.
Just as a complex recipe benefits from multiple makings (I will not tell you how many times I have been disappointed by my attempts at southern-style biscuits), deliberately expanding one’s vocabulary and using these new words often affords you, the writer, a greater linguistic facility that will invest your letters with added depth and power. And rather fun to be able to bring them out at dinner parties (in conjunction with that elaborately wrought chocolate-mousse cake): “Darlings, a decadent chocolate confectionary for your post-dinner delectation!”
BUT—a word of warning here—these words must come naturally to you. You must formulate your own particular literary style. While an expanded vocabulary is indubitably a marvelous tool in the writer’s repertoire, these words, indeed all words, should be judiciously and appropriately used. How do you know if you are using them in a fluent and engaging manner? In a way that enhances your letters rather than weighing them down? Natural speech provides a good clue in this regard: if you can (and do) utilize these particular words in daily conversation, with the fluency that accompanies unpremeditated dialogue, then chances are that these words, now a natural part of your own lexicon, can be used with ease in your writing as well.
Ruth: Jaynie darling, you’re absolutely right. Familiarity and use will make new words second nature. Besides adding scintillating, sparkling new terms to one’s collection, compiling a range of options for more commonplace vocabulary can add dimension and variety to one’s discourse. So here are lists of some our favourite verbal gems and reliable workhorses:
- Nouns: abluvion, apricity, credenda, kindness, urchin
- Verbs: coruscate, defenestrate, evoke, honour, imbricate, scringe
- Adjectives: copacetic, gimlet, idiopathic, moribund, plangent, poignant
- Said: replied, responded, told, cried, whispered, whimpered, remarked, observed, noted, snapped, injected, interrupted
- Asked: queried, inquired, begged, pleaded/pled, requested
- Tired: sleepy, somnolent, exhausted, zombie-like, weary, fatigued
- Write: pen, pencil, author, scribe, scribble, scripted, scrawled, scratched
- Affect (n), affect (v), effect (v), effect (n)
- Project, inject, eject, reject
- Arrogate, abrogate, interrogate
- Evoke, provoke, invoke, revoke
- Inversion, perversion, reversion, conversion
- Again, another, besides, furthermore, likewise, moreover, not only this but that as well
- But, however, despite, maugre, although, conversely, nevertheless, on the other hand, still, yet
- Red: scarlet, blood, ruby, garnet, pomegranate, incarnadine, rose, ruddy, wine, burgundy
- Orange: flame, amber, sunset, copper, mango
- Yellow: sun, topaz, golden, citrine, school-bus, wheaten, brassy
- Green: emerald, kelly, Lincoln-green, grass, forest, moss, fern, verdigris
- Blue: cobalt, navy, sapphire, peacock, sky, ocean, lake, azure, turquoise, indigo
- Violet: purple, amethyst, eggplant, aubergine, morning-glory, grape
- Black: ebony, inky, pitch
- White: snow, ivory, linen, bone
- Grey: smoke, ash, storm
- Multi-coloured: pied, mottled, brindled, motley, spotted
Jaynie and Ruth wrote each other’s biographies.
Jaynie Royal is the author Killing the Bee King and the General Editor and Publisher of Regal House Publishing and its imprints, Fitzroy Books (for Young and New Adult literature) and Pact Press (an imprint dedicated to encouraging conversations that will help bridge the divisions that pervade our society). Jaynie is a talented cook, a proud parent, an educator, and a devoted epistolarian. She is also brilliant, lovely, possessed of wit and hope, and TOTALLY cool.
Ruth is the owner of PenKnife Writing and Editorial Services, the Senior Editor for Regal House Publishing, and an independent scholar who writes about Medieval and Early Modern English Literature. Ruth has a heart of gold and is a staunch and loyal advocate for the downtrodden wherever she may find them. She has a sharp wit, an incisive eye, and a marvelously dry sense of humor; in short, she is utterly AWESOME.
Over at The Recipes Project, English professor Amy L. Tigner talks about the process of making ink from scratch. It’s a project she did for and with her students at University of Texas, and involved finding the right centuries-old recipe to try:
I considered several different early modern recipes, but I finally decided on one of the several recipes in the Mary Grenville family receipt book manuscript (Folger V.a.430), because it was in English (some of the recipes are in Spanish) and it was the simplest in terms of ingredients, steps, and time.
…the process of ink making turned out to be more expensive and more time-consuming that I had imagined, though both of these factors were also likely similar in the period and in the end a great learning experience. I cheated a bit by looking on some ink-making websites that were quite helpful (especially, this one), as it explained about the chemistry of the ink making and also translated some of the recipe terms, such as “copperas” into “ferrous sulfate.”
On the ink-making day, students assembled the ingredients following the recipe. The most surprising and exciting part was adding the ferrous sulfate, which turned the formerly beer-brown liquid into the blackest black.
The ink turned out to be very good in terms of viscosity and color–and I’d argue better than the run of the mill India ink you can buy on the market. Students really loved the project, especially as they were actively involved, and I am certainly planning to make ink the next time I teach a manuscripts class, though perhaps I will try a different recipe.
Definitely read the whole post for different ingredients, what she spent, and the time involved.
Would you ever try to make your own ink? Have you ever made your own paper or pencils or other writing materials? Share your story in the comments.
I like getting postcards almost more than I like full letters. That’s because postcards are often cool images, and they give me a chance to decorate my walls with small pictures of places, copies of beautiful art, or even text art that’s meaningful, if only because it reminds me of the person who sent it.
I’ve seen some really cool postcards on Instagram so far this month, and I want more! So please share pictures of the postcards you’ve received and the ones you’re sending out in the comments below or using the hashtag #lettermo on Instagram or on Twitter. I’ll reshare them and post my favorites on the blog next week.
image credit: @rocaduma on Instagram
Here at Month of Letters we’re very pro analog methods of communication. But we don’t eschew all modern technology when it comes to sending things through the mail–not everyone is comfortable writing by hand, sending postcards right from your smartphone is awesome and fun, and keeping a record of correspondence without burying yourself in paper is just good sense.
However, there does come a point where technology takes all the fun out of things, and we may have reached that point with a service offered by a company called Bond. From a Fast Company profile done on them last year:
Bond wants to retain the delight of giving and receiving notes, without the hassle of heading to the stationery store, writing out a letter, finding stamps, and locating a mailbox. “Nobody has ever said, ‘You know what’s awesome? I had the best experience at American Greetings,'” said Caberwal. Bond wants to bring the romance back to letter writing with a more modern experience. “We have really set out to reimagine what that would look like—how we can create a truly personal experience that lets people deliver that personal touch that is truly theirs, but let them do it from anywhere,” he added.
Thanks to Bond’s robots, writing a note is indeed as easy as shooting off an email. That is, after the initial intake process, which involves completing and returning a handwriting sample designed to extract a person’s distinctive handwriting characteristics and style. The bot doesn’t just copy letters; it learns spacing patterns, angulation, how a person connects certain letters, and how far someone veers from the margins. Those details are what make your handwriting yours. For a computer to fully learn the nuances of a person’s penmanship would take pages and pages of samples. To avoid a too laborious a sign-up, the typeface specialists at Bond have whittled the process down to a couple of paragraphs, which allows for a pretty accurate representation of your handwriting, if not a 100% copy. For an added personal touch, there’s also a page where you can draw or select a doodle, like a smiley or peace sign, as your signature stamp.
The service is a little more expensive now than when this article went up as it seems most cards are $5 each. There is also apparently a smartphone app on the horizon that will allow you to send notes directly from there.
Given that I am a fan of sending postcards from my smartphone you’d think I’d be down with this, too. I’m actually on the fence about it. Handwritten notes should be written by hand, I feel. I don’t think sending a typed note is less personal. Thus, I feel like this is not the best combination of tech and note sending.
But I want to hear your thoughts, LetterMo community! Is Bond a service you would ever use? Why or why not? Have any of you used it before? tell us your experience!
Last year, LetterMo community member Nina shared with us some quick and easy ways to create mail art. Since then I’ve been paying attention to some of the gorgeous envelopes, letter sleeves, wax seals, stamps, and other decoration on the letters people share in the forums, on Instagram, and on Twitter. I’m deeply jealous of those of you with a good sense of visual beauty.
I want to see more and share more of your mail art and decorations, so please post them to Twitter or Instagram and tag them #lettermo. I’ll share them on the social media accounts and post my favorites here on the blog next week!
image credit: Instagram users @rocaduma and @dovbee
I started letter writing when I was 12 years old and loved every aspect of it. I moved to emails and texts but missed seeing a handwritten letter in my mailbox so I started penpalling again 3 years ago and have met lots of lovely people around the world. I also met face to face with a few people here in Australia through postcrossing.
So I will be Guestblogging for Lettermo today with a wonderful story that started from a chance encounter with a dedicated school teacher in Illinois USA who is a member of Postcrossing. I happened to come across her request for postcrossers to send postcards to her 5 year old pupils who loved her postcards that she received and wanted their own. Each year has as different set of children to write to. This will be my second year of sending to her students. I wanted to be a part of her class curriculum because the trend of letter writing is fast becoming obsolete with technology ruling the world.
I sent the children Tim Tam biscuits, they are best eaten by biting off a little of both ends and sucking your coffee or tea through the biscuit. The factory is just down the road from where we live. The children loved it. I also sent baby koala soft toys for each of them, and Australian Girl Guide biscuits. Connie told me they were a hit. I sent them some vegemite too which is a favourite spread of every child in Australia and the Pacific-somehow that was not a favourite and is an acquired taste.
My postcards that I sent them are about the animals in Australia. Connie does lessons about the animals and most things I send them. She has set up walls with all our postcards from around the world.
The above photos are courtesy of Connie Szorc and have been printed with her permission.
I received from them this month a wonderful parcel which was overwhelming. Connie knew that I love cooking and recipes so she got together with the parents to make a cookbook of their favourite recipes to send to me. I’m going to be trying every recipe in that book.
These are the recipe postcards they also bought and write on. I chose to write to all 22 of the students, I couldn’t just pick a few.
Connie said this programme she has going for the children have been truly life changing for their young lives. It has definitely been life changing for me as I have never had penpals so young. The innocence in their writing is so refreshing.
I asked Connie if she would like to contribute to this guest blog and the following is what she wrote:
My name is Connie, and I am a preschool teacher at Batavia Covenant Preschool, Batavia, IL USA. For a very long time I had been wanting to find pen pals for students and for some reason it never seemed to work out. As chance would have it I came across Postcrossing and it truly changed my classroom. My original intention was for my students to see a world beyond their backyard. I hoped we might learn a little about geography, different kinds of foods, fun activities children around the world might enjoy, and of course learn about different native animals. What I never expected was how Postcrossing and letter writing could have turned into so much more. One very special day I was lucky enough to meet Bridget from Australia. She wanted to share Australia with all of my students. She told us about koala bears and kangaroos. We took time to read books about Australia, and then find it on the map. We read all we could about koalas and kangaroos. Then one day a package came filled with postcards and information and best of all Tim Tams. We all learned how much we loved those cookies. Bridget also told us about a food called Vegemite, we had never heard of it, but after a trip to a local store that deals in different cultural foods, we found it. We discovered we liked Tim Tams much more than Vegemite.
Postcards and writing started out as a way for my class to learn about the world we live in, instead we have made many friends. My students now understand the value of a written note, and they have learned they can do a random act of kindness just by picking up a pencil (or crayon) and tell someone about their day. The best part, because they are young their parents have become just as involved. Bridget not only touched my classroom with her letters and words, but she has touched their families as well.
What we have come to learn from Postcrossing and letter writing is that people all around the world are pretty amazing. We now think of Bridget as one of our best friends. All I have to do is say we received postcards from Bridget and my students know exactly who I mean.
My student’s parents often tell me how much they love this project, and I say “I do too!”
We are entering the final full week of the Month of Letters! Hopefully you’ve started getting some replies to the letters and postcards and packages you’ve sent out or letters from your LetterMo participating friends. However, if you are starting to run out of people to write to, we have some suggestions for finding grateful recipients:
- Write to a woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer
- Write to a member of the armed services
- Writing the Elderly
- Looking for someone to write to? How about brightening a sick child’s day.
- Kids and Snail Mail
Getting personal letters in the mail is still pretty rare, even with this yearly challenge and the valiant efforts of entities like the Letter Writers Alliance. That means many of them are special in some way because they arrived in our mailbox at all. Still, there are letters that stick with one, perhaps because of who sent it, what they said, the envelope it came in, the package it came attached to, even the stamp used.
We’d love for you to share your most memorable letters in the comments below. Tell us the story of it–the parts that aren’t too personal, of course. Do you still have it?
image credit – @laurencreates365 on Instagram
We saw a bunch of wonderful (and sometimes funny) Valentines on Instagram and Twitter the past week! Here are some of our favorites:
We reshared many more on our Instagram account. Check it out and keep tagging posts with #lettermo!