How to Write a Love Letter and Get Away with It


        Happy Valentine’s Day! I have been reading “A Modern Guide to the Love Letter” by John Biguenet, an article that appeared in The Atlantic last year. I recommend this article to everyone who is desperately trying to compose a last-minute declaration of devotion; Biguenet reminds us that “to inscribe your love upon the human heart, you must attend carefully to every detail of the letter with which you convey your affection.” His article will assist one in constructing an effective letter and prevent one, in one’s haste, from making what could be disastrous errors.

         Biguenet encourages us to choose “hand-pressed, deckle-edged 100 percent cotton paper,” that may “suggest to your beloved those other cotton sheets you hope to share.” He also cautions us not to “succumb to the temptation to employ your own personal stationery imprinted with your name and address. Such handsome lettering makes identification appallingly easy for your lover’s attorney.” We must be grateful for such level-headed advice; under the influence of our primitive emotions, we are likely to overlook such nice possibilities.


         Biguenet covers other vital topics with similar aplomb, though I cannot agree with his views on Ink. Here he tells us that “Henry Ford’s position on the color of the Model T should guide your choice. You can write a love letter in any color you like, so long as it is black.” Black suits some people but not everyone; to me it can indicate a lack of imagination. Woo me in Technicolor, thank you.

         Elegance, “that style toward which all other styles aspire to be reduced,” gets Biguenet’s ringing endorsement. To him, “Elegance prompts wit rather than comedy, sentiment rather than sentimentality”; as he explains, “Long-winded elegance is oxymoronic. So length does matter, but in writing, less is more.”

         The article covers proper Salutation before plunging into the Body. Here diction rules. Biguenet admonishes us to “Remember, it’s ‘scent,’ not odor.’ Your beloved doesn’t ‘smell’ good; her ‘fragrance’ is enchanting.” In addition, “even if you have a knack for them, no pornographic drawings” (though see Biguenet’s comments under “ink” regarding blue ink).

         We get sound advice on the deployment of Metaphors. We must abstain from goofiness and the financial and use food cautiously. Flowers are safer ground, but as Biguenet cautions us, we should be aware that some flora “are associated with love in part because of their physical resemblance to a particular part of a the female anatomy.”

         There are wise words on Grammar (“Make subjects agree with verbs, and pronouns, with their antecedents” and “Proofread. Then proofread again”) and the Complimentary Close (either “Be extravagant” or “Be bold. Skip it”). On the Signature, Biguenet employs the succinctness he recommends under Elegance: “If you can’t bring yourself to close without a signature, limit yourself to your first initial. And try to be illegible here. There’s no reason to make the job easier for a lawyer someday [sic].”

         Biguenet waxes positively devious when it comes to Delivery. He writes, “bribe whomever you must to have the letter placed directly upon the beloved’s pillow” rather than using mundane means such as the postal service.

         Biguenet finishes up with the etiquette of Accepting an Answer. This last courtesy should, our author tells us, bring the letter writer to “what ancient poets called, not without reason, the bower of happiness.” The article is thorough and witty and eminently profitable for anyone engaged upon an act of epistolary seduction.

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         For more on the topics of letters, see my guest post that will appear in the Month of Letters Journal on Valentine’s Day! (


International Talk Like a Pirate Day, pARRRt two

Talk Like a Pirate Day be almost over for some of us — though others may be just getting warmed up (another round!). There are so many aspects of TLAPD I enjoy: its random origins, its serious silliness, its function as an excuse to have fun, its smarts — and its foundation in the power of language to make our lives something different, even briefly. Talking “Pirate” is (safely) transgressive, both socially and grammatically. A little pirate lingo perks up our movies and our ears, can be funny or threatening (or both), so why limit ourselves to one day of it, especially when there are many swashbuckling books out there to keep us sailing?

So, mateys, if ye want more Pirate Talk, here be some excellent books to stow in yer chest:

295     Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island

The Princess Bride by William Goldman    828035

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom–and Revenge by Edward Kritzler (One, Samuel Palache, was a rabbi.)




Janet Yolen’s ballad,  122073  The Pirate Queens


Peter Pan, by James Barrie  34268



9970915  The Pirate King by Laurie R. King (Sherlock Holmes and pirates)

Patrick O’Brian’s wonderful Aubrey-Maturin series, starting with Master and Commander
(These novels may not be focused on pirates, but Jack has some fine piratical qualities to be sure.)


International Talk Like A Pirate Day 2015, pARRRt one


Gentle Readers,

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, a holiday dreamed up by John Baur and Mark Summers twenty years ago. Their dream became a reality when the guys got Dave Barry to write a column about a day dedicated to, well, talking like a pirate. You can find the full story of the origins of this glorious excuse for a party on the official TLAPD website (don’t skip the Sing-Along video).

As a tribute to the day, I offer a translation of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet, Sonnet Eighteen (but who’s counting?). Here’s the original:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


And now the TLAPD version (by me):

Ahoy, me beauty!

Hot as the Caribbean August past;
The only wench who hasn’t slapped me face.
There’s a tempest shakin’ me by the mast,
And the crew’s got to board by morning’s race
Before the sun melts the black tar we smear’d.
I’ve gold in me pockets, doubloons, real gold,
To make fair me scars, me age, me untrimm’d beard,
Don’ believe me, eh? Go down to me hold.
But you, wench, will always be me beauty,
Even though you work in this shady place,
And ne’er be part of Davy Jones’ booty;
You’ll swim in me heart with a mermaid’s grace.
Here is the token that tells ye it’s true:
Your face depicted in this here tattoo.



Review of A Good Year by Peter Mayle


            Peter Mayle’s A Good Year (Vintage Books, 2005; 0375705627) provides a blueprint for how to revive one’s existence. One merely needs to give up one’s old life, inherit a vinyard in France, and give one’s self over to the pleasures of food, drink, countryside, and good company while solving a minor mystery or two. Mayle’s characters revel in the charms that Provence has to offer, and we enjoy every moment right along with them.

            The protagonist, Max Skinner, leaves London when he inherits his uncle’s estate in France. His hopes of making a fortune from it seem dashed when he discovers that the grapes seem to have been specially bred to make people gag. His life becomes even more complicated when a putative cousin shows up and threatens to throw a wrench into his already crumbling plans.

            The apparently minor mystery of the vinyard’s inability to produce palatable wine leads to convoluted schemes and mercenary villains. There are clever counter-schemes and a satisfying resolution. A Good Year invites us all in for Provecal banquet, and it is an invitation worth accepting.

Month of Letters Update


     week-of-mail It’s been a little over two weeks two-weeks-of-mail1 since the beginning of the Month of Letters began, and the missives are flying fast and furiously. It was suggested that those of us with blogs post photos of what we’ve been sending, so here’s an update of my progress with visual aids. I haven’t kept an accurate count of how many letters I’ve sent, but I have managed to get at least one epistle in the mail every day. My first-letters went to the MoL’s founder and a friend in Florida. One particularly virtuous day I managed to send out twelve notes  to Girls Love Mail, SUPPORTER an organization that “gives the gift of hand-written letters to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.” 


I’ve sent out some valentines     IMG_7269 , and found a couple new mail boxes to use explorer. I mailed a Jane-Austen-style letter AUSTEN-STYLE1 (all folded up and sealed with wax instead of using an envelope). I started out writing with a quill, but that part ended up looking like something written by Hermann Rorschach, so I capitulated and went back to my fountain pen IMG_7226 (the pink one is the Austen letter).


       I’ve sent birthday cards IMG_7214 and  parcel (parcels, really)  IMG_7223, and letters to India, Australia, Germany, and Great Britain international. I’ve posted spot-of-mail1 to old friends IMG_7224 IMG_7063 and new pen-pals IMG_7221 IMG_7225

I have many letters to answer and send, but if anyone reading this wants a chance to decipher my handwriting, send me a message here or through the Month of Letters website, and I’ll add you to my list.