Monday, July 15, 2013

The Personal Touch--Is It Necessary?


When I was growing up, I know my mother wrote handwritten letters, birthday cards, thank you notes, and get well notes. She didn't teach me to send handwritten notes. However, I inherently knew it was the right thing to do. In addition, we did not have computers and smart phones.

When I had children and my mother sent birthday presents or Christmas presents, I taught my young daughter and son to hand-write thank-you letters.

"Dear Granny-thank you for the Chatty Cathy. I love it with all my heart. Love, A."

"Dear Papa-Thank you for the toy wagon made of spools and popsicles sticks. I want to make one, too, if Mommy will help me. Love, B."

"Dear Papa--I am sorry you are sick. If you don't get well, I'm going to tell Granny to give you a spanking. Love, B."

When my sisters and I cleaned out our mother's house over a decade ago, we learned that she had saved every single thing--every card from anyone, every note from a grandchild, and every letter from endless people. Those bits of memorabilia made me realize how important those were to her. And guess what? Now, I have those in a box in my house.

So, to my great surprise, our son taught his three young sons to write thank you notes to us for birthday presents and/or money.

"Dear Grandmother and Granddad--Thank you for the money. I don't know what to buy. Maybe food. I am hungry."

"Dear Grandmother and Granddad--8th grade is a whole lot better than 7th. Thank you for the gift."

"Dear Grandmother and Granddad--Thank you for the money. Here is a drawing of a robot arm. Me and Mom haven't built it yet."

"Dear Grandmother and Granddad--Thank you for the help at Christmas. I got new pants, a sodering kit, candy, and a nap. I really needed the nap. School starts real early. More learning, less sleeping."

Sure, I do receive fun or pretty email Christmas cards and birthday cards, and I do love those. I receive emails saying, "Happy Birthday to you. I hope your day is fun."
I even receive text messages sent from a smart phone: "I hop ur da is gd--HB fm me."

Okay, I guess that's where I draw the line.
I would so hate for our population to lose The Personal Touch.
If I receive flowers for my birthday, I love those even more because it was A Personal Touch.

If I receive a note card in the mail, thanking me for the pecan pie I sent for the family gathering after a funeral, I feel so blessed and grateful they enjoyed my pie. And I loved The Personal Touch.

One reason I love to write romances set in Nineteenth Century or early Twentieth Century is that the characters must write real letters. Personally written letters are treasured, as witnessed out in Fort Davis in the far western part of Texas. Inside the crumbling buildings of the old fort, you will find many handwritten  letters that wives sent to their soldier husbands, and some that were sent home from wives who lived at the Fort. Oh, those personal thoughts are so wonderful to read.

Listen, I love email and FB and internet websites as well as anyone, but when it comes to something personal and very important, I dig through my boxes of cards I buy at the Half-Price Book Store, choose something particular for the person, write my note, find the address, a stamp, and a return address label--selected just for that person. Bluebonnets for Betty Jack. Cardinals on a tree limb for Katie.

You see?
When I write a story and the character must write an important letter, I become very focused on the contents. It may be delivered by pony express, or the train, or by a commercial wagon train. And I must write it in the tone and way a female might have written a letter.

In a WIP I've titled "A Live Worth Living," it begins with a letter a young mother writes to mother and father.

Dearest Mama and Daddy,
I write this letter in hopes you are well. Our lives are in turmoil these days, with the sickness surrounding us with its horror and grim results. Only yesterday, Mrs. Carson passed, leaving her grieving husband and four little ones to cope alone. The day before, three members of the community succumbed, after days of horrific pain and suffering. Because we have no physician, no man or woman can identify the cause. Some say it is from the same invasive thing that causes pneumonia, or something in the air, but others believe infected persons pass it along.

Garland and I try as best we can to keep far away from the foul air the others breathe, but the task is impossible, at best. Baby Irene and little Susanna are healthy as of this hour, but I worry each time Garland goes from the house and returns, fearful he has brought home upon his person the invisible sickness, the dreaded Spanish influenza, it is called, with vomiting, chills, and fever.
Our pastor has questioned God concerning His purpose of this wrath upon our frail human bodies, and that is his right as a spokesman for Our Lord. I dare not raise an objection, being a lowly woman of the earth. I have no knowledge or say in the matter.

The heat has been oppressive, as to almost unbearable for October. For some reason or another, I believe in my heart that a cold wind from the north would quell the spread of this death and horror.

The bright and glorious news of the peace agreement that ended the disastrous World War somehow creates within us a calm we have not felt for a long time. A cruel twist of fate, however, is news of our soldiers returning home, only to find their families devastated by death from the influenza. Ryan Colbert came home unscathed by the war, only to find his mother and sister in graves, as they passed from the vile disease. I can name many others, as well, but I have neither the time nor the space to relate the stories to you. I know you, there at home, suffer as we do here in North Texas.

Yesterday, I picked the garden clean of the last of the vegetables—a few almost ripe tomatoes, some pods of overgrown okra, and a bucket full of blackeyed peas, their pods yellow and tough, but still holding the precious vegetable inside. Tonight, we will eat bowls of hot peas cooked with bacon and onions. Thank you, Mama, for teaching me to cook so well. I do believe that is the reason Garland loves me so, even though he laughs and tells me it is my black hair he loves the most.

I do confess I have not been well for a couple of days, but I believe it is nothing more than the heat and damp air. Others in the community have complained of a general restlessness and fatigue, which leads me to believe the reason is only the seasonal malaise.

Do take care, and know I love you with all my heart. Try not to worry so. All anyone or I can do is place our trust in God and live one day at a time.

Your loving daughter,
This letter portrays how Teresa lives, how she feels physically, and her hopes for calm and peace to return to the world.

Do you write letters into your novels?

You see that I am of somewhat of the Old School, that I still send hand written notes and cards. I write plenty on-line, too, but there are moments that call for The Personal Touch.

Thank you for reading!

Celia Yeary...Romance Author


  1. I love the personal thank you notes, especially. I remember when I made a quilt for one of my grandchildren of my heart. It was two days after he got the quilt that I got a handwritten thank you. I have never forgotten his courtesy. I love sending notes and letters (I still have lots of my longtime pen pals). Unfortunately after my carpel tunnel surgery, I have a hard time hand writing so have gone to the computer to type some of the longer ones. It will always be the personal touch that goes a long way for me.

    My Mama saved those handmade gifts and notes my children sent her - and some of mine as well.

  2. Celia, your grandchildren's notes are so cute. I have a few good letters from my grandchildren, with many hearts, flowers and ribbons, all adorable with their spelling mistakes and little art work. I preciously kept one of my Dad's letters and my fiancé's last one before we got married. So yes in real life I love the personal notes and I was known to write long funny letters years ago.

    In books and novels it's a different story. Long letters take me out of the story and in my opinion slow the pace. Also in a book, letters --and dreams-- are written in italics. I can't read more than 5 lines of italics. My eyes hurt. I remember the comment of a Harlequin editor during a workshop: "Keep italics to a minimum. They distract from the story." Any letter or note in my books are reduced to a maximum of three lines.

  3. I still write handwritten notes and cards. I think they are more personal and meaningful that test messages and e-cards.
    Like you, Celia, when my parents died, I found a big paper grocery bag filled with every card and letter I ever wrote. It warmed my heart.
    I really enjoyed this blog.

  4. Celia, this was a wonderful blog. Yes, I hav letters my parents and grandparents wrote and letters I wrote to them when I was very young. And I have so many letters, and notes from my children that I'm running out of space. I treasure them all.
    A great letter beginning your WIP and a clever way to give some backstory without seeming to do so. I have used numerous letters in my Civil War novel to move the story along, and give info about bettles, and other events without actually writing the scenes. It must have worked as I'be only gotten5 stay reviews from all the pros who have written reviews.

  5. Oh, I wish I hadn't proofed this after publishing.That was meant to be 5 STAR reviews and a few other typos. Sorry. I have road lag from 10 hours on the road today.

  6. Hi Celia,

    I adore The Personal Touch. When i get letters or even emails from a fan, I save every one of them. Someone who was moved to write me about a book is a friend indeed.

    I used to be a champion letter writer, but since I write all day on this that and the other, I don't want to write anything when I get done with the computer. I need to veg!

    I truly enjoyed your notes you shared. Because we lived so far from our families, the kids often received gifts for Birthdays and Christmas from out of town family. Every one of those gifts got a return thank you note, much like the ones you describe.

    Its easier to remember what someone said if they send it to you in a letter; plus you can refer to it over and over again.

    Great post!

  7. I love reading my letters from my mother. While I read them I can picture her so clearly and feel the love she had for us by reading her words. Sometimes she included Bible verses when I was going thru a rough patch which seemed to happen frequently after the birth of our daughters with special needs. I saved them and glad I did since she passed away 10 years ago.
    And she was like your mother and saved all correspondence from us and her grandchildren.

    My daughters and daughter-in-law write sweet and thoughtful thank you notes and write little messages in birthday cards.

    I enjoy reading the children's notes you included in your post - so precious.

    I have letters in my romances and your letter in your WIP is wonderful!

  8. Paisley--Yes, I have a difficult time writing, with my arthritic hands. I can type easily and fast, but that's because I don't need to curl my fingers. To hold a pen or pencil is a little awkward, but I can do it and write a short note. Nothing long, for sure.
    It was like finding a treasure when my sisters and I began going through Mother's things to decide what to do with everything.

    One piece of advice I give everyone--make sure you don't keep something you wouldn't want your children--or best friends--to know about. Mother gave us a shock with some of her correspondence to one person. Yes, shocking.
    Thanks for commenting.
    You're always so thoughtful.

  9. Mona--I, too, have all of the letters Jim sent to me, tied up with a blue ribbon. He wants me to burn them...I wouldn't for the world. If my kids find them, they can read everyone one of them. Then they could see just how much in love we were.
    I've read some books in which the author had added a few lines from a letter...just enough for the reader to know something. Good idea, for sure.

  10. Sarah--I didn't realize so many people saved stuff like this. Sometimes I wonder why I do!
    I guess it's universal.
    Thank you for reading it.

  11. Linda--yes, I remember that you use letters in novels. They do serve a great purpose in certain novels, and the best kind are historicals...especially Civil War stories.
    I guess more people are pack rats than I thought. I don't save as much as my mother--I do draw the line on some things. But anything from my grandsons are like little they're always so funny. Little kids can say the darnedest things!

  12. Maggie--I, too, save any comment or note from a reader. I have a folder titled "Notes from fans," and I copy and paste. I have a separate folder of emails from my dh--he writes the most precious things about me and my books. I have all of the saved.
    Kids do say the strangest things, and sometimes I must interpret what the child means. Oh, I lost those so much.
    Thanks for reading...I know you are sooooo busy!

  13. Diane--it seems some people like letters in novels, and some do not. Me..I think they have a place, and if we do it right they'll work and serve their purpose.
    Yes, me, too..I have the sweetest, most thoughtful daughter and daughter-in-law. I'm really lucky there. Of course, I love my daughter, and I'm equally crazy about my DIL.
    Thanks for stopping by--stay in touch.