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Author Archive: "Samara O'Shea"

Thank You, Thank You Very Much

When one blogs, especially guest blogs, he or she (read: me) is never sure if the audience prefers random musings, academic insights, or something more practical. Since none of my blogs have been practical thus far, that's what I'll end with. As a way of saying thank you for a wonderful week: I give you my four-sentence formula for writing thank you notes. Although thank you notes are usually written after one receives a gift — wedding presents, birthday surprises, etc. — I encourage everyone to write a thank you note for something a little more unexpected. Thank you for helping me move into my new apartment last week. Or Thank you for taking me out to lunch. When I was in high school I received a thank you note from an acquaintance for lending my ear when she was having a tough time at home. The note caught me completely off guard and meant the world to me. Writing thank you notes of all kinds can keep you in someone's good graces. It is a simple act that demonstrates how much you appreciate what they did and, ...

The Masters and Their Love Letters

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! Since we're a race of people who love love and who also love voyeurism, I've compiled three of my favorite love letters. Enjoy!

From Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) to his wife, Livy, on her thirtieth birthday:

Hartford, November 27, 1875

Livy daring, six years have gone by since I made my first great success in life and won you, and thirty years have passed since Providence made preparation for that happy success by sending you into the world. Every day we live together adds to the security of my confidence that we can never any more wish to be separated than that we can ever imagine a regret that we were ever joined. You are dearer to me to-day, my child, than you were upon the last anniversary of this birth-day; you were dearer then than you were a year before — you have grown more and more dear from the first of those anniversaries, and I do not doubt that this precious progression will continue on to the end.

Let us look forward to the coming anniversaries, with their age and their gray hairs without fear and without depression, trusting and believing that the love we bear each other will be sufficient to make them blessed.

So with abounding affection for you and our babies, I hail this day that brings you matronly grace and dignity of three decades.

Always yours,

Tomorrow’s the Big Day

I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is the price of stamps went up again. As of May 12, 2008, it will cost 42¢ (an extra penny) to purchase a stamp. The good news is I don't think this will encourage or discourage anyone from sending letters. The good news on top of that is that tomorrow is Valentine's Day. I can hear some grumbles in the background saying, Isn't that bad news? It's understandable — nobody likes being force fed a holiday. I think we all know, however, that this is a holiday you can neither run nor hide from.

I made my peace with Valentine's Day a few years ago. I was newly single and the sea of red cards and candy I had to walk through every time I wanted gum from CVS made me sick. I know it had probably been that way every previous year, but you're hypersensitive to these things after just breaking up with someone. It felt like every drug store in Manhattan was mocking me. Once that particular Valentine's season was over, I promised I'd never feel ...

I’m Not Sure How I Feel About This

Google alerts alerted me yesterday that there's a new letter-writing web site on the radar. Believe it or not, I was thrilled. Whenever someone comes up with an innovative way of promoting letter writing I'm delighted. Some of my favorite sites are and — the latter is a web site that posts a different break-up letter everyday. It's addictive. The latest letter-writing site is based out of the UK and it's called Before even clicking on the link, I found the URL charming and couldn't wait to dig in.

The motivation behind is leaving letters and photos for your loved ones after you've gone. Not a bad idea at all! The way it works is you set up an account, and you're then free to add photos and letters to the account for the rest of your life. The "rest of your life" thing is a little strange. Any website that deals directly with my mortality might not get the warmest reception from me. I still, however, like the concept of being organized about what memorabilia you ...

A Little More Sap, Please

I've been writing letters on behalf of other people for just about three years. I launched a letter-writing service,, as a lark — not thinking people would take me seriously. To my pleasant surprise, some of them did, and my letter-writing assignments are always different and inspiring. As with any job, however, a cloud of routine eventually sets itself high above the work desk and, unfortunately, the work suffers. This has happened to me recently, and I was made aware of it when several of my customers said to me that I wasn't being sappy enough in my (their) letters. Excuse me? Not sappy enough? Isn't sap a bad thing? Isn't it messy and sticky and impossible to get out of clothes? Of course, I didn't say this to anyone. When I write a letter for someone I take what ingredients they give me and try to whip up a tasty little missive. For some reason, I was unconsciously leaving the sap out. They wanted apology letters that were over the top and love confessions blown all the way out of proportion, and I didn't ...

The Week in Letters

What a fortuitous week! Powell's and I honestly picked this week at random for my guest blogspot (thanks, guys!) — neither of us having any idea there would be so much going on in the world of letters. On Wednesday it was reported that a priceless lot of letters was found in Switzerland (scroll down for that write up), and this morning at 7:22 a.m. Eastern Standard Time I found myself reading about a letter written by Abraham Lincoln found only three weeks ago at the National Archives. It's a short, two-sentence letter written to Maj. General Henry Halleck four days after the battle of Gettysburg:

July 7, 1863
We have certain information that Vicksburg surrendered to General Grant on the 4th of July. Now, if Gen. Meade can complete his work so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee's army, the rebellion will be over.
Yours truly,
A. Lincoln

And the moral of the story is: We need to keep writing letters so that our descendants can continually uncover us. I am willing to compromise — for those of you who know you'll never write another letter in your ...

Monet the Great… Writer?

My good friend Amy has just called my attention to the Claude Monet exhibit at the Wildenstein Gallery in New York City. In addition to over sixty paintings (some rare and never seen before) there are a number of letters on display. The majority of these letters are written from Monet to his love Alice Hoschedé. Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to trek up there before the exhibit closes on June 15th, but I will enjoy them from afar as Amy sent me the transcriptions. On February 11, 1883, he ended a letter to Alice in this charming way:

"Goodbye, you wicked gallivanting woman (just joking). I love you, there you have it, and I'm jealous that you are spending your time away from me, and I would like to know everything you did in Paris and where you went. Hug all the children. My best to Marthe [Alice's daughter, Marthe Hoschedé] and all my caresses are for you."

And now for a drastic change of topics: I said I'd discuss Graduation and Father's Day letters this time around. So here goes...

Graduation Letters

Nowadays what accompanies a graduation gift is usually a ...

No One Apologizes Quite Like Napoleon

Letter writers, collectors, and historians all hit the tangible jackpot yesterday! Roughly 1,000 historic letters were found hidden away in a filing cabinet in a Swiss laundry room. These epistles were written by the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, John Donne, and Queen Elizabeth I. The missives were collected by a wealthy Austrian banker named Albin Schram who died in 2005. He neglected to tell his family of his astounding collection. The lot of letters is set to be auctioned off at Christie's in London on July 3rd. It is estimated that they will yield up to $4.6 million. According to the New York Times:

"One of the rarest letters was written by an apologetic Napoleon on the morning after a furious argument with his wife, Josephine. In a spidery scrawl full of corrections and crossings out, Napoleon wrote, 'I send you three kisses — one on your heart, one on your mouth and one on your eyes.'"

I wonder what the fight was about! She must have called him a tyrant...

As Promised...

Yesterday I swore to unveil my simple formula for writing short, sincere thank you notes, and I shall. ...

Juliet Therapy

I was at once both surprised and delighted when I learned of this epistolary phenomenon — letters to Juliet. How it began is difficult to say; the important thing is that it did. People from all over the world have been confessing their deepest, silliest, most sacred thoughts and desires to the female constituent of the world's greatest love story since the 1930s. Letters simply addressed, "Juliet, Verona" will reach their destination, which is the fabricated tomb of Juliet Capulet in Verona, Italy. There, volunteer secretaries belonging to the Club di Giulietta will receive and respond to the letters. Some of the letters, along with the story behind this marvel, were published in a book last year, aptly entitled Letters to Juliet, by Lise and Ceil Friedman. The letters are fascinating little snippets of the human psyche. Each is colored with a different shade of love — love at its earliest, at its best, at its worst, at its most confusing.

Here is one of the letters from the book that tips its hat to infatuation:

"Dear Juliet,
I live on the third floor. My parents don't


A Letter Writer Learns (And Relearns) A Lesson

Last week was clarifying for me. I was reminded why I do what I do. On the whole I write — more specifically than that I write letters (for more on my letter-writing mission visit The last thing I expected to take place within the weeks following the release of my book, For the Love of Letters: A 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing, was to forget my self-appointed purpose, but it keeps happening. In an odd way I'm glad, because that leaves room for outside forces to sneak up behind me with substantial reminders. My ready-made reminders last week came from both friends and strangers.

On Wednesday I did my first book reading at the Papyrus store in downtown Manhattan. I knew about the reading a month beforehand and became so concerned with how I was going to say everything — going so far as to memorize even facial expressions and voice inflections — that what I was saying sat beyond the back seat in my mind. It was in the trunk. It wasn't until after the presentation when certain members of the crowd approached me ...

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