Can love really blossom through ink and paper?

Do you believe in love at first sight? Well, how about love that blooms even before setting eyes on each other?

While deep in research on a very unrelated topic, I fell into the fascinating world of correspondence courtship.

The more I read on this topic, the more transactional it sounds. But the more I fantasize about it, the more magical it sounds!

In my mind, I picture a slow-burning love affair playing out through pen and paper, through the mail, across hundreds or possibly thousands of miles. A story of love unfolding… one sentence at a time. SO romantic.

That’s how I want to think of it, anyway.

In the nineteenth century, the era of ‘matrimonial advertisements’, newspapers played Cupid, connecting hearts that might never have crossed paths otherwise. Imagine Tinder, but with quills instead of swipes. Couples fell in love through handwritten letters. Can you imagine uttering the words “I do” before ever locking eyes with someone?!

(I can.)

So what motivated these daring souls to commit to a lifetime with someone they’d never met? There were economic factors, and the aftermath of the Civil War, the California gold rush, and the great western migration lent hand to this unconventional courtship method. But for the purpose of this blog, I’m going to concentrate only on the love story. The love story not driven by physical appearance but rather by the depths of two hearts. It’s way more romantic this way.

While some people deemed it disreputable and scandalous, to me, the allure of love found through the printed word is irresistible. Imagine love transcending the barriers of time and distance… one handwritten letter at a time.

Here’s what I think it looked like (Yes, I am taking creative license):

The Matrimonial Bazar operated from 1869 through 1876

Advertisement:

A Bachelor of ability, good moral character, 30 years of age, born and reared under Southern skies, desires to correspond with a true Southern woman, object matrimony. Teetotaller, musical, with good means. Advertiser has travelled foreign countries and would do so again if desired. Will some young lady take pity on one who would make a devoted husband. Address, Bachelor, Box 264, Oklahoma, Ter.

Response:

Dearest Bachelor,

Your portrayal of a gentleman of good moral character, with thirty summers gracing your existence, all beneath the tender sunbeams of Southern skies, has captured my imagination. I wonder about the man you are and the dreams you cradle in your heart.

I wonder, do you possess the strength to carry in the sack of flour that will rise into the bread we shall share by a crackling fire?

I wonder, do you long to sit, nestled by the hearth, sharing tales with your new bride in the warm, flickering glow while the hours slip away unnoticed?

I wonder, do you find solace in the embrace of nature, as I do? Perhaps we might wander through Southern woods, hand in hand, tracing the footsteps of deer or marveling at the vibrant wildflowers that grace our path.

I wonder, can you name the constellations that adorn our Southern skies? For I dream of stargazing, my head resting upon a strong shoulder, as we chart the course of a shared destiny in the heavens.

I wonder about the songs in your heart that flow through your fingertips when you caress the keys of your instrument. Might you serenade me with a tune born of your own creation one day?

And what of the books that adorn your shelves, dear Bachelor? I wonder which favorite tomes that have stirred your soul, for I believe that the tales we hold dear can reveal the deepest recesses of our hearts.

My heart brims with curiosity and anticipation. And with a heart full of wonder and hope, I wait to hear from you.

Magnolia Evangeline Montgomery, a Southern woman

(Anyone want to play the part of the bachelor, Mr. Theodore Adams, and sweep Miss Magnolia off her feet?) 

‘Imagine If’s’ are out of control

          “The book that would change her life forever fell from the shelf and landed at her feet, as if fate itself had placed it there.”

This is the first line of my novel. Well… one of the novels I am writing.

          “Chef Clara reminds me of Aunt Bea, a woman who can’t be trusted with booze or chocolate but certainly enriches our lives.”

This is the line from another novel I’m writing.

          “A great grift is like a romance. You have to find out what they want and then woo them.”

          “I was 14 when I moved in with my husband. People have asked me what it was like to marry at that age, and I suppose it is the same as when you marry at any age. One minute you’re having a good time, and the next, you’re terrified.”

Yes, a THIRD and FOURTH novel. There’s also a fifth.

And dozens of characters.

*Lucy, a young woman that finds a magical book.

*Olive, a mid-lifer finding adventure – and purpose – in culinary school. (There may be a kidnapping involved.)

*Apple, a grifter who struggles with an unsettling realization that maybe, just maybe, there is more to the art of deception than she knows.

*Jane, known only as ‘the woman on death row’.

*Sue, unemployed and with no other alternatives, stumbles upon what can only be described as a ‘genie in a bottle,’ leading her to make a wish she never anticipated.

I’m a rockstar at naming characters and writing first lines. It’s the 89,990 words that follow that give me trouble.

Which is why I have a writing coach. An accomplished, published writer.

On one recent call, she offered Imagine If’s:

Imagine Olive, instead of jumping in with both feet and not thinking through situations is, instead, someone who takes NO chances in life. Imagine if she is a Michelin-star chef instead of a master of Trader Joe’s one-pot meals. Imagine the secret room she stumbles upon is actually a cooking class with strobe lights and a side of vegetables instead of mobsters plotting a kidnapping.

Another words, imagine the story completely different from the way you are currently writing it. Imagine the protagonist to be a completely different character. Imagine the plot to be nothing like what you’ve spent 30,000 words setting it up to be. Imagine the entire reason she is in this situation is actually some other random and possibly nonsensical reason. 

Imagine if this story is… something completely different than what you’ve got.

Imagine… if…

With all these ‘imagine if’s’ I second-guessed whether I even had a novel worth writing.

So I started a new novel.

One coaching call after another. One ‘imagine if’ after another. One new novel after another.

I finally wised up and realized there is a big difference between a writer who coaches and a coach who writes.

I also realized that when I drill down to beat sheets, plot points, a blueprint of every pivot point of the hero’s journey, applying methodology, blah, blah, blah, I become bored as hell with the story – not to mention it becomes nothing more than a daunting task to sit down and write every day. Yes, can’t forget about the ‘daily writing habit’ that is supposed to put me in my chair every day at the same time for one hour because that’s how the writing coach says you write a novel…

I say, imagine if writing a novel is like assembling a puzzle where you have all the pieces but no picture on the box to guide you, and you’re not even sure if some pieces belong to this puzzle or a completely different one.

Imagine falling in love with your characters, even if they’re total trainwrecks with questionable life choices.

Imagine if starting a novel is like planting a seed – you have no idea if it will grow into a majestic tree or a quirky shrub, but you’re excited to see it sprout nonetheless.

Imagine if one day, these characters meet in a cafe…