Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 7, 2020

The write stuff: Novelist Anna Harrington holds key to your valentine’s heart

Author Anna Harrington recommends skipping the card store and writing your own love letter on Valentine’s Day. - Photo by David Laprad

In an annual migration that begins around noon every Feb. 14, masses of men make their way to the nearest Walgreens, Walmart or Hallmark and begin staring blankly at rows and columns of frilly red greeting cards.

As they scan the honeyed phrases on these cards in their desperate search for a suitable valentine, they curse the holiday and themselves for waiting until the last minute to cobble together a feeble expression of their feelings.

To a man, they’re sweating because they can already see the disappointment or crimson flush of anger crossing their loved one’s face.

Fortunately, there’s good news for procrastinators, the chronically uncreative and the just plain clueless this Valentine’s Day: Anna Harrington has your back.

Harrington is the author of the bestselling “Capturing the Carlisles” series of historical romance novels. She’s also an English professor at Chattanooga State Community College.

And judging from the artwork on the cover of her latest novel, “An Inconvenient Duke,” which sports a muscular, bare-chested he-man clutching a young damsel in a flowing red dress, she knows what makes women happy – or at least what makes the women who buy her books happy. So, men should heed what she says.

Harrington’s first piece of advice will likely be met with a round of hearty cheers: Skip the greeting card.

“A greeting card is generic and going out to 10,000 other people around the county,” she points out. “On Valentine’s Day, you want to say, ‘You’re special,’ and buying the same card 10,000 other men are buying is not special.”

Once their hurrahs die out, most men will realize something will have to take the place of the greeting card, as there’s no such thing as a Get Out of Valentine’s Day Free card. (Alas, life is not like Monopoly.) For most men, this means putting pen to paper and composing a love letter.

The very thought might send some husbands and boyfriends scrambling back to the greeting card aisle, but Harrington says writing a love letter is easy. All it takes is a little thought and a quality presentation.

“A good love letter is simply an expression of your feelings,” Harrington explains. “When I was in high school, I was the drive-thru girl at a Hardee’s. My boyfriend at the time also worked at Hardees, and when I had to work later than him, he’d leave a napkin with a handwritten note on my car.

“It would be just cheesy high school stuff, but instead of running off with his buddies, he took the time to do that.”

The young man’s notes weren’t elaborate or cleverly worded, but they let Harrington know he was thinking about her. And even though she was a budding wordsmith who would someday write bestselling romances, that was all she wanted.

Harrington points to the late “Law & Order” actor Jerry Orbach as another example of someone who knew the power of a simple note.

“He rarely saw his wife in the morning because he had to wake up early and go to the set. So, he wrote short messages to her on index cards,” Harrington continues. “A love letter doesn’t have to be fancy; it just needs to be about the other person. Let them know you love them and they matter to you.”

While napkins and index cards are adequate conveyances for an everyday love note, they won’t work on Valentine’s Day, Harrington says. On Feb. 14, only the best will do.

“The more romantic the occasion, the more special the paper should be,” she says. “Go to a stationary store and buy some really nice paper. Then write what you’re going to say on a cheap piece of paper. Once it’s perfect, write it on the good paper.”

Also use a good pen, Harrington adds. “Don’t use a pencil or ballpoint pen. They tend to be thin and limp, and those are things you don’t want someone to associate with your love,” she says. “Instead, use a gel or fountain pen. They make a solid, more definite line.”

In addition to carrying a message, paper can also express it, Harrington says.

“Cut a heart out of a piece of paper, write the note in the middle and then fold it over and over and over, until it doesn’t resemble a heart.

“Then secure it with a paper clip or some kind of clasp and write ‘Open me’ on it. When she opens it, the heart and message will reveal themselves.”

Even the delivery of the letter requires thought. “Leave the note by her coffee cup, or put it in her purse, or place it on the front door, where she’ll see it as she’s leaving the house,” Harrington suggests.

Even people who don’t express themselves well through writing have nothing to worry about when Feb. 14 rolls around, Harrington says. Simply turn something the other person enjoys into a valentine.

“If your wife or girlfriend likes garden shows, buy her tickets to the next show and write a short note on one of them that says, ‘Take your best friend and have fun. I love you,’” Harrington recommends.

“Or, if you saw a movie on your first date, buy its poster and write, ‘I’ll never forget how much fun we had watching this film’ on the back. And then roll it up and give it to them.

“These are the kinds of gifts that say, ‘I know you and care about you.’”

Since 1944, Hallmark’s advertising slogan has been, “When you care enough to send the very best.”

But Harrington says the very best a person has to offer lies within them, and all it takes to express it and make someone happy on Valentine’s Day is a little time, effort and thought.

Plus, the men who follow Harrington’s advice will be able to skip the annual rush to the card store. And that alone is worth another hearty cheer.

Need more tips for writing love letters? Download Harrington’s free PDF, “The Passionate Pen.”