Keep in Touch

by Pari Noskin Taichert

The other day, I decided to clean out my inbox. There were hundreds of emails from friends and fans. I’d let some of them stack up since late January.

This does not make me proud.

As I plowed through each one — writing a response, filing it in a folder for future reference, or deleting it — I began to think about this new communications world in which we live.

Suddenly, just about everyone I want to reach is accessible, instantaneously. So am I.

When I was in grad school, I fell in love with Madeleine L’Engle’s storytelling. One long weekend, I read every single book of hers I could find at the University of Michigan Library. At three in the morning, I closed the final page of the last book and wrote her a thank-you note. It took a few days to find her publisher’s address, to buy the stamp, address the envelope (yes, I procrastinated then, too) and to mail my fan gushing. She replied nine months later. Her letter was a treasured possession for years until it finally disintegrated from so many enraptured readings.

Flash forward to today. We have blogs, emails, voicemails, instant text messaging, websites — so many ways to communicate. I wonder about the effect of all this extraordinary access.

Has easy communication cheapened our interactions? Does it affect sales? Does it affect attendance at booksignings? Has it raised expectations while lowering value?

Somehow, I think the speed with which we can communicate now does, indeed, lessen the value of our interactions.

I’m saying this as a person who adores, and is grateful, for all the people she’s met via the Internet. I relish the fan mail I receive and know it would be much less if it were only snailmailed on paper.

But there’s something important about expending effort, too. Fans take the time to write and I’m honored that they’ve done so. But, how valuable is my response back? What if I take nine months to send the note? Will a reader fold and unfold a letter from me she’s printed herself and that is topped with all the gobbledeegook from my ISP?

I don’t have answers here, only observations and a sneaking feeling that we’re losing an element of true, personal interaction with this split-second, electronic back-and-forth.

Oh, hell, I don’t know. I feel so torn, so oddly ungrateful, even thinking about it.

Without the Internet, far fewer readers would have ever heard of me. Without my responses to readers, albeit tardy, I wouldn’t have half the number of incredible and dedicated "fans." I wouldn’t  stay in touch with out-of-state family either.

Today, hundreds of Bouchercon attendees are home or are winding their way in that direction. How will they keep up with old friends and new contacts?

I’ll admit that now my communication is almost entirely through email, this blog and the phone. A handwritten letter is precious because it takes so much more time and effort (heck, I don’t write with pen and ink nearly as quickly as I can type).

Each communication outward brings another bevy of communications back. Each of those requires a response. Again, I’m not complaining — just marveling and trying to gain perspective.

Part of my problem is that I can’t send a canned note. So, I get backed up in my responses. For me, without the personal touch, the letter or email or blog or website isn’t worth the tap-tapping on keyboard or cell phone.

I think that’s why I hate spam, computer-recorded phone calls and printed marketing materials so much. They require my time to analyze relevance and to strip of personal info before trashing. They clog my inbox, phone machine and mailbox without having a spot to do with me.

I suspect most of you feel the same way.

And, so, today, I’m going through the last 156 emails in my inbox. The people who wrote them deserve a sincere response.

There will be more tomorrow.

I feel guilty that I can’t stay "on top" of my communications, but — here’s the kicker — still yearn for more.

Odd that.

If no one responds to this post, I’ll feel sad, neglected . . .

And I think that’s awfully odd, too.

11 thoughts on “Keep in Touch

  1. Lorraine T.

    A very good posting, very thought provoking.Laurie R. King does not do email, and I was reminded of writing her a snail mail fan letter several years ago about the Russell/Holmes series, which I love. I was amazed and pleased when I received a reply which I still have and re-read from time to time. I love email too because I can zip off a fan letter minutes after I close the book. I know authors are busy and restrain myself most of the time, but you aroused my curiosity. I scanned the list of 300+ books I read in ’05 and counted the writers I’d not resisted contacting – 8 of them. A bit over 2% so I guess I’m not being a nuisance. Since email, writers are much nicer than they used to be. Every one of them replied whereas King was the only one who ever replied to one of my snail mail fan letters. I transfer the emails into a separate folder and save them to read again too. Also, my ISP automatically puts addresses I write to into my address book and I leave them there as a sort of momento of a pleasant exchange with writers who’s work I’ve enjoyed.And Madeleine L’Engle – your mention of her reminded me that I want to read her take on writing so I went to amazon & put it in my cart.Thanks, Pari.Lorraine

    Reply
  2. Pari

    Lorraine,Thank you for your comments.

    I don’t think any author would say that an email from a reader — especially a positive one — would be a nuisance. Sure, there are people who go overboard, sending 30 notes and verging on harrassment, but they’re rare.

    What fascinated me is your description of what you do with your emails from authors. That’s very cool.

    I do a similar thing with two files:”mystery contacts” (for authors/booksellers/critics)and”readers” (for comments from those who bother to take the time to write). I keep every single email from readers, and, when I’m feeling a bit blue or discouraged, I sometimes go to that file and read a few of the notes. Invariably, they banish those feelings.

    Boy, am I grateful.

    Reply
  3. Naomi

    A hundred and fifty-six e-mails in your inbox? Sheesh, girl! Now I feel guilty having added to your virtual stack of mail.

    Because I’m so absent-minded, I try to answer e-mail messages immediately. Now if I did that with my bills and other papers, I’d be in a lot better and cleaner shape.

    BTW, I actually spent a little time with Madeleine L’Engle and other writers in a retreat center near Garden of the Gods in Colorado. A WRINKLE IN TIME, of course, is a classic, but I love her books on writing and spirituality, especially A CIRCLE OF QUIET.

    Thanks for another great post, Pari. I’ll try to send you a card next time!

    Reply
  4. Pari

    Naomi,You can always send me an email! And, maybe, someday I’ll be together enough to respond immediately. It’s certainly a good plan.

    Troy,Boy, I wish I could have been there.

    I bet you had a blast.

    See you at Magna?

    Reply
  5. Troy Cook

    Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention the stalker/crazy person that I met at a signing and now sends me crazy emails all the time.Aren’t emails wonderful? 🙂

    See you at Magna.

    Reply
  6. Elaine

    Oh, Pari! You need an assistant! But I understand and like Naomi, I promise to keep my emails to you to a minimum. But gosh, then I’d miss yakking with you.

    I keep reader emails in a special folder too and I try to respond within a few days. Well, most of the time. Thanks to the net, writers and readers can connect and their wonderful feedback is a big boost when you’re feeling like a fraud.

    Great post as usual!

    Reply
  7. Rob Gregory Browne

    I love email. I have met so many new people via email and the web, have so many friends that I would never have had without this instant communication.

    Email allows me to think before I speak, yet still respond quickly. Unlike phones, which I hate, or letters, which take forever.

    And I don’t think the interaction is any less personal than a letter. Not for me, at least.

    But what the hell do I know? 🙂

    Reply

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