"Is it possible to gulp a book? That’s what I did . . . "
So began an email to me the other day. It was from a woman in Germany and had arrived at my website amid a flurry of spam.
We writers spend a lot of time worrying about, and looking at, our reviews. The ones that stick with us the most — at least from what I’ve observed — are the negatives, the nasties and disgruntleds.
But what about "fan" mail? Are those notes, the ones that readers take the time to compose and send us, worth less? Sure, they’re private. They’re not printed in newspapers or posted on Amazon, but why don’t we celebrate them more?
When I get one of these lovelies, it’s like a piece of candy that lasts and lasts. I even have a file where I put these gifts. On days when things are bad, when I wonder what the hell I’m doing trying to write, I go to that file and feel vastly better.
I also write fan mail. I’ve been sending notes since middle school. My first letter was to Leonard Bernstein. He didn’t respond and I didn’t care. I wanted to thank him for his musical Mass. In the ensuing 35+ years, I’ve thanked too many authors to count; a couple of movie stars; musicians; a talk show host or two (I sent a huge one to David Letterman for demonstrating such respect for writers during the WGA strike); and a few cartoonists. Some have responded — Madeleine L’Engle, Lois McMaster Bujold, Lynn Johnston. Some haven’t. Who knows if every one of my thank-yous even arrived on the targeted person’s desk?
It doesn’t matter to me. The important thing is to be grateful and to express that gratitude to the people who’ve evoked it. Call it increasing the quotient of good vibes in the world.
Back to the mail I’ve received: Every note, letter and email makes me feel wonderful. More than any positive printed review, these heartfelt and personal communications mean a tremendous amount to me. They’re the reason I write for publication rather than keeping my manuscripts to myself.
So today, let’s talk fan mail
1. Have you ever written a fan letter? To whom? Why?
2. Have you ever wanted to write one, but didn’t know how or where to find the person? (I’ve wanted to write Alice Hoffman for years. Maybe contacting her publicists would work . . .)
3. Is there someone from history you’d like to thank?
4. Writers: what’s the best fan letter you’ve ever received?
It’s Monday. Most people complain of the blahs. Join this conversation today and let’s see if we can generate enough great feelings to carry us all through the rest of the week.
Pari, what a great way to start the week!
I wrote to Paul Bowles, Ellen Gilchrist, and Michael Cunningham, all of whom responded graciously and with such inspiration for me as a writer.
Paul and I actually had a many-year correspondence, during some very rough years of my life, and he often sent photos to amuse me.
I regret not having written to Tennessee Williams.
A few years back someone recommended a new novel to me b/c of the first novel I was writing at the time. The name of the author seemed familiar – and then I realized the first name was the same as a young man I had met one time when I was 19 years old. I had never forgotten him and he had, in fact, been the source for a character who had waltzed into my book late one writing night and taken it over. I had even named that character an alternate spelling of his name.
When I got the book, the author photo was different enough from my memory and we were both so many years older, I decided it wasn’t the same man. But when I read the book, it was as though his main character was the younger version of mine, and if his character had made a different choice at the climax of his book, he would have gone on to live the story in MY book. It was very very weird.
So I wrote to the author, asking if there was any way he were the young man I’d met. It was him – and we have since become very good friends. He is, in fact, the friend who I have the dreams about. There’s more uncanny stuff there but it’s just too complex to write out!
WRT fans and letters – since I don’t have a book out yet you’d not expect me to have fans who write to me. But I was on a writing retreat one time and two guys started talking to me out in the gardens and managed to get me to talk in great detail about my book. They went home and found my website and email me regularly to tell me not to stop trying to get it published and that they can’t wait to stand in line to get copies signed. Pretty cool, and definitely inspiring.
I have written only one letter of appreciation to an author. After reading an Inspector Morse novel, I felt compelled to write Colin Dexter. I wanted to thank him for all the Inspector Morse novels, but I especially wanted to thank him for letting us (and Lewis) know what his first name was.
The really neat part of this story is I actually got a response back. It took about a year for the response. I sent the letter via the publishers – so it took a while to get to Dexter. I remember coming home from a trip and finding a handwritten envelope from Oxford, England. I opened the envelope and, when I saw who wrote the HANDWRITTEN note, I jumped about a foot in the air. I was so excited and elated.
It was a lovely gesture and a wonderful memory for me.
Hi Pari!What a fun topic!The very first fan letter I ever wrote was about 10 years ago to Margaret Maron. I had just moved to North Carolina, had been a huge fan of Margaret’s Deborah Knott series and had just read her KILLER MARKET, which took place in High Point, NC during its world famous international furniture market week, which features about 6,000 sq. ft. of furniture show rooms. I loved this book, and wanted to tell her. And – I wanted to know if Deborah would be visiting the North Carolina High Country of which I was now a resident. I can’t tell you how surprised and happy I was to receive an email back almost immediately. Margaret let me know she was in the process of bringing Deborah to the High Country, and she would be visiting in a few months. Emails started flying and whenever she had a question about the area, I tried my best to supply an answer. We’ve since met, spend some occasional time together, and have continued our email correspondence. I repeatedly tell everyone I meet how over the moon I am about having my name listed in the acknowledgments in HIGH COUNTRY FALL. And showing up as a very minor character in RITUALS OF THE SEASON, which was a huge surprise. That one fan letter led to a friendship I treasure and hold dear.
Since then, most of my fan letters are actually praises for writers whose work I enjoy which I post at DorothyL, and try to remember to copy the author. That has, in some cases, led to fun and interesting email exchanges, and in a few cases, to some long standing friendships which are quite precious to me.
I would encourage anyone I know to give in to the urge to write that fan letter. The opportunity to let someone know you have enjoyed their work, and appreciate their talent can be here and gone in the blink of an eye. In this day and time when people seem too quick to forget every day common courtesies, and are quick to voice complaints, why not be just as quick to say “thank you,” and send some well-earned praise to someone you feel deserves it. Its easy to do, and is just a nice little win-win thing.
Billie,What a beautiful story about that young man. Your life is so full of sychronicities, it flabbergasts me.
And I love that you’re already getting those fan letters. Don’t they make such a difference?
Kirsten,Colin Dexter wrote you a letter? Wow. I can only imagine your glee. Do you have that letter framed, in a safe place?
Sending to the publisher is often the best way to go. I’ve thought about doing that with Alice Hoffman. Perhaps the responses to this blog will give me the ooomph to do it.
Kaye,You bring up several good points. I know that some of my more recent friendships have started because of fan mail I’ve received.
Your relationship with Margaret Maron is, I think, the kind of wonderful result that can happen from expressed gratitude.
My mother always forced me to write thank-you notes. I hated doing it. But fan mail is simply that, a thank you.
I practice gratitude. I know that sounds silly, but I do. It makes me so much happier in this liffe.
I’ve probably written a hundred letters of appreciation but never sent any. In my pre-writing days, I never thought authors were real.
Try it. You’ll like it, Louise.
Really, there’s something gratifying about actually posting those missives.
This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I have a friend who’s a writer of Internet books, and he has a simple rule for thank-you notes: If someone gives you a gift, invites you to their house, or goes to more trouble on your behalf than it would take for you to write a thank-you note, you should write a thank-you note. So few people do it anymore, and it’s so important…
As for writers I’ve written to…hmm, let’s see. I’ve written to and gotten responses from Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, J.A. Jance, Sue Grafton, Laura Lippman, and Dana Stabenow, three of the ‘rati folks so far (Pari, JT, Louise), as well as a handful of lesser-known figures. I haven’t published any fiction yet, but I’ve gotten letters and emails in response to some of my newspaper and magazine articles. None are particularly memorable because they’re ALL memorable. How do you pick one over another, when you’re looking at people who have been struck enough by your words to actually take the time to reach out to you?
Hear, hear! Tammy
I like your friend’s rule.
Isn’t it amazing to get an email thank you? Isn’t even more astounding to get a handwritten note?
Actually, is it — “Here, here?”
I honestly don’t know. Don’t know where that phrase originated either.
From The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:
“Hear, hear!” An exclamation approving what a speaker says. Originally disapproval was marked by humming; those supporting the speaker protested by saying “Hear him,” which eventually became “Hear, hear!”
Thanks, Louise.I love learning.
I write to authors quite often – get my opinion jolted sometimes. There is a writer who I thought I couldn’t like, based on his blog. He seemed opinionated, intolerant, etc. Then I read one of his books and loved it, so emailed him a fan letter & received a charming thank you. So maybe he only blogs his rants, etc., but is actually a nice guy in person. Probably never know but in any event I’ll continue to read his work.Nicest reply ever was a hand written snail mail note from Laurie R. King before she learned to use web connections.
Great post here and I loved the previous futuristic one which I’m still thinking about! You are a conduit to many.
Recently I wrote Ben Stein (you know…economist, author, NY times columnist, actor etc). He wrote back (email) within the hour after 5:00 pm. Personally, I find email even better than the handwritten note.
Writing, letters — change the world.
Pari, I’ve been pondering your topic and here’s what I think might be the other side of the coin for people. One thing that does concern some readers, and perhaps inhibits them from writing that thank you note, or fan letter is the worry about how it might be taken. There’s always that little icky factor that we don’t want to appear too forward, and we sure don’t want to be confused with a nut case stalker person.It can be a bit of a quandry.Thoughts?
Lorraine,What a cool story about that author and how his book and response turned around your opinion.
I don’t know about you, but I love when that happens (at least when it’s positive). One of my closest friends in the world was someone that, at first glance, I’d assumed was a totally different person.
Patricia,Thank you so much. I’m glad that post made you think. I’m so curious about how the future will unfold for us writers and how we promote. George Jetson, move over.
That’s fascinating that Ben Stein responded so quickly. There is something incredibly satisfying about email and how it makes us accessible. But the downside for me, at least, is that I get too bogged down trying to respond. When I’m sending notes back, I’m not writing my fiction.
It’s a quandry and I haven’t found a solution yet.
Kaye,I think it’s a matter of degree.
“Thank you for your book. It opened a world to me.”
Is far different from. “You’re the best writer in the world. I want to have your baby.”
Also, a single note is far different from several in a short period of time.
I will admit that I’ve gotten a couple of “fan” letters that made me nervous. Most of them have been via email and were quite long, more than a page or two. And there was something in the vibe of them that worried me — a neediness, a desperation, that you don’t normally find in a thank you.
The first fan mail I ever wrote was hiding a question about how to do something. I wrote Stuart Woods, and made my question about sex so I’d be sure to get his attention. Despite his book’s exclamation that he doesn’t answer fan mail, he did (see, ask about sex : ))
Not only did he appreciate the letter, he and I exchanged several over the course of afternoon. He ended up giving me the very best advice I’ve ever received — Only you make the rules, page by page — which is pinned to the door of my office.
And I’ll be honest, the first fan letter I received I cried. My rules are like Tammy’s friend — if someone takes the time to write me, it is incumbent on me to acknowledge their note with a thank you. It’s started a couple of nice friendships, actually.
I’ve only ever written one fan email. Which was to JT.
I know what Kaye means about not wanting to be so effusive that you sound scary.
I think I prefaced it with something like ‘I don’t want to come off all gushy fangirl here, but I thought your book was a bloody good read.’
My only fan letter to an author was to Barbara Seranella. I read one of her Munch Mancini books during a very difficult time and it helped me through a couple of rough days. I sent the letter just because I felt compelled to thank Barbara, not because I expected a reply. But she wrote back and told me about something very similar she’d been through. We corresponded for a time and she was as gracious and funny and warm as I’d hoped.No wonder she’s missed so much.
Yeah, J.T., the first time is a true mind-blower, isn’t it?
Very cool about Stuart Woods. Thank you for sharing his bit of wisdom with us today.
Catherine,You picked a good one for that first fan letter. J.T. is about as gracious and enthusiastic as they come.
And take it from me, “gushy fangirl” is just fine for most of us.
Jill,I think the fan letters, the thank-you notes, that come from the heart, touch the recipient’s heart as well. Sincerity, without expectation, is a gift in itself.
She sold me at “bloody good read.” I was hers. Putty… ; )
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