Saturday, August 05, 2006

Fan Mail

Patty here…

I love fan mail. I will forever be amazed that readers interrupt their busy schedules to tell me that they enjoyed one of my books. I especially like the notes that begin like this: “I’ve never written to an author before, but I just had to tell you…” I got another one of those just a few days ago. This fan had read something about COVER YOUR ASSETS in the New York Times and decided to give my book a try because a reviewer had compared my style to Janet Evanovich’s. I know the email was authentic, because my mother doesn’t have a computer.

At times, especially when deadlines loom large, authors lead solitary lives, spending hours typing away at the exclusion of everything and everyone else. It’s comforting when fans let us know that we’re not working in total obscurity.

That email got me thinking. I always send a thank you note to the host/hostess the day after a party. I even thank the guy at Vons who scans the price on my tomatillos, but I rarely email other authors to tell them how much I enjoyed their work. I’ve decided to start doing that more often.

My friend Desiree turned me on to a book by Carolyn See called Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. See talks about her admiration for E.M. Forester and how his novels, A Room with a View and The Longest Journey, changed her life. She regrets never telling him that before he died.

See writes:

There had been months, even years, when I could have written him a note to say thank you. Thank you for reminding me I’m not totally alone of this earth; thank you for teaching me about morality and passion in a way I can respect; thanks for teaching me that profound looks better against a background of violets that “spot the grass with azure foam."

Maybe he would have written me back. Maybe, in Cambridge, even with all his distinguished friends, he would have liked to have thought of a housewife in California reading his books with so much love and respect and trying to get what he was trying to say.

Reflecting back on her experience, See recommends that you write one “charming note” to somebody whose work you admire (not necessarily an author, but that would be nice), and that you do it five days a week for the rest of your life. That’s a worthy idea but a tall order especially since reading a book a day is impossible for me and finding somebody in the general population to admire isn’t all that easy, either.

Some may think that writing fan mail is risky business. It’s like being the first one in a relationship to use the L-word and then suddenly realizing that the feeling is so-not-reciprocated. But life is so-not a dress rehearsal, just ask Carolyn See.

I used to believe that famous authors were too busy to read or too jaded to appreciate fan mail, but I’ve changed my mind about that. My friend Barb actually got a lovely letter from John Irving (The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany) in response to a note she sent him, a critique of one of his novels, no less.

I don’t have as much time to read these days as I used to, but at the moment my bookmark is in Susan Kandel’s first novel, I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason. I was on the “Hip Chicks Packing Heat” panel with her at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books a few months ago and found her to be smart, charming, and funny. I’m halfway through the book and loving it, so I emailed her a "charming note" to gush.

Here’s the set-up. Cece Caruso has a contract to write a biography of Earl Stanley Gardner (Author of Perry Mason, etc.). While riffling through the archives, she finds a forty-year-old letter addressed to Gardner from a man serving a life sentence for murdering his wife. He claims he’s innocent (of course) and asks Gardner (a real-life lawyer) for help. Cece thinks that pursuing the letter angle might help breathe life into her stilted prose. When she discovers that the man is alive and still in prison, she asks for and is granted permission to interview him. As you may have guessed, mayhem ensues. The writing sparkles. The characters are well drawn. The set-up is fresh and clever. The heroine is smart, funny, and charming, just like the author.

So what’s your take on fan mail/charming notes? Love em? Hate em? Write em? Or not?


P.S. I’m posting this on Saturday because tomorrow morning at o-dark-thirty I’m leaving for a sailing trip on the Maine coast. (Har! Shiver me timbers!) Since there are no cyber cafes in Penobscot Bay or the Gulf of Maine, I’ve invited Louise Ure to guest blog next Monday. She’s written a wonderful book called FORCING AMARYLLIS, which was just nominated for a Shamus award for Best First Novel. I assured her that we NakedAuthors have no rules about posting...hmmm...perhaps you should stay tuned.

Fair winds!


  1. I think fan notes are great. I've written a few, and one actually resulted in a friendship. A couple of years later that author sent some of my work to his agent who signed me up, and now, a few years further along, I have a two-book contract! I hope that when my books come out, a reader writes to me too. Because it's all about communication, really, isn't it? To know that somebody 'gets it' is so important.

  2. Congratulations, Katherine! What a great story. I'm sure you'll be getting lots of fan mail.

  3. Viva the two book contract!

  4. from Jacqueline

    I love receiving fan mail and do my best to reply to each and every one, whether it's via email or a letter. I had a beautiful letter from a woman in New Zealand, who sent me a lovely postcard-size watercolor she'd painted for me - I was so touched!

    Katherine, I love your story - what goes around comes around, that's for sure.

    Patty - great post - and have a really amazing time in Maine. I love that area, it's gorgeous!

    Look forward to reading Louise this week.

  5. I'm a reader from childhood, and at times in recent years I've met my author idols. Sometimes I've been shocked and disappointed, most others I've enjoyed great chats with either in the flesh or by mail/email. i get shy with celebrities, which belies my professionalism and is funny to observe, so I don't like bothering people who've done something 'big'. :-D But I will go a long way to write a 'charming note' to someone whose work I admire. (Hi Jacqueline!)

    Oh, I read Susan Kandel this last few weeks, too. I found her works showcased in Mystery Scene Magazine and went out and bought "I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason". Loved it and went out and bought the next two, and loved those too. I'm currently waiting for Jacqueline's 'Messenger of Truth' to hit the bookstores - no-one will hear a peep out of me for 24 hours. :-D

    Yeah, I send the odd fanmail and karma returns to me in kind, by way of fan mail to me. I'm an artist and sometimes writer amidst a heavy schedule. :-D Everyone needs a pat on the head now and then - at least that's my philosophy - so I fully believe in sending charming notes.

    Have fun in Maine, Patty. And I hope you get many more 'charming notes' for your work. It sounds like it's richly deserved.


  6. I occasionally send a note, but not nearly often enough - your great post has caused me to plan to send notes more often.

    And I agree, Katherine's story is great, and yeah, it is all about communication.

    Also agree with Marianne - most people are genuinely pleased to hear that their work is being enjoyed, and are happy to spend a few moments chatting about it.

  7. Hope you're having a grand time, Patty. And thanks again for the invitation to belly up to the Naked Author Bar next week.


  8. It was writing a fan email to Paul about a chance meeting with a mutual acquaintance that I learned about this site when he answered me.

    And I have read and enjoyed your books. Looking forward to the next one.