Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Letters, I Write Letters

I am an inveterate letter-writer. I write letters of praise to tell someone when I have been pleasantly surprised or just delighted with a service, a meal, a really good news article, you name it. I write letters of complaint when I feel I have suffered at the hands of someone who should know better (read: retail workers or customer service reps.)

But the best letters have gone to creative people -- be they writers, musicians, or actors-- and have gotten me a reply. I have a binder of plastic sleeves protecting each one of these missives and I cherish all of them. I started writing fan letters as a grade school kid and was encouraged when I got replies -publicity staff replies, to be sure, but at the age of eight years, I had no idea. Carol Burnett wrote me back. So did Madeleine L'Engle. A member of the rock band The Association wrote his reply to me as an original poem. I still know it by heart. I have a letter from the lead guitarist of the defunct British punk band The Vapors. It's handwritten and ends with his agreement to go to dinner with me if I ever pass him on the street and recognize him. Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick replied via phone call. Too bad I couldn't record that conversation!

As an adult, I also branched out into approaching my hero authors. Alan Dean Foster did me the kindness of telling me to include a SASE because writers would be more inclined to reply if I did. British writer K.M. Peyton invited me to tea, if I ever got across the Atlantic and was able to look her up. (I get the feeling she'd freak if I ever turned up on her doorstep, though.)

David Morrell wrote me one of the best letters of all. I had inquired about a sequel to his amazing book The League of Night and Fog. Mr. Morrell sat down at his typewriter to explain to me, on one single-spaced sheet of paper, that he would never write the sequel. "But," he added, "here is what happens to the characters." And he proceeded to tell me in detail where the story would have gone if he had written it. Sometimes I think about framing that one!

I embarked on writing YA fiction because Stephen King told me to do it. I have the note to prove it! Richard Peck himself advised me that I could stop attending writing workshops involving critiques because they were becoming more discouraging to me than encouraging. I have that on paper, too!

Lately, I've even tried to contact writers through e-mail, and had some terrific replies from the likes of Douglas Preston and James Rollins. Still waiting on Neil Gaimann, though! E-mail is fun, and quick but it can't quite take the place of getting that surprise (but-oh-s0-hoped-for) self-addressed/stamped envelope that brings a response from a writer I admire. Or to put it in the vernacular, a writer that turns me into a tongue-tied fan girl.

So is anyone else out there writing letters and collecting replies? If you are, we ought to swap stories. If you aren't, hey, if you've ever been inclined to write a writer, you should give it a try. It's amazing what some of them will tell you!


  1. Not a letter writer but I do like many of your correspondents. I'm just getting ready to reread some of Alan Dean Foster's books and love Rollins. Good luck with your own books

  2. What an exciting idea. I write letters to friends and family members, but have never written to celebrities or famous people. You have a wonderful collection. Maybe I should try writing to some of my favorite authors. Mmm.

  3. Sorry I'm a little late to the party. Just catching up. Ophelia, this is fascinating. You must write a book about these letters. Hyperion just published "365 Thank Yous. The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life" by John Kralik. Your letters would make a great book!