Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Writing Fan Letters

(Originally published at Embedded Librarian.)

Last year at this time I discovered Lorrie Moore. That's her, at left, in the irresistible photo I had on my Twitter page for a long time until I gave into my music cravings again and changed the backdrop. Although I'd had the same favorite book for almost twenty years, once I found Lorrie Moore there was no going back. I read all her stuff in four months and decided I could have two favorite books. Now (and possibly forever), Lorrie Moore is my favorite writer.

In February, when I decided that Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? was worthy of sitting beside The Pigman each time I answer the Favorite Book question, I decided I ought to tell Lorrie about it. It has been my standard practice for a while to write fan letters when someone's creation moves me. Normally I do not experience much pressure during the process (except to find the right address) but this was different: writing to my favorite writer. About writing.

I spent about two weeks agonizing over how to express myself, and how to talk about the way Frog Hospital had affected me. I didn't want to come off as a presumptuous intellectual (like the kind who would attempt to shorten her title as in an industry write-up). Then one evening I reread her short story Go Like This and in the middle of that night it hit me--a voice in my head repeated, "Just tell her you like her." I got up and wrote two pages to her about how much I like her writing, and asked her to keep doing it. It was an emotional outpouring that I refined over a couple of days before sending, cleverly disguising it in a way that was *sure* to get it delivered to her University of Wisconsin office. It's one of my best pieces of writing.

When I finished Cartwheels in a Sari I wrote a fan letter to Jayanti Tamm, and she wrote back! We ended up organizing a DCPL event together for her book tour, and I've recently corresponded with her about how to get my own novel published. When I wrote to David Carr to tell him how often I refer people to his article on Why Twitter Will Endure, he wrote me back the sweetest message. I've written to dozens of journalists to thank them for particularly well-researched and well-written articles, and they often reply to thank me, and sometimes to say I've made their day. (Hint: Tell celebrities you are a librarian; they love that.)

Writing fan letters is an act of thanksgiving. It's often the only way to calm the gratitude--yes, gratitude--that spins inside me when I read, see, or hear something beautiful. Do you know that feeling? When something is done so well that you have to tell someone? Tell the creator. Write a fan letter.

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