Monday, August 17, 2015

The Letters You Write (An Ode to Readers)

Amber Leigh Williams

When I was ten, my grandmother told me how she and her two sisters wrote to movie stars in the '40's and '50's. This was back in the days of true Hollywood glamour, when the idea of “celebrity” was not necessarily taboo. These were the days of the Hepburns. Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Stewart. There was Vivien Leigh and Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth. Not to mention, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, and John Wayne. Some stars would write back to them, some would not. Nonetheless, it gave the three girls no less a thrill knowing their words and penmanship traveled from a small town in rural Alabama to California and the hands of someone great.

After hearing this story, I got a few of my friends together and had a “fan mail” party. We wrote cards and letters, included school pictures of ourselves and the beaches we lived close by. I wrote to the Backstreet Boys, JTT, and Han Solo (who, I found out, was moonlighting as a handsome, middle-aged actor named Harrison Ford). Much of our mail went unanswered, lost in the shuffle or simply disregarded. However, a few wrote back and thanked us for the kindness and encouragement. I hardly remember who wrote back, but I remember the return message – “thank you.” As if a word from a kid who lived on a very small island in Florida had touched or bolstered them somehow.

Several years went by. I grew more reserved and internal. Writing was rapidly becoming that thing I wanted to do with my life. When I wasn’t writing or involved in school activities, you could find me sitting on the screen porch pouring over the words of other writers—in books, magazines, newspapers. The letters I sent out into the world changed. I no longer wanted to write to celebrities. Not the ones I saw on television or in the movies, anyway. I wrote to authors. At fourteen, I read A Girl Named Summer by Julie Garwood. The same year I read Nora Roberts’ first book for Silhouette, Irish Thoroughbred. Both made me want to write love stories. In my 10th grade English/Lit class, I read The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Miserables, and Romeo and Juliet. If Dumas, Hugo, or Shakespeare had still been alive at the time, I would have flooded their collective inboxes with fan mail.
My sister and me reading to each other poolside....
When I turned sixteen, my younger sister read The Hatchet and together we drove to see Gary Paulsen speak at our local community center. We read the Harry Potter series and wrote personal letters to J.K. Rowling thanking her for filling our long summer days with stories of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and Privet Drive. We thanked her for the rare companionship and commonality the books provided. (We didn’t agree on much. We didn’t even mutually like that many things. But we loved those books with enough delight and passion to fuel our imaginations for years to come.) My sister thanked Jo for the character of Ron who she hoped to someday marry. I informed her that my Hogwarts letter seemed to be very late and asked which Houses we could expect to be sorted into (hinting very plainly that it didn’t have to be the same one).

This was in the fledging days of Amazon and eBay, Yahoo and Google. There wasn’t a place readers like me could go to write reviews or chat about books other than book clubs in the city I was too young to attend. So snail mail and the occasional email address offered by an author was really my only way of telling these writers how much their work had moved me. Today, it’s much easier to let a writer know how we feel about their work. It’s nice having outlets like Goodreads, Amazon, blogs, and Twitter to rate/review/brag on/debate the latest read. As much as I craved reviews and professional feedback in the beginning of my writing career, it’s the reaction of the readers, those words they write on review sites, and the emails they send that have the most impact.

Last week, I could hardly find a scarce moment to breathe, much less write. One night, my toddler was having a meltdown. My newborn wouldn’t nap for more than a half-hour at a time. Bedtime rolled around and the hub took over, getting everyone situated for the night while I sat down and took a moment. There was a spit-up stain on my shoulder. I had yet to eat dinner and my stomach was growling but first I opened my email…and there was a note from a reader. The praise and encouragement therein could not have come at a better time and despite the trying afternoon and evening, I stayed up and wrote.

Signing Forever Amore for a fan...also my sister, LOL
That’s the thing. Just like every reader, our favorite writers are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. Some are stay-at-home parents and many leave the house for day jobs. Sometimes they have bad days, whether from writing itself or from everyday stress. Sometimes they need that little extra something to bolster them through those late night writing sessions after the kiddies go to sleep to let them know they’ve reached someone else’s mind or heart.

Once I was lucky enough to be seated next to an established author at a book-signing. I was looking forward to speaking to her about the industry, about what made her so successful, and about writing itself. However, just before they opened the room for readers and their books, a friend of hers came to the table and asked, “How was the signing in [city]?” The author sighed wearily and said, “I had the worst headache. The line was so long and I just wanted it to be over.”

I was shocked. As the signing commenced, I couldn’t bring myself to ask her questions. Nor, for the longest time after the signing, did I have it in me to pick up any of her books to read. Without readers, we as writers wouldn’t be successful. Beyond that, every writer is a devoted reader. They must be. Therefore, they know exactly how powerful a story can be and the potential impact it can have on a reader’s life. Even the most prominent authors take every opportunity they can to express their gratitude to readers. Madeleine L’Engle once said, “The author and the reader ‘know’ each other; they meet on a bridge of words.”

So I’d like to take a moment to say “thank you” to our Superromance readers, to readers everywhere, for the support, the kindness, and for meeting us on that wonderful bridge!

Happy reading!


Mary Preston said...

Years ago I write to an author who lives in England. He wrote a series of books about an antique car. My son just loved these books. The author wrote back with a beautiful letter and an autographed photo of the real car that inspired the stories. My son was thrilled to pieces. We still have the letter & photo tucked away in one of the books.

It was a simple thing for me to do, but it made everyone so happy.

Amber Leigh Williams said...

Mary, so great that he wrote back personally! My aunt and uncle gave me an autographed book once with a personal letter from the author inside. It was one of my favorite presents as an adolescent.

Sonya said...

In 1999 I wrote (by hand and from Australia) to an Emmy and Golden Globe-winning actress.
And then pretty much fell over when I received a hand-written response! I don't think that happens now, in the age of social media (mind you, I wrote about a particular issue, and she wrote about the same issue, so her "people" probably recommended my letter).

I don't comment here much at the moment, but Supers are still my go-to category romances.

penney said...

20 years ago when I lived in England I wrote letters to my Mom and everyone else here in the USA. Now living here we all talk on the phone or by email. hehe hand writing sounds old fashion now.

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