Saturday, February 12, 2011

What Really Knocks Me Out

The very first author I wrote to was Judy Blume in what I think was the sixth grade. Like pretty much all girls my age I had read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret so many times that I could practically recite the entire book by heart (“We moved the Tuesday before Labor Day. I knew what the weather was like the second I got up.”). Although I will say that though Judy Blume’s books appealed to me because they were just about ordinary kids, I was also drawn to the great Paul Zindel, whose books were always set in Staten Island and whose main characters were always miserable and lonely and freaks of some kind. Anyway, after writing to Judy Blume, I was greatly disappointed to receive from Judy a very friendly but unmistakable form letter, since of course being so busy she couldn’t possibly answer every fan letter she got, much as she wanted to. What made this even more of a crushing blow was that another girl in my class had written to the much-lesser-known YA author Paula Danziger and had received a handwritten letter in green ink! With drawings and everything! So disappointed was I by Judy Blume’s response that I didn’t write to another author for years. But then when I did, it was a different story entirely.

You know that thing that Holden Caulfield says in The Catcher in the Rye? “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.” This is pretty much the reason I started writing to authors again.

Way back before the internets were invented, this was more of a challenge than it is now, but it turns out that I was usually up to the task. Which is why, when I happened to look through an old Manhattan phone book (thanks, Dad, for never throwing things like that out!) about fifteen years ago, and found David Sedaris’s address on Thompson Street, well, I figured that was reason enough to write. And he sent me back a lovely typewritten letter from France, which is where he was living at the time, and in addition to a bunch of other things he mentioned how the day before, while taking a walk in the woods, he saw a fox and screamed like a girl and ran. (Oh David, may you never stop screaming like a girl.) After this, well, I have pretty much always tried to write to authors that I particularly like, sometimes for the mere fact of thanking them for their great writing. It’s not like I’m writing to authors regularly or anything. Just, you know, maybe once a year or so. But take note, Judy Blume, you were the first and last author to respond with a form letter!

And now we come to my most recent experience of writing to an author, an author I once dared to disparage on this very blog. What happened was that I was pretty sure he wasn’t very funny, even though much of the literary world seemed to be certain that he was. And then I read something recently he wrote and I found it funny! This was kind of startling actually. I went in so sure I would hate it and I didn’t! Either I had been wrong all along or his writing was now completely different. I have no idea. Though I’m not sure if I should spend too much time pondering why the complete turn around. (I mean, wasn’t it the great poet Madonna who said “life is a mystery”?) Thus after this transforming experience, I figured, well, I’d been going around knocking this guy for some time (though it is safe to say he had no idea) and I decided to come clean. So I wrote an email to him apologizing for thinking he wasn’t funny when he was in fact funny! And he wrote back very graciously accepting my apology, saying he was funny enough. Which just confirms the fact that authors really like being written to. I mean, despite notable exceptions, you might even say that authors write for an audience. And of course, if you think about it, people who spend a good portion of their lives writing are probably the sort of people that are going to write you back.