Writing to a writer is terrifying. Anything you say will surely be judged, and you will lose because they, after all, are the real writers. Better to leave that fan letter unwritten.
On the other hand, so many books have given me so much pleasure that it began to seem downright rude that I never told the authors about it. But then there was the matter of finding their addresses. Writing to someone in care of a publisher seemed too impersonal. But what else was there?
Then there was the problem of salutation. I could never think about writing to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., without addressing him that way. No "Mr. Vonnegut" for me. I couldn't even leave off the junior. However, by the time I finally wrote to him, he himself had dropped the junior, so that problem was solved.
In fact, a wrote a small flurry of fan letters many years ago. I praised their writing and then asked for even more: I wanted their photographs, too. Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut totally ignored me, but Anne Tyler, Alice Hoffman, Sarah Bird, and Dave Barry all wrote back. Only the first and last on that list produced photos, but it was still thrilling to get their cards in the mail.
It all started with Alice Walker in 1984. I'd written a raving eleven-page handwritten letter to her after having read The Color Purple. She responded with a handwritten card that had her picture on the front. How I cherish that!
But then the computer came on the scene -- even my scene. I have now downloaded and printed not one but two pictures of Stephen King -- the way I remember him when I first started reading him, and the current guy. I asked Alexander McCall Smith's photographer for the opportunity to buy a photo, but he sent me two, absolutely free. Graham Clark sent them from Scotland, at his own expense. How exciting and generous!
I ee'd Ron McLarty to praise him for The Memory of Running. I asked for a photo and he sent one. Yay!
Christopher Moore sent me a file I could print. Okay. Fine. That's what inspired me to just go to writers' sites and pluck the photos from there. That was before I realized how much ink it takes to print a full-color photo. But that was before I discovered that The UPS Store will print 'em for thirty-five cents.
My point (perhaps) is that I've long had relationships with writers ... first just in my head, but then on paper, and finally via email. Even email has a certain distance, though.
But then I praised Diane Hammond's Hannah's Dream right here in this blog and she responded with a comment! That was really exciting. A handful of friends were just as giddy as I. It's really a thrill to hear from a Real Writer.
But look what happened last night -- and here's that toes-on-tongue moment you've all been waiting for. Remember my trashing Jessica Barksdale Inclan's book, The Matter of Grace, yesterday? Well, so does she!
Yes! Mister Google, ever a busybody, informed Jessica ... er ... Ms. Inclan of my sin, and she came and read my blog and left a comment and now I'm all embarrassed and appalled and wondering what to do. What if I put Olga's picture at my home page here instead of my own? What if I change my name? Maybe I'll move to Ocala.
The thing is, even with Diane Hammond's comment, I still think I'm basically just nattering away and that all both of my Devoted Readers check in now and again, chuckle or frown, and move on. I never think about how far-reaching my yammerings might be. It's like I was gossiping with some friends and happened to mention, with no real malice intended, that Jessica's knee socks are baggy, and then I look up, grinning from my evil comment, and see Jessica standing close enough to hear.
Instead of reaching out and slapping me, though, instead of snarling, "Oh yeah? Well, your mom wears ankle socks!", Jessica just looks down at her socks and kind of likes the way they're relaxed and happy on her shapely legs.
I told Liz I'd have to monitor what I say from now on. "Oh, really?" she said, her voice deep with disbelief and disagreement.
Olga says, "You'll have to decide if you're going to be true to yourself or not."
The thing is, I'm built true to myself. One shrink said I have no filters. (He didn't offer to install any, by the way.) I suppose I'll just keep on doing what I do. I am Out There, aren't I? I like to think it started with driving an art car. About eight years ago, my artist friend Betsy Lester watched me drive up to some event at The Arts Center in my freshly painted car. "Boy, you're really Out There, aren't you?" she exclaimed. I was puzzled. I thought all artists were Out There. But it turns out they're not. Not necessarily. Betsy, for instance, is Out There ... in a gallery, not on the open road.
Now I think I was Out There in my mind long before I ever painted a car. And I guess I'll remain Out There because I don't know how to be anywhere else. And Jessica's response was so funny and sweet and forgiving and humble (she knows her size) that -- so far, anyhow -- it doesn't hurt to be Out There.
So There I am.