One of the things that I had simply never factored into the equation when I started publishing books… was people writing to me, from here there and everywhere, people whose only connection to me was the story that I had written, and they had read.
A note that was at once disconcerting and massively ego-boosting came from a reader of one my foreign editions, who told me that after reading “Jin Shei” she had put me squarely at the top of her Favorite Authors list, supplanting the current crown-holder. Who was… Ken Follett. You know, the guy who wrote “Pillars of the Earth”. THAT Ken Follett. I mean, wow. This would take some living up to.
Someone I had met personally, very briefly, who had been encouraged to purchase “The Secrets of Jin Shei” by a mutual friend, wrote, Damn you. Damn you! I didn’t sleep but 5 hours last night, because I could not stop reading Jin-Shei. (I can think of few sweeter reasons for damnation. I was grinning for days…)
Another friend phoned me from Florida at 3 AM to scream at me across the continent, “You KILLED HER! How could you kill her?!” when a favorite character met an apparently premature (according to her) demise.
Somebody else wrote on a blog somewhere, “And as for Lihui, I wanted to choke him until those gorgeous eyes of his popped right out!” (Any time I can get that response with a fictional character, well, my work here is done, as it were…)
And then there’s the utterly un-obvious demographic – all of the above comments were from women readers who might have been expected to enjoy this sort of a book, but on the heels of all that came a note I sincerely treasure, from a male reader writing in an obviously African American voice, who told me that he was moved to tears by certain parts of the book (but that I should definitely not tell his homies this). He also said he would tell all his friends about it. Somewhere I had a devoted circle of readers to whom I had never thought my story would reach out – and this is the kind of moment we writers live for, the knowledge that the readers are out there, and that some of them care this much.
But one of my favorite stories about my stories had to be the guy who wrote to me to tell me about the time he was taking out the trash at his condo when he happened to notice a stack of books that somebody had left – obviously discards, but left by the trash chute rather than tossed down it, for anyone potentially interested. Most of them were various incarnations of ageing reference books – but one, a new and apparently unread paperback novel… was my “Hidden Queen”. (By this stage I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry…) In any event, he decided to pick up the novel and keep it around for something to read, you know, if he got bored and stuck without anything better to do. Two days after this, he continues, he picked up the book and read the first couple of paragraphs, figured it was lightweight “airport reading” type material, put it down again… picked it up three or four days after that… and didn’t lay it down again until he was done, five days later. He put down “Hidden Queen”, went straight out to buy “Changer of Days” (the sequel), and devoured that 24 hours later.
He described the original discovery of “The Hidden Queen”… as “a very nice accident”. Whoever originally bought the book did not find it remotely worth keeping – or, apparently, even reading – but somehow stories will find a way. They grow through cracks in concrete, like wild flowers, and they’ll catch the right eye.
Oh, there’s more where all of this came from. Lots more. I have a particular attachment to the letters I’ve received from kids, both older teens and some as young as eleven, who had read my YA stuff and had to write and tell me about it. I would love to think that the story of THIS actually continues into the future – that these young readers, after they put down my own books, picked up others, somebody else’s and continued on this fabulous reading life. Just as I, once, had done when I was their age. I started reading… and simply never figured out how to stop.
And – as a writer – every kind word that comes my way, or every passionate and emotional response that I’ve managed to carve out of a reader, it all makes me treasure this, what I do, more than ever. If there’s an author YOU particularly love, find a way to tell that author this. They may not know that they are waiting for such a note, but if it comes their way, when it comes, it is manna from heaven, it is food for their inspiration and their passion, a replenishing of the wellspring of their ideas and their stories, and out of your handful of words telling a writer thanks for a story past there will come a hundred new stories waiting to be born.
Tell your writers stories about their work, and how their work has found a place in your own life. Tell them. Watered by the elixir of your response to their worlds, they will blossom like flowers in the desert. We – the writer tribe – thank every reader out there for sharing our stories; without you, what we do would have no purpose, and no meaning. So tell us your stories about our stories. It’s a little bit like receiving postcards from the children of our hearts after they’ve left home and gone out into the world to live their own lives – and it’s ALWAYS good to hear back from them and see how they’re doing.