by Shirley Hailstock
I've never been in the military (college ROTC, no actual duty), but from stories my uncles told me and countless military movies I've watch, the mail was always a highlight of their time away from friends and family. The advent of e-mail has some of us dreading the day and the myriad of messages requiring our attention or the spam that seems out of control.
However, there is the mail we love - fan mail.
While authors are nervous that the fans will hate our books, it's so heartwarming to open an e-mail and find a glowing review or a story about how the book affected the reader.
"They got it," we cry and I mean cry; tears, sniffles and all.
So, to share with you some of the mail I've received (only the good or heartwarming letters), I got a letter from a woman who said she'd wanted to be more adventurous, but was afraid to buck her friends by doing something they might disapprove of, yet after reading one of my books, she was going to restart her life and live for herself. Four years later, I got another letter from her saying she'd gone parasailing, skied a black diamond mountain, had toured Iceland and was on her way to Dubai. I wasn't crying, but my hand was on my heart.
A heartwarming letter I got came from a nineteen year old woman who was in the hospital and had lost her baby three days after its birth. Her sister brought her one of my books. The book had a child who was in danger of dying. (My character comes out fine.) The reader said that book got her through the grief she felt. I was in tears by the end of the two-page handwritten letter. I can't imagine losing a child and then reading about another one in jeopardy. I feel blessed that I had a hand in helping her.
Prison mail, yes we get mail from prisoners. Apparently, romances are big in prison libraries. Many of these letters praise our stories, then ask for help, not with a lawyer or a method of getting them out of jail, but with a source to get their own books published.
Casting calls are a favorite read for authors. Readers love to send us mail about a book they love. They want it made into a movie. Many go so far as to cast the characters with Hollywood stars. Thank you. We love it and they are fun, but the reality of seeing our books on the small screen or the silver screen is almost a mathematically negative number.
Many authors write series books. These are the ones where there's a family or friends and each one gets a book. Readers love it because they invest in the series and love all the character. (Thank you, guys.) The mail that comes about these give the author's storylines for where the next book can go. Often the author can't use these. One, because they already have the books mapped out and two because even though an idea cannot be copyrighted, the author doesn't want any legal problems related to someone else's suggestion.
There are more letters than I have time to tell you about. You write them, so you know what's in your own, but maybe not what's in other people's mail.
As authors, we don't know the impact of our stories. We want to entertain our readers, give them wonderful adventures through words, but the themes that you identify, that touch your heart or alter your world are unknown to us.
When we open that fan mail account and see the surprise inside, it warms our hearts. So keep the mailboxes full. This is the kind of mail we're glad to open and spend time savoring.