Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mail Bag

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.


18 comments:

  1. The fan letters you received were very touching, Shirley, and must have been a wonderful bonus for the time and devotion put into your novels. I remember the very first fan letter I received - forwarded in the mail from Harlequin headquarters!- and how thrilled I was, realizing someone other than a friend or family member had actually read the book! Thanks for the reminder about the magic of fan mail for all of us.

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    1. Magic is the right word. I'm still thrilled to find that something I wrote could touch someone else in a positive way.

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  2. Being a lover of the written letter, I enjoyed this post, Shirley. A couple of months ago I received my first letter from a reader. Reading it was an emotional experience that I'll never forget.

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    1. I kept every fan letter I ever received, even the e-mail ones I print and store in binders. Some day when I'm feeling that no one will ever want to read what I write, I can refer to them and bring my spirits up.

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  3. A nice post. Like everyone else, I like nothing better than getting an "atta girl" from a reader. Thanks for sharing some of yours.

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    1. Atta girl. It's deserved. I've read your work and love it.

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  4. Shirley, thank you for sharing some of your letters. What a wonderful feeling to know your book helped someone through such a tragic time in her life. Like Janice mentioned, I'm always so touched and thrilled when someone takes the time to let me know how they enjoyed my work.

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    1. Isn't that true. With so much demand for time, they took a few minutes to say they liked your work.

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  5. I'm so happy to hear that fan mail is appreciated by authors. I've never written a letter to an author (which is odd because I love writing hand-written notes and letters), but if a book resonated with me I'll send the author an email or a private message on FB. Most respond. I recently sent Catherine Lanigan an email about her book that I'm currently reading, Sophie's Path, a Heartwarming title, which I'm enjoying so much I just had to let her know straight away. And of course she sent a lovely reply. ( :

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    1. I'd be amazed if the author didn't respond. There is that insecure feeling that readers will hate our stories, so even one letter with the "atta girl" goes a long way. I've written or emailed an author when I loved her book.

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  6. It must be an amazing feeling when you realize you impacted a reader's life with your story. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I love receiving fan letters, and cried over the email I got from a reader who said my book had changed her life. Our readers are FANTASTIC!

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    1. Ture, even if the change is small in our eyes, it may be huge to that reader.

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  8. Your post is an affirmation of the power of stories, Shirley. They're so much more than fun and games--even though we love that part of storytelling. But there's no question that stories have the power to change lives. Not to put any responsibility on our shoulders or anything! But really, it's true. Your post shows that. I think online reader reviews so often reveal the way readers relate our stories to their experiences and are touched by the commonalities.

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    1. You are so right. When I lived in DC, I had a friend and she and I were a book club of 2. We didn't know about bookclubs then, but we discussed books all the time, recommended them, talked about what the stories meant and how it affected us.

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  9. I once got a fan letter that paralleled every character in one of my books to members of the fan writer's family. She did names, ages, and jobs. She said if I'd set the book in Maine instead of Nebraska, she'd be convinced I knew her. LOL

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    1. Wow that is scary. It reminds me of the book THE HELP, not that the parallel was from one family, but the entire town of women, some who didn't even recognize themselves, but others did.

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