• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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When I Give Love I Want Love in Return

FAME – A Five Part Series

Part Four

The all time best moment of my life was at a Christmas party last year. This scene actually happened IN FRONT OF MY DAUGHTER. I am introduced by the host to a young woman:

Host: This is Betsy, she’s written a book.

Young Woman: That’s cool. Is it anything I would have heard of?

Betsy: It’s a writing book.

Young Woman: Wait, are you Betsy Lerner?

Betsy: Yeah.

Young Woman: Oh my god, you wrote The Forest for the Trees. That’s a classic.

The only other moment that came close was when my dentist’s receptionist read my book, really liked it and now gives me preferential scheduling.

And fan letters. I think the fan letter may be the purest form of author appreciation. I receive two kinds  of fan letters. The first is where the person loves my book and wants me to sell theirs. As far as I’m concerned these don’t count. It’s like expecting a blow job just because you gave one. The other is where the person just loves the book and has no agenda. I get very few of these.

Please “share” a moment of fame or appreciation for doing that thing you do.

75 Responses

  1. That moment when our kids looked at us as authors and could see the book in our hands. I know it isn’t glamorous or amazing in the world of traditional publishing, but in my mind it was the most gratifying feeling.
    Then of course, the moment when our son came home and told us that his entire class looks at him differently. Because, his parents are authors. All of the amazing celebraties and Al Roker hugs in the world will never compare to that feeling. But then again, we are easily impressed and pleased.

  2. You mean besides the author of one of my favorite writing books saying that she liked the title of my WIP?

    Okay . . .

    I participated in an online writing challenge a year or so ago with some friends (sort of a slo-mo Nano) and ended up posting a novel-length story a chapter at a time (no editing allowed once the stuff was up) on a site where readers could provide feedback. It was a positive learning experience for the most part — even the negative remarks taught me important things (starting with the astonishing fact that they aren’t fatal).

    But one comment knocked the breath out of me. The reader wrote that she’d found my story the evening before and had enjoyed it so much that she’d read it straight through without a break until she’d finished it around 4am — even though she had an early morning flight to Europe the next day (she’d commented through her handheld while waiting at the airport).

    She said that she knew she could have accessed the rest of the story when she arrived (if not on the flight itself), but she’d still kept reading “just one more chapter,” because she had to know what happened next.

    So there’s one person out there who once thought a story of mine was worth facing airport security while suffering from acute sleep deprivation.

    That’s kept me going through some tough times.

  3. My most valued fan letters in reverse order:

    3. Stepdaugther, at age 20 – “Thank you for being there through my important years. You are the best Mama ever.”
    2. Stepson, at 16 – “It’s your birthday. Live it up! Maybe have 2 glasses of wine instead of one! I’m very glad you’re my mother – wouldn’t have it any other way.”
    1. Their birth mother, in a surprise Christmas card after years of not speaking to me: “Thank you for raising my children when I couldn’t.”

    Sorry. I know these have zippo to do with my writing/working life. But you said, “for doing that thing you do” and I feel like I’ve tripped and fumbled my way through the last 15 years of stepmotherdom. It’s priceless to have these few notes banked on the days/weeks/months when I screw up and piss everyone off —- like last Thursday.

  4. since you asked…

    a few weeks back, i got a very kind email from a news editor to tell me that he was picking up one of my columns for his paper. he was very complimentary, stating, “…I’m going to run it on our Saturday opinion page, because I A) admire your writing and B) completely agreed.”

    and then, i got this email after the column ran (i edited the scripture out):

    I read your column “Our own personal hell” in the paper a couple weeks ago. My question is, do you not believe the Holy Bible’s account of hell? I recommend that you read the Bible, study it and memorize it ….
    Your blood will not be on my hands….
    I am praying for you, Amy, and will have my church pray for you
    Love, Joy and Peace that only God can give,

    i don’t know which email i enjoyed more. i must say, i do love “your blood will not be on my hands” shortly followed by, “love, joy and peace”

  5. This is at least fifteen years old. At least. I don’t do math good. But way back when, I had this big thought that people give too much attention to the people on the stage, at small venues, at music shows, which I could afford, 500 folks. So, I would snake through the crowd to do what I now have been told is clown stuff, shaking hands, acting goofing, trying with all the little might I had at the time to get people to look at each other and not stare at the stage. Some hip-hop band, without a horn section, which I consider a crime, called me crazy-Jeff. On the mike, he said, “Crazy Jeff is in the house.” I didn’t know people considered me crazy. I didn’t know anyone knew I was there. It made my day, or night, whatever. This was a very long time ago for me, now, but my intention was to question the thoughts we have. Famous folks have thoughts that are worth thinking about? Is there a question the drug companies are making billions of dollars on our minds? Mind. That’s a word. Anyway, an accolade, as I see it. Probably a disruption, as some others see it. I have no idea. I don’t even care anymore, but it made me less afraid, that night. That was a good time for me, and it took a ton of beer. But now, I know the whole fame thing is an unnatural construction. So I say. I might just be crazy-Jeff. If you can prove to me that fame has a purpose other than using and abusing simple-minded, under-read, folks, I’d love to hear it. I’m still me. I’m just a whole lot more responsible now. Thanks, again, Betsy (Sorry about the E last time.)

  6. I am in the awkward position of resembling a local TV personality (poor darling, it is not intentional that we look like twins separated at birth!) and one of my clients has an office near her TV station. On several occasions I have been unable to convince her “fans” that I am not her! I feel obligated then- as a courtesy – to perform a little role-playing (e.g. thanking the ecstatic old man for watching “my” show every day, etc.) while hurrying on to my real job. I’m always amazed how a few kind words make these people so happy. Since she is a nice person, I’m glad to help her ratings!

    A surreal experience, yet an interesting glimpse of a different life. I’ve I’ve joked that hopefully, no one ever confuses her with me!

  7. Senior year in college, my favorite lit professor let me write a fiction piece instead of comparative lit. I had taken four of his classes, he was one of those people who could tell you the page in which edition someone was on when they asked the question. 19th century literature.
    I picked Jane Eyre and told him the ending had always bothered me, so I’d rewrite it for my final. He said, “I’ve never let anyone do this, so I better be able to taste what Charlotte was eating while she wrote every passage you’re going to write. This is not a blow off, Miss _____.”
    It was the only A I had gotten in his class. Ever. And he wrote at the end, “The true ending. You better do something with this.”

    The fact that I still remember it twenty years later says enough.

  8. This just happened to me last week. I was sitting with my sister while she was in intensive care, and I asked her if she’d like me to read her my WIP novel. Captive audience,, you know. So for the next 3 hours I read aloud to her. The nurses were in and out of the room every 15 minutes (they really meant the intensive part). After I finished, one of the nurses came back in and asked me what the name of the book was that I was reading to my sister because she wanted to see if her library had a copy so she could read it. My sister pulled the oxygen mask off her face and said, ‘It’s HER book, but it’s not done yet, she’s is still writing it.’ I don’t know which of the two of us was more delighted.

  9. Short piece of mine published in an online journal. The editor emailed me asking if it was okay to give my personal email address to a couple readers who wanted to let me know how moved they were by my story. Still have those email fan letters in a folder called “response”. Enough to remind me when I need to be why I write.

    • I love that people went out of their way to go through your editor. They had to look into it, wait, and then send a letter. In a day of immediate gratification, that says more to me than anything. Good on you.

  10. The first response I got back ever, for anything, was from a big short story competition last year. They get a few thousand entries… I got an email from one of the judges saying I didn’t win it, but got down to the last 18. I’ve had better responses since, but simply because that was my first response, and I was expecting the biggest, solidest brick wall rejection, it was awesome.

  11. The woman who told me she was reading my book to her best friend who was dying so they could laugh together before she left.

    Another woman who had not dealt with her father’s death and cried for four days after reading the book.

    Same book.

  12. One of the best responses to something I wrote was just yesterday. In an online workshop venue, I asked a grammar question about a sentence I wrote.

    Besides responding to the grammar question and without having ever read the story, the responder jabbed the story in the ribs by saying the sentence sounded stilted, very much like a translated sentence and should be rewritten in any one of several ways he suggested.

    From the first word in the novel, my co-author and I had paid some considerable sweat and blood and argument into writing an English speaker’s ‘voice’ that sounded like it was translated.

    The detractor also posited that he knew what he was talking about with the translation jibe and listed his bona fides as a dabbler with ESOL sorts. He convinced me with words that he knew what he was talking about.

    Not having the benefit of such august bona fides, I’d depended on my good ear and the memory of the rhythms and patois of ESOL speakers for my courage in helping to create this voice .

    Here is the sentence:
    Sounds of life before daylight, or hunger – I’m not sure which – is responsible for waking me up.

    I’d love to get more jibes, including grammar jibes, but will warn you that the jibe I’ve already gotten is right at the top of the highest praise I’ve ever gotten for writing.

    Can life be any sweeter than convincing a detractor?

    Memphis Trace

  13. Not to gloat, but I seem to recall a couple of times when someone or another inadvertently hit the “like” button regarding some comments I made on facebook.

    It was no big deal. Seriously, it wasn’t! I’m, *like* still totally the same humble guy.

    • Old School, you crack me up every single day. *like*

    • i want to like this, then unlike it, just so i can like it again.

      • Ben,

        When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I had no problem (physically-speaking) with liking, re-liking, and occasionally even re-re-liking smeone in the same evening.

        I was cock-sure and always poised at the ready.

        Even as I entered middle-age, my wife was assured that whenever the moment was right, I was ready to like her. Always.

        But the not-so-hard reality was that I began finding it increasingly problematic to re-like her in the same evening.

        I’m not suggesting that this was the sole reason for our divorce, because it wasn’t. And, yet, a part of me feels that that part of me must surely have played a part.

        But then again, my inability get through a 24-hour period with making mistakes, errors, boners, or areas of highly focused — yet nonetheless cataclysmic — devastation certainly influenced the erosion of our marital embankment.

        Oh, dear. Why must I always re-erect the past?

        I’d much rather be re-erecting the future.

        I’d like to think that my ability to re-like and re-re-like someone has just been on an unofficial hiatus, but until I’m shown otherwise, I’ll just have to do whatever I can to make sure the first like is always a doozy.

        There’s nothing quite as fulfilling for me in bed (or anywhere, really) as making a woman feel as if her feet have been transformed into a pair of jester’s slippers.

        If I were to somehow re-connect with that ability to re-like and re-create those toe-curler moves, the feeling of fulfillment I’d get from that would be overflowing.

        I’d be a one man sprinkler of assorted bodily fluids. The Johnny Appleseed of the joys of downstairs renovation.

        Yes, I like people. But sometimes just liking them isn’t enough.

      • You’ve lost that liking feeling.

  14. Every time the dentist gives my kids a clean bill of health, I give myself a little pat on the back. It might not be a letter of recognition sent directly my way but deep down I know I’m responsible for it.

  15. I love this post. I love all your posts, actually, but I’ve been thinking recently– really really contemplating stepping out of the shadows of all the blogs I lurk in. I am the creepy guy on the internet, hiding in the bushes of your blog. I never comment. Not even when something you’ve written has made me laugh out loud and talk about it all day. I’ve shown your blogs to my husband, passed entries along to my friends and gotten at least one person addicted to you. You elevate blog writing. You make me want to be a better man, um, woman. Writer. And you wrote an amazing book that made me BE a better writer (please god let that sentence make sense).
    Thank you for the reminder– if I love something or someone, I should probably tell them.
    And thanks for all the words.

  16. I’ve been fortunate to have received a number of those no-agenda notes from readers. But my favorite is a note from my daughter and son, soon after learning that my novel would be published, telling me they were proud of me. Nothing’s going to top that.

  17. After my first book was published, a review in a GLBT magazine referred to me as “one of the best lesbian writers…” I’m not a lesbian, but I loved that the reviewer thought I was and wrote such nice words.

  18. My best fan moment was when I was eating at a restaurant on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, and the waiter recognized my name on the credit card slip. He brought us all free drinks for the rest of the evening. That felt like movie star stuff!
    But just this morning I got a letter from a student that said she was rationing herself to one story of mine per month, to make them last. That is going to make me write hard today.

  19. I had a brief fling with notoriety when I won a “writing” contest, and that was cool and then it was over. Quite a long time afterward I wrote a brief fan note to a blogger (one on Betsy’s list, as a matter of fact), and she wrote back, including a link, and said, “Is this you?” Apparently she had Googled my name and found my infamy. I admitted that it was me, and she said, “Good job!” I printed out that e-mail, believe me. Some things you have to save on paper.

  20. “It’s like expecting a blow job just because you gave one.”

    I love laughing in the morning…it just sets the whole day off better.

  21. The hardest to receive : a mother who hugged me and said “SDAA was his favourite book when he was little!” We were at a memorial celebration. I started to cry. She hugged me again and said “There,there, but don’t you see, it’s such a happy memory! Thank you for writing that book. ”

    The opposite and funniest: I’m in a mall selling and woman stops, picks up the book —( it’s an adult novel.She takes a really close look at the cover. )
    “This yours?”
    “Yes”, I say.”
    “Well”,she says, “I’m blind, so I ain’t reading it.”
    I still wake up in the middle of the night laughing over that.

    • That works on so many levels, doesn’t it?

      • Sadly, most of the malls in Seattle just have one level.

      • Sheree,

        Your anecdote about the dead kid’s mom hugging you at his funeral and telling you that your x-rated book was her late son’s favorite when he was a child brought tears to my eyes.

        That said, I am slightly troubled by your reaction to blind woman’s plight.

        I think I’m safe in assuming that if you were to one day lose your own eyesight, you wouldn’t find yourself, in the weeks and months that followed, waking up in the middle of the night and laughing over the fact.

  22. I’ve saved mementos from my time of worshipping at the altar of power; thank you’s for my sick perfectionism, high worded referrals. I’m waiting for someone to tell me I’ve moved them. In the meantime, I love you Betsy. Just because.

  23. There’s no such thing as a free blow job, silly.

  24. When I gave a blow job, I damn well expected one in return. And I damn well made sure I got it. (The trick is, don’t go first.)

  25. After one of my stories appeared in a literary magazine recently, someone emailed me to say how much the story moved him. (And no, he had no agenda.) That was pretty great.

  26. I commented on a Smurf story on Cracked (dot) com and someone replied it was better than the story.

    I don’t have a penis.

  27. I’d love to share a moment. Only problem is there aren’t any to share. Call me Jude the Obscure. Or The Invisible Man (Ellison’s not Wells’s–just because). I pass this way unnoticed.

  28. The best writer feedback I give is spontaneous. I emailed Stephen Elliott a quick note that said “Your writing blows me away.” Bang. Hit send. He wrote back thank you within minutes. Now I feel like a jerk because I’ve been visiting this blog for months and never said the same thing to you, Betsy. Because your writing does – it blows me away. I pick up The Forest and thumb through it looking for specific lines and that’s not something I do with other books. So thank you for doing that thing you do.

    I just found out that some of my photos are being used in a literary magazine. It’s not my writing that’s getting the attention, but it’s a compliment and I like it.

  29. Today, an old lust interest told me that my book is in his bedroom with Anna Karenina and a book on medieval art or something. (He didn’t read it, but his daughter did.)

    A few weeks ago, when a sentence from my book was used as the M-W Word of the Day, I got an email from someone who ordered the book and read my whole blog and loved it.

  30. August — yes, our August — once told me that he didn’t hate my book.

    I still cry, just remembering the moment.

  31. When my editor wrote in a letter of reference that my pet/wildlife column had a huge, beneficial impact on the community, especially in the way they regarded – and subsequently – treated animals.

  32. I wrote a short story called “Sammy Beneath the Freeway” back in the ’80s. It was the L.A. Latino gangworld done up in magical realism. It ran in something called “L.A. Style” that was nationally distributed, but is now defunt.

    Aaaaaanway, two years ago, in my job as a reporter, I was talking with an organizer for the electricians union down in San Diego and she asked me if I was the same Stephen Siciliano who had written “Sammy Beneath the Freeway.”

    She’d studied literature in Wisconsin and the story had been distributed to her class by the professor who was very fond of it.

    That was so many years ago and the fact she remembered it, and the circumstances by which she was introduced to the story, was a big thrill.

  33. Laptop, $1,200
    Paper and postage, $145
    Caffeine and Ice Cream, $3,457
    Touching another human being on their squishy heart area, priceless.

  34. I’ve been putting up my notes from Bible studies on a blog since 2004, and people at church, when they hear my name, realize it is the one that writes the blog. This means a lot to me as I sit under great teachings and they get spread to others across the world through the blog.

  35. My brother-in-law, also a writer, was not at all encouraging about my first attempts at fiction. A couple of months ago, he read one of the erotic stories on my blog and left this comment: Um, wow.

    It’s a dark, ugly story, so my first thought was, Shit, he hates it. I’ve offended him. Won’t Thanksgiving be awkward this year?

    But later he sent me a flattering email, referring to my stories as literary erotica. (So fancy!) He said the violence made his pulse jump in spite of himself, and he never could have imagined ME, writing THAT.

    Still waters, baby. Pass the green beans.

  36. Welp, Britney Spears keeps sending me weight-loss tips! That counts for something, right?

    Truly a lot of the personal thank-yous/appreciations are the best–thank-yous from people I’ve helped direct toward treatment for clinical depression and the like.

    Have been indirectly complimented many times by having had people “borrow” my ideas and run with them. Evs.

    Guess writing-wise what means the most is that a few writer acquaintances who are tremendously talented, smart, funny, published, fairly well known, blahdy blahdy have said things to me like: “Your writing is funny, insightful, inventive, surprising. All you need is the time, resources and support to finish something and you’ll be published and read.” I am SKEPTICAL, mostly, occasionally mildly hopeful. Though lately am more skeptical and discouraged than anything else–and distracted by financial pressures, etc. We all are, I think, or most of us. So it goes, right?

  37. Honestly, I feel the same way about your book as the young woman in your post feels. Your book and Stephen King’s On Writing are the two books I turn to when I need some perspective on this crazy writing life. And I don’t want anything from you either.

  38. Well a couple of things

    Several people said my book has made it easier to talk about issues surrounding race.

    The young lady whose heroic act my book is loosely based on feel say she feels redeemed for all the hell she caught for doing what was right.

    A hundred people came to my book launch party and not just for the food. (Okay maybe for the peach cobbler, the pound cake and the lemon tarts and oh yeah that huge flourless chocolate cake)

    My niece thinks I ‘m the coolest aunt in the world. And I’m going to speak to her class next week about justice and the true meaning of grace.

    My sister finally feels at peace about the deaths of my mom and dad

    Even if I don’t make a dime, my book has been a success. .

  39. I once wrote a farewell message in our temple newsletter for a beloved couple who were moving away. One of the leaders of our community, a powerful yet sweet man who risked his life as a missionary in the former USSR, read it and called me. He said, “I read your piece. When I die, will you write something about me?”

  40. I liked your book. But I don’t expect a blowjob just because I bought the book.


  41. just today:

    “Most of your sentences are like punches to the chest.”

    I was then informed that this is a compliment. 🙂

  42. A woman came up to me outside of Starbucks. My daughter Charlotte was pretending that she was anywhere else in the world but with me. She was at that mother-averse age of 15.
    The woman said, “I just have to tell you how much I loved the MoMoirs performance at the library. This must be Charlotte, your daughter.
    “Yes,” I said.
    “No,” said Charlotte at the same time.
    “Did you know your mother has written some wonderful pieces about you?” the woman said.
    “No,” said Charlotte.
    “You must be very proud of her,” the woman said.
    Charlotte looked at the woman and then at me and then she smiled and said: “She’s o.k.” And then she patted me on the cheek.
    (Applause, applause.)

  43. Dear Betsy,

    As a writer of the fan letter of the kind that doesn’t count, I want now to write you a fan letter for realz. The thing that I love about your writing (books, blog) is that you do play it straight. And here’s the coolest thing: the self that came across in Food & Loathing and Forest “felt” the same as the you that I met at Breadloaf. Maybe you’re really good at presenting a polished performance self, but I don’t think so. (We all do a little polished self-performance, but there’s performing and there’s performing.) This blog of yours is so alive and engaged. You’re wicked funny. Your daughter and husband are cute and seemed nice! And I recommend your work to my writing students. Regularly. (Now can you feel the love?)

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