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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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One Grey Night It Happened

Over the years, I’ve received my share of fan letters, marriage proposals from inmates, and the occasional hate mail. But today, I received a really shitty piece of hate mail, notable for its largely incomprehensible thought sequences, forced intimacy, and comparison of my tits to dirigibles or Subway sandwiches. Thank you for taking the time to write. Thank for defiling the beauty of an envelope, the sensual pleasure of opening a letter with a brass and ebony letter opener from Africa in the shape of a pelican. Thank you for taking my baby teeth, my pee in a wax cup, my first dance. Please take this stamp on your tongue like acid, like holy communion, like a child blind with happiness and know that you are not mine.

Do you write fan mail? Receive it?

62 Responses

  1. I don’t think we need three guesses here.

  2. Jeezus F.C., I drop in to post a quote from Adam Gopnik to the previous thread (“Genius can produce what it chooses” is the quote) and I find this instead. I’m pissed off now. Some people have shit for brains and they empty it into envelopes. What a fuckwad, whoever your correspondent was. Some guy, no doubt. I’ve been a guy all my life and and when we’re rancid, we stink not just to high heaven but all the way down to the anus of Satan.

    I don’t write fan mail, but sometimes when I’ve had extra sugar in my tea I guess I’ll post to someone’s blog that I like something they’ve done. And I still write my congressional representatives and tell them what I think, out of some dipsy-doodle delusion that it does any good. As for receiving fan mail–that is, an email or a snail-mail from a fan–I can count on one finger the number of times that has happened. It felt very, very good. (As do the nice comments on my blog, and no, I’m not coming on.)

    • I love that quote. BTW, the answer to the questions in the last post is “yes.” I tried to post that, but WordPress was having its fickle way with me.

    • Are you sure it’s only one finger, Tetman? I know I’m not the only one who digs you.

  3. I confess that I occasionally email Stephen Elliott when his Daily Rumpus is especially good. (They’re all good.) But I never mention his body parts. Only his writing.

  4. Who writes hate mail? That’s just so wrong. I will tell you this…I ordered your book “The Forest for the Trees” with a little trepidation, as I’m new to the “I-wanna-be-published-so-I-need-to-learn-about-it” world and when it came in the mail I sat down – feeling slightly nauseas because this is all making me stressed – and began to read. I do not, as a rule, enjoy non-fiction. Within one page I was hooked. I loved your book – not just for the information but also for the style of writing and the relaxed feel of the whole thing. So…there you go…anti-hate mail. Thank you for a fantastic book!!

  5. I do. Both. Now I feel like I need to write some especially good love mail as anti venom.

  6. I write fan mail all the time, to writers, mostly, when their work moves me, but once to my mail carrier (he wrapped my mail in a plastic bag when it was raining!) and once to the people who make the Vitamix blender (I mean, it makes kale palatable as a beverage, come ON). Hate mail? Never. NEVER. I do all my dirty work in person.

    Although Subway sandwich tits actually sound kind of delicious, I fucking hate that guy. Which means I’ve fallen into the trap, but you don’t have to.

  7. As a prolific writer to the editor of our local paper, I have received a fair share of responses from other readers. (Having an unusual last name and a LAN line listing provides easy access to my address and phone #.) Most notes and voice mails are positive and/or thank me for having the courage to write what needs to be stated. Several, though, have been very creepy and I am grateful in those instances that I have a large dog that answers to the name Bad Dog.

  8. A few years ago I took Carolyn See’s advice and sent letters of gratitude to two authors whose novels had kept me afloat during two very dark times in my young life.

    One letter went to Madeleine L’Engle for “A Wrinkle in Time” and the other to Ian McEwan for “Black Dogs”.

    I didn’t expect an answer of any kind, so when Ms. L’Engle’s daughter wrote back to say she had just moved her ailing mother to a nursing home I was glad I hadn’t waited another day to send praise.

    Always joy, heavy joy. That is what we are here for.

    • I took Carolyn See’s advice as well and received some incredibly kind notes back. My letters were not asking for replies, just wanted to drop you a note to say thank you sort of letters…some of the replies are tacked to my office wall and bring me a great deal of happiness.

      Sorry you got a shitty one, Betsy. Bastards. The shitty things people do to perfectly nice people seems to be a common thread on the blogs of your adoring readers, as well…the Lerner Spillover Theory at work, I suppose.

  9. CJ — what a great thing to do.

    When I was 8 I wrote to Noel Straetfeild, she of the ballet shoes books. I received back a very proper air mail letter (tissue thin blue, paper that folded into its own envelope) from her, which thanked me with sincerity for letting her know that I loved her and her books. I will admit that I said “god bless you,” in my fan letter because I’d already said “your books mean so much to me,” and “thank you for writing them.” I was going for a big wrap up, I think. In her reply, Noel Straetfeild said that he would bless me too, which meant a lot to me because I didn’t feel very blessed and I also thought she was probably in contact with those who doled out blessings. I have never since done anything like that because I know that any subsequent contact with those whose work I love will not be written in fountain pen and will not thrill me as that one did.

    But maybe that is silly. Maybe it is time for Betsy to get some fan letters written on nice paper, in nice ink, with truths in them rather than poison.

  10. I write fan mail and receive fan mail. So nice when that sort of thing happens.

  11. Since I write middle grade and young adult novels, I get very sweet letters from kids. Sometimes, though, they want me to do their book reports. Those are funny. For me, getting letters from kids who have read my books and take the time to tell me what they like about the story/characters is the best part of being an author.

  12. When I was about eight or nine, I wrote to an author named Marian Cockrell, begging her to write a sequel to her book, Shadow Castle. She sent me a lovely reply, adding that if she ever did so, she hoped I wouldn’t be too old to read it. Sigh. I’d still read that sequel today.

    And I’m fairly certain that hate mail to a self-loather results in a double negative, canceling each other out.

  13. I’m sorry, Betsy. It’s always tough when someone tries to take a dump in your swimming pool. At least most of these people aren’t capable of pulling down their pants first.

    Sorry–analogy fail. Or do i mean metaphor? It’s late and I’m tired.

    I just don’t see the point of hate mail—where’s the payoff?

    But I’m always stoked when someone takes the time to tell me they liked what I’ve written. And it make me feel good to tell others that I like their stuff. Win.

  14. I’ve only written one fan letter in my life. It was several type-written pages so after I mailed it, I was remorseful, imagining the author wiping it for prints, conjuring stalker scenarios.

    Turned out, she was moved to send me a thank-you you made my day postcard back. Which in turn made my day. It was really very Japanese manners with all the thank-yous back and forth.

    After that, I felt I’d sort of blown my wad, so no more fan letters. And I would never bother with hate mail. Now when I’m bowled over by a book I might mention it on facebook or something. Maybe it’s just that I’m a detumescent fan. A dried up reader with nothing but smiles and nods left in my bucket.

  15. sorry about “the troubles”. you’ve gotta know there’s a bunch of us that would give our left doc martens (purple) for you, yes?

  16. Many moons ago I wrote to the gay truculent writer and Nobel Prize winner Patrick White who in his old age wore a beanie and a livid jaw. I had read nearly all of his hard-hitting and remorseless books. I was a devotee.

    He left me like Voss in the desert.

  17. What the hell is wrong with people? To me this edges into scary mail. C’est dommage ma petite cherie. Never mind, it’ll be a big love fest here today. Kumbaya…

  18. Who cares what those fuckwits say. What matters is that you have this diehard collection of followers who know you matter. Where else would we check in every now and then to feed our writerly angst and tune it to what feeds us. I googled you to see what you looked like the other day. I wasn’t surprised that you were pretty. What surprised me is that you looked … happy.

  19. I wrote one fan letter to a writer, many years ago, that I was embarrassed about immediately. Gushing. Urgh. I do not receive fan mail, thank goodness.

  20. I will always regret not sending a letter to Diana Wynne Jones before she died. I had a strong urge to send one, but then I put it off, and weeks later she died.

    I wrote fan mail to Martin Seligman for “The Optimistic Child” because that book cured my depression, and I thought he ought to know. I wrote fan mail to you, Betsy. 🙂 But usually what I try to do is promote books I love on my blog, and then I have an excuse to tell the author that I was saying lovely things about him or her in public. And, er, make my fan mail look respectable. 🙂

    I’ve never sent hate mail. Not sure what the point would be. Do people really thing, “If I send this foul, vile letter insulting the author, she’ll turn it around and write things I like”?

  21. I’ve told people I admire their work, but I feel I sound insincere. Never received fan mail, never even thought about it.
    Letters like you received can really hurt, which is the sole intention, no matter what other reasons are given. There are as many assholes in the world as there are people; you just met a particularly foul one.

  22. I once got an email from a writing group member that started out talking about how much he admired my short story….and then it devolved into a discussion of how he found me attractive, in a Norseman sort of way, and was picturing me naked while wearing a helmet and nose plate.

    I am not making this up.

    I know an author who received a long, handwritten letter in the mail. It started out like a fan letter — how exciting! — and then it quickly derailed, with several pages that said nothing but “I am a writer. I am a writer” over and over.

  23. Hey Betsy, I think I wrote you a fan letter once. When I was a kid, I wrote to the entire cast of The Sound of Music and got back autographed photos of Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel. And for years I received notices about Patricia Neway’s (the Mother Abbess) opera appearances…no letter though. Mary Martin was my great love, which dates me, before the Julie Andrews days.

  24. When I read a book that I love, I write the author. I try to write the author a true letter on actual paper but it’s getting harder and harder to find snail mail addresses.

    Occasionally I get a note or email complimenting something I wrote. I float for days afterward.

  25. Only if I want something, and no.

  26. People are so fucked up. It’s actually kind of scary how fucked up they are.

    I sent a fan letter recently. It felt great because I didn’t have an agenda. I just wanted to tell this someone how talented I thought they were. Too few people take the time to compliment, especially parents to their children. It breaks my heart because, really, all any of us want is to feel appreciated. Such a simple notion and yet so out of reach for so many.

  27. Unfortunately, there are crazies out there, and if you have reached a large enough audience, you will attract them along with the delighted devotees. Know that there are exponentially more of us than of the one who sent you that poisoned missive.

  28. I receive fan mail in person, through my e-mail inbox or Facebook account.

    I receive hate mail through Amazon reviews, which, in effect, becomes my eternal personal record or what people truly think of the books I write.

    Sometimes I wish it was reversed.

    If you want “to throw me out of a moving airplane” (which somebody actually posted on an Amazon review), at least have the courage to say what you actually think to my face, or at least to my inbox. That way I can respond to you and tell you where you’re probably right.

    Additionally, we can delete the anger when all’s said and done, shake hands, and continue on with our lives, probably respecting each other. Even perhaps as wary friends.

    • I’m thinking that the person who wanted to throw you out of the plane may be related to the guy who threatened me with bodily harm when my design proposal was ranked higher than his submission. That kind of misplaced anger won’t allow such an individual to be courageous or even coolly polite. They are just attention seekers; ignore them.

  29. Nope. I admire from a distance. But re your fan letter on describing your breasts: gotta admit the subway sandwiches and dirigibles got my attention. Wasn’t certain if he(?) was thinking your breasts are large balloons or something to be consumed. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of Subway sandwiches, nor dirigibles…unless they have something to do with steam punk. All in all the dude sounds like a sick puppy. Keep a sharp eye out for lurkers when you come and go. As a fan I’d say yours appears to be a couple cans short of a six pack and I ain’t talking abs.

  30. I’ve never sent a fan letter. Too shy. I prefer to make wildly extravagant public displays of affection.

    Never received fan mail either, and that was bumming me out a bit until I stopped to imagine what that letter might look like: “Dear Averil, I love your work. That story about Lainey pulling a train was the best one yet! I imagined myself as the caboose. . . .”

  31. C’mon Jeff, man up and apoloize not just to Betsy but the whole blog. Then ask your old teacher K if she knows a good shrink.

  32. I don’t write fan mail. When I ran into Michael Caine at the local Whole Foods a few years ago, I told him I was a fan. He ignored me except for a nod. I don’t blame him for restraining himself. I do email writers occasionally if I really like their work or if I know them personally.

  33. I write to authors and journalists that have done something I really like and tell them straight away. I don’t care what their station, they love it. I stopped hacking away at those who rubbed me wrong on the Internet after reading comment threads and getting a sense of how that comes across. Good fan mail makes my day. The nuts freak me out. But I freak out about their nuttiness more than about my own constitution

  34. I don’t write fan mail. I do give alot of nice compliments to people I know about their attire, perhaps something about their work I observe, their car or the color they chose for their dining room. Most people like compliments, I find, but there are a few people who distrust them and some who come right out and call me a brown-noser. I like to give honest, deserved praise. I think people need to hear good words about themselves, as it can take the sting out of other unpleasant experiences that we all have. I like to do that. And, as to the second question: yes, I have received fan mail, believe it or not, for my lonely, little blog. People have even sent me nice cards or gifts to tell me how much they like my work. THAT is nice; it inspires me to do more and feel good about it. As for the kooks, they are out there and I am trained to spot them (a clinical psychologist.) And trust me, when I do, I make a wide path around them. And I don’t care if they are family or work-related or somehow otherwise “politically important.” I do it quietly and neatly, first (sometimes second, I don’t like to be to hasty in judgments) sign of trouble. This is a “no creeps allowed zone,” thank you very much.

  35. I wrote one fan letter — to my son’s high school English teacher for lighting him up about reading really good books. And like Nancy says above, this should be a ‘no creeps allowed zone.’ But some guys are simply beyond the pale. I’m sorry, and ugh.

  36. Creepy! There are some real crazies out there and that’s my official diagnosis.

  37. Subway sandwiches, jaysus. I can’t even walk by those places, with that yeast smell pouring out of the door. That’s bitter… burn some sage, Betsy.

    I write fan letters when I’m moved, and I can’t remember any going unacknowledged. Who doesn’t want to know when they really touch someone? It’s a mitzvah. I also tell strangers on the subway — I guess just women, now that I think of it — when I really like something they’re wearing or an accessory. We’re all trying our best, might as well pay it forward a bit.

  38. Fan mail to writers:

    Franklin Burroughs, for his essay, “Compression Wood.” It literally moved me so, that I woke my husband from a sound sleep to hear me read it to him, as well as taking the trouble to search for him on the internet. This was about ten years ago, so it wasn’t as easy to find him as it is now. He was so gracious in his reply, it was like hearing back from Santa Claus.

    Carolyn See, to tell her webmaster there was something wonky with her website. She wrote back thanking me, since she had no webmaster, and then I responded as a fan. She’s like the fun aunt I wish I’d grown up with. We have not kept in touch.

    Alice W. Flaherty, for The Midnight Disease. She politely replied.

    Tetman, for generously posting his notes from his writing workshop with Gordon Lish. I also like his stuff.

    Shanna. Her blog is wonderful. Go sign up for email updates, fellow Lerner Lurkers!

    Averil. I like her writing and am impressed by her steady output.

    I get fan mail all the time on Facebook. I’m a bit of a rabble-rouser, and shy people appreciate my speaking my mind when it reflects their views. Does that count?

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