Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fan Mail

Today I opened my email and found not one, but THREE letters from young people who have been reading my books. Pasted below is one of them, but all three were equally wonderful.

hi.I am obsessed with your books. i just finished kats fall and it was the best book i have ever read. not many books keep me entertained through out the whole book but this one did. i loved it so much and now i am reading dancing naked and so far i love it. my mom and brother went to one of your workshop things and bought some of your books so when im done dancing naked i will read sun sighns. i just thought you should know that i loved you book and you should never ever stop writing because you have an amazing talent as a writer.from your #1 fan

I wish I could reach out and hug these girls. These letters mean SO much to me. As authors, we send our new books out into the world without any idea of how they will be received. Even in fiction we feel that we are exposing our souls to the world through our writing, and we wonder how the world will respond. There is always a long, painful 'nothingness' when they are first launched, and we think.... is anyone reading it? Do they hate it? And then the professional reviews start dribbling in. When they're good you want to scream Hallelujah! and dance naked in the moonlight. When they're bad you feel practically suicidal. There's nothing like waiting for reviews to expose your every insecurity. Anne Lamott describes the feeling perfectly in her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It's a 'must read' for all new writers.

It wasn't until I took up writing myself that it ever occurred to me to write and tell an author what their book meant to me. I have now written about a dozen fan-mail type letters to authors. I should have written dozens more. The professional reviews tell us what professional critics think of our stories, but hearing from our actual targeted audience is SO much better. I have a binder full of letters similar to the one above, and on those days when the writing is not going well and I wonder why I even bother... I just have to pull out the binder, read the letters, and I find the inspiration to continue writing.

Let's not stop at just telling authors how much we enjoyed their books. Let's tell our neighbours how much we enjoy gazing at their gardens, or the check-out clerk at the grocery store how we always choose their aisle because of their great smile or a special teacher how they inspire us. So often we assume that other people know what their strengths are, but we all need reminders. Go on. Do it. Make someone's day.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

A True Story

The above photos were taken by my daughter, Cara. (Isn't she clever? The black background in the 2nd picture is simply a black t-shirt. Brilliant.) The top one is of a hemp bead bracelet that my publisher is distributing with review copies of my new book, Gotcha!. The bottom one is of the actual book. As I've said before in this blog, I am so pleased with this cover art. Orca Books could not have done a better job of packaging my story. Now I just have to worry about whether the story is worthy of the packaging.

That leads me into the true story part of this post.

An artist, a musician and a writer were relaxing over cups of coffee after their yoga class. They were discussing 'completed projects'.

The artist said, "When I look at my completed paintings, I always want to reach for a paintbrush and rework parts of the painting."

The writer said, "As I do readings from my books, I realize how stupid the story is, and how badly written!"

The musician said, "When I put out a CD, I have to perfom the songs on it over and over again. With each performance I can only hear all the mistakes and wish I could redo the original tracks."

Okay, I'm paraphrasing. But the conversation did go something like that.

I guess it's human nature. I have never hosted a dinner party where, after the guests have all gone home, I didn't dwell on the meal's shortcoming rather than on what was good about it. In my garden I can only see where something is lacking, rather than what looks fabulous. Even in my author presentations, when all is said and done, it's what I forgot to include in the presentation that haunts me, not what went well.

The exception to this rule is with my daughters. When I look at them I can only see their strengths. They are each so close to perfection that sometimes it takes my breath away. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, their messy bedrooms drive me CRAZY, the 'borrowing' of each others things borders on 'theft' but these things are minor in the big picture. They really are amazing young women.

There is a huge difference in being proud of our art and of our children. Our children are creating themselves. We can only guide them. In some ways that is true of our art. I'm sure that both my artist and musician friends would claim that their art guides them, just as my writing takes me to places I never expected. What we set out to paint, write, compose is not anything like the final product. However, I do believe we have more control over our artistic creations than we do our children. No, I don't think we do, I know we do.

I'm not even sure why I'm comparing the two. Maybe because it's Valentine's Day and public expressions of love are in order. I hope my girls each know how much they are cherished. I also hope that all my artist, musician and writer friends can learn to be satisfied and proud of their creations. I know I'm working on it.