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Stephen likes Weekend Assignment

July 27, 2010

This week, our assignment asks us about writing “fan” letters.  (The title, in case you missed the joke, is a riff on Facebook’s “like” button and fan pages – the modern and sophisticated way to express your fanaticism.)  Here’s the Weekend Assignment:

How about a lighter topic this week? Let’s talk about FAN LETTERS. I have never personally written one, because the one time I attempted to, it came off, well, sounding kinda weird! LOL. Apparently I have NO talent for them at all! Nope. Nope. Nope. But how about you? Have you ever written a successful FAN LETTER? If so, tell us about your experience. Did you hear back from the celebrity? Was it a positive experience? Tell us all about it.

I almost didn’t answer this one.  Because to answer it truthfully is to expose to the world a deep, dark secret that I buried in past.  I thought I could escape what I did that day.  I thought I could move on with my life.

I was wrong.

Even today, what I did haunts me.  But I cannot ignore the truth.  I did it.  I wrote a fan letter.

But I only did it once.  And I didn’t inhale.

You think I’m kidding, but it’s deeply embarrassing to me to admit that I once wrote a fan letter to the author of the Magic of Xanth books: Piers Anthony.  Perhaps because, in hindsight, while they were perfectly serviceable juvenile fantasies, I find that the books are now, save for the first few books, entirely forgettable and entirely unworthy of the level of fanaticism that would drive one to write a fan letter.  Frankly, he wasn’t even the favorite author of my youth.  That title would go first to Lloyd Alexander, whom I’ve praised on these blog pages effulgently before.  And I would be remiss to ignore such a giant of my youth as Tolkien.  And it would be a lie if I said I wasn’t a solid fan of Margaret Weiss & Tracy Hickman.  So why it is that  the Xanth books, retrospectively inferior to almost any of the works by any of the mentioned authors here, were enough to bring me to writing such a thing as a fan letter?

If there is an answer to that question, I’ll never know. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I see nothing wrong with fan letters, in general, nor with Piers Anthony, in specific.  I just don’t get why I was so geeked out over his books when I was younger.

That said, it was advice from Piers Anthony, in responses to his fan letters filling afterwords to some of his books, that partly lead me down the path I have followed to this day.  Even then, in the early-to-mid-Nineties, there had been a growing trend in the world of writing and publication, and Piers had this advice to those of his fans who were aspiring authors: Don’t quit your day job.

Not in so many words, and not so crassly, though.  But it was his suggestion, which I read in the back of one of his books, to consider alternative career options while you write, because getting published is so difficult and so many people want to do it and because the chances of success are so thing, that stuck with me all the way through college.  It was this suggestion to make sure you have an alternative income stream that lead me to major in Business in my undergrad – a field which, I reasoned, was designed around the concept of income streams.  And it’s largely because of that advice that I’m working on my MBA today.  If it weren’t for that, I’d likely have ended up an English major or something similar.  And just as likely, I’d be on welfare today, and just as unpublished as I am.

There are goods and bads to this outcome.  But there it is.  My deep, dark secret revealed.

While we’re on the subject of Fans, I figure I should go ahead and point out that some fellow bloggers have awarded me with some blogging awards, recently.  Among them:

One Lovely Blog Award

The “One Lovely Blog” award, given by J. P. Cabit.  The rules to which award are:

1. To thank and link back to the person who gave you this award.

2. Share 7 things about yourself

3. Pass this along to 5 bloggers who you recently discovered and who you think are fantastic.

4. Contact the bloggers you picked and let them know about their prize.

And then, there’s this award:

Versatile Blogger Award

The “Versatile Blogger” award granted by Writer’s Block NZ.

Also with rules, largely the same:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you the award.
2. Share seven things about yourself.
3. Pass the award to fifteen bloggers you think deserve it.
4. Contact each of the bloggers you chose.

I’m also on the award queue over on Aidan’s blog, when he finishes queuing it up. 

And, it’s not an award, but last month I was tagged in a handwriting-posting game by Creative Barbwire, and I just haven’t had time yet to write up a handwriting sample for that one…

Anyway: Thanks J. P., Juanita, and Barb for your awards/tags.  (That’s rule 1, check.)

Seven things about me:

  1. You just learned one thing about me already in today’s post
  2. I started writing my first novel when I was about eight or nine years old.  And my main character’s name was an anagram for the name of the main character in a book series I was enjoying thoroughly at that age.  This was the same book (and same main character) I continued to work on and rewrite all the way through college and beyond.  It was always planned to be the first of a series.
  3. I lived in Germany when I was young.  That’s where I was living when I started working on that novel.
  4. Not only was I going to be a famous novelist when I grew up: I was also going to design and build a fabulous theme park that I called “The Golden Kingdom”.  It was so totally not a knock-off of Disneyland.  It so totally was primarily fantasy-themed.
  5. My first love was not Fantasy.  It was Dinosaurs.  And Trains.  I still love the latter two.
  6. Before I was going to be a world famous novelist, I was going to be something even more extraordinary: a paleontologist-astronaut.  That’s right: I was going to dig up dinosaur bones on the moon.  Thus proving that dinosaurs colonized the moon.  These were my life’s ambitions.
  7. I am a huge fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction nerd, and yet I have never been to any convention – not a Comic-Con, not a Dragon-Con, not a Gen-Con, not even a Renn-faire.  The limiting factor: those things cost money.  Where do all the other geeks get their money?  I have a college degree that’s supposed to help me make money, and I can never seem to afford to go to these things.  Will I ever?  As yet, I do not know.

That said, now, I don’t have 15 bloggers I follow to award, let alone 20 for the two combined.  So, instead, the fabulous “One Lovely Versatile Blogger” Award must go to:

YOU, if you’re reading this.  Consider yourself informed and awarded.  Also… if you’re not one of those people I regularly follow already (i.e. Bazelli, Cabit, Writer’s Block NZ, Lua, Barb, Aidan – all of whom can consider yourselves awarded), let me know you got my award so I can make sure to follow you, too. 🙂

(Oh, and also, I really should award David of “A Wee Adventure” since I did recently start following his blog.)

P.S. Barb, I’ll get that handwriting sample up sometime in the future… I’m sure… once things stop exploding.

Stephen, out.

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2010 9:45 am

    “I am a huge fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction nerd, and yet I have never been to any convention – not a Comic-Con, not a Dragon-Con, not a Gen-Con, not even a Renn-faire. The limiting factor: those things cost money.”
    I’ve been to a Ren-Faire near NY with my friend from Long Island in 2002 – was part of the deal for my visiting her. Hopefully next year she’ll be able to come back (we already exchanged visits back then) and attend a medieval dinner in one of your little medieval towns… I went there twice already, wearing my medieval clothes and feeling like a forgotten princess! 😉
    Oh, and I did write fan letters, but to musicians (Drum Theatre in the 80s, Slaughter and Def Leppard in the 90s – the first wrote back saying the band was on hiatus (and they never came back, sigh), the second subscribed me to their international fan club for 5 years, so I have plenty of notes handwritten by my favorite Mark Slaughter, the third sent one of those form letters years later and I ignored it). I wished I could have written to my favorite Italian author, but she died before I could actually do it… 😉
    No rush for the handwritten note, busy summer, uh? 😉

  2. July 27, 2010 11:17 am

    I’ve never written a fan letter, but I once went to comic-con in Toronto. I’m not the biggest of comic fans, but went along with another friend. It was still fun. Loved all the costumes. I think the best part for me was watching the artists sitting there and drawing their work.

    Don’t quit your day job. That’s advice I keep hearing. I do like my day job and unless it becomes unfeasible, I plan on keeping it!

    • July 27, 2010 11:39 am

      I look forward one day to being able to attend such events. Even better if I’m a guest! I guess it’s a bit pretentious to hope for that, though, at this stage.

      You know… I’d like to be able to quit my day job, in a general sense. I’d rather be working on building my own career and my own success. And I’d love to have the time to write. But I guess as long as I can do something where I feel like I’m making a positive and constructive contribution, a little financial stability, vis-a-vis having a day job, is very welcome. As I said, though, I want to ensure that what I do is meaningful and constructive – whether it’s writing or doing something in a corporate context. That’s why I’m furthering my education right now.

  3. July 27, 2010 11:28 am

    I want to quit my day job. *Gasps from the crowd* Oh my, did I just say a bad word? lol

    It’s probably (most) every writer’s dream.

    The paleontologist-astronaut thing is hysterical! That should be in your Author Aerobics entry. :-p lol Thanks a million for the award!

    • July 27, 2010 11:44 am

      It is amusing. What would have happened if I’d been successful?

      And you’re welcome 🙂

      • July 27, 2010 1:47 pm

        I doubt you’d find many dino-bones on the moon, but that is such a kid way to think. 🙂

      • July 27, 2010 2:11 pm

        Sadly the facts discolor the fond memories of my youth. In those days, anything was possible.

        Anything still is possible, but I have to knowingly immerse myself in the unreal.

  4. July 27, 2010 2:08 pm

    Hey thanks very much for the mention (and the award) Stephen! Very much appreciated!

    Regarding fan letters – I don’t think I’ve ever written a fan letter as such but it’s certainly something I would encourage people to do. As with many professions, I don’t think published authors (with the obvious exceptions who probably receive more than they will ever have time to read) hear enough feedback from their readers – good or bad. How many times have you reached the end of a book and thought either “wow, that really was an incredible journey” or “there was that one chapter that just disgusted me so much” and then subconsciously discarded any thoughts of passing these feelings onto the author because “they’ll all ready know”.

    • July 27, 2010 2:12 pm

      That’s a good point you make. We who write won’t already know anything, good or bad, about our readers’ reactions unless they tell us such.

  5. July 27, 2010 3:38 pm

    Thanks for the re-award 🙂 I hope that doesn’t mean I have to find another 15 bloggers to award!

    I’ve never written a fan letter, but I have stalked musicians to get their signatures. And not when I was a teenager either. Just this year I acquired the signatures of three of my favourite bands. I’m not sure that writing fan letters (or fighting your way through a crowd of fifteen year olds to [successfully!] get the signature of band members) should be an embarrassment. Even if you look back now and wonder why you were so obsessed or ‘geeked out’, at the time it must have been important. Its just a way of showing an author/musician/celeb/crazy-acrobatic-monkey that you appreciate what they do.

    • July 27, 2010 3:48 pm

      I guess I’m embarrassed in large measure because I’m no longer a fan of that particular author in the same way that I am a fan of other work that I read throughout my younger years. Other stories have been more enduring for me, and I’m embarrassed for myself for having taken that step for an author whose work I don’t really still hold in as high a regard. I mean, why didn’ I write fan letters for Lloyd Alexander or J. R. R. Tolkien, two authors whose work have had a far more enduring effect on my own writing? For the latter, alas he had passed away some time before I began reading his work. The former… I guess when I was a much younger lad I didn’t know you could write fan letters to your favorite authors. (Alas, he, too, is now passed, but that only fairly recently.)

  6. Artswebshow permalink
    July 27, 2010 9:00 pm

    never wrote one.
    Never seen the point. lol
    Does that sound bad?

    • July 27, 2010 10:19 pm

      Personally, no, it doesn’t sound bad to me. (Notice how I’m a little embarrassed to admit I did it once.) There can be a point, though… mainly it helps connect creators with their readers/viewers/admirers and vice-versa.

      Today… I think maybe there are better mechanisms than the old fan letter.

  7. July 28, 2010 10:44 pm

    Sprechen sie deutsche? I think it is nice that you got to spend time overseas. I find other cultures particularly interesting (as is possibly obvious in my shorts).

    I have been to many RenFaires. However, the money has been a net positive for me as I’ve been one of the performers (although I plan on including 7 things about me & including one lie… I may be giving you and your blog readers an exclusive adv.) There are definitely ways to decrease the costs; but that usually costs time which you probably have even less available.

    I went to my first con in May, primarily because they had a writer’s “workshop” (a face-to-face critique group that included two writers (who didn’t submit their own stories) and a few other beginning writers). Most amusing thing was Peter Beagle was the guest of honor and agreed to also critique the stories in a more public forum, but had a reduced list of submissions; I’d been told I wasn’t on the list and didn’t attend the session. However, what no one told me was I was on the “waiting” list and futhermore they told Peter not to read the waiting list, but he did anyway. So, I missed him commenting on my story. Yes, I feel ashamed. I did speak to him 1-on-1 the next day.

    Re: Piers Anthony, I think his publishing his Author’s notes and discussing his fan letters encouraged fan letters as well. I think of following some writer’s sites as a non-weird form of stalking; however, recently I posted on Kristine Rusch’s site; I intentionally left my web address of but was chagrined when she replied to my comment and it was obvious she’d searched for my blog and read an entry.

    Wow… can tell I’m back from vacation where I haven’t been able to write for a few days.

    • July 29, 2010 8:43 am

      Yes, you’re absolutely right: I’ve even less time than money, right now. And I think you’re right, with regards to Piers Anthony, now that I think about it. I imagine the fact that he included his Author’s Notes in his books made a huge difference in encouraging fan letters – which is probably what encouraged me to do so. Today, I think author’s blogs can largely supplant that – and maybe even make it better, because fans can interact not only with the author but with other fans. And in answer to your question, nein… at least not any more. I’d learned a little when I was younger (though never enough to actually speak it) but I’ve forgotten 95% of what I ever knew. It’s on my list of things to do before I die: learn German, relearn French, add Italian, go deeper in Latin, pick up some Japanese… I’m a language-loving nerd, and yet I only speak one language fluently. It’s my greatest shame – even greater than the one this post was originally about.

  8. July 29, 2010 12:53 am

    Funnily enough, I have a very remote connection to Piers Anthony. His mother, Norma Jacob, was President of the Mental Health Association of Onondaga County (in Syracuse, NY) when my mom was its Executive Director in the mid-1960s. Later my mom was the President and there was no Executive Director or other paid position. Anyway, my mom mentioned Piers Anthony because Norma spoke of him often, and an early book of his, with the unfortunate title Var the Stick, was floating around my parents’ bedroom for mon ths if not years. Or so my memory claims.

    Anyway, I considered writing to him a number of times after discovering the Xanth series and also after reading the Tarot novels, but I never did. Like you I eventually lost interest in the later Xanth books, but he does two things in his early work especially that I really admire and seldom see in the work of other authors.

    1. He plays the unreliable narrator game in a very specific way, by presenting the viewpoint character’s false assumption as valid and true, while playing against and gradually disproving that assumption in everything else that happens. You can see this especially in the first Xanth book, in which Trent is consistently referred to as “the Evil Magician Trent” despite the fact that throughout the book he behaves in consistently good and altruistic ways. I think that’s a really interesting thing to do, thematically, dramatically and philosophically.

    2. He characters are often faced with a particular kind of no-win scenario, in which there appears to be no “good,” honest and ethical option. They have to then find a way to behave honorably anyway, which sometimes involves uncovering the false assumption. I find it really refreshing that there’s a popular fantasy novelist who writes about people behaving ethically and the problems involved in doing so.

    So IMO, there are worse people you could have written to. Had I ever written to PA, it would have been about these two recurring story elements.

    • July 29, 2010 8:52 am

      I never read the Var the Stick book, but I think it was included with some other novelletes in a larger omnibus call “Battle Circle” or something of that sort. The back cover copy just never caught my interest on that one. Funny that you had that family connection though! Come to think of it, you’re right about those early books. An interesting point about that: those first Xanth books were originally written as adult fantasy – but Anthony reports that he later found that teenagers were picking up and reading his books in droves, so he readjusted his writing style on the later Xanth books to target younger readers specifically. That may account for my gradual disinterest in the books – over time they became more juvenile in nature as Anthony targeted the juvenile market while I became steadily less so. But yes, the moral ambiguity of those early books were probably one of the factors that attracted me to them. Thanks for reminding me of that fact!

  9. Lua permalink
    July 29, 2010 2:59 am

    I lived in Switzerland, in the German-speaking part for 2 years and I couldn’t learn a word of German. I have no idea how that happened… 🙂
    Congratulations on the awards Stephen- you truly deserve them. And thank you so much for passing it along to me!

    • July 29, 2010 8:54 am

      Thanks, and you’re welcome. I’d love to visit Switzerland at some point, some day. But I think I’d like to visit Bavaria first. Despite living in Germany for several years as a kid, I somehow never got to visit Bavaria.

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  1. July: The Round Up « A Wee Adventure
  2. Anticipating the End: An Introspective on My MBA « The Undiscovered Author

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