The Reader’s Mighty Pen, Part 3

- by Laura Resnick


We’re talking again today about reader mail.

Nora Roberts once received several letters from a young woman in Nigeria who asked for some books because she had no money and very little access to booksellers. Roberts sent her a couple of books. Shortly thereafter, Roberts says, “I got a letter from her requesting I buy her a pair of red silk pants, size medium. Good quality, if I didn’t mind, and she’d like them before Christmas. If this was inconvenient, I could just send her a hundred US dollars, and she’d take care of the shopping. While I was at it, could I find her a nice Moslem boy?” Apart from the difficulties inherent in finding a nice Moslem boy in rural Maryland, Roberts says she stops short of sending money and men to her readers. (Go figure.)

Some of the most peculiar reader mail comes—predictably, perhaps—as a result of writing about UFOs. After publishing a short story about UFOs, Russell Davis received a letter explaining to him that UFOs aren’t alien spaceships at all. No, indeed. They’re angels and demons battling in the sky for possession of human souls, and the writer would do well to learn that fact before writing about them again. Anne Marie Winston, after writing a book wherein two characters are abducted by aliens, received a seven-page letter from a reader who wasn’t from “here” (planet Earth). Winston says, “She pointed out all the fallacies in my book (like the fact that aliens don’t lower a ramp to get us on board—how stupid of me) and explained in great detail how the world would end on December 31st of that year…Those among us—like her—who were really ‘planted here’ would be taken back while the rest of us poor dopes perished.”

However, despite the occasionally strange or nasty ones, most reader letters are a delightful boon to the weary writer whose usual reward for writing a book is…a revision letter. (Or deafening silence. Or a refusal to accept and publish the manuscript.)

And some of these letters are incredibly rewarding, making up for a lot of the stress that professional writers endure. Novelist Susan Wiggs received these comments from a teenager who’d read one of her books: “You changed my life, and my whole perspective on the world. I would not be the person I am today without you. You have a tremendous gift…You can make a person’s life better, simply by writing with your born skill for writing. I’m living proof of that. Thank you.”

“Do you take good care of yourself?” one reader’s lovely letter asks me. “Do you look both ways before you cross the street and drink lots of water and get regular check-ups? I sure would be disappointed if something happened to you before you finished writing down everything that you have to say.”

Letters from our readers remind us that, for good or for ill, we are not nearly as alone with our work as we usually feel we are. And for every reader who makes an unreasonable demand or who insults us, there are also those whose letters remind us why we write—so that they will read us.


  1. I love this post even more than the previous ones!

    Please do take good care of yourself, as the other writer suggested, for I don’t want to miss anything that you have to say!

  2. Great post- I love it when you find great nuggets of truth wrapped up in a lovely tale- a bit like finding the penny in your piece of birthday cake 8~) (Of course to make it really worthwhile now it must be a loonie [Canadian $1 coin] but still you get my point)

  3. This piece (adapted from the book) doesn’t include a personal favorite of mine, from a couple of years ago. I was up all night writing… and all night long, I was getting an email every couple of hours from a reader whom I named Over-Caffeinated Bob (if you’re out there, Hi, Bob!) saying he had to go to work the next day, but he couldn’t sleep without knowing how THE DESTROYER GODDESS ended, and he’d already been reading for hours, and PLEASE, PLEASE, wouldn’t I just TELL him what happens so he could get some sleep! I refused, and Bob stayed up all night to finish the book. In revenge, he loaned it to a colleague at work.

    There’s NOTHING I like better than keeping readers up too late.

  4. As Craig Ferguson says, to justify my watching him instead of going to bed, “Tomorrow is just a future yesterday”… gotta love it!
    Guess I better get caught up on your books… it’s about time for another all nighter- 8~)