When my first book, Other Fish in the Sea, was released back in 2003, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram didn’t exist. There was no social media platform on which to display its pretty cover. No place where I could announce, HEY, I PUBLISHED A BOOK, or show off any positive reviews.
Additionally, this lack of connectivity meant that readers had no easy way of letting their friends (or me) know if they even liked (or hated) the book. Because my tech-savvy friend, Igor, built me a rudimentary website, I got to hear from a few of my fans.
My first ever email about the book was from someone named Teri, and oh but it was a juicy one:
Well…I am so glad you have a web site. What a thrill. I’ve never written an author before, but here I am. There I was, browsing in the library, trying to get over my “affair” with a married man, who I didn’t know was a married man and didn’t know I had been having an “affair” until after we had been together for a year, and I spied your book….”Other fish in the sea”…yes, that’s what I wanted….something to distract me and keep me from calling him, but….getting into the book…and yes, I admit, I couldn’t put it down…there I was in Seattle…where of course, my guy lived … (I am from Portland…which I suppose accounts for the fact that I didn’t know he was otherwise engaged since I only saw him when he came down to visit…every weekend, I might add for the first 6 months) and I was pitched back into my real life.Just
Anyway, what I really wanted to tell you (and I’m so glad you have a website where I can reach out to you) is that I loved your book. You are a fabulous writer.
I could quote you endless paragraphs where you touched my heart. You have such a handle on seeing life as so many people do, but rarely notice. (Or maybe that’s just me). Or maybe, that we notice, but don’t think other people think the same little things are as important as we do. I’ve never felt compelled to write to an author before, but I just hope you do keep writing. Your book is great. I feel your destiny is big. But I’m sure you already have it, and already know this.
Thank you for this opportunity to tell you. Your book is inspiring. If you are ever in Portland signing your books at Powell’s or whatever… I’d love to tell you in person. I’m nobody important, but just a regular woman who so appreciates your take on the world. Thanks for sharing it with me.
I printed it out and framed the words of this supposedly unimportant regular woman. They meant the world to me.
A few years later, I received this letter from a young woman in the Philippines:
Hope you are well as you read this email.
I have never heard of you before or of your work, but when I saw “Other Fish in the Sea” in a bookstore, I picked it up because the title intrigued me.
I have just finished reading it – in one sitting when I was sick and therefore not at work – and I loved it. I especially liked the wit of “SWM” and the ambiguity and surrealism of the “Other Fish in the Sea.”
And the last story ended on such a hopeful note which made it satisfying because I was starting to get worried that I might end up like Elly – forever searching for love. J
I searched you online and got your email from your website. I just wanted to write and tell you how much I enjoyed your book. Being a “budding” writer of short fiction and a bit of poetry myself, I imagine it would be fun for me to receive such feedback about my work. I’m from the Philippines and it’s sad that, often, only fellow writers read fiction produced by writers in the Philippines.
That’s all. Hope that I get to read more of your work. May God bless you!
(Metro Manila, Philippines)
To think that someone went out of their way to find my email address, then take the time to write me, touched me to no end.
Naturally, I wrote her back. (I wrote EVERYONE back!)
Flash forward to 2008. By then, everyone and their sister had a blog. One day I came across Ilia’s blog. It was mostly about writing. But there was one particular post that struck me…
SOMETIMES THEY WRITE BACK
I was supposed to write something about punctuations today. But reading one of Neil Gaiman’s tweets changed my mind. He twittered a link to his assistant’s blog where she wrote about how she spends her day as his assistant. Reading that eventually led me to her post on what not to send your favorite writer. And that switched a lightbulb in my brain and gave me an idea for today’s post.
So after Rem’s rather “heavy” post, I will now attempt to write something lighter and proceed to tell you of the one and only time I ever wrote a writer I liked.
There’s this stall (if you can call it that) right after the EDSA entrance to Star Mall and I often pass by it to look for good finds AKA quality books at cheap prices. It was there that a book called “Other Fish in the Sea” by Lisa Kusel wouldn’t leave me alone until I picked it up. So even if it wasn’t in the most perfect condition – there were creases and stains – I bought it.
It was a short story collection featuring one main character named Elly who gets herself in all sorts of relationships – set in various locations and at progressing stages of her life. I usually buy books of short stories to help me learn more about the genre but I rarely read all the stories in one book – because it gets kind of tedious “hearing” the same voice in a series of stories. But this time – I read all of the stories in that book.
I believe in the Chinese proverb: The teacher comes when the student is ready. I really appreciated “Other Fish in the Sea” because I think it came to me at the right time in my life and it gave me hope. The stories inhabited my brain for several days and the longer they stayed, the more I enjoyed them.
So browsing over the book, I noticed it mentioned a website. The next day, I checked out the URL and the website did exist and had an email link. So I said to myself, why not? Why not email her and tell her how much I enjoyed her stories? I knew it would be a long shot but I really didn’t have anything to lose. Plus, if I were in her shoes, I’d want to hear from people who enjoyed my work. [Yes, we would. Always.]
A month passed and I didn’t get any reply. Soon, I sort of forgot that I ever wrote her. Then one day, I came into the office, turned on my computer, opened my email inbox and there it was – a reply from her. I let out a squeal of glee and received varied looks of confusion and annoyance from my colleagues.
Now I share to you what she wrote me. Here is part of her email to me:
Ilia, what a lovely lovely surprise, finding your letter among the scores of business-y and spam-y emails in my inbox. You completely made my day with your words. Thank you for that.
And for reading OFITS. I am so proud of those stories; thrilled that women everywhere find parts of themselves in Elly.
…Until then, I wish you all the luck in the world with your own writing–poetry, fiction, any words that paint pictures for yourself, for others–it’s all such a wonderful art, no? Practice all the time. Get frustrated. Be easy on yourself, though. Enjoy every moment of your own creations and eventually others will too, if that’s your goal.
all my best to you today and always, lisa kusel [I’m sure I said lots more, but I don’t have the email I sent her.]
And really, that totally made my day. I know that writers answering fan mail is not exactly unheard of but having never tried anything like that before, receiving a response was glorious.
It’s amazing how technology has made it so easy to communicate with people from the opposite side of the globe. Now if only I weren’t too shy to approach Filipino writers when I get happen to be in the same room with them. Ha-ha.
Just remembering that made me excited all over again. I hope I get the chance to pass on the favor someday.
It is amazing how technology has changed the way we communicate. Nowadays, there are countless channels by which to reach out to authors. Since Rash, my third book, was published, people from all over the world have written to me, IM’d me, friended me on FB, and followed me on Instagram. I treasure what each and every person has said about the book. And yes, I still write back to all of them.
And then last week it was my turn: I finished reading Less by Andrew Sean Greer and was so overcome by the love I felt for the book that I wrote the author on Twitter, never for a moment expecting a reply. I mean, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author taking the time to answer my small tweet? No way.
But guess what? Sometimes they do write back.
And, just like Ilia said, receiving that response was indeed glorious.