If You Could Ask


When I was a child, I discovered an author named Alexander Key.  He’s best known for his science-fiction story “Escape to Witch Mountain”, although he wrote quite a lot of books that aren’t as famous.  One of those was called “Flight to the Lonesome Place”, a SF/mystery featuring a boy math genius, a psychic girl and a disembodied voice named Marlowe who seems to know far more about what’s going on than he’s telling.  I was fascinated by Marlowe.  Why was he just a voice?  Was he an invisible person?  Was he imaginary?  I gave it my best thought, and finally decided it was time to ask the author.  This was back in the days before the internet, so I wrote Mr Key a letter, sent it to his publisher and hoped for the best.  Several months later, I received a response – a delightful letter from Mr Key, thanking me for enjoying his stories. He didn’t really answer my question about Marlowe, but I was so thrilled that he wrote back, I didn’t get too upset about it.  Besides, by then I’d moved on to other books and other questions.  Many years later I was visiting my parents at their mountain place in North Carolina, and we stopped at a small bookstore.  They had a display of Key’s in their children’s department, and I mentioned to the bookseller that I’d always loved the author.  She told me that he had lived near there for the last years of his life, passing away only a few years before.  I remembered the mystery of Marlowe, and I was terribly disappointed that I’d been so close to a childhood hero and never knew.  I could conceivably have asked him in person, if only I’d known! 

These days it’s simple to contact authors you love.  No more sending to the publisher and waiting months for an answer.  Most authors make email addresses available to our readers, because letter writing has become a lost art, as has waiting more than a few hours for anything.  Authors have blogs and Twitter accounts and interact with readers easily.  But there are wonderful authors who can’t be reached even on the internet, authors who’ve left this existence.  Today I’d love to know what you would ask one of those authors if you had the chance to speak to him.   


10 comments to If You Could Ask

  • I would probably want to ask Wallace Stegner about my favorite novel of all time, ANGLE OF REPOSE. So much of the book seems autobiographical, and I know that Stegner had deep roots in the Western U.S. Anyway, I would talk to him about that.

  • I’d love to ask Shakespeare and Chaucer about their lives. We know so little about them. It feels like if we knew more, if we understood them better, we’d understand their texts better, get a handle on them. I ultimately don’t think that is true. I don’t believe that texts have full and complete, finished answers. No text is 100% discoverable. But I’d still like to chat with them. I’d also love the original, finished manuscripts from both of them so we could stop having fights about what is the “best” manuscript, etc.

    I’d also like to ask Milton what, exactly, his damage was. Especially in regard to Eve and women in general.

  • One of my favorite books as a child was Alexander Key’s The Forgotten Door–I just bought my umpteenth copy of it a few weeks ago at a used book sale!

    The author I’d like to talk to is Louisa May Alcott. Although Little Woman and Little Men are often characterized as sentimental and/or saccharine, I loved the humor of the books. As a kid I wanted to ask her how many of her funny scenes and conversations came from real life and how many she made up. As an adult, I’d like to ask her how she would characterize her novels and how she saw the role of humor in her stories. And I’d still like to talk to her about how she came to write those funny scenes.

  • sagablessed

    SiSi…that was my first book by Mr Keys…before Witch Mountain…when I was about 4. His ability to reach the minds of middle-school and adults was really fabu.
    I honestly do not know what I would an author. Why? Because there are so many and each one I have 100 questions for. The small time I spent with Faith, David, and Lucienne drove that home.

    But if push came to shove…I would ask one of you how make dialog in the ‘real-world’ seem so easy. It is my writing weakness.

  • Ken

    I’d ask Harry Harrison what inspired the Stainless Steel Rat.

    I’d also simply thank Dr. Seuss for his stories. No questions, just thanks.

  • Ken, I’d love to tell Roger Zelazny how much the Amber books meant to me, and that I named my son after one of the princes. -smile-

  • Razziecat

    I would love to be able to talk to JRR Tolkien, but I would probably be too much in awe to ask a question!

    And it really is wonderful that it’s possible to talk to/email an author. I can’t get to cons right now, so being able to go online and let someone know how much I love their work is great!

  • I don’t know what I’d ask Tolkien either, but I would love to sit in on one of the Inklings’ bull sessions at their pub. I’d love to meet Ursula LeGuin, but I can’t imagine what I’d ask her either. I just picture myself babbling and wringing my hands. And if I could have met Anne McCaffrey before she died I’d have given her a hug (assuming she didn’t mind) and thanked her for writing Menolly Harper. I read that book six or seven times in high school and junior high.

  • I would love to spend just a day driving around the Dales with James Herriot and Sam the beagle. There’s nothing in particular I can think of that I would ask him; but I would love to just be with him and find out how one comes to love people and animals and the world quite so much.
    As for C. S. Lewis, my other favourite author, I would love to ask him how he dreamed up a world as real as Narnia, a story as timeless as its Chronicles, or characters as unforgettable as the Pevensies and Aslan, Trufflehunter, Mr. Tumnus, Prince Caspian, and (especially) Puddleglum and Reepicheep. There are few books that you can enjoy just as much whether you’re seven, seventeen, thirty-seven or seventy, and “The Chronicles of Narnia” are some of them.
    But James Herriot and C. S. Lewis are long dead by now. Still, it’s nice to dream.

  • quillet

    I’m with Razzie and Sarah in wishing to talk to Tolkien, but probably being too awestruck to do anything but gibber and blush. Sitting with the Inklings at the Eagle & Child sounds fantastic, though. Count me in for that!