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.