As a writer, I’ve always ever had one true hope for my work, and that was that it might someday make a reader feel the way my favorite author’s books always made me feel. I wanted my readers to come away from my stories breathing a satisfied sigh of time well spent.
When I was a child, I used to write letters to authors whose work impressed me, people like E L Konigsberg, Elizabeth Enright (and was broken-hearted to learn she had died some years before my letter arrived), and Marguerite Henry. Most of the time the only response was a form letter of some kind from the publisher, thanking me for my interest. When I was 10 or 11, I wrote a letter to my favorite author (at the time), Alexander Key. I’d just finished his fantastic novel Flight to the Lonesome Place, and I had a question about one of the characters. Everyone told me not to expect a personal response, since he was a famous author and I was just a kid who read his book. Imagine my excitement when a letter arrived a few weeks later, with “A. Key” in the return address corner. I read his charming, thoughtful, personal response to my question at least one hundred times. My favorite author had taken the time to write to me, a mere reader. How amazing was that?
These days I’m the one getting correspondence from readers. It’s a good deal easier here in the 21st century, what with email and blog lines. No one has to search very diligently before they find a way to contact me, which is nice for both of us. Yesterday, for example, I opened my email and found a delightful note from a young woman who had just finished reading Mad Kestrel, and wanted to tell me how she felt about it. As I read her gushing email, I began to cry, because I realized that I’d done what I wanted to do. I had given at least one person a story that became real, a cast of characters she could care about, and a world she didn’t want to leave behind. As writers, we all hope for award nominations and bestseller status and seven figure advances, but honestly, when it all comes down, what we really want is to touch someone else’s soul with our work. That’s what being an artist is all about.