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I Found An Old Letter A Famous Author Wrote To Me

March 22, 2015
If I'd received a letter from THIS famous author, I'd have had it framed!

If I’d received a letter from the famous author who wrote THIS book, I’d have had the letter framed!

I was a bit suspicious of these stories the first time I heard about them.  First, a woman last summer found an old letter written by JRR Tolkien where the famous author described how much teaching depressed him.  Then a few weeks ago, some guy found an old letter that Roald Dahl had written him decades ago, giving him some advice about describing a woman’s features.

As I mentioned, I thought these stories were suspicious.  If I had ever received a letter from a famous author, especially authors of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I would have kept track of those letters.  I would’ve had them framed.  I would have shown them off to every visitor who stepped into my house/apartment.  How do you lose a letter written to you by JRR Tolkien or Roald Dahl?

After I thought about it, though, I remembered that these kind of things usually happen in threes.  I figured if anybody should be the third person who finds a letter from a famous author, it ought to be me (or I).  Maybe, just maybe, I had an old letter that I had forgotten about from a famous author.  I went through my boxes of old stuff, including letters, musty books, and outdated bills.  I found a birthday check that my grandma had given me 25 years ago (I didn’t cash it back then because she really didn’t have the money to write me checks, but grandmas do stuff like that).  After hours of digging and reminiscing, I found something that I had forgotten existed.

About 20 years ago, James Patterson wrote Along Came a Spider, and it was actually a pretty good book.  At the time, I was trying to write my own serial killer mystery where a fake psychic had to figure out who the murderer was to save his own reputation.  No, the protagonist wasn’t really psychic (I wasn’t going to cop-out on my one mystery novel), and I wrote James Patterson for some advice.  My older brother had given me some ideas that I was using in my book, so I was thinking about giving my brother co-author credit.

The problem was that there was a scene involving intimacy (I guess it’s okay to call it a sex scene now), and my brother wanted me to use the phrase “twin cones of pleasure.”  I was trying to write a high-brow mystery, and there was no way I was going to use that phrase.  I told my brother that I might use that euphemism in another book, but I wasn’t going to use it in my high-brow mystery.  My brother called me a hack, which is funny because I’d never published anything and I had a job that had nothing to do with writing.  But the argument upset me so much that I never wrote the sex scene.

At any rate, when I wrote my fan letter to James Patterson, I asked him if “twin cones of pleasure” was any good and I wanted to know if it was wise for a writer to work with somebody else on a novel.  I didn’t keep a copy of my letter.  Back then, people didn’t keep their own letters.  Instead, we just kept the letters we received (and in some cases found them decades later).  I was surprised when I read his response for the first time in (probably) 20 years:

Dear Jimmy,

Thank you for your letter.  Without fans like you, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to work with other writers on a novel.  It could cause legal issues, and some authors might try to take too much credit for books they didn’t really spend much time with.

Also, whatever you do, don’t use the phrase “twin cones of pleasure.”  It’s tacky, and tacky sex scenes can ruin an otherwise good novel.

Good luck with your writing career.

Sincerely,

James Patterson

After I found the letter, I remembered why I had forgotten it.  It had taken James Patterson a long time to write back to me.  That’s not a complaint; I’m impressed that he wrote back at all.  By the time I received it, though, I had already given up on the novel, and my older brother no longer cared about the phrase “twin cones of pleasure.”  There was no use showing my brother the letter and opening an old wound.  I’m not the type of person who will bring up an old dispute just to prove that I’d been right a long time ago.

Even so, I can’t believe I didn’t take better care of that letter.  I should have had it framed.  I appreciate a celebrity author who takes time to write a personal letter to a fan.  I mean, yeah, James Patterson wasn’t writing 20 books a year back then, but still, he took time that he didn’t have to take, and that means a lot to me.  And I shouldn’t have been so critical of those other guys who lost their letters from famous writers.

In the meantime, I’ve written JK Rowling, asking her if she would pretend to be me like she did with Robert Galbraith.  Robert Galbraith’s Corcoran Strike book sales weren’t all that high until JK Rowling said she was him (or he).  If she could pretend to be him (or he), then maybe she would consider pretending to be me (or I).  It doesn’t hurt to ask.  I’d love for my book sales to go up.

So if my ebook sales suddenly skyrocket, and JK Rowling pretends to be disappointed that her lawyers can’t keep secrets, then you’ll know what really happened.  I’m not holding my breath, though.  E-mail can move very slowly nowadays.

*****

DISCLAIMER! Despite how far-fetched everything sounds, the above story is true, except for the part about me writing a letter to James Patterson and receiving a response.

*****

What do you think?  Have you ever received a letter from a famous author (or any celebrity)?  If you did, did you forget where you put it?  What famous author would you like to get a letter from?  What advice would you ask for from a famous author?  Would you ever use the phrase “twin cones of pleasure” in a sex scene, and if you do, would you please let me know so I could tell my brother?

38 Comments
  1. Holy cow, when I started reading this, I was hoping the letter was from James Patterson. Also, how ironic is it he doesn’t think authors should collaborate on novels. Apparently he’s changed his mind since all he does now is “collaborate” with other authors. That’s a great story. You should post a picture of the letter. Not that I don’t believe you, but I’d like to see it.
    -David

    • Oh no, you definitely should NOT believe me when it comes to James Patterson.

      However, the guy who found the Roald Dahl letter posted Dahl’s letter, and I linked to it at the beginning of my post. I don’t see how a guy writes to Roald Dahl, gets a response, and then loses track of it. I mean, I lose a lot of stuff, but I wouldn’t lose track of THAT.

  2. I like that you made up your part. I, personally, would never use that phrase, as it just doesn’t do breasts justice. And I disagree a bit. Writing a book with someone can be fun. Just as with many things, you must choose wisely. I enjoyed reading this.

    • I agree with you. I’m not against working with another writer. I just think my brother might not have been the best choice. He understands now, I think.

      • siblings are often iffy. I like to get my family’s opinion on my writing, but that’s usually it. 😉

  3. This was delightful!

  4. Doggonnit, you fooled me again with another James Patterson story thingy. When will I learn?!

    • I’m afraid it’s going to get predictable, but I can’t stop myself. The problem is that if I ever meet or have any interaction with James Patterson, nobody will believe me. I guess it’s a risk I must take.

  5. Hope you eventually meet him at some point in time:-)

  6. DID you get a letter or didn’t you!? The James Patterson story seems far more realistic than the JK Rowling story, so the disclaimer threw me right off track and is making me question your entire post! 🙂

    • I wrote JK Rowling a few months after she got “outed” as Robert Galbraith, but I haven’t heard back. I don’t think she (or her lawyers) took my request seriously. I guess I’ll have to become a successful writer on my own.

      • It’s hard work but yours is worth reading. Best of luck, and who knows, perhaps JK Rowling might grace you with a reply long after you’ve forgotten about it eh? 😉

  7. ramonawray permalink

    “Twin cones of pleasure”. It’s going to haunt me for a while now. James Patterson was so right 😀

    • I’m sorry if my brother’s euphemism haunts or disturbs you. My brother has disturbed a lot of people, and this isn’t the first time I’ve apologized for something he’s done or said.

      I think both of us would have been even more disturbed if James Patterson had agreed with my brother.

  8. good follow @eyyuphen

  9. SD Gates permalink

    Had no idea what ‘twin cones of pleasure’ was until I read the comments. All I could think of was really pokey pine cones. Duh!!!!

    I wrote the Queen of England, and she(or most likely her secretary) wrote me back. I know where that letter is, along with the envelope (Postmark is Buckingham Palace – which is so cool).

    Great post – you had me going there with the James Patterson thing.

  10. What a good giggle this was. Twin cones of pleasure is snort-worthy.

  11. “Twin cones of pleasure” is slightly better than “rigid rod of pleasure straining to escape its denim prison.” For what it’s worth. No, those were NOT my words.

    • At least “rigid rod” (it sounds like that could be a guy’s name) is alliteration, so it’s automatically better than “twin cones.” Maybe James Patterson would approve of “rigid rod.”

  12. First off, to me, a cone would summon the image of an ice cream cone. To Yankees, twin cones may remind them of the Twin Towers. To Madonna, early 90s Gaultier boob cones. I assume the twin cones are for YOUR pleasure, as owners of said cones rarely derive any pleasure from them once children have been birthed. They mostly just need to be lifted and separated, so what were once cones of pleasure become pendulous knee socks of burden. I only had one author write me back, Mildred Taylor, re: a 1975 book. I doubt anyone knows who she is. I did, however, write to a singer (Corey Hart), and his mother wrote me back a letter with letter musical notes drawn in the margins. She said he was working on a new song about pleasurable cones.

    • Mildred Taylor? Ha! My oldest daughter had to read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. What did she say? It’s great that Corey Hart’s mom answers fan letters, but if I were a song writer, I wouldn’t want my mom knowing about my cones song.

      • That was the book! I loved it when I was young. Well, I’d have to go dig it out of a scrapbook somewhere, probably the standard, “Thank you for liking my book while books are still printed on paper.” On the Hart side, I’d be worried what my mom would read as far as the fan letters. “Here is a list of what I’d like to do to your son, Mrs. Hart…”

        • Yeah, I REALLY wouldn’t want my mom reading those letters, especially not before I could get the return addresses.

          • LOL. Hey, I did find that Mildred Taylor letter and she said she was sorry that she’d set aside my letter for so many weeks and that she now got to it and was so glad I enjoyed her books and she included an insert and signed it. So it turns out she was pretty kind.

  13. jtggodqos permalink

    a few years back, I binge-read all of Marya Hornbacher’s book. like me, she is a writer with an eating disorder and with bipolar. unlike me, however, she’s been published, lol. so when I read her various books about her experiences, I noticed patterns in them that I had seen in my own life. expecting no response, or at the most an automated “Golly gee, thanks for being a fan!”, I was very surprised (okay, to be honest, I was f*cking stoked!!) when she emailed back discussing in detail the issues I brought up. I replied with a final inquiry, and she sent a second response.

    it was very encouraging and inspiring. it made me feel like I mattered, you know? it was great.

    • That’s great! If she sent you a second response, then your messages were probably as important (or meaningful) to her as her responses were to you. I hope that makes sense (it’s clear in my mind, but sometimes it doesn’t show in my words).

  14. There’s a blog I like to read by an English Teacher, and I’m attaching this post about when Harper Lee responded to a letter from her students. I think you’ll like it. http://thejugglestruggle.net/2014/01/03/the-day-harper-wrote-back/

  15. Haha, twin cones of pleasure. I haven’t been able to get that phrase out of my head since I read this a few days ago.

  16. Susan Beth Pfeffer (Author of the “Life was We Knew It” series) was kind enough to respond to an email I wrote her asking her about finding an agent. I am happy to say I’ve saved the email. 🙂

  17. You almost had me fooled with the Patterson letter but I loved your witty post. 😉 Now with the advent of electronic media,authors are more easy to interact with and some of them do reply back.But the ones I would kill to get letters from have sadly departed,viz,Dostoevsky and Enid Blyton.

    I agree with you,such letters can never be forgotten or discarded.The very first fan mail I sent was to an eminent mathematician in my country,Professor Kumaresan,who is kind of a rockstar in the math field.I asked him what it takes to a great mathematician without much expecting a reply,but he wrote me back a long,lovely,encouraging letter.I was lucky enough to meet him the very next year in a highly selective advanced math camp where he mentored.I still read it sometimes for inspiration. 🙂

  18. I just got an email saying:

    Dear Tania,
    James Patterson wants to meet you! James is heading Down Under in May and can’t wait to meet his Australian fans …

    • Haha! That brings up an interesting problem: Which book would you take (or buy) to get signed at a James Patterson book signing?

      If you go, it would probably make a great blog post.

  19. I’ve been very fortunate to have Sue Grafton write me a lovely letter. I still have it safely put away. I was looking for a lesser known novel of hers “The Lolly Madonna War” and thought I’d get in touch with her. He reply was along the lines of “why would you ever want to read that book????”. This answer still makes me smile. I continued with “S is for Silence” instead.

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