I Found An Old Letter A Famous Author Wrote To Me
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 I went through my boxes of old stuff, including letters, musty books, and outdated bills.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:
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.
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?