Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Writing to Writers

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You may think bestselling authors only exist behind big walls in a New York high rise or far out somewhere in a mountain cabin. But they’re often just people, like you and me, living lives with families and friends, trying to earn a living at what they do best. Now I’ve always thought about the old cliché brought up in English classes, the idea that imagine if you could go back in time and talk to famous authors, who would it be? But I got to thinking, aren’t there plenty of famous authors alive right now…and only an email away?

So I decided to write to a couple of major authors whose books I loved and whose writing renown reaches far and wide within their own genre communities. After all, there’s already a sort of established tradition of young unknown authors writing to other, more seasoned writers. A young (and at the time unknown) James Joyce used to write to his favorite playwright, Ibsen. Hemmingway and Dos Passos were friends for years. And speculation goes on about how well Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe maybe have known one another. Far be it from me to consider myself in the same ballpark as these people, but I figure that the same idea should hold true.

With that in mind, I wrote to Jeff Shaara, probably the most famous living novelist on the American Civil War today, and to Valerie Martin, a renowned women’s writer and also a great historical novelist as well. Well, the weeks went by and for a time I figured that these people were probably far too busy to answer my correspondence. But low and behold, they both wrote back! Despite their busy schedules, both authors really made an effort to give thoughtful responses to my email and tried to give me some encouragement and hope in the endlessly dogged enterprise of trying to get a first time novel published. Needless to say, their positive attitudes struck me immediately as both a mark of their good characters as well as probably a secret to their own determination and success. On top of it all, they turned out to be really down to earth, nice people. Can’t ask for much more than that. So after receiving a few tips and some metaphorical pats on the back I have returned to writing regularly with the hope that I can continue to push my work forward and actually accomplish something with it. Until then…keep writing.