One of the pleasures of writing for young people is that they write you letters, lots of them. Call them fan letters. They are supporting, encouraging, often touching. The best of them derive from a deep and special connection to a particular book, which the letter-writer expresses in their own terms and in their own words. From time to time, they will include poignant stories that connect their lives to the characters or situations in my books. And the letters also often provide clues about what readers find attractive about my work content, characters, and style.
Now and again, a letter comes about a book written many years ago. That message tells me that an old book is still alive for someone, somewhere.
Harder to deal with are class-generated letters: “My class was required to read … and write you a letter.” In such cases, I have received as many as fifty letters from one school in one day each one replicating a teacher-led discussion, each of the letters saying the same thing and asking the same questions. Each one requesting a reply.
If a letter writer asks an unusual question, I try to answer it on my blog postings.
The sheer volume of the mail poses problems, the key one being time. It is impossible for me to reply to each letter with a unique response. Nor can I respond with requests such as, “Send me a book,” “Please call me,” “Can you visit my school next week?” With postal rates going ever higher, cost is also a problem.
However, personally generated letters, letter-writers who tell me that something I wrote made a difference in their lives, are enormously encouraging; especially on those days when my writing seems dull, and unlikely to interest anyone. The fan letters send a cool breeze across my drowsy brow, wake me up, and make me work the harder.