I was reading something in the blogosphere that mentioned fan mail to authors, and it reminded me of the first time I sent a fan letter to a writer.
The recipient was George C. Chesbro, and the book was Shadow of a Broken Man (1977), in which he introduced Robert "Mongo" Frederickson, dwarf, former circus performer, genius criminologist, and PI. I was a teenager at the time, gobbling up Christie, Queen, Stout, and numerous other mystery authors, and I greatly enjoyed Mongo's considerable talents and his touching relationship with his brother. In those pre-email days, I sent off a letter in care of the publisher stating how much I liked the book and that I tended to forget that Mongo was a dwarf because of his many skills. How startled I was to receive a postcard from Chesbro, telling me "Alas, like the rest of us, Mongo has to manage with what he has" and a little about the next book in the series (City of Whispering Stone). Touched that Chesbro had taken the time to respond, I kept the postcard for years.
We tend to forget the impact that books can have beyond their entertainment value. I think of the fan who told Anne Perry that her novels helped her through ovarian cancer. I think of a woman who was choosing books on tape in the library for a bedridden elderly person whose greatest pleasure was listening to mysteries. I think of the 10-year-old fan of Elizabeth Peters whose mother helped her to make a toolbelt so she could "play Amelia Peabody" in the backyard. I myself have received some kind emails about my own work, invariably prefaced by "I hope I'm not bothering you." I think of the entire community out there, readers and writers, in ongoing, dynamic, often silent dialogue with each other, many outside the world of the Internet, and am staggered.