I write letters to authors. It’s one of those geeky facets of my word nerd life that I think is cool, but I’m sure others envision as sheer boredom. I prefer pen and paper letters, but sometimes snail mail addresses are not shared, so email has to do.
What is amazing about this act of correspondence, is that many authors actually reply.
My students used to do an author research project that included a letter component. After researching their chosen author for a few weeks students would write thoughtful letters that included questions deeper than, do you have any dogs? Or, what is your favorite color? I’d mail out the letters just before we left for Winter Break, and then all Spring we’d be treated to bits and pieces of author mail.
Generous authors would reply with postcards (Kate DiCamillo), handwritten letters (Brian Selznick), bookmarks (Andrew Clements) , or pieces of paraphernalia of their past lives. Middle grade sports author Tim Green sent students autographed football cards from his days as a linebacker and defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons! Rachel Renee Russell of the Dork Diaries series sent us a book, each and every time we wrote her. (Thank you, Rachel!) Anthony Horowitz’s letters arrived with a cool par avion stamped across the front, and knowing the letter came across the ocean from so far away, made it even more special. Some authors, like Johnathan Rand go all out and send all sorts of cool swag like word search books that feature their character’s names and settings.
Some authors are too busy to respond personally, but “their people” send a lovely note, complete with a computer-generated autograph. (J.K. Rowling) . Gordon Korman, Cornelia Funke, Mary Amato … along with all of those listed above, blessed us with their time and words and I am eternally grateful.
No matter what type of response we received, my students were always fired up… which usually resulted in more author-hero-worship, and ultimately more reading. It’s easy to see why I liked (adored!) this project, right?!?!
In fact, it yielded such good results that I started doing it on my own. Sometimes I would be in connection to an interview for my blog, other times because I had a question for the author, and sometimes it was just plain fan mail.
Every once and a while I come across an author who’s address (email/snail mail/Facebook Messenger/EVERYTHING) is unattainable. I’ve even gone so far as to look up their agent or publisher’s address, but sometimes, even then they only entertain mail for media requests. So, in an act of desperation, or maybe a more positive spin – persistence, I am sending my letters to these inaccessible authors out into the universe. Maybe if the blog post is shared and passed around enough, it will eventually reach them. If nothing else, I will know I have tried.
So here it goes. My first letter is to Ernest Cline, author of Ready Player One.
I know I am late to the Ready Player One party. I confess that I did pick it up at Barnes and Noble a few times and read the back blurb… but never pulled the trigger. I don’t know why. I’ve recently been in the car a lot – for my own author events/visits across the state – and when I finished my last audiobook, I downloaded yours on a whim. Am I ever glad I did. (I’m probably not making a very good first impression, but I promise to make up for it by the time this letter ends.)
For the entire duration of Ready Player One, I was obsessed! I usually use audiobooks to distract me while I exercise or fold laundry. Ready Player One has inspired me to have the cleanest house on the block and walk more steps in a few weeks than I had previously attained all year. I would find myself inventing silent chores, driving around the block to finish a chapter before I got out of the car, or adding five minutes to my pre-lunch walk… just to find out what happens next. Bravo. You made the unpleasant chores of my life enjoyable! Congratulations! This is a huge accomplishment!
I think part of the reason I loved your book so much is because of your epic world building. You took a place that was familiar and made it feel foreign. You assigned new rules within a scaffold and structure readers already knew and made our world intriguing and exciting. You also designed an legendary treasure hunt that was irresistible to follow.
Have I improved my status enough to ask a few questions? I’m hoping you’re still reading and agree yes!
On your blog and in your bio, you note your extensive nerdiness. I’m curious. Was there anything you had to research for this novel, or did all of this knowledge come from personal life experience? Your second book Armada is also about videogames. Are you nervous of becoming knowns as “the videogame author”? (Not that there is anything wrong with that… I don’t enjoy videogames at all and I loved your book!) Are there any other topics of which you are an expert that you consider writing about? Are there any topics of which you know very little, that you’d like to learn more about in order to write about them?
I think it would be amazing to apply your imagination to a novel that takes place on a movie set and readers have to figure out where filming stops and reality starts. Or maybe your character is from the far future and happens upon a museum full of the pop culture items you love so much and chooses never to leave, to always live in the past. I dunno. But please… keep writing!
Craft question next. Easter Eggs. The concept for including hidden gems inside a story has recently come across my field of vision multiple times. Obviously a large part of your story is devoted to Halliday's Easter Eggs. Your story is also peppered with 80's pop culture references that could be considered Easter Eggs. My question is, are there any of these Easter Eggs that were your favorite? Either to write or hide? Are there any Easter Eggs that are more subtle and you hope (and pray) that your readers will be clever enough to find? What advice would you give an author trying to hide their own Easter Egg? I googled the topic and the internet is sorely barren and unhelpful. Any tips you've got... throw 'em my way! (Please and thank you!)
Okay. I know this book is fiction. Duh. I know. I also know (I teach middle school Language Arts) that there are four major purposes for which an author writes. (People write to persuade, inform, entertain and self reflect… easy to remember by using the acronyms PIES.) I’m guessing that your primary purpose of this story was to entertain. (Consider that purpose achieved!)
But, I’m wondering, did you have a second purpose? Were you maybe trying to inform us that escapism will really kick us in the pants if we let it go too far? Were you maybe trying to persuade us to care a bit more about environment or we’ll end up living in a burning wasteland? Was any of this novel a social commentary on the state of our current affairs? You can totally say no and still be the author of a phenomenal book. It’s okay if you want this book to be surface level entertainment and nothing more. But, I’m curious. Is that all you meant it to be? And if your answer is no, there is meant to be something more there, what would you (in your perfect, overlord of the universe status I’m giving you right now) like us to do?
And of course, I’d kick myself if I didn’t ask… will there be a sequel to Ready Player One?
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter. Thank you for writing a novel I wholly enjoyed. I you feel so inclined, I’d love a response. (Even if it’s just from “your people”.)
From one nerd to another,
P.S. Because of you, asshat is my new favorite descriptor.
Who would you write a letter to?
Write their name in the comments below, or better yet, post their name in the comments below and then go do it!! If you are having trouble locating an address, email me, and I'll do my best to help. (I have a few tricks up my sleeve!)