Monday, September 21, 2009

Two degrees of separation

My cousin Timmy's brother-in-law, Brand, visited him a couple weeks ago to discuss the headstone for Ruthie's grave and her memorial. Timmy had Beanie's copy of Dad's memorial DVD and showed it to Brand to give him an idea of what they could do for Ruthie. Brand watched the video and listened to me read what I wrote about my father. When Brand saw my name, he said, "That's my favorite writer and that's just how I always thought she'd sound. How do you know her, Tim?"

"She's my half-sister. How do you know her?"

"We've read all her stories in Chicken Soup. The whole family loves her. She's their favorite writer, too."

Timmy was thrilled, especially when he showed Brand my novel. Brand didn't know about that, but it didn't take him long to recover. "I'm going to go straight home and order copies for everyone in the family."

When Aunt Anne told me about all this tonight, I heard her ear-splitting grin through the phone. "Timmy's really proud of you. He always has been."

I had no idea Timmy even thought about me very much and I haven't seen him in over ten years. Aunt Anne told me a couple weeks ago that she planned to give Timmy a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family so he could read my story, "On Esther Time." Timmy has a problem with always being late just like Esther. And he's reading Past Imperfect right now.

That's the surprising thing about all of this. Timmy's in-laws have been fans of my writing for over a year. Aunt Anne said whenever a new Chicken Soup book comes out, Brand and his family check to see if it contains one of my stories before they buy it. I had no idea. But to find out that I have a family of fans who don't know about the novel who are related to me by marriage throws the whole "seven degrees of separation" out the window, at least in this instance.

I didn't expect people to approach my family, or me, until I had made a real name for myself, but evidently, in some quarters, I already have a name -- and fans. I have fans.

Writing on blogs and getting comments, interacting with people quickly this way imparts a strange point of view based on instant gratification. People write. People respond. It's effortless. It's conversation electronic style, and many bloggers have fans. I have one or two. Writing a book or having stories published in anthologies is different. I've had a couple of people email me about what I've written in Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort anthologies, but it's not the same. I know; I'm repeating myself, but it's true. I didn't expect this, not this soon, and not before I'd hit the best sellers lists, but it's so nice to know that even though people haven't contacted me directly they have read my stories and been touched and affected by them. That's part of why I write -- to touch people, give them something to think about.

It's a heady experience, knowing people read and like what I write. I doubt I'll ever get used to it or stop smiling when I remember moments like these. Even if no one ever told me they liked what I write, I'd still write. I wrote when no one read what I wrote, and I still do -- in paper journals. Still, even though most writers write for themselves, they also write for others because without readers there is no reason to fight the current in the publishing stream.

And like Scott Edelman wrote in his story, Almost the Last Story by Almost the Last Man about a writer unable to stop writing as long as he is alive.

"With each part of the Web that vanishes, I imagine that a part of the real world has gone as well. When it all goes, I will be alone.

"Well, not entirely alone. ...Shakespeare is here. And Frost. And Faulkner and Austen and Carver and Proust. All telling me of the worlds in which they lived. Worlds that continued to exit only because I am still here to read about them. ...

"It's not worth remaining in a world without readers, and I doubt that you still exist.

"My world can survive
my death. But it cannot survive yours.

"Art for art's sake as never what I was about. Art alone was never enough."

Amazing isn't it, Mary Ann that Scott Edelman's story is about zombies, too?

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