Monday, March 01, 2010

Between the Lines


Now and again, I get an email from somebody who tells me that he -- always been male names -- is essentially a shut-in, suffering from a debilitating, sometimes fatal illness. (Other writers I know have also gotten similar notes.)

The writer, housebound, sometimes in a wheelchair, allows as how he is a fan of my work, but that his circumstances don't allow him, because he can't get out, or because he can't afford it, to buy my books. Sometimes there is an appeal: Could I send him a few books? Sometimes, the desire is left unspoken -- would that I could afford to buy your work! -- with the implication, how could I not send him books? Especially when he allows as how reading one of my novels -- which I'm assuming he borrowed or was gifted -- changed his mind about suicide ... ?

What kind of man can ignore a heartfelt fan letter like that?

I am not by nature the kind of fellow who wants to spit on a panhandler standing on the off-ramp with his cardboard sign. And I know of at least one instance, in which a mother wrote to me asking for a birthday card for her ill son who was a fan that was either true or done well enough that I believed it, so I sent the card. She knew the names of the books, and I got thank-yous from her and from him, and it didn't feel like a scam. To get a birthday card?

I got one in today's email that is less convincing. It has all the tropes -- shut-in, debilitating, likely-to-be-fatal illness, big fan, saved his life, etc. in it. There is a mention of Star Wars, but nothing more specific to indicate that he's ever read anything I've written, no titles, nothing like that.

This one doesn't feel real. It might be, but I see that little cynic in my brain shaking his head. Mostly it's because, I think, of what it doesn't say.

"You are a great writer! I love your stuff!"

"Really? Which book is your favorite?"

"Um ... you know, the one with the guy and the ... uh ... the girl, and um ... ?"

Yeah. I know that one ...

What it feels like is, here is a guy angling for something. It doesn't cost him anything other than an email.

But -- still. What if it's true? How would I feel writing back and telling the guy I think he's playing me and I'm not falling for it?

So, I did a search on the name and email he used and came across a posting to a fanblog for a alternative rock group, offering an autographed poster to whomever most deserved it. His favorite group, he said. He was a shut-in, couldn't afford to buy their music, but listening to it had saved him from suicide, and he would love to have the poster ...

Me 'n' some punk rock group, Suicide Stoppers R us ...

I won't bother to write back on this one.

11 comments:

Thomas said...

I can't say any of your novels have ever stopped me from committing suicide, but I'm still alive, so perhaps there was something there.

I do, however, cuddle with the plush version of the novelization of "Time Cop". Does that count?

Steve Perry said...

My daughter wrote that one. My input was minimal ...

EvMick said...

Regarding Scams.

You ought to ride with a trucker some time. It seems that every type of bum that there is thinks truckers are made of money. I've heard every sob story imaginable. When they wake me up at all hours of the night (tap, tap, tap on the sleeper) I'm generally not too receptive.

Regarding your books.

Read most of them. I particularly liked the "big guy" in the matador series. I always wanted to be big and strong. Most boys did I guess.

Can't recall any suicidal thoughts either...

Homicidal?...well that's a different kettle of fish...

janeyolen@aol.com said...

I get those every week. Usually a mother with a sick child wanting a book or an autograph.

And there must be a wholesale JY fan club in Outer Slobovia because everyone in the ex USSR states seem to want my autograph but I don't recall selling books to any of those places.

Hard to take it seriously anymore. Not after the umpteenth dozen email like that.

Jane

Steve Perry said...

Sympathy plays are fun -- you don't want to see somebody suffer, even if it's not your fault -- and a good pitch can pluck your heartstrings. (A really good pitch that you know is bogus is sometimes worth paying for, to encourage the creativity. I liked the panhandler with the sign that said, "Ninjas killed my family -- need money for karate lessons." Give the man a dollar, it's worth the smile.

I'm not good enough to always know the truth when I hear it, but now and then my bullshit detector blares loudly enough so I have to listen to it. And sometimes, the liars get careless and you can catch them out.

Dan Moran said...

I've been shutin today. Send me some books, please.

Dan Moran said...

Some years back I infuriated a guy in the 24-hour Ralph's parking lot near my house into balling up his fists like he was going to swing on me ... he ran a particularly stupid "ran out of gas" routine on me, and his partner was this astonishingly good looking dark-haired girl ... I told her she could do a lot better than this low-rent artist.

Shame you can't do stuff like that in email.

Steve Perry said...

Given your reading speed, Dan, maybe a short story ...

Thomas said...

I think "My daughter wrote that one. My input was minimal ..." is actually called the "Tommyknockers Defense," right? ;)

Steve Perry said...

Nah, the book (Time Cop) was better than the movie. Plus my name isn't on it, as I recall.

Dan Moran said...

I'll take short stories. I'm not proud.