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.