Wednesday, June 24, 2015

That Time I Got a Little Weird and Misery-like with an Author

I had a wonderful time with the Misery read-a-long, sponsored by one of my favorite book bloggers, Care. 

There was no way I couldn't participate. Misery is my very favorite of all of Uncle Stevie's novels, one that I have recommended for years, sometimes several times a year. I had only read Misery once, back in the late 80s, when the paperback version came out, so I was startled to see how much of the book I remembered with such clarity. Annie Wilkes, yikes. What a creation. A three-year-old (I think. At what age do children employ and enjoy expressions like "doody"?) in a crazy-strong woman's body. Did Stephen King have preschoolers around the house during the writing of this novel? He got the language, the cadence so right.

Whatever Annie's many faults though, you have to admit that she got Paul Sheldon to get up off his talent and tell a story properly. I loved the Scheherazade theme and the twin threads of creativity and destruction that run throughout. Stephen King has revisited the disgruntled fan angle in his latest novel, Finders Keepers, and I couldn't be more delighted. Being #7 on the waiting list is a little less delightful, but no disgruntled reader here...as long as they keep the queue moving.

I thought I was all out of cringeworthy bookworm stories to share on this blog, but as I read Misery, an uncomfortable memory stirred. I didn't chop off any body parts or make anyone swallow their meds with dirty mop bucket water, but I did get a little intense. Maybe even creepy:

The year was 1995, and I had just read a first novel by a female writer that I'll refer to as A.S. On the back flap was her picture and a brief biography as well as something I had never seen before: An email address with a warm invitation to readers to contact her there. Email was something that was still relatively new in my life, and I was feeling quite cutting-edge as I composed a short note to A.S. saying how much I had enjoyed her work. Then I clicked 'send'. Sophisticated me.

Much to my surprise, A.S. wrote back! I remember seeing it early on a weekend morning and screaming and waking the whole house. So much for sophistication.

I don't have that email anymore, or even that email address, but as I remember, A.S. thanked me for my email and alluded to working on something new. I felt compelled to write back and thank her for thanking me, and thanks were unnecessary, because my god, she was a writer and I was unworthy. No, it didn't say that, but that was the general tone. I also asked about the work she had mentioned. She replied again saying that the new work would feature some of the same characters.

Now I must rinse.

 No, not really, but my reply was ill-considered. I not only blame myself, but the rapidity of our exchanges and the casual nature of email.

Again, I can't quote directly, but my lengthy reply advised her strongly (did I really have to say 'You'd better not...'?) not to switch from the first person narrative she'd used to third-person. I went on to explain that another author had done that (Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven) and I had been really upset, Actually angry and betrayed at being distanced from characters that I had taken to my heart. I wish I could forget, but I do remember using that rather intense language. I remember thinking that A.S. would be pleased by my insight and by the fact that I was more than a mere reader; I really got into books. I remember clicking 'send' with such conviction.

Guess what? A.S. never wrote back.

 I told someone what I'd written, and this person grimaced and said, "Oh, God, Susan.  Did you really? You didn't. Please say you didn't."

I read over what I'd written, and horrible realization set in. I sounded like Annie Wilkes before she picked up her ax!

Sick, clammy sweat covered me. The forehead-smiting began. For days it was a pattern: Read my stupid email, smite my forehead, Read, smite. Read, smite. Should I write and apologize to A.S. for being presumptuous? No, I couldn't even stand the click-click-click of my own typing; it brought on nausea. I finally deleted our whole exchange.

For years, I couldn't bear to see A.S.'s book in the odd library sale or used bookstore both here and abroad. When I came across it in my reading journal, I hurriedly flipped the page, feeling that same sickening feeling.

Finally after 20 years, I'm over it. I can rationalize: Sometimes ardent readers get a little carried away, and A.S. could probably appreciate that.  I'm just glad I got carried away in the days before social media.

Recently, I looked up A.S. on Amazon and saw that no novels followed that first one I admired so much. What about the new work she'd mentioned? Did I stop her creativity in its tracks with my tirade? That's ridiculous...or is it? I'll always wonder.

4 comments:

Vasilly said...

Thanks for sharing that moment with us. I've never been intense with an author before, but I can understand why anyone would.

Vasilly said...

I'm so glad you're over that moment. :-)

Susan Bybee said...

I'm glad, too!

james b chester said...

Sounds a little like the time I spent doing author interviews for my blog. I never offered anyone any advice, but I did a thorough job with my questions, reading all of their books if I could find them, asking something about each one. I think they all enjoyed it, but I do remember how it felt when an author didn't reply to my initial inquiry and when one author sent back very cursory answers. Almost everyone I dealt with, really only one exception, was very nice about answering my questions.

But I still won't read books by that one particular author.