Wake up, Polly Parrot.


Oh We Get Letters
by Brian Plante

I'm almost embarrassed that I get fan mail, but I do. Not very much, but enough to remind me that there really are people out there reading my stories and looking at the webpage. Some of it is encouraging, some maddening, and some just plain weird. Unless it's downright insulting, I'll generally send a brief response. So, you ask, what kind of mail does a writer like me receive?

A common one is the I-read-your-story-and-loved-it note -- your basic fan mail. Sometimes it's from people who read a story in a magazine and search out my website on the Internet. Other email comes from web surfers who just stumble onto this site and read the stories posted here. Either way, I just can't get enough of these. A lot of my stories get sent off to an editor I've never met, appear in a magazine, and I never hear anything about it again. Unless someone writes a review of the story, or it gets some recommendations for an award or a best-of-the-year list, I have no other way to know if the story was effective. Of course, as a writer, I'm always curious to know how people react to my stories, so keep these coming. I can use the ego boost.

Sometimes the mail is not so kind. I've received a few notes telling me of some sort of error or inconsistency in one of my stories. Maybe I've used the wrong type of star in my world-building, or a character's name changed halfway through a story. This isn't my favorite sort of fan mail, but if I've blundered, I appreciate someone taking the time to point it out to me. Maybe someday that story will be reprinted, and I'd rather catch and correct the problem. Pointing out the errors might also stop me from making the same sort of error in the next story. Yeah, keep these coming, too.

Sometimes I get mail praising my webpage. The webpage is just a tool to promote my fiction work, but I still take a bit of pride in it. If you spot a mistake or problem on the site, it's okay to rub my nose in it. Really.

A few people send me jokes for the graffiti board. Thanks. If you've got something funny or profound, send it along.

People with the same last name as me say hello. I say hello back. Plante isn't that common a name and the majority of us are probably related.

I get requests. Some are harmless, some not. Here's a brief sampling:

  • Science Fiction conventions send me invitations. I don't go to many of these, since that costs me money, and short story writing doesn't pay very much. Perhaps when I have novels to promote, I'll spend a bit more on self promotion, but for now I just can't afford to go to most of these. But you convention organizers -- don't give up on me yet.

  • One agent wrote, asking if I had a novel he could look at. This was a real agent with clients I recognize, not some phony baloney scammer, so I was pretty happy about that. Unfortunately, I haven't written a novel yet, although that could change soon (but I say that every year).

  • Some writers send me their stories, hoping to rustle up some votes for the Nebula award. As a member of the SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America) I get to recommend and vote on the award, and there's a lot of behind-the-scenes politicking going on for this. I'm not really offended by this, since it may bring a good story that I may have missed to my attention, but I don't vote for something just because Joe Writer sent me a note. I have to like the story first, and I'm pretty picky.

  • Sometimes a would-be writer has an idea for a story and wants to know if I'd write it for him and split the credit. No thanks on these. I have enough ideas for my own stories. If you have a good idea, write it yourself.

  • Students want information for school assignments they're working on. If it's something I can supply quickly, sure, no problem. For example, one person requested me to send a list of my favorite horror movies. I sent him a few. But I'm not doing your homework for you, kids, so if it requires some research or I'm just too busy . . . sorry.

  • Recently, in response to another Plain Banter column, "Music To Write By -- An Oxymoron," someone asked me what sort of music I listen to when I'm not writing. I sent him a list.

  • One person was putting together his own webpage and wanted to include a section on Science Fiction. Great. But he asked me if I'd give him one of my stories to include on his site. In return, I'd get some free promotion through his website. Whoopee! I told him I usually get paid for my stories, and posting them on websites for free decreases the likelihood that I can resell the stories elsewhere. That's why I don't post all my old stories on this website. I told that person to link to the stories on my own site, and offered to do an interview with him, but he declined.

Finally, I received one odd phone call at my day job from a fan. The person figured out where I worked from some biographical info I had supplied to a magazine, and got a switchboard operator to connect us. This was a strange call, as the person had not really read the story that went along with the bio, and didn't really have anything in particular to say except hello. I guess he just wanted to see if he could track me down. I'm sure the person was harmless and may have been a bit nervous speaking to me on the phone, but it makes me wonder just how accessible I should make myself. I was polite, but it was weird.

So, as you see, my mailbag is a fairly mixed bag. If you'd like to say hi, drop me a line at Brian_Plante@sff.net. But don't call me at work, okay?

Copyright © 2000 Brian Plante


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