Personal Connections Between Authors and Readers

When I was in fourth grade, our teacher read Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary to us. It’s about a kid who starts a correspondence with one of his favorite authors, eventually sharing all the trials and tribulations of his life with him. I’ve thought about this book a lot as an adult who has written for and worked with kids. I thought the book was awesome when I was a kid, but as an adult I wonder if Mr. Henshaw had some boundary issues.

Still, even as an adult, I feel tickled by personal connections with authors, and I can understand how such correspondences happen. Today I got a response from Judy Blume regarding the birthday message I left in her guestbook last week, and I thought, wow, if Judy Blume gets in touch with readers on a personal basis, it must be the thing to do.

The Internet has definitely changed the way that content producers and content consumers interact with one another. I keep a personal book blog but have received emails on more than one occasion from authors thanking me for writing a good review of their books. Some of these turned into lenghthier correspondences, although none of them reached Mr. Henshaw proportions. I have a pretty high threshold for boundary maintenence, and am likely to back off as soon as that boundary feels as though permeation is possible.

But I can see how easy it would be to come down. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear from people who think they’re fantastic? Who wouldn’t want to keep that coming? At the same time, I wonder how authors can possible keep up with it and still find time to write and make lunch and read a book or two. I have trouble keeping up with my email, and I’m not famous (except in my own mind, maybe ;)).

Sometimes I wonder whether the Internet makes use expect too much from people; or maybe I chronically expect too little. I never expected a response from Judy Blume, nor the other authors I’ve written, but I’ve often gotten one. I wouldn’t begrudge an author who didn’t write back; we’re all busy people, and just because I don’t get a response doesn’t mean there was no one on the other end. But I wonder if so many authors correspond personally with readers now because publishing is floundering, and every reader counts; or if it’s because consumers expectation of personal interaction with content creators has risen so much with the advent of the Internet; or if it’s really happening out of honest and mutual enjoyment.

With all of that said, I really do appreciate content creators who take the time to personally touch base with their fans. I just hope it doesn’t take over their lives. I like to keep my image of creatives taking long walks in the morning looking for inspiration and having dinner with their families after a long day of solitiude. The thought of authors hunched over their email spending more time corresponding than creating is a little depressing, despite how lovely it is to be on the receiving end of that attention.