I've said it before, even if writing is a less lucrative (i.e. non lucrative) business than it used to be before the world became full of myriad instant entertainments, I would much rather be an author today than pre-internet.
I wrote Prince of Thorns (and two books before that) on the internet, sharing chapter by chapter on online writing groups. I got immediate feedback and the interaction with those couple of dozen fellow writers was a big part of what kept me at it. I tell people to write because they like writing - but for me that's not writing in a lonely garret, filing the words away to keep themselves company unseen. For me 'writing' is synonymous with 'sharing'. When I say to write if writing is its own reward for you and to treat publication as an unlikely bonus, I don't mean write only if you're happy for nobody to ever read you words. I really mean write if sharing with a handful of people is reward enough for you. And for me it was.
Now my readers number in the 100s of 1000s I still get that same buzz from the sharing side of it, from the feedback. I think that's why I never use the word 'fans' and always feel uncomfortable when I see other people using it. I don't see this week's reader in a light that's any different from the one I saw my readers in when they numbered in the 10s and were all busy writing their own stories.
Had I been writing in the 80s I would have dropped each book into the black hole of publishing never to hear of it again. Unless, of course, someone took the trouble to hand-write a letter, send it to my publishers, and have it forwarded to me (something that has happened to me once in 5 years). That would have left me wanting - I guess my ego-machine needs a bit more to run on than royalty cheques. An 'atta boy' or two goes a long way.
As it happens I get an email or two from readers most weeks, along with messages on Facebook and Twitter, and it's great to be reminded that people are out there in all walks of life, across many countries, reading the stories I spend my days tapping out on this laptop.
Anyway - this blog post is about the latest email I received, shared below with permission. For me it captures most of what I've been talking about. The writer-joy of having felt strong emotion, hit the letter-keys, and put down something that years later evokes similar strong emotion in someone you don't know, half a world away.
I get a wide variety of reactions to the Broken Empire trilogy. Some people are left cold, others really enjoy it but on a different level to the one I'd hoped for - it's just an exciting adventure for them. Others really connect. They 'get' it.
The lady who wrote the email below 'got it'. There are trilogy-busting SPOILERS here, so don't read it unless you've read Prince, King, and Emperor of Thorns.
Probably the quickest way to tell you who I am is to say that I am a veterinarian, and so have devoted my life to helping sick and injured animals. Kindness and compassion are my watchwords. You can imagine, then, my reaction to the first few chapters of Prince of Thorns. I closed the book despite the poetry of the prose and the fascinating world and went to the friend who'd recommended the series to me. We had a conversation including phrases like "teenage psychopath" and "kitten-stomping levels of evil." My friend convinced me to give the books another try.
And I did, and I started to see the sparks of humanity in Jorg. I began to understand his past, his pain, and why his men followed him. Saw his beliefs about himself and the world, both the true and the false. I stood on glorious mountaintops with him. Chortled at his insouciance. Cheered him on when he fought against his darkest tendencies and forgave him when he failed to do so. My friend had told me that though I might come to understand Jorg, I would not like him - but he was wrong.
I finished Emperor of Thorns last night and wept. I rarely feel such a connection to a character, but this ending saw me with face in hands, sobbing and shaking until I was completely drained. (spoiler - highlight to read) Not so much for Jorg's death - though it felt as though I'd lost a friend - but for what Jorg had lost, and especially for what he had finally gained.
It's hard to explain the complicated emotions still swirling through me. Harder still to share them with anyone I know, since the one friend who read the books certainly didn't have this kind of reaction. So here I am, writing a fan letter of sorts for the first time in my life. I thought you might like to know that your writing touched me so deeply, and I wanted to thank you for it.