Paul Doiron here—
One of the more surprising occurrences during my book tour in June was the appearance of four of my young fans at a Barnes & Noble reading. I say surprising because, prior to that evening, I was unaware of having any young fans*. I am a normal person. We do not have young fans.
Or so I thought, anyway. It turned out that the store had mistakenly put copies of Trespasser out a week before its official publication date. These four readers—all in their twenties—had grabbed the early copies and consumed them in a single burst of non-stop reading. And now here they were, at B&N, to pry details of my third book out of me before the ink on the second was even dry. (In this, they were not alone: my editor is also eager to know what my third book, due at the end of the month, is all about.) I was flattered by the foursome’s attention to the point of being dumbstruck.
I have been writing for publication, most conspicuously in Down East magazine where I have a monthly editor’s note, for half my life, so I know what it is like to have people respond to something you wrote. At the magazine I have received gushing letters of praise and letters that make me look out the window for a nut with a sniper’s rifle lurking across Route 1. But receiving appreciative notes isn’t the same thing as having genuine fans, let alone young fans. I thought they all belonged to Suzanne Collins, for one thing.
Last year, I was caught totally off-guard by my first fan letters. They arrived via email, as they do now, even before The Poacher’s Son appeared in print. My publisher had distributed ARCs (or advance reader copies, in the business) to assorted groups of enthusiastic readers in the hope that some of their enthusiasm would rub off on my humble first novel. Fortunately for me, it did.
Now I tend to get a half dozen fan letters a week, and honestly, each and every one of them feels like a revelation. Some compare me to authors I have venerated for years (and to whom I would never compare myself). Others are just eager for some morsel of information about what will happen next to poor Mike Bowditch. Readers catch my errors and then apologize for doing so, as if I weren’t grateful for their help. The fan letters I enjoy most are the ones that share stories from real life. Here’s an anecdote from a woman who worked in a Maine district attorney’s office for many years:
Early on, I interviewed a young woman who said she was gang raped. I just knew she was lying, And I had to laugh when one of the suspects came into my office after testifying plunked himself down and said, “Boy, I raped her I certainly didn’t get my money’s worth!” He was one of our typical drunks, usually harmless as they don’t drive!
If you have read The Poacher’s Son or Trespasser, you know this kind of story is like catnip to my imagination.
Now that I am getting fan mail and having actual readers show up at my events—as opposed to the hapless shoppers who would be caught passing through bookstores when I suddenly started reading at a microphone and then feel obliged to stop and listen—I understand less and less those authors who refuse to appear in public. I am a pretty shy person myself, which is one of the reasons I became a writer, but why would any right-minded human being avoid situations that validate your existence? I don’t get it.
Gratitude is an emotion I try to encourage in myself every day. I am lucky to get to do what I do, and even luckier to have found people who find my work meaningful, even when it’s only four tattooed twentysomethings hogging the front row at one of my readings.
* This is not technically true: when I gave a talk at a high school once, a sixteen-year-old girl came up afterward to tell me that The Poacher’s Son had displaced the latest Harry Potter book as her favorite novel of all time. If you had asked me the intended audience for The Poacher’s Son, I would not have named teenaged girls, but I was glad that this one liked my book so much. My sixteen-year-old-self never would have imagined it.