Wednesday, September 20, 2006

oddballs and fan mail

The other day, I sent an email to Hillary Carlip, author of Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan, which is a book I recently read and enjoyed. It's a memoir and is totally offbeat, but smart, funny, touching, and a nice example for those of us out here who admire creative non-fiction and are trying to get a feel for it as writers. I went to her book's website, her personal-essay site, and her myspace page, which are loaded with great information, and for some reason I was overwhelmed with adolescent-like, giddy, admiration. It all got the best of me and before I knew it--for the first time in my life--I had written and sent fan mail. Here is what I wrote:

Hi Hillary,
Before I say anything else, is this really Hillary, or just some die-hard fan posing as Hillary? Hmm... I'm going to have to trust whatever answer you give me, I suppose.

No, you don't know me...yet! I just read Queen of the Oddballs and naturally loved it. And I SO love that you have a myspace page. It just makes me giggle a little, because sometimes I wonder if it's weird that I'm 31 and am mildly addicted to myspace.

I have to be honest; I'd never heard of you or your book until my best friend, Kathy, sent it to me as an unexpected gift, since she knows I love to read and write creative nonfiction. One day last week, the mail man dropped off a dusty, beat-up old box with my name and address scrawled across it. The same chicken scratch had been used for the return address, which was someplace in Indiana. I grew up in Cincinnati, recently spent 6 years in St. Louis, and currently live in South Florida--but I don't know anybody who lives in Indiana so I couldn't figure out who had sent me anything. When I opened the box, there was one sad, lopsided half-sheet of bubble wrap, on which all the bubbles had been popped, and your book. Nothing else, no note, no explanation. Just a book I'd never heard of called Queen of the Oddballs, from an address I didn't know, packaged in a sketchy-looking box. It was all a little strange. However, I picked up your book and flipped through the pages out of curiosity. Just then, a sheet of paper came floating out from the middle and landed on the kitchen floor. It was an receipt and in tiny print at the bottom was Kathy's name, listed as the customer.

So, long story even longer, Kathy had sent the book to me as a treat, knowing I'd love it (she's a librarian and has read everything ever published and has a knack for recommending the right books to the right people) and also knowing that few things thrill me more than receiving real mail from people who aren't requesting payment from me. When I called her that afternoon to ask her about this, I said, "So are you telling me I'm an oddball?!" She just giggled and said she loved it and was sure I'd love it too.

I am so so so glad she sent your book to me! I love it for many reasons, especially your ability to see--and tell--the stories life creates. It's a trait I admire and strive for. Also, I love that--for once--it's a memoir written by a lesbian, but it's not a "coming-out story." Don't get me wrong; coming-out stories are a cozy little sub-genre of creative nonfiction, and I enjoy reading a truly original, well-written, fresh essay/memoir/book written in that vein. I guess in a way, it's a right of passage for any gay writer. It's important, and I respect it. However, I also am always on the search for memoirs written by lesbians that are about life after coming-out, about more than just realizing one's sexuality. Don't know if I'm making any sense here, hopefully you get the point.

Anyway, thanks for so much inspiration. I look forward to reading more from you and also spending lots of time reading essays on Fresh Yarn.

Take care,
P.S. Can I put you on my friends list?

heeheehee...yeah, I know, I sound like a 15-year-old there. But I just had to tell her how much I enjoy her writing! And if she's on myspace, and I'm on myspace...well of course I'm going to want to add her to my friends list!

SO. The big news is that today I received an email response from Hillary! This is what she wrote:

Yes, yes, it's really me! How much do I love Kathy for passing on my book to you??? And, OK, that beat-up, hand-addressed box is TOTALLY, well... ODDBALL!

So glad you were inspired by the book and, yes, I totally get what you mean about the coming out/not aspect. Thanks for noticing! =)

OF COURSE we'll be friends (not fans!) as soon as I get to approving all the requests. I have a ton of them and I'm still on the road on tour, with no time at all. Back next week and diving right back into MySpace!

In the meantime, thanks a MILLION for the shout-out, and for digging my book so much. Hope you'll spread the word!!! And thank Kathy, too!

How sweet is that?!

Ok, so maybe she writes similar stuff to all of her fans, but I don't care. She totally humored me by writing any response at all, and that is very cool in my world.

You know, I bitch and moan endlessly about stuff in life that gets me down, but honestly, all it takes is something as simple as a good book and a friendly email response from the writer, and I'm delighted to no end.

And by the way, I do recommend this book to anyone who enjoys memoirs that aren't beat-you-over-the-head heavy and somber. She has a great sense of humor and a fun perspective on life, and she really does see that there are great stories to be told all over the place. Everywhere you look, every moment of life, there are stories to be found and told. I'm learning more and more that writing is just as much--perhaps more so--about observing life and being able to extract the story from each moment as it is about sitting in front of a computer putting words on the screen. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone who gets more enjoyment out of her own existence. Ultimately, she totally unquestioningly accepts, no, celebrates herself in every way and loves every unique part of her own personality, and that is what I enjoyed most about this book. I even shed a few tears toward the end.

As always, Kathy got it right. She rules, but she knows that already. Speaking of which: Happy Birthday, Kathy!!!


At September 21, 2006 8:30 AM, Blogger Marcia said...

You're completely friends with a famous person now, and I'm tres jealous.

At September 21, 2006 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

omg! that is so cool! it's awesome that she called you "friend, NOT fan!" that is great! and just think how much fun you will have playing the "6 degrees of separation game" now that you're friends with someone famous. tee hee!
seriously, i'm glad you enjoyed the book and i thought it could most definitely serve a purpose. nothing like a little biblio-therapy! i loved it too. talk later! kathy


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