A Tale of Two (Fan) Letters

By Jeff Salter

I often think about the first (non-family) letter I received which praised my writing … and I used to know exactly where it was.  [No longer, however — though I’m certain I still have it… somewhere.]  It was approximately 42 years ago.

I was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at a Tactical Air Command base in New Mexico.  It was roughly the middle of my several years of photo-journalism experience, preceded by my work on school publications and two civilian newspapers … and followed by my work on three more military papers and another school publication.

I was editor of the Mach Meter, the weekly base newspaper for Cannon AFB and we were directly under the commander of the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing, in 832nd Air Division, of 12th Air Force.

Before I was promoted to editor, I’d been a columnist, photographer, general writer of features and news, and the sports editor.  Once I took on the duties of editor, I had a lot less time for writing but I often collaborated with a very talented photographer named Emmett Lewis for the center spread of (usually) a 24 page edition.  Airman Lewis never had a specific assignment for these spreads; while he was out on other photo lab jobs, something would catch his eye and he’d bring me perhaps a dozen different shots on a theme.

And I’d write.

Sometimes it was not much more than a few paragraphs, but other times his photos would move me to a substantial portion of eloquent prose.  And it was such an essay that caught the attention of an officer at another base in our command.

One day, out of the blue, I received a typed letter from a captain at this other base.  It blew me away.  He spoke about my writing talent, predicted a wonderful future for my craft, and explained he was moved to encourage me because he knew writers needed people in their corners.  [That’s my clumsy way of paraphrasing him.]

Floored.  Speechless.  Overwhelmed.

For days, I tried to think of how to respond, what to say, how to express my deep gratitude.  For weeks.  I finally realized that I simply did not possess the words to do justice to the literary praise he’d poured over me.  And for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to send a simple, pedestrian “thanks”.  So I never replied.  To my everlasting regret and shame, I never responded to that most wonderful letter of praise for my writing craft.

I was about 21 at the time, with two stripes on my sleeve … and my “fan” was a captain.  I simply did not know how to handle it.  Even then, however, I knew that doing nothing would be worse than sending something (even if phrased  poorly).  With each passing week, it became harder to think of how to reply and it became easier to let it slide.  That I never responded to my very first (overwhelming) fan letter is one of my deepest regrets.

Fast Forward

Fast forward through the rest of college, grad school, nearly 29 years of library work, then retirement.  Skip ahead to a few months after the release of my first novel, “The Overnighter’s Secrets.”

I got another fan letter.  Also overwhelming, beautifully phrased, and deeply touching.  This from a dear friend (from my high school days) with whom I’d just recently reconnected through Facebook.  She’d also been quite a muse for my early writing.  She spoke of how my story affected her and how impressed she was with my writing.

And you’re probably wondering if I was able to respond this time.

You bet I did!  I told her exactly how much it meant to me and thanked her profusely.  I told her what I should have told that captain, some 42 years ago:

            “I’m very humbled by your kind words about my story and its presentation. I already told you that your review is of the sort that an author wants to put in a frame and hang on a wall.  I feel the same way about your letter.

            I get plenty of discouragement, along with long periods of basically having my writing ignored (or only tolerated).  So to have someone with discerning taste actually appreciate it (to the degree that you indicate) … is truly a blessing.

            Thank you for the email,  for this letter, and for that wonderful review on Amazon.”

Question:

Which fan letter has meant the most to you?  What was your reply?

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About jeff7salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Twelve completed novels and five completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015, "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015, "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015, "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014, "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014, "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014, "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014, "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013, "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013, "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013, "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012, "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012. Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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14 Responses to A Tale of Two (Fan) Letters

  1. What great letters! I think that the meaningfulness of the letters makes them all the more special!

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  2. I , too, am sorry that you had not responded to the captain, but I certainly understand your predicament.I have let people who have supported me in some way go without them ever knowing what they have done for me. No more.I have even erred on the side of making a fool of myself to one individual of our mutual acquaintance.Something I casually said on a public site was worded poorly and a jest became something deeply offending to the person.That individual has been nothing but inspirational and supportive.I have tried to let them know.
    It’s never too late,Jeff. Do you remember the captain’s name?Seriously, he or even his family would love to know that his words touched you deeply, trust me.Veteran’s Affairs or groups could help you to find him.Really, he or they would be bowled-over to hear from you, maybe more so now than when he sent you the note.

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  3. Sherry Gloag says:

    Yes I can understand how you felt then and why you remained silent, and yes I’ve experienced similar in the past. Perhaps he’ll read your blog, Or a member of his family will.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      thanks, Sherry.
      I really had planned to feature his name here in the blog, hoping somebody might come across it and let him know. And, of course, to have his name so I could do a search for him. So I’m very disappointed that I can’t locate that letter now.

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  4. I can’t remember ever receiving a letter praising my writing. Reviews, texts, emails, and blog comments (which are exciting and most of which got responses), but nothing handwritten. That would definitely be something I’d keep. I hope you find the captain’s letter so you can look him up.

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    • jeff7salter says:

      thanks, Patty.
      I’ll keep looking for that letter. Before we moved from LA to KY … and then (18 mos later) from the farm house to our new house, I knew exactly where it was.

      Like

  5. Iris B says:

    I do hope you’ll find this letter, Jeff. But even if you don’t, you know you received it, you know the content and that’s all that matters! Yet, I understand you’d like to hold it in your hands again. You’ll see, when you least expect it, it appears in a corner somewhere!
    Love the story!

    Like

  6. pjharjo says:

    I can understand your regret about not replying to that Captain years ago. but please don’t beat yourself up over it. You were very young at the time. Quite possibly, he did not expect a reply. Consider the eloquent response you sent to your dear friend as your payment due to the Captain. Sorry about this late response.

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  7. Pingback: Encounter with a fan | Four Foxes, One Hound

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