Wednesday, May 11, 2011

FAN MAIL I COULD DO WITHOUT

Shortly before leaving for Malice Domestic, I received a snail mailed fan letter in my PO box. On the advice of other published authors, I had taken out the PO box over six years ago after I sold my first book. Back then, most social media was either non-existent or in its infancy, and most readers still contacted authors via snail mail, not email. My PO box address was included in the bio at the back of my book and on my website. By the time I’d sold my third book, email had replaced snail mailed fan letters, and I dropped the PO box address from both my book bio and website.

So you can imagine my surprise when a fan letter turned up in my PO box, not just any fan letter, though. This fan letter was mailed from a state correctional facility -- a PRISON!

Although ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, my current release, is an amateur sleuth mystery, I began my publishing career writing romance. I’d heard that prisoners liked to read romances and often contacted romance authors, but I’d never received a prison fan letter back in my romance days. Now that I have, I wish I hadn’t.

My prison fan started off by telling me that he’s finishing his violation of parole (through a bit of Googling, I discovered the parole violation was for illegal possession of a deadly weapon, but I wasn’t able to uncover the reason for his various previous incarcerations.) He then went on to compliment my writing and tell me how beautiful I am (I’m old enough to be his mother!) Then he finally got to the point: He’s going to take the time to give me a few free pointers!

My prison fan had come up with a plan for me and an example of a story line -- all for a percentage of my book sales! He even outlined a plot. Now keep in mind, he wanted me to write romance because “romance is the greatest escape.” Except in his story, a prisoner (I hesitate to use the term hero) kills the heroine “after she helps get him released. (ha ha)” It was that parenthetical “(ha ha)” that really creeped me out.

He also gave me all sorts of marketing advice, including promoting in towns where prisons are located because the female employees of these prisons are “prisoners of there (sic) own passion and fantacies (sic).” I should believe him on this point, he said, because he has first hand knowledge.

He concluded his letter by telling me if I have any business questions, he’ll be incarcerated until early next year (he gave an exact date.) Along with the letter, he included Forbidden Love, a two page short story. I haven’t read it and don’t plan to.

Come next year, I’ll be on the lookout for twenty-something males loitering around the post office lobby. If I spy any, I’ll keep walking. Luckily, my fan is out-of-state. I hope he stays out-of-state. Meanwhile, I’m really glad I’m now writing about murder and mayhem. I’ve never heard of mystery authors receiving business proposals and marketing advice from prisoners. Have you?

Lois Winston writes the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Visit her at http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

25 comments:

Jess Lourey said...

That's awesome that writing about romance and not murder would garner prison fan mail. I guess we all want what is most hard to get.

I'm going to start spreading the word that you're actually a male, built like Tom Selleck (including mustache) whose pen name is Lois Winston.

jennymilch said...

Actually, heck, that kind of outside-the-box thinking might really make a marketing campaign fly. Um (ha ha). Seriously, I know this must have been an unsettling experience. I do someone who teaches creative writing in the prison system, though, and the talent to be discovered there can be inspiring. I hope your correspondent gets an agent--or takes it e--when he does get out!

Irene said...

Some people have all the luck! My prison fan letters didn't include any story outlines or ideas, even.
Sheesh!
It does make you wonder, though, where they get their reading material. Another reason to "love" that large internet bookstore, I guess.
BTW, I loved Anastasia...I have some great story ideas for her, too. :)

Tracy and her crew said...

That is pretty creepy. Although judging from some of the responses to this post, I guess it's not uncommon. That is one part of publishing I am not looking forward too...yuck.

Lois Winston said...

LOL, Jess! According to many a telemarketer, I am a male. They keep calling, asking to speak with LOUIS Winston. I tell them to contact the London cemeteries since Louis Winston has been dead for about 50 years or so.

Jennymilch, there was a prisoner who was discovered by some big name author years ago. Can't remember which one now. The prisoner wound up writing a bestseller after he got out. Then he killed someone else.

Irene, I'm happy to pass along my fan's story ideas to you, and since I know you, feel free to offer story ideas for Anastasia. However, I am not knocking off Lucille. She's too juicy a character, no matter how much you hate her. ;-)

Tracy, this is probably the creepiest part of publishing. Not something I'd wish on anyone.

Robin Allen said...

This is all kinds of awesome, Lois! And, yeah, all kinds of creepy. I had no idea prisoners read romances. I'm hoping you'll change your mind about reading his short story and post a critique.

I'll help Jess with the Tom Selleck rumor.

-Robin

Patricia said...

I would be a "lot" unsettled receiving a creepy letter from someone I didn't know who told me how beautiful I was and wanted to get a piece of the action in my writing in terms of money or anything else. Just like you, I'd ignore it and you probably will never hear from him again. Sorry that happened to you.

Lee Lofland said...

Most prison libraries consist of donated books. And, many of the books donated by the public are romance novels. So lots of the male inmates read romance simply because that's what's available. I'm not saying that some don't read romance as their genre of choice, but most Bubbas normally prefer mystery or thriller. On the other hand, when they're feeling especially lonely...

Beth Groundwater said...

I think I would have been creeped out, too, Lois! Here's hoping he never tries to contact you in person.

Karen Cote said...

Darn Lois...this seems more sinister with evil intent. He'd make his own story but be careful. There were some ugly undertones seeping beneath the surface.

Alan Orloff said...

Keep your deadly glue gun handy!

Kathleen Ernst said...

I'm with Alan. Sleep with your glue gun beneath your pillow.

Darrell James said...

Lois, I think you've cornered the prison market. Can't wait to see the line for your next book signing.

Lois Winston said...

Yes, I'll definitely be sleeping with my glue gun under my pillow! And I'm already thinking about how to use this in a future book.

Darrell, I'll gladly pass that market over to you if you want it.

Dru said...

I would change my post office box.

Alice Loweecey said...

o_O I'd change your PO box too, Lois.

Wow. Not in a good way. Wow.

Lois Winston said...

Dru and Alice, great suggestion! I should do that before he's released.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I just received a fan letter from a 24 year old prison inmate for my mystery novels. He also complimented my looks and was disappointed he'd read I am married. For that reason alone, I choose not to respond. While inmates are a captive audience for a writer, it's an audience I'd rather not encourage.

jeff7salter said...

Very, very, VERY creepy!
But, as you said, Lois, a gem of an idea for a plot thread in some future book.
May we assume that you did NOT write him back? Ha.

Lois Winston said...

Rest assured, Jeff and everyone else, I did not respond. Nor do I have any plans to respond. Nancy, my fan is also 24. Sounds like it might be the same guy.

Stephanie said...

Wow...that would definitely creep me out too! My husband is a state correctional officer...so I know all kinds of stuff about what goes on. As far as I know, only some of the other officers have read my book.

Deborah Sharp said...

This is a new one on me, Lois. I thought you were headed in your post to getting prisoner advice about assault (Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun; great title BTW!). Yes, this guy's advice is creepy; and so apparently is he. I couldn't have resisted reading ''Forbidden Love,'' though.

Esri Rose said...

Bleah, shudder, and gah. Thank goodness you had a PO box, and yes, I'd either change it or get rid of it entirely. Just get rid of it. And maybe pay the extra to have your website details made private on Whois.com.

Lois Winston said...

Hey, Deborah, if you're really interested, I'll send it to you.

Esri, I need the PO box for other things, but I'm definitely considering changing it before this guy gets out. Took care of Whois ages ago.

Robin Allen said...

You could get a second PO box, then have all the mail from this prisoner-infected one automatically forwarded to the new one.

-Robin