Authors fascinate me. How they write, how they process their ideas, how they think about what they do, it all intrigues me no end, and I love to hear them talk about it.
Years ago, way back in 2009, Ana and I had the chance to hear Dennis Lehane (author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone). He spoke at a library nearby, read a bit from his latest release (it was The Given Day), talk about his process, and answer questions from the group. It was illuminating, and I wrote about the experience here.
A few years later, we had the chance to do the same with another of our favorite mystery writers, Tana French, and just as with Lehane, I came away with some delicious insights. (Which I wrote about here.)
Then, last year, I had an extraordinary (and highly unexpected) opportunity to meet my #1 favorite living author, Kate Atkinson, an event so striking that it still reverberates. Because I’d had no idea she would be there until the moment I walked into the room — although I had waked up that morning (my birthday, as it happened) thinking about her book. (You can read more about that one here.)
Meeting the first two authors inspired me about the process of writing. Meeting the third inspired me about the process of living. With Atkinson, the circumstances — you might say, the magical realism — of our encounter presented me with a stunning confirmation of the fact that the universe is always listening, and is perfectly capable of responding in the most breathtaking ways.
It showed me, once again, that the universe is a resonant place.
I wrote about resonance back in 2009 — the same year I met Dennis Lehane — in the book I did for John Assaraf, The Answer.
Resonance, from the Latin meaning “to sound again,” is simply the transfer of vibration from one medium to another. Hold a tuning fork tuned to A440 near any musical instrument, play that same note, and the tuning fork will vibrate. Play a different note, and it won’t vibrate. The piano’s A-string and the tuning fork share the same wave form, which is why they resonate.
You and your parents share patterns that are not identical, but are strongly similar, enough so that you resonate. This is also true of you and your spouse, you and your best friends, you and your kids, even you and your dog. That’s why you resonate.
The way the right note, sung clearly and loudly enough, can cause a tuning fork to vibrate and even shatter glass, is the same way the right thought, held clearly and strongly enough, can cause events in the physical world to happen. A single thought, held clearly and firmly, can defeat an empire, as Gandhi demonstrated.
Whistle a note into a piano with the damper pedal held open (so the strings are free to vibrate), and your whistled note will reverberate in the open strings.
Whistle a thought out into the open strings of the universe, and it will resonate there, too. (Remember to hold open the damper pedal of your mind.)
Meeting Kate was a lovely instance of the universe whistling back.
This year, I decided to try reaching out directly to my favorite authors. I’d never done this before. I wrote emails to the two authors who created my favorite mystery protagonists: Chris Knopf, creator of the Sam Acquilo books, and Harry Bingham, author of the remarkable Fiona Griffiths series.
First I wrote to Chris, who lives in Southamptom, and told him Sam Acquilo was my favorite male protagonist (Fiona Griffiths being my favorite female protagonist), and that I hoped the series was not over and done with.
Three days later, I got a reply:
John: Always delighted to hear from an appreciator. I plan on keeping Sam going as long as he’ll let me. Next one is out June, 2017. Thank you very much. Best, Chris
Next, I wrote to Harry Bingham, over in England.
Dear Harry: I’ve said this many times, and in many places, some of them public: Fiona is my #1 favorite female mystery series protagonist. (I have a #1 male favorite, too, Chris Knopf’s Sam Acquilo.) The Fiona books are magnificent.
Just preordered book #5: can’t wait.
But I’m writing you not about the books, but about your reader missives. [Harry writes wonderful notes to his newsletter subscribers.] As an author myself, I pay a great deal of attention to communicating with my readers. I have to tell you, I think you do the best job of communicating with readers — in a way both informative and personal, at the same time classy and casual — of any author I’ve seen. Much appreciated! Warm regards, John
This time I got a reply the very next day.
Thanks, John — in relation to each of your first, second and third paragraphs!
On the first point — I haven’t come across Chris Knopf before, but I’ll have to look him up. I love those unexpected little recommendations.
And on the third point — well, in the end it comes down to authenticity, I think. I don’t particularly try to sell the books; I hope they do that for themselves. And as soon as one takes that sales pressure off, it becomes much easier just to sound like a human, which in the end is what readers are going to prefer anyway.
Thanks again, and hope you enjoy the book! Harry
I figured that was the end of this particular story. I had reached out to two of my favorite authors, introduced them to each other’s work, and gotten delightful replies from both. I was as thrilled as any fan that I’d actually heard from these two guys — that they would respond to someone they didn’t know from Adam.
And then I received a tweet from a woman I didn’t know from Adam.
Hello Mr. Mann: I appreciate you for all of your contributions to the world. In 2009 you were one of my first followers on Twitter. That year I read your book, and when [a famous entertainer] asked his followers about the latest book they’d read, I responded with The Go-Giver. To my surprise, you reached out, thanking me for the mention.
Your response blew me away. I’ve never known a famous person to reach out to ordinary people. I wanted to take the time to send a personal note of appreciation for the spirit of humanity and for caring enough to share your knowledge. You work, your gift makes a world of difference and it makes the world a better place. Words cannot express my gratitude, so I simply say thank you. — @Marilynh2o
Well. My goodness. It had never occurred to me, when I set about to write my favorite authors hoping they would reply, that I might be on the other end of that process. Which prompted this thought:
We’re always on the other end of the process.
If you want to be appreciated, appreciate. If you want to be respected, respect. If you want to be loved, love. If you want someone you’ve never met and who doesn’t know you from Adam (a famous writer, say) to respond to you when you contact them, respond to someone you don’t know from Adam.
Knock, and the door will open.
Because the universe is a resonant place.