When Fan Mail Turns Scary
By G. Kyle White
November, 2007, 07:46
The "xxxooo" at the end of her first instant message should have been a clue that this was no ordinary fan mail. As a newbie writer just breaking into professional writing, I overlooked several clear indications that I was being stalked.
|Enthusiatic mail can lead to enveloping tentacles even Dean Koontz would fear.|
"i saw ur story in DallasChild. ur a good writer. xxxooo," read the simple note on my Yahoo! Messenger.
I flushed with pride. ANNA98765 (not her real screen name) had read my essay about the recent loss of my ex-wife and the subsequent arrival of my children to live with me. Not only had she read my story, but she had taken the time to search for me on the Internet (the magazine did not offer my contact information). I took all of this to mean that I had done a good job since my article had touched someone.
"thank you for your kind words. it's nice to know that my work has been appreciated," I responded.
I bragged to my writers' workshop that I had gotten some fan mail. They laughed and applauded.
Yahoo! Messenger wanted to know if I'd like to add ANNA98765 as a contact. "Sure," I thought. What could it hurt?
Two days later, there was another message waiting for me.
"r u online? xxxooo," read the message sent at 12:30 a.m. I suppose I should have begun to get a little nervous, but I decided that my fan probably worked the late shift.
"sorry I missed you. do you like to write, too?" I responded.
Three days later, another instant message waited for me.
"where r u? why r u never online? r u avoiding me?" No "xxxooo" this time. Who in their right mind is awake at 3:45 a.m.? I hit the delete button, finally growing a bit worried.
Several weeks went by with no messages. I figured that I had misinterpreted the last one. When my next article appeared in Antiques And Collecting Magazine, I foolishly decided to let ANNA98765 know.
"great! where can i get a copy? xxxooo." By this time, the "xxxooo" were starting to become a real concern. Was my desire to brag about my published writing being misconstrued?
I advised ANNA98765 that no local bookstore carried the magazine, but I would be adding the story to my website.
Another week passed with no contact from ANNA98765.
Then, one Friday, I was working from home during the day, a rarity since my full-time job involves a great deal of travel. Taking a break, I decided to check my personal email for a response to a recent short story submission.
"hi! i haven't seen u online in a while. xxxooo," ANNA98765 popped up almost immediately.
"hey there. i'm not often on during the day," I replied.
Several minutes passed as I read my emails. No rejections, but no acceptances either.
"did you see a copy of my article?" I finally asked. In retrospect, I wish I had left well enough alone.
"do u date? xxxooo"
I stared at the words, slightly taken aback. I have been divorced for seven years. During that time, my ex-wife and I had fought about money and the children, I had learned to live alone, and I'd dated sporadically. Finally, however, I had sworn off relationships, convinced that I just wasn't the couple type.
Then my ex-wife died. It was sudden and unexpected. In a span of weeks, my children had relocated to live with me. We had to find schools for them, establish new routines, and figure out how to become a family again.
"do u date? xxxooo," the words flashed accusingly at me.
I knew that a relationship was not what I needed. Helping my children to adjust was my main focus. But how did I express those feelings to a faceless stranger, especially one who was beginning to make me nervous?
"i'm already seeing someone. sorry," I lied, taking the coward's way out.
"u 2 timer! why have u been flirting w/ me????!!!!" Her response dripped with anger.
I though back over the last few weeks of our conversations wondering when I had flirted. I carefully considered my next words.
"i'm sorry if you thought i was flirting. i only wanted to talk about writing." I hesitated before sending the message, confident that my meaning would not be clear.
"u contacted me! u made passes at me! does ur gf know ur a bast**d???????"
I shut down my computer, not bothering to respond. At this point, I figured anything I said would be taken the wrong way.
Now each time I open my email, there's a pain in the pit of my stomach. Will ANNA98765 be online? Will she blast me? Did I really say something misleading?
Truthfully, I don't think so, but if my one simple article generated this type of a response, what do big-time authors like James Patterson, Dean Koontz, or Danielle Steel face? I guess that's why they all employ personal assistants to screen their fan mail.
I have decided to view this interaction positively. Maybe I did respond too enthusiastically when she first contacted me. In the future, I'll try to be more low-key and impersonal whenever I get some fan mail. Then, hopefully, any future ANNA98765s will understand that I am married to my writing.
G. Kyle White is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. His work has appeared in regional and national publications. He can be reached at www.gkylewhite.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.