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April 2005 Message from Dan

Greetings Readers, Friends, and Other Visitors:

I want to thank so many of you for sending your suggestions on cities and bookstores (and in some cases, nations) that I should visit during the summer signing and reading tour for OLYMPOS. I’ve read all of the e-mails – more than 100 – and sent them along to my publicist, Jack Womack (a very accomplished writer as well as publicist for HarperCollins). Jack knows that more suggestions continue to come to me through my web site and that I’ll be sending those along as well – at least until the list of cities and stores is finalized by the publisher.


Dan signing pages for a limited edition.

Besides thanking those who took the time to send in the suggestions, I’d also like to thank you for the polite tone of the vast majority of the brief e-mails and for the extra kind comments on some. (There were no impolite suggestions – only some very concise ones.) I not only enjoyed reading these notes but was struck – not for the first time – by the politeness and generosity shown by so many people who read my work and who take the time to interact with me.

This tone is reflected in almost all of the exchanges I’ve seen in the Forum on my web site – a place I visit only infrequently since the interlocutors there carry on their conversations so well without my kibbitzing. Not being familiar with chat rooms, other authors’ web sites, or forums in general, I’ll have to go along with the opinion of several more experienced web-forum travelers who tell me that the tone of conversation on the Dan Simmons Forum is exceptionally civilized.

 

I agree. I’ve never imagined a “Dan Simmons’ reader” nor theorized on any traits such a mythical beast might have, but it pleases me very much to think that a possible common element to a Simmons’ readership might be a high level of politeness and civilized behavior. (Not to be parental or anything, but this is coming from an elementary teacher of 18 years who, every year on the first day of school, handed out the ever-thickening phonebook-sized tome of obligatory “school rules” and then had the sixth-graders toss them aside, telling them that the only rule that would apply in Mr. Simmons’s class would be – “We’ll all treat each other with dignity and respect this year.”)

The other day, after reading and forwarding the book tour suggestions and being struck by all this politeness, I did encounter a less-than-polite letter on the Forum – one addressed to me. Its rudeness was the common garden variety sci-fi-ish fanboy arrogance I tend to associate with a small minority of people at SF conventions or somesuch, and the note began with an accusation that I’d taken all of my ideas from another writer. It was late in the day when I encountered this posting and I made the mistake of responding to it on the Forum. And I compounded my mistake by responding sharply and with sarcasm. (Writers tend to act that way when they’re told, by anyone, that their life’s work is founded on plagiarism, but that’s no excuse.) Even by pointing out that the visitor’s posting had been impolite and not in keeping with the tone of the Forum, I was being impolite myself – I consider all the visitors to this web site as visitors to be treated with the respect one treats visitors in one’s own home – and I’m sorry for responding at all.

If I had used such sarcasm in my class, I would have publicly apologized to the student. In this case, sarcasm not only violates the polite tone established and maintained by others on the Forum but is always an attempt to violate the dignity of someone else (however insulting or poorly informed their comment may have been.) I can only console myself by knowing that if I were my old friend Harlan Ellison, I would have driven to the offending person’s home and not left until their forehead had been well and truly sewn to the carpet.

Everything is relative.

This raises the larger question – and one that I’ve thought about often in the 24 years I’ve been a professional writer: What does an author owe his or her readers?

My own answer has been – nothing except the promise to produce the best and most honest writing one is capable of.

That excludes a lot of things which many reasonable people assume are part of a published author’s obligations – signing books, responding to letters, looking over manuscripts, giving advice, creating a web site, answering posts in a forum there, giving readings, or even going on tour and appearing in public.

Some of those things I choose to do because I believe they’re important (going on tour, signing books at bookstores, meeting readers at signings, teaching the occasional writing class to adults at a place of my choosing) and others I will never do (read unsolicited manuscripts to give advice, sign and return books that arrive without prior approval), but I consider all these things optional, to be decided by each author.

The only obligation any writer has to his or her readers – and I believe this absolutely – is to write to the best of his or her ability and to write as honestly as possible. All the rest, as they say, is gravy. (To the writer as well as the reader.)

The encouraging thing is that most readers understand this almost intuitively. Perhaps they know that an old saying is correct – that the only thing one can really steal from a writer is his or her time. Still, after many months of solitary writing, revising, proofing, and then moving on to a new project, I look forward to book tours – they tended to be annual for me, but it’s been two years now since my last one – as a chance to meet readers, look them in the eye, hear their opinions, thank them for the trust they put in me (at the cost of even paperbacks these days, much less hardcovers, I describe the purchase of every book as a sincere and even reckless act of trust), and perhaps entertain them a bit with a reading or talk.

The only drawback I find in book tours (besides the schedule, of course, which is carefully calculated to kill the touring author – and this is not quite a joke, as you’ll see if and when I get around to writing the article I’ve researched on writers and celebrities who’ve keeled over dead while on tour or immediately after – and not that small a number) . . . the only other drawback I find in book tours is that the conversations with readers are necessarily so limited in time and focused on my writing.

This sounds absurd – even to me – since the only reason readers-of-Simmons’s fiction and this writer-of-Simmons’s-fiction are meeting at all is because of the books, but perhaps some of you understand what I’m talking about. Other published writers would understand at once. I’m pleased to count more than a few writers as my friends – some very well known indeed, some not at all – but the one thing writers have in common when socializing is that they tend not to talk about the other’s work (or one’s own usually) beyond the most general, cursory, and quick comments.

When I have a few minutes to talk to someone at one of my signings or readings, I enjoy it most when the conversation shifts (preferably quickly) to what we really have in common – i.e. being readers. Which other authors do you like? Have you read anything really good recently? What would you recommend?

In that sense, my book tours have been not only energizing and enjoyable but educational. I don’t think I’ve ever come back from a few days or weeks on the road peddling one of my own books – always, you might remember, something I’ve finished many months or even a year ago and since moved on to other projects that are commanding my attention – without returning with a reading list for myself on scribbled cards, napkins, and bookmarks.

Which raises another question I’ve thought about for years – Have you ever considered the fact that we readers are the largest invisible minority in America (and certainly the most disorganized and least respected) and that many, if not most, of the most important aspects of our lives are dictated by the single fact that we’re addicted, convicted, recidivist, irredeemable readers?

But that’s a discussion for another time. If I don’t get to it on this web site, perhaps you and I can discuss it in person some time soon.

Sincerely,


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