We horror writers face a different sort of horror on the book-signing circuit. This post first ran in 2014.
That line, and Stephen King’s Misery—which I wrote about last week—are apparently inseparable. In the hope of finding some more material I entered “writers’ number one fans” into a search engine and guess what: the first four links that show up are for Misery and Annie Wilkes. Here are a few final thoughts on this claustrophobic gem.
YOU WROTE THIS—WHY?
Stephen King, in interviews given through the years, discussed a number of reasons for writing Misery. First, of course, had to do with his own (numerous) encounters with Number One Fans at book events. As I well know, when you write creepy, blood-and-gore stories your readership can tend to be a bit…well, weird. I recall Dean Koontz saying the same thing, and at one point, after some uncomfortable confrontations, he gave up doing appearances altogether. When some came up that he could not avoid, he brought along a security guard. (Think of what John Lennon’s Number One Fan did to him. And of all the celebrity stalkings. It is not something to be taken lightly.)
Second, by having Paul Sheldon burned out of writing so many books about Misery and wanting to try something different, King was expressing his weariness about writing horror, horror, and more horror. When he wrote a fantasy novel in the mid-eighties titled The Eyes of the Dragon, his fans went ballistic. They wanted telekinetic terrors, haunted hotels, New England vampires, and so on.
And last—possibly most important, by King’s reckoning—Annie Wilkes became a metaphor for the drug addiction that King suffered from at the time. That addiction, just like Annie, became his Number One Fan and had no intention of relenting.
In addition to the novel being turned into a film, it subsequently was adapted as a stage play—which made sense, given the few characters and the minimalist set. It ran off-Broadway, and later in London, Athens, and Dubai. And just this past summer, “Misery: A Feel Bad Musical”—I am NOT making this up—opened in Amsterdam.
“HEY MIKE, I’M YOUR NUMBER ONE FAN!”
Yes, even non-celebrity lowlifes like me have stories to tell. My first published novel, The Prisoner of Reglathium, came out in 1978, and it may have sold enough copies to pay for a grand slam breakfast at Denny’s. Maybe two. You get the point. But it did win me a Number One Fan.
The first snail mail letter arrived through my publisher. (No email or texting back in the day.) It came from a guy in Arizona. He loved the book, blah blah blah, what a great writer you are, Mike, blah blah blah, I’m your Number One Fan—the usual. Thrilled to have any fans, I wrote the guy back…with my home address on the envelope. Yeah, you’re right: dumb thing to do.
The next letter came to the house. More praise, questions and suggestions about the characters, when is the next book coming, maybe I should think of doing this or that, etc. Didn’t seem like anything scary, so I corresponded with him for a couple more letters after that. Then, another letter announced his plans to come to San Diego for a vacation, and wouldn’t it be great if we could get together, etc. Oh crap!
Given that the guy had my home address, I wrote back and told him I would be out of town that week. I forget where I told him; Borneo, Uzbekistan, somewhere like that. Still, I worried about him showing up at my door, and during the time he was here I must’ve looked out the window a thousand times. Fortunately, he was a no-show.
He wrote me again when he got home, but this time I didn’t respond. His letters stopped after that. Do I need to tell you that, thenceforth, I never put my home address on any correspondence?
ANOTHER SCARY LETTER
Well, you might think a four-page letter that opens with the following salutation is scary: “Dear Mike, I hate you!”
Yep, that’s what it said. Oh crap wouldn’t do, nor would Holy shit, because this was definitely a WTF moment. This happened many years after that first letter and was in reference to my satirical science fiction trilogy, Bicycling Through Space and Time. Fortunately, I read on, and what came after proved to be one of the nicest, most thoughtful fan letters I’d ever received. The writer “hated” me because she loved the books so much that she read and re-read them and neglected to take care of other day-to-day stuff, which got her into trouble with the family…that sort of thing. And, of course, she was my Number One Fan. I replied to her by writing a one-page “unpublished scene” from the trilogy, in which she became a character. That was fun.
“YOU SHALL BURN IN HELL!”
I can see King and Koontz and other superstars of our craft encountering crazies at book events—but me? Back in 1990 Bantam Books published my Native American-themed horror novel, Demon Shadows. I made suggestions for the cover art, which included a creepy dead guy, snow, and lodgepole pines, since the story takes place during the winter in the Sierras. Bantam added a pentagram—an occult symbol—in the snow, which had nothing to do with the story. But what the hell…you get published by Bantam, you keep your mouth shut.
So I’m performing my due diligence and making an appearance at a B Dalton bookstore in a local mall. They set me up with a table outside the door and left me to my own devices. I’m chatting people up, signing a few books, when a guy approaches, picks up a copy of the book and stares at the cover with an expression on his face akin to someone who just bit into a roach-infested hamburger.
“You wrote this book?” he asks me. “That’s right,” I reply. He slams the book down, points at the pentagram, and launches a fire-and-brimstone sermon about it being the mark of the devil, and that I should burn in hell for writing such evil, and all kinds of fundamentalist claptrap. I thought he might attack me, but some of the bookstore people came outside, and the whacko took off into the mall, still summoning lightning bolts to strike me dead. To this day I still get creeped out thinking about it.
If you want to be a published author, you’ve got to take the bad with the good. Here’s wishing you a lot of nice, normal Number One Fans.