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Authors and the fans who love them: maybe a little too much: an ArmadilloCon 2007 panel

Description in the program book: Ever wonder why your favorite author looks a little scared when they see you? The panelists will talk about the tale-tell signs of a stalker and tell amusing stories about what has happened to them in the past. (For instance, did they call you at home during a baseball game?))

Since the stories told on this panel were somewhat personal in nature, the panelists' names were omitted.

Tips on how to properly stalk a writer

Unconventional gestures of admiration

A writer who lied to a priest

Guests Of Honor with unusual demands

One panelist says s/he is understalked. S/he gave these tips on how to proper stalk a writer.

Don't:

  • send a writer a praise letter as an excuse to ask if he could help you to get an agent;
  • compare this writer to other writers; no one wants to get praise mail that says "you are one of my 500 favorite authors I've read over the last 6 months";
  • do not, by all means, compare your victim to Piers Anthony;
  • worry that exaggerating how much you like a writer's work will make him skeptical of your sincerity. Such a thing is not possible.

Do:

  • make sure you are a really discerning fan of your victim's work. It's not enough to merely understand his/her books: you should be able to talk in detail about them.

But do fans comply with the proper stalking etiquette? Noooo! Only one of the authors present on the panel had a fan stalker (rather, a harmless admirer) that came close to being discerning. Whenever a new book by this author came out, the fan would write a poem inspired by the book, and send it to the author. The author found those gestures not so much endearing as merely weird. Still, this author's other admirers were far less imaginative. In his/her experience, if you reply to a fan's letter with a few short polite sentences, it often excites the fan so much that it unleashes a torrent of response in which the fan unloads their life story and their theory of the universe. And then they expect an involved personal correspondence with you. Sometimes they attach pictures of their cats, of their offspring, or their vacations, clogging your mailbox and tying up your dialup line.

Still, letters from admirers are not all bad. In general, writers, including these panelists, like fan letters. In fact, they think readers who write thoughtful, appreciative letters, don't write often enough. They are afraid of bothering the authors. But the people who are afraid of bothering someone are exactly the people whose opinion the authors would like to hear.

And sometimes the fans' unconventional gestures of appreciation can be sweet. For example, a fan once composed a piece of music the way she imagined the music described in a novel, and sent the composition to the novel's author. The author found it touching. This same author was once invited by a reader to her 16th birthday. The author went, because "it was in a ritzy part of town". :-)

And there are the weird stories.

One panelist was... pursued (perhaps "stalked" would be too strong a word) by a reader who happened to be a Catholic priest. He started calling the author, and sending the author presents, such as Loreena McKennit tapes, and the first signed copy of "Stardust". For a while, all was well, but then the priest came to town and invited the writer to dinner. The writer agreed to meet, but brought his / her mother along. They had a dinner, and it seemed to go well enough. The priest talked a lot about his own life and the people in his church, especially a married woman and a mother of teenage kids, named Ginger. :-) After the dinner the priest asked if he could go home with the writer to see the writer's house. The author thought this was going too far, and declined to bring him along, citing a need to take his/her mother home. It wasn't true -- the mother was going to drive herself, but it provided a good excuse.

A guy in the audience said, with mock outrage: "You lied to a priest?"

Fan-on-pro stalking is the most common kind. But the reverse exists as well. One panelist, who had lots of experience running conventions, said some male pros think that as a Guest of Honor they are entitled to a company and services of nubile, pretty women. They get rather PO'd when those women refuse to give in to their advances.

One panelist had mockingly emulated this kind of behavior himself once. At a certain convention where he was a Guest of Honor, the convention committee was headed by a very solicitous young woman, who wanted to make sure that he was completely satisfied with his hotel room, and that he had everything he needed. (They had already filled up the bathtub in his hotel room with ice and beer bottles as a way to welcome him.) She was so concerned with his satisfaction that he decided to have a little fun with her anxiety. He told her, arrogantly, that the con committee had neglected to provide something he had asked upfront: a long-legged, kinky, red-headed male. The girl was shocked at this request, but then she recovered and said: "we'll see what we can do". So she made some, umm... arrangements. A while later she took him to a hotel room... and indeed, waiting in the room there was a red-headed guy.

The author did not say what happened next. At some point he must have revealed that this was a joke, but I don't remember when or how, or whether he said that at all.

The panelists observed that the best stalkers are the ones Neil Gaiman gets. When Neil Gaiman was a Guest Of Honor at ArmadilloCon many years ago, the place was different. Lots of girls with lots of style.