When she was a college student, my daughter wrote a fan letter to Linda Barry whose cartoons graced a local entertainment paper. In return, Barry sent her a drawing, which has been a cherished keepsake.

Jennie also devised her own rules for writing a fan letter. They are:

1) Don’t gush.

2) Do not assume the person getting the letter is interested in your life.

3) Stick to the point.

I don’t believe I’ve written a fan letter since without following those rules.

I thought of that as I was going through some old file folders today and came across one labeled Letters to Keep. At the front of the file was my all-time favorite letter that I’ve ever received in response to writing a fan letter.

I also have the original letter that I wrote, but it’s not nearly as amusing as the one I got back two months later. Even if you aren’t familiar with the letter writer, I think you’ll figure out that he knows a thing or two about  writing.

This is what  I found waiting one morning in my mailbox.

Dear (if I may be so forward) Barbara:

Many thanks for your letter of March 13, and huge, blushing apologies for the long, long delay in replying, but I have been away since March hiking the Appalachian Trail, so I am afraid your letter just missed me. I hope you can forgive me.

What can I possibly say in response to so many kind and flattering words, other than that I am having your letter enlarged and framed, and am instructing my children to memorize it? (They think I am a dork. I am not quite sure what that is, but I gather it is not a condition to aspire to.)

As you can see, we have indeed moved back to the States, specifically to New Hampshire, which we chose because we wanted to be on the east coast for easier access to England. It is wonderful and everybody loves it. If you are ever out this way, it would be my honor and pleasure to take you for meat loaf at  Lou’s Diner—a better offer than it sounds, believe me.

Until that happy day, I can but offer you my sincerest thanks for your very generous words. You don’t say what kind of author you are, and I fear that I am hopelessly out of touch with American letters, but I shall be looking for your work from now on, and can assure you that your books will now be displayed face out in all the leading bookstores in New England. (It’s not a problem; I go in to do my own regularly.)

Hope to meet you one day. Until then, and once again, many, many thanks and all very best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Bill Bryson

By the way, we did eventually meet. I have a picture of Bryson, my sister Margaret and me at Vroman’s Bookstore to prove it. Alas, I can’t get WordPress to let me share it with you.


6 Responses to “Joy in My Mailbox”

  1. Barbara Saunders

    My high school teacher had a story about writing someone a fan letter only to learn he had died before it was likely to have reached him. We visited his grave on a school trip, and she sobbed. That led me to appreciate the art of the fan letter; I’ve sent a couple of “Thank You” letters to people who were publicly dying.

  2. Jane Beaver

    Barbara, I love it! I knew that you had met Bill Bryson but had not seen the letter he wrote to you. So funny and charming! Thanks for sharing it.


  3. Barbara

    Yes, I’m a big fan of writing fan letters. This reply was certainly a standout. And, coincidentally, I was reading his latest book, At Home, at bedtime last night.

  4. Jennifer Blair

    What a lovely find. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. Anthony St. Clair

    Wow, what an awesome letter. Just heard a radio broadcast the other night where he was doing some readings in Portland, OR. Go figure.

    Jennie’s rules are gold — I’m going to keep those filed for some of my own letter-writing, including Mr. Bryson.

  6. Ken


    If you ever need help getting WordPress to do something you need it to do, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be glad to help.


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