Since I shared my letter from Bill Bryson, I’ve gotten numerous requests from folks wondering what I had originally written to him. While I hadn’t planned to post that, I decided to give in to peer pressure.

As I said in my previous posts, my letter isn’t nearly so clever as the one I received in return.

When I write a fan letter to someone who seems approachable or has a sense of humor, I usually create a fake letterhead. In this case, the letterhead says Bill Bryson Fan Club, US Headquarters.

Since I had no address for him, I sent it to him at Traditional Home magazine, where he had a column.

And, yes, I may have slightly violated my daughter’s rules for writing a fan letter. This is what I said:

Last September when I was in London, I picked up a flyer at W.H. Smith which had an interview with you on the back page. My sister and I were so enchanted by it when we read it back at our hotel that we trotted right back to the store and bought Notes From a Small Island.

My sister convinced me to let her read the book since she was headed back to her home in Athens and the book was going back to Minnesota with me. She had spent the previous month in Oxford and said a taxi driver had entertained her by recounting an interview he’d heard with you on the radio.

Every night before going to bed, my sister would read a few chapters of your book. Since she was always laughing so hard, I’d force her to read aloud to me. We were both smitten.

When I got home, I went directly to Barnes & Noble to see if you were published here. I was so pleased to find your books and have recruited numerous fans for you.

I’ve also been thinking about the fact that you may, indeed, be currently residing on this side of the ocean. Is this so? I’m wondering if you have returned to Des Moines or are experiencing a different part of the country.

Since I was teaching a seminar in Des Moines a month ago, I asked my colleague there if she knew of you. She said, “Is that the guy who wrote the book saying all the women were fat in Iowa?” I admitted it was true, although that didn’t seem to me to be your most noteworthy observation.

On the odd chance that you might be residing somewhere in my neighborhood, I’d love to hear from you. Are you wincing? I, too, am an author and get such requests from time to time.

BUT if you are living around the corner and I didn’t even know it, I’d be sad to have missed you.

I do hope this letter finds you. I’ve been a bit perplexed about where to begin looking for you, but when the latest Traditional Home arrived this week, thought it was worth a shot.

At any rate, I wanted you to know how much pleasure your writing has given me and my Anglophile friends.

Your new fan,

Barbara Winter


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.