Growing up, I was never really a FAN of anything.
I never wore an NSYNC shirt or screamed at concerts or freaked out when I saw a celebrity.
In my early years, I was more interested in sports than entertainment. In my teen years, that age when fandom truly develops, I lived in Nashville, a city that engenders in its residents a certain level of calm regarding stars. There’s a pervasive mentality there that stars are no different than ordinary people, and that Nashville is their home and they deserve to be treated normally.
And maybe I would have been a fanatic over books, but I wasn’t one of those children who grew up with their nose between pages. So many authors started out as those kids, the ones who lived in libraries and nookish corners, and I envy them their early passion, but I don’t in any way regret my own use of time. I’ve always been restless–still am, most of my reading is done while walking, not sitting still–and spent my free time on the soccer field, or in the fencing hall.
This is all to say I never really “got” the idea of fanaticism.
And I certainly never wrote a fan letter. I wasn’t really the type, when I DID feel strongly about something–to lay my feelings bare. I always saw it as weak (I remember, even at 10 or 11, looking at people who screamed or cried or swooned or cheered as strange, contagious creatures). I have always been a decent mimic, but could never bring myself, even in my desperate want to fit in, to go that far. So when it came to fanning over things and people, I remained an observer.
But something changed.
I didn’t become more emotional, not exactly. I still don’t emulate those strange, contagious creature of my youth. But I became a part of something. The publishing community. And before I became a part of it, I WANTED to become a part. Longing is an emotion I have always understood. Longing is a driving force. Longing makes you very aware of what you DON’T have yet, of where you WANT to be, and the people who are on the other side of that achievement gap, the people who’ve succeeded, attain their own kind of star status.
For the first time in my life, I wanted to be like someone else. And that was the closest I’d come to being a “fan.”
It wasn’t sudden like a cold snap, but as I wrote more, and read more, and found the rare books I LOVED (I’m like maybe six of every dozen I read, love maybe one of every six), I admired the authors as much of the books. They were still these distant things on their pedestals, not close enough to touch or speak to, but close enough to SEE. And I watched them with increasing attention.
And then, at some point, I crossed the gap. Impossibly, I became one of them.
And maybe that should have been the turning point, should have broken down the emotional walls I’d kept up, and given me permission to tell some of my idols how it felt. But it wasn’t, not yet.
Because as a new author, I was OBSESSED with being seen as an equal, even though I felt I didn’t deserve it. I couldn’t shake the sense I’d snuck into the party, and if I let on that I didn’t belong in the room with my heroes, all wearing the name badge “AUTHOR,” then they’d kick me out. If I made a display, they’d reject me. So I didn’t. I did my best to keep my cool, becoming more emotionally detached than ever, holding my breath and hoping I could play the part.
I was a coward, in that way. But I think many new authors are, hindered by their want to be taken into the fold. After all, being a fan and being an equal SEEM mutually exclusive.
The turning point, for me, didn’t come at my own hands. I didn’t wake up one day and shrug off my insecurities. It started when *I* got a fan letter from an author I adored, an established, terrifying, kind, brilliant author who sent me a letter to gush about why she’d loved *MY* book.
I remember sitting in stunned silence after reading it. My world did that thing where it tips, tilts, inverts.
I want to say that this one moment shattered all my fears of being seen as equal. I want to say that I cast off my cloak of equanimity and went frolicking through the digital streets telling all the authors I loved JUST HOW MUCH I loved them.
But the truth is, I wasn’t that brave. That letter, though, began to chip away at my fear. Other fanmail helped, too. Time did the rest.
I reached the point where I was no longer afraid of being kicked out of the party (though I admit I still have moments where I look around and wonder how I’m still here). And in some strange ways, I graduated. The new class of debuts came in, and I became a sophomore, and I watched them, so many with the same wide-eyed look as they mingled in the party, trying not to be found out. The universality of it relaxed me.
These days, if I love a book, I let the author know. Not because I feel like my voice matters in any way, not because I think my approval will chip away at their fear, but simply because I’ve experienced first-hand the way that a fan letter, even a short note, can turn an entire day around.
I still don’t think that being a “fan” means the same thing to me that it does to others. It’s more about respect than glee. I feel a flutter in my chest, but it’s as much in awe that I get to wear the same badge as those I admire most, get to mingle at the party. The joy comes as much from the proximity to my heroes as the fact that I HAVE heroes. But that’s okay. There’s no prescribed shape for a fangirl.