This week This American Life re-ran a story from a few years ago, about a young fantasy fan who ran away from home at fifteen and made his way from New York to Florida to reach the home of Piers Anthony, his favorite author. He hoped that Anthony would take him in, and it would be a better life than the one he was living. Anthony, naturally, refused gently, and helped the young man get back home.
It's the kind of fascinating story that's utterly the product of its time-- they don't give an exact timeline, but I gather it happened in 1985 or 1986, based on the fact that the yet-to-be released manuscript that Anthony let him read is clearly Wielding a Red Sword, the fourth Incarnations book, and that came out in 1986. It's hard to imagine nowadays that a teenager could A. withdraw his savings from a bank account without an adult, B. just buy a plane ticket with cash and fly across the country, and once there C. taking cabs and hitchhiking to find the farmhouse whose location he sussed out with clever detective work.
But that's what happened.
I think just about anyone who grew up a fan of sci-fi and fantasy in the 80s, regardless of what their family life was like, can empathize with the young man's story. I know I totally understand that feeling of "checking out" in high school, because your mind just wants to be in those fantastical worlds you've been reading about. I never took it to the level of the kid here, who had to repeat the 10th grade because of the amount he blew things off, but I had more than one time where I was a zombie in school because I was reading a book until 4am. I had plenty of classes where instead of paying the slightest bit of attention to what was being taught, I was planning out a D&D campaign.
I still get that way, though not quite to the same degree. But I'll be deep in the zone with writing or planning and then realize, "Oh, I needed to write that email/make that phone call/pay those bills". Staying in reality isn't always my strong suit.
But this time, listening to the story, I also thought more about Mr. Anthony's side. I wonder, is some young fantasy fan going to be looking for me for salvation? Are they going to be up until the wee hours reading, ignoring class while sketching characters, thinking about Maradaine to avoid the pain of day-to-day? I don't know. I think today's young fantasy fan has it easier than my generation did-- more options, and more acceptance. But easier doesn't mean easy.
I do hope that my work gives joy and comfort to my readers. (I heard from one who had to sit in a hospital waiting room for hours while her daughter had a battery of tests, and she was grateful to have A Murder of Mages with her to pass the time.)
I think we need that escape-- that's what fantasy literature is for-- and I'm glad I get to provide it. That's the real joy and privilege in my life: that I get to make these stories and give them to all of you, and hopefully make your day just a little better for it.