Sherman Alexie on the Literary Thank-You Note

It’s simple advice, and shorter advice than any of the other tips in our series. But they’re some of my favorite words of the year. Here’s the latest from the Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series, followed by a regular weekend prompt. We’ll close the series out with No. 1 on Wednesday.

Happy Weekend, and Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

No. 2: Saying Thanks

When you read a piece of writing that you admire, send a note of thanks to the author. Be effusive with your praise. Writing is a lonely business. Do your best to make it a little less lonely.”

—Sherman Alexie, “The WD Interview Takes 10,” September 2010 (click here
to check the full issue out)


Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a
response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our
occasional around-the-office swag drawings.
you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

He’d never been in her bathroom before. As he turned on the hot water to wash his hands, the mirror, which was prone to fogging, fogged. And he saw what was written there.

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works, or to grow a short story into something more—Writer’s Digest’s
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11 thoughts on “Sherman Alexie on the Literary Thank-You Note

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  3. Randy Allen

    “Run! She’s going to kill you!”
    Suddenly, he was re-thinking the last few days. Carl from accounting
    was found dead in his own car only two blocks from here. Two days ago,
    Max in the print shop said that he had a date with woman.
    The next morning he was found in a dumpster outside of his apartment
    building. Then, yesterday, Bill from his own office was found floating in
    the swimming pool at the local gym. As the fog began to dissipate from
    the mirror, something was taking shape at the bottom of its frame.
    Slowly, the letter “B” appeared. It was the same style that Bill used to sign
    his private notes. That means Bill was here before he died. A chill went up
    his spine when there was a sudden knock on the bathroom door.
    “Are you okay in there?” The woman asked.
    He snapped out an answer; “Uh, yeah. I’ll be right out!”
    He looked around and grabbed the nearest hand towel. He wiped off the
    message from the mirror. As he put the towel back, another knock came
    upon the door.
    “Come on out, dear. I have a surprise for you!” She said with whisper in
    her voice.
    He could feel his pulse rate rise. But, he knew he couldn’t stay in her
    bathroom all night. So, he grabbed the handle and turned it. As the door
    opened, she was standing just down the hallway. He noticed that her hands
    were behind her back. He could feel beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
    He began to walk towards her. With the feeling of panic running through his
    body, his heart abruptly stops. He collapses right there in the hallway of the
    woman’s apartment. Not showing the slightest touch of emotion, she gives
    a heavy sigh.
    With a complaint in her voice, she whimpers; “That’s the fourth one this week!”
    From behind her holds out a small chocolate cake. She places it on a nearby
    table and then stands over the dead mans body.

    “My cooking can’t be that bad!” she exclaims as she begins to drag the body
    to her 10th floor balcony.
    “Mother was right…” She mumbles as she throws the body over the balcony.
    She gives off a few heavy breaths of exertion.
    “Men will die for my cooking!”

  4. Gary Jones

    The Fog

    He’d never been in her bathroom before. As he turned on the hot water to wash his hands, the mirror, which was prone to fogging, fogged. And he saw what was written there.
    He read it a second and third time to make sure. It was blurry, and the mirror was not completely fogged up, so he could only read the main part. It read “I want to”, and the rest was unclear. He tried to direct the steam over the rest of the message, but only resulted in getting red hands. The possibilities were running through his head. I want to… make mad passionate love to you? No, he couldn’t see that, they had only finished their second date. However, he did consider that he was handsome enough, and she was very sexy to his eyes. Hmmm, he rethought the ‘I want to ….’ phrase again and again in his mind. I want to…go to dinner? …see what happens? ….quit my job?
    A knock at the door got his attention. He mentally tried to calculate how many minutes he had been in there. ‘Just a minute’ he called out, turning off the water and wiping the mirror. He didn’t want it to look like he was trying to read the mirror. He opened the door and came face to face with a teen ager, one of her boys she was so proud of. ‘Hey’ the boy said as a way of greeting. ‘Hey’ he replied.
    He rejoined her in the dining room, and in a few minutes the boy was heard opening cabinets in the kitchen. ‘Mom’ he called out. ‘Where are the snacks I wanted you to pick up?’ ‘What snacks? ‘she queried back, arching her eyebrows at her guest. ‘The ones I left you the note about’ he said as he came into the room. ‘I didn’t see your note’, she responded. ‘Where did you leave it?’ His answer was devastating and enlightening, as only a teenager could. ‘I left it on the mirror for you to see when you got out of your shower this morning: I want toasted crunches, the pretzel flavor’

  5. Ryssa Edwards

    “Why did we have to wait for the full moon to do this?”

    Lash had his knives out, his face was lifted to the night sky, a predator on the hunt. “Stay behind me, Jace,” he said. “I mean it.”

    Considering he was in a graveyard with tombstones the size of coffee tables planted upright, Jace was having heavy duty unpleasant thoughts about the dead.

    “Let’s just go inside the house, Lash.”

    “We are,” Lash said. “Just going the long way around.”

    On the ride over, Jace had bitten his thumbnail to a bloody nub. He ripped at the barely healed flesh. “The front door was open. You saw that, right?”

    Lash spun around, caught Jace’s hand and shook him. “No blood scents. You want them all over us like maggots on dead meat? Clean that up.”

    Having a vampire lover definitely had its down side. Wiping his thumb on his jeans, Jace searched the front wall of the house looming up over the ancient cemetery. Moonlight flooded the topmost window. A shadow moved behind the cracked filthy glass.



    “Ghost,” Jace said. “Top floor. Attic. Oh my god. It’s waving.”

    “Be polite,” Lash said. “Wave back.”

    Lash led them around tombstones tilted at crazy angles. They’d all been dug up at the base.

    “I don’t think the residents like the accommodations,” Jace said.

    “How do you know?”

    Jace took Lash’s broad shoulder and tried to spin him around. Lash turned, looked at his lover. “What?”

    His shaking finger pointing at the tombstones, Jace said, “Because these were dug out from underneath, Lash. Who’s reanimating them?”

    “Not our problem.” Lash leaned in and brushed his mouth over Jace’s trembling lips. “Just a few more minutes, then we’re inside. I promise.”

    The kiss felt good, even kind of hot, here in the graveyard and everything, but Jace wasn’t about to admit it. That was too weird. “Inside with the ghost?” he said. “You really think that’s an improvement?”

    “You said he waved.” Lash was at the bottom of the sagging steps that led to the splintered porch. “Sounds friendly. Probably has the guest bedroom all made up for us.”

    “You’re so not funny, you know that?”

    Going slowly up the steps, Lash said, “Thought you wanted me for my good looks, not my sense of humor.”

    Jace definitely wanted Lash for his good looks, all six foot four muscle bound inches. But he could do without the freaking graveyard jaunts.

    “Sooner I get you inside and in the bathroom, sooner we’re out of her house.”

    On the porch, a dark maw of a door hung from a hinge. Lash delivered a brutal kick that sent the door flying across the porch.

    Once they were inside, the Ghost Talkers were all business.

    They went into the bathroom. Lash stood guard, knives out. Jace turned on the hot water pipe. In this world, nothing happened, but in the world his light grey Seer eyes could see, scalding hot water rushed out and steam rose, fogging the mirror. He waited for the word to emerge.

    One letter a time, the woman who’d been murdered in this house wrote the name of her killer.

    “Got it?” Lash said over his shoulder.

    Jace was sliding a sheet of paper into his back pocket. “Get us out,” he said. “And you better believe breakfast’s on you.”

    With a smile Jace could hear in his voice Lash said, “I was hoping you’d be on me.”

    “You and me,” Jace said, “your double wide coffin. It’s a date.”

  6. Evelyn

    Marvin had never been in Charlotte’s bathroom before. As he turned on the hot water to wash his hands, the mirror, which was prone to fogging, fogged. And he saw what was written there, “”

    “What’s” Marvin asked Charlotte as he swung open the door.

    “Oh.” Charlotte giggled. “That’s Marsha Peterson’s website. I met her in Psych 101; she keeps track of the bad kissers on campus — one’s with fish lips — through her blog. I confess. I looked you up. You’re not on there.”

    “I’m relieved.” Marvin pulled his keys from his coat pocket and turned toward the door. “So, we’re still on for dinner then?”

    “You bet.” Charlotte zipped up her jacket and smiled.

    As Marvin and Charlotte headed down the apartment complex stairs, he tried to imagine what fish-lipped kissing might mean. If he had the chance to kiss Charlotte tonight, he didn’t want to be guilty of it, especially since the threat of public disclosure was going to be sitting across from him at Big Catch Charlie’s.

    Marvin turned his pickup into the restaurant parking lot, crowded for a Wednesday. He had barely spoken to Charlotte since the fish-lips disclosure.

    “You’re quiet,” said Charlotte. “Something on your mind?”

    Marvin opened her door, took her hand, and helped her out of the cab. “Just trying to be careful — in case there’s a dumb-things-guy-say-when-driving-a-truck website.”

    Charlotte laughed. “There probably is one, but you’re safe.”

    The hostess seated Marvin and Charlotte in a high-backed booth within view of the lobster aquarium. As Charlotte perused the menu, Marvin stared at the captive lobsters, moments away from their doom. Charlotte set her menu down and Marvin’s gaze locked onto her lips.

    “Are you ok?” Charlotte asked.

    “Sure. I love this place.” But Marvin’s mind was still wondering about the fish-lipped kissing. What could it mean? That you kiss open-mouthed, rhythmically sucking air from your partner’s lungs? He couldn’t picture it. How could he avoid it, if he didn’t know what it was?”

    “Have you decided?” The waitress, pad and pen in hand, waited for Charlotte’s and Marvin’s orders.

    “Yes,” said Charlotte. “I’ll have the salmon special.”

    “And you sir?”

    “Umm, prime rib with fries.” Marvin took Charlotte’s menu, stacked it upon his, and handed both to the waitress.

    “No fish tonight?” asked Charlotte.

    “I don’t want to feel inspired,” said Marvin.

    “I knew something was wrong. You’re still thinking about that website. Well, I’ll be frank with you. I lied before. I did you look you up, and you ARE on it. Lisa Bronchi said you kiss like fish.”

    Marvin’s head dropped into his hands.

    “But there’s good news,” Charlotte continued.

    “You just saved 15 percent on your car insurance?” Marvin said, defeated.

    “No, silly. You happen to be on a date with the world’s biggest — maybe only — fish-lip kissing fan. That’s why I visit that website. And when you asked me out — well — I was thrilled.”

    Marvin waved at their waitress. “I’d like to change my order.”

    “Certainly sir, what will it be?”

    “The Catch of the Day.”

  7. Nathan Honore

    John and Tina had been dating for five months and he had yet to go to the bathroom in the same building as her, let alone in her apartment. When they were out to eat, he wouldn’t even go to the restaurant bathroom. Bodily functions hadn’t been put on the table yet and John liked it that way. Every movement would shift and pass peacefully and his bladder was as strong as Paul Bunyan.
    One fateful night, John screwed up. His ritual before heading out for the evening was fixed and meticulous. John was a creature of habit and he always honored the three S’s with the reverence of the Pope on Good Friday. Shit, shower, and shave, in that order. But work ran late and his movement had shifted to the bowels of his mind. John immediately jumped in the shower, and then shaved his face, taking time to make sure his slightly bushy sideburns were precisely even and trimmed. He checked his phone and had a few minutes more than normal, but couldn’t figure out why. Being raised that “early is on time, and on time is late,” he grabbed his corduroy jacket and headed out the door.
    Tina had wanted to cook for John for a while and John, being the nice guy that he is, agreed. The evening was going great. The pork stir-fry that Tina crafted was delicious and the Riesling matched nicely. But there was something in the food that set John’s internal system off. Cartoon sized sweat poured from forehead. The gut-wrenching cramps caused him to squeeze his leg. He shifted his weight over and over. None of the usual tricks worked. It was there. It was time.
    John politely excused himself to what he called, “the little boy’s room,” clenching all the way. His walk qualified him a top spot in the Ministry of Silly Walks, hands straight at his sides, completely upright and stepping carefully.
    He turned the fan on and let loose. John now knew what it was to give birth…to twins. When he had finished, he flushed and turned the hot water on to wash his hands. Tina had mentioned on their first date how her ex-roommate used to leave fog mirror messages for her all the time, seeing as the mirror fogged up easier than the Moors of England. John washed his hands and looked up to see: “Thank you for washing your hands.” It was accompanied by a smiley face and a giggle from the other side of the door.