posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken

Back in the Old Days, before the internet brought us "instant communications" and the ability to distribute "mail" with the drop of a hat, I received an occasional chain letter.

All I had to do was copy a letter so-many-times, which wasn't all that easy either by hand or typewriter, and send it to so-many-friends, which wasn't all that cheap, either, and usually required a trip to the post office for stamps. Then I was instructed to send some trinket (usually) to the first person on the list, etc. After a couple of days my mailbox would be filled with glories: postcards or recipes from all over, paperback books, dishtowels, scratch lottery tickets (unscratched, please!) and, in one memorable offering, money.

That last chain letter came to me in college, where a lot of my friends took part and, as Ponzi schemers usually discover, the early ones got the worms and the later ones got, well, just dirt. (Ponzi was the guy who invented the pyramid scheme; what he got for his trouble was immortality--his name--and jail time--his butt.)

A lot of the time I just ignored the whole thing, taking on my shoulders the weight of the world in guilt. It was my fault nobody got new kitchen towels or paperback books from surprising places. Chain_letter

Interestingly enough, when I did follow the instructions to the letter, the outcome was precisely the same. No books, no towels, no postcards, no recipes... Apparently my friends and their friends are willing to shoulder all that guilt as well.

We didn't know when we were well off. Along came the Internet, and the chain letter had found its home. With a few strokes on the keyboard, anyone could create or pass on a chain letter. And the stakes escalated: good luck, patriotism, the political future of the world, or the destruction of the universe via a computer virus--the chain letter people knew no shame.

It might be faster to reply now to the chain letters and quicker to follow the directions, but I hardly ever do it anyway. In the first place, I assume my friends are no more interested in these letters than I am. I have been known to forward an occasional joke, but most multiple-submission e-mails go pretty much straight to the trash.

Are my friends upset because I haven't sent the pretty rose on to 20 friends and back to them? Are they actually keeping score? If so, nobody's mentioned it.

One recent exception was a letter called "Four things you don't know about me." I had seen (and ignored it) before but for some reason I got intrigued and followed through. It was sent by one of my fellow bloggers, none of whom I have ever met in person. It seemed like a good way to get acquainted, long-distance

So I read up on my blogmate, filled out the form, and sent it off. One question gave me pause: Which four friends are most likely to send this back?

After thinking about it a bit, I wrote:

1. I am

2. only sending

3. this to

4. four friends.

Surprisingly, three actually replied (the fourth mentioned it but was in the middle of a personal and health crisis and was instantly forgiven.) On the list of friends likely to reply, one put:

1. What makes

2. You think

3. I have

4. Any friends?

So things were fine until last week, when the friend with the personal and health crisis sent me a chain letter--which she never does. It was a lovely picture of angels and I was Guardian_angel promised news of good fortune at precisely 3:22 (or some such exact moment) on the day after I forwarded the message to a few good friends whom I wished well.

I didn't do it. I could make a bunch of excuses: time, getting ready for vacation, work pressures, extreme heat and humidity. Basically, though, I just didn't bother. Maybe the letter wasn't sufficiently guilt-inducing. Whatever.

So imagine my shock and surprise a day or so later (I wasn't keeping track) to discover that an essay I'd submitted sometime last fall had been accepted for an anthology to be published this fall: How I Got Published from Writer's Digest Press. The pay won't make any difference on the dinner table, but the publicity could be priceless, because other stories in the book are by Names You Would Know (like CJ Box and Dave Barry).

If that wasn't enough, I got home to find a letter from a magazine (Cricket) reporting that a story I sold them a dozen years ago had been purchased by another anthology, and they included a check that would cover a substantial trip to the grocery store.

When I told this my buddy who sent me the angel chain letter, we were both bemused, because she had not discerned any particular leap in fortune, at 3:22 pm or any other moment of the day, while I had.

We agreed that the angel, with all those letters flying around, got us confused and I was the recipient of her luck.

Talk about guilt!

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Comment by L.L. Bartlett on August 30, 2007 at 10:55pm
Hey, Jeanne, you forgot to mention I've got an essay in that same HOW I GOT PUBLISHED anthology. And right now Amazon is running a special. Pre-order the book and get $5.44 off the list price. It's got lots of great advice and anecdotes on how to get published--many by big-name authors.

L.L. Bartlett

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