Over the past few weeks, I've received three e-mails regarding an interview I did with writer D.B. Wells in CityBeat in early 2005. All three, each from a different person, wanted to know how to get in contact with her.
A fourth e-mail, received yesterday from a person named Jesse, says, "I know who she is."
I don't think I ever really did. These recent e-mails leave me feeling sad about our once strange but friendly relationship.
Toward the end of 2004, I was given her first book to review, Your Lolita. A collection of edgy, contemporary short stories, it was simply wonderful.
While reading the stories, I found out Wells lived in Kentucky. To help support herself, she danced in one of their adult clubs.
Wanting to interview her, I called Joe Taylor at Livingston Press, which published her book. When I told Taylor I wanted to talk to Wells, he laughed and said, "Good luck."
He told me that because of her dancing and because of an incident that happened when she was a teenager (something I've never been able to figure out or uncover), Wells lives in anonymity. She doesn't talk to the press, doesn't give interviews, won't promote her work and won't have her picture taken.
While Taylor wouldn't give me her phone number, he did turn over an e-mail address.
I didn't think she would respond to my e-mail, but she quickly did. After sending several e-mails back and forth, Wells finally agreed to an interview with strict guidelines: No face-to-face interview. No interview over the phone -- via e-mail only. No photos. And I had to promise I wouldn't try to find her.
It took about a week to get the interview completed. It ran in CityBeat on Feb. 16, 2005 ("Looking for D.B.
Wells"). She was happy with the way it turned out. It's the only interview she's ever given.
Over the next two years, we stayed in touch through e-mails. We would write and talk about literature, books we were reading and the struggles of being a writer.
Sometimes the words would turn personal. She'd talk about her dancing and how much she disliked it. We would both wonder aloud why we -- like so many other writers -- drink. We e-mailed about how we both should stop smoking.
In reading between the lines, I would sometimes think Wells was unhappy and lonely. When I thought she was trying to reach out, I would say that we should meet. That would always make the anonymity wall go back up.
Our relationship continued. In late 2005, my own book of short stories was published, and Wells interviewed me for CityBeat ("A Conversation With an Honest Man," issue of March 15, 2006). By e-mail, of course.
During that time, she told me about the novel she was writing, The Terrestrial Paradise. She was excited when a major publisher, MacAdam/Cage out of San Francisco, wanted to release it.
The publication date of her novel kept getting pushed back. Wells complained about that during the early summer of last year, and then suddenly I stopped hearing from her.
In the weeks and months to follow, I continued to send her e-mails wanting to know how she was doing. Those e-mails didn't come back to me saying the address was kaput, but she never replied to any of them. I still wonder what I did, if anything, to make her close the door on me.
I recently went to Amazon.com to check out the status of her novel. According to Amazon, The Terrestrial Paradise was released by MacAdam/Cage on Dec. 7, 2007. Or was it?
Amazon has a photo of the book jacket on its Web site, but the book isn't available there. In fact, it's not available anywhere.
I called the publisher, MacAdams/Cage. A publicity representative said the Wells novel won't be published. When pressed for details on the decision, the representative offered no explanation and quickly hung up the phone.
Just like Wells, her novel has now also disappeared.
This morning, I received yet another e-mail from Jesse, the person who said, "I know who she (Wells) is." This new e-mail says, "I read your article and thought you wanted a picture of her or something."
The honest reply is, "Of course I want a picture." When someone wants to be anonymous, curiosity is always going to be there. I'd be lying if I said it never occurred to me to go research, investigate and find out who Wells really is.
But I won't do it. While our relationship appears to be at an end, I still have respect for that relationship and for Wells and her anonymous life.
I don't know what happened with her novel, but I still admire her writing. I hope there's much more to come.
Why people are now suddenly trying to find Wells worries me. In a way, I feel protective of her. I'm not about to give out her e-mail address and, while maybe this Jesse person isn't after anything at all, I don't want him to send me a photo of Wells.
I know she wouldn't like it. What she thinks still matters to me.
I did, however, answer the last e-mail from Jesse, again feeling sad: "Jesse, if you really do know D.B. Wells, please tell her I'll always wish her the very best."
Contact Larry Gross: firstname.lastname@example.org.