A by-product I never anticipated from my second career as a novelist is the emails I receive from readers. I don’t keep count, but I must be nearing a thousand. The majority of the emails are short thank-you notes, which I appreciate greatly.

The next category of missives concerns questions about the story line of the book or about the origin of the characters. I try to answer all of these carefully. In my early years of reading, I occasionally would write (snail mail!) to the publisher of a book, asking that my query be passed on to the author. I don’t recall ever receiving an answer. That’s why I’m so adamant about answering all my emails.

The Internet has made it possible for readers to communicate directly with authors, and that’s a good thing for both the reader and the writer.

Occasionally, an email comes along that stops me in my tracks. I recently received the email you see reproduced above.

I had video-chatted with the writer (his first name is Tolga) and his speech therapist some four years ago. Tolga is getting ready for college now and wanted me to read his application essay. Here is the essay question:

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Here are some edited excerpts from Tolga’s essay:

For a stutterer like me, it is difficult to comfortably enter a social stage. There is a weight on my shoulder. I go up to someone and think twice before speaking. Yes, we stutterers think more than we speak. . . . I have a disability, but I am not a disabled person. I still have many abilities.

I lumber through an everyday journey that many gracefully walk, but I still finish strong.

I always pondered why? We went to multiple speech pathologists and doctors. They all said the same thing: the origin is unknown. I remember these brisk words: “It will always be a part of you, you just have to learn to control it.” It was truly an epiphany. That is when I decided to transform this socially appointed flaw into my masterpiece. In Japan, they repair their pottery with gold, transcribing the flaw in a rich story.

I have turned my speech into my voice, my story. 

Every six months or so I get a small royalty check for my writing, but no compensation will ever be worth more to me than words like these from a young man named Tolga.

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