The Diana Ross Project: an essay by Edward Kelsey Moore

Professional cellist and bestselling author Edward Kelsey Moore on the Pacific coast. "I am a man who needs to be kept busy," he writes. Peter Gronwold

I am a man who needs to be kept busy. Left with too much free time, I become fidgety and foul-tempered. To avoid the ill effects of idleness, I assign myself various large-scale projects: I plant high-maintenance seedlings in my garden each spring. I regularly cook elaborate meals whose preparation requires that I learn new kitchen skills. And I keep all manner of craft supplies in my basement, just waiting to be put to use. Candle-making equipment, wood-burning tools, tile cutters and mortar for mosaics, I've got it all.

I inherited my penchant for big projects from my parents. When I was a kid, my father spent his weekends rebuilding car engines in our garage and constructing additions to our house. Besides raising and feeding her family, my mother could often be found in the backyard refinishing large pieces of furniture.

My current project is a new novel. And because the end of this novel is finally in sight, I've been thinking a lot about my next project. On March 26, I figured it out. When the novel is finished, I'm going to write fan letters. The recipients will be performers, writers, and visual artists whose work I admire, along with some people who are not widely known, but have done some incredible things.

Diana Ross in a 1976 publicity photo Motown Records

The inspiration for my fan letter project was, partly, two very kind emails that I received on March 26. One of the many nice surprises to arise from having readers respond warmly to my first novel is that I've received hundreds of supportive messages and emails. Getting those messages came as a complete surprise to me because, even though I am a deeply devoted and loyal fan of several artists, it had never occurred to me to write a fan letter. But on March 26, I saw the two emails I received as a sign, and I knew I had to write some fan letters myself. March 26, you see, is Diana Ross's birthday.

I don't have a good memory for birthdays. If asked the birthdays of my parents or my spouse, I have to pause for several seconds before coming up with a guess. And even then I'm often off by a few days. But I fell for Diana Ross when I was a child and my affection for her has gone from baby love to endless love without a single falling-out or even a rough spot. Her birthday is indelibly imprinted upon my mind. I'm that kind of fan.

Jaqueline Du Pre: Brahms, Bruch EMI Classics

The idea for my fan letter project might also have come to me on either January 26 or July 21. July 21 is Isaac Stern's birthday. January 26 is Jacqueline du Pré's. Stern and du Pré were the classical music heroes of my childhood. As a kid, I spent my allowance on their recordings and listened to them for hours, happily forgoing sleep in the hope of hearing something new in recordings I'd already listened to hundreds of times. I played along with du Pré recordings and imitated her slavishly. But du Pré and Stern are gone, and so I'll be writing to Diana first. It's only fair, since she and I have been together longest.

Diana Ross has been a fixture in my life since a time when seeing black people on TV was so rare that my brother and I would be sent out to knock on the doors of our neighbors to make sure they knew to tune in. ("Hi, Mrs. Woolford. My mother asked me to tell you there're gonna be Negroes on Channel 5 tonight.")

As recently as last weekend, I gushed over Diana Ross's legendary concert entrance from the 1980s. (Endless staircase illusion + Fashion photo sequence + "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" = Perfection.) And I didn't feel the slightest bit of embarrassment for my enthusiasm.

Somewhere among my childhood memorabilia, there is a handmade collage of hundreds of photographs of Diana Ross that I clipped from magazines as an adolescent. My plan was to present the collage to Diana on our wedding day! Unfortunately, minor encumbrances like the fact that one of us was a glamorous star with a thriving international career and the other was a chubby gay boy from Indiana with only a bottle of craft glue and a dream prevented our romance from blossoming. But my adoration continues to this day.

Diana Ross, 'Take Me Higher' © 1995 Motown Records.

So my fan-letter writing project is set. I've put together a list of recipients and I'm eager to get started. I've even written a preliminary draft of my letter to Diana Ross. But since I don't want my letter-writing to turn into an excuse for avoiding work on my book, I won't send the letter out until my new novel is finished. Besides, I'll need a few months to refine that letter. It has proven to be surprisingly difficult not to sound creepy as I tell Diana that, should I ever suffer the tragedy of a house fire, I'll be found standing on the pavement, clutching my cello in one hand and my autographed copy of her Take Me Higher CD in the other. During my lean years, I once spent all my rent money on that CD at a silent charity auction, so there's no way I'm leaving it behind. My one and only picture of Grandma? Well, we'll just have to hope the firemen get to us in time.

Edward Kelsey Moore lives and writes in Chicago, where he also enjoys a career as a professional cellist. Edward's short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines and has been performed on National Public Radio. A New York Times bestseller, The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat, is Edward Kelsey Moore's first novel; he is currently finishing his second.

Professional cellist and bestselling author Edward Kelsey Moore on the Pacific coast. "I am a man who needs to be kept busy," he writes. Peter Gronwold