If you’re reading this, you’ve come to this blog because you’ve been wondering what this “Awesome Thing” is that I’ve been talking about lately. I am very eager to shed some light on this mysterious deed that has gotten me all a-flutter.
But first, some back-story.
Back in 1999, I was at the end of my college career and wondering what I was going to do with my newfound English degree. I knew I wanted to be a journalist and a writer of books and short stories, but didn’t know exactly how to go about doing it in Southern California where I was living.
I knew the thing to do would be to move to New York and break into the publishing industry there, but I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere if I didn’t have any relevant experience.
Thank goodness I had reached this point in my life during the advent of Web 1.0, and the burgeoning idea that you didn’t need to have a satchel full of degrees or four years in college of working at the school paper to be a journalist. (In the interest of full disclosure, I did do a few months as a stringer for the CSUF Daily Titan in 1998; scoping the lead article for this issue [warning: PDF] was one of my biggest triumphs.)
With the help of some friends who had spare server space and a self-teaching book on HTML, I set up shop as one who conducted interviews of authors of fan-fiction, and the second person who ever consented to be interviewed by me was a woman who wrote under the name of “Kielle” who arrived at the meeting place with her writing partner “Laersyn.”
To understand how much it meant for me to have Kielle be my first web-interview subject, you have to cast yourself back to a time where not everyone had a PC with a modem at home, and if and when you did, the connection rate was only at 14.4K, and you had to tie up your only home phone line in order to do any amount of browsing. You also have to put yourself into a mindset where it was considered strange and unusual to meet someone in person whom you’d met over the Internet, even if they lived in the same state and less than an hour’s drive away.
And finally, you have to put yourself into my shoes, where I am hoping and praying that if I can get enough of these interviews together, if I can demonstrate that I know something about interviewing people, I can use that as pitch material for magazine articles, and I can get somewhere with my dreams.
The interview went off without a hitch, and in the course of events, Kielle and I became good friends and for the first time in my life, I had a friend who I thought really understood me. We hung out often, and through her I also met and became friends with several other people in Southern California who shared a love of writing about fictional characters.
Kielle helped me through a very difficult break-up, and I returned the favor when she went through a traumatic divorce. When she eventually married her writing partner and became Kelly O’Guinn, I was her wedding photographer and signed the marriage certificate. Through this all, Kielle continued to encourage me to spread my wings and to follow my dreams of being a writer.
I continued to publish stories and non-fiction on the Internet, working my way up to being an assistant editor for Sequential Tart, which I credit directly to those Author’s Spotlight interviews. The next step from there was to take on first a freelance article contract from Wizard Entertainment, and then four months later, to accept a position as an associate editor for their now defunct Anime Insider magazine, and to move to the East Coast.
I won’t lie; I was very excited to get the job opportunity and to move away from California. One thing I knew I would miss, however, is my friendship with Kelly and her husband Chris. Thanks to the Internet, we still managed to keep in touch, but it wasn’t the same.
The job with Anime Insider didn’t last a year, and four months of unemployment in New York City scared me enough to put my writing career on hold to focus on gaining other skills I’d need if I wanted to start my own publications. I was publishing an annual comics anthology called Smut Peddler by then, and happily donning the caps of being a managing editor, webmistress, and public relations representative, all at the same time.
Meanwhile, Kelly and Chris had moved to Washington state, had just purchased a new house, and her renovation tales filled me with glee, because I knew that once it was finished enough, I would scrape up enough money for a plane ticket to the Northwest so that I could hang out with them again in their “house of strange dimensions.” She was also thinking of polishing up some of her old stories to start submitting them to print publications, and I just knew that she’d finally get somewhere with her writing dreams, too.
When I first heard in the summer of 2005 that she was taken to the hospital with stomach pain and that they didn’t know what was going on, I was a little scared. When Chris told us that it was colon cancer, I got a lot scared. Lapsed Catholic that I was, I still prayed and urged everyone in my family to pray for her recovery, that she would be able to get the cancerous cells out of her, start chemotherapy, beat it into submission, and finish having her wonderful life. I even wrote and drew a comic for 24 straight hours based on subjects that she loved, in the hopes that we could raise a little money to off-set some medical bills.
On the morning of September 22, 2005, I was hours away from going to a comics convention to sell the finished mini-comics to raise more money for her recovery when I got the news that she died.
My life changed that very day. I fell into minor bouts of depression and I started to drink more carelessly. I started to question the ideas I grew up with surrounding the nature of God and religion. I vowed to myself that I would not squander the life I still had when she did not have a life anymore, and yet every day that passed by when I didn’t have anything to show for it felt like it was another day wasted.
Last year, with the help of my therapist and some friends, I changed careers again and started writing again, but the therapy route grew harder, and I started to have depressive fits again.
On Christmas Day, I woke up and read a news article on Metafilter that cheered me up enough to write to the man in the story to thank him for his good deeds. Six hours after I sent that message, he wrote me back; I wrote to him again a few hours after that. A few weeks after that, he asked me to call him, because he wanted to talk to me about God and said that God had something he wanted to say to me.
I, in turn, shot off an email to the producers at the “This American Life” radio show, because if I did agree to talk to this man about why I stopped believing in God, I wanted it to be recorded, and I wanted it to be the first story I would ever pitch to them as a writer and journalist.
In short, I successfully pitched and recorded a radio story for “This American Life” that airs this weekend.
And I owe it all to Kelly.
I miss you, I love you, and thank you.
UPDATE: It is available from the iTunes store right now as a free podcast. You’ll be able to download the .mp3 on Monday still, I believe. And do consider making a donation to the show, to help defray bandwidth costs. I know I will.