"April Is the Cruelest Month" interview
with The Angst Guy
1. How do you feel knowing that two fics were inspired by "April Is the Cruelest Month" ("To Mother You," by Parker-man, and "Night Holds the Key," by Anachronism Girl)?
I was pretty darn happy about it, especially because I liked both stories (thank you again!). If anyone wants to write a sequel or prequel or whatnot to a fanfic I've done, that's great. The more, the merrier!
2. How many different ways did you come up with to almost kill Jane before you settled on the car wreck?
To be honest, as the story developed, Jane was always going to have that hear-fatal hit-and-run. One of the habits I have when writing about a specific character is to look for one of that character's primary strengths, some essential part of the character's identity in the "Daria" show, then destroy that element in as brutal a manner as possible, to find out how the character copes with the disaster and see if the character grows beyond it. Often I have no idea when I start writing how a story will turn out, and "April" was one of those we'll-see-how-it-comes-out-when-it's-over tales, so I didn't initially know if Daria and Jane would survive or be crushed out. Jane was known for two things: being an artist, and being a runner. I took away her running ability, but left her still pure Jane. (I was glad to see recently that Glenn Eichler agreed with me that Jane was such a sexual creature! But, then, we all knew that, didn't we?)
This story originally took shape in my head as one episode of a much longer (still unpublished) tale called "Bipolar II," which I was working on as late as October 2002. Descriptions of "Bipolar II" appear in the author's notes for "April Is the Cruelest Month" and in the notes for several other tales also derived from the seminal work ("The Omega Jane," "Where No Light Breaks, Where No Sea Runs," and Part Three of "Smoking Mirror"). The more-or-less final version of "April" came out in November 2002 after beta-reading.
I should point out that one beta-reader had a profound impact on the story. In the original version of "April," Daria was also going blind from glaucoma (I was learning about the disease in one of my graduate-school classes at the time-I was getting my master's degree in psychology). Ruthless Bunny said the glaucoma part was a little much, so I scrubbed it. Giving Daria post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was enough. Ruthless Bunny also recommended adding a scene in which Jane goes hunting for guys, and the scene in the souvenir shop was born. Thank you, Ruthless Bunny! And Daria thanks you, too, for not letting her go blind. I'll have to use the glaucoma thing later on someone else.
3. How far into the story was it before you decided to give Daria the flashbacks?
The flashbacks were fated to be there from the start. Not once in the story is Daria's problem called PTSD, but that's what it really is. I decided not to mention the diagnosis and instead just show how it manifested. When I was a mental health counselor in the Army in the late 1970s (at Womack Army Hospital, Fort Bragg, N.C.), I had worked with Vietnam veterans who suffered from PTSD, and I had a fair idea of how it appeared. Graduate-school courses filled in the details.
I had meant for the accident to have two totally different effects on the friends. Jane would suffer physically but have no memory of the event. Daria would have no physical trauma, but her memory of the event is crippling her. Jane is on the upswing in the story, saved from despair by Daria, but Daria is heading downhill fast and must be saved by someone quickly before she is overcome. Heights, depths, and falling are major themes in the story, and in a way it mirrored the larger scheme I'd planned for "Bipolar II," which was a series of interconnected vignettes following an up-and-down pattern in mood (the overall level of which descended over time into horror and chaos) that mirrored the actual course of the illness called bipolar disorder, type II. The original form of "April" appeared early in "Bipolar II" and was meant to be one of the optimistic peaks.
4. You're probably as well known for your alternate-universe fics as you are for your angst-based works. How did you get interested in such radical, off-canon "Daria" fics?
Though I wasn't completely aware of it, I have always tended to write angsty stories. Many of the fantasy fiction tales I wrote for Dragonlance and other AD&D-game-inspired anthologies are pretty much hard-core angst (e.g., "The Goblin's Wish" in The Reign of Istar, "Vision" in Realms of Infamy, or "Sea of Ghosts" in Realms of the Underdark). Anyone who has read them can offer an opinion here of their angstiness, pro or con. I never actually thought of them as "angst" stories when I wrote them; they were simply the kind of stories I liked to write.
Suffering has intrigued me for a long time; I used to read things like C. S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain or John Hershey's Hiroshima, trying to puzzle out why some people came through disasters and grew anew, while so many others failed. I was also intrigued by positive (and negative) transformations in character and morality brought on by extremes of stress. When I was in high school, my favorite novels were about atomic-war survival (a bunch are listed in the author's notes to "Gone"), and when I discovered Stephen King, I was knocked out.
When I fell into "Daria" fanfic in early 2002, I became a big fan of Renfield's work, of which I thought, That shocked the hell out of me! Wow! I want to write just like he does! I got into Kara Wild's Driven Wild Universe and got caught up in the woes and stresses of the cast's everyday lives, the strengths and flaws of character that changed individuals as they struggled through their challenging days. Much of the fanfic writing of these two authors is also in the AU field, so . . . there it was. Later I discovered Brother Grimace, Angelinhel, and other nightmare creators that regularly cause me to bow down and cry, "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!" It was synergy, I guess, or mental illness. Whatever.
Alternate-universe fanfic also allowed for character growth and plot developments not normally seen in either reality or the "Daria" show. I was a fan of alternate-universe SF for years before discovering "Daria" fandom, going to seminars on AU writing and collecting a fair amount of AU-SF of all sorts, though I admit I never got into Harry Turtledove's work as many people have. I once wrote an alternate-universe fantasy story based on the Dragonlance saga ("There Is Another Shore, You Know, Upon the Other Side," from The Dragons of Chaos); the editors told me they would never take an AU DL story for their anthology, but they did, and I was insufferably proud of myself for weeks. In 1986, I did an AU Marvel Super Heroes adventures, too (The Gates of What If?) that has become a collector's item in some places. It sort of figured that "Daria" would get the AU treatment. There's just so much that you can do with AU tales, though I do try to build as much as possible of each tale on canon sources.
Note: I am working on the sequel to "Gone," in which Daria makes her appearance 35 years after World War III. This will justify the existence of "Gone" and give it a purpose, which a lot of people have wondered about since the story appeared. Sorry about that. Also working on the next PitA tale. Sorry for the delay.
5. What is the one fic that you wish that you hadn't written, or that you wish you could rewrite in a major fashion?
"Bus Stop." It was based on the idea that "Daria" and the movie Ghost World were related, but they're not, damn it. It was a dumb idea anyway. I've decided to just ignore that story and move on.
I was very worried for a time about the release of "Where No Light Breaks, Where No Sea Runs," because at the time I was a substitute teacher and had qualms about doing an online story about a school shooting. Before then, I was just plain worried. I finally changed my online handle from my real name to The Angst Guy, and that solved things, I think. I like that story a lot better than I like "Bus Stop." Judging from the e-mails I got, I think most readers rate that WNLBWNSR as the most out-of-character tale I ever did, though I tend to dispute that.
Several (a lot of) people had major issues with the Outers Trilogy (as noted at the end of "But Now Is Found"), and I wish I had taken the second book in a different direction, letting Daria be friends with Elsie Sloane (the new "Jane") and meet other canon characters about her age-without the aliens. I might yet do it. Other people have paradoxically asked me to finish the trilogy's third book ("Was Blind But Now Can See"). So . . . I dunno what to do. We'll see.
Some criticism came in about the ending of "When the Torrent of That Time Comes Pouring Back," the sequel to "Nine Point Oh," regarding Sandi's last mission. Though I've seriously considered toning it down, I've left it as it is because it made more sense in the context of the story for Sandi to make the preparations she does, even if her mission risks doom on multiple levels. She's been through too much to stop at anything less, and it brings the story back to its beginning as nothing else could. It just has to happen.
6. Why a ski trip for spring break?
My wife is fond of ski resorts in Colorado like Breckenridge and Keystone. In the mid-1990s, we took some trips to those places, and I learned that skiing was dangerous to my continued existence-but ski lodge life is pretty good if you get hot cocoa and stand at the bottom of the slopes, taking pictures of your family coming down all cold and wet and shivering.
As I was thinking about the story, it came to me that the most impractical place for a person on crutches to go was a ski resort, but it also made sense because the lodge's party life is a major reason for going there. It has been said to me that young women often flock to ski resorts hoping to meet guys and go partying, but the lodges are jammed with families and teenage geeks, and suitable party guys are lacking. Alas. Perfect place for Jane and Daria to visit, though. I used details from both resorts to create Snowcastle, and my memory of driving to and from Breckenridge (and Denver's airport) to do the scenery.
7. What are some of the qualities in your writing that have evolved over the course of writing "Daria" fiction, and what qualities have come about as a result of the responses of the Daria fan community?
Writing alone isn't enough to make me a better writer (assuming that my writing has improved at all). If not for fanfic readers' feedback, my stuff wouldn't get anywhere-and I wouldn't be writing, either. I rarely got feedback when I wrote Dragonlance or other fiction, except from the editors. I had no idea if anyone ever liked what I did. Writing fanfiction has been incredible because people all over the world can write to me and give me feedback almost instantly about anything I do. I love it!
The only trick to giving critical feedback is to be honest. Positive feedback is valuable because it gives the writer motivation. Negative feedback makes the writer rethink things and try again. Most writers secretly think their work is crap, even if they like what they do. You need good strokes somewhere down the line to keep from throwing away your computer and printer and calling it quits.
The thing that readers harp about most to me is keeping the fanfic characters true to the versions that appeared on "Daria." Even if the story is way off the beaten track-AU, SF, fantasy, horror, crossover, future, past, whatever-the characters must look as much as possible like the versions in the actual episodes. I am willing to revise my characters' looks, deeds, words, and thoughts to more closely match the show versions, unless there is good reason in the story not to do so.
The feedback that hits me hardest is usually about the endings of my stories. At times it seems everything else comes out right but the finale ("Gone," "Darius," "Drive," etc.), and it's a real struggle to figure out how to make things right. It is painful to admit when a reader's criticisms seem to be on target, but articulate and perceptive readers can cause you real agony. If you think they're right, you have to buckle down and redo everything to make the work shine.
Many people had issues with the original ending of "Gone," so I redid it-and it's still not right. It won't be right until part two (Daria after WW3) is dragged out, showing why Helen's suffering made any difference to the altered world of the show. The end of "Darius" was rewritten, and it seemed to work much better than the first time. "Drive" needs an extra chapter before the last one. "Forgotten But Not Gone" needs the last chapter split and some loose ends touched up. The first ending I tagged on to "Fortunate One" was hated by most readers, but I played with the story and did a much better ending more in tune with the story's sensibilities. A surprise that appeared at the end of the PitA tale, "Shock and Aww," was moved to the next story, "Family Affairs," based on beta-reader feedback. And I've already talked about the Outers Trilogy. [sigh]
The one thing I harp about most to myself is revising a published story to remove errors and improve its appearance. Because of the medium our fandom uses-an online, real-time, shared computer network-I can keep reshaping stories over time, sending revised versions to websites to replace older ones, until the tales look exactly like I want them, if I think I didn't get it right the first time. I can be very picky about that, but I haven't been so bad about it lately, so webmasters don't hate me as much as they used to. I think.
8. When writing this story, were you drawing on personal experience about people's reaction to Jane or were you basing it off of an educated guess on humanity as a whole?
First- and second-hand personal experience, I'm afraid. People can be incredible assholes and say the most thoughtless things, or they can be helpful and respectful (sometimes) to others. When I was single, I once walked over to an attractive woman at a volleyball party and asked what she did for a living. "Work with 'tards," she said. "What?" I said. "Retards," she clarified. "Oh," I said, and left right away. And there was the minister who sat with my church youth group when I was a teenager and told jokes about black people, using the N-word. And I read the news all the time, so I know about the teens who sodomized the mentally handicapped girl in this school, and the man who shot his estranged wife and children to death in that city, and so on. People can really suck without half trying. Sometimes they don't mean to come off as disrespectful wicked scum, but they do anyway and even feel justified about it. I've been a jerk at times, too, so I should know.
Regarding dating, my wife used to run a singles' dating service in a major Midwestern city. She collected books on bad dating habits and bad dating attitudes, and she has a raft of dating horror stories that would cause your eyeballs to melt. Jane's fictional dating experiences as a handicapped single, I am inclined to think, are not unusual for someone in that same position in the real world. People either ignore you or treat you weird or are just plain mean to you. If anyone can offer evidence proving me wrong, please do.
9. With your fics, you became the standard-bearer for two movements in Daria fanfiction: angst-driven fics (hence your name) and AU-based stories. What have been your experiences in the response to your works from the fandom?
I don't think of myself as a standard-bearer for these movements, as plenty of people did them very well before I came along, and plenty do them now. As far as reader reaction, people either like angst fics and AU fics, or they hate them. It is rare to get anyone to "convert" to liking those stories if they didn't before; it's like getting someone who likes historical romances to like slasher horror or technothrillers. Readers aren't shy about telling me what sucks about a given story. The themes that have received the most objections from readers, while also getting strong votes of approval from other readers, are: any story with gay/lesbian elements (e.g., the Pause in the Air series, which some readers feel is out of character and inappropriate); any AU/SF/crossover story (in favor of mainline Dariaverse tales from the Lawndale High School years); and, any angst story (in favor of comedies).
Regarding the latter, I've noticed I never get as much response from readers on the comedy fanfics as I do with the angst stories, the latter of which can really fill my e-mailbox. Everyone who writes comedy says it is much harder to do than tragedy, which I think is true, plus there is enormous individual variation in what people specifically want in their comedies. I like slapstick ("The Thong Remains the Same," "Luuuv Story," "Memory Lame," "Nuthouse," "I Never Metamorphosis I Didn't Like," "Turn Down the Sun") and find it hard to write more realistic comedy ("Highland Fling," "See Jane Spike," "Home on Deranged" (borderline slapstick), "Quinnisqatsi"). Few of these get anywhere near the level of feedback that a story like "Nine Point Oh" will get, though "Metamorphosis" and "See Jane Spike" have some dedicated fans.
Some stories, almost always the angsty ones (AU or not), get very intense responses from readers. A pile of e-mail about "Nine-Eleven and Counting" came in from people who were affected by the 9/11 attacks, almost all the commentary being favorable though at the same time recalling very disturbing events from that time period. (See next question, however.) Some beta-readers for "Where No Light Breaks, Where No Sea Runs" would have been happy to chase me around with pitchforks and shovels, I think. (But we're all okay about that now, right guys? Everything's cool now, right? Hello?) "True Lies" grossed out some female readers. Some readers found they had trouble reading through hard-core angst fics like "Smoking Mirror" (Part Three, especially), and some cried through "Fortunate One." (I do.)
The negative reaction to any story is almost always countered by positive reaction, so I never know what to make of it. I usually elect to just write what I want to write, and see what happens.
10. As we've seen in your works, there are very few lines that you won't cross (e.g., "Drive," "Darius," "Gone," "The Thirteenth Man," "Where No Light Breaks, Where No Sea Runs"). What are the lines in terms of subject matter that you won't cross, and what are some subjects that you wish you hadn't touched on, or with you had done it differently?
11. In fics like "Nine Point Oh," "But in Her Heart a Cold December," "Prayers for a SAINT," "Gone," and "Nine-Eleven and Counting," we see you've no problem with using the hot topics of the day and current/historical events as the basis for your works. What topics or events have you considered for use but rejected, and why?
I put these two questions together for the following answer because they're closely related.
The best advice I ever got on this topic came from Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America (Sue Grafton, editor), page 12: "The mirror image of the previous rule ["Some Violence Is Required"] is that there are some types of violence that are not acceptable, even in fiction. The virtually taboo areas include graphic scenes of child abuse, rape and cruelty to animals. The reason behind this rule is common decency." I learned the truth of this when some readers of the early version of "Nine-Eleven and Counting" became very upset that child abuse was implied to have taken place in the Lane family (performed by "friends of the family"), severely affecting the oldest siblings of Trent and Jane. This part was greatly toned down in the recently revised version of the story, and no one has complained about it since. I was a rape crisis counselor in the Army for a brief time (1977-1978), and after a dozen cases I was pretty much burned out. I get a pretty strong flinch reaction even reading this sort of thing, so I don't put it in my stories, and there are some fanfic threads to which I don't contribute.
I would also add to the above that I'm not fond of writing out long descriptions of physical torture. The limit I reached was probably in "Illusions," when Jane met the AU Daria in the abandoned house near the story's end. (What happened to Jane in "April" doesn't count.) Mental torture is quite satisfying in itself, so I will stick with that.
Sometimes I think I'll never write about certain subjects, but then an idea comes and I do it anyway, like writing about the abortion conflict in "One More River to Cross" (no one complained about that, which was weird) or home-front battles in the Drug War in "Potential." At the moment (when I am not answering these questions) I'm working on "Darkness," which is a serial about a near-future America in which proponents of ultraconservative Christianity have taken control of the government, with what I feel are predictable consequences reaching into the lives of an adult Daria and company. I've taken pains to research the issues and can cite references to support most bits of anticipated trouble named in the story. I research almost every story anyway as an old habit. I read a lot about spinal-cord injuries when writing "April," for instance.
At this point, I need to say that I am not a radical on any particular topic except, perhaps, moderation. (We won't go into the penguin thing or Ann Coulter here.) I'm very much center-of-the-road in my politics and am not super-fond of abortion or Christian bashing. I'm Jewish but used to be Christian, and I have a large number of ardent Christians (of many flavors) in my immediate and extended family, as well as Jews, pagans, atheists, and whatever. It's all family. As a writer, though, I want to create stuff that is riveting and immediate, as much as fanfic can be, without beating any religious or political drum in too annoying or offensive a manner. I confess a major weakness of mine is that I am deathly afraid of offending people. You can't always keep from offending others, and sometimes you have to, but it should not be done stupidly or unnecessarily. "Darkness" is very hard to write, partly because work and home compete for time with it, but mainly because I want to make the nature of the enemy very clear, and it is intolerance and bigotry and hypocrisy, not Christianity. (To quote a Mad magazine character in its parody of The French Connection, "I wish all the bigots would go back to Bigotland where they came from.") Anyway, there it is. I already have a fair idea where the story is going. I am a little worried about what people will think of what's to come, but the story's got to go there, so I just grit my teeth and write.
A few other potentially offensive tales are in the works. People on PPMB will have seen chapter one of a radical AU about Nazism in America, in the as-yet-unfinished "Das Elendskčcken" ("The Misery Chick" in German). It's not about German-bashing but is about the love affair certain elements of America have with Nazism's ideals. Another is "The Alternate History Teacher," about which I should say nothing though I discussed quite a bit of its background on PPMB at one point. The core content is fairly disturbing to me and I am not sure how to proceed with it, but it will pop out one day anyway. Wish me luck!
I suppose one day I will write a Daria AU or future tale in which ultraliberal forces take over America and ruin it, but a theme hasn't yet suggested itself. Time will tell.
12. Which do you consider to be the most challenging to write for: canon characters, pre- or post-canon characters, or characters of your own invention?
All of these are about same with me, though characters of my own invention are easiest to do because I can make them up as I go along instead of researching them. Research can be laborious when it comes to hard-to-figure-out characters like Tom Sloane or Andrea or Jake Morgendorffer. I research a lot before I write and while I'm writing, often going through scripts from multiple episodes line by line (or watching them) looking for quotes, quirks, and personal background bits. Googling hard data is pretty common for me, looking up stuff on robot vacuums, interstellar propulsion, sensory deprivation experiments, Jules Verne, schizophrenia, magnolia blossoms, the 1966 Buick Wildcat, Seoul during the Korean War, blindness, coastal damage from the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, etc. Coming up with character stuff, though, is much harder, because you can so many miss tiny important things. A beta-reader reminded me that Quinn Morgendorffer doesn't drink coffee ("April Showers"), for instance, and a reader of "Nine Point Oh" noted that Sandi Griffin knew how to swim in "Fat Like Me," though she didn't in "Just Add Water." There's just too much to know, and watching all the episodes is just about impossible for me. Some of the recent interviews with Glenn Eichler have screwed up a few of my stories, most notably "Gone," which had Helen be older than Rita (damn it!).
13. Who are some of your favorite works and writers, and why?
Writers (no order): I'm a complete slut when it comes to Daria fanfic. I had a list here that pretty much covered almost all of the writers past and present, so it was useless. I'm addicted to many of the ongoing serials, for sure. As far as writers and works I haven't fully gotten into, but will read before long, are Dervish ("Something to Shoot For"), Napalm Kracken ("I Was a Marvel Anti-Hero"), and Ostragoth ("Estrangesters"), plus some on fanfiction.net I haven't even seen yet. I'm also getting into the massive inventories of Canadabrit and Steven Galloway, which will take time.
Artists (no order): Kemical Reaxion, Liliane Grenier, Milo Minderbinder, Katie Cook, John Berry, Galen "Lawndale Stalker" Hardesty, Ranchoth, Richard Lobinske, let's stop there because I'm being a slut again. I'm not too fond of the crayon-on-lined-paper drawings, however. Sorry. I also want to add SRA, Rick Hennigan, Kara Wild, Damaged Roses, Uzurpator, John Berry, and . . . again I have to stop because it gets pointless after a while, doesn't it?
14. How do you see your angst-driven works differing from the other primary angst-driven writers in Daria fandom: Renfield, Brother Grimace, and Angelinhel? How are your works similar?
This is difficult to answer because I've never compared what I write to what anyone else writes. I like a well-told story, and that's about it. The works of all three of the above writers have intrigued me. It was fun to get to borrow their universes a tiny bit for "Illusions." I've also been unable to figure out how my work compares with anyone else's work, at any time. I can't see my own work as everyone else sees it. This spares me from becoming a prima donna, a condition that--if I discovered it in me--would cause me to drop out of fandom altogether in self-disgust. (Maybe I'm just blind to it.)
Anyway, I could try to compare and contrast the works of the above three or other people, but not with my own. I can't do that.
15. As one of the few true professional writers in Daria fandom, could you tell us how you came into writing fan fiction, and why?
How it happened . . . that's sort of odd. The story has been told in shorter form, but here's the long version.
I knew about fanfic as far back as the mid-1970s (original "Star Trek" stuff) and even wrote a couple stories about a starship with an Andorian captain. All of those tales have fortunately been lost. My contact with fanfic continued off and on over the years, particularly in the 1980s, when I attended SF/F fan conventions in the Chicago/Milwaukee/Madison area for TSR, Inc., when I was on the Dragon Magazine staff. I didn't get into any particular fandom, though I was intrigued with some of the stuff produced, such as a mega-crossover tale about an alien invasion being repelled by TV-show characters ranging from Dr. Who down to "Magnum, P.I." I did write a couple of licensed Conan books and did some Marvel Universe stuff for TSR, but that doesn't count as fanfic, I guess. Plus all the Dragonlance stories and so on. I got paid for that, so it doesn't count. As far as non-TSR writing, I published a poem and a short story, plus some science magazine articles.
At the time I was laid off from Hasbro, Inc. (which had bought out Wizards of the Coast, which had bought out TSR, Inc.), I was a telecommuting editor who worked at home. My family and I had moved away from Milwaukee because, to give the shortest possible story about it (and not wishing to say more than this), someone was stalking my family and we elected to "disappear" for a time. That situation has been completely resolved, so for the first time I can finally tell everyone where I really live, which is:
Yes, Derby City. That's my home. We moved here in 1995 and have had a very low-key existence since then. My apologies for not saying where I was before, but it just wasn't possible. It doesn't matter now, thank heavens.
(Side note: It will still be hard for me to visit with any other fans or have them see me, because, in the shortest possible form again, some family members are un-fond of my fanfic writing to a serious degree. I decided to change my online name to The Angst Guy for this reason. Things are fine now, and life goes on.)
Anyway, my last project from Hasbro was to edit a role-playing game version of Frank Herbert's Dune novels, and I had just read the first three books and discovered a whole pile of editing/writing mistakes from the series that I think I still have somewhere, though only in the form of notes I made in the books, plus looking over a huge half-completed manuscript giving the background for the universe, mostly for the first book. And then, in December 2000, on the same night the Supreme Court decided W was president, I got a phone call from my boss, who said I was being laid off as part of a major restructuring at Hasbro. The company laid off hundreds of people then and in subsequent months, until almost everyone I used to work with was let go. I had no hard feelings about it, not even against W for deliberately causing me to lose my job, so everything's okay with that. There are odd rumors about why Hasbro let go so many people, mostly having to do with overinvesting in Star Wars toys that didn't sell, plus buying WotC for the Pokemon card game, which had once sold billions but now had leveled off in sales. Whatever.
With nothing else to do, I decided to try writing some original novels of my own, having published a lot of AD&D game fiction. I gamely wrote 2.5 fantasy and science-fiction novels, managed with great difficulty to find an agent, and proceeded to sell nothing. I wasted a year and a half by writing and writing and writing, and there's nothing to show for it today except extreme embarrassment and some computer files I no longer look at. I understand in hindsight that book companies were oversupplied with manuscripts from new writers, but they devote too few editors to reading those new manuscripts. After the end of 2001, almost all of those manuscripts were thrown out for fear they had been contaminated with anthrax. Things were not going well.
In the final months of 2001, I was poking around the Internet when I entered the word "Daria" into a search engine and discovered Planet Daria. I had heard of "Daria" from my days at Wizards of the Coast, when the idea was being tossed about of designing games for teenage girls that would be as popular as the D&D games had been for boys. Someone mentioned Daria to me about 1997-1998 during a visit to Seattle, and I was intrigued with a brainy cartoon show aimed at girls, but I didn't see it until one afternoon in St. Louis, Missouri, visiting family. We were staying at a hotel and I turned on the cable channel and got to watch about 20 minutes of "Dye! Dye! My Darling." I was stunned. The show was cool! (I didn't know until later that I was going to hate this episode.) Later, I saw about 5-10 minutes of "Murder She Snored." That, until 2002, was all the "Daria" I knew of.
Anyway, I liked Planet Daria. It was cool. The first fanfic I read was the one about Daria meeting the Predator. Then I discovered the Driven Wild Universe on Outpost Daria, and it was all downhill from there. I wrote to Kara Wild about April 2002 when I was mostly depressed over selling nothing, and if I recall correctly I asked her something about "Daria" fandom being different after 9/11. She said no, it was about the same. I was really glad to hear from someone in the fandom itself (her response to me was the pivotal event that decided that I would stick around), and shortly after that I also heard from Kemical Reaxion after writing something to her, too. And then I decided to write a fanfic of my own, just for fun.
I have to say that at the time I didn't think I was ever going to get anything sold in real life. (I was right; I still haven't.) I was midway through a modern-horror novel called "Unreal Estate," about a lady realtor who discovered she had a knack for selling stigmatized (genuinely haunted) property but couldn't figure out why she was so good at it. (I might cannibalize this story for a "Daria" story, so I won't spoil it.) Anyway, I poked around at some ideas for Daria stories, and the first idea I had was to have Daria involved in stopping a school shooting. I guess the angst thing was already up and running in my head when I came into the fandom, but a lot of my Dragonlance and other game-related fiction were already deeply into Angst Land, so it was nothing new for me.
The second idea I had for a Daria story (script) was "Nine-Eleven and Counting," which I began serializing near the end of April 2002 on fanfiction.net. The story was sort of self-therapy for me, as I almost lost several family members on 9/11, and I was very depressed. I soon switched over to writing the story up and sending it to some websites, and again, it was downhill from there. I got some good feedback from the story as well as some negative comments, but I was hooked and kept going.
I kept writing even through graduate school at the University of Louisville (2002-2003), where I earned my Masters degree in psychology. Finding a job was difficult after that, but I am gainfully employed today as a counselor for a major psychiatric hospital in Louisville, on the unit that handles persons who cannot be prosecuted for major felonies because of their mental state (paranoid schizophrenia, mostly). I work with murderers, armed robbers, and your garden-variety violent psychotics, all of them very nice people when they are getting their medication. Really.
Writing fanfic is my way of having a little fun just by myself. It keeps me perked up when I need it. The feedback has been very good, no matter what sort of feedback I get. I've commented elsewhere that I've gotten more feedback, and more GOOD feedback, from writing Daria fanfic that for anything else I ever did put together. I don't care that I don't get paid; it's a hobby. If I got paid, it wouldn't be fun anymore and I would quit and find something else to do, like researching Mercury spacecraft, which was my hobby before I began writing fanfic. (I wrote a bibliographic paper giving all known resources on unflown and unused Mercury spacecraft, getting help from a couple of NASA people. The paper is now being used as an unofficial reference for the history department of NASA. At least, that's what they said they were doing with it.)
As a side note, late last year I left SFWA (the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), to which I had belonged since about 1982, because I was producing no new fiction of the sort the group recognized. Also, there's the usual turmoil about fanfic being "bad" with regard to copyright, etc., so I mailed in my resignation and went my own way. No one had ever complained to me about it, but I elected to get rid of the problem early on. SFWA is a wonderful group, and it would be nice to one day rejoin it, but I'm basically a writing bum and may as well act like one.
That's basically the story of my secret Daria life. I don't advertise it to anyone I know, so here I am, in the middle of the normal world, writing fanfic and never once meeting anyone who is another Daria fan. Tah-dah. Wish me luck in staying in the field and writing some non-angsty stories later this year!