A little known fact about my mom: she wanted to be a writer. She didn’t talk about it much, especially in the last years of her life, but she once told me she wanted to start a magazine for divorced women. That was more than two decades ago, well before she remarried and welcomed twins into the world. Still in elementary school, I responded with the obvious:
“That would be cool. You should go do it.”
She rarely brought it up, but once in a while, she would allude to writing, to sharing her story. I encouraged her as recently as a few years ago to start a blog. She never did. I don’t know that she thought she could. I don’t know that she ever mentioned her dream of writing to anyone other than me.
It was a detail I forgot about until she died, that she wanted to write. I’ve always been a writer, always had some sort of writing gig going on over on the side. Her death brought about a re-birth in my own writing journey, and I’m not foolish enough to think those things aren’t connected.
She wanted me to do what she didn’t: write.
And so, with my mom and her dream that she didn’t follow on my heart, I’m sharing a “secret” part of my life with you today.
I met my oldest friend, Kathryn, thirteen years ago.
Kathryn lives on the other side of the country and to date, we have only ever actually seen one another in person once, but she’s still someone that knows my secrets. It’s the kind of friendship that can go weeks without a text message but pick up right where we left off when the phone chimes.
I met Kathryn through a fanfiction forum for the TV show Falcon Beach.
You probably don’t remember Falcon Beach, but it was the first TV show (besides Power Rangers…) that I really loved. It was on ABC Family by way of Canada, based in Falcon Beach, a small fictional lake town brimming with the dramas of townies and summer visitors. Jason Tanner and Paige Bradshaw’s romance was one for the ages as far as 20 year old Sarah was concerned and even though I had class until 10pm on the night it aired, we had just gotten DVR and I came right home to watch the recorded episode. I finished each episode just as Kathryn would start it on the west coast and I could count on a text or an email comparing notes when I woke up the next morning.
I had never heard of “fanfiction” before then. I was bored at my medical records job one day and decided to look up a song I heard on Falcon Beach the night before. That show had a fantastic soundtrack and its website was ahead of its time, all interactive and full of media. I stumbled into the forums – I hadn’t even really visited a forum at that point – and clicked on the “fanfiction” board out of curiosity. I started reading stories starring our favorite characters, some better than others, and thought to myself “huh, what if they did this…”
The next thing I knew, I had an epic of a story centered around Jason and Paige unfolding and a dedicated following.
Here’s the thing.
I’ve been writing fanfiction since well before Falcon Beach.
I just didn’t know it.
I was obsessed with the Power Rangers. Other than a love of our Papa’s sausage gravy, it is probably the one thing my cousins and I bonded over without dispute. We lost hours of our childhood playing Power Rangers in Papa and Granny’s front yard. We tended to fight each other instead of team up against the bad guys, but I distinctly remember getting in trouble for round-housing a dogwood tree. My argument that it was a putty sent by Rita Repulsa fell on deaf ears.
But I took it a step further than playing pretend.
I had a Ninja Turtle notebook that I wrote Power Rangers stories in. I can’t remember the storylines, but they centered around Tommy and Kimberly, the green/white ranger and the pink ranger. The first TV romance I truly loved. I even staged a coup over a school project when I was in third grade to turn the map we were supposed to create into a fully drawn out and detailed rendering of Angel Grove as it existed in my head.
The love of TV shows and their characters continued from Falcon Beach. I wrote stories for Meredith and Derek. Chuck and Blair. Elena and Damon. Clark and Bellamy. Stories based on shows with complex characters, inter tangled stories, and an immense amount of drama.
Every time I wrote and published those stories, people read them. People got invested. They left comments, made predictions, offered suggested, sometimes sent me prompts for story ideas that I always appreciated but never used because my mind is constantly spinning up stories.
I wrote my own stories, too. I have no less than five original pieces living on my laptop. Hundreds of thousands of words. As I wrote the last original piece recently, part of a series, with the vague intention to attempt to publish it the traditional way, I thought to myself “this would make a great TV Series” and by the time I wrote the last lines, I had dreamed up who I would cast and where we would film. Just call me Shonda Rhimes.
The week my mom died, I was watching Part 2 of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix. Part 1 caught my attention, but Part 2 sucked me in. The storytelling was rich. The characters were complex. The relationships were dynamic, intricate. The themes made one think, question where they fell from a moral standpoint. The showrunner ad writers weren’t afraid to address feminism, transgender, sex.
And the characters of Sabrina and Nicholas both separately and together are a storyteller’s dream.
The night my mom died, I finished the last two episodes of the show.
It was pouring rain in Chapel Hill, thundering and lightning with no end in sight. The breezeway outside of my apartment was flooded with several inches of water that somehow never seeped under the door. It was a fitting setting. My world had been turned on its ear and for a night, I didn’t want to think. I wanted to sit on my couch with a melting bowl of frozen yogurt, watch a show about witchcraft, and feel whatever I needed to feel. I won’t spoil those last two episodes in case you haven’t seen them (you should watch it if you haven’t), but they left me reeling.
I went home to Virginia the next day and started planning my mom’s funeral.
I hope you never have to plan a parent’s funeral. I hope you never come home so frustrated and exhausted that you corner your dad and demand to know what his plans are in the event of his death so you don’t have to do “this” again, “this” being operating from a place of the unknown, wondering what your mother wanted, if she had life insurance, who should preside over the funeral, should you bury her or cremate her. I hope you never sit in the middle of the bed of the guestroom of your dad’s house and pray to God to just explain himself already because He’s not making a whole lot of sense right now and you’re a little bit pissed off at Him.
Somewhere in the days surrounding her funeral, desperate for something to do to take my mind off of things, I tried to read a book. It didn’t work. I turned to my laptop in search of a distraction and as if on autopilot, opened a word document. The blank page was like saying hello to an old friend.
Selfless was born.
Before I could talk myself out of it, and maybe because I was feeling a bit reckless, I published it on Archive of Our Own with a note that basically said “life has been tough and when things get tough, I write. I really loved Sabrina and Nick and how the show tells their stories, so I wrote this and it’s not perfect, but I’m just going to publish it, okay, bye.”
People read it.
They left comments.
Lots of comments.
Lots of encouragement.
Lots of requests for more.
So, I wrote more.
Because that felt like the thing to do.
I just started to write.
Words came from a place deep inside of me like they had been their all along, waiting and waiting for me to finally let them out. Page after page, line after line, grammatical errors, typos, all of it. It just poured out of me.
I wrote an entire story called Off The Record. It’s what they call “alternate universe” in the fanfiction world, but I wrote it, I published, and people loved it. People asked for more. I had more ideas. I had a burning desire to write. And that’s why I’m working on But The Greatest Is Love in my limited free time right now, a piece that may just be the most complex storytelling I’ve tackled to date.
That writing thing I alluded to in my post about my Year of Yes? This is it. Selfless. Off The Record. But The Greatest Is Love.
A whole slew of titles and stories posted out there somewhere on the internet, mostly forgotten, some I still get a ping on now and again. Since mid-April, 15,000 people have read my Sabrina stories.
That’s no small number.
My mom would get suspicious of me, sitting on my laptop and typing away at all hours of the day and night. She had no idea – even when I told her – that I was creating a world. A world where the characters were the creation of someone else but placed in a setting I made up. A world in which people all around the globe were waiting for me to share the next piece of the story unfolding through my words. I never understood her questioning, but now I just chalk it up to maybe she wondered why I was on the computer so much when I could have been doing “other things.”
I’ll never know.
In her passing, my mom reunited me with a love of writing that I’ve always had, but that lay dormant for so long while I pursued other goals, chased other ambitions, did the things I was “supposed” to do. I still wrote a bit, blogging and sharing fitness knowledge, but I didn’t tell stories, create worlds.
I do now.
I wake up early so I can write before work. I stay up too late more often than not because goodness, I can get lost in these worlds. My best Saturdays as of late have been spent with my laptop, words pouring onto the screen. Before I know it, it’s five o’clock in the afternoon, I haven’t eaten, haven’t grocery shopped, haven’t moved the clothes from the washer to the dryer, but I have pages and pages of words that feel like a release and I don’t feel bad about it.
It’s funny, really, how I’ve been terrified to share this part of me – the fanfiction writer – with you. Thousands upon thousands of people all around the world have read my stories. It’s mind boggling, really, that these strangers read my work, leave comments, send messages, even draw beautiful fan art to match the stories I tell, and yet I have never told my closest family and friends about my endeavors for fear of them thinking I’m “weird” or even “childish.”
Perhaps it’s my Year of Yes kicking in or my declaration that you should like what you like that inspired me to come clean. Perhaps it’s my mom, realizing I really was writing epic stories on my laptop while camped out in the recliner and giving me the courage to share my work now. It’s definitely my mom’s own dream that didn’t come true, nagging at me to not repeat her mistake, to not let a love of writing, a passion, a talent, go to waste. Not when writing makes me so happy. Not when there are so many stories to tell.
And perhaps I just don’t care if people think it’s weird or childish or whatever other word they may come up with to describe this fanfiction hobby of mine. I now know I know longer have to sit at tables in which I’ll be discussed once I walk away. There are plenty of other tables that will welcome me, fanfiction and all. I don’t worry about the judgment or the fear or the folks that will 100% read this post and whisper among themselves about how “odd” all of this is.
I don’t care if you read my stories. I don’t care if you share them with your own circle because you think they’re good or if you share them because you’re laughing about the absurdity of it all. Just don’t ask to sit at my table when my table is the one laden with the best cheese board and wine in all the land and we’re celebrating my victories.
Kathryn will always have a seat at that table, though. She’s heard enough of my shit and still calls me a friend anyway. She’s read enough of my writing – fanfiction and not – to know I’m not awful at it.
My mom wanted to write.
She never did.
So I’ll write for us both.
And forever save her a seat at the table.