Here's what I promised on Friday.
From September 1998 until early the following year, I wrote a series of journals as fiction.
It started off as a short story I was writing in episodic form and mutated into a longer story, told over several months, and e-mailed to my friends.
It was first-person. And the person I wrote as was a University of Texas student named Heather Yi. I began e-mailing the "journals" to friends of mine and a few people I worked with, telling them that Heather was a friend of mine, a student at the university, who wanted some honest feedback.
And I got some of that. People told me directly that they either didn't like Heather (her style is trying too hard), didn't like Gina ("What a bitch!") or they were wondering what the point of the story was.
But nobody asked me to stop e-mailing them with installments of the story.
What was great about the feedback (and Heather got some vehement e-mails from my friends at her hotmail account) was that it was honest and raw. People told me things they would never tell a writer face-to-face. I was able to hear what people really thought about my writing, unfiltered.
After about a half-dozen shaky journal entires, the Gina story began to hit its stride. Heather and Gina became very real to me. Some of the things they experienced were adventures I was going on (Dies y Seis celebration, going to Miguel's), but in a weird way that's only happened to me once or twice in my entire writing career, the characters started living off the page. They were everywhere I went, never far from my mind. When I wrote about them, the music they listened to, the places they went, came organically. I was learning about them little by little, and when the story finally ended, ending an arc I'd only sketchily planned out, I was sad to see them go.
To this day, I think the Gina journals are the most complete thing I've ever written. If you take all 36 entries together, they're about the length of a short novel.
When I was writing them, I got the idea of putting the entries on the Web, in addition to the e-mail versions I was distributing to a growing list of people. Once the site got on the Web (hosted by Greg, who was as in the dark about Heather's identity as everyone else), the list of subscribers grew. The site was listed on Yahoo! and total strangers were writing to Heather, urging her to press on, posing their own questions as to how she might better approach her relationship with Gina.
It became... surreal. Heather was me, and I was Heather, but I had a clear idea in mind of who Heather was, and she was a very different person from me. I sometimes responded to Heather's e-mail, trying to fix my mind around her world-view, which was a lot easier to do under the blanket of the Writing Zone. More than a year later, I still got e-mails from strangers asking whatever happened to Heather and whether she'd be doing any more online journals.
When the story began drawing to a close, I became more comfortable telling people close to me about Heather's identity. The finish line was in sight, and I knew that the point where I needed positive reinforcement to keep the story going was past.
I wrote the last entry, and posted it. I got a few e-mails about it. I wrote a column for the Statesman about my Heather experience, a sidebar to a story I did about online journals.
Greg, perturbed as he was about not being in the know about Heather, was kind enough to host the journals for a really long time.
Recently, ".gina" went offline. Greg FTP'd the files to me and I've put them up here, on Terribly Happy.
I haven't gone back to read them in the last few months. I've left them pretty much as they've stood for the last two years. I've thought about trying to get them published, and maybe someday I'll go back and do the editing necessary to get them to that level.
For now, though, I like having Heather and Gina around again, sharing them with some people who never got the chance to know them the first go-round.
Heather and Gina are good chunks of me, as well as pieces of very close friends of mine.
Mostly it's about women who've come into my life and have each in their own way made me a little strong and a little bit of a better person.They're rolled in there, entwined in the best and worst parts of the characters.
It's also about the truth within the lies, a subject which never stops fascinating me. It's what I think all fiction is about, really, and if I continue to work in that direction, I hope to find a few more truths.
These are my best lies. I hope you like them.
"Heh heh. Breast feeding rules."