On July 17th it will have been one year since I joined a little website called Authonomy. I posted my book and, not knowing what to expect, found myself submerged in a writing community that was both amazing and frightening all at once. Surrounded by dynamic characters with devious motives--and that's just the writers on the site, you don't even want to know about the books--I found myself overwhelmed with the whole experience. By the end of the first month, Seeking Eleanor (my YA Urban Fantasy novel)had over one hundred comments and had flown up the chart to the top 100 books.
This post isn't about Authonomy, my book, or how amazing of a writer I am (Did my head just get bigger?). This post is about the people I found within that site, the people who turned into my friends.
Before Authonomy, I had never participated in an online community. I didn't use a Facebook account, I didn't Twitter, I didn't blog about my writing efforts, I didn't have a website. The truth is, I had NEVER posted in a forum before. I was a forum virgin, and Authonomy deflowered me.
To be honest, before Authonomy, I scoffed at the idea of online relationships (friends or otherwise). I didn't think it would be possible to develop true friends, fall in love with people, or receive immense happiness from people I have never even met. It turns out. I was very wrong.
If someone were to slander the idea of virtual friendships in front of me, I would have to smack them down. I would fight tooth and nail to prove to them that, yes, you can have meaningful and fulfilling relationships over the Internet. And, no, it isn't all that creepy or awkward. Except that one time...it went too far... (Another joke-one would think I was a comedian)
The common question from skeptics is, how can you get close to someone who you've never met in person?
In all honesty, I think it's easier to be who you are over the Internet. And the beauty of virtual reality is that you can show the world what you want them to see and not have to worry about whether or not they will judge you by the scar on your face or the hunch on your back. People can get to know the you that you might be afraid of showing the 'real' world, or the you the real world isn't interested in seeing. The most important thing the Internet can offer you is a clean slate. It is a fresh platform you can step on and test without worrying about falling through and losing track of who you are. And the beauty? You can move at whatever pace you want. If you only want to trade snippets and snappets on the forum, that's fine. If you want to exchange emails, feel free. If you want to talk over MSN, that's an option. And, for the brave and not so faint of heart, you have the option of Skyping (or webcaming).
And then, when you have the guts and feel it's safe, you can even meet the people you have been talking to for the last 12 months of your life.
I've done all these things. And I have met some of the most amazing people. They follow my blogs, give me feedback on the crap I write, ask for my opinions on things, like my facebook statuses, and encourage me to keep going, no matter how appealing stopping seems.
Even though Authonomy has fallen to pieces, I feel as though I have walked away with something unique. A community of people who I am proud to know, thrilled to be associated with, and think about all the time. (Some every day!)
Somehow these crazy people have wormed their way into my heart and my life. The romance writer in Atlanta who is a beacon of light on dark days. The one who insists I can call him Danny who is never in one place but is always in my heart. The taxi-driver in Ireland who might just be one of the coolest people in the world. The sweet-tongued poetic Englishman who I envy for his talent. I have learned that Authonomy, though originally was about my writing, turned into something so much better. It was a source of friends who I will adore until they piss me off and force me to defriend them on Facebook. (Just kidding)
Whether it is the woman who is out of touch and old (her words not mine), the lady in the shed, the sweetheart waving in Wales, the Guinea Pig keeper, the Red Vine lender from Utah, the fairy goth-mother, the guy in DC who helped my shorts, the one with The Heart Of Glass, Walker's creator, the Spanish smartass, rudeboy, the one who says 'yummy', the one who dragged me up the hill-err mountain, the editor of erotica, the one in T-dot, Cid Highwind, the one with the cleavage obsession, the music nazi, the spoilt writer down-under, the one with empty chairs, or any of the other eccentric and brilliant people I have met, I know, no matter what time of day I open my computer, one of these amazing people will be around to offer some sort of wisdom or distraction from my everyday.
And when someone says, "Oh, that's one of your online friends." I think I might just say, "No, that's my friend."
I learned a very valuable lesson this last year: Not being able to physically touch someone doesn't mean they aren't your friend, not when they virtually touch your heart every day.