In 2016 I moved from the safety of my rent-free room in Boulder, CO to Atlanta, GA to chase my dream of working in the film industry.
Although LA and NY are synonymous with film, there are a number of cities scattered around the US that offer plenty of work without the eye watering cost of living. Back then the buzz around Atlanta was intensifying, especially after Marvel Studios opened up shop here, and rent prices were reasonable. Having spent years saving money, my boyfriend (now husband) and I felt like we had a nice safety net to move to somewhere new and start our own businesses as freelancers.
Oh, what sweet summer children we were.
It turns out freelancing is hard if you aren't the super outgoing, go-getter type.
Networking? Ugh, it felt so icky to pitch myself to other people as a professional, especially for someone like me who tends to ramble like a crazy person when nervous. Like a true millennial I managed to get work via social media and emailing around, but my business was not booming like I had hoped, so the pressures of living expenses started to escalate once our ostrich sized nest egg started to shrink to that of a hummingbird. I wish I could say that it made me buckle down and try harder, to push myself as a person to get out there and get things done, but instead I ended up retreating into my comfortable cocoon and tried to ignore my issues by watching TV and playing games.
Enter my emotional support video game...
I ended up playing Final Fantasy XV, a game in a series that I adore, this particular instalment is about 4 dudes who traverse a fictional world fighting monsters, collecting magical weapons to recapture a fallen city, as well as riding around in a car, coming up with new recipehs and fishing.
Looking at the promotional images for Final Fantasy XV (pictured above), I had to laugh at the character design of the main characters. There was the emo one, the peppy blonde one, the serious one who wears glasses and the himbo. A pretty standard Anime cast of characters right there. Shortly after I began playing, I started to catch fangirl feelings for the one who wears glasses – Ignis. “Oh no,” I thought, when I found myself staring at him during the camping scene where he thinks about what food to make for his bros (it ended up being toast). It wasn’t long until I was searching for images of him online and saving them to my phone to use as my wallpaper.
I had experienced this type of behavior before in my pre-teens, but never as a grown-ass woman.
In my secretive scouring for Ignis related media, I noticed that one website dominated over all else for the content I was savoring: Tumblr. I didn’t know much about Tumblr back then, so I signed up for an account under a username that I hadn’t used anywhere else in the hopes of remaining completely anonymous as I thirsted over a man made of pixels. My profile became a shrine to this Ignis character, I reposted images, GIF’s and fanart. I steered clear of the fanfiction for a time, not quite ready to go to that level of obsession, but eventually curiosity got the better of me and I ended up reading one.
The first piece of fanfiction I read was not only well written, but it seemed to acknowledge the cheesiness of lusting after such a flamboyant character. Oh, and it was pretty damn sexy too.
I was hooked.
I read everything I could by this author, then moved onto other pieces that she recommended on her profile. Here on Tumblr, of all places, I found a community of like-minded women who not only felt the same crazy feelings for a character, but who were just like me: happily coupled and not taking anything too seriously.
Remember that at this point in my life I was very much on the struggle bus. Every day that I wasn’t making money I felt worthless; like a talentless, lazy, hack who was struggling to survive. When I opened up a document and started to write my own cheesy piece of fanfiction, suddenly I felt exhilarated.
The words poured out of me, I was so excited to sit down and work on this piece of fanfiction that I kept very much a secret from everyone.
Not only had it been years since I had written creatively, but I had never attempted to write anything sexy, so just in case it ended up being something that could be read aloud and laughed at like in the podcast “My Dad Wrote a Porno” I wanted to keep everything I published on the down low. I posted a chapter at a time, and to my surprise people seemed to drop a like and even comment from time to time. It was a small audience, but an extremely supportive one, the type of audience who would give you a standing ovation even if you went on stage and peed yourself.
In a time where I felt like I was a failure, this small Tumblr community of fans made me happy.
One day, after scrolling through my Tumblr feed for way too long, I saw some fanart of my beloved Ignis in a shirt and tie. Suddenly an idea for a fanfiction hit me: a boss/employee office based romance. I wrote an entire outline of a story and immediately began to write it, posting up one chapter at a time. After existing on Tumblr in obscurity, I now had people messaging me asking me when I was going to publish the next chapter, I was receiving comments from strangers saying I had made them laugh, cry and yes – even turned them on.
The outpouring of love ignited a change in me: I began to feel less shame about writing smut. Why should I feel embarrassed that I’m exploring sexual themes? I wanted to celebrate my sexuality and have fun with it, not feel like it was a dirty secret! Besides, people seemed to really like what I putting out there, to the point where after opening up an online tip jar I ended up making more money than I expected from my work.
With this newly found confidence, I decided to tell my husband and closest friends what I had been up to in my spare time. They already knew of my love for Final Fantasy XV and this Ignis guy in particular, but they didn’t know to the extent that my fangirl behavior went. To my surprise, not only did they not care that I was writing smutty fanfiction, but they supported it. They even said that I should “pull a Fifty Shades of Grey” and turn my most popular work into a book.
I was dismissive of their idea at first, because I knew that it would take a lot of work to create characters from scratch and make people fall in love with them. However, after one night where my friends and I were drunkenly discussing the possibility of me becoming a romance writer, I was presented with a whiteboard and pen and was told to write the basic outline of my story. I’ll never forget that night, after rambling to my small audience, and seeing the blank look on one of my friends faces. I thought to myself “this is it, he thinks I’m a total freak,” only to find that once I had finished my pitch he rubbed his beard and said “I think it needs MORE sex.”
After that night, I felt resolved to write a romance novel.
Fate had different plans for me, however, because around that time I received an email offering me a job. For a time I tried my best to balance my life working part time and also sitting down and writing a novel, but I couldn’t make it work – I felt pulled in different directions. Plus it felt REAL good to have money again. So, I increased my hours at the job and put writing on the backburner. I’m not sad that I made that decision, because the job alleviated most of my financial woes. When my time at the company came to an end, I felt ready to jump back into my life of a writer and push myself to finish a book.
I always thought that I would never stray from trying to make it in the film industry, but somehow writing smutty fanfiction led me down a path of wanting to become a writer. It wasn’t just the thrill of creating my own work that made me want to give this writing thing a go, but rather the incredible support I received from complete strangers. I want to sincerely thank all of those people for making me feel like I have a knack for writing, and because of them I can say without shame that being a fanfic author changed my life.