Why are you here?
I'm just an author. What makes my non-author shenanigans worth your attention?
I’m actually curious why you pay attention to what I do. I suspect the answer might be more than just “I’m here for the books.”
Maybe some context would be helpful.
I wasn’t always an author. Those of you who’ve been with me for a long time might know that, even though I half-forgot it myself. I’ve been writing books full-time for over a decade now, so it was actually a bit of a surprise the other day when I had this sudden realization: “Oh, wow. I had an entire online life before I published my first book.” I’ve gotten so immersed in authoring that it honestly slipped my mind, but it’s true.
For the previous decade, until about 2012, I was an outspoken blogger and internet rabble-rouser. I’ve re-posted some of my best writings from that phase on this site, if you’re curious what that looked like.
I liked to stir things up, and whenever I met people during that phase, they always expected me to be a badass. I had someone say once, “I thought Johnny would be ten feet tall and breathing fire,” even though I always tried to be a nice guy. I’d wanted to write fiction and had a novel gathering dust in my closet, but it wasn’t yet published.
Back then, I held court at my old blog and went through several iterations. First, I tried to write humor. When that didn’t get much attention, I started a tiny business building blogs for other people. That did take off — enough that people started asking me how I’d done it. So I started giving business advice, but realized quickly how boring “giving business advice” was.
And so despite the above, my blog became dominated not by humor or businessy stuff, but instead by “deep thoughts” posts. I’ve always liked to ponder big ideas — something that’s now a huge part of my fiction. During the late 00’s, though, I pondered those things in public on my blog. My biggest post, which went mega-viral back in 2011, was called “The Universe Doesn’t Give a Flying Fuck About You.” It was only after all of that that I got into writing books.
Oh, and if you think that career path is weird, it gets weirder. It’s not like I trained to be a writer and came into the above stuff naturally. I was valedictorian of my high school class and got college degrees in 1) molecular genetics and 2) philosophy. Before I was a blogger, I was using recombinant DNA to create mutant fruit flies. True story.
Okay. So that’s some of my weird, all-over-the-place history. Let’s circle back to the present day: to me wondering why you’re here, with me, reading my emails and blog posts in-between reading my books.
I hear from some of you that you like my books, but that’s not the majority of the emails I get. It’s actually much more common to hear that someone was intrigued by some email or essay I’ve written, which is just as likely to be about philosophy or a social question or about things like “finding balance and stillness” — a little essay that, when it was originally sent out as an email, garnered tons and tons of replies.
Sometimes readers want to ask about a thematic element between the lines of my stories — or maybe mention my shameless references to 80’s and 90’s pop culture. Or maybe they found an Easter egg. I stick Easter eggs and odd references into my stories all the time.
A lot of times I get questions and curiosity about the way I write: my methods, how I structure my day, my general approach to creativity … even what might pompously be called “the life of an artist” — something I’ve recorded many videos and written many posts about on this website. These people are often looking for more “behind the scenes” info. Sometimes, people ask why I don’t follow the usual “writer’s rules,” like sticking to a single genre. (I’ve written in just about every genre imaginable if you know all my pen names.)
But here’s the thing: This odd, “why-are-you-here-even-when-I’m-not-telling-you-about-what-you-supposedly-came-here-for” phenomenon isn’t new at all.
It’s ALWAYS been this way. Some of you reading this right now were reading me back when I was blogging about why being called “weird” is a good thing, and how much of what we take to be unassailable is arbitrary. Even being with me that long is unprecedented. Most authors are blessed to have a handful of readers interested in what they’re doing RIGHT NOW. Nobody, though, has fans as loyal and amazing and open-minded as mine are: willing to follow me wherever I go no matter how much whiplash my “all over the place” creative path gives them, and to stick with me through thick and thin.
Folks, here’s the thing. Here’s the reason I’m asking:
We live in a fickle, polarized, 2-minute-attention-span world, and yet I’ve been blessed with a group of people who have enough faith in what I do to follow me through just about anything. You read my long-ass emails like this one, for crap’s sake. WHO READS EMAILS THIS LONG FROM AN AUTHOR? Nobody, that’s who!
Except you. So who are you? Why do you stick around?
Guys. Gals. All other genders and non-genders. YOU’RE THE BEST. That’s what I’m realizing: In a fucked-up world where I find myself disliking the hollow and shallow thing people call “normal” more and more, there ARE still people I can relate to …
… and they seem to be right here, already with me.
I appreciate the hell out of all of you.
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Sure, yes, I do read some of your books. Haven’t made it through the whole catalog, but has anybody? (I imagine the Unicorns are all nodding and scoffing at me rn.) I think I stick with you because so often your ramblings can take me down amazing paths that I’ve never thought about before. Whether you’re doing an interview with somebody about quantum physics, or the mind, or you’re just talking about some random daily thing in a writer’s life, I am usually intrigued and inspired, and I often both ponder and laugh. Also, you actually reply to emails. That personal touch, at which you excel, can mean a lot to a simple reader. Thank you, JT!