Most of us don’t think of a television show as something that can change people’s lives – maybe even save people’s lives. Yet that’s what happened with the genre television show Supernatural, going into its thirteenth season on the air in the fall. The series is a bona fide phenomenon, winning numerous People’s Choice Awards and virtually any online poll the fans set their minds (and fingers) to. The impact of the show, however, goes far beyond demonstrations of popularity – for both fans and the actors who bring the show to life, Supernatural has changed them.
When I first became a Supernatural fan, I didn’t know much about fandom (the fan community). As a psychologist, I was more familiar with the pathologizing research on fans – lonely, depressed, living in parents’ basements, etc. I quickly realized (much to my great personal relief) that fans weren’t any more likely to be those sort of things than any category of people. In fact, far from being loners huddling in basements, fans were highly interactive, in online fan communities from Tumblr to Instagram to Twitter to Facebook and at fan conventions that bring fans together face to face. And these communities were powerful! Fans learned to be real in online fandom – to love what we love and shout it from the rooftops without feeling ashamed. I’ve made lifelong friends to whom I’ve poured out my deepest fears and wishes and dreams, with whom I’ve traveled the world, waited in interminable lines and posed for many an interesting photo op.
I’m not the only one. Over the years, as I researched and wrote books on Supernatural, I heard countless stories from fans whose lives had been changed dramatically by this show. Fans found the courage to start new careers, confront unhealthy situations in their lives, get sober, face medical crises, and figure out who they really were, as a result of being inspired by Supernatural and its cast. Every time I saw a news report disparaging fans or overheard a disdainful remark, I wanted to shine a spotlight on all those positive stories that no one outside fandom was hearing. That’s what Family Don’t End With Blood does.
But the book does more than that. It turns out that fans were not the only ones whose lives had been changed by the show and the support of the fandom. The actors felt the same way, and they too had powerful stories to tell. That’s why the book is subtitled Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives. Thirteen of the Supernatural actors also contributed their thoughts and stories – Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins, Mark Sheppard, Jim Beaver, Rob Benedict, Briana Buckmaster, Osric Chau, Matt Cohen, Ruth Connell, Gil McKinney, Rachel Miner and Kim Rhodes.
We are all so proud of this book. You can pre-order here too!
It’s amazing the courage that fans showed sharing their stories – and it’s equally amazing how much courage the actors demonstrated in writing theirs. We sometimes think that actors and fans are very different, but the dividing line proves to be artificial. In fact, both actors and fans wrote about the same struggles – the fear of not being accepted, of striking out and trying something new, of being yourself when you’re not sure that’s okay. They also wrote about how the inspiration of the show and the support of the fandom helped them conquer those struggles, and the lifelong impact of those changes.
Briana Buckmaster (Sheriff Donna Hanscum on Supernatural) talked about how difficult it was to be herself as a teenager, something that resonates with many people.
We moved to the city, where life was very different. Kids spoke to each other differently, they treated each other differently. Girls really wanted to wear the “right” clothes, and I had no idea what those were. To say I was bullied is a massive understatement. I was always much heavier than other girls my age. My family didn’t have the resources to live in a nice house or buy nice clothes. Often I wore my brothers’ hand-me-downs. Discovering that I didn’t fit in, I went inside myself and became an introvert. “Shy and quiet” was the phrase often used to describe me (if you can believe it). I thought, If they can’t hear me, they can’t make fun of me. It didn’t quite work…
Kim Rhodes (Sheriff Jody Mills) had faced similar challenges, and was shocked that her experience with Supernatural began to change that.
I had made peace with my various masks, learning to mold them from bits of myself rather than grasping wildly at characteristics completely foreign to me…. I stepped on stage at my first convention and realized I had no lines. I had no script. I had nothing but my own voice, dusty and rusty with lack of use. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I didn’t know what people wanted. I was certain it couldn’t be me. But that’s all I had to offer. So by miracle, grace, insanity or just utter bloody-mindedness, I did. I offered myself with as much honesty as I could muster through the bone-quaking fear. Honesty was not a practiced skill for someone as frightened as I was. Honesty, I thought, was for people who knew they were good enough. Honesty was for “them.” But I gave it a shot. No one threw anything. And some people clapped. Some even told me they saw my truth and felt it was theirs as well. Well, that was unexpected…
Matt Cohen (Young John Winchester/Michael) also found the experience of being part of the SPN Family life-changing.
I found that if I hugged every single fan I could at conventions, there would be smiles for miles. I found out that if I danced around and sang poor versions of karaoke covers, fans would dance too and have a great time. I found out that when I opened my heart to the fans and told them personal stories of both triumph and tragedy, we could relate. The fans gave me an opportunity to examine myself publicly without being judged. That is a rare thing… I was happy, truly happy, for the first time in my life. The reason? I think I figured out who I am…
Ruth Connell (Rowena) also blossomed (hey I’m using her metaphor…). Also I swear I can’t read her chapter in anything other than a Scottish accent.
It is only because of the unerring love and support of the SPN Family that I am able to get up in front of a room full of over a thousand people (who knows how many more via the interweb thingy) and talk and sing. Out loud. Live. Repeatedly. Without falling over. Aw, I realize writing this I’m like a wee delicate flower opening up because of the fandom compost. Or, um, more like a chatty know-it-all hydrangea with new boots and a blowout…
In some cases, both fans and actors are quite literally here today because of the support of the SPN Family. Some of the chapters read more like mystery novels, full of suspense that made me hold my breath waiting to find out what would happen. Some of them made me reach for the tissues.
Rob Benedict (Chuck aka God on Supernatural) tells the powerful story of having a stroke while at a Supernatural convention that almost ended his life – I defy you to read his chapter without going through half a box of tissues at least.
Once in my room, I sat on the bed. I was suddenly very sleepy and lay down.
The phone rang. It was Richard Speight.
“We’re at this steak place. Myself, Misha, Jensen, and Jared… You’ll have to take a cab.”
I mumbled that I didn’t feel well. He said I was probably just hungry. But I mumbled again, and just said, “No, no.” Again, not a typical response from me—I don’t like to turn down an invitation to the party! And Rich knew this. We’d been doing conventions together for almost four years. We’ve traveled the world together. Truly no one knew me better in this situation than he did.
“I’m coming back for you.”
You’ll need the other half a box of tissues for Jared Padalecki’s chapter, fair warning. I had no idea he could write as powerfully and emotionally as he did.
I had spent my entire adult life (in fact, I went off to Los Angeles to do Gilmore Girls when I was only seventeen) in a crazy business…a business that values looks and charm and charisma and wit and a façade of unbridled optimism…that doesn’t always have a lot of patience for, “Hey, I’m human, too. Sometimes I hurt.” …I had never learned the skills and techniques to be able to balance all the disparate parts of my existence. Some people reach their boiling points at an earlier stage of life. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people I love, who have supported me and accepted me (even though I still sometimes can’t support and accept myself.) So I was able to make it thirty-two years and change before I reached my personal boiling point….
Every chapter of Family Don’t End With Blood tells a powerful story that many fans – of Supernatural or anything else — will relate to. Hopefully, those who are not fans—who don’t understand the impact that a television show and a fan community can have—will also read the book, and that will go a long way toward erasing some of the shaming and derision that’s still out there.
If you’re in the LA area, or feel like taking a little Supernatural roadtrip, there’s a book release party on May 10 in LA, and everyone is invited! Rob Benedict, Billy Moran and Mike Borja of Louden Swain will play some great music, there will be free pie from The Pie Hole LA, and a bunch of Supernatural actors and fans will be on hand to celebrate, including some of the book’s authors. You can join the fun by going to familydontendwithblood.com and clicking on the book release event.
You can also pre-order the book now at the same website—and get free Supernatural swag if you order before the release date! You’ll also be entered to win even more cool stuff, including autographed books. Best of all, in keeping with the Supernatural cast’s charity work and the SPN Family’s mantra of ‘Always Keep Fighting’, a portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to Attitudes in Reverse and Random Acts, allowing fans and cast to give back.