It’s hard to believe it hasn’t even been a year since this podcast began. And while on several occasions my heart has skipped a few beats, the journey is one for which I am eternally thankful. It has taught me so many life lessons, introduced me to so many wonderful people, and challenged me to think outside the box and never get lazy when creating content.
That said, the cohesive and straight forward storytelling of season one was turned on its head in season two. I wanted to present the mystery and revelations as closely to how Sara and I encountered them, which, like most of life’s mysteries, was quite messy and incoherent. The story also zoomed out; it became about so much more than 4 people in one place at one time. So, season 2 was constantly moving and constantly building on the mystery that had been before us. It became as much about the genesis of this story as it did its outcome. I also wanted to challenge listeners to consider how they absorb content and how they let that content form their opinions. That has always been my greatest hope for this show, even from the beginning: Rather than judging people at face value, ask yourselves what motivates their actions, and what might be the genesis of those motivations. It’s always been about getting to know people, before we define them. And, even for me, it’s a lesson I’ve been continually learning throughout the entire Karen & Ellen story. That’s the other question I found myself asking constantly: Who does a story belong to? And where does it begin and end? I’m confident the finale will shine some light on that. And I don’t think those two principles are really all that exclusive of one another: Every story and every person is infinitely larger than what we see, and are experienced entirely different from person to person.
I wrote all the Season 2 letters between character Mark and his various associates. These letters were based on a mix of fact, conjecture, and entertainment value (as I’ve found most stories are). Here are some highlights and info:
• The letters I received included the names Mark and Bonnie, I changed the name of Albert. There were many other real names, included in the letters, that I changed for the podcast.
• David is based on two real-life people. His pieces in S2 are also based on fact, conjecture, and entertainment value. I do not know definitively what happened with the film production; I have theories, which I’ll keep to myself.
• What we do know is that Mark took the letters from the girls and with the help of others attempted to first turn them into books, and then into a screenplay.
• We also know in various versions of the letters that I have seen, he failed to change many people’s names, and made it very easy to trace his “characters” back to the people they are based on. I tried my best to avoid doing this in the podcast, but also failed on several occasions.
• We believe, very strongly, that Charles Worthington is based on a real person. We’ve been able to trace connections from him to both UCB and the Portland, Oregon area. We have not been able to trace him back to any of our girls or their families.
• CW and Charles Worthington are different people.
• CW is entirely made up and was used merely to resolve, as best we could, the film storyline. Again, that resolution is based largely on conjecture.
Helena and Dot are based on real people. Their conversations are very similar to those in the podcast; although I changed them enough that I wasn’t stealing their actual conversations. Here are some highlights and info:
• Dot really did lose a dog, who she became pretty obsessed with for a while.
• Dot and Helena really are old friends, dating back to their 20s.
• Dot has no roots in the story behind the letters, other than as a confidant for Helena to share her, very relevant, story.
• For me, this whole story begins with Helena. Through her we better understand her daughters; and through her experiences, the girls end up living together in the cottage.
• As was mentioned earlier in S2, Helena’s husband, Paul, left her for Patty with the Crystals; making Patty the step-mother to Aloha Karen & Fish Ellen.
• Ironically, Patty is easily the most accurate portrayal of a real person.
Here is the cottage timeline:
1986 – Annette moves out
1987 – Crochet Pants moves in
1987 – Shortly thereafter, Fish Ellen moves in, as Crochet Pants’s roommate
1988 – Crochet Pants moves out, so Aloha Karen can move in
1989 – Aloha Karen and Fish Ellen move out
1989 – Aloha Karen, Fish Ellen, and Aloha Rob all move into an apartment together, in Seattle.
Here are some uncertainties:
• We could find multiple pickle factory and/or cannery explosions that took place near the girls (in various years and cities). We could not trace any back to them or Rob.
• We could verify that a Christmas Tree farm in the Portland area did “explode,” but we could not confirm nor repudiate any of our folks were involved.
• We could not confirm the existence of Ellen’s drug-sniffing dogs op.ed.
• We do not know if Mark is gay or not.
• All the Yahoo message board stuff about George Bush is still a complete mystery.
• We have no idea if the mystery letter is from Annette, Helena, or entirely made-up.
Here are some things we know, but chose not to share (or changed):
• We know Mark’s relationships to Bonnie, Albert, and the people David is based on; we have chosen not to share them.
• We changed some information about Aloha Karen and Rob, in order to better protect their identities.
• We changed some information about Helena and Fish Ellen, in order to better protect their identities.
• We changed some dates, in order to better protect people’s identities.
• We have many more details on Helena’s arrest, but chose not to share them.
• We have many more details on Catfish Karen and her relationships, but chose not to share them.
• We know significantly more about the film and its creators, but have chosen not to share them.
• We know significantly more about Mark, but have chosen not to share it.
• We changed the Caldwells’ first and last names. Their actual names were included in the letters.
• Charles Worthington was meant to have a much bigger role in S2, merely to guide the plot. However, after more research and new discoveries, we realized CW was a better agent for that.
• Many of Dot’s and Helena’s more inconsequential conversations were lifted from my grandmother’s Facebook page, including her butcher who might be a lesbian.
• Coincidentally, my grandmother also lives in Scottsdale; I feel like she would be fast friends with both Dot and Helena.
• Before we fell deep into the rabbit hole that became S2, S2 was going to be a fictional story set 7 years in the future. Mark was going to retire to a cabin (with a guest cottage) in the woods. The tenants in the guest cottage were going to be Karen, Ellen, Rob, and their baby. Some things we were going to tackle included: Bill Clinton, cell phones, homosexuality, parenthood, bigfoot, Rob & Karen on the run, and Ellen’s kooky mother.
• There is a lot of (unrecorded) storyline that didn’t make it into S2, because it just didn’t have enough narrative importance. It may eventually become a Patreon-exclusive.
All in all, I am incredibly proud of S2. I know it was hard to follow and required an entirely different approach to listening, which alienated and pissed off a lot of people. I’m sad about that, but ultimately had to tell the story in a way that satisfied me and felt true and authentic to me. I am so blessed to have worked with so many amazing, generous, giving people. Literally every cast member was a dream.
I am also very happy with the finale. I finally broke down and sent Sara the script, and we both had a good cry and agreed it was the best way to leave things. It will honor the story and its characters, and hopefully make people think about their places in the world, their relationships, and how they occupy the space around them – which, if you listen to PLAYLIST, you’ll know has been an obsession of mine this past year.