Monday, November 17, 2008

Exclusive! Interview with Jon 'DocArzt' Lachonis & Amy 'Hijinx' Johnston, Authors of "Lost Ate My Life"


LOST fans, you are in for a treat. I was very excited and honored to have the opportunity to interview Jon ‘DocArzt’ Lachonis and Amy ‘Hijinx’ Johnston, the authors of the new book Lost Ate My Life: The Inside Story of a Fandom Like No Other.

I had pre-ordered the book months in advance, and could not put it down once it arrived. If you are reading this blog, you are a LOST fan and will really appreciate the story behind the community that we are all now a part of. Jon and Amy provide first-hand perspective and insight about how one show has inspired so many, and about their roles in the vast online world of LOST.

If you don’t already have this book, order it now on Amazon; it would also make a perfect stocking stuffer or holiday gift for your LOST friends and family!

What inspired each of you to initially write down and share your theories with an online community?

Jon: I was actually writing a lot of fiction and spec scripts when LOST came out. I had been looking for a reason to get into blogging because it provided--if nothing else--an excuse to polish my craft. LOST had such a rich subtext, particularly during Season 1, that it really provided the challenge of deconstruction for writers. If you wanted to write about LOST, there was always something there buried between the lines that a writer with a bit of literary history and psychology could expand on. So, LOST--as you know, Jo--is a very rewarding thing to write about for writers who are looking to peel back the layers, because there is really something there. I don't mean strictly the Easter eggs or literary name dropping either; LOST as a story entity is packed with statements on society as well as spiritual riffs.


Amy: I guess I need to make this distinction right away - I'm not much of a theorist. I have always been much happier waiting to see what the LOST writers give us, believing it will be better than anything I could ever come up with - and they have never disappointed me. Plus, as a moderator at The Fuselage, I read a HUGE amount of theories during the first couple of seasons and have gotten to the point that I just can't read them anymore. I avoid theories like the plague - but I have nothing against those who do get into the theorizing.

When did you post your very first theories/blog about LOST, and where?

Jon: Around the end of Season 1, on The Fuselage. During the off season I worked on developing TheTailsection. I also spent some time on Sledgeweb's boards.


Amy: I first started talking about LOST on The Fuselage. Towards the end of Season 1, Speaker and I started the Evil Puppet Masters blog, where I also post about LOST (more so early on than I do now).

How did you come to be known by your online nicknames, DocArzt and Hijinx?

Jon: Seriously, when Arzt appeared, my wife remarked how much I was 'like' Daniel Roebuck's character. Always pontificating. I suppose I should be insulted, but it stuck.

Amy: One of the first names I used online - pre-LOST - was Jinx, which was a nickname I've had since high school. It comes from my maiden name - Jenkins. I started posting on The Bronze Beta (a Buffy/Angel fanboard made by the same people who do The Fuselage and Fringe Division) under the alias "Jinx" - but started to get annoyed by other members thinking I either picked the name for the character on Buffy that was called Jinx (one of the minions of Glory) or for Halle Berry's Bond girl name. Plus, when I started joining forums, "Jinx" was usually already taken as a name. I wanted a name that could be mine, but still used "Jinx." Whenever I came online at the Bronze, there would be a run of posts saying "Hi Jinx!" Voila - my new name was born. I first used "hijinx" on Alias-related fan forums, then brought it with me to LOST. Of course, it is amusing that now those who have posted with me online for awhile tend to call me "jinx" or "jinxie." I've come full circle.

Could you possibly narrow down one or two aspects of the show which compelled you to both become such fans?

Jon: I was really captivated by the way the show used mystery in a very minimalist way, it gets its best reactions when it hints at what is going on without actually revealing anything. For me, that was the indication that there was a functional artistic motif behind the show. I'd have to attribute the rest of it to zeitgeist. A lot of folks, especially we pundits, ponder why something is so popular and why masses form up around it, and I think even if you can pinpoint a few qualities that appeal to you you'll never understand exactly why these phenomena happen.

Amy: The writing has always been the biggest draw for me. That's the cake. The icing - which makes it so addicting - is everything else about the show that is also top notch: the acting, the directing, the music, the cinematography. It's the whole package. There is no weak link.

Did you feel an immediate kinship with others on the message boards and in the forums?

Jon: Of course, but there are people who are very possessive of their ideas and people who like to wield their intellect like a club. The forums ARE society, and if you walked through a mall or down the street and started a conversation with each and every person, you'd find there are people that you don't like or flat out disagree with.

Amy: Most definitely. Finding an online community where I can discuss LOST with others equally obsessed is pretty awesome. Sometimes you have to jump from forum to forum, blog to blog - to eventually find somewhere you feel connected. I got lucky finding The Fuselage as early on as I did - having the VIPs around was just an added bonus.

Jon, was the transition from TheTailSection to your own site a natural progression?

Jon: Oh for sure. To be clear, TheTailsectionwas developed independently at first and was my creation. So when I went out to do DocArzt's LOST blog I simply did what I'd been doing there, except arguably on a smaller scale. I think since joining the professional press and working as a freelancer a lot of things changed between TheTailsection and the current site, although I think that during Season 5 you'll see the current site become a lot like TheTailsection was during its heyday.

Amy, how many sites do you oversee (for Bryan Burk, your own, etc.) and how long have you been managing each?

Amy: The Burky site was my first site. I started that in December 2004 shortly after starting his fanclub. I run it, a J.J. Abrams fansite (not official, though you wouldn't know it from the emails I get from it - started some time in 2005), the Evil Puppet Masters blog (started with Speaker in April 2005), and I am co-Admin of Fringe Division (a sister site of The Fuselage which was started in August 2008). I have a couple of my own blogs, the main one now being Fandom Life, where I blog about my experience writing this book (and now, future books), as well as sharing a bit about being an "insider fan" - I started it in September 2007, right after we got the book deal. In the past I ran a members-only Alias forum and a forum for the short-lived show Vanished - I did those forums for my friend J.R. Orci, who was a writer on both shows and now writes for Fringe.

What has been your favorite season of LOST? Favorite to write about?

Jon: Well, definitely Season 1 because nothing is explained there - so you can really own your interpretations. As the seasons go on, more and more is being explained and you find that your options become more limited as far as what you can propose is going on with the story. Think of it, after the Season 6 finale, all of this pondering over the show will come to end for the large part because much of what we are trying to figure out right now will be revealed already.

Amy: It's hard to beat Season 1 - just for the sheer I've-never-seen-anything-like-this-in-my-whole-life factor. Laying down the fabric of something that we now see was barely scratching the surface of what was to come. That being said - right this moment, Season 4 is probably my favorite. It just totally blew my doors off and I'm chomping at the bit to get the DVDs, which I fully plan to pick apart ad nauseum. Again, I don't do much writing about the episodes, except what I write on The Fuselage on new show nights with my fellow Fusers, so I don't have an answer for the latter question.

Jon, you and DarkUFO are clearly two of the most popular and respected LOST bloggers in the online community. It appears that you share contributing writers on occasion; would you say that you are friendly competitors?

Jon: Oh yes. Andy and I have been friends from the beginning; he contributed to TheTailsection as the spoilers editor and went on to create the community he has now. I think there is a LOST scene, period. The idea that blogs have contributors is sort of an indication of how things are shifting in this scene, but it isn't to the point of the professional press. Nobody demands exclusives, just proper credit. Now, if Michael Ausiello started popping up on TVGuide, EW, and E! all in the same week, you could imagine some people getting upset in that industry.

Amy, do you ever peruse or post in either the DocArzt or DarkUFO forums?

Amy: I am a huge spoilerphobe, so I rarely go to either site. I'm not much of a blog reader anyway. But early on, when I was blogging more regularly about LOST on my Evil Puppet Masters blog, I came across some stuff that Doc had written on The Tailsection. I recognized that he was very passionate about LOST and I appreciated that he respected the show and the people behind the show, which is very important to me.

At what point did you each know that you wanted to write a book about the LOST online community and experience?

Jon: I think for me, that was shortly after I started working at BuddyTV and become more and more polished at writing non-fiction. I always had a head full of ideas for it but coming up with a unique take on the show became more and more difficult as time went on. In the end, the idea of doing a perspective on the scene as well as the show seemed more and more like the way to go.

Amy: I shared in the introduction to the book that it was actually Gregg Nations, script coordinator and writer for LOST, who had first said to me, flat out, "You should write a book." It came out of an exchange of emails that we were having, wherein I was explaining some stuff going on in the LOST fandom and said "I could write a book on fandom politics." Gregg knew I meant it as a kind of throwaway comment, but he felt I should honestly consider doing it - especially since there was really no one else in quite the position that I am in, with one foot in fandom and one foot in the industry. As luck would have it, I was IM’ing with Doc at the exact moment I got that email, and I mentioned to Doc what Gregg had said about writing a book, which led to Doc telling me about his book idea. I didn't think he was being serious at first - at least, not serious about me actually co-writing it with him. I thought maybe he just wanted my input or my connections to get interviews. But after IM’ing for awhile about it, it was clear on both sides that the book would be best if done by both of us, with both of our unique experiences put together. I had never really considered writing about LOST in book form - there seems to be so many books already out there on LOST and I didn't see the need to contribute to that. But looking at Doc's initial outline, I saw potential for sharing something that was different from what was already out there. Obviously, our publisher agreed with us.

Both of you are married with children, in addition to writing for and managing several websites. So I imagine the decision to write a book on top of that was not an easy one...

Jon: No, as a matter of fact at the time I was talking with ECW Press and Nikki Stafford (author of several Finding Lost: The Unofficial Guides) about pitching a book, it was really contingent on finding someone as a co-author, or it just wouldn't have happened. It was very symbiotic, I can't see the book being a reality without both of us clearing significant time from our schedules that would have derailed either of us had it been a solo project.

Amy: I also work a regular day job, so yeah - the decision was not one that was made by me and me alone. But finding the means to be able to write full-time has been a goal of mine for awhile - something I didn't think I'd get a chance to do until the kids are in college. This was too good of an opportunity for me to pass it up, and thankfully my husband and children agreed with me.

If you don't mind me inquiring, what do your families think about your dedication to LOST? Do they watch the show?

Jon: My wife was skeptical at first, but now that I've been writing full time for three years it has become just part of our lives. My family watches the show and my wife is a tremendous fan.

Amy: My husband watched the pilot episode with me the night it aired - and hasn't watched another episode since. Sci-fi is not his thing at all. I know that amazes some people - that I can be so vested in this show and other sci-fi shows, while he has no interest in those kinds of shows at all - but it actually is a blessing in my case. I can get very entrenched - sometimes to the point of it being unhealthy - and he makes sure I keep my perspective. He keeps me grounded and sane, while respecting the fanatical side of my personality at the same time. My kids, on the other hand, love all things sci-fi, and they have seen up through Season 3 of LOST. Season 4 aired a bit too late for school nights, so they are eagerly anticipating the DVDs.

When did you first meet one another, and where? Have you ever actually met in person?

Jon: We met on MySpace! Well, Amy gave me a warning on The Fuselage once, but that's another story. I think Amy asked me if I befriended her because she knew some of the people on my ‘people I'd like to meet’ list, and somehow the conversation went to writing. Amy wound up doing some writing for BuddyTV and we talked a lot. We have not met in person yet, but I'm sure that is inevitable.

Amy: Doc answered this one. I don't have any corrections, though I honestly can't remember the infraction. I'm sure it was deserved. ;)

Jon: I'll follow up on that one: of course it was deserved. ;)

Given that you live in different states, did most of your book collaboration take place via phone, email, IM, etc.?

Jon: Since our book is structured around essays, with each part having a separate thesis, we were able to work very independently. From a conference stand point, we did most of that over IM.

Amy: The bulk of the writing was done independently, while we used IM to communicate whenever we needed to. We also used Google Docs to track the chapters and book progress. For chapters we co-wrote, one of us would start it, and then we'd pass it back and forth. It worked out pretty well.

You have established yourselves as very reliable and knowledgeable sources in the LOST community, gaining the trust and friendship of many involved with the actual series. That kind of access must have been beneficial to the publication of the book. What has been the response from the network and/or producers and writers?

Jon: All I can say is there has been response, and we can't talk about it. Maybe even saying that is saying too much. The funny thing with something like this is that people associated with the show and network are not going to go on record because there is this huge organization over them that owns and backs up everything that these people say while they are working there. So if Carlton or Damon were to go on record saying "Hey, this is a wonderful book," it would be the same thing as ABC themselves endorsing it. I use Javi Grillo Marxuach as the yard stick here. He was gracious enough to write the book’s Foreword and would not have done that if he felt in any way that the book was not a good representation of the show, but Javi is not working on it now so he has the luxury to speak freely.

Amy: After Doc and I talked about writing a book that first night, the first thing I did was send an email to Burky. His opinion means a great deal to me - if he was not okay with me writing this book, I would not have written it. That may sound extreme to some, but for me - these relationships that I have built within the industry are not just restricted to LOST. They are long term. I didn't send an email to every person that got a mention in the book, but I knew that something like Chapter 8 was going to be in it and I needed to know that Burky was okay with me telling that story. He was incredibly supportive and has been ever since. Having the trust and friendship of people like Burky, Javi and Gregg was obviously beneficial to the writing of the book - they agreed to interviews, and even to writing the Foreword in Javi's case, because they trusted me and Doc and believed in the story we wanted to tell. We weren't setting out to write an expose on the TV show LOST - we wanted to share the story about the fans of LOST, which is something they were happy to talk about as well. As for the responses - I don't have that many connections within the network, so I'm not sure how aware ABC is of the book and/or what their response is to it. As for those people within Bad Robot and LOST that I have heard from - well, like Doc says...I'm not at liberty to share those responses. But I will say that so far no one has de-friended me on Facebook or blocked my emails.

I would really like to thank Jon and Amy for taking the time out of their very busy schedules and lives to answer these questions! I really encourage all of you to purchase Lost Ate My Life; it is a unique glimpse behind the scenes of our own world, one which they both contribute to significantly.

Please also support the authors by visiting, bookmarking and leaving comments on their sites as well:

Jon Lachonis

DocArzt

Fringe: Seeing Patterns

UGO TV Blog

Amy J. Johnston

BryanBurk

Evil Puppet Masters

Fandom Life

The J. J. Abrams Universe


4 comments:

maven said...

Thanks for this interview. I really enjoyed the book, too. I know LOST definitely ate MY life! And it was so interesting to get all the background info on the major fansites.

~Karen~ said...

Great interview Jo!
I was happy to get some insight into the conception and creation of this book. Jon and Amy were the perfect match to put this book together. It was meant for their paths to cross. After all, we learn from LOST that Everything happens for a reason.
LOST certainly ate my life, although there is a huge part of me that knows... LOST gave me life! lol
Much continued success to them both (and Jo too!)
~Karen~

ncjl said...

That was a fun interview. It's nice to see that other Lost bloggers, besides me, avoid spoilers, and have day jobs.
I can't believe how many sites they have started, that's quite the accomplishment.
- izi

Stew said...

Karen Basically said everything I was going to say, lol. It was very awesome to hear how their passionate fandom culminated in their book and how DocArzt rose to fame as it were. Now I'm looking forward to reading it even more.