This is not an article that I ever wanted to write – or that I ever, in a million years, imagined myself writing. But I want to say something about the friend that I lost this week, and remember just how special Kathy Larsen was.
I met Kathy through fandom. In fact, she was one of the first people I met through fandom, shortly after I discovered that online fandom was even a thing that exists. We were part of a small listserv, passionate about some of the same rather obscure things – a movie, a band, an actor that not many people had even heard of – and fangirled each other’s writing immediately. Kathy was a brilliant writer, whether it was fiction or nonfiction. She could make you laugh, pull you into a mystery, or absolutely gut you with a tragic ending. She could explain concepts that were difficult to grasp in a way that never felt like talking down to anyone, which I’m sure her students appreciated too.
Once we found out we lived only a few hours from each other, we started driving that two hours often, especially when we fell down the rabbit hole of loving a new thing – a relatively unknown little TV show on the WB called ‘Supernatural’.
Along with two friends, we fell in love with Supernatural together, and became fascinated by the close-knit community we found in that show’s fandom. At the same time, we questioned whether it was really okay for us to be quite so far down the rabbit hole. We were professors, professionals, partners, parents. Was it really okay for us to spend so much time and energy loving a TV show? Maybe because we were both professors and accustomed to research, or maybe because we just needed to prove to ourselves that it WAS okay, Kathy and I set out to find the answer. We would write a book, we decided, that set the record straight about fans and fandom, and especially fangirls. We’d examine it from our somewhat diverse perspectives, me as a psychologist and her as an English professor. But to do that, we reasoned, we needed to dive into Supernatural fandom head first and not look back – and that’s exactly what we did.
We flew across the country on almost no notice to see Jensen Ackles on stage in Fort Worth for A Few Good Men, leaving partners and kids a bit stunned. Especially when we decided one performance was not enough. The personality differences between me and Kathy made our fangirl adventures quite a contrast, and occasionally hilarious. We met Jared Padalecki (who had flown in to see his friend in the production) in the lobby candy line. I marched right up to say hello; Kathy opted not to budge from her spot in the corner and watched from a safe distance.
We needed some margaritas after with our friend Amy.
We flew across the country again all the way to LA for the premiere of the Ackles-laden indie film Ten Inch Hero (starring both Jensen and Danneel). I managed to tell Danneel how much I loved the film while Kathy once again watched supportively from across the room.
But in other things, Kathy was fearless. We rented a PT Cruiser, figured out how to drive it (mostly) and drove down to San Diego to experience Comic Con and the Supernatural panel for the very first time.
Driver picked the music.
Shotgun shut her cakehole (and enthusiastically sang along to the classic rock and a little Steve Carlson).
Comic Con was eventful. We finally met Jensen Ackles.
Kathy watched supportively from ten yards away and then hugged me and patted me until I calmed down.
When I wrote a birthday message for Jared Padalecki last year, I had no idea that this year’s birthday would take place in a world that is completely different. I thought Supernatural would be wrapped and over, and Jared would be on to his next project (which we didn’t know at the time will be Walker). I thought Jared would have celebrated the last birthday on which he was still Sam Winchester. Instead, Supernatural is in limbo with production stopped just short of the series finale, and the actors and the fans are all in limbo too until they film those last two and air the remaining episodes.
That’s a tough thing for all of us. As Jared posted a few weeks ago, being Sam Winchester and a lead actor on Supernatural has been a huge part of his identity for more than fifteen years. Having all that yanked out from under you unexpectedly is even harder than having a planned ending that you can anticipate and prepare for, surrounded by the support of the people you’ve been close to for all that time. His post was heartfelt, but there’s always mixed response when a celebrity posts something personal online. There was also speculation about why Jared has grown out his hair and his beard (during this time when he doesn’t have to step in front of the cameras). All that discussion about hair and beards made me remember some of my earliest chats with Jared, so I thought for his birthday this year, I’d throw it back to some of my favorite moments with him. Like most of us, I don’t know him well. We don’t know any of them well, even though it can seem like we do if they’ve made themselves accessible and enjoy interacting with fans like this cast does. I’ve been lucky to spend a little time with him when he’s not on a stage or at a convention over the years, so I thought I’d share just a few of the little glimpses I’ve gotten in those times of the person Jared Padalecki is – thoughtful, warm, emotional, intelligent. And a very good writer.
I first met Jared in 2007, shortly after my friend Kathy and I fell in love with Supernatural and spontaneously decided to fly across the country to see Jensen Ackles in a community theater production of A Few Good Men in Fort Worth, Texas. (Yes, our families did think we’d lost our minds) There was no fandom twitter, so fandom was connected through sporadic posts on Live Journal mostly. We happened to read that someone had spotted Jared and then girlfriend Sandy on a flight to Texas, along with speculation that maybe he was going to see his costar perform. So when we saw a very tall man in the lobby candy line trying to be inconspicuous (by putting on a hat), we knew who it was. The audience for the play was mostly the regular community theater-goers, so nobody else went over to say hello other than us. Well, me. Kathy refused to budge from the corner. I don’t know what I was expecting as a brand new and extremely passionate Supernatural fan, but Jared’s warm welcome was not it. I said it was awfully nice of him to fly all the way down here to see his friend in a community theater play.
Jared brightened, that now familiar white-teeth smile making his whole face light up.
“Of course I would, he’s my bud!”
Jared was so nice, I felt protective of him immediately.
Me: Are you sure we should take photos, right now nobody knows who you are? But if we take pictures, they probably will come find out.
He waved my concern away and posed for photos and went on his merry way, standing in the refreshments line like the rest of us and greeting Jensen’s dad with a joyful “Papa Ackles!” and a big hug for Danneel – also in the candy line.
Wow, I thought, what a nice guy. Also? He was a baby! Look at those bangs!
The first time I got to spend more than a few minutes with Jared was on our first set visit, which took place the next year, in 2008. There’s a whole chapter devoted to that in the book Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls. But what told me more about the kind of person Jared is was not the interview we did that day, but the moments in between. Kathy and I sat there rapt watching them film for an entire day, and came away with a little bit of understanding about what makes that set so special. Jared and Jensen seemed to set a tone that kept everyone from getting stressed out, from crew to guest actors, with constant jokes in between takes and then a lightning fast snap into professionalism when the cameras rolled. It was clear to us, as nobodies from the outside, that everyone making the show loved it – because everyone kept coming up to us eager to tell us about the part they played in that, with obvious pride. Every single member of the crew also had glowing things to say about “the boys”. The same thing has happened every single time I’ve had the privilege of being on that set over the years.
We soon had our own proof of how nice “the boys” are. As midnight approached, the PA who was watching over us told us that shooting had run too long, there was no way we could do interviews with Jared and Jensen as had been planned. She apologized profusely but we were fine with that – we had already had a day that was beyond our wildest fangirl dreams. Jared and Jensen, however, had other ideas. One after the other, as they wrapped, they came to find us.
“Come on, we’ll just do this on the fly,” Jared said, and we jumped down from our chairs to follow him out of the studio and onto the lot. It was pouring rain and Jared’s legs are ten times longer than ours, so we essentially ran after him as he helpfully carried our little primitive audio recorder and did the “interview” as we hurried to the makeup trailer. He kept right on answering our (rather breathless) questions in the makeup trailer, and then instead of saying goodbye, invited us into his own trailer to keep right on going! It was late at night, he was exhausted and wet and must have just wanted to go home, but he was a lovely host anyway, introducing us to his dogs Harley and Sadie and generously answering all our questions.
Here’s the part of that interview that I was reminded of when all the discussion of Jared’s hair (facial and otherwise) happened.
Lynn: It reminds me of what Eric Kripke said about this [looking at fan reaction online]. He said he likes to hear what the fans are saying, but not so that he can follow it and do it, because then he’ll lose the vision and what they love in the first place.
Jared: Exactly, exactly, and I’m lucky because I’m able to avoid the internet and opinions. I remember when I started Gilmore Girls, I was 18, fresh out of Texas, just graduated high school, pretty naïve — and the 5th episode they cut my hair. The internet was kind of new and I was like oh, weird, they write about that? Cool! And so I read about it and it was like ‘oh Dean has a different hairstyle’ and a girl was like ‘he looks ugly, he looks like a girl’, and I was like, that hurts! … I don’t know where it comes from but not only is the bad, bad, but the good is bad, even if it says ‘he looks hot, he looks better than he used to’. Even that’s bad… you get false confidence or arrogance and you know, just start focusing on vanity, which I don’t want to do. My job is to flesh out Sam Winchester how I can, not to take from a billion people, but to play it my way, otherwise all these shows would be CGI – but there’s nothing interesting in that, they would make it exactly like choose your own adventure novels, but that’s not fun. It’s like choose brown hair, etc, but that’s not interesting.
Lynn: And then you’re devoid of emotion and reality.
Jared: And history and experiences.
Lynn: That’s a really good recipe for staying grounded.
Jared: I’d like to take credit for it, but it’s nothing more than – it’s once bitten twice shy kinda thing, you know? I’m not a masochist, it hurts so I stay away. And it’s stupid that I’m hurt, but still, I am hurt.
Once again, I was struck by what a nice person Jared is, and this time also by how thoughtful and sensitive a person he is too. That conversation happened twelve years ago, which seems unbelievable now. The world has changed a lot, but what he said that day still makes a lot of sense.
He contributed to that first book for us, and then to another, and another, and another. He even read them all.
Fast forward to 2015 at a convention. Jared casually asked if I was working on another book and I said yes, I’ve heard so many powerful stories from fans about how this show and fandom has changed and even saved people’s lives, so I want to put all those personal stories together in a book so everyone will understand just how special Supernatural is. Jared considered for a minute and then said that he had a story to tell too – and that’s how Family Don’t End With Blood ended up being written by both the fans and the actors. (If Jared wanted to write a chapter, I thought, maybe the other Supernatural actors did too. They did.)
Working with Jared for the two years it took him to write his chapter in that book let me see some other sides of him. I was blown away that he wanted to share a story that was so personal in a book. He had already started the Always Keep Fighting campaign and had spoken out about his own mental health challenges, but it’s different talking about them in an interview and actually sitting down and writing the story of your own most difficult and hopeless moments, in the first person, with all the details that actually happened. It was a tremendously courageous thing for someone who is a ‘celebrity’ to do, opening himself up for judgment and ridicule – and that hurt we’d talked about so long ago – but he wanted to do it. I think there were a few times I asked, ‘are you sure?’ He was. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to give back.
In the three years since Family Don’t End With Blood was published, I’ve heard from hundreds of people who say that Jared’s chapter did make a difference, sometimes a life saving one.
I learned about Jared’s determination too as I worked with him on his chapter. I learned that he was someone who wouldn’t get annoyed when I sent him lots of follow up emails, and that he would still smile when he saw me at conventions even though he knew I was going to ask how his chapter was coming along. I learned that he doesn’t do things half assed – I was not the one asking him to make most of the revisions that got made, that was mostly him. And I never once asked him to say more. That was him. He wanted to tell his story in a way that was real and genuine, and he kept pushing himself until he did, until his chapter was thirty pages long.
I knew, when I started putting together the final book about Supernatural last year (There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, which came out in May), that I wasn’t going to ask Jared to write another chapter like that – he had written his heart out in Family Don’t End With Blood. He once told me it was one of the hardest things he’s ever done. But he still had some important messages to get across in the new book – things he’d said at events and interviews over the past year about the show and about being Sam, that he wanted fans to know and remember. Even though he was incredibly busy trying to film the last season of the show, he also included some new thoughts about the legacy Sam Winchester leaves behind in his chapter for that book.
And he was, once again, still smiling after my many follow up emails trying to meet the nearly impossible May publication deadline. Sometimes when you work with someone, your view of them changes, and not always for the better. In this case, working with Jared on those two books made me appreciate him even more.
I’m sure Jared, like all of us, has changed quite a bit in the thirteen years between that first meeting in the candy line and now. But I think that capacity for honesty (and admission of not being perfect), innate sensitivity, and thoughtfulness about himself and the rest of the world are still what shapes him. There are so many fan-written chapters in Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done that talk about how Jared has inspired someone else. How his openness and affection have enabled change for someone, or his portrayal of Sam has given someone the strength to always keep fighting. That says alot.
I hope, on this last birthday on which he’s still Sam Winchester (for real this time), that he can continue to hang onto all those things and know that they make a difference.
That he makes a difference.
Happy birthday, Jared Padalecki! Thank you for Sam Winchester – and for being you.
The holiday season is here! If you have a Supernatural fan on your list (or you’re making a wish list for yourself because really, you deserve it!), then one of our Supernatural books just might be the perfect gift this holiday season! From Family Don’t End With Blood to Supernatural Psychology, we have several books to choose from, plus other FDEWB merchandise such as t-shirts, phone cases, tote bags and more.
Many of the books are now at special holiday sale prices. All the information you need – plus links to take you right to ordering – below!
Family Don’t End With Blood – This is the only book actually written by the Supernatural actors. Jared, Jensen, Misha, Kim, Briana, Ruth, Rachel, Mark, Matt, Rob, Osric, Jim and Gil (plus a dozen Supernatural fans) all share their stories of how being on Supernatural and part of the SPNFamily has changed their lives.
We’re so grateful to the actors for their courage and candor in sharing such personal stories of how they’ve grappled with depression, anxiety, and self doubt and found the strength to take risks and keep fighting thanks to the support of the fandom – and to the fans for sharing their stories of how the actors and fellow fans inspired them to do the same.
We love hearing that reading this book has inspired others to keep fighting too – and every purchase benefits Random Acts and Attitudes in Reverse to help make a difference! Click Here to Order!
Did you know there’s also FDEWB merch? If you love the book or love the cover art, we have a shop on Society6 with a variety of products, including t-shirts, totes, mugs and more featuring the beautiful cover design by talented artist Cris Griffin.
Order here (instructions for how to see ALL the many FDEWB products are at the top of the page) Click Here to Order!
Supernatural Psychology – If you’ve ever tried to figure out why Supernatural is the best show ever, then this is the book for you. Written by a variety of psychologists who are also fans of the show, this book explores how the Winchesters, Castiel and many other characters deal with the challenges thrown their way, and what drives these characters to always keep fighting. The book also includes a moving introduction by Mark Pellegrino (Lucifer).
It was ten years ago that the character of Castiel was introduced on Supernatural, in one of the most dramatic and powerful entrances of any fictional character ever. We were writing Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls at the time, and sat down with brand new guest actor Misha Collins shortly after Lazarus Rising aired, so I thought I’d share a few excerpts form that chat in honor of the 10th anniversary.
Misha had just finished filming and changed into faded vintage jeans and a tee shirt, catching us off guard because he didn’t look much like the trench-coated angel we’d seen onscreen! He was so new to the show and the whole idea of fandom that he didn’t really know what fan reaction to his character was, so asked us.
Lynn and Kathy: Fans don’t always take well to new characters on the show, but they did to your character.
Misha: Oh I see. You hated the character.
Lynn: Did I say that??
Clearly Misha’s personality shone through even in the first ten minutes of chatting with him. Luckily.
Misha: (laughing) I think part of it is that it was such an interesting scene. The character is a super cool character and it was a super cool introduction to the character.
Lynn: Talk about dramatic!
Misha: Just the way it was built up, I think that made people receptive to Castiel.
Lynn: I always wonder if you can feel in the moment when some of your scenes are going to be very good and some of your interactions very powerful.
Misha: No, never. I’m not very good at telling. I think the things that are horrible actually turn out to be the best.
Lynn: Luckily you’re not editing the show.
Misha: You’re right.
Kathy: The first online community dedicated to Castiel was set up 42 minutes after the episode aired.
Misha: Why do you think it took so long? Maybe the servers were down or something…
I’m not sure we ever laughed so much in an interview as we did that first chat with Misha. We talked about his previous roles on Nip/Tuck and 24 and Charmed, about his childhood and how that led him to acting, about his own lack of experience with being a fan. And he asked us as many questions as we asked him – about conventions (he was about to do his first one), about fandom, about shipping, you name it! This was an entirely new experience for Misha, and he was in the very beginning stages of processing it and figuring out what it all meant.
Misha: I had no idea what I was walking into when I went in to audition for this show.
Lynn: What did make you audition?
Misha: The desire for a job. I think I didn’t even realize until after the audition that it was for a regular, I thought it was a guest star. My manager told me I wasn’t paying attention. It was a demon that I was auditioning for – Kripke didn’t want that to get out to fandom.
Lynn: I love Eric, he’s always messing with the names.
Misha: He gave me a little direction, after I did the demon version once, he gave me a little direction to change it to be an angel, and he told me they hadn’t been down on earth for two thousand years so there would be a quality of just looking at humans as though they were strange alien beings.
Lynn: You do that so well. I’m a psychologist, I tend to read people’s non verbals. And there’s this subtle sort of little twist you do, like regarding someone a little too long and sort of speaking a little more slowly, because you’re not sure of your footing. It’s subtle, but it’s very there.
Misha: Cool. It’s fun to play with that.
The origin story of the famous Cas head tilt! And the rest is history.
A lot of our first chat with Misha is the last chapter in Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls – he was pleased when we told him he has “the last word” in the book. A few years later, when we were putting together our next book, this one of contributed essays on Supernatural in Fan Phenomena Supernatural, we asked Misha if he wanted to write a chapter. He did – and it’s still one of my favorite essays ever. It’s surprisingly sincere and personal, but it’s also funny as hell. Maybe none of that is surprising, actually.
From Fan Phenomena Supernatural, here’s what Misha had to say about being cast on Supernatural, including his experience watching his very first episode, Lazarus Rising, air ten years ago:
Fandom and its many fascinating aspects have, for the most part, blindsided me. Not only did I not see it coming, but previously, I was only peripherally aware of its existence. For me, discovering this fandom was pretty much like getting kidnapped by a dragon. I didn’t expect being inducted into this world to be anywhere near as strange, wonderful or overwhelming as it has been. I didn’t expect any of it. I remember watching the season premiere of Supernatural Season 4 – the episode in which my character was introduced – with the producers and writers at a little screening party at producer McG’s offices in West Hollywood. Sera Gamble, a writer and producer on the show, was standing next to me as we watched. When my character came on-screen, she leaned over and whispered to me, ‘Your life is about to change.’ I thought, ‘That is a truly arrogant thing for a producer of a CW television show to say. I’ve been on plenty of television shows. My life is going to stay exactly the same, I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Well, Sera, I think I owe you an apology for that thought.
I’m sure Sera understood – but she was totally right!
Misha also wrote a chapter for Family Don’t End With Blood, from his perspective almost a decade later. A portion of the proceeds from every sale benefits Random Acts, the charity he founded shortly after this amazing journey began – and one of the ways in which Misha has been changing the world ever since he realized he had a platform that allowed him to do so, thanks to playing Castiel on this little but long-lasting television show.
Wondering where you can find There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, Family Don’t End With Blood and our other Supernatural books? Here’s all the information you need and links to order!
There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done: Actors and Fans Celebrate the Legacy of Supernatural is an emotional look back at the television show Supernatural as it wraps up its final season after fifteen unprecedented years on air.
Supernatural actors Hugo Ateo, Andrea Drepaul, Adam Fergus, Carrie Genzel, David Haydn-Jones, Chad Lindberg, Lee Majdoub, Julie McNiven, Tahmoh Penikett, Lee Rumohr, Richard Speight Jr., Todd Stashwick, Shoshannah Stern, Brendan Taylor, Gabe Tigerman, Lauren Tom, and Rick Worthy all shared their own experience with the show, the cast and their characters. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles’ chapters pull together some of the most heartfelt and emotional things they’ve had to say at public events over the past year about the show ending, plus new thoughts on Sam and Dean’s legacy. Misha Collins contributed a special hopeful message that is short but heartfelt, and is the perfect ending for the book. Eric Kripke himself gave us a brief message about his “little show that could” for the back cover. And over twenty fans wrote about what Supernatural has meant to them and what its legacy will be in the world.
Every purchase benefits Random Acts (Misha’s global charity) and SPNSurvivors (a suicide prevention non-profit), whose work is more important now than ever!
There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done is the ultimate send-off for this iconic show that has touched and changed the lives of so many fans across all walks of life. The book gives us all something to hang onto as the show comes to an end, and to always remember just how special Supernatural is and will always be. Click here to order!
Family Don’t End With Blood is an inspiring, emotional book written by the Supernatural actors and fans about what the show has meant to them. Jared, Jensen, Misha, Kim, Briana, Ruth, Rachel, Mark, Matt, Rob, Osric, Jim and Gil and a dozen Supernatural fans all share their very personal stories of how being on Supernatural and part of the SPNFamily has changed their lives. We love hearing that reading this book has inspired others to keep fighting too – and every purchase benefits Random Acts and Attitudes in Reverse to help make a difference! Click Here to Order!