One week from today, my favorite show will return from its winter hiatus, and I can’t wait. This return will be extra special, because of two things. One, it’s on my birthday – I suppose that’s only special to me, but it feels extra special because of the other thing. That other thing is the return episode will also be the “backdoor pilot” for a possible spin-off for Supernatural – Wayward Sisters.
What’s so special about that? The show has tried a backdoor pilot before, with the Bloodlines episode back in Season 9. That was a pretty spectacular failure – I adore this show, and I must confess even I didn’t like it. Largely because it didn’t feel like a Supernatural episode at all. There were no established characters who would transition to the new show, and the new characters seemed like they’d be more at home on Dynasty than on Supernatural. I couldn’t imagine Sam and Dean ever making a guest appearance – in fact, I was pretty sure they were secretly rolling their eyes at some of the newly introduced characters.
To the show’s credit, the overwhelming NO response to Bloodlines didn’t sour them on considering a spin-off. And they’ve learned from their mistakes. Wayward Sisters is different in a number of ways. First, it stars characters who are already established on Supernatural, and who fans already know and like (not every character is liked by every fan of course, but you can pretty much say that about any fictional character ever – there’s no such thing as unanimous liking and that’s okay). Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes) has been a recurring character for some time, as has Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster) – both are fan favorites on the show and the actors are fan favorites on the Supernatural convention circuit too.
Also in the cast are Claire (Kathryn Newton) and Alex (Katherine Ramdeen), both of whom have been in multiple episodes of the show. In Season 13, we were introduced to Patience (Clark Backo) and Kaia (Yadira Guevara Prip), rounding out the cast. Instead of a bunch of characters we don’t know at all, this attempt at a spin-off utilizes characters who are already familiar to us as part of the Supernatural universe. That should make a big difference.
That’s not what makes Wayward Sisters special, though. Instead it’s the way the spinoff came about and the striking evolution that the composition of the show represents. Wayward Sisters, unlike its inspiration, Supernatural, is a cast of women. Don’t get me wrong, I think Supernatural has given us some amazing female characters over the years – the women of Wayward are some of them, but there are many more. The show was roundly criticized in its early days for the rarity of any episode passing the Bechdel test and for its use of the ‘fridging women’ trope to serve as inspiration for its tortured heroes. There has been evolution over the course of 13 years, in terms of cast and more slowly in terms of female writers and directors, but this is a leap forward, not a step. If the pilot flies, this is a show about women that, according to its cast, is committed not only to being told through the perspective of women, but to diversity of many kinds. That’s a lot of evolution for a little show on the CW.
That evolution is one of the unique things, but it’s not the only one. The other unique, maybe even unprecedented, thing about Wayward Sisters is the way it came to be. The idea for Bloodlines came from the usual places – producers, studio, network, showrunners, writers room. The idea for Wayward Sisters came from the fandom. And that really doesn’t happen. Fandom has all sorts of fabulous ideas, as anyone who’s been in a vibrant creative brilliant fandom like the Supernatural fandom knows. But those ideas don’t get heard, and even if they do, they certainly don’t get taken seriously to become reality! As Kim and Briana are fond of saying onstage at Supernatural conventions, “YOU. You did this.” And you know what? We did. And that’s pretty extraordinary.
In this holiday season, we wanted to take a moment to wish you peace. It’s the thing we hoped for when we wrote Family Don’t End With Blood – that everyone who reads it will realize that you truly are not alone, and find the peace that comes with that validation. Not that we don’t all feel alone sometimes, because we do – but that’s the point. The actors who play our favorite characters on our favorite show (that would be Supernatural for anyone new here…) opened up when they wrote this book and shared very personal things about themselves, including their most difficult challenges and struggles, because that is the only way for us to not feel alone. We need to know that others have stood in our shoes and faced similar difficulties in order to feel validated. If those others are Jared and Jensen and Misha, or Kim and Briana and Ruth and Rachel, or Matt, Mark, Rob, Gil, Jim and Osric – then that validation is powerful in a different way than what we usually get. We all, both actors and fans, have struggled with anxiety and depression and that persistent fear of not being good enough. We all need to find acceptance and feel like we belong and have felt like we didn’t. The cast and the fans who shared their stories have all been there, and shared that with great courage – so we hope that when you read FDEWB, you can feel it.
I thought I’d share a few of the things that Jared, Jensen and Misha wrote for anyone who needs a reminder today of what this SPNFamily is all about (and why we have the Best. Cast. Ever. And the best fandom too!)
In his chapter, Jared opens up and tells the intensely personal story of his struggle with anxiety and depression – and how the Supernatural fandom taught him what he needed to know to keep fighting:
The fandom has taught me to Always Keep Fighting. More often than not, the fight sucks. But I guess what’s why it’s a fight. The fandom has helped me realize that there will be a brighter day on the horizon. It may be further off than you’d hope, but it’s there, and if you believe that and commit to fighting through hardships, you will find that peace.
As Misha says in his chapter:
Not everyone has a supportive family around them to help get you through the hard times. But luckily, in this SPNFamily, you may have landed in a supportive and loving community – a community that has your back.
That’s also why FDEWB benefits Random Acts and Attitudes in Reverse – because we are a community, and we do have each other’s backs.
Jensen puts it this way in his chapter:
You see, we’re not strangers anymore. You’re not strange to me. Of course we’re all a LITTLE strange – and we take the little bit of strange in each of us and mix those little bits all up together, all of us, and that’s why we love the relationship we have. You’re family.
That pretty much sums up what we wanted to say to the Supernatural fandom. We hope that every time you read Family Don’t End With Blood, you remember just how true that is and it brings you some peace and joy.
Happy holidays from all of us, and we look forward to seeing and hearing from all of you in 2018!
Sometimes it really helps to shine a light on all the good things about fandom – how we help each other, how we help others, how we try to make change in the world. It’s an integral part of fandom, and one that I cherish – that’s why every purchase of Family Don’t End With Blood benefits Random Acts’ important work helping those who need it all over the world, and Attitudes in Reverse with their mission of ending stigma and opening up conversation about mental health challenges to combat suicide. On this #GivingTuesday, if you haven’t read FDEWB yet, you can help make a difference by picking up a book for yourself or for a friend. Most of the Supernatural actors wrote chapters — Jared, Jensen, Misha and many others — in which they shared their own personal struggles and challenges, hoping that will inspire others to keep going when the going gets tough.
The book has been our way of trying to help, but there are so many people in fandom whose creative talents enrich us all and also make a difference.
Recently a wonderful thing happened in the fandom that also benefits one of Misha Collin’s many charitable endeavors. With the help of charitable organizer Stands on twitter, the “I Wish For This” campaign to benefit Lydia Place was launched. Lydia Place works to disrupt the pervasive cycle of homelessness and foster autonomy for families, something that Collins knows about from personal experience. Fan artist Little Pop Work made a customized Pop Funko Misha doll which was signed by Misha as an incentive to participate in the campaign – which was seriously awesome!
The I Wish For This Misha Pop is based on the touching story that Misha has told about his daughter, Maison. When Misha asked his kids what they wanted to wish for as they picked dandelions and got ready to make a wish on them, Maison simply replied “I wish for this.” Misha can’t tell the story without tearing up, and frankly I’ve never been able to listen to it without tearing up either.
I was going to post my Vancon report this morning, but there’s something I want to talk about first. That something is Misha Collins. Partly because the events of the past week are so upsetting, which makes me long for a leader whose moral conviction and willingness to stand up for what he believes in can actually make change in this world that needs it so badly. Partly because I just finished my third Gishwhes, and watched Misha’s genuine and emotional reaction to the change we were all able to make together — I can’t think of ‘leader’ without thinking of Misha. Partly because Misha got some criticism for something he posted online, which I read as supportive but some read as the opposite – which can happen on the internet, no matter how good your intentions. Partly because I got some criticism too – which happens every time I try to share what’s happening at a con in live tweets, because LIVE tweets – but this time it struck me as so ironic, because I was sitting there thinking so much about Misha and the accusation was of ‘erasing’ him. (I had virtually no data service all day Saturday, so there were very few tweets that went through of those panels, including Misha’s, so that was probably part of the problem). But erasing?
That would be such a tragedy, it made me sick to my stomach. So I tried to think of something that could prevent it. All I have is my voice, but Misha has taught me my voice is important to use. So here goes.
The world would be a much less hopeful place without Misha Collins in it, and right now that is extremely important to me. I’m hanging onto hope wherever I can find it, and I’m unspeakably glad that one of the many wonderful things that SPN has brought me is my acquaintance with Misha Collins. He was the first of the cast to figure out how he could use his position and popularity for good, and he wasted no time doing so. Jared and Jensen have both given Misha credit for inspiring their own determination to make change through their charity campaigns. Together, the three of them – and just about all of their castmates – have done incredible work toward the kind of change we desperately need. The thing about Misha is, he’s not afraid to put himself out there, even when he’s standing out there initially alone. I admire that about him more than I can say, because that scares the hell out of me. Misha sees something that’s hurtful, and he immediately speaks up. And he doesn’t stop there – somehow he never got the discouraging message that most of us get, the ‘you’re one person, you can’t make a difference’ message that we let stop us far too often. Misha sees a problem and jumps in with both feet, uncaring of whether some people will disapprove. He doesn’t see impossible, no matter how unlikely the change that needs to happen – he sees possible. That kind of strength and courage is unusual, perhaps especially in the world of ‘celebrity’.
The other reason I admire Misha so much is because of his refusal to accept the constraints of ‘normal’. Whether it’s what you wear, what you want to do, who you want to be, or where you want to go, conforming with what someone else insists is ‘normal’ can take away your right to be yourself. And that leaves us feeling bad about who we really are. That’s right in line with all my research on fandom, which also changes the norms, and removes barriers to being genuine and real, celebrating who we really are and what we really love. It frees us to be passionate, which is the healthiest thing a human can be. From the very start of his role on Supernatural and joining the SPN Family, Misha refused to bow to all those rules about who a ‘celebrity’ should be and what he should say and what he shouldn’t. He wore a dress when he felt like it, he refused to stay inside the assigned room at his convention meet and greets and instead strolled with the gathered fans to local coffee shops or malls or into the woods to make a campfire…. He challenged what it meant to be a ‘celebrity’ and pushed back against the constraints of ‘normal’. And that made all the difference – eventually resulting in Random Acts and Gishwhes itself.
I knew Misha was different the very first time I met him. We were writing ‘Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls’ and asked for an interview with ‘the new guy’. He had just joined the show, but his character had already made an impression. I remember being struck by how good looking he was as he got out of the set van to meet with us, looking like he’d stepped out of the 70’s in faded flared jeans and with the bluest eyes. Television doesn’t really do any of them justice when you see them in real life, does it? By the time we had finished chatting for way too long (Misha got involved in the conversation and missed his next scheduled interview – oops), I knew he was a very unique person. And I was already impressed. Much like Eric Kripke had done, Misha constantly turned the tables on us to ask us questions during the interview – he wanted to understand everything about the fandom. What did fans love about this show, how did they feel about his character, what did fandom itself give to people and was it a good thing? [Yes, absolutely]. He winked and made a joke about Dean and Cas before we could even ask him the shipping question, catching me off guard and making me spit out my drink with laughter.
He talked about joining Supernatural and becoming a ‘celebrity’ just like that.
Misha: That was an interesting process for me to negotiate. Jared and Jensen have had a lot more time in the limelight leading up to Supernatural exploding into a fan phenomenon, so they got to see it gradually unfold, whereas I stepped into it when it was already kind of a big thing, and it happened all of a sudden. Sort of like being hit by a bus!
He was thoughtful about what that meant, and how that could help him do some good. We gave him the last word in ‘Fangasm’, because what he had to say was so inspiring.
We stayed in touch after that, so when we decided to write another book on Supernatural, he was the first person I asked to write a chapter. I knew how much he had to say, how smart and insightful he was, and also that whatever he wrote would be both unexpected and inspiring. We sat down to talk about the chapter several times, over tea or Starbucks or at a con, and little by little I got to know him better.
I watched him figure out what fandom was, and figure out what his place in all this was, and then figure out how he could do something important with it. I’m honored to have been along for the ride a little bit as those ideas took place and came to fruition. His chapter in ‘Fan Phenomena Supernatural’ traces that evolution as well, as Random Acts was created and Misha began the incredible journey he’s been on ever since he set foot on the Supernatural set.
It was Osric Chau who convinced me to do Gishwhes the first time. He kept telling me how much it had changed him, what the experience had given him, what it had pushed him to do and how that had moved him forward in his own life. Osric, who I admire greatly for his willingness to step outside the box and cosplay everything from Ariel to Captain America, in turn admired Misha for his willingness to step outside the box too. Claudine Hummel, who wrote a chapter for Family Don’t End With Blood, says the same thing about Misha and the powerful impact he has had on her life. Her chapter is titled “Spreading Kindness Like Confetti,” which I think is pretty much the perfect title for a chapter all about Misha.
Misha instinctively realized, I think, that people needed explicit permission to be “not normal”. Not just encouragement, but permission – and sometimes not just permission, but a directive. Misha isn’t a psychologist, but he has a keen grasp of what makes people tick, and uses it to motivate all of us to change both ourselves and each other. I wore a hat made of kale to a very fancy country club with my friend Vickie, nervous and hesitant and feeling terribly self conscious – and experienced firsthand the liberating power of ignoring all the ‘should’ voices in my head and just being in the moment. Gishwhes also reminded me of the importance of doing for others, and the positive impact that has on all of us. I thought back on those early conversations with Misha and was in awe of the fact that he had actually done it – he was making change on a global scale, one random act of kindness at a time.
After that, I wanted to help. I’ve consulted for Random Acts and for Misha several times, and am currently about to start doing some consulting for a new project Random Acts is working on – one that is critically important in this age of cyberbullying and anonymous hate-fueled posts. Despite the fact that he’s been incredibly busy doing all those things I so admire him for, Misha also contributed a personal message to my new book, Family Don’t End With Blood – a message of love and appreciation for what the SPN Family is all about. He sets a damn good example, so I’m donating some of the proceeds of that book to Random Acts and Attitudes in Reverse. And even more striking? My awesome publisher is too. They have been just as inspired by Misha’s example.
On days like this, when it seems like the world has gone mad and I’m worried for my children and their future, I like to remind myself that there are people out there like Misha Collins. People who aren’t afraid to try to make the world better – or more accurately, are determined to push through their fears and make the change anyway. I keep telling Misha he needs to be in politics, but in a way, he already is. His voice has made a difference already, and he’s inspired many of us to do the same.
Here’s a little bit of spotlight on you, Misha, though you shine pretty bright already. Keep up the good work.
Stay tuned for more cast and crew members ‘In The Spotlight’ – we’ve got a pretty special group of people in this SPNFamily.
I have always admired Jared Padalecki. For the awesome acting, the depth and heart that he puts into his portrayal of Sam Winchester on that Show I’m so obsessed with, bringing the character to life so vividly. For the way he allows himself to be genuine and vulnerable in his interactions with others. For his desire to give back and make a difference in this world whether it’s with charity tee shirt campaigns or standing up at the Austin state house and fighting for laws that need to be passed. For the unique and heartwarming friendship he has with his onscreen brother and his loyalty to all his friends and his great love of family.
But I have never admired Jared as much as I do after working with him for the past few years as he wrote his chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood. I was blown away by his courage, his willingness to “go there” in what he wrote – to tell his own personal story without censoring it, in such powerful and compelling language that everyone who reads it knows exactly what he was feeling, exactly what happened, in every moment of that story. I witnessed firsthand his determination to “get it right” – even though I repeatedly told him I thought it was very nearly perfect already! And I witnessed firsthand just how much he cared about telling his story in a way that would be genuine and real. So that other people can see themselves reflected in someone we look up to, and understand that it’s not just words – you really are Not Alone.
I met so many people at the Chicago con this past weekend who told me how much Jared’s words meant to them – how much his writing inspired them, comforted them, validated them. How much it kept them going, let them always keep fighting. I’ve heard the same from so many people online, from all over the world where the book has traveled, who felt the same. I hope Jared knows how much of a difference he’s making with his words. I’ve told him, and I know some of you have told him too. I hope he believes it, and that on his birthday he can feel proud of all the things he’s accomplished.
Happy birthday, Jared.
If you’d like to read Jared’s story in Family Don’t