Gather ’round kiddies. Your old pal Marcus is going to tell you about how he accidentally wrote his first novel fifteen years ago. He’s going to drive you wild with intrigue, then he’s going to drop a big orange Amazon buy button on you. And you’re gonna click it, because you love that sweet sweet early-2000s retro scene.
When I was a computer animator back in the ’90s, the software we used had two default rendering options: “Ray Tracer” and “Ray Caster.” I always thought the latter sounded like a guy’s name. A nice vanilla everyman who drives a Honda Accord and always rewinds videos before he returns them.
Flash forward to the early 2000s. I was Editor in Chief of a little comedy website called misinformer.com. To create the illusion of a larger staff (and to shield my fragile ego from trolls), I started attributing my B-material to our resident mild-mannered geek, Ray Caster.
Because I apparently have no understanding of comedy or the internet, the features I was too ashamed to sign my name to became the most popular articles on the site. I had created a fake person more beloved than myself, like the low-rent internet version of Al Pacino in S1m0ne. Not gonna lie, it stung a little.
Rather than kill off my imaginary friend in a jealous rage, I decided to parlay Ray Caster’s unexpected popularity into a social experiment. Years before the movie Catfish gave the concept a name, I began living online as a fictional person to see how far I could push it and still have people believe I was real.
“Ray Caster” registered the appropriately geeky LiveJournal name “rcaster1138” and started blogging. Many of his misinformer fans subscribed. He also “friended” a bunch of random strangers through LiveJournal interest searches. Most of them followed him back and became his closest confidants. Before long, Caster had dozens of online followers, back in the days when “dozens” was an impressive number.
People were aware that Caster and Marcus were “real-world friends” who wrote in an eerily similar comedic style. (Though I was, hands-down, the funnier one.) To help differentiate us, I gave him various verbal quirks and affectations. He used different grammar than I did. (Incorrect grammar.) He consistently misplaced punctuation. (Because he’s not as smart as I am.) Caster and Marcus would frequently have verbal sparring matches in the comments of each other’s blogs, and Marcus always won because Marcus is the superior wit. (Suck it, Caster.)
As I went farther down the rabbit hole the hoax became an unhealthy obsession. I went to absurd lengths to create real-world evidence to back up Caster’s made-up tales, just in case anybody got suspicious enough to do some detective work. I’m not gonna say how I did it, if you can get your hands on the Winter 2005 issue of the Selby Library Friends Newsletter, page five mentions a generous gift of books from Shadoe Moon Beaupre: a donation that never happened from a person who doesn’t exist. No reader of Caster’s blog ever saw it.
Exactly one year after Caster’s first post (to the minute) I ended the experiment. Partially because the story had come to its logical conclusion, but mostly for my own sanity. I logged rcaster1138 out of LiveJournal for the final time. Ray Caster was out of my life, forever. Or so I thought.
In 2006, the self-publishing website Lulu.com launched their first annual “Blooker Prize,” to be awarded to the year’s best book based on a blog, or (to use the grossest word possible) “blook.” It felt like a sign. I had written a sweeping epic in blog form. This award was for me. They may as well have called it the “First Annual Caster’s Blog Award.”
But before I could make the blog into a “blook,” I had to tell Ray Caster’s friends the truth. For the first time in nine months, a post appeared on Caster’s blog. But this post was by Marcus, sheepishly admitting what he had done. For the most part Caster’s followers took the news well, though some said learning he was never real felt like finding out an old friend had died. Others didn’t understand how Caster could be my alter ego, since he was so much funnier than me.
The inaugural Blooker Prize went to Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia. The novelization of Caster’s Blog: A Geek Love Story became a cult favorite before slipping into obscurity. And Caster’s story was finally well and truly over.
Except it wasn’t.
In 2014, filmmaker Austin McKinley (my good friend and Sarasota resident) brought Caster’s story to the big screen with his motion-picture adaptation. As the short film traveled the festival circuit, a whole new audience was introduced to our favorite TMI blogger and his epic story of love, loss, and office drama.
Today, in celebration of fifteen years since Caster posted his first horrendous HR Julie poem, I’m proud to release a revised and expanded edition of his story. The comments written by Caster’s actual followers have been remixed and reimagined as a Greek chorus of five fictional bloggers. Because let’s be honest, nobody wants to be reminded of the stupid shit they wrote on somebody’s LiveJournal a decade and a half ago. Original followers, you’re welcome.
I hope you enjoy this book based on the screenplay based on the blook based on the blog based on the experiment that is Caster’s Blog: A Geek Love Story. May this snake keep eating its own tail to infinity.