Michael Bahler writes:
The Perils of Online Publishing
My first online story, “Stephanie’s Blood,” was about a woman who bit her toenails. My girlfriend at the time was so excited when it came out, and she emailed the link to all her friends. The next day, however, she was not so excited.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Will you please tell everyone I don’t bite my toenails?”
My second online story, “Virgin Annie,” was about a guy lusting after a Korean woman named Annie K— who he suspected was a virgin. Just last year, I received a surprise email from a real-life Annie K—.
“I googled my name and found your story,” she wrote. “I am Korean, but I am definitely not a virgin.”
I recently showed the “The Stiff Jew” to a colleague.
“Michael, you’re Jewish?”
But my most harrowing online publishing experience had to do with a story I wrote entitled “My Blankie. My Penis.” The opening paragraph of the story read:
“Herpes. Could it be anything else? I’d slept with Adina on a Saturday. The condom had burst. I’d woken up five days later with itchy red dots up and down my penis.”
Around the time it was posted, I was interviewing to become a federal prosecutor. I’d made it all the way to the third round, and had met with the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. “I have no doubt,” he had told me, “you could do any job in this office.” I was also doing online dating, and had been emailing a woman I really liked.
I received a form rejection from the U.S Attorney’s Office, and the woman blew me off. These two developments could have had something to do with “My Blankie. My Penis” showing up first when my name was googled.
I love online publishing, but I think it’s unique from print journals in that stories become readily available to people who might not necessarily be interested in reading them as stories. It makes publishing a little dangerous. My father told me that I should start writing under a pseudonym, but instead I changed the heading on my resume from “Michael Bahler” to “M. F. Bahler.”
The site that posted “My Blankie. My Penis” later reinvented itself and took down my story. I changed my resume back to “Michael Bahler.”