When Jody Lin kissed Jack outside of a Taipei disco on a sultry June evening, it didn't take long for much of Taiwan's expatriate community to find out about it. Or to learn that Jack was, at the time, engaged to be married to his girlfriend Emi -- a decision that had been hurried by an unplanned pregnancy, according to Jody's friend Mike.
"You have to promise not to tell anyone. I swear to God, Jack will kill me if he finds out that I told you," Mike said.
Fat chance. The details of events that transpired on that steamy Taipei night, and the emotional fallout that resulted, were faithfully recorded on Lin's Web site, An American in Taipei. Racy stories like this have helped attract a loyal following of regular readers -- and a few vocal critics -- to Lin's site.
This voyeuristic fascination with Lin's love life bubbled over in a discussion thread on a Taipei-based community Web site, Oriented.org, that blasted Lin for a range of perceived sins, from being a poor writer to being a bad friend.
In a posting on Oriented.org, the thread was described by Lin as her personal hate club. "I always thought that kind of stuff was reserved for the seriously famous -- like the Christina Aguileras and Gwyneth Paltrows of the world," she wrote.
But amid the local controversy that surrounded Lin there was one catch -- she doesn't exist. Nor do Mike and Emi. Rather, they are the creation of a Taiwanese-American woman -- we'll call her "Jane" since she prefers not to have her true identity revealed publicly -- who lives and works in Taipei.
In recent weeks, Jane has put less effort into maintaining An American in Taipei as she instead channels her creative energies into writing a book that will be an extension of the ideas she explored through Lin's character, albeit in a more serious manner.
How did a modest, personal Web page become first a tempest in a teapot and then an idea for a novel? The idea for using a Web site to tell a story through a series of diary entries came to Jane after reading through other online journals, such as one kept by Oriented.org co-founder Christine Hsu. Books by British authors, such as Helen Fielding's novel Bridget Jones's Diary, were also a strong influence.
Hsu's site, which is generally known as a Web log or "blog," is little more than a daily record of her life in Taipei that is of only limited interest to those that don't know her. Nevertheless, the site -- which is called Hey Christine -- has managed to attract a regular readership, which includes complete strangers as well as friends and family.
The idea of writing about personal and emotional issues in a public forum appealed to Jane, who has long kept handwritten diaries of her own. But she didn't want to risk the chance that she might hurt those around her by revealing details of their personal lives.
"There were things that I wanted to talk about, like my parents, and my relationships with my siblings, and my relationships with men and stuff, that if I wrote my real name someone would find out about whoever I was writing about and I thought it would get back to them," Jane said. "I wanted to avoid that possibility."
Jane also had legitimate concerns about revealing personal information that could lead to harassment from readers. Hsu, for example, has already seen her site draw the unwanted attentions of at least one male reader.
"He's a little messed up in the head and he would write these extensive e-mails and get to a point where he'd be sexually explicit. He would cross boundaries," Hsu said. By comparison, Jane's site has mostly drawn critiques of her writing from visitors and this has encouraged her to begin work on a novel.
Based on the nature of the feedback Jane has received from her readers, she feels most realize that the life of Jody Lin is a work of fiction. For those that don't, they've missed the point. "It's the Internet. You're supposed to take things with a grain of salt," Jane said.
An American in Taipei can be found online at http://www.jodylin.blogspot.com/. Oriented can be found online at http://www.oriented.org/. Hey Christine can be found online at http://www.heychristine.com/.