Weird Wide Web

Five years ago, former Austinite Pamela Ribon started posting diary entries on a Web site called "Squishy." By 2001, the site was receiving close to a million hits per month. Now, Ribon's published a book, Why Girls Are Weird, about an Austin woman who posts her journal online and the joys and complications it brings to her life. But is the novel autobiographical? Noooooo.

"The work as a whole is fiction," says Ribon. "There's not much in it that's true or that happened to me exactly. There are elements of truth in it." In the novel, protagonist Anna Koval whimsically posts a journal entry about fornicating Barbies on the Web. Soon after, she gains a following and dives head-first into an online world populated by fans of her site.

But the self she presents to that world is Anna K, not Anna Koval, and there are some differences between the two women. For one, Anna K is still dating Ian, Anna Koval's ex-boyfriend. Once she starts writing about her "relationship" with Ian, Anna Koval can't quit lying to her readers, because she fears they'll feel betrayed.

Ribon says everything in her real-life online diary is true, though. "A lot of people lie in these journals," she says. "I wanted to add that element of what happens when you're dishonest with her pretending she was still with her ex-boyfriend."

Interspersed throughout the book are actual Squishy entries, modified somewhat to fit the plot. Many of them are truly hilarious, and it's easy to see why Ribon has gained such a following. One in particular is laugh-out-loud funny. Anna K gives her best friend, a gay guy named Dale, a wooden back-scratcher for Christmas.

"You see, the hand extends and retracts, and it does look just like a tiny hand, so it has become the source of great amusement," she writes. "Why, you can: high five with a tiny wooden hand...scratch your chin like an intellectual with a tiny wooden hand...'raise the roof' with a tiny wooden hand...smack the back of someone's hand with a tiny wooden hand..." And on and on.

Of course, the "tiny wooden hand" entry can stand by itself, but Ribon does a good job blending the Squishy entries with the rest of the story, which centers around whether Anna will let go of her ex, whether she will pursue a relationship with an online friend named ldobler (yes, it's a reference to Say Anything) and whether she will come clean with her readers about her lies.

Despite the author's protests that Why Girls Are Weird is a work of fiction, she does admit that ldobler, at least, has a real-life counterpart. "Oh, sure," she says. "He's completed based on someone in my life."

Austin fans will get a kick out of the novel's references to the town. Anna lives in a tiny hot apartment in Hyde Park, has coffee at the now-defunct Ruta Maya and watches Fourth of July fireworks on Lake Travis. "Nobody writes about Austin," says Ribon, "and it's such a great city."

Ribon herself has moved on to Los Angeles, and the online journal continues. "I'm writing for an audience," she says. "But I write whatever I want to write about...and I don't worry about running out of material because I live in the strangest city in the country."

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Cathy Matusow
Contact: Cathy Matusow