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How Far We've Come:
A Reflection on Ten Years of Footprints

During my freshman year of high school, a friend got me hooked on Days of Our Lives. She even bought me the show’s 30th anniversary book in order to help me catch up on the ins and outs of the story and its intricate relationships. I read the book and, as much as I enjoyed watching the show, I enjoyed even more learning all the history that had come before. I could not believe that this same story had been going on for so long. Three decades! The idea captivated me.

That summer, I stayed up nights writing my own story just like the one in the book. It wasn’t a story—more of an overview—and it wasn’t, at least to my knowledge, an outline. It was a broad overview of a story that went for ten years and had the potential to go longer. A lot of the specifics were cloudy, but this I knew: these Fisher people, hanging out in some town named King’s Bay (the name was the last thing I came up with, even after I’d mapped out a decade of story) had a lot of stories to tell, and I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

So I wrote. I started writing an episode, doing my best to make it look as much like a screenplay as I could (from what I knew of screenplays as a 14-year-old). It was imitation at its… well, not finest. Certainly not best. Purest, maybe. I was imitating what I felt were the things about Days of Our Lives and the soap opera form that had captivated me: the plotting, the adventure, the neverending nature of it, and, above all, the sense of family at the core. “Rough” might be a kind word for those early episodes, but even there, Footprints is a story about a family.

Then I had ten episodes. What now—read them over and over myself? Keep writing something that no one would ever see? I had seen fiction posted online, so I did the same. I wrote and posted and wrote and posted. I’m sure very few people saw what I was doing at that point, but I didn’t care. I got to keep pumping out my story. In the fall of 1998, I discovered the EpiGuide, a webzine devoted to… whoa… a bunch of sites just like mine!


Those first steps into a “community” were difficult. Suddenly others were looking at my work and letting me know what they thought, and they didn’t have the emotional attachment to or investment in Footprints that I did. Most of them were kind about it, but my series? Not so good, it turned out. That was a tough pill to swallow, but it was probably the best thing that ever happened to Footprints and to me as a writer. Some of those people are still around today, offering feedback and encouragement but also letting me know when something is not as good as it could be.

FP first site  
A screencap of an early Footprints site, circa 1998. The site was then housed on AOL.

By the summer of 1999, I was frustrated. Footprints had a reputation as being over-the-top. I wanted more… respect. So I began writing a new story. I posted In This Life in the same community without announcing myself as the author, and people seemed to genuinely enjoy its brand of storytelling, which was more character study than spectacle. ITL was such a success that I even considered ending Footprints so that I could focus on it. But there was something FP had, something I couldn’t force in ITL: heart. Footprints had a heart, and it had mine, and so I ended ITL after six months. But I made a vow to study what had worked about it and to make Footprints more like that.

I’m not sure when it happened, but my reputation changed. Footprints became known less as a stunt-driven melodrama and more as a family drama that reveled in character exploration. It was a gradual transformation, but somewhere in there, I found a voice for my series. It was at this time that I also researched the other soap operas of the 1980s, which had been a heyday for the television genre. I strove to emulate their blend of deep character drama and high intrigue. My original outline for Footprints, which had already been tweaked and adjusted over and over, was officially thrown out the window. In 2001, I wrote a new long-term outline, and despite many revisions, that document is still the basis for the series playing out today.

The milestones kept coming. Reaching the fifth anniversary shocked me; I had spent five years doing this? As it turns out, the second five years have gone a lot faster than the first five. Maybe that’s a function of growing more used to the routine or of growing older in general. There have been times when I was ready to throw in the towel, because I had too much going on in my life—but never because I was tired of Footprints. In spite of all logic, this project has captivated me to such a degree that I don’t think I’d be capable of ending it of my own accord. And so, here we are, marking the tenth anniversary of this little project that I started as a bored, lonely, slightly obsessed high schooler.


For as long as the tenth anniversary has been on my radar, I’ve felt the need to do something big to mark the occasion. It used to be a yearly tradition to redesign the site in October, but when I introduced the maroon-based design in 2004, that urge faded away. One year turned into three, and when I played around with ideas for new tenth anniversary designs, I always came back to that same look. I realized that I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out and go with something entirely new because, for the first time ever with one of FP’s designs, this one feels like Footprints. It seems fitting that, as the series reaches this milestone, it has finally achieved a signature look.

I had some exciting ideas for additional site features, but what about the episode itself? I toyed with various ideas for “stunt” episodes: flashbacks, alternate-universe stories, first-person narration. Some of those things might happen in the very near future. But I kept coming back to where it all began. That very first episode, as inauspicious as it might have been, was the launching point for all of this. It seemed only right to use the official anniversary episode as an opportunity to reflect on what it meant to spend ten years in a world with a set of characters. And, in spite of all the additional characters who have joined us over the years, it felt necessary to keep the focus on the first family of Footprints for this occasion. There were some characters (Diane and Alex, in particular) whom I’d have loved to include, but that seemed like a distraction; even Claire, who is very much a part of the Fisher clan, seemed unessential to what I hoped to accomplish.

Claire Fisher
The saga of Tim, Claire, and Ryan--not only a love triangle, but a story about family loyalties--has been one of the biggest of FP's first decade.

Thus I created a new episode—Episode #464—that would mirror the very first episode, not only to observe how the series has progressed but also to inform the current stories. It was an opportunity to get back to my roots in the most explicit sense. And so, in the new episode, we open with Molly and Paula sitting in the kitchen talking, just as in the first episode. This time, however, Molly isn’t a young woman beginning her first major job; she is a professional, a wife, and a mother, and she is looking for guidance on how to balance those responsibilities and still enjoy the life for which she has fought. Tim, who in the premiere struggled to get his pregnant wife, Claire, to open up to him, now faces the same dilemma… only with his teenage son. Jason and Courtney, who ten years ago were beginning a sweet but tentative romance, are once again at the rink—but now they are adults, businesspeople, instead of young skaters, and they find themselves in this very adult, very sexual relationship. Yet, just as before, neither can manage to say what needs to be said. Of course, we also have Sandy, their mentor, marveling at how these kids she helped grow up have finally done just that.

Then there are Sarah and Brent, who have gone on quite a journey over the last decade, meeting up in a parking lot—just as, ten years ago, their first date ended in one. Sarah might be the character who has come the furthest in the last ten years, and I felt that showing her with Brent was the most effective way to showcase that. They have come full-circle: not exactly friends, but able to understand each other’s pain in ways that no one else can. The episode ends with the six “main” Fishers gathered at Bill and Paula’s house, just as in the first episode, only now Travis is there with them. There is also someone missing: Ryan. I debated whether or not to include him in the episode and finally decided against it, but his absence is felt as much as his presence, and that serves the current story well.

Episode #464 certainly has less of an outrageous ending than the first, which concluded with Molly finding a dead bird and black roses outside her apartment. Instead we end with Paula looking around her and reflecting upon her family. In spite of all that they have been through, here they are, together. It is my hope that readers, no matter when they joined this journey, will share her feelings: sometimes there is no more comforting thing to hear than, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”


So, what comes next? The story continues. I was determined to wrap up the Nick Moriani saga before the tenth anniversary, because I feel that its conclusion really propels the series into new territory, and I’m pleased to say that we have arrived there. All of the major characters are at crossroads in their lives. We have a new crop of characters in the age-accelerated Travis, Samantha, and Tori, and I am determined to weave them into the Fisher family and the overall canvas without altering the focus or tone of the series. I would also like for the story to be distributed more evenly. The Tim/Claire/Ryan saga has often dominated the series, and while I have very much enjoyed writing it, I want to make sure that the other characters are also served. Jason and his contemporaries are ready for fully adult stories, as we’ve transitioned to in the last year or so; after all, they are now around the age that Tim and Claire were when the series began. I want to keep some of the non-Fishers (Diane and Alex—two of my overall favorites!) tied as closely as possible to the Fishers, and I have devoted a great deal of effort to coming up with stories that serve that purpose. More than anything, though, it will be business as usual.

I always used to wonder when I’d have to end Footprints. When I went to college? When I got a “real” job? So far, none of those things have done it. At this point in my life and in this story, I don’t think I could bring myself to do it, no matter how badly I might want to at certain times. This story is a part of me now. Even now, when I devote my life to pursuing a professional writing career, this is my escape. This project is mine, something I can get lost in. I find these characters and their stories in my head before I go to sleep at night and when I wake up in the morning. Another ten years? Seems like a lot, but I never thought I’d make it this far, either.


  This article was first published
in October 2007, on the occasion of the series' 10th anniversary.