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Howdy, gang. Whew... this has been a long month, hasn't it? It certainly has been for me. There's been a lot going on for me, especially in real life, and the complexity of the current "Providence" story arc certainly hasn't alleviated the pressure. While most of the real life zaniness has been of a personal nature (and thus not a proper topic for the GPF News), I can discuss this story. And let me tell you, that seems to be all you want to talk about! :)

New Plan Nine Store: First, however, I'd like to take care of a little bit of business. Our publisher, Plan Nine, is finally migrating to a new shopping cart system and is looking for people to beta test it. I'm already familiar with the system (it's the same one I use in the GPF Store) and I can already tell you it's hands-down much improved over the old one they were using. So they've asked me to ask you to give the new site a once-over and let them know if you run into any problems. (There should be some contact e-mails you can reach if you actually encounter a bug.) As soon as the new site goes live, I'll move all our links over.

The Response to "Providence:" Next, I'd like to apologize once again for being very slow in responding to my e-mails. As you might have guessed, I've been thoroughly inundated. Because those real life trials have kept me away from the computer except for getting the essentials accomplished, I've unfortunately let a lot of my e-mail slide last week. As usual, I've read every single one, and I'm ecstatic to say that most of your feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Many of you have expressed how much you've enjoyed the depth of characterization in both Trudy and Akhilesh. Thanks, everyone. This was a very difficult story to write for many reasons, and I'm happy to see that it's been so well received. I do plan to respond to most, if not all, of those messages when I get the chance. A number of you have asked some very interesting and thought-provoking questions, and you definitely deserve an answer. I'll try and get those to you within a week or so, so please be patient. Hopefully this week will be less hectic for me and I'll have more time to devote exclusively to mail.

The forums as well have been flooded with fascinating discussions. If you're not a regular forum Faultie, I certainly invite you to come in and at least lurk on some of the discussions there. (I've seen a number of new nicknames pop up these past few weeks, so I know some of you have been itching to join in.) I'm always mesmerized to see such delicate and controversial topics as various religions, the existence of God, and creationism vs. evolution discussed in such a civilized, rational, and respectful manner. I've said it many times before, Faulties are the greatest fans in all of fandom. You guys never cease to amaze me. ;) Now if only we could get the rest of the Internet to behave in such a courteous manner even when they strongly disagree....

Of course, as I'm sure you might have guessed, there have been some dissenters among the praise. A number of those have also posed questions worthy of an answer, and I'm also planning to get to those as well. I am always open to constructive criticism, and I welcome suggestions on how to improve the strip. However, for the scant few of you who couldn't seem to form a coherent sentence without profanity and can't bother to look beyond your own shortsightedness to read the story for what it is: Your prejudices have been duly noted and you can rest assured your e-mails were promptly deleted without a moment's hesitation. You're welcome to continue reading, of course, but don't expect me to read and respond to you if you can't take the time communicate in a dignified manner.

The Reasoning Behind "Providence:" A lot of you have wondered (inquired, theorized, debated, even assumed with or without evidence) about my reasoning behind writing this story. So far, I've heard just about every permutation possible: Jeff's trying to evangelize the Internet; he's writing a Christian character because that's what (or all) he knows; he's just trying to tell a good story. While I try to leave some things open to interpretation and give you, the reader, thoughts to discuss and dissect, I'm not sure questioning my motivations is one thing I should leave open like that.

Since this story is almost over, I'll go ahead and say it now: My motivations behind writing this story have been the same as they've been for every story I've ever written, GPF or otherwise. I wanted to write an interesting, thought-provoking, well-executed tale with in-depth characterization and an intriguing plot. Some (dare I say most) of you have picked up on that fact and took my advice from the beginning of this yarn not to jump to too many conclusions until it was finished. Others of you did not, and have speculated to great lengths at what I'm trying to say. There's nothing wrong with speculation, of course, and I most often encourage it. But that occasionally has the side effect of causing some people to read more into a tale—especially if analyzed only in part, since we haven't read the ending yet—than was originally intended.

So why the character of Akhilesh? Is his fervent expression in his faith an attempt to proselytize the GPF readership to Christianity? No. Did I choose Christian values for this story based on my personal familiarity to them? Perhaps on some level, yes, but that was not a deciding factor in developing Akhilesh's character. (If you might recall, we found out he was a Christian way back in the last week of "Homecoming".) The prime motivation for choosing Christian values for this story was the antithesis between Trudy's past and current path toward self-destruction, and a potential future of redemption and repentance. I chose to make Akhilesh a Christian because I knew the moral and ethical values that it would represent, and I thought it would make an excellent spar against Trudy's vast sins against humanity. Some of you have theorized that I could have just as easily made Akhilesh Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, or even atheistic with a good background in sociology. I'd like to think that if I had decided to go in one of those directions, that I would have put just as much passion and devotion to his beliefs as we've seen in this story. I think that regardless of whether it is religion, medicine, or a good game of Parcheesi, Akhilesh is passionate about everything he has an opinion on. I doubt that would change if he were of a different faith, or none at all.

Another potential minor motivation behind this story may also be to portray a devout Christian (and perhaps more broadly, a devout follower of any religion) more realistically than the typical derogatory, hypocritical stereotypes used in most common media (and especially these days in online comics). In spite of the sentient slime molds, time traveling cyborgs, and poetry spouting bears that often crop up in GPF, its heart is in its characters, which I try to make as real and as vivid as possible. I could not with a clear conscience make Akhilesh a stereotype and still give him the believability I think he deserves. That said, no matter on what level of conscious or unconscious thought this decision may have been made, it wasn't a primary reason for writing the story.

A few people have questioned why I linked the Bible verses below a few of the strips. As mentioned in the "footnote" for the February 20th strip, the links and notes are purely for the curious among you. I didn't have room to put all the references within the strips themselves (otherwise Akhilesh would have mentioned them "aloud" as he did on the 21st), so I felt I should include them in a footnote. As I mentioned on the 20th, the true test of what a Christian says is to compare it to Scripture, and I wanted to provide the references for anyone willing to research them. If anyone is somehow offended by a simple text link explaining why a given character says a certain thing, feel free to ignore the footnote and read on. Your loss may be another reader's gain.

I hope these clarifications have been helpful. I'm sure they won't satisfy some of you, and I'm sure it will just raise more questions for others. There's probably more I could say, but I don't want to spoil any future surprises or further influence your interpretations of the story. Thanks, as always, for reading, and I hope you guys enjoy the next few stories. (I promise, they're a lot lighter and more humor filled. ;)

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