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Canadian homemaker puts the 'wit' in Twitter

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LOS ANGELES -- From a snow-crested corner of Alberta, Kelly Oxford made her Hollywood screenwriting dream come true. She did it without leaving her close-knit family or giving up her free nationalized health care. She did it without toiling in L.A. coffee shops or confronting painful rejections.

She did it 140 characters at a time.

Oxford, a suburban housewife and mother of three, is a Twitter superstar, with more than 350,000 fans. Oscar winners, late-night talk show hosts, even film critic Roger Ebert follow her on the social media service, eager to read wry observations about daily life and celebrity culture:

"The worst part about having kids is that they magnify every single thing that's wrong with you. And they wake up early."

"If you have a taxidermy marlin and you've never tried to joust someone with it, you're wasting everyone's time."

"If the majority of your followers are idiots and you like wine, you're probably more like Jesus than you think."

Those are a few of the 2,900 tweets she's sent since she discovered the medium three years ago.

NBC hired Oxford to write a pilot last fall, Harper Collins will release her first book of essays (Everything's Perfect When You're a Liar) next April, and in April she sold her first movie script to Warner Bros.

Her success points to an appetite for humour from a female point of view. But unlike stars such as Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig, who honed their craft in the Saturday Night Live writer's room, Oxford found and shaped her comedic voice in online chat rooms and blogs and on Twitter.

"She's just funny, very consistently and solidly hilarious," said comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who befriended Oxford after following her on Twitter. "It's heartening to know that somebody with nothing other than the quality of their tweets can become very popular and actually make a living as a result of it. It's like Twitter was invented for Kelly Oxford."

Long before the advent of social media, Oxford, 34, yearned to share her stories with the world. The child of two hippies dreamed of having her own public-access TV show.

When she was eight, Oxford created her own newspaper filled with reports she invented about her lower-middle-class neighborhood in Edmonton.

She dropped out of Mount Royal College in Calgary after one semester. She tried a screenwriting seminar but realized that at 19, she had no life experience to draw on.

Oxford waited tables, sold shoes and had a baby at age 23 with her boyfriend James, an environmental engineer. She didn't go back to work after her daughter Salinger was born. Instead, she spent time in chat rooms as she got used to life as a mother.

In 2002, she launched an anonymous blog, posting short stories about her adventures in motherhood or rants about the world at large.

Her confessional style generated lots of comments. Soon, she had struck up email relationships with those readers, and they championed Oxford to their friends. Before long, thousands were reading regularly and had signed up to receive email alerts any time Oxford posted something new.

"I was so happy ... knowing that every time I wrote a blog about my kids or whatever, that there were 7,000 people excited to get an email," Oxford says in a phone interview from her home in Calgary. "That was enough for me."

Twitter made her irreverent humour accessible to the masses.

"Daughter in Gymnastics equals 1% chance she'll be an athlete. 100% chance she'll be the drunk girl doing backflips in a bikini."

"Twitter is like the back page of Tiger Beat, where you found celebrities' addresses and you could write them a letter," Oxford said. "On Twitter, all the celebrities and producers and writers and directors were there. You didn't have to write them, but you could see what they were thinking about. It was suddenly an even playing field."

Not only did she cultivate her own online celebrity, but celebrities began to take notice of her.

First it was screenwriter Diablo Cody, the blogger-turned-screenwriter who won an Academy Award for Juno. Then it was singer-songwriter John Mayer, who brought Oxford to the attention of his own Twitter followers. When Roger Ebert started retweeting her riffs, Oxford's fan base expanded further.

"She speaks honestly from her own experience," Ebert said in an email. "She can be funny and some of her tweets are snarky, but there's a person there, levelling with us."

Cody became a close friend and confidant. A stripper-turned-blogger who came to Hollywood after being discovered by her current manager, Cody believes that starting a career through social networking is a sound strategy.

"As someone who came from the Internet myself, I don't know why anyone wouldn't," she said. "Self-publishing is fantastic. You don't have to deal with anybody. There are no rejection letters. You just find your audience. Plus, you get instantaneous feedback."

Oxford stays up late most nights to write at a cluttered desk in her second-story bedroom in her home in Calgary. A bulletin board near her head is covered in children's art and baby photos of Salinger, now 11, Henry, 8, and Beatrix, 3.

Her fingers race across the keys of her MacBook Air while her husband James -- they married in 2007 because Henry became enchanted with the idea of being a ring bearer -- strums his guitar a floor below.

She's rewriting her screenplay, Son of a Bitch, which Oxford says is about a young pot-smoking party girl with a legion of loyal online followers who must reconcile her new motherhood with her online persona.

Last year's summer box-office hit, Bridesmaids, a raunchy comedy starring Wiig that earned two Oscar nominations, paved the way for unflinching depictions of young women in previously taboo settings.

"Before Bridesmaids, I never would have thought to pitch an R-rated girl-centric movie because I knew the odds of it going were pretty slim. But all of a sudden there is a market for this -- the outspoken women," said Oxford.

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2012 E5

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