veronica_rich: (mousie owned!)
I went to my first fan convention when I was a junior in college. Around the same time, I also traveled to another state to see a live stage production of "Every Good Boy Deserves Favor" starring much of the Star Trek TNG cast - not because I had a great appreciation of Tom Stoppard, but because of the Trek angle. Because it was 1993, I told people it was for Stoppard's words, though, rather than for hearing Stoppard's words come out of Riker's and Data's mouths. As for the conventions, I did those on my own time and only friends and my mother knew that I went, or why I went. After all, a mother has to love her weird little children no matter what.

We exist in an age of increasing personal transparency - at least for young people. As part of Generation X, I constantly feel stuck between those who go "bah, these kids play too much online, tell too much about themselves to anyone who'll read or watch" and "I'm going to photograph breakfast and link to my One Direction RPS through Facebook." Which ... the hell of it is, nobody who's alive now at least in this country ISN'T responsible for modern technology. If you're 15, you're the beneficiary of people in their 30s and 60s and even 90s who invented things so you could be at this point in time with your phone. They're responsible for the technology existing, and you're responsible for repurposing it; that's how it works. In 20 years, you'll be inventing things and your kids will be figuring out new ways to use it.

Fandom is like this, too. Today's RPF novelists owe a debt to the slash grandmothers of the Trek era, who in turn are indebted to original fans of Holmes & Watson, and fans of many other canons. Shakespeare wrote fanfic of history, and he was hardly the first (or best) to do so.

In my lifetime, I've watched the concept of fandom go from being a word only spoken among fans at conventions and then, in some online mailing lists and forum groups, to a word a lot of people in the general public know (at least in my country and my experience). Of course, the definition has also widened beyond sci-fi and fantasy and comics, to encompass literally anything anyone considers themselves an aficionado of - a TV show, a series of movies, a sports team, a culture (which may border on appropriation), the dictionary, even cat videos. Fanfiction is a wider-known concept than it used to be; whether it's widely accepted or endorsed ... ah, there's the rub.

I would argue some fanfic isn't that hard to sell to the general public. General adventure stories, for example, are professionally licensed and packaged all the time for sale - most people don't even think of that as fanfict, though it clearly meets the definition of being a derivative work based on someone else's canon. Even heterosexual romance and porn fanfic has made it into the mainstream, though one can argue it's not highly respected across many quarters (highly sold, perhaps ... but ask any actor, respectability and profitability can be mutually exclusive).

And then there's slash - specifically, slash featuring two men.

I'm not going to go into all the cultural baggage surrounding the women and girls and transmen who read and write slash, mainly because I've already touched on it in this series before, and also because essay writers better than me say it well enough for me. Let's just say it is its own subgenre and it seems to be less understood and more mocked than other kinds of fanfic - and that's just within fandom itself. Yes, even after all these decades, there's something about m/m slash that induces bizarre reactions even in dedicated adult fan gatherings. Maybe it's the fact adults still don't deal well with expressions of female desire (after all, men watching lesbian porn and imagining threesomes with them IS culturally acceptable in a variety of TV show and movie storylines - but then again, male masturbation is also acceptable fodder for mainstream jokes and serious consideration in a way flicking the bean still fails to be). Maybe what that one professor told me way back in college about homosexual men and how they're perceived to be a unique threat in a patriarchal culture is actually true and still holds true - i.e., nobody who is penetrated in sex can be considered powerful or stalwart enough to hold power - why else, in an "anything goes" society, would Kanye West be working himself into knots to disclaim liking a thumb up his asshole during sex, when he performs in a genre of music that regularly has singers bragging about blasting a woman's backdoor?

Or maybe it's that someone has to be the outcast in any demographic, and why not slash fans? Women are used to being disrespected as a whole, and we begin learning as young girls that what we uniquely like is crap or at least worth less than sports, cars, and classic rock. I mean, "Twilight" does leave a lot to be desired, but let's not pretend the WWE's ongoing soap opera is better in any way, m'kay?

I've been a journalist nearly as long as I've been involved in fandoms, or even Fandom with a capital F, and in that time I've wasted a number of hours trying to figure out how to write about the things within fandom in a way both a mainstream audience would understand sufficiently as to why we do it, and that respects the fandom participants themselves. I still haven't figured out how to do that. And I don't know if that says more about me as a reporter, or if it shows the less marketable aspects of Fandom are a particular perfume - better when sparsely sniffed directly from the bottle than after it's sprayed and begins dissipating and thinning into the atmosphere.
veronica_rich: (Default)
Look at the date. October 20, 2015. I suppose I should wait until tomorrow to post this, but I'd rather be ahead of myself than behind. And ... I kind of want this post to remain forever behind the "future" as it were.

Everyone in fandom has a gateway story. To be fair to my mother, it's possible mine should be when she had me watching Star Trek TOS and the movies with the original crew in the early 1980s; or when she had me watching Twilight Zone at around the same time. (I never will forget the time she went grocery shopping and I stayed home to watch TZ; it was the hitchhiker in the backseat episode, and it was dark when she pulled up into the carport. I didn't hear her car and somehow, she knew it. Instead of rapping at the door or unlocking it and telling me to get out there and help her carry in bags of food, she quietly pressed her face to the screen window behind me, lowered her voice spookily, and intoned: "GETYOURASSOUTHEREANDHELPMECARRYSTUFFIN." I never recovered enough to watch that episode again without looking behind my shoulder - literally. R.I.P., you mad bitch.)

But I think a gateway fandom is one you come to yourself or find on your own, and mine was Back to the Future. I wasn't able to go see it in theaters in 1985 - hell, I didn't even care about it - but one night in 1986 Mom came home with the VHS that the local video store had just gotten in. She was going to watch it, but was either too tired or didn't have time that evening. "You'd better watch that," she told me, pointing at the case, meaning it had cost her $4.99 plus tax to rent it and it had to be back by noon the next day, so somebody had better get something out of it. So, after she went off to the bedroom at the other end of our small house, I put it in the VCR and hit play.

I don't think I can fully describe what it's like to become immersed in your first obsessive fandom, properly. It might be like really getting into a sports team for the first time, except I've never liked any sports team nearly like I've enjoyed my fandoms - so I'm just going by perceived lateral psychology, here. Do you remember the first time you watched the thing that it is you really, really like and fan over right now? It is a transportive experience. It's the difference between "that was a pretty good movie" and "it just ended, but I need to go get something to drink and come back and WATCH. IT. AGAIN." In fact, I got up early the next morning before school and did watch BTTF again.

The fact I no longer have the friends almost 30 years later in life that I had at that point is probably not because I spent the next week excitedly breaking down the movie for them at every opportunity - over lunch, between classes, waiting for the bus to come in the afternoon, on the phone. Probably. I had no concept of the word "fandom" or the fact I was one, in 1986. My little fandom gained one eventually, when I met another kid who loved the movie as much as I did - we would discuss it, talk about time travel and alternate universes, speculate on a sequel (which was no sure thing at that time, until it was announced in 1988, I believe), and argue about consequences of futzing with the spacetime continuum. We scouted for merchandise in teen and sci-fi magazines - I remember mailing a check to this company in Colorado in 1987 for a DeLorean keychain and pencils. I still use the keychain, and the pencil is almost ground down to nothing from use at work (though it will likely outlive October 21, 2015, by a few weeks) - as well as at any store we could, such as Spencer's, Sam Goody, Waldenbooks, and video stores. (Mom and I trolled one video store for weeks until the manager finally gave in and gave me a motorized VHS box popup from his counter, of Marty McFly. Another store owner sold me his VHS copy after he'd rented it for nearly a year, for $15 - he'd paid $100 for it originally.)

A pattern I've noticed among people who talk about finding a thing they really like for the rest of their lives, or a time in their life when they were influenced by a piece of media or a decision or an event that shaped them significantly, is that they were around 11, 12, 13 years old when it happens. I was 13 and had not found my "thing" quite yet, other than I sort of liked to make up stories. In BTTF I found a genre (sci-fi/fantasy, with a specification on time travel); a favorite actor (actually, I'm still pretty fond of all the actors in this movie, even recognizing players like Buck Flowers in other minor roles); a role model (following Michael J. Fox to his role as Alex Keaton, the overachieving business major on TV, inspired me to raise my grades, earn scholarships, finish university with a high GPA, and plow through the first dozen years of my career with stupid energy - believe it or not); and a desire to write stories that entertained much like Zemeckis and Gale had done for me.

And I think in BTTF, the general public found a relateable portal into sci-fi as well - movies like this and the Star Trek sequels, and TNG on TV a couple of years later helped revive and "normalize" the genre across a wider audience well before the internet came along and finished the job. As I look at Tumblr and other fannish platforms these days and I see the number of other, and much younger, people who are sort of bringing BTTF back as a fandom or have kept it going, rather than think "get off my damn lawn!" I think of how satisfied those who made it must feel that they're remembered and revered (and debated/critiqued ... if you're a fan of Even poor Thomas F. Wilson, who's had to put up with questions about Biff and the cast so often that he's printed cards to hand out answering all common questions, must realize he was part of something really cool and feel some pride in it.

So come at us, October 21, 2015. After tomorrow, none of it will be in the future any longer ... but still part of an inspiring, dynamic sci-fi history.
veronica_rich: (Default)
When I was either a junior or senior in college in the early 90s, I wrote a couple of short stories that were published. Both were competent, but neither was exceptionally good; if I were to go back and read either at this point, I'd probably wince at simplistic dialogue, concepts, characterization, or any number of stylistic boo-boos. One was original characters in my own setting and plotline, printed in a literary magazine; the other was fanfic printed in a fanzine - more specifically, my one venture into real-person fanfic, or RPF. It was PG-rated for a few swear words, about one of the Trek characters somehow ending up in the real world and meeting his actor, and then HIS descendant from 200 years in the future coming back to meet him too. It had comedy, it had pathos, it had questionable characterizations.

I showed both of these to one of my favorite lit professors at the time - I was happy to be published in anything, and just wanted him to know I was writing and that I was trying, outside of class. When you're 20 and don't know much about the world or office or academic politics, you'll try a lot that you wouldn't at twice that age. My professor was polite enough, but while I don't remember his specific reaction to the fanfic story, let's just say even I realized it wasn't favorable - there was a clear indication of pity that I'd squandered my time and wouldn't develop any sort of talent from doing THAT kind of writing.

It was the first time I was ashamed of writing fanfic, but I don't know that he was actively trying to shame me so much as we were both in the mindset of that time. This was pre-internet; "fandom" didn't mean what it does now. Now, any Molly, Cathy, or Joan who sees a Marvel movie and likes one or more characters might join a forum online or eventually find themselves in the middle of a discussion about anything from Iron-Man's suit powers to his sleeping position next to Cap or Pepper (or between them). They may not be the "type" of nerd who would have been in fandom 20, 40 years ago but they're IN it now because it's easily accessible and better known among the public than the phenomenon used to be. Back in the early 90s, a professor might like Star Trek (we had plenty in the Lang & Lit Department at my university) but they would have chewed off their own foot rather than write fanfic ... or at least admit that they wrote it. My judging professor was likely just puzzled why I'd waste my time with someone else's characters - and TV, at that! - when I could easily spend that time writing original fiction.

So, I don't hold his response against him. On the other hand, several years ago I found myself in a situation in which I definitely judged those judging my fanfic-writing, and HARD. I met someone helping organize a small local sci-fi/fantasy convention through mutual friends, and when she found out I wrote NC-17 fanfic from them, she asked if I would help with a panel she was putting together on writing erotica because she was short on volunteers. When I showed up, there were four of us on the panel, one man and three women ... and I was the only one who currently wrote fanfic, or at least the only one who would admit to it. I say "currently" because at least one of the women copped to having started out writing with fanfic.

This was probably about 2008 or 2009. The internet was a thing, fanfic was most assuredly a thing known about at a con; I figured if I could talk about fanfic anywhere, it would be on a panel about erotica in original and fan writing. Instead, waves of judgment fairly radiated from the two female authors, who discussed THEIR characters and THEIR series but made expressions I can't quite describe here without sounding flat-bitchy whenever I would talk about why I wrote and read in erotic fanfic. There was very much a sense of them having moved on from that childish practice to the more mature endeavor of paid erotica featuring original characters and settings. The audience, which was mixed-gender, seemed less judging and more curious about what I did, at least.

I found an ally briefly in, of all people, the male author on the panel. He too talked about his characters and settings and ideas, and at least acted politely interested when I talked about fanfic. At one point late in the discussion he said that a lot of readers of his and the two women's books had likely begun by reading erotic fanfic, including slash, and citing the value of fanfic for their business in that sense. His two colleagues after that point didn't aim any more amusement my way - and I was grateful, but puzzled. What, now I had to worry about superior attitudes IN fandom, as well?

When I used to read about fannish "gatekeepers" - those who seek to exclude based on a false notion of what fandom should be (and what it shouldn't be, more accurately) - the term puzzled me. I've gone to cons several times in my 20-plus years in fandom and while I didn't talk about fanfic a lot, I never really felt out of place for reading or writing it when I did, not even among male fans. But online, especially in the last few years, I have seen examples of mostly male gatekeeping aimed mostly at girls and women, that basically boil down to "aww, why you girls gotta do that?" when it comes to sexy cosplay, writing fanfic, or discussing male-male relationships in media (this isn't the sum total of gatekeeping practices, just so you're aware that I'M aware - just the ones that affect me at all). Maybe they too are aware that fandom is on wider display to the world at large these days, and don't want to have to answer uncomfortable questions if they tell someone they're a Marvel or Trek fan; who knows?

The fact is, I've been reading and writing fanfic for more than two decades, and I've put a lot more thought into the value of it than any gatekeeper ever has. Some days it seems like a waste of time, if your end goal is to be a professional, paid writer someday. But the older I've gotten, the more I've realized that doing something creative for its own sake is its own value. There are car mechanics who listen to opera or paint pictures; there are trash haulers who play in bands or take photos; there are college professors and doctors who write fanfic or beta for someone else; there are lawyers who deal in antiques for the hell of it and and whose favorite movie is "Joe Dirt." YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SPEND YOUR FREE TIME DOING SOMETHING AS PRACTICE FOR WHAT YOU WANT TO BE PAID TO DO EVENTUALLY, FOR THAT SOMETHING TO HAVE VALUE TO YOUR COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT AND HAPPINESS. Your main job is to live and not to deliberately harm anyone else for no good reason; that's it.

Each fan has to have their own come-to-Jesus moment, though - someone else can't do it for you or tell you how to go about it. And even if you do make peace with your own fannish involvement as it collides with what some other fan prefers to do with their free time, you're probably still going to encounter problems from fellow fans who do essentially the same thing you do, in the same fandom, in roughly the same spaces.

Welcome to drama.
veronica_rich: (Default)
One of the first romance novels I found in Grandma's bookshelves when I was about 11 or 12 was titled "Captain's Woman." It featured all the best tropes: girl forced to live as a boy to please a cold grandmother for an inheritance flees home at 17 and stows away aboard a pirate ship as the cabin boy, is found out by the captain to be female, they fight for a while and then embark on a torrid affair, he casts her aside for her own good, she becomes a real pirate, they meet again, blah blah. She was a fiery emerald-eyed redhead, he was a devilishly handsome rogue. Because why not.

This wouldn't be the last pirate romance I'd read, or the last pirate history book. I was sort of put off the pirate romance genre a few years later, though, when I came across a novel in which the pirate captain blatantly forces himself on the heroine ... and she later falls in love with and "tames" him. I found the whole thing so repugnant that I didn't even finish the book and decided the bad taste in my brain was a sign to move on to better romance writers like Jennifer Crusie.

It was over a decade later when the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie hit theaters. My interest in the A-Team fandom was waning - as inevitably happens with all my fandoms; it's not their fault - and I was ready for something new. Before getting into watching reruns of the A-Team in 2000, when I watched something with two same-sex characters who seemed to give off a vibe that was not quite friendly, not quite platonic, I'd chalked it up to my imagination and ignored it, probably because I was raised in a very heteronormative atmosphere and hadn't really learned to look beyond that (though Xena and Gabrielle sure did test it in the 90s). But by the time I watched Jack Sparrow and Will Turner sparring and arguing and cursing, I was willing to engage in some fanciful imagining for the sake of fandom fun.

Starting to write m/m romance and sex was strange for a couple of reasons. First off were the pronouns - "she" and "he" are relatively easy, but "he" and "he" are trickier, and it's repetitive to constantly be using the names. As verboten as the practice of using "the tall one" and "the older one" and other descriptors is in writing, I can understand why slash writers use the convention - they're looking for another way to say "Jack and Mack boned" without having to use the names all the time.

Second is trying to adjust your thinking about romance and gender. If most of the male-female romantic interactions you've read have adhered to a mostly traditional Western gender-dictated roles paradigm, there's a tendency to want to slot your two characters into that template, no matter how "off" or unsuitable it might be for those characters. Writing two men getting ready to fuck forced me, over time, to question why males are often written a certain way and why females are written another way, and to experiment with it in different stories - both slash and het stories I wrote as I went on. It forced me, at least, to think more about the characters themselves and how they might react in the situations I was writing, and to each other.

But, lest I fall into the trap of overstating the importance or role of slash in modern fandom, let's be clear: I saw two characters interacting well onscreen and I wanted to get them together for sexytimes. We're not talking about Proust or Tolstoy here. There are plenty of excellent fanfic writers who deal exclusively or mainly in het or gen stories, who have found a way to question notions of what's traditional or trope, and rise above it (which I am not suggesting I do at all). I've known a few fanfic writers personally who went from fandom to regular paid publishing, and there are a number of well-known authors who have proudly admitted to writing fanfic either in the past or even currently. One whose name doesn't seem to come up much now is Peter David, whose TNG, Star Trek: New Frontier, and other books I read voraciously through the 90s and into the current millennium - he's a fanboy-made-good on the publishing front.

So, I guess this raises another dilemma for a lot of fanfic writers who have also harbored dreams of being A Real Author someday and haven't achieved it (including yours truly): What is the value of writing all that fanfic, anyhow?
veronica_rich: (Default)
While I'm not one of those who believes Everything Means Something on a television show or in movies - sometimes, a cigar may just be a cigar - the fact is, seeing things you know little to nothing about onscreen does educate you for good or ill. Responsible filmmakers and showrunners and producers make a world of difference in some people's lives.

As a child growing up in a predominantly white Midwest town (oh hell, let's just say what it was: there were like three non-white people in the entire county, so far as I knew), I didn't have much opportunity to interact with people of color or know anything about their problems. Dad is and always has been racist about black people, and while Mom tried to counter some of that, the fact was she probably harbored some racism herself - unexamined, because if you don't have opportunity or reason to examine faults in yourself, why would you want to? Seeing Norman Lear's TV shows, like "All in the Family" and "Good Times" and "The Jeffersons" while I was small was critical, in my considered later-in-life opinion, to helping me resist most of Dad's diatribes and mindset about the issue of black-and-white. The humor helped, too, because even Dad liked most of these shows and I like to think some of the lessons sunk in at least partway, lessening his hard-shelled prejudice.

I don't think there was a mainstream show that did the same for gay people until Ellen DeGeneres tried in the mid-90s. That show failed once she and her character came out to a wide audience, and it was around the same time or much later that "Will & Grace" emerged, featuring two gay and one bisexual character in the main cast of four. (Back in the 70s, I will give credit that "Soap" starred Billy Crystal in one of his first roles as a gay man that most viewers learned to see as human and like themselves in some way, despite the show being a satire of a genre - or maybe because every character in the show was "odd" in some way.)

And that was the thing - I watched the concept of gay struggling to become more accepted through the 80s and even up to now, but for much of my life it was seen as "not normal" or odd. That's how I grew up; that's how I saw it on the TV shows I watched. "The Golden Girls" had three episodes I can recall with gay or lesbian characters and, for the time, treated the subject pretty well - but there's at least one other episode I can recall in which a male wedding planner had a few jokes written around his coded-obviously-gay lines of dialogue and behavior. I also remember jabs at gay people being common in stand-up comedy for the time, even into the 90s, in ways I don't think would be accepted now.

My point is, I was never anti-gay rights - but neither was I in a position to be for them. I knew a handful of gay people in college, but it didn't impact MY daily life. So when I encountered the concept of slash - fanfic and fan art about same-sex relationships - in fandom, I wasn't bothered but I did have to shift my thinking on relationships. Seeing tons of TV shows and movies and reading books featuring straight relationships, and just seeing those couples around me every day of my life, had normalized the concept of female/male in my mind ... but I hadn't thought much about what two men or women might do together.

And yes, thinking of sex came first. I mean, when your first piece of slash exposure is fan art featuring one guy kissing another, the mind follows along. I also learned from Joan about Kirk/Spock fanfic and how it dated back to the very early days of Trek fandom - as well as the fact those two actors were apparently aware of it. I never did get into any particular type of Trek slash pairings, but by the time I started watching A-Team reruns in 2000 I was neither surprised by nor averse to reading it there. In fact, Face/Murdock is among some of the best slash fanfic I remember reading, both for the written porn and for the depiction of just their daily relationship and how they would have to cope with each other, the others on the team, people they were trying to help or fight, and their situation as fugitives. It was the first time, perhaps, that I realized two same-sex characters romantically involved didn't have to fit "male" and "female" roles.

Much as I learned to enjoy reading slash, I didn't feel up to the challenge of posting anything I wrote about it. That wouldn't happen for a few more years, and in another fandom altogether.
veronica_rich: (Default)
At a Star Trek convention when I was about 22, I found the art of Joan, a fan artist who drew absolutely wonderful depictions of TOS and TNG characters. Some of them were gen art, focusing on one character or two interacting in a platonic manner. But several were romantic or even erotic in nature, and not having seen that particular kind of fan art before, it took me a little while to get over being embarrassed (it's not that I hadn't seen that kind of art - that didn't seem odd - it was just getting over the actors' images as the characters' faces. You see, when I wrote or read fanfic, I have a mental picture of the characters that I develop that looks like the performers but not exactly. This isn't something I've cultivated to learn on purpose, it's just how my particular writer's mind works).

Joan was older, perhaps in her thirties, and was just one of a bunch of middle-aged and nearly middle-aged women in fandom that I've met in my life, who set what I thought was a good example of finding a way to combine work and even family life (for those who wanted that) with fannish activities. So often we hear about the hobbies men keep as they get older - sports, movies, books, golf, other games - but women's free time is often expected to be filled with caring for children or grandchildren or other family members, or the house. These women proved as I aged, I wouldn't have to necessarily give up something that helped keep me sane in the middle of what was sometimes a stressful career.

I eventually met Joan when I wrote with her and found out where she lived; I arranged to go to her house and look at the rest of her fan art, and bought a couple of pieces to hang in my apartment. The next time I went, it was with Rose, and we both took home a couple of purchases after sitting and talking with Joan for an hour or so. The third time I went, Rose and I took along another fandom friend we'd made, Lynn.

And so on, and so forth ... at least until Joan stopped participating in fandom, or moved, or we just lost touch. Because while you can pick up longtime friends in fandom, you also have situations in which you just lose touch with someone, or they decide they no longer want to be part of it and fall off the face of the Earth.

On either that first or second visit, while at Joan's, during a conversation I spotted a piece of fan art on the opposite wall; I thought I knew which Trek couple it was, so got up to move closer and get a better look. I was a few feet away when I recognized them for sure, and stared at it to be sure I was seeing it right. "Is that - Riker and DATA?" I asked Joan.

If fanfic, and then 'shipping fanfic and art, had presented a learning curve for me, slash was not only a new learning curve but came with a set of extra difficulties in overcoming the stereotypes I'd picked up about gay people by knowing almost none.
veronica_rich: (Default)
When I was 12, I came across Grandma's Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon novels while searching for something else to read. She taught me to read at a very young age, and between the small local public library, her bookshelves, and school, I advanced in my material quickly - from Ramona and Beezus and Judy Blume at 6 and 7, through Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry as I neared my teens but almost-not-quite-yet into Stephen King. Finding the romance novels was quite enlightening; my family was not good at "the talk," and while I was lucky enough that our small school did offer a short sex education course, that did nothing to cover the fun part of it.

I soon learned there was a difference between romance novels and romance with adventure; Collins and Sheldon had their own cheese factor, but those thick tomes were more action-oriented than the slim Harlequins on Grandma's shelves. Plus, the sex was a little more adventurous and ... educational, let's say, for a pre-adolescent's reading. Between those and finding Dad's "hidden" stash of Hustlers and Playboys, I taught myself what movies and TV shows hinted at but our society was too prudish to really explain to kids that age struggling to learn everything they'll need to navigate the world wisely in just a few short years.

For a time in college I dated a guy, but it eventually ended and I wasn't as upset about it as I felt like I should probably have been. I had no problem accepting I was happier as a single adult than married or even dating, but it was the early 90s, and it would be many years before I heard the terms "asexual" and "aromantic" and understood it was normal for some adults to not be that invested in their own love lives.

Fictional characters, however, were another story. I liked stories that featured a woman and a man getting together and having a happy ending after a series of adventures, be they serious or screwball (depending on the writer). I've mentioned before that I tried emulating these stories, starting when I was about 13 or 14 - but they were either laughable or pathetic efforts, depending how you view them and when. At the time, of course, I thought they were quite worldly and highly representative of the kind of relationship I might want someday. Also, sexy fun times.

When I started writing fanfic years later in college, I began with humor, and eased my way into the romantic stuff as I felt more comfortable reading other people's stories in 'zines and photocopies, and college intramail. Those early stories were only for my reading, and that of a few fandom friends I knew had interest in TNG; it was nothing I would have turned in for a class or creative writing project.

My first Star Trek convention was in St. Louis, where I had the chance to meet actors including the one behind my favorite character: Brent Spiner. I remember him being patient and charming, and quite sincerely trying to answer as many questions as the crowd put to him, and I really thought seeing him would be the highlight of my time at the convention. Instead, it was running into other fans who liked not only Data as much as I did, but Data/Tasha. I met a fan artist and fic writer, and some of her admirers/friends; I remember us sitting around in a circle on the carpeted floor outside the ballroom off to the side in the hotel lobby, showing one another 'zines and talking about our favorite episodes, possible plot points for fanfic, and Data/Tasha moments. It was great fun - but more important, these were people I never would have met in the small, rural town where I grew up, and viewpoints I hadn't heard before.

I didn't realize until a couple of years later what was really remarkable about that long conversation was the fact slash pairings never came up once ... because I only found out same-sex fanfic and art actually existed when I saw a piece of fan art that threw me for a loop later on.
veronica_rich: (Default)
The first two months of my freshman year in college were comparatively easy. I only had to adjust to living 200 miles away from everyone I'd known for almost 18 years and learn to handle new, somewhat more difficult classes.

Then came the tooth incident - I had to go to the dentist for a cavity, or some other such thing, and my co-pay was $40. Mom and Dad gave me some cash each month and a credit card for emergencies, but I was down on cash and this was 1990, when a lot of medical offices still dealt only in cash or checks - no cards. So, I got a job washing dishes in the campus cafeteria, because I didn't want to be stuck in that position ever again.

The following year, I picked up two part-time jobs on campus in addition to the dish-washing; as a full-time student working more-than-full-time hours each week, I only had about four hours to sleep on weeknights, and limited free time on the weekends. Between writing papers, making sandwiches, doing dishes, and grading tests, the way I relaxed was watching Star Trek and writing fiction - or trying to. I was good at scenes and dialogue, but finishing a longer story always proved to be rough.

Luckily, I found writing for the sake of making up stories relaxing, which eventually extended into fanfiction. I liked reading it; it made sense that I wanted to try producing it. I started by emulating the stories I liked the best - mostly humor and parody - then started writing stories that I wanted to read and couldn't find. As this was before the internet, I was also limited by access to only relatively few stories about Trek that were in 'zines I or my local fandom friends had written or purchased. (Well, and the show itself. Which I guess was okay, too.)

Rose and I still got together to watch reruns when we could, as well as other shows, and we hung out when we could both spare time to get together in daylight hours. While watching TNG, we discussed story ideas - in later years, we would also do this while driving somewhere on a couple of different vacations, to pass the time. (We also got stuck in Nashville traffic on one of these trips and terrorized fellow motorists by rolling down our windows and caterwauling loudly to "Ol' Yellow Eyes Is Back" by Brent Spiner on my car tape deck - but that's a story for another time.)

I was still writing original stories - or trying to - in addition to the fanfic. So was Rose. It was just part of what we did. She was also part of a group of friends who got together to discuss old episodes of TOS and write stories about Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, et. al. (And yeah - some of those were the sexy kind, just like some of mine were. In between the plot, Data and Tasha got up to all kinds of AWOOGAH in my stories, to quote Homer Simpson.)

Rose graduated two years before I did, but we kept in touch through letters and occasional phone calls when one of us could afford it - landlines were not cheap, but luckily stamps still kind of were. At one point we had a story going through mail, in which each of us would type a couple of pages of a "chapter" and send it to the other, continuing it. It was the original crackfic.

I finally got to go to my first Star Trek convention a couple of years after I started watching the show, and there, I found other fans, writers, fan artists, 'zines ... and opinions about fanfiction.
veronica_rich: (Default)
"Brent is SOOOO hot!!"

Such was the reply that introduced me to Rose my sophomore year in college. One of the women on my dorm floor who watched TNG with me told me about her, upon learning Data was my favorite character. "She likes him, too," said Kay. "Send her an intramail and tell her I mentioned her."

Campus intramail was a fairly new addition to our technology; to use it, I had to book time in the computer lab in the lobby of our five-story dormitory. (My roommate was one of the few students who had her own personal computer, which was roughly the same size and weight of a Vega, and she guarded it jealously if I ever suggested perhaps I could use it for five minutes in exchange for some favor.) Communicating this way was sort of impersonal, so I wasn't sure how to approach someone I'd never met by email ... so I settled for probably the most formal introduction anyone in the history of fandom has ever come up with. (Something like "Hello, I like Data. Do you like Data too? I like Star Trek." Ad nauseam. Like that Wizard-of-Oz-loving kid in line to see Santa in "A Christmas Story.")

Keeping to the kind of character that would make us friends for at least 23 more years, Rose's reply was only four words and immediately to the point. Bonding over the frankly unquestionable attraction of Brent Spiner has undoubtedly brought together more women than garden clubs.

After I met her in person, we started hanging out each late night in the basement lounge of her dorm hall, where we could catch up on reruns of TNG and talk about them in peace. It emerged that not only did we both like Data, we were pretty fond too of the Data/Tasha pairing, seizing on every winking clue and opportunity to shove them together in the show's canon and in our discussions.

One day, Rose handed me a packet of papers. "You can borrow these," she instructed, "but I want them back. So only for a little while; make copies if you want them." Inside were 'zines full of material by other fans mailed to dedicated fangirls who had each taken on the task of becoming a sort of central editor sifting through submissions and printing them in cheap stapled or bound booklets and selling each for a few dollars to offset paper, printing, and mailing costs. There were letters debating plot points and character from what seemed almost all women (or girls, depending on age), science concepts in both TNG and TOS; short parody stories and poems; filk lyrics set to well known songs as well as original pieces ("Banned from Argo," anyone?); and ... other stories.

I started reading one that was about Data and Tasha. It seemed to be an original story, and I was about halfway through when I got to the sex scene. WHOA, I thought. What is THIS. Fanfiction, Rose explained to me - written by fans who wanted a little more out of their canon than the Federal Communications Commission and Paramount were willing to show even on late Saturday night CBS.

At first I was uncomfortable with the idea of it, invariably picturing the actors doing these ... things, with each other. I squinted as I watched first-season TNG reruns that week, trying to picture the characters doing those things and trying to decide if I could live with that. After a few days, I gradually came to terms with it, read a few more stories, and realized I was watching the show just as I had before, albeit while formulating some new ideas in case I wanted to try writing some of that fanfiction myself. After all, I'd spent some formative teenage years trying to write bad original romances (seriously - I found one in storage earlier this year from when I was about 14 that makes 50 Shades of Grey look like Rowling); how different was this, except that it had settings ready-made and seemed to be more fun?

Fanfiction, I thought, was a genius concept. But was it something every fan was doing?
veronica_rich: (Default)
Part of being a fan of something, for me, is finding new things to like or at least ponder in a movie series, or a TV show, or book (or these days, any media, up to and including the presidential race on Twitter). When I find something I like, I want to see or read all of the canon.

Canon, in case you're not familiar, is the official materials written/filmed by the creator of something - so named, apparently, because of its tendency for later episodes or installments to blow the earlier assumptions you thought you were safe with clean out of the water.

When I was small and Mom watched original Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes, I'd sit with her and listen as she described what was going on - the parts I didn't understand. Grandpa and I watched Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk on TV each week, both in companionable silence until the commercials, when I would race around the room singing "YOU'RE A WONDER, WONDER WO-MAAAAAAAAN" and getting Grandma off the phone in the other room to holler at us to pipe down. Saturday nights when I was 8 were spent playing Pac-Man and then watching reruns of The Three Stooges with Dad (and getting Mom to wake up in the other end of the small house to hiss at us to quit laughing so loud).

As a 13-year-old, I found my own first fandom independent of my family, in Back to the Future. It was 1986; I watched the first movie repeatedly, as often as I could afford to rent it from the video store in town ($4.99 for two nights, more if you weren't kind enough to rewind). After almost a year of this, the video store owner took pity and sold me one of his two well-worn VHS tapes.

My friend Eric and I would sit together at lunch discussing it at length. It took forever to find someone in that high school of about 350 kids who had any similar interest to mine in time travel, sci-fi, old mad scientists inexplicably befriending and mentoring teen guitar players, and the plausibility of the flux capacitor as a thing in our lifetimes. (Gas was 79 cents or less a gallon, so the desirability of wanting a Mr. Fusion that powered the car on trash was still a few years off.)

In college, being forced to watch new episodes of Star Trek: TNG on Saturday nights in the dorm lounge led to actual interest in the show. Finding fellow fans wasn't nearly as difficult as in high school - they were all around me in the lounge. Some were casual watchers, alternating weeks with Saturday Night Live on another floor's lounge. Others wanted to talk about the show, the hard sci-fi of it - the way Eric and I had dissected BTTF on lunches and dates. But there was another group I was about to meet, that I'd never heard about or even realized was something that could exist in connection to a piece of media: Fanfic writers and readers.

And man, was THAT weird.

(This is an idea I’ve had for some time, that I’m experimenting with; I’d like to continue with some more installments if my memory and writing ability will cooperate. Feel free to comment or not; it’s reading for its own sake, not just to garner remarks.)


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August 2017



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