Many Crayons, One Beautiful Box: The Pleasures of Writing RPF

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I fell back into the Real Person Fic (RPF) fold recently–thanks, Chris Pine–and it’s been great fun writing it again. As a reader and a writer, RPF feels like a very different thing to me than fic based on, well, fiction, and I want to take a crack at naming the particular pleasures it brings.

Plus, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from seeing Wonder Woman, it’s that one should declare one’s love loudly, unabashedly, and well before one jumps onto a weapons-laden plane headed to certain doom. Ahem.

For context: I read and write RPF for actors, for the people who play certain fictional characters I favor. While I have read and enjoyed RPF about athletes, that’s not my primary jam, so the joys I’ve tried to articulate below are specifically centered on the play between the fictional and “real.” (Damn it, will I ever shake grad school-speak out of my writing? Perhaps not.)

At its core, RPF gives me an ever-evolving spectrum of crayons to play with inside the same beautiful box.

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Eating the Dog: Reflecting on Wheately’s High-Rise

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This week, I saw the film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, at last. I adore this novel, and I’d been tweeting incessantly [obsessively] about the movie for months. The teaser trailer was brilliant, its cast stellar, and its source material seriously, seriously fucked up.

It surprised me, then, how conflicted I felt about the movie itself.

Let’s be clear: I love this book–so much so that I made an argument about it a major plot point in a 00Q fic (in which it’s Bond’s favorite novel). For that reason, I’m keenly aware that some of my quibbles (which I won’t detail here) spring from the well of “That’s not how I pictured that.” Those sorts of qualms are relatively easy for me to set aside.

What bothered me more, in the end, was that Ben Wheately’s film effectively negated the thing about the novel that I love the most: its ambiguity, its refusal to bow to causality, its embrasure of chaos within what looks like a tidy narrative structure.

Spoilers for the book and the movie below.

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10 Things I Learned at #pcaaca16

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1] Twitter is the actual best (and kind of like academic crack): at cons, it’s the best way to distribute info about upcoming panels, to share what’s being said in panels, and to communicate with/meet other scholars in your field.

2] That said, tweeting at Misha Collins may have…unintended consequences.

3] Fan studies scholarship is a tres small world: in FS, it’s not unusual to have undergrads, people new to the field, and some of the biggest names in our field all in the same room–hell, on the same panel! And that’s one of our greatest strengths.

4] I am never drinking rum at a conference again.

5] Ever.

6] Hanging out with fandom + scholarly friends for three days spoils you for real life.

7] Supernatural is everywhere. It’s the textual kudzu of fan studies. I’ll never be free.

8] The most productive work at aca cons happens outside of panels: in the bar, at breakfast, while walking down to the waterfront. I’ve heard this idea many, many times before, but this is the first con where it’s been true for me. It was great, if unexpected.

9] Twitter is the actual best (and my saving grace): a space to keep those conversations going–to talk about the next con, to wax at length about Hannibal, to keep each other’s spirits up when academia is at its greatest drag.

10] Never underestimate the power of a fucking unicorn.

“Thanks for making English fun.”

My last post was, to be fair, a barbaric yawp of despair. But now, classes have ended, final exams have been given, and my students have completed the unofficial course evals I use to supplement the uni’s “official” (read: Likert scale) ones.

And so, in the spirit of the support and kind words my last post generated (thank you, readers! they were much appreciated), this post is an act of self-kindness: a reminder that whatever my state of existential, academic-related despair, I am a damn good teacher.

(Perhaps at some point I’ll publicly parse the constructive criticism that my students provided. But, for now, I’m sticking to the sunny side of the street.)

The comments below tell me that many of my students get something out of being in my classroom and some even enjoy being there. Indeed, I’ve been teaching for six years now, and never before has the word “fun” appeared so many times in a set of evals. Given how little fun I was having this semester writ large, I am pretty damn pleased to see that.

FWIW, these are responses submitted by students in both of my classes in response to this, the last question on the unofficial eval:

10. What else would you like to tell me about your experience in this course?

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A Presumption of Interaction: Readers, Writers, and Fanfic

There’s been a conversation circulating on tumblr of late about “the culture of fanfiction”: namely, about how in the Good Old Days on LiveJournal and Fanfiction.net, people left comments on fanfic, but now, on Archive of Our Own (AO3), they rarely do. Commenters also associate this shift with a change in readers’ attitudes towards fic writers. This shift, folks argue, has been from one of gratitude towards one of demand in which readers expect stories to be crafted to meet their preferences in pairing, plot, sexual situations, etc., and get pissed off when stories don’t do what they want them to.

Something about these discussions has nagged at me all week.

Admittedly, I’m relatively new to the fanfiction game; I know next to nothing about LJ and even less about Ff.net. I’ve cut my teeth as a fic reader and writer on AO3, the Grindr of fanfic, where the next story is just one swipe away. Perhaps that will make you take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. To wit:

Writers, your readers don’t owe you anything.

They don’t owe you a kudos, or a reblog, or a comment, or any sort of public recognition at all. No matter how long you worked on it, how much research you did, how much of yourself you invested into its lines: readers don’t owe you a thing.

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This Man Ain’t Nobody’s Teacup: Will Graham as the Author in/of Hannibal’s Finale

I’m supposed to be writing like 497 things right now, so of course, my brain chose to get hung up on some Hannibal finale meta instead: meta that centers on that lovely, cunning boy, Will Graham. 

Hannibal‘s finale aired over a week ago and yet I, like 99% of the show’s fandom, am still not over this moment:

hand on the glass

Will: You turned yourself in so I’d always know where you were. But you’d only do that if I rejected you. [beat] Goodbye.

Yes, part of the appeal is that Will’s hand on the glass and the revelation that accompanies it makes mutual Hannigram canon (hurray!). But for my money, this moment matters to the series’ narrative writ large because it reboots our perception of Will: it reminds us (and Lecter) that Will Graham is nobody’s teacup–he’s become a damn sledgehammer.

Let me explain.
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Collaborating With A Fine (Not So Young) Cannibal

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I made this pact with myself that I wasn’t going to write about NBC’s Hannibal. Not in an academic way, at least. For all of its gore, its elegant violence that can make cruelty taste like art, I didn’t want to engage with it on a critical level because I love it too damn much.

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Entangled in Public

When I worked for a presidential campaign, way back before social media even existed, we were keenly aware that, as staffers, we represented the candidate at all times. Period. Thus, we were advised to consider what our field director, Tom, called “The New York Times Test”:

Before you do or say anything, consider: would you want those words and/or actions splashed across the front page of The New York Times?

I’ve been thinking about Tom’s advice lately in light of a recent uptick in talk about grad students and social media. How we should use it. What we should say. What we shouldn’t mention. Its benefits and its dangers, huzzah. (See Karra’s recent take on it here, for example).

But perhaps it’s less an uptick and more a renewed sensitivity, because it’s been an issue very much on my mind of late.

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Finding Family at #SPNDePaul

KT Torrey on Twitter Panelist notes that he has realized he is a different type of fan than many here at SPNDePaul. Aud. member And that s ok

This weekend, I found my branch of the SPN Family.

I am not gonna lie, folks: I have been uber resistant to the whole “Supernatural fandom as family” idea. Not because I don’t dig a lot of the people I’ve met through SPN, but because I’ve seen that rhetoric used once too often as a means of division, rather than inclusion.

Supernatural fandom eats its own sometimes, is what I’m saying. Loudly. And in public.

But on Saturday, man, I don’t know: I guess I finally got it, what being part of that family—or one branch of it, anyway—can feel like. And how great it can be to be in a room full of smart people who love/hate/gnash their teeth over SPN as I do, as you can only do over something you adore even when it disappoints you, and have a chance to talk about it in depth.

Now admittedly, Charlie’s death hung over the day, a shroud of discontent that shadowed every panel I attended. The circumstances of her removal from the series were also a central topic of conversation in Robbie Thompson’s keynote Q&A.

[Dude was totally charming, by the way, and a better lecturer in terms of both the psychology and logistics of writing than some of the composition profs I’ve had. Shhhhhh.]

Both my friend Shannon and I were struck by how many people in attendance are still writing + thinking about the show, but aren’t watching it anymore. Indeed, based on what we heard, it seems that Charlie’s death is poised to push some folks away from the show for good. Which may not be a bad thing.

As Louisa Stein put it: “We have the right not to watch.”

Damn straight.

But! Central to the event’s success was that the format of its panels flipped the script on those at traditional academic conferences.

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I call bullshit.

Last month at PCA/ACA, I had the pleasure of hanging out with some very excellent people who are just as damn well fond of slash as I am. And to prove it, these lovely people were willing to read porn in public—at an academic conference, no less! Bless you, my friends.

Our reading was designed as both a celebration of slash and as a very public fuck you to anybody in academia or otherwise who tries to get us to justify why we love and choose to study fanfiction.

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Presented under the gleefully George Michael-derivative title of “What’s Your Definition of Dirty, Baby? Taking Pleasure (Together) In Fanfic,” the event itself was so much goddamn fun. In teams of two, we performed excerpts from six fics, each representing a different slash pairing, in an old-school forensics-style more akin to mini-plays than formal literary readings.

(Though I gotta admit: the performance itself was scarier than I’d expected. It was harder reading Dean Winchester’s dirty talk with a straight face [or, uh, something] that I thought it would be.)

More to the point: the thing generated enough happy, pervy energy that we’re going to try and stage a repeat performance at the next PCA/ACA con next year in Seattle.

But this, what follows, is the exigence for this event, the spark that set off the slash: a NSFW rant I composed one afternoon in a fit of fic-fueled fury that came to serve as the opening remarks for our little get together. So consider this some rhetorical ammo for the next time someone looks askance at what you love and what you do: a big ol’ hey, fuck you, too.

Continue reading “I call bullshit.”