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.

Continue reading “A Presumption of Interaction: Readers, Writers, and Fanfic”

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.

Continue reading “Finding Family at #SPNDePaul”

Sources I Love (‘Cause They Haunt Me)

dean laughing at laptop

I have a new post up—but it’s over on the Journal of Fandom Studies (JFS) site!

A quick summary of the thing, “Sources We Love,” from JFS editor, Kathy Larsen:

Welcome to the first in what I hope will become a regular feature here.  What sources resonate with you?  What do you keep returning to?  What did you read for the first time and shout an excited “Yes!!!” or a horrified “No!!!”  (Because, let’s face it, sometimes the texts that affect us most are the ones we agree with the least.)  First up – KT Torrey (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).

Read the whole thing here!

(And dude, let me tell you: writing this sucker was hard.)

The Possible Futures of Fan Studies: Harmonic Convergence of SCMS and PCA/ACA

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the room for two amazing and productive conversations about the future of fan studies. The first was at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) conference in Montreal, and the second was at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) conference in New Orleans. For the most part, these discussions were comprised of entirely different groups of scholars, and yet many of the same themes, questions, and concerns were raised in both.

Given that many members of our field will be gathering again at the Fan Studies Network conference in July, this post is my way of pointing out some of these connections in hopes that the FSN can a) keep up the momentum generated by the discussions SCMS and PCA/ACA and b) begin to move those discussions forward from talk into concrete action.

Some quick context:

At SCMS, the conversation was centered around efforts to have fan studies recognized as a “scholarly interest group” (SIG) within the larger SCMS organization. Such recognition would allow fan studies to sponsor panels at the annual conference, hold an official business/interest meeting, and (implicitly) be recognized by SCMS as a legit subfield of media studies. Check out Lori Morimoto’s excellent Storify of that conversation here.

At PCA/ACA, the discussion was hosted by the Journal of Fandom Studies (JFS) and led by journal’s editor and editorial board. Although ostensibly focused on the future directions of the journal itself, conversation turned inevitably to larger questions about the field and what role the journal might play in it. You can read my Storify of the discussion here.

Here are the three key themes/questions that united these two conversations: Continue reading “The Possible Futures of Fan Studies: Harmonic Convergence of SCMS and PCA/ACA”

What she said.

Everyone and their brother (heh) has written some meta-tastic reaction to Supernatural‘s 200th episode, so here’s mine.

Man, see, I want to start off with the snark, with some kind of attitude, because that’s the way I’ve been thinking about Supernatural for so fucking long. It’s kind of hard to turn off.

Which is why I, to my great and utter surprise, adored SPN 200. Because somehow, it flipped the switch on my inner cynic and reminded me–showed me–why I love this goddamn show. And being a fan of the show, too.

Holy shit, dude. Did not see that coming.

To me, “Fan Fiction” read like an acknowledgement that there is no “story” of Sam and Dean. Instead, because of the way the fans have taken up the characters, the plot structure, the themes, there are stories upon stories of Sam and Dean, and all of them, this episode suggests, hold equal weight. It’s like, the ep pointed away from canon and towards fanon, especially around the events of seasons six through ten. It felt like an acknowledgement that yeah, some fans do see the canonical shit from this period as akin to, as Marie dubs it, “the worst fanfiction I’ve ever heard”—and that’s ok.

That is, this episode argues that both we as fans and the current creatives are all riffing on Kripke’s original vision: it’s all fanfic now. Or, you know, it’s all canon.

As a fan writer, I didn’t need the show’s permission to legitimate what I do. Hell no. And I know some people interpreted the episode that way. But for me, it was just fucking gorgeous to see the TPTB tip the old hat at us and say: We’re all doing the same work. We’re all playing with characters that we didn’t create, and goddamn, isn’t it fun? 

I don’t go in for the SPN family stuff, as a rule. But this ep made me feel, just for a moment, like I was willing to believe in one.

I also adored the way the ep presented the raw elements of SPN, its heart, its narrative skeleton: for everything that comes after (shut up), this is a story that begins with Sam and Dean.

Whenever I write about SPN for academic audiences, I wrestle with summarizing the series in one or two sentences, like:

On its face, Supernatural is a programme with a simple premise: brothers Sam and Dean Winchester roam America’s back roads in a hot car, fighting demons, angels and everything in between. At its core, the series is the story of two men dedicated to, in Dean’s words, ‘saving people, hunting things’ (‘Wendigo’).

or:

For ten seasons, Supernatural has followed the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester, two frighteningly attractive brothers who cruise the backroads of America in a ’67 Chevy Impala hunting a never-ending cavalcade of shit that goes bump in the night.

Right.

This isn’t to say that other characters (like my beloved Castiel) or plot points aren’t essential; they are. But stories of Supernatural, even ones in which the boys themselves don’t appear, they all begin, somehow, with the Winchester boys. To me, these are the essential plot elements that one needs to know about the show: two boys in a hot car hunting for evil shit.

And for me, what SPN 200 did so beautifully was not only to illustrate this point to the audience(s) but to let Sam and Dean see that, too: to see both the love that their fans have for them as characters (as real people, natch), but to see how important they are to each other, to the story they’re still creating together.

I guess this episode gave me hope that the boys will follow Marie’s lead. “I wrote my own ending,” she tells Dean, and damn it, let’s hope the Winchesters do, too.

But if they don’t, well. That’s what I’m here for.

So thanks, Robbie Thompson and co., for making the Supernatural series a space of joy and pleasure again. Will it be so next week? Who knows. For now, though, I’m content.

DCCon: Notes from the Trenches (part I)

My friend and I, we are Washington cool, because in Washington, people don’t geek out over celebrities.

“In Washington,” my friend said, certain, leaning back on her heels, “our celebrities have real power.” She shook the last of her coffee and looked back at the general admission line behind us, one that stretched around the corner and beyond. “If anybody fangirls in DC, it’ll be over somebody like John McCain.”

So spotting Misha Collins in the wild by the elevators? We were cool. Mark Sheppard zipping by us on his way to yell at a locked door? Eh, no big deal.

Some of our fellow fans, on the other hand? Posed more of a challenge.

Maybe it’s true at any Supernatural convention, I don’t know, but in DC: con world was not our world, at first. It took us some time to adjust. But in the end–plot twist!–we had a great time.

Continue reading “DCCon: Notes from the Trenches (part I)”

Here’s Why I’m Leaving You, Dean

It’s official: I’m out on Supernatural.

After a season and change spent trying to find a reason to keep watching, I’ve given up the fight.

What does it take to disenchant me, distance me, from a text that, for better or worse, has taken up most of my headspace–and ruled my pen–for almost two and half years?

[Which I realize sounds nine kinds of crazy, but it’s true.]

Easy: I started rewatching season 1.

Continue reading “Here’s Why I’m Leaving You, Dean”

Right Next To The KY

A few weeks ago, I wrote this impassioned, angsty post about my squick points in SPN fandom. I was very specific. I was very serious. I was very delusional to think that everything would stay so neatly within the proper boundaries.

Especially since past me wrote, then:

But I guess I see the whole notion of squick in slash as generative, as a way of delimiting one’s imaginative [sexual] boundaries and then shifting those borders as needed.

Which, at the time, I thought applied to other people. That my “imaginative boundaries” were firmly planted; once negotiated, now settled.

And I was pretty freaking certain about the Stonehenge of my squick: real world. As I said then:

So I actively avoid learning anything about the real world side of SPN.

Enter Tumblr. And Stonehenge falls.

Still, it seems that past me was at least aware of this possibility, though I tried to couch it in terms of my scholarship, ’cause that’s the shell I run to when I’m freaked:

Maybe it’s just temporary. Maybe it’ll be like my once avowed opposition to J2… a taboo that flew by the wayside thanks to my research on meta slash fic.

Right. RESEARCH.

Sam loves research. He does. He keeps it under his mattress, right next to the KY.

Shut up, Dean.

So this week, when I found myself happily reading J2 and liking it, for gods’ sakes! and it wasn’t even anything I could vaguely point to as being useful in this paper or the next one, I had a moment of: oh shit. Who am I? What have I become?

Well, that goes without saying by now.

Then I self-flagellated myself to a friend, someone I can count on to slap me down if necessary, and this person said:

Dude. There’s good stuff in every genre. If you’re reading it and you like it, it makes you happy, then do it. If you don’t and it’s not, then stop.

Basically: stop angst-ing about reading porn. Jesus.

Now, I still don’t want to know about anyone’s kids, or people’s marriages or ways of working or dogs or whatever–see? I’ve already said too much. But I’m less terrified of what will happen if I do, accidently. I still don’t seek this shit out, this kind of real world knowledge, but if I pick some up through an AU J2, really. My brain will not explode. And I’m not, therefore, a terrible person.

I can be amused by stuff like this and not forfit my professional fangirl card, not lose the illusion that I can summon cool detachment in the middle of Wincest and go “hey, yeah, I can use that. For RESEARCH.”

Because I totally can.

This is a long way of saying, I guess, that the fences are still flexible in my corner of fandom. Which I knew, but. I guess I wasn’t ready for the pastures to move so soon, you know?

I guess what worries me is that I have a tendency, once I drift into a particular subgenre as a reader to want to go there as a writer. But I’m sure that won’t happen here.

No freaking way.

Know Your Squick

In which a post that started off quick and funny ends up long and angsty. 

One of the great things about slash fic is that it forces you to get to know your squick, those points at which the fic does something [to someone] that goes a step beyond what your personal fanon is willing to tolerate.

Sometimes, squick points are specific sex acts. Or they can be certain character pairings that to you, the reader, border on the unholy. In a bad way. Other times, it’s a particular trope that makes you nervous, like wing!fic, or curtain!fic or bottom!sammy in SPN slash.

What I appreciate about the squick factor is that it is, in my experience, a constant site of negotiation. When I started reading Wincest, for example, I was horrified by the notion of Castiel/Dean. Then it kind of slid from horrified to indifferent. Then from indifferent to oh, okay, maybe I could see it. And so on.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some squick rubicons that I still will not cross. Any slash fic featuring John Winchester, for example? Forget it. No freaking way.

But I guess I see the whole notion of squick in slash as generative, as a way of delimiting one’s imaginative [sexual] boundaries and then shifting those borders as needed. It’s like Henry Jenkins says in Textual Poachers:

“Not all of slash is politically conscious; not all of slash is progressive; not all of slash is feminist; yet one cannot totally ignore the progressive potential of this exchange and the degree to which slash may be one of the few places in popular culture where questions of sexual identity can be explored outside of the polarization that increasingly surrounds this debate.” (Jenkins 221)

So, for me, wrestling with the squick is one way that I as a reader [and a writer] do this kind of work, monkey around with “questions of sexual identity” for myself and for my own readers via slash fic.

Notice how I’ve gotten this far without saying what my SPN squick points are? As I’ve said before: repression–it’s a talent.

Now these are mine and mine alone: I sure as hell make no judgements about other readers and writers who go places I don’t want, or who avoid locations that I hang out in all the time. [I’m thinking of one of my readers who is lovely about my Wincest fic but vaguely disgusted by my Cas/Dean stuff. Heh.]

  1. Anything with John Winchester. Period. Dude creeps me out in the main narrative and I sure as hell don’t want him hovering over my slash fic.
  2. Non-con, in general. There are times when I’m ok with dubious con–because it usually works out for the best, in a not-terribly-feminist sort of way–but non-con? No thanks.
  3. Extreme violence. Yes, “extreme” is a wiggle word, but it’s like Justice Stewart said: I know it when I see it.
  4. Fic set before the boys are in high school. Just–ack.

But my biggest squick point as a fan has nothing to do with the fic. It has to do with the real world.

See, as a fan, I’ve never really been into the “real world” side of whatever it was I was fanning over. Take Star Trek, the foundation of my life as a fan. I’ve never been to a convention, or stood in line to hear the actors speak, or gone to Gene Roddenberry’s grave, because, fundamentally, what I love about ST is the fiction, are the characters and the stories. I don’t ‘ship Nimoy and Shatner, I don’t follow the actors around on Twitter, I’ve never watched the show’s blooper reels because, it’s just like, I know that it’s all pretend. All made up and crafted out of styrofoam and velour and monsters of the week: I know that.

But there’s part of me that’s cognitively dissonant enough to hang on to the fiction, to be invested in Dr. McCoy rather than DeForest Kelley, in Khan rather than Montelban, in Chapel rather than Majel Barrett. And I want to keep it so, to keep pretending at least in that tiny region of my brain that the Enterprise exists, that these people are truly tangling with all the weird shit that Kirk’s ego gets them into.

And in ST fandom, this is actually pretty easy to do, for me. Because the actors are old enough–hell, the show was old enough, when I stumbled across it–that I can fashion that dissonant space without too much trouble. Can maintain it without installing a watcher at the gate.

But in SPN fandom? Those borders are much, much more difficult to enforce, given the primary narrative’s obsession with pointing back at its real world fans and the real-time nature of the show’s production [relatively] and my consumption of the product.

And yes, talk about dissonance, right? Given that my research on this stupid show had centered on fandom, on the show’s portrayal of its female fans. But I don’t care about who’s producing, at some level. At who’s doing the writing, what the network is saying about next season, what the actors [god forbid] think about the current story arc. [This may explain why I broke up with SPN for like two weeks over “The French Mistake.” Grrr.]

So I actively avoid learning anything about the real world side of SPN. Like Ned Seagoon used to say on the Goon Show: I don’t wish to know that!

Now granted, this IS going to cause problems for my scholarship, this desire to hold the borders fast between the world of the show and the real life logistics that make the show happen, the real people who engage with the fans [whether we want them to or not]. I know this. It’s problematic. I’m not an “informed fan,” as a  fellow scholar put it once at an SPN panel.

Maybe it’s just temporary. Maybe it’ll be like my once avowed opposition to J2 [Real Person Slash for SPN], a taboo that flew by the wayside thanks to my research on meta slash fic. [Hey, I had to read those stories! It was part of my research. I swear.]

But. We shall see.