Happy Hunting

I’ve put a new page up here on the blog: “Supernatural Fic Recs.” You can access it via the link in the navigation bar at the top of this home page. It’s just what it sounds like: some slash, some PWP, some not slash-y at all. I hope to keep adding to it as I go. In the meantime, happy hunting, and if you, dear reader, have recs of your own, I hope you’ll drop me a line.

Stories matter, damn it.

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So I went to an academic conference last week and presented a paper on Supernatural. Yes, I am awesome. Heh.

The conference I attended is dedicated to the study of popular culture. It was the first conference I’ve attended as a presenter, which. Sigh. But it went well–hell, I got to give a presentation that included the above shot of Sam without a shirt. Come on! And some very smart people said very nice things to me about my writing style (ah, the fastest way to my heart) and my sense of humor in said presentation. Which. Brief moment of happiness, of belief in my temporary awesomeness.

My work was on episode 7.8, “Season Seven: It’s Time For A Wedding!” Ah, yes, the one where Becky roofies Sammy and doesn’t fuck his brains out. I know, right? Complete science fiction.

Now academic conferences are a funny thing. They’re often a place for posturing and performance–and not by the people who’re onstage. People in the audience, well, they don’t like being in the audience, at some level. We all think we’re smarter than whoever’s talking and some of us take it upon ourselves to fucking prove that–to ourselves, to the rest of the audience, and especially to the presenter.

[ETA: I came very close to bring that person today during a panel at the conference I’m attending this week (where I presented a paper on metatextual Wincest and J2, but that’s a story for another post). Tried to restrain myself, even when smarmy panelist made it clear that he knows nothing about comics, that the only ones he’s ever read are those assigned in his comics 101 class last semester, a class from which all of the papers on the panel were drawn! Blargh!]

Ahem.

Toss a little female fandom into the mix–and topless pictures of Sam and Dean–and you have a receipe for fanwanking and sword-crossing on an epic scale.

Now I expressed some strong opinions about how The Powers That Be (TPTB) treat Becky in 7.8. I argue that TPTB delete Becky’s sexual agency in this episode once and for all, the culmination of an erosion that begins with her second appearance in 5.9, “The Real Ghostbusters” [though, sadly, I cut this gradiation part of the paper for time; ok, yes, it was like six pages long, but still. Sucked to take it out.]

I also suggested that the tactics that TPTB use to do rewrite Becky in this way are pulled straight from the Leviathan playbook in 7.6, the ironically titled “Slash Fiction.” That is, like the Leviathan, TPTB first tried outing Becky’s slash practices [and those of the fans she represents way back in 5.1, “Sympathy for the Devil] then shift to rewriting those practices as morally and legally reprehensible (as the Leviathan do by creating alternate versions of Sam and Dean who set out on a multi-state killing spree and create, in essence, a slash version of the “saving people, hunting things” story the boys have made for themselves).

I had a light touch with this material, I think [Sadly, I was the only presenter on our panel to use the word “fuck”–much less to use it repeatedly. Heh!]. But I also was pretty specific about how I read the producers’ acts of reinscription in this episode, of the ways in which they attempted to recode Becky [and the female (slash) fans that she represents] as potential rapists, as women desperate for societal approval, whose greatest desire is not to fuck Sam (see what I mean?) but to be read as happy heteronormatives.

So despite the good reception that I got for my work, I did have several people say to me (or in their presentations at the next Supernatural panel–yes, there was more than one)–that, oh, well, you know it’s all in fun, this rewriting of Becky. Or, well, can’t you blame it on the change in showrunners (no), on the bringing in of new writers (?!), or, at the very least, the producers are having a conversation with us, the [female] fans, and that means it’s ok.

You know what? It’s really not. Stories matter, the stories on TV matter, the stories that TV tells us about ourselves fucking matter. Intentionality makes no difference; I could care less what the producers have said on the message boards, or at a con, or on Twitter [sorry, Misha].

What matters to me is what the text is doing, what the texts say together, the ways in which the show’s primary narrative seems to stage repeated tactical attempts [in the de Certeau sense] to undermine or disrupt slash fiction, on Wincest, on the [primarily] female fans who produce and consume those texts. And, just as important, I’m interested in what the fans are doing with the primary text–how they embrace it, resist it, tweak it, undermine it, reject it, etc.

To me, the primary narrative of Supernatural suggests that female fandom in general, and slash fans in particular, make the show’s TPTB really fucking nervous. Or at least create an exigence to which the producers feel they must respond.

So, for me, there’s value in looking at the tensions within the texts. I am completely uninterested in reading about how the producers are talking to fans in a general sense outside of the primary narrative, for now. The text is doing, the fans are reacting, and these are interesting phenomena that are worthy of thought and examination. [And I hate it when people try to justify their research. Fuck, people, it matters to you; show me, rather than tell me, why I should care.]

All this is to say: there’s a fine line between fanwanking and academic scholarship, between professional fandom and everyday geekery. The key, I think, is that we not take ourselves too seriously as scholars, but that we do treat the texts and what they do as if they matter, really matter, to someone other than us. Because they do.

Is that a plot twist in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

These are not the tattoos you're looking for.

So I’ve been writing a lot of S/D lately, but what I’m reading is what keeps me writing. Here are reviews of three S/D stories that I love as a reader and admire as a writer. These stories aren’t PWP [Porn Without Plot, for those of you just joining us], per say, but are relatively short and pretty fucking hot, if you know what I mean. You do? Good. Stay with me.

We’ve got “Binding” and “Kings and Queens and Jokers, Too” by astolat—both fantastic examples of the “ah, you don’t totally get what is happening here, but all will be explained” genre—and the more straightforward but mind-scorchingly hot “Ink” by norah.

Binding by astolat
So astolat is awesome, just on general principle. She’s prolific, talented as hell, and, as noted above, a master of the “ah hah!” genre. In fact, for that reason, this particular story is reminiscent for me of JackHawksmoor’s brilliant K/S fic, “Tired,” which past me reviewed here. [If you’re a K/S fan and you haven’t read this one, well. Do it.]

So yes, astolat’s fic is, in the general, great, but that knowledge can be really distracting. For example, while I was prepping for this post, I made the mistake of opening one of astolet’s short fics that I hadn’t read, and yeah. Wow. Go read “Seriously, Zombies.” I’ll wait right here.

Yeah. See what I mean? Damn.

Ok, back to “Binding.” It’s just after “Born Under A Bad Sign” in Season 2, and Bobby’s given the boys some talismans to keep the nasty at bay. Everything seems just fine until Sam and Dean find themselves, you know, having sex in the woods after a hunt with no idea why or how they suddenly can’t keep their hands off each other.

The plotting here curves nicely just at the right moment and all of the sex is hot, yeah? even if its origins are, at first, mysterious. Asolat plays really well here with the notion of the boys already being tightly intertwined, even before they start fucking each other. And damn, is there a lot of sex here. In the best possible way.

She also manages to monkey with the “oh my god, they’re brothers” factor so that the notion of Wincest feeds the story’s hotness [if that’s a word] in a very clever way. And it ain’t easy to write comedy, but damn, does astolat make it look so. This one is funny, incredibly hot (like backwards and forwards and halfway through), and sweet, when you come down to it. Sigh.

Kings and Queens and Jokers, Too” by asolat
So we’re working in the same genre as “Binding,” but the emphasis in this story is more on humor than explicit sex. In fact, astolat arranges things so that our not-knowing and the boys’ utter cluelessness about what’s happening first establishes and then feeds back into the hilarity.

As the story begins, the boys have taken down the trickster at last and go out to celebrate. But everyone they encounter–hotel clerks, waiters, random people in a bar–all treat them as a couple. Like, way more than usual. And it’s not just that people suspect that they’re gay–they are definitively read and treated as a couple, which kinda pisses Dean off, but hey. Doesn’t seem to be anything wrong, not really. Heh.

Bobby makes a fine appearance here as a deux ex machina who solves the mystery but can’t quite save the day. He also gets one of the story’s best lines: “Dean, where’s your hand?” Hee!

There’s less explicit sex here than in “Binding,” more shading and suggestion but somehow, astolat makes it hot. This one is fun, sexy, and a bit tricky–as is only appropriate–and these two stories by astolat make a nice pair, if you dig.

Ink” by norah
First, logistics: I stumbled across this story via Killabeez’s S/D recs. Her list is well worth checking out, though some of the links have expired.

So the “Sammy gets off on pain” thing gets me almost every time; for that reason alone, this one is kinda in my wheelhouse. What I dig about this story, though, is that, for once, Sam doesn’t have to be tortured, bitten, slapped, punched, stabbed, whatever to get the pain he needs. Nope. He just starts getting tattoos and, for some reason, decides not to tell Dean what he’s doing. That’s it, really, the whole set up–but damn, does norah spin it out into this lovely web of humor, sex, and takeout food. And there’s a lot of Sam–what does norah have Dean call it?–“polishing the pole” in this story, if you like that sort of thing. Which, yeah.

What I admire here is norah’s ability to craft a story that occurs totally outside of any hunt, or monster, or menace; instead, it’s tightly focused on Sam, his newly-discovered kink [and oh, how he hoards it], and on the question: how you can hide something from a guy you spend all day in the car with and who sleeps in the bed next to yours every night? For like, almost a year?

And yet it doesn’t feel like there’s something missing; in fact, I didn’t realize that there wasn’t a baddie here until I started writing about it. If anything, this story feels like a bit of a gift–time with the boys where you don’t have to worry about anyone’s safety, anybody’s emotional welfare, and can just enjoy some time inside of Sam’s head. Damn it, this story is fun. And that is fantastic.

The Worst Has Happened

This little piece is the first bit of S/D that I wrote. I’ve fought it for awhile, fought its desire to stand alone rather than be part of something more. And now it’s won. I haven’t posted it on any archive site, as it’s slashy only in shades, in inference, in nuance, maybe. That said: it deserves some room to breathe out here on the internets. So here you are. Comments, tomatoes, suggestions are always welcome.

The Worst Has Happened

Dean dreams about plane crashes.

He’s never on the plane himself. He’s always out behind their house in Lawrence under the swing set, or in Bobby’s front yard, or tucked behind the wheel of the Impala, someplace familiar and safe, when he sees the plane come low: way too low, he always thinks with a start, the whine of the engines like a sudden fist in his side. He squints up into the sun and watches that big heavy bird wobble and scream her way to earth, and in that moment before she hits, he knows: this is it. She’s going to crash.

This is always the longest moment in the dream—it stretches out in front of him and he chokes on a sense of doom, on the awful knowledge that disaster will happen—is happening— and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.  And he’s terrified.

He’s been waiting for this moment his whole life.

But once she hits the ground, his fear disappears in a sweet rush of relief. The worst has happened, his dream-self breathes, feeling the smoke rattle in his lungs. Now all he has to do is live through it.

In his dream, the plane smashes into the grass and breaks apart in front of him. It shatters just out of his reach, spilling fuel and flame and noise, this terrible maelstrom of steel and seats and spent energy. But no people. There are never any people on the plane; no screams, no smell of burning flesh. There’s no body—no survivors to rescue, or corpses to bury: nothing.

In his dream, he marches towards the plane’s shattered frame, debris drifting around him, the paint curling from the heat, the sun hot and heavy in his eyes. He moves with some purpose he can’t name and doesn’t think to question, and it feels good: the grass burning beneath his boots, the roar of the dead engines cooling as he moves past them. By this point, he’s always alone: sometimes there are other people around when the plane first appears, but now they’re all gone and it’s just him and the fuselage, his hands and the melting metal, his mouth and the bitter taste of jet fuel on his tongue.

In his dream, his walk towards the crash never ends; he keeps moving forward, making what feels like steady progress, but the plane always slides out of reach, somehow. But he keeps walking, undeterred, keeps reaching for the burning shell: his sense of certainty, of mission, of purpose, of need is as fixed and firm as the ground beneath him, even as sleep retreats and he drifts up and out of the dream, watching the flames fade, feeling the bed catch him as he wakes.

He sits up, blinking heavily in the darkness, still swimming in the reassurance the dream leaves in its wake. He used to think it was his brain reminding him of the random shit that most people—normal people—are afraid of, having written off ghosts and demons and werewolves as fiction, bad movie stuff, cheap thrills or whatever. Some part of his brain, somewhere, is still normal like that: scared of crap he can’t control or see coming or ward off with a shotgun. He clings to this ordinary fear, catches it in his teeth whenever they pass an airport or when he hears a jet whine overhead.

But now? These last few times, he’s welcomed the dream, grown impatient for the plane to just fucking crash already so he can do what he needs to do, so he can feel that sense of certainty push through his veins.

Dean settles back on the pillow and listens to Sam snore, watches the light from the parking lot mess with the TV screen, feels the Impala waiting patiently just outside the door.

After a while, he turns his head towards the window, towards the other bed, towards Sam. In the gloom, he can see Sam’s back rising and falling, hear his lungs filling and sinking. In Dean’s mind, a dozen little Sammies are crowded on that bed together, limbs tangled, cheeks flushed, hair always a goddamn mess: a dozen little Sammies who jostle for space in his memories and tumble out into the night, lured by Sam’s deep, easy breaths and the low, comfortable hum of the highway. His Sammy, who is five and 16 and 12 and a baby all at once, a collage of bodies and voices and wearied expressions that collide in the Sam whose fingers graze the floor, whose hair sticks out from under the pillow, who Dean loves too much do either of them any good.

Sam shifts, snuffling to himself as he rolls over. He tucks on his side, his rumpled face turned towards Dean. Dean holds his breath for a moment until he hears Sam’s soft snore, until he sees his legs twitch, just once, until he knows that Sam is still asleep.

Dean closes his eyes, scattering the phantom Sammies, pushing them back into their own beds in a hundred crummy motel rooms, tugging the blankets up, and telling them all to follow Sam’s lead, to go the fuck to sleep, and maybe—yes, maybe—he’ll let them hold the key to the Impala tomorrow, or have a sip of his beer when Dad’s not looking, or get the first go in Uno or Battleship or whatever. But only if you sleep now, man: close your eyes and relax and yeah, I’ll wake you up when Dad gets home. Now go to sleep already.

Dean grins into the darkness, stretches his fingers out until they brush Sam’s arm.

“‘Swah?” Sam manages, his mouth moving out of sync, his eyes fused shut.

“Shut up and go to sleep, Sammy,” Dean whispers across the room, hearing his voice slide between the years.

“‘Kay,” Sam mumbles, burrowing into his pillow. “Night, Dean.”

“Night, Sammy,” Dean says, pulling his hand back and slipping deeper under the covers.

Sick as a dog

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I’ve been sick this week, a weird combination of a cold and flu and general malaise. The one good thing about this craptastic state was that it brought me back to Road Rhythm’s truly excellent S/D story “Catch Your Death.”

In CYD, Sam is fighting the flu tooth and nail as he tries to convince Dean that the job they’ve stumbled onto in utterly un-scenic Columbia, MD is worth investigating. What seems like a simple salt-and-burn of a high school nerd murdered by his popular classmates gets complicated, fast; as Sam’s physical health deteriorates, so does the boys’ hold on what the hell is actually happening inside an abandoned apartment building. Of course, Sam is a terrible patient, putting what he reads as the job ahead of his own health. And, of course, the more that Dean tries to take care of him, the more Sam resists.

Know this: Road Rhythm has the boys down cold. In CYD, she trades on her understanding of Sam and Dean’s various foibles: their relationship to each other, to their jobs, to faith, to the supernatural things that they hunt. That’s what I dig about this story: it hinges at first on misreadings, mistakes, misunderstandings, but once everyone gets their collective heads on straight, the way that the plot (and the characterizations) unfold is logical and lovely.

She also has a very light touch with Sam. The story is rendered from his perspective and the Sam that she sketches from inside his sick, aching, and congested head is believable and sympathetic; he’s a mess and he knows it. Road Rhythm lets us see how physical illness brings Sam’s knowledge of his own mental and emotional disorder to the forefront and what that knowledge does to him, even from within a Nyquil-fueled haze.

As a reader who has more that a little love for Sam, I find this awesome. As a writer who finds herself pretty fucking stuck in Dean’s head–and unable to get a firm grip on Sam (‘s character)–I am utterly envious. [particularly because RR digs so nicely and hilariously into Dean’s head in “It’s All Very Meta,” another of her stories that I adore, but for very different reasons (and really should review, because RR will make you believe that Dean Winchester is a grammar and mechanics snob. She is *that* good.)]

Here, the story is the thing, first and foremost. There is some lovely fever sex, but it’s utterly entwined in the plot, in what’s happening between the boys and within the case itself. As a fledgling slash writer, may I say that I think this is terribly difficult to do, and even harder to do as well as Road Rhythm does here.

One of RR’s commenters over on the Sam and Dean Slash Archive suggested that reading this story is akin to watching an episode. I disagree: at some level, I found it more satisfying than that. Ok, yes, there’s a bit of sex, but the true joy came, for me, in the skillful way in which RR weaves the characterizations into the plot of the case and vice versa. This is just damn good writing, all the way around. If you’re a Supernatural fan who’s on the fence about S/D, check this one out; you can always skip the sex scene if it makes you squiffy, but I’m willing to bet that by the time you get to it, S/D’ll make sense–at least in the context of this story.

Thank you, 2011, for Supernatural. Especially for Dean.

2011 has given me all kinds of cool things. Here’s one of them.

Supernatural
A TV show that transformed 2011 for me. Ok, that sounds a bit melodramatic. But: it’s true. It’s given me a fictional world to think about (obsess over) in the midst of PhD work, a primary narrative and growing metatext to write about as both a slasher and an academic, and it’s reminded me how fucking awesome it is to turn the music up loud and sing in the car, passers by be damned.

Here’s the premise: two brothers in a hot car who kill monsters. Or: Buffy with boys.

So why do I love this show? Good question. I think that depends on the day. It’s become aggressively meta. It has no idea how to deal with women in any sort of realistic way. It’s fucking hilarious and really gross, often in the same beat. Sam and Dean Winchester, the two protagonists, have a truckload of Daddy issues–and rightly so–and are generally fucked up in the head. The arc of the first five seasons is awesome. There’s Castiel, an angel in a trenchcoat who’s in love with Dean. There’s Bobby, the boys’ surrogate (and far superior) father figure. Angels, demons, monsters, vamps, weird monsters.

Doesn’t hurt that Sam and Dean are beautiful, either, each in their own way.

Oh, and it’s slashy as all get out. It’s even spawned its own distinct genre of slash fic: the Wincest narrative.

But I love it (and write slash fic about it) because of Dean.

Continue reading “Thank you, 2011, for Supernatural. Especially for Dean.”