Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An IMteresting Conversation With: An Anonymous Fan Fiction Writer

This week's IMteresting Conversation requires a little bit of explanation.

I read fan fiction. I do. Got a problem with that? Don't know what the hell I'm saying? Fan fiction is original fiction that uses unoriginal characters. It got started when 1970's ladies started writing gay ("slash") Kirk/Spock fan fiction, and now you can read fan fiction from almost any "fandom" you could think of. Including the Bible.

So I read this stuff. This geeky, geeky stuff. (As my rabidly devoted readers know, I don't own a tv, so I have to do SOMETHING with my down time, right? There are only so many movies on Netflix streaming. ) Yes, there is HORRIBLE fanfiction out there -- sometimes you'll notice that certain fandoms seem to only have shitty fic (Twilight, I'm looking at you.)

However, there's a pretty wide swathe of fiction out there that's, dare I say it?, really good. I mean, really good: sophisticated character development, flawless syntax and grammar, interesting well-paced plot, etc.

So I'm coming out of the fanfiction closet!

To celebrate, I asked one of my favorite fic writers if she wouldn't mind being bothered by me, and she actually said yes! (So no, this is not me interviewing me, pretending to not be me). Read on for: tween's ideas about tantric sex, battlestar dramatica on the interwebs, and the secrets between a husband and wife.

EA Hanks: Usually I start these by asking "What is your name and what do you do?" but we've agreed to keep you anonymous. So, instead, I'll ask, How are you known on the internet, and what do you do there?

Mrs. Tater: My handle's MrsTater, but I answer to Tater or even Mrs T, which is, admittedly, slightly disturbing.

EA: And you use this handle for what purpose?

MrsT: Oh, sorry! I use it because I've got that oh-so-embarrassing hobby of being a fanfiction writer.

EA: What kind of fanfiction do you write?

MrsT: Currently I'm active in the Heroes and Star Trek (Reboot) fandoms, but I've also written a lot of Harry Potter and Lost and a smattering of miscellaneous TV series/books/movies. Actually I'm about to get active in HP again, because I'm a moderator at a Remus/Tonks fanfic LiveJournal community called Metamorfic_Moon, and we've got an event coming up in just about a week.

EA:What is it about these fandoms that attracted you to them, both as fan and as a writer?

MrsT: Every time I've gotten involved in a fandom it was because I fell in love with a romantic pairing that didn't get a great deal of exploration in the original material. For example, in the 6th HP book, you find out near the end of the book that Remus and Tonks, who are both miserable for pretty much the entire book, are miserable because they're in love but not together because Remus thinks he's "too old, too poor, and too dangerous" for Tonks.

(Ed Note: You will kindly notice that writing based on characters briefly seen in another earlier work is exactly what Tom Stoppard did in the mind-boggingly good play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," which fills in the gaps for two bit pieces in "Hamlet." True, it would be more fan ficky if they occasionally made out, but I'm gonna bet that's out there too.)

Immediately this set my imagination on fire about their relationship prior to that point, which we of course don't see except as incidental moments since the books are called Harry Potter, not Remus Lupin. (Even though I think they'd be a LOT more exciting if they were about Remus...) So, I went looking online for Remus/Tonks fanfic filling in the blanks JK Rowling left, and though I enjoyed most of what I read immensely, none of it really fit what my imagination wanted to do for them, so I started writing my own Remus/Tonks fics. And that's pretty much how it goes for my other fanfic pursuits: relationships in progress that demand filling in. (Sexy leading men don't hurt the inspiration, either...)

EA: How did you get into fanfiction to begin with -- how did you learn it even exists?

MrsT: Oh gosh, I've been at this for such a long time the details are getting fuzzy to me... I was about 15 or 16 and caught re-runs of the brief 90's drama Christy, which ended on a love triangle cliffhanger. I turned to the internet to find out if there were any more episodes resolving the series (there weren't), but I stumbled onto a usnet group (message board/email list ) where people were posting stories called fanfiction to conclude both the show and follow up the original novel. I started writing my own fanfic, and I haven't stopped since.

EA: You also write original work. Is there a connection between your fanfiction work and your original writing?

MrsT: Well, for one thing, I wouldn't be pursuing a writing career if it weren't for fanfiction! I've met so many talented writers who recognized my ability as a teen and encouraged me to keep writing. They gave me a lot of constructive criticism that in some ways was more helpful than anything I learned in creative writing classes in college -- I learned how to write dialogue and create clear character voices by emulating the speech patterns of already existing characters. So there's definitely that aspect of fanfic writing that ties into my original work.

There's also the aspect that I use fanfiction to practice stylistic or thematic elements I want to use in my original fiction. My original characters often share qualities that draw me to other people's fictional characters -- I like the older man/younger woman dynamic in romantic pairings, or the man with a tortured past to overcome. (So far, dabbling in the Heroes fandom has not let me to write any serial killers, but you never know...)

EA: There is some stunningly bad fanfiction out there. What are your pet peeves about bad fanfiction?

MrsT: Haha...How much time do you have? ;)

You know once I posted fanfic pet peeves on my LJ, meaning it all in good fun, but it created massive fandom drama.

EA: Oh, we'll get to that in a bit. Is that your way of saying you don't want to say?

MrsT: No, no, it's cool!

Let's see, my peeves: Well, the most obvious one is it's horrible when characters act or speak...out of character (OOC). Like, when in the HP books did Remus ever growl at anybody? Or wear shorts? People do some really bizarre stuff with the characters.

EA: So there needs to be a balance between being original wtih someone else's characters, and yet still keeping true to what readers loved in them

MrsT: Right. And I admit, it's a tricky balance to achieve, and it's even tricky to state particular things that constitute OOCness.

I guess in HP one of the easier things is that there's obviously the factor that you're dealing with British characters.So you can help yourself out characterization wise by keeping in mind that they're going to naturally speak differently than American characters would.

EA: Any other big peeves?

MrsT: Badly written sex.

EA: ! Amazing. Examples?

MrsT: One of the hilarious things in fanfic, actually, is when you're reading a sex scene and clearly it can't have been written by anyone who's HAD sex.

Lots of teenagers write fanfic, so there's not always a lot of experience behind the sex that rings true with a reader. It's either over the top emotional, or physically impossible.

EA: How old are you?

MrsT: 26

EA: And married.

MrsT: Yes, to Mr. Tater. :)

EA: You mentioned drama. You're one of the most popular writers in the fandoms you write for -- how much crazy do you get sent your way?

MrsT: Well, once in the Lost fandom I got plagiarized. Someone took three short stories I"d written, posted them as chapters, and then wrote new chapters.

I've gotten a few flames -- one person read my Transfigured Hearts series, which was a fairly PG-13 series all the way through, and then had a hissy fit when Remus and Tonks finally slept together in the last installment. She did not mince words telling me I'd ruined the story by actually writing a sex scene, and that a simple fade-to-black would have done.

Which was odd considering how many people read fanfic almost purely for sex...

Mostly my fandom experiences have been really good, though. There was a bit of drama once when a post about HP fanfic pet peeves wasn't taken in the spirit of good fun it was intended to be, but I sucked it up and apologized and went on my merry way.

EA: Do you find that there's a certain sort of... rabid level of attention? I mean, you have FANS.

MrsT: You know, it's weird, I really don't think about it that much. Especially on LJ I feel like the people who comment on my stories are my FRIENDS, not FANS. Though I do find reviews a bit addictive. You don't get that level of feedback for original fiction.

EA: Do you know them, I hesitate to use the word "actually" but I guess I mean, do you know them "in real life"?

MrsT: I know what you mean. I've met a few of my online friends, yes. None in my current fandoms, but that's only because a lot of them live out of state or even out of the country. I exchange real mail with a few people.

EA: So you have a fairly delineated line between your online life and your offline life.

MrsT: I do. For professional reasons, of course, but even more than that, people in "real life" just don't usually get the whole fanfic thing. Most people don't care that much about fiction beyond watching a show or reading a book and don't understand why anyone would care enough to make up stories of their own.

It's not something you necessarily feel comfortable with telling people you do, because they give you weird looks, either not knowing what fanfic is, or knowing what it is by its weird reputation.

EA: What do you think the general consensus on fanfiction is?

MrsT: That it's just about one of the geekiest hobbies there is. Especially if you write Harry Potter or Star Trek.

EA: Do you think it IS geeky, and you're proud of it, or do you think it's NOT geeky and they're just haters?

MrsT: Kind of a mixture of both? On the one hand, I know I'm a geek, and I'm rather proud of it (especially since I don't live in my parents' basement and I do have social skills), but on the other hand, I think sci-fi and fantasy are becoming increasingly more mainstream (dare I say, even cool?) so why should it be geeky to indulge in an artistic hobby like fiction writing, even if it is with someone else's universe/characters? Of course, I did mention fanfic to a real-life friend recently, and to her, fanfic was synonymous with porn, so there's also that issue to contend with.

EA: Do you ever think about what the original authors think of fanfiction? Anne Rice wrote "I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes."

And then she made sure all the fanfiction written with her characters was taken down.

I feel comfortable adding that I think Anne Rice might be nutsy mckookoo.

MrsT: I know there are a lot of writers who encourage it -- JK Rowling largely approves, and Neil Gaiman encourages it, too, even had a Chronicles of Narnia story published, not sure how he managed to swing that... I think if anyone ever wrote fanfic based on my original characters, it would be the highest compliment I could be paid, that someone would love my characters enough to want to continue their stories. And I couldn't very well discourage people from doing what I consider to be the most essential exercise in developing my own writing skills. (I read recently that Dorothy Sayers got her start writing some form of fanfic or other...) If I were ever going to teach writing, I'd have my students write fanfic. But to get back to the question....

...I guess it's Anne Rice's prerogative to say she doesn't want fanfic written about her characters, and I can kind of see her point about the need for people to develop their own characters. But then again, people might need that outlet to get a grasp on writing original characters. I know I certainly did. I actually think it's detrimental to literature as a whole to have copyrights on fictional characters. Arthurian literature, for example, is the product of people for centuries writing stories about somebody else's characters. The Greek myths...

EA: When did you tell your husband that you write fanfiction? Has he read your stuff?

MrsT: I 'fessed up not long after we started dating, and when he didn't immediately break up with me over it, or even mock me unduly, I knew he was a keeper. ;)

I'm still usually self-conscious about writing a new fandom, so I don't tell him unless he asks. (so far he hasn't asked me if I'm writing Star Trek fic...)

He has NO interest in reading my stuff. Thankfully. I think I'd die if he read any of the romantic stuff, lol.

EA: Do you fall in love with the characters?

MrsT: Oh yes. They're all my fictional boyfriends. Though I think I wouldn't want any of them in real life. Too high-maintenance. And you know, Sylar is prone to kill his girlfriends...

EA: When your original writing career kicks in and rockets you to fame, do you think you'd still write fanfiction?

MrsT: Thanks for the vote of confidence. ;) I've thought about this, and I really don't know. Not that I think my inclination to write fanfic will ever go away, but I suppose it'll be down to time and whether or not I can (or should) retain anonymity as a fanfic writer. I'd really love to know if there are any working writers out there also publishing fanfic. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

EA: Do you have any feuds with another writer, someone who works in the same fandoms as you?

MrsT: Not that I'm aware of!

EA:If someone was reading this and thinking "Good lord, what on earth is she talking about? I would never!" and you wanted them to read something you're almost SURE would change their mind and turn them into a fanfiction-reading machine, what would you send them?

MrsT: Oh, there are so many amazing fics I would rec that I have an entire Delicious account just for bookmarking my faves. I think for the HP fanfic skeptic I'd recommend "Cards on the Table," by Gilpin because it features a lovely little R/T romance surrounded by the Order of the Phoenix who are all wonderfully in-character. It's Harry Potter for grown-ups and I think really showcases what good writing is out there in fanfic land, and reminds you why you liked the HP books in the first place.

EA: And if you could say something to JK herself?

MrsT: "All was well?" All was NOT bloody well!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An IMteresting Conversation With: Mike Sacks, Author

And you thought my freakishly small group of friends revolted and refused to put up with my stupid questions any more! Ha!

This week's IMteresting Conversation is about bringing the funny, writing the funny, and two inch cocks. Oh, and vast Jew-led conspiracies. Sorta kinda.

EA Hanks: Firstly, what is your name and what do you do?

Mike Sacks: My name is Mike Sacks, but you can call me "Da Count." That was my doo-wop nickname, when I grew up on the streets of Virginia and Maryland. I work on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair magazine and I freelance for various other publications, such as Esquire, GQ, Radar, The New Yorker, McSweeneys, and Inches.

EA: Ok, well there's no need to brag.

MS: I have an ego as large as my 2-inch cock.

EA: You and everyone else who works on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. You have a book coming out -- tell me about it.

MS: The book is called "And Here's the Kicker," and it contains interviews with 21 famous humor writers, such as Buck Henry, Stephen Merchant, Bob Odenkirk, Mitch Hurwitz, David Sedaris and that fat guy who writes gags for the Oscars. Actually, not him.

EA: Good call.

MS: Right. For his "crazy" T-shirts alone, he should be banished from the continent.

EA: That's quite a list. How did you get them all to agree to talk to you? Charm?

MS: I don't know why they offered to give me from five to ten hours of their time, quite frankly, I really don't. None knew me. But, I do have to say, that quite a few said that they weren't interested. Mostly women, for some reason. I asked about 15 top women writers if I could interview them, and all either didn't get back to me or didn't want to do it. Maybe it's a lack of ego thing, I don't know.

EA: Ah! The ol' "I'm not sexist!" disclaimer! And there goes the crux of all my further questions. What is it about comedy that interests you -- other than the chuckles?

MS: Just the bizarre process that it takes to write humor. It seems to remain as mysterious to those who have been in it for five decades as to whose who are just starting.

EA: Would you say that's something than runs throughout all the interviews? Are there are things you found that kept popping up?

MS: Yes. It's a strange thing. Writing humor is not like being a plumber or a doctor or an electrician. With those professions, the more you work, the more you know, and the easier it gets. Not so with writing humor. Larry Gelbart, who's been writing for over five decades, still expresses frustration with the process. As far as other similarities, the common one was, not surprisingly, depression. More surprising was O.C.D. I only asked them if they suffered from O.C.D. because I, too, suffer from it. I'd say that 70% of the authors have it.

EA: It's hard to talk about what makes someone funny, or what makes a good bit funny -- it's usually the easiest way to make something instantly a drag -- Did that carry over into talking about writing the funny?

MS: I never asked them that, really. But it usually came out in their answers, anyway. One thing I did ask a few writers was what makes them NOT laugh. What are their humor pet peeves.

EA: Any stand outs?

MS: Merrill Markoe, who was the first head writer for Late Night with David Letterman, had a long list, but my favorite was that she hated political-satire songs, in the Capitol Steps and Mark Russell vein.

EA: Oh yeah. Fuck those political-satire songs.

MS: The worst. I come from the D.C. area and grew up with that shit. It's the devil's work.

EA: What do you think is funny?

MS: I loved Chris Elliott when he was on Letterman in the 80s. Brilliant.

These days, I like Scharpling and Wurster, who have a show here in New York. I think they're flat-out amazing. Really smart, long-form radio comedy, which you don't hear anymore.

EA: Is there a comedian who in your minds, is the be all, end all? Everyone else is just a rip off of them?

MS: Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of stand-up. I think George Carlin was brilliant. Today, I like Brian Regan a lot. I think he's one of the best. I don't tend to like some of the "alterna comics," quite frankly. Although Zach Galafanakis is great, especially when he's on Tim and Eric.

EA: There's a difference between people who do stand-up, or perform and people who write the material. And some times the dynamics between a team of writers and the performers can be... "interesting." By which I mean, a lot of times they want to kill each other. How much of comedy do you think comes from these sort of tensions? Writers vs. Performers. Writers vs. Depression. Writers vs... Everyone who isn't a writer.

MS: Sometimes it helps the comedy, but I think it often hurts it. When a performer doesn't understand a piece, or wants to "tweak" it, the piece usually doesn't come out as good as it could have. With that said, I think the tension between writers and depression is an interesting one. It's certainly been looked into before, but there's a definite connection. Whether comedy causes depression, or whether one deals with depression with comedy is the million-dollar question. But I've rarely known a comedy writer who smiled when he or she wrote. Or when told a joke.

EA: Only civilians laugh at a good bit. A comedian nods and says, "Good bit." (ed. note: I'm so close to deleting this because it's one of the most obnoxious things I've ever said, but I'm leaving it in because I think it's good for reminding me not to be so obnoxious.)

MS: Right. It's like when a porno star makes love to his wife. Do porno stars "make love," by the way?

EA: TUNE IN TO THE NEXT IMteresting CONVERSATION TO FIND OUT. When did you start writing?

MS: High school, but only by accident. I had no desire, but I had to switch out of biology in the 11th grade (yes, I was a year behind) and the only classes available were gym and creative writing. I love sports but hated gym, mostly the idiotic PE teachers. Anyway, I took creative writing and was forced to write creatively for the first time. But I really began in earnest just after college, when I began to contribute to some magazines. I was working in a record store in New Orleans and had nothing else to do with my time, quite frankly, besides gain weight from Popeye's fried chicken and biscuits.

EA: I think that's how Joyce started too. BTW, have you ever read his dirty letters to his wife?

MS: Not sure about Joyce, but I do know that after Robert Frost won his Pulitzer, he stopped at Libby's for a chicken-fried steak and a basket of curly fries. I have, yes. Dirty, dirty, dirty Joyce, how I love him.

EA: When and why did you move to New York?

MS: My then girlfriend, now wife moved up here for a job. At the time, I was working at the Washington Post and didn't want to come right up. So I waited a year and then applied for various jobs. Vanity Fair accepted me, most likely due to my dig ol' bick.

EA: Do you lay awake at night thinking about the death of magazines, books, the things we've spent our lives trying to be good at/loving?

MS: No, not really. Something will come and take its place, and I hope to be involved. And, quite frankly, I wouldn't mind a few of these obnoxious behemoths brought to their bony, arthritic knees.

EA: Zing!How did you prepare for your interviews with all these people? I would fuck it up by trying to be funny myself (ed. note: see above.)

MS: A tremendous amount of research. Up to 20 to 30 hours per person. I wouldn't feel comfortable otherwise. And I edited out all the parts where I tried to be humorous. No need for that, now . . .

EA: Was there someone you were shit-your-pants-nervous to meet and talk with?

MS: I shit my pants but it had nothing to do with nerves. (I'm lactose intolerant.)

No, not really. I used to be incredibly shy, but I seemed to have burned that out of my system with a daily cocktail of meds.

EA: So you live in New York. You work at Vanity Fair. You've written a book about a bunch of comedians (JEWS). Do you feel like a tried and true member of the liberal media elite (JEWS)?

MS: Yes, and I have to say that it feel really good. When I pass a Jew on the streets, or in a hallway, we'll just look at each other and wink. We know what that means. We're members of the same tribe, and we both love gefilte fish.

EA: And horseradish! This is your first book, yes?

MS: First book I've written alone. I've contributed to a few other books, for Esquire and McSweeneys.

EA: Book tour? Hotels? Idiot interviews? Are you feeling properly fetted?

MS: No. Haven't you heard that I'm extremely reclusive? I ain't leaving the apartment. Except to cheer up the homeless down at the bus depot. I put together a little magic act.

EA: I've heard it's nearly impossible to get you to leave the den, yes. What's next for you, Mr Sacks?

MS: I'm going to self-publish (Kindle only?) a collection of previously published humor pieces that no major publisher wants because some of them are "offensive." Maybe it's the story about the wild-child who makes a BM on the floor of a high school. Also, I think (figers crossed) that I am close to selling a book about a secret topic that begins with S and ends with X.

EA: Do you own a Kindle?

MS: No.

EA: Do you know anyone who owns a kindle?

MS: No.

EA: My dad has one. He's obsessed with it. So, you've got a reader locked.

MS: Good. Your dad is Dave Coulier from Full House, right?

EA: You cut. It. Out.

MS: Sorry. How may I make it up to you? A flower? A hug? A clock in the shape of a hot dog?

EA: Anything else to say to my tens of readers?

MS: The book is available now on Amazon and other sites. It will become available in stores on July 8th. I love you all. And I'll see you at our favorite hangout, the bar with "Piano Man" on the juke.

EA: Play him off, Keyboard Cat.

(Make sure to read this interview Mike conducted with the Colbert Report's Allison Silverman, excerpted on Vanity Fair.com!)