Girls Write Now: Fanfiction workshop follow-up

While it was a week ago, I did want to follow up on my talks at Girls Write Now last week, because it was a ton of fun, and I did promise the program participants and their mentors I’d update with some relevant links and a summary of what we talked about.

One of the things that was really fun was none of us were talking about justifying fanfiction.  Rather, we talked about both how fanfiction is entirely legitimate as an end in and of itself, but also how it functions as a gift economy, a mode of criticism, and a way to approached and even produce salable work.

We looked at the idea of given circumstances for character and story development — which is the notion that a person has certain key traits and reactive patterns and that a lot of fanfiction is taking known quantities (characters) and changing their given circumstances to see what happens.  We also talked about how playing with other people’s universes is a great way to learn cadence and voice and certain stylistic techniques.

We covered Harry Potter, One Direction, Buffy, the Whoniverse, Teen Wolf, and Game of Thrones. I mentioned Glee (but am pretty sure I mostly got side-eyed for that), and Ellen Kushner‘s novels (Swordspoint is where to start, and The Privilege of the Sword is the YA-ish one with the female protagonist).

We also talked about published incidences of fanfiction, including Wide Sargasso Sea and an anthology about fictional sexual encounters with celebrities called Starf*cker(Yes, the star is really in the title, and just so the girls in the program know, I was happy to say fucker in front of you all, but imagined a mentor or two might not have approved.  But I’m sure you can handle that).

We laughed a lot (thank you!) and great questions were asked about using personal experiences in storytelling and about how fanfiction can be used to highlight the stories of characters from backgrounds and experiences that are often marginalized.  In both groups people wanted to know if I’d ever met creators of work I’ve played with in a fannish context (yes, and that’s ranged from neutral but slightly weird to totally awesome).

Mostly, though, everything sort of boiled down to the joy and necessity of narrative — how it’s something we assign to the randomness of our own lives in order to make sense of it, and how it’s in imitation of that that we also learn to tell stories whether fiction or non-fiction.  In one of the sessions this led me to mentioning a Clive Barker quote I couldn’t really remember, but thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I can tell you it’s from the prologue to his novel Sacrament and is

I am a man, and men are animals who tell stories. This is a gift from God, who spoke our species into being, but left the end of our story untold. That mystery is troubling to us. How could it be otherwise? Without the final part, we think, how are we to make sense of all that went before: which is to say, our lives? So we make stories of our own, in fevered and envious imitation of our Maker, hoping that we’ll tell, by chance, what God left untold. And finishing our tale, come to understand why we were born.

On that note, some more links I promised people in the room are below.  Additionally, if there are specific resources you’re looking for that have not been mentioned here, please ask in comments, and I’ll see what I can find; I know some of the girls I talked to were particularly interested in anime-focused fanfiction archives, which was just one of those things I have no answers on.

Fanfiction.Net — Sometimes we call this the pit of voles, and quality can be challenging, but it’s there and it’s been there forever.  I don’t actually recommend it as a starting point for reading and posting fic, but it may work for you.

The Archive of Our Own — a great place to post and find fic to read.  Still technically in beta so you have to request an invite.

LiveJournal — no longer the hub of fanfiction (or anything else) it once was, but was definitely a vibrant pace that has/had a lot of fic communities.  Depending on your particular interests it may still be a good choice for you.

Tumblr — while I often derisively describe this space as blinky not thinky, Tumblr has lots of people posting fanfiction on it, as well as lots of people telling stories through visual modes and doing criticism too.  Organizationally it’s hard for conversations, but it’s grown on me as a way to be exposed to lots of random content on lots of different things.  As such, it’s sort of inspiring in a pattern recognition sort of way.

If you were at this event, please feel free to say hi, ask questions, leave comments, or just be excited about your fannish obsessions below.  For now, I’ll leave you with a quote that just came up on my Tumblr dash

That’s the nature of any creative activity — you’re mostly going to be rejected.

That’s from The New Yorker’s Bob Mankoff at a recent TED salon.  He’s the magazine’s cartoon editor today.  But when he first changed careers to become to a cartoonist he submitted 2,000 cartoons to the The New Yorker in his first year.  Every one was rejected.

As long as you’re writing stuff, you’re a writer.  Many days, that’s hard enough.  Keep making stuff as long as it makes you happy and even sometimes when it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in becoming a mentor for Girls Write Now or are a high school student eligible to participate they are still taking applications for next year’s program through June 15 (I’d sign up to mentor in a heart beat if I weren’t on the road so much).

Girls Write Now: Wildcard Workshop

This Saturday, I am getting up much, much earlier than I normally do on Saturdays to talk about fanfiction and how it can contribute to a writer’s creative process and professional life at a workshop held by Girls Write Now.

Girls Write Now is a non-profit organization that matches teen girls from NYC public high schools with professional women writers for one-to-one mentoring, genre-based workshops, public readings, college prep activities, and scholarship and publication opportunities. This seems like an amazing thing, and if my life weren’t already so over-scheduled and constantly in-transit, I’d sign up to mentor in a heartbeat.

The event (actually two, I’m doing a morning and an afternoon session) is only open to girls currently in the program and their mentors.  But I wanted to share this in the context of fan and transformative works being taken seriously, and also to let people know that Girls Write Now is out there.

Deciding you want to write for a living is weird, no one knows what to do with that, and the standardized-test focused school system doesn’t help.  The idea of an organization supporting girls through story and for story is massively exciting to me.  If it’s exciting to you, I hope you’ll consider getting involved in Girls Write Now or whatever similar programs may exist in your community.

Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It

Queers-Cover-web-194x300I’m really happy to finally get to post about Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, edited by Sigrid Ellis (Chicks Dig Comics) and Michael Damian Thomas (Apex Magazine). It’s being released on June 4, 2013, already seems to have great buzz, and has one of my essays in it.

While the stuff I write is always personal on some level, my piece in this volume touches on a lot of things I tend not to talk about in public (yes, those exist) — including being Sicilian, wanting to be a boy, and the age of AIDS — because they’re just too difficult, too close, and too specific in my day-to-day life.

The through time and space nature of the Whoniverse, however, and Jack Harkness’s long-life on 20th century Earth have meant, however, that I couldn’t get away with contributing to this volume without telling my story in ways I’m a lot less practiced at, which is an opportunity I’m incredibly grateful for.

I think this volume is going to be incredible. It contains work from a lot of people I know, and a lot of people I know of, and I’m super excited to get my hands on it.

You can pre-order it at Amazon and other major booksellers, and it will also be available for early purchase at Wiscon.

Glee, superheroes, and “All the Other Ghosts”

Sometimes one of the worst things that can happen to you is to get what you’ve always wanted. If you’re in fandom, that often means meeting the object or creator of your object of desire. In the flesh they are shorter or less charismatic or more distracted than you always imagined. They don’t look you in the eye, and even though they are talking to you, often, they don’t see you at all.

I don’t write about fanfiction on this blog very much. Not because of any shame, and not because I don’t believe that fanfiction and other transformative works are criticism. They are, because they are, by their very existence, in dialogue with the text. However, that’s one of those things that people who already agree don’t need to hear more of, and people who don’t believe are inclined to dismiss as a justification of porn and Internet weirdness, and that pretty much everyone is somewhat inclined to roll their eyes about and call academic wankery. Besides, there aren’t that many fanfics that have a dialogue with their relevant texts that is explicit, relevant, and clever for audiences both in the subject communities and outside of them.

Rainjoy’s “All the Other Ghosts” is a Glee superhero AU, that you need absolutely no prior knowledge of Glee or superheroes to engage with. It tells the story of a guy named Blaine who’s a part of the Tumblr fandom for a superhero named The Ghost. The Ghost saves people in a terrible, dangerous New York that evokes the Summer of Sam era. He can disappear at will, or pass his hand through people’s brains to “haunt” them. He also has a really great ass, and Blaine keeps posters of him over the bed in his apartment and reads fanfic and reblogs pictures of the guy using the tag dat ass.

One night, Blaine meets him. And through a series of events, they begin three relationships: one as teacher and apprentice, another as their non-superhero identities, and a third as their superhero identities. Public life, persona, and private life become, quickly, very complex, especially for Blaine who is now dating the man he used to read Internet porn about. It’s just what every fan has ever wanted, right?

Not so much.

Blaine can’t tell anyone. And he can’t retreat from fandom and still keep the secret; taking the posters down would seem strange and might alert someone to his own transformation into a superhero named Phalanx. He also can’t continue to participate in fandom exactly as he has. It’s too weird. People write porn about him now. And the online community that was his refuge is no longer home. He effectively loses his friends and his hobbies, and every night he and his boyfriend see the worst New York City has to offer from burning museums to dead children, and a whole lot worse I don’t want to spoil for you.

But Blaine is not the only person in this story who gets the one thing he, as a fan, has always wanted. Because a good 30% of the story is in the voices of the Tumblr fandom from whence Blaine came. We meet that fandom’s BNF’s, witness its ship wars, learn about the real lives behind handles like paleandghostly, draxie, and blackbindings, and are treated to tons of Tumblr’s unique grammar (I literally can’t all the evens ever). In addition to this, an actual Tumblr fandom has sprung up around this story, with fanart and fanfiction, some of it referenced in the story, some of it an addition of apocrypha to the tale.

One night, The Ghost gets hurt and Phalanx doesn’t know how to get help and keep their covers. After all, in this terrible New York, superheroes are also illegal. He reaches out to a few well-known fandom figures anonymously, and they assume, reasonably, it’s a troll. Except one woman who comes, just in case it isn’t. She winds up transporting a grievously wounded and possibly dying Ghost and a terrified Phalanx in the back of her car. She hears Phalanx’s real name. She sees how in love they are. She gets The Ghost’s blood all over her back seat. And she can’t tell anyone. Ever.

In this story, Rainjoy has created an astounding response not just to Glee, addressing its narrative themes around sexual assault, outing, abuse of power, marginalization, and ambition, but to fandom. She examines the consequences of the success of one of our community’s most common desires.

She also examines the price of secrets, of gossip, of loyalty to friends you’ve never met and personas you love so much you feel their hand, ghostly, holding yours when the plane takes off. She examines ambition and types of fame and fandom’s treatment of both, as well as the supposedly mundane, or even inadequate, lives that so many people in fandom are said to have with not enough resources, or not enough health. Rainjoy shows us how all of those people — all of these people — are heroes too. We are, in fact, it turns out, all the other ghosts of her title, over and over again.

The story is challenging. It becomes peculiarly circular at one point, and the parts of it that are brutal are inescapably so. Characters facing death never vow to die bravely in this universe, because they know that the truth of their world is that they will go out begging for the end, and that, that final abasement is worth it, if it can keep just one more person safe.

I’ve been in fandom long enough, and have been innately fannish my whole life, that I’ve had plenty of occasions to meet the objects and creators of my desires. These experiences have ranged from negligible or anti-climatic to surprisingly transformative. They’ve involved everything from accidental nights out to autograph lines and have often encompassed supposed secrets (hint: there are no secrets in fandom).

Each of these experiences, for good or for ill, has served to remind me of how far apart people and persona always are, even if we’re just talking about people I chat with on Tumblr, whose acquaintance in the flesh I have not yet had the pleasure of making. They have all also reminded me that to meet the wizard is a great and terrible thing. Sometimes, it’s even the worst thing.

But Rainjoy herself says she only writes happy endings. And that is true, not only in the narrative of “All the Other Ghosts” but in its treatment of all those desired meetings. Because the flaws, disappointment, fear, disgust, and surprise of the results of desire are central to her story. But instead of unmasking, outing, and truth being the basis of rejection as illusions are shattered, it is, in Rainjoy’s fic, the basis of elevation because the story behind the story is even more compelling.

“All the Other Ghosts” showcases not just fandom at its best (and often most absurd), but our daydreams and their consequences at their bests as well. Not without cost, but the story makes the price seems fair.

“All the Other Ghosts” is mostly rated R with a few brief forays into NC-17 material for language, sexuality, and violence. The story addresses sexual assault, domestic abuse, bias crimes, extreme violence, medical horror, and, in an homage to Watchmen even manages to evoke the nuclear dread of the 1980s. It is one of the most grueling stories I’ve ever read, but if you’re interested in reading about how and why fandom tells stories about itself, its love, and its desire, it’s utterly unmissable.

Hugo Awards: Link me to your stuff, again

So we’re gonna do this just like we did this last year, and I’m mostly rewriting last year’s post word-for-word.

This time of the year is, among other things, nomination season for the Hugo Awards, and general tradition in SF/F circles is for people to post the list of eligible things they’ve been involved with. For me, this year the only thing that I have that’s eligible is actually this blog in the fan writer category.

Meanwhile, although tomorrow is the deadline for acquiring a World Con membership in order to nominate and vote this year, I still have a month to read a ton of stuff and figure out what I’m going to nominate, so please link me to you eligible titles (or recommended titles from others) so I can get started on that process. 

Other than your awesome, I’m particularly interested in your various short-form recs, as I don’t read enough short stories in general, and it’s a pretty neat genre that highlights the beauty of good structure.  We do not give short stories enough love.

So, if you have stuff, please post in comments with links; meanwhile, please go browse the comments which will hopefully be flowing in shortly and check out anything that so moves you.

New York Diaries 1609 to 2009: I was once called something else

Before I was myself on the Internet or really knew that what I wanted to be doing was writing about and making pop-culture, I named myself after a character — a surly, teen hermaphrodite with green eyes in a world where green is the color of death — from Elizabeth Hand’s Aestival Tide, and spent a lot of time documenting my life on the Internet.

It was a pressure valve more than anything else when I chose that name in 1992, but it was also an early experiment for me with ideas about branding and fame and just not being able to shut the hell up. I didn’t know how to see myself or other people at that age without telling a story, and, in truth, in many ways, I still don’t. Eventually, though, I felt neither that young, nor that self-revelatory, starting going by my real initials online instead, and became both less and more my public self.

But I was still Reive, barely, on September 11, 2001. And I wrote about it, some of it, anyway, because that’s what there was to do. Every time we’d show up at the muster sites with supplies, they were the wrong ones. I remember, standing on a corner, carrying a couple of cases of bottled water and talking business with some dominatrixes while they walked their dogs. The Twin Towers were burning, but dogs still needed walking.

A few years ago, I got a note from an online friend who also uses the name Reive as part of his online identity. An editor had contacted him, thinking he was me, to get permission to publish one of my old LiveJournal entries about that period. Eventually, the editor and I were put in touch, I signed something or other, and that was that.

Well, apparently, the book is out! I just received my copy of New York Diaries 1609 to 2009 edited by Teresa Carpenter for Modern Library, and I’m in it — absurdly, alongside people like Noel Coward and Keith Haring and Kurt Weil — with the last thing I’ll ever publish as a person I never was.

It wasn’t a good time in my life, that year. And I tend to think people mostly have unpleasant memories of who I was when I was Reive. I’m more than a little ashamed of her — of me — and of what you might think of me, or think you know about me, if you read the entry, so littered with nicknames for people, like Sir.

But it hardly matters, all the people you’ve been, when you live and write about a place like New York, full of terrible creatures and brilliant illusions. Apparently, some girl who wasn’t quite a girl and named herself Reive was once one of them. Mostly, I try to be okay with that.

From Stephen King to The Last Seduction: uncomfortable things about pop-culture, gender and desire

Since I first started saying words on the Internet, over 20 years ago (so weird), one of the things I’ve heard over and over again is some version of women write about relationships, but men write about ideas. It made me angry then, and it still makes me angry now, even if I get that it’s kind of absurd. But, as I’ve written more and more about pop-culture, what I really find myself wondering the most often is, what the hell’s the difference?

Because stories are about the relationships people have: to each other, to power, to technology; to the state, to money, to hope, to loss; to their children, their parents, to a spouse; to neighbors, to jobs; to loneliness; and, of course, to the stories themselves.

Since the evening I met one of my more recent friends, I’ve been sort of vaguely promising to write her a blog entry about something we both know and talk about a lot: that both being a fan and being someone who writes about pop-culture can be complete a minefields for girls, whether they are 16 or 46.

As women, she and I often have a lot to prove. Namely, that our lives aren’t some big-word version of drooling over Tiger Beat; that we’re not starfuckers; and that our affection for our fannish interests is complex and mature, as if there is some terrible sin in being a twelve-year-old about some things at some times.

The boys we know in the many arms of this business don’t tend to face those particular conundrums and are not expected to self-monitor in the same way, and so there’s a game we play, early and often, called “What would people think of so-and-so if he were a girl?”

As a rule, we don’t answer those questions once we pose them. It’s too unpleasant. And besides, we both already know.

But, yet, we also know that Stephen King once told us that the best friends we’ll ever have are the ones we had when were were twelve. He’s not wrong, I don’t think; there was an absolute shimmering perfection to the relationship I had with my best friend at that age. So isn’t there some good in being a certain sort of giddy?

Isn’t it sort of absurd that in writing about pop-culture, which is something structured through the lens of commercialized teen desire even when it is not marketed to or as about teens, that one of the biggest insults and risks to the women who write about these sorts of topics with any ambition is that of being dismissed as a girl-child of that particular age?

Sadly, even as I am writing about this topic here, I am not sure I truly know how to do so comprehensively. It feels too nervous-making, too forbidden. As if there is some terrible fate in confessing that yes, I am a woman who writes about relationships, because that is what pop-culture is: stories, their construction, and how we desire entrance into them, whether it’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the train to Hogwarts, a fight to the death amongst children, or a daydream about what it’s like to be a a celebrity or, at least, be seen by one.

They’re all common enough thoughts, but to say them aloud forces acknowledgements that are largely uncomfortable all the way around. When we write about pop-culture we expose desire, wear at privacy, and betray loneliness, in ourselves and others. It’s like when Wendy Kroy in The Last Seduction says “a woman loses 50 percent of her authority when people find out who she’s sleeping with.”

When you’re a woman who writes about pop-culture, about what turns your emotional, intellectual and aesthetic crank, you’re revealing a lot about who you are, what you like, and what you don’t, necessarily, have. The assumptions, because there are always assumptions (as vicious, vicious Wendy Kroy makes clear) tend to flow from there.

Being a woman in the world of entertainment and pop-culture media — or just in the world of fans who have loud opinions and big readerships — can all too easily mean that anything you say positions you as a complainer or a whore, too affectionate and too greedy. It is always different for girls here. When we love things, it is suspect; in the construction of stories the female magician is a witch (or a bitch), while the male one is Chosen; he may pay a price for those rewards, and a steep one, but at least there is an exchange. I mean, you have read Dune, haven’t you? Or Harry Potter?

But at the end of the day, whether it’s too personally revelatory, too suspect, too much about relationship and desire, or too bound up with how people interpret my body, my face and my motives, these are the stories I want to be telling: about how we love fiction, about how we love things we choose to see as truth, and about how we love them both in public and in private — not just through desire, sexuality and fondness, but also through pattern recognition, remembrance, curiosity and, the greatest gift of all storytellers, lies.

Hugo nominations: please link me to your stuff

The early part of the year is, among other things, nomination season for the Hugo Awards, and general tradition in SF/F circles is for people to post the list of eligible things they’ve been involved with. For me, this year, that’s Whedonistas in the Best Related Work category and “Sanquali,” my lesbian werewolf story which qualifies as a novelette, in the anthology Bitten by Moonlight.

While, of course, this is shameless self-promotion especially to those planning to vote and nominate (all it requires is purchasing a WorldCon membership), it’s also me asking all my friends who have eligible titles this year to post links to their stuff, not just in the interest of the award thing, but because I am incredibly behind on reading. I’d make my own list from my to read shelf, but I know it has major gaps.

So, if you have stuff, please post in comments with links; meanwhile, please go browse the comments which will hopefully be flowing in shortly and check out anything you are moved to.

Wrapping up 2011: Hugo, pop culture and kind magics

Greetings from scenic Ohio, where I’m spending the week between Christmas and New Year’s with my partner’s family.

While a yearly trip at this point, it’s not a place I’ve gotten used to. I’m an only child who has never needed to rely on other people to get where I’m going, at least at home in New York. But here in Ohio, we have to cadge rides from her parents, and I have to learn about the fine art of family teasing: Patty has a brother, and there’s a mode to the household humor that I often don’t get and can sometimes rub my desperate need for approval very much the wrong way.

But this is a week each year that I need in its quiet and during which I tend to catch up on random pop culture I might not otherwise seek out. This year, that’s included the second Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film, a Jeff Dunham comedy performance in an arena (and wow, does that need a post of its own; I have never so felt the truth of New York City as another country so uncomfortably), and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

It’s Hugo, of course, that really seems like the best place to wind up this blog for the year, because Hugo is about what this blog is about — the love and loss of stories, the nature of fame, and the tonality of magic. I loved it, desperately, and, towards the end of the film, when a character describes their first experience of cinema as “the kindest magic I’d ever seen,” it seemed like a balm to some of the unpleasantries of this inside/outside life that I, and many of my friends who also write about pop culture, inevitably lead.

Loving media and stories can be unkind. It is an act that does, in fact, often break our hearts: whether from within the narrative or outside of it. There’s a reason that “life ruiner” seems to be one of the most popular Tumblr tags for cute celebrity boys of the moment, no matter how much it’s meant as a joke. We measure, not just our lives in stories, but also our smiles, our bodies, and our hearts. And we measure these things not just against tales we love, but the people who create them; and so what is meant to make us feel more, can so often make us feel less.

At least, that’s what true for me and many of my friends, and none of us are snowflakes that special.

So we’ll see if I find the time to catch up with writing about some of my misadventures out here in a state that Patty insists is on the East Coast and I insist can’t be because it’s not on the coast or producing a piece on the horrors of being a girl and liking stuff that I’ve been promising my friend Rae since the night we met.

In the mean time, if you have any love of the sentimentality I can never seem to avoid when talking about pop culture, do yourself a favor and see Hugo. But be sure to follow it up with the 2000 film, Shadow of the Vampire, which is its own strange tribute to the silent era and really represents us all when the vampire grasps at the light from a projector that displays his long-forgotten the sun.

Because who here hasn’t touched the screen or held hand to heart in response to a story or a movie or a moment or a smile that moves us? We are all, I think, greedy and waiting in the dark, even when the kindest magic is also sometimes made of sorrow.

As ever, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy New Year.

Personal note: Swordspoint audiobook

Even when I’m aggravated by it (and let’s face it, we’re all aggravated by stuff we love sometimes), I adore fandom and, particularly, fanfiction. I will always be inclined to defend it and be honest about my participation in it for all sorts of different reasons including that it’s just fun and that it’s arguably an act of perpetual longing, which just totally fits how my brain works. But, most importantly, it’s also how I met my partner.

Specifically, Patty and I met writing fanfiction about Ellen Kushner‘s Swordspoint, which is sort of hilarious as far as romantic impetus goes. Because even with a glorious couple at its center, Swordspoint is not a romance, and wow, neither of those guys are anyone you want to date, even if they’re pretty awesome as far as narrative kinks go and are people that Patty and I can be said to be bear some slightly hilarious and superficial resemblance too: she is a scholar, who is taller than me, and is, on occasion, quite difficult; and I do, in fact, keep swords by our bed.

Anyway, Swordspoint is now available as an audio-book from SueMedia Productions for Neil Gaiman Presents/ACX. I’m telling you all because I love this story like burning, and it helped me find Patty, and there are some rockin’ voice actors on this, and oh hey, I also have a teeny, tiny, awesome credit on it.

It’s cool stuff that I think many readers here would enjoy — swords, queer people, intrigue, and witty insults, just to name a few. If you do check it out and want to find the fandom, it seems to live on Livejournal.