5 Fandom Friday

The idea for this post comes from The Nerdy Girlie, by way of Gail Carriger.

What five fandoms were my gateway into the reader and writer I am today? This was actually really easy for me to suss out, though I did decide not to include some of the earlier childhood obsessions that, while I’m sure Tumblr might call them fandoms today, weren’t thought of in that way then — or, at least, I never conceived of them that way. I spent years obsessed with dinosaurs, for instance, or my early fixation with The Last Unicorn, or my life-long love affair with Disney — none of those were formative fandom experiences, though, as they were mostly private. So for the purposes of this post, I’m not counting “gateway fandoms” as “things I liked a lot”, but I’m thinking about the things where I really got involved with discussion, fanfic, RPGs, etc on a public level.

1. Star Wars

just a short little girl with a gun

This can’t possibly come as a surprise to anyone who knows me or has been following this blog. I’ve talked about how Star Wars changed my life. I have strong feelings about its future. But it was also the first real fandom I participated in publicly. This was where I realized that you could share your geekery with people other than your cousins or next-door neighbors. The original trilogy was re-released right as AOL was becoming a big thing, and man alive, did I jump in head first. At 13, I had unquestioned dominance of an RPG chat board and room, and I had the high score on AOL’s Star Wars trivia for several months running in the late 90s. I played X-Wing vs TIE Fighter (badly), dressed as a Rebel agent for Halloween twice, and drove a LARPing campaign in my middle school before we even knew what LARPing was. (And when I tell people about the contorted tricks, convoluted schemes, and nefarious double-crossing I came up with in that game, most find it somewhat alarming and wonder why I didn’t become a CIA agent). The obsession eventually waned, replaced by other items on this list, but my love is no less. I still watch the movies several times a year (and am waiting with apprehensive optimism for Episode VII), and just a few weeks ago, I joined a Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG group and am enjoying myself immensely.

2. Broadway

fun dresses

Bless anyone who knew me from the ages of about 13-17, because they had to listen to more off-key belting than anyone should ever have inflicted on them. I’ve loved musical theatre my entire life — one of my earliest memories is of seeing Cats when I was three, learning difficult vocabulary just so I could read the entire libretto, and dancing to “The Jellicle Ball” with my mother when she got home from work. But when I was a teenager, it turned into a whole other thing. My friends and I went through a series of fixated obsessions on particular musicals — The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mamma Mia!, Into the Woods, Aida, Chess, Wicked — and sang them. Everywhere. Living Room Musicals were a staple of our entertainment. We attached fierce meaning to various songs, communicated in quotes via our AIM away messages, used them as weapons in intra-group feuding. And we wrote fanfic. So. Much. Fanfic. I am so damn grateful that YouTube wasn’t a thing yet for most of that time, because there would be some seriously blackmail-worthy material out there if it had been. But the thing is — musical theatre can teach you a lot about the heights and depths of emotion. I build playlists for books and characters that I’m working on, and most of them are still dominated by showtunes.

3. X-Men

XM24

This is something I’ve flitted in and out of throughout my life. I got hooked early, with the 90s animated series. I distinctly recall the Pizza Hut tie-ins, and I think I still have one of those comics you used to get with Personal Pans. As a teenager, I came back to it with a mania. My favorite was, is, and always has been Rogue — and believe me, I’ve done all sorts of psychological soul-searching as to why I feel such a strong connection to the untouchable Southern spitfire. When I was 16, I even managed to convince my parents to let me bleach a white streak into my then-auburn hair so I could be her for Halloween. I’ve actually been more out of than in this fandom for a while, mostly because I started getting so ticked off about what the series I’d typically followed were doing with my favorite characters — but I’m sure I’ll come back someday, when new writers take over, and in the meantime, I’ve been branching out into some new material (it helps to have a friend who edits at Marvel and another who writes for DC to nudge me towards different titles). Because comics are such an ongoing medium, I feel like this fandom introduced me more than any other to the idea of writing being subject to the various pressures of the time. Just since I was a kid, the X-men have diversified a lot. They’ve been as subject as everything else in fiction to the “dark and gritty” treatment that’s been so popular the past few years. They’ve dealt with shifting perceptions and philosophies in regard to feminism, race relations, LGBTQ, terrorism, the economy, and so forth. Writing never takes place in a vacuum, and pretty much all published works are subject to a lot of different influences, from those within the writer’s own head to those imposed by the industry. I feel like those influences are more public in comic books than they are in other forms.

4. Harry Potter

harry-potter-2013-uk-adult-covers

This fandom dominated late high school and pretty much all of college. It took no time at all after reading the books (up through Goblet of Fire, when I got into it) to start costuming, writing fanfic, and joining RPGs (now on LiveJournal rather than the dying AOL or other forums). HP fandom is a lot of why I am so positive on fanfic in general. There is really no better way for young writers to get feedback than writing in a popular fandom. It’s really, really hard to get people to read original works, especially when you’re an inexperienced teenager (who, let’s face it, is probably not that great a writer yet) — but fanfic brings folk in. You get reinforcement and you get concrit. For me, it ended up building a really tight group of friends, many of whom I still chat with regularly. I certainly won’t claim that there isn’t a lot of nastiness, competition, and trolling out there, but if you pick your cohorts well, you end up with a great support system that can last for years. HP was and remains the most public of all my fandom loves, too. I was a founding member and the social chair of Wizards and Muggles, William and Mary’s HP fan club (which is now thought to be the largest in the nation), and I now co-run Virginia is for Wizards. All the cons I’ve been to so far have been HP-themed, and I’ve easily costumed in this fandom more than in any other.

5. Kushiel’s Legacy

Kushiel's_Chosen

This fandom is so niche. The others on this list are all pretty huge names, so it’s not really surprising that they were what I’d consider gateway fandoms, but Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy has never gotten much mainstream attention. It’s easy to see why — the masochist heroine, the frank sexuality that imbues the entire culture, the overt paganism, as well as a lot of other darker themes and experiences that aren’t quite middle-America-friendly. It’s sort of just slightly more beyond the pale than A Song of Ice and Fire (which merely shocks, but all the alarming things there are overtly bad — the pearl-clutching bits in Kushiel are often the things held up as good, one of the reasons I like it so much). I didn’t find this until college, making it the latest addition to the list, but it definitely had an impact on me as a writer. Aven owes a lot to the complex interplay of politics, fantasy, history, and sexuality displayed in Kushiel’s Legacy. I think it influenced some of my writing vices as well — It’s a cast of thousands, which I love (though I know not everyone does), and it definitely has moments where it doesn’t move as swiftly as it might, choosing instead to luxuriate in character studies and world-building — but I’m okay with that. My fandom involvement here was mostly online, in a tight-knit group (that had a lot of overlap with HP and ASoIaF groups).

So — Those were the five fandoms that I think had the biggest influence on me, as a geek and as a writer. How about you? What were your starting fandoms?

Book Meme (with bonus matching game and sociopolitical commentary)

So, I stole this meme from Facebook, but decided to post it here because I wanted more of a chance to pontificate about these books — specifically, what sort of a reader and writer I think they’ve turned me into.

List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be ‘right’ or ‘great’ books just the ones that have touched you.

  1. The Scarlet Pimpernel – Emmunska Orczy
  2. Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley
  3. Deathless – Catherynne Valente
  4. The Last Unicorn – Peter Beagle
  5. Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  6. Catherine, Called Birdy – Karen Cushman
  7. Kushiel’s Chosen – Jacqueline Carey
  8. Lords and Ladies – Terry Pratchett
  9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J K Rowling
  10. Sandman Volume 3: Dream Country – Neil Gaiman

First off, I’m pretty pleased with myself that the list features six female authors. I walk the walk when it comes to supporting women in media. (Numbers 11 and 12, for what it’s worth, would probably be Gone with the Wind and Julia Quinn’s Everything and the Moon. And The Handmaid’s Tale probably comes in at 13 — so there’s three more female authors who rank highly in my esteem, all for very different reasons). I don’t know what it says that of the three male authors, two of them are featured twice, except that I really like what those guys write. I’m also fairly pleased with myself for not copping out and listing entire series, as I often do with these memes. Narrowing it down made me think harder about what it is that has stuck with me, even out of those series that I most cherish. But the list came easily, for the most part. These are all books I revisit frequently, old friends who always welcome me back.

So what does this list say about me? I like epics. I like sweeping romance, but I like it complicated. I like the middle volumes of things, where it’s dark and twisted and unresolved. I like history and fantasy, and I have little interest in modern reality, so far as my pleasure reading goes. A lot of these books have stuck with me for a really long time. I first read Catherine, Called Birdy when I was nine and The Last Unicorn when I was twelve (though I’d seen and loved the movie since I was two). A good chunk come from my mid-teenage years: The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mists of Avalon, Good Omens. The most recent addition, Deathless, I only read last year, but it made a huge impression.

I’m certainly attracted to an elegant turn of phrase. While not all of these authors write in the same style, I would say they’re pretty much all writers who really love language for its own sake — and that lends itself to a similar felicity of expression, even if it manifests in dissimilar ways. I can definitely quote all ten of those books off the top of my head. Which is making me want to play a matching game. So we will! Because it’s my blog and I do what I want.

  1. “Things need not have happened to be true.”
  2. “A woman’s heart is such a complex problem – the owner thereof is often most incompetent to find the solution of this puzzle.”
  3. “If I had to be born a lady, why not a rich lady, so someone else could do the work and I could lie on a silken bed and listen to a beautiful minstrel while my servants hemmed? Instead I am the daughter of a country knight with but ten servants, seventy villagers, no minstrel, and acres of unhemmed linen. It grumbles my guts.”
  4. “…muttering prayers and love-words like a curse…”
  5. “And they branch. But, and this is important, not all the time. The universe doesn’t much care if you tread on a butterfly. There are plenty more butterflies. Gods might note the fall of a sparrow but they don’t make any effort to catch them.”
  6. “‘All this time, and you speak to me as though I were a flighty pinprick of a girl. I am a magician! Did you never think, even once, that I loved lipstick and rouge for more than their color alone? I am a student of their lore, and it is arcane and hermetic beyond the dreams of alchemists.'”
  7. “Pride, she thought drearily, was a cold bedfellow.”
  8. “The men in the room suddenly realized they didn’t want to know her better. She was beautiful, but she was beautiful in the way a forest fire was beautiful: something to be admired from a distance, but not up close.”
  9. “‘They deserve their fate, they deserve worse.  To leave a child out in the snow…’   ‘Well, if they hadn’t, he couldn’t have grown up to be the prince.  Haven’t you ever been in a fairy tale before?'”
  10. “‘Don’t worry. You’re just as sane as I am.'”

I also (shockingly) like heroines. Of the ten books on that list, only two, maybe three, don’t have what I would consider central female characters — Harry Potter, since no character manages to be as central as he does (but we do still get, y’know, Hermione and Minerva and Luna and Ginny, all of whom shine so brilliantly in that book in particular), Good Omens is such an ensemble work (but still features Anathema, Pepper, War, etc), and Sandman, since if it has a central figure, that would be Morpheus, but that particular volume is even more ensemble than most of them. Of the rest? Marguerite Blakeney. Phedre no Delaunay and Ysandre de la Courcel. Morgaine and Vivivane. Amalthea and Molly Grue. Birdy. Marya Morevna. Esme and Gytha and Magrat. It’s a wide spectrum and no mistake. There’s not just one way to be a heroine. The only thing all those women have in common, really, is that they act. And this has always been true, in other media as well as in books. My heroines growing up were Princess Leia, Xena, and Queen Elizabeth I.

There’s a chicken and egg thing here, I think. Did I like these books with these amazing heroines (and anti-heroines, and occasionally female villains) because of the type of person I am, or did reading books with those characters shape me into that person? A little of both, probably. I can credit my parents with the fact that I think I internalized a lot less misogyny than a lot of women of my generation. Not none, mind — I’m not sure that would be possible, even in the most liberated of environments. But it was never, ever implied that there were things I couldn’t or shouldn’t do because I was a girl, whether it was playing with dinosaurs or learning to rappel at the age of five or dressing up like Disney princesses for Halloween. I could do all of those things — and did. And that spread into the media I consumed, too. My parents bought me books by both male and female authors, with both male and female characters. When they made up bedtime stories, it was always a little girl going out and adventuring. And so that’s what I sought out as I grew old enough to choose my own media.

I can look back at my very earliest writings — the stories about the people inhabiting my Playmobil dollhouse, the Star Wars fanfic — and from the very beginning, I was writing ensemble casts that were at least 50% female, if not weighted even more heavily to the distaff side. I was too young then to have done it to prove a point — that was just the way I saw my word, and so it was the way I sought to tell stories. It startles me sometimes, to remember that some people actually have to put conscious thought into that — that the idea of more than one prominent female character in a story is still radical in some ways.

Now, what I know I’ve had to get better at is racial diversity. That’s a very white list up there, both for authors and characters. That, I did internalize. I certainly never sought to be exclusionary, but I started off with some default assumptions that needed interrogation and, often, demolition. And so, the past several years have been a quest to better educate myself on those cultures that don’t derive from western Europe and to incorporate them — and I’m damn sure my stories are better for it.

I think a lot of narratives about writing focus on the writer discovering him or herself, but I think you get better stories when you’re more interested in discovering the world.