1. What was it about the Twilight Fandom that made you want to write fanfiction for it?Well to be entirely honest, it wasn't Twilight Fandom, per se. I was already embedded in online fandom and have been for c. 15 years. I read X-Files fanfic from 1995 to 2000, then wrote in X-Men from 2000 to 2005/06, and most recently in Harry Potter from 2006 to the present. So I've witnessed a lot of changes. I still remember when X-Files fic was crammed onto one Usenet thread (alt.tv.x-files.creative) and can recall complaining when fandom migrated to Topica or Yahoo listservs (blogs and live journal hadn't even started yet). At that point, fandom began Balkanizing so that, to catch all stories we might want to read, we had to join more than one group. What a drag! Hee. I also remember when fanfiction.net started.
Does that make me a fandom dinosaur? (Checks face in mirror for wrinkles.)
It was a natural leap for me to sit down and scribble a story in order to "fill in the blanks" for something that didn't satisfy me in the books ("This is My Beloved Son" -- why Carlisle chose to turn Edward). I've only done four stories for this fandom -- none my usual length (I'm a novelist by trade). I'd rather act as enabler and get other people to write the stories I want to read. *wink* (Somebody REALLY needs to write a crossover in which Professor X teaches Edward Cullen proper telepathic manners, you know ... *lure, lure*)
Anyway, I find myself far more interested in the histories of the characters and the interfamily dynamics. But as interfamily dynamics cover a lot of what I write both in original fiction and fandom, that's no surprise. I'm also a professional historian, so the chance to write really long-lived characters creates a natural interest.
Nonetheless, this fandom may be the first in which everything I've written is non-romance. I write in other fandoms mind, and my novels there do have plots that extend beyond just relationships. But in Twilight, I can say I'm purely a gen writer -- which is, I do recognize, a bit of a problem . . . given the demonstrated preference for romances or love stories. Yes, yes, I must be different, I suppose. Sorry?
2. Tell us about the other Fandoms you have written for.As noted above, I've really only written in X-Men and Harry Potter (and Twilight). I'm serially monogamous in fandoms even while being rather "long-lived" in them too. So I spent 5-6 years reading X-Files, 6-7 years writing in X-Men, and now 3 years and counting in HP. So I stick around a while, write these massive novels until I run out of stories to tell . . . then move. And when I move on, I move on. I don't go back to write or even read much in old fandoms.
I also fixate on characters more than pairings. In X-Files, it was Scully, and Mulder, in X-Men it was Cyclops (Scott Summers) and Phoenix (Jean Grey), with a lesser interest in Angel (Warren Worthington) and Storm (Ororo Monroe). And in HP, as mentioned, it's Cedric, with additional interest in Hermione and Harry. I will cheerfully read and write both het and slash, as well as gen. In fact, I find the het-slash wars that infect some fandoms rather distasteful. I have read in a few other fandoms but don't write for them.
I moderate for the massive old Yahoo group XMMFF (X-Men Movie Fanfic), as well as for the Live Journal group "TwoSeekers" (Harry/Cedric slash), the Insane Journal group "NotaSpare" (for Cedric Diggory generally), and for two (now mostly dead) Twilight groups "Twilight_NDNS" and "Twifacts_check." I find it a bit disturbing that the latter is dead because, frankly, a discouraging percentage of Twilight fanfic could benefit from a place to do some RL research. ;>
"Practice the art of getting it right," along with "write what you know (or research like hell)" is my #1 advice to other writers.
3. What is your previous experience in writing?I've been writing since I was in 6th grade and we were told to use our vocabulary words in sentences. My sentences turned into paragraphs, and pretty soon, I was writing mini-stories. One day, I marched into class and declared to my teacher, Mrs. Best, "I'm going to write a novel about my bionic cat and I'm going to call it The Seven-Million-Dollar Siamese." (Yes, yes, it was the 1970s when the Bionic Man was popular on TV.) Instead of laughing, Mrs. Best hopped up, grabbed chalk, drew a little stylized cat-face on the chalkboard, then wrote my title above it. "That can be your cover!" she said.
That sealed it. I've been a writer ever since. It amuses me that my first 'novel' -- which never got past 4 pages laboriously written in longhand on ruled notebook paper -- was not only fanfic but a Mary Sue CAT. But writing is a learned skill. Only about 10% is talent, another 20% is sheer cussed persistence, and the rest is practice, practice, practice. I eventually sold my first short-story at 21, saw it published at 22 ... and today it embarrasses me so much, I've destroyed every copy of it that I run across. *grin* But that means I've been publishing a little over 20 years now (I'm 44).
I should add that this love of telling stories didn't come out of nowhere. In native tradition, storytelling is sacred business and I come from a long line of storytellers. It seems that every generation in my family, we produce a few storytellers. Hah-neh!
(For those who don't know, I'm a partblood American Indian, enrolled Peoria-Miami.)
4. What made you choose the genre you write in versus the others? Do you think you might ever venture beyond your chosen genre?
My primary (publishing) genre is "ethnic literary mainstream" -- which is fancy speak for saying I write about the lives of urban Indian women and our inter-generational relationships. But I suppose you could also say I write some SF/F and mystery-thrillers in fanfic, and I'm considering trying my hand at historical fiction sometime in publishing. I gravitate to 'coming-of-age' stories or unusual/atypical love stories (but not genre Romances, to which I'm allergic). To use fanfic examples: I've written about an older woman/younger man, a viable trio, male/male, biracial, and one partner disabled (deaf in one case and wheelchair-bound in another). Perhaps what interests me about Twilight IS that aspect of the Edward/Bella pairing -- not the genre romance elements, but the atypical nature of it. What would you call their affair? Interspecies?!
I also have a special fondness for hero boys (and girls). Too often the "bad boy" is perceived as being somehow more intrinsically interesting -- but I'd disagree. A while back, I wrote an article explaining my fascination with "heros" called "Why Writing Good Girls is Subversive."
"Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History," or so said Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, but what, precisely, did she mean? And why is it that 'well-behaved' characters are perceived to be boring in so much fanfic (and fiction)? And why is my form of 'misbehavior' to write them anyway?
5. What do you do to avoid writer's block? If it's unavoidable, what do you do to surpass it?Let me tell you a secret. There is no muse. ;>
No, really. There isn't.
Now, that isn't to say there's no such thing as inspiration. Any artist has thrilled to it with a bursting heart, delirious mind, and fire in the veins that forces us to create. But the Myth of the Muse can be an artist's worst nightmare and eventual downfall. Far, FAR too often I've heard writers moan that the muse has left them and they just can't create!
The plain truth is that writing is not just art, but also discipline. It's a JOB. Or really, a vocation and craft, and that craft is LEARNED -- a skill. And like any skill, it takes discipline to perfect. Writers write. Even when we don't feel like it. Even when we're 'blocked.' We just sit down and write. At first, 90% of it will be utter crap. But pretty soon, only 60% will be, then only 30% . . . and finally, we can sit down to turn out moderately readable prose on demand. It may not be our best writing or especially inspired ... but it's readable.
That's when you know you're a writer, not a dilettante.
So how to get past writer's block? WRITE past it. Just write. IME, so, so many writers have psyched themselves out and the only way to get back on the horse is to climb up there. There's nothing magical about it.
(Addendum: there are occasional real-life crises that are so devastating depression sets in and the ability to do much of anything is knocked right out of you. It happened to a friend of mine when she lost a child, and I've known several writers unable to write while going through a divorce, including me -- although others find escape in writing. But this sort of life-altering crisis is not usually the problem, and all these people were professional authors who could normally meet their deadlines.)
6. Do you find that any certain characters are more difficult to write than others?Sure. I think that's true for most any writer, if she's honest. Some characters are really easy to get into the heads of -- others, not so much. When creating one's own original fiction, we usually make protagonists who are like us because we can write them. But I think in fanfic that's why writer A is drawn more to character A while writer B is drawn to character B.
Yet good writers also learn empathy (not just sympathy) and if one digs a little and tries to understand the motivations of characters beyond the surface, it can be possible to write even those not that much like us -- or whom we dislike.
One trend I see in fanfic that I find troubling are writers (often younger) who write stories in order to deliberately BASH a character or characters whom they don't like. Usually, it's the romantic challenger in a love triangle, but not always. Honestly, that's horrible writing. For a true writer, our job is to get into the heads even of the "bad guys" -- the antagonists, or outright villains. It doesn't matter if we think they're horrible people and we'd be terrified of them in RL. In X-Men, my friend and fellow author Dex wrote a novel called The Sum of Zero , which involved the hunt for a serial killer, and he really got INTO the head of "Zero" -- why he did what he did. Dex is certainly not a serial killer nor advocating it as "good" behavior! He's just a good writer. I can say the same of Dr. Benway, well known in X-fandom for writing the most disturbing little stories (his X-Mansion is duly famous) that explore the dark underbelly of humanity. But in real life, Benway is the sweetest person you could meet; he doesn't even drive a car but bikes because it's better for the environment. Again, he's just a good horror writer.
As writers, it's our JOB to understand why any given character does what he or she does. They're characters, not real people -- much less our mortal enemies. If a writer HATES a character, s/he has no business writing that character. Deliberate bashing (especially making a character OOC to do so) is just shoddy character work -- and thus, bad writing.
7. What do you do to avoid the dreaded MarySueism when creating an OC?The only true OC I've done in Twilight was Edward's boyhood friend, Teddy Wells for "Beauty, Shining in Company", but given how little we know about Leah, I suppose one could say my handling of her in Cowboys & Indians is arguably an original character. Since I backed into writing fanfic after writing my own stuff far longer, creating original characters is natural. I actually have a couple of essays about authentic character creation, both on my website and on my Live Journal, so let me just link to those:
Original Characters in Fanfic
Writing (talented) Original Characters in Fanfic (without creating Mary Sues/Gary Stus)
8. What do you like to see in a review?Again, ironically, I actually addressed that in a couple of LJ posts, but in this case -- rather than linking -- I'll just summarize:
"I liked it" is fine. Sometimes readers are too shy to write more, or aren't sure how to articulate what they like. I'm the writer, after all -- not them. *grin* And it's perfectly fine just to let me know one liked it -- nothing more needed.
But if readers want some ideas of things writers often find very useful in feedback:
1) Tell me what worked for you. What made you laugh, cry, think?
2) Tell me what characters you liked, or loved to hate.
3) Did anything about the story especially connect for you given your own life experience? Lois McMaster Bujold once said that a story is not complete even when it's at the publisher. It's not complete until it's in the hands of a reader ... and read. Writing is at once a solitary art but symbiotic enterprise. Stories are more than just what the author MEANS. They're also what the reader GETS. So I love to know what the reader gets. :-)
4) Tell me if something didn't work for you. I've been doing this a long time. I have hundreds of stories and can count even novels in double-digits. NONE of them is that near and dear to me any more. :-) I have a thick skin. So tell me if you didn't like something, or something didn't work for you. I may or may not agree (and ironically, sometimes DISliking something is actually what I'm aiming for), and what works for one reader doesn't for another -- but I still want to hear, and will listen as long as it's phrased politely.
5) Last ... if I got a detail wrong -- tell me. If I made a typo -- tell me. I'd like to fix it. Fanfic offers what print doesn't -- it's not set in stone! I can tweak it even years later ... and sometimes I do.
9. Do you write with pen and paper or straight to computer? Is your writing linear, or do you find that your rough drafts are similar in structure to C&I?These days, I write entirely on computer because I type c.100 wpm, and that's faster than I can TALK, much less handwrite. Ha. But when I started, I wrote it all out longhand on paper, and even after I was typing ... Hell, my first stories were written on a normal typewriter. We didn't have PCs till I was in college. (Yes, I am that old ... ha.) There's actually a funny story about my first computer, which was an Atari. I bought it in order to get the WORD PROCESSOR since my writer friend Meredith Ann Pierce (The Darkangel, et al.) had assured me that word processors allowed one to cut whole paragraphs and MOVE them . . . before printing! So one didn't have to retype THE WHOLE DAMN THING. Oh, man, you have NO idea what music that was to my ears then.
So I bought a computer and daisy-wheel printer because at the time, publishers wouldn't accept a manuscript that didn't look like it had come from a typewriter (now they want it in .doc or PDF and forget such archaic things as PAPER manuscripts). So I'd do a whole day's work, then print it out. Wholah! SO much cleaner a copy ... and so much faster!
Well, one day a college friend who was also a comp-sci major was over at my apartment just hanging out. I was writing; she was watching TV. I got done with my chapter and it was time to eat. She wanted to go out, so I printed out the whole chapter, then turned off my computer. Michelle GASPED. "Didn't you SAVE that?" she squawked.
"What do you mean, didn't I save it? Of course I saved it." I waved the printed manuscript at her.
"No, no, you idiot! Didn't you save it?"
"I SAVED it, Michelle! It's right here!" I waved the manuscript practically under her nose.
"NO, didn't you SAVE it to a floppy disk? Where's your disk drive?!" (Back then, they were all external and she could see I didn't have one.)
"A disk drive?" I asked her. "Why would I need one of those? I have the manuscript, after all!"
Michelle: FACE-PALM. "Oh, God ...."
Now, before you laugh too hard, that was ... early 1983? But it does illustrate just how different those of us who started writing before computers (never mind before the internet) think about the process. To this day with my original stuff, if not necessarily my fanfic, I WILL have at least one manuscript hardcopy stored somewhere in a manuscript box. And I still very much prefer to edit by hand on hardcopy complete with editorial marks (all those funny, squiggly lines). But I no longer write that way because it's just so much faster for me to type.
(See further along the interview for outlines and drafts.)
10. Do you start title --> story(or chap)...or story(or chap)---> title?Depends. I usually have a working title when I start, but it may be as simple as "The Stephen Story." Sometimes I go through a couple of titles, but most of the time, I've got what turns out to be the final title relatively soon. Once in a while, though, I'm almost done before I get the title, especially for short fiction.
I like coming up with titles. It's something I think I'm moderately good at (my personal favorite in fanfic is "In a Hotel Six on Highway Five, after the 49s"), but coming up with good titles isn't essential to being considered a great writer.
I can, at least, pass on the best advice I ever got for titling pieces. It was actually in a poetry class. (That poetry class taught me oodles, even though I don't consider myself much of a poet.) The instructor (Joyce poetry specialist Brandon Kershner) told us: "When you title a poem, the title should either tell the reader something that's not IN the poem, or it should be the poem's first line." E.g., the title had better mean something/add something to the reader's understanding . . . or be plain and simple. And sometimes, one can manage to do both.
11. Do you find a significant portion of your stories on the cutting room floor, or do you tend to keep most of what you write?These days, I keep much of it. Although ANY writer (at any point in his or her career) had better be steeled to dump not just sections or scenes, but entire chapters that aren't working.
Yet as I've been at writing a long time, I think there's less "wandering around inside the narrative trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing" for me. I'm also a BIG fan of knowing where you're going before you set off walking. The better an idea one has of where one is going and how one plans to get there -- plot wise -- the less "extraneous word baggage" one winds up with that just has to be excised.
Let me tell a story about a moderately well-known (non-Twilight) fanfic writer who shall remain nameless (because it's not my goal to embarrass anyone and this serves only as a cautionary tale). Now I know from conversations with this writer that she wants to see where a story/scene takes her and refuses to plot it out. That may work for short stuff -- and much of her work is short -- but there was one long story she began that just . . . meandered. It was boring. And then she stopped altogether because she got blocked/had no idea what to do next. I'm not sure she ever finished it, actually. But even if she did, the story was dead in the water for months -- and not because of RL interference.
That isn't at all unique. I've seen it over and over in original fiction and fanfic with authors who refuse to plot. Very, very few authors who resist plotting in any form can write a cohesive novel (or even finish the ones they start). More often the stories wander, get repetitive, bloated and dull, and finally sit down some way before the finish line and just . . . go to sleep. :-)
Please, please, please . . . give your poor stories a road map and some coffee! That's all a plot is. Outlines shouldn't be scary, and don't need to be detailed or extensive. One just has to know where it's all headed and some of the rest-stops or greasy-spoon diners along the way. Knowing will cut down a LOT on trying to fix things in the editing phase.
I am a VICIOUS cutter -- and dislike deadwood intensely. I want my stories to be lean, mean, and on-message. If a scene doesn't further the plot/develop the characters, I CUT it. One should never let a scene do only 1 thing when it can do 3. That's the secret to good pacing . . . know where you're going, how you plan to get there, and don't let yourself get distracted by humor, cute fluff, useless drama, action-distraction, or smut. That latter might not be a welcome warning in Twilight fandom in particular -- and may make me sound like an elitist -- but I'll say it anyway. If a sex scene doesn't contribute to the story's plot or characterization . . . cut it. Incidentally, this is not the same thing as belittling erotica, which typically has a point beyond titillating the reader.
Also -- know when a story (or scene) is OVER. Know when to enter any given scene and when to leave it. Too many otherwise good scenes are turned dull by entering them too soon or letting them run on too long.
Learning all that is just a matter of experience and developing a shrewd eye . . . practice, practice, practice. So now, yes, I do often keep a lot of what I write, and my editorial process is refining, not rewriting. But even my refining may involve yanking sentences or phrases that are unnecessarily repetitive. If I had more time, my stories would be shorter. ;> (Wasn't it Lincoln who once said, "Had I more time, I would be more brief"?)
12. What's your pre-writing routine, if you have one?None. I sit down and write whenever I find time. I think routines can develop into a problem because if they get interrupted, the writer thinks she can't do without ___. We're back to a writer psyching herself out. Writers need to train themselves to write under almost any circumstances, at any time, with or without anything. It may be nice to have music, or hot tea, or wine, or do yoga, or go workout before -- or whatever one likes -- but it shouldn't be necessary or become too routine. Personally, I write best in the late morning or very, very late at night (e.g., essentially the wee early morning hours). But that's more about when my brain works best. I can write any time, any place . . . just give me a computer, or even a pad and paper.
And finally,for my own personal benefit, these are more for the editor in me (I enjoy editing more than writing):
13. What is your editing process? How much do you rely on outside help? Where did you find your beta, and what type of relationship do you have?I always have editors. Any writer worth her salt has an editor. Now, in fanfic I realize it can sometimes be hard to secure a good editor, and some therefore forego it. But it's useful to have at least somebody read over a story -- somebody you know will tell you like it is. But also, somebody who can fix your weak areas.
I'm an editor myself, but of a particular type. In fact, when I first started out in the business, I was a better architectural editor than writer! One writer friend used to send me her manuscripts with a sticky note on top that said, "Tell me what my theme is; I have no bloody idea." I'd send her mine with a sticky that said, "Grammar fix pls," because she was a grammar maven, taught Latin in college, and corrected professional copy editors on a regular basis. There's more than one kind of editing, and copy editing (grammar and spelling) is just the most widely recognized. In fact, there are really "THREE tiers to editing" any piece. 1) Grammar/spelling, or line editing; 2) craft corrections ('Your POV is drifting ...' or 'talking heads!' or 'drop the cheesy character adjectives and just use names'); and 3) architectural editing (making sure scenes work, characters are consistent and pacing moves + large-picture plot issues).
Now, compared to a REAL grammar maven like my friend Judy, I'm merely average, but boy, give me your broken plot and I'll figure out how to fix it! :-D Not every editor does all three things equally well. (In fact, most don't.)
The first rule of editing for one's self or others is an honest assessment of one's own strengths and weaknesses -- but that includes relative knowledge. My spelling blows. My grammar, however, is probably better than 95% of English speakers. But it's not better than a grammar maven's -- and I don't pretend it is. Nonetheless, this can make me jumpy when submitting stories to archives. I once had to explain to a "certified beta reader" on an HP archive why his corrections to my text were wrong. He got all upset and told me I didn't know what I was talking about, he was a college English major! I wrote back, "Well, I'm a college history professor, have edited professionally, and you clearly don't recognize the English subjunctive when you see it. 'If I were to go' is correct."
-- which I admit was arrogant as hell! *blush, blush* I'm sure he was just fine for most people submitting stories . . . but he really pissed me off! *laughing* That's one of the dangers of the internet . . . not knowing the relative experience of the strangers we talk to.
Most of the editors I work with are professional editors in real life like Naomi Kraus, my chief editor who's also senior editor for a major travel publisher. And ironically, I didn't find Naomi, she found me. She sent me an email about 1 month after I'd started posting fanfic to say, "I've never liked a story more whose premise I liked less," or something like that (she remembers better than me). Then she offered a few grammar corrections . . . and it was clear she knew what she was talking about, so I GRABBED her. LOL! I couldn't believe my luck, snaring a real, live pro editor just a month into trying my hand at fanfic. I'd felt so HORRIBLY adrift without an editor to work with. Naomi's been editing for me now for 9 years and I consider her one of my best friends. In fact, she's probably still my oldest friend in fandom.
I've worked with other editors, mostly journalists or newspaper editors (including Katie, "that_writr," who writes for Twilight). It's a good relationship because they've shown they know their stuff, AND they give me the level of editing I expect . . . which means they rip into it. It's not that I'm touchy about getting back a manuscript covered in red. No, I expect that, and probably won't ask somebody twice who doesn't deliver. But I have to believe the person editing for me actually knows what s/he is doing.
It's all about trust and respect. Writers and editors need mutual respect. If I don't trust my editor, I'm wasting her time (and mine). I have to believe she can give me something beyond what I can do just re-reading the story "3 days cold."
This is a little different from beta readers. I know that fandom typically conflates the two, but they aren't the same. A writer and her editor have a unique relationship, and I think the longer they work together, the better they both work.
Trust is built over time.
But beta readers are people who read for select reasons -- they have some expertise needed, or a unique view. So Heatherly read Special: the genesis of Cyclops because she specializes in child sexual abuse, works for foster care and is a court child advocate. I have a counseling background, but I specialized in hospice and bereavement. Sure, I know some stuff -- but not like Hilly. So when I wrote a novel about a child prostitute recovering from that experience, it was Hilly I wanted as a beta reader for her unique expertise. The subject is too delicate for ham-handed handling and she fixed those niggling little things I didn't know, counseling background or not.
It's amazing how clever our editors and beta readers can make us look!
Research, research, research . . . and my beta readers are GODsends. I always try to shower them with thanks, too, because I so appreciate them giving their valuable time to help me make my story look better. That goes for my editors too, and even my "image" people (those who make manips for me for my website). I love them, adore them, and always, always try to acknowledge their assistance.
So writers are nobody without good editors, good research help, and good beta readers.
And any writer worth her salt knows it. :-D
You can read ALL of Minisinoo's FanFiction on her website, The Medicine Wheel.
This interview was conducted by siDEADde, author of Luniere.