Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Author Interview: thatwritr

1. You're a long-time reader of fanfic in Harry Potter and other fandoms, and have edited for authors. So what was it about Twilight that made you want to "cross to the dark side" and write fanfiction for it?

I'm not sure, to be honest. To make it all even funnier, I read almost exclusively slash fanfiction in HP, House, and SGA. But here I am, writing het Edward/Bella!

I think part of what draws me to slash are issues of relationship equality. Unlike some slash readers, I don't believe that opposite-sex pairs are automatically unequal (I have seen some slashers dismiss het categorically that way) -- but same-sex pairs highlight issues of equality. I think that's why they're popular among straight women writers. It's not JUST the idea of "two hot male bodies instead of one!" -- it's also the chance to explore equality issues in relationships, which we -- as women-- tend to be more sensitive to (in part because we've historically been the less equal partner).

Yes, I know slash can be about unequal pairs just like het, but in my own reading, I stick to couples who are roughly the same age or come into the story as equals. I don't read slash where the characters are, say, teacher-student (like some Snarry ... Snape/Harry). If it's a grown-up Harry with Snape, that's different, but I prefer pairings like Remus/Sirius (HP), or House/Wilson (House), or Sheppard/Mckay (SGA).

When I read Twilight, I was bothered by the fact Edward was so much older than Bella, not just in chronological years but in experience. Yet when I talked to other fans, I found that didn't register for many. They were more squicked by the idea of an older-looking Bella with teen-looking Edward even if she's not truly older. It was about the age they appeared to be, not the age they really were. So I wanted to write a take-off on the (then-)popular New Moon AU in which Edward never returns, but in my version, Bella really did get over him, married someone she loved, and grew up.

When Edward comes back in In the Blink of an Eye, it's an adult -- and more equal -- Bella he must interact with. Initially she's not happy to see him and tells him to go to hell. They must rebuild trust, and reinvent what it means to be together -- much like problems faced by same-sex couples. They don't fit "proper" social molds for couples (she looks older than him, in this case), but what others see when they look in from the outside isn't how Bella and Edward really are. So I reckon it has a lot of the same themes found in slash fiction, even if it's not slash itself.

2.What is your previous experience in writing?

I'm trained as a journalist, and spent a few years working for a small newspaper in North Georgia where the staff was so small, we wore lots of hats! But as it became increasingly clear how the wind was blowing and the days of newsprint were numbered, I went back to school to get a doctorate so I could teach communication and rhetoric at the college level. I wanted to be sure I'd still have a job in ten years. I still love newspapers, though.

Writing fiction is both very different and not so different from some of the human interest writing I did. It's still all about evoking emotions and painting pictures through words. Also, one has to do a lot of research, which journalism helped me with. What's different is the whole plotting thing. Plotting is EVIL, I tell you -- EVIL. (Don't laugh, Min.) I had no idea how much effort went into making all those plot threads work out and come together. I'm still crossing my fingers and holding my breath that the end of In the Blink will make some sort of sense!

3. Why did you choose to write vampire AU instead of another Twilight fanfiction type?

Oh, I like the vampire element because I like both horror and science fiction. I know all-human stories are quite popular, but if there are no vampires, then Edward and Bella are just another romance, and while I don't mind those (I'm quite the sucker for romantic comedies!), I wouldn't necessarily read fanfic about them unless the basic story idea interested me too. I'm not sure that made sense. What I'm trying to say is that I'm intrinsically interested in the problems presented by Edward's vampirism, but in all-human, I have to find the plot idea interesting or the story doesn't interest me. I suppose that's somewhat true for any story, but I find it matters more in all-human because there's no vampire element. It's not Edward/Bella that draws me, but vampire-Edward/human-Bella. So I do read (and really like) some all-human stories, but for reasons beyond the fact they involve Edward and Bella (or Alice and Jasper, or ...).

4.Do you find that any certain characters are more difficult to write than others?

There are some I try to stay away from for various reasons. The Native American characters, for instance, just because it's hard for me to write them in that context, although outside that context is another matter. What I mean is that I stay away from writing Jacob and Irene as Native Americans because I'm not one, but I'm all right with writing them as seen from the outside by Bella or Edward or others.

Otherwise, I'm not sure I find any of them "difficult" in that it just takes sitting down and considering their motivations. I feel the closest to Bella in personality, but I think Rosalie may be the most fun to write, just because I wish I had the guts to say some of the things she does!

5. Despite the fact In the Blink of an Eye is an E/B romance, you have a particular interest in writing strong women characters from your grown-up Bella, to kick-ass Rosalie, to the original characters of Irene Black (Jacob's wife) and Martha Jackson (Mark's mother). Talk about your commitment to strong women in fiction.

One of my major tiffs with the original books is that -- whatever SMeyer may say (or believe) -- her women characters aren't particularly strong role models for girls. I understand why the books are attractive, and I certainly think Stephenie's Bella is an authentic voice for a teen girl. But Bella in the books is too ready to give up her future (and her life) for a boy, and seems to have little self-identity beyond her love for Edward and Nineteenth-Century Romance novels. Now as I said, this might reflect the way some (maybe a lot of teen) girls see themselves, but Stephenie never challenges that by offering a genuine alternative. Part of why I so disliked Breaking Dawn is that it doesn't really challenge the status quo, it only appears to. Her Bella is too inclined to define herself in relation to others, and teen girls already get enough of that in the real world. We are defined by our cliques, friends and boyfriends. A lot of us still take a man's name at marriage, are walked down the aisle by our fathers and "given away" to our prospective husbands, and later we're known by our children's names, not our own: so-and-so's mom. These are centuries-old patterns that still define our romantic myths -- Perfect Prince Charming arrives on a white horse (or in a silver Volvo) to sweep us off our feet and carry us away to live Happily Ever After. "The End." But real life doesn't end there and I think we need to radically redefine what makes up "happily ever after."

Fanfic about Twilight is one way of doing that -- of appropriating the myth and rewriting it. What I love about online fandom and fanfic is that it's "women's space" far more than most areas of society (not just Twilight, but fandom in general). In fact, that's one reason it's looked down on. People outside fandom tend to define it by the kink, and are either genuinely unaware of, or too inclined to dismiss as an anomaly the more inventive and plain SMART stories and meta discussions that happen in fandom. They're shocked to find just how many academics write or read fanfic, both professors and grad students. It's marginalized and dismissed like so much of women's space is, and the few positive media pieces on fandom (which I notice as a journalist) tend to be written by ... wait for it ... WOMEN. But groups like The Organization for Transformative Works belie these belittling charcterizations.

Nonetheless, I'm often troubled by the negative images of women I find perpetuated in fanfic, whether it's a bitchy femme fatale who challenges our heroine for the hero in het stories, or the equally bitchy alternative love-interest of some slash fiction. We women authors can treat other women in fiction just awfully. There's something wrong with that picture. I categorically refuse to write "bitch" female characters. That doesn't mean a woman can't be a "bad guy," but I'm not going to turn her into a caricature.

In general, I try to stay away from simplistic love triangles. I'm more interested in the ties that women create with one another. So the friendship that develops between Bella and Rose, or the mother-daughter relationship between Martha and Bella, or the old friendship between Bella and Irene, and Bella and Alice -- even the slightly uncomfortable interaction between Bella and Esme -- all exist APART (or mostly apart) from the relationships these women have to the men in their lives. If we were to remove Emmett or Edward or Jasper or Carlisle or Mark or Jacob, Bella would still have relationships with these women -- as witnessed by Martha's insistence that she stay in Bella's life even after her son, Bella's husband, is dead. Their ties aren't dependent on men for permission to exist -- nor defined by men.

This is very important, I think, for our daughters and sisters and girlfriends (and even mothers) to see. Women can be -- and are -- defined by themselves and each other, not by fathers or brothers or sons, boyfriends or husbands. And our inter-relationships are a lot more complicated than just about our men. I don't like either fiction or fanfiction that reduces the relationships between women to being all about men.

6. number of plot elements from In the Blink of an Eye are taken from your own life experiences. Talk about them, and why you went that route.

Well, as I think a lot of readers know, my older sister is in a wheelchair with an injury much like Bella's. I chose that so I'd know better what Bella can and can't do. Why did I put her in a wheelchair at all? I guess because I wanted the contrast between this more physically restricted Bella, but a woman who knows herself at last. One reader characterized it something like, "a broken spine but a backbone of steel," and I liked that.

Also, after some conversations with other readers and as a result of my own background, I was aware how "whitewashed" Stephenie's vampire world is (at least until the last book), so I wanted to throw in a little color. Mark -- her late husband -- is African American. When reading, I noticed that Bella's drawn to what's "different" -- vampire Edward, Native American Jacob. Very WASP Mike Newton holds no interest. So I decided that her tendency to choose "the Other" would hold true. Why an African American instead of, say, somebody Hispanic or Korean or Jewish? Well, I dated/lived with a black man for 7 years. We finally split up because our careers took us in different directions, but we're still friends and I still visit his family. I also wanted to deal with the racial tension of the old South versus the "new" South. Racism is still around, but it's different from what Jasper knew, or most of the Cullens.

I set the story in North Georgia because it's where I was raised. I did consider putting it in Alaska, as I live here now and Alaska figures in the original books, but it's a relatively recent move and Georgia is nearer to Jacksonville, where Renee is with her new husband. Given the descriptions of Charlie's house in the book, I knew it'd be virtually impossible for a disabled Bella to stay with him after the accident without the house being completely gutted and redone. So it made sense to me that she'd move to Florida. Also, I wanted to make Mark a Morehouse Man -- so that put them in Atlanta for at least some of the time.

7.What do you like to see in a review?

I really like to hear from readers what they identified with, or if there was something they didn't buy or couldn't relate to. Also, theories about where the story is going are a lot of fun for me to read, so bring on the theories! So far, I don't think anybody has figured it out, which is good -- I think.

8. I know from our personal conversations that you have an interesting take on Edward's telepathy. Talk some about that, if you can without giving away plot secrets.

I can't say a whole lot, but yes, a lot of Edward's troubles relate to his ability to hear others' thoughts. I gather that when he was a teen, he was pretty normal, if "sensitive" -- not the misanthropic, self-hating guy he now presents as. I think his telepathy makes him feel overly confident, but also exposed him to ideas and ugliness that he wasn't ready for at 17. Even if he wasn't a child, he was apparently a fairly idealistic and somewhat sheltered young man. Just imagine everything he would have heard after he woke as a vampire, and how that would have re-shaped his views of humanity?

9. Last, because I know you want to, share the Anzaldua poem that inspired your take on the Cullens.

LOL! You knew I wanted to discuss Gloria Anzaldúa. All right, anybody working in the area of feminist theory is already familiar with this poem, but for those who haven't read it before, it's perhaps her most famous work. I think it fits the Cullens because by choosing not to feed on people but remember their human fore-lives, they choose to live in the Borderlands. They are neither "full" vampires, nor are they human, but something of both. They live "in-between," and Bella IS the Borderlands -- sin fronteras. All roads meet in her: white and African American and Native American, abled and disabled and superabled, vampire and human and werewolf.

To Live In The Borderlands Means You
To live in the Borderlands means you
are neither hispana india negr Espanola
ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata,
half breed
caught in the crossfire between camps
while carrying all five races on your back
not knowing which side to turn to, run from;

To live in the Borderlands means knowing
that the india in you,
betrayed for 500 years,
is no longer speaking to you,
that mexicanas call you rajetas,
that denying the Anglo inside you
is as bad as having denied
the Indian or Black;

Cuando vives en la frontera
people walk through you, the wind
steals your voice,
you're a burra, buey, scapegoat,
forerunner of a new race,
half and half—both woman and man,
a new gender;
To live in the Borderlands means to
put chile in the borscht,
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;

Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to
resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,
the pull of the gun barrel,
the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;

In the Borderlands
you are the battleground
where the enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
the border disputes have been settled
the volley of shots have shattered the truce
you are wounded, lost in action
dead, fighting back;

To live in the Borderlands means
the mill with the razor white teeth wants
to shred off
your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel,
your heart
pound you, pinch you roll you out
smelling like white bread but dead;
To survive the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads.


  1. i LOVE Gloria Anzaldúa. your story sounds so interesting, i love the challenges you have presented for the characters. i've never heard of this story until now but it's next up in my queue!


  2. What I love most about ITBOE is That_writr's rendering of Bella. It's a Bella I can identify with- if not by injury than at least by ingenuity. One of my favorite scenes so far happens earlier in the story when Edward is trying to keep Bella from what he sees as a potential danger, and Bella is able to outmaneuver his logic by virtue of communications training. This establishes early on that Bella is not going to be a "Yes, Edward, sir, whatever you say sir" Bella that you find in the books.
    Also, the development of Esme in this story is profound. In the canon, she seems A Disney mom, in the plot just long enough to be an adjective to the main characters. TW's Esme has depth and breadth, and acts more like a woman with purpose, dignity and compassion than SM's mommy eye candy.
    TW also infuses a lot metaphor into her work, but does so a dichotomous fashion so that if you miss the double helix of her meaning, you still can decipher the genetic code of her plot. (The scene in one of her latest chapters with the Opossum is a perfect example of this.)

    My only complaint: Chapters take too long to post. Come on, TW, you live in Alaska- what else could you possible need to do but sit and write all day?

  3. Wow. Anzaldúa's poem does speak perfectly to the Cullens, doesn't it? As usual, I'm getting inspiration for my own work from yours. I think I'm going to have to bookmark this post, for sure.

    I agree with the above poster about ITBOE's rendering of Bella. There's a line, I forget in which chapter, where Edward describes that teenaged Bella used to wear her sarcasm and confidence "like a jacket that was too big for her." In ITBOE, she's grown into the woman that we would expect her to be--especially given what she has experienced in the span of TW and NM. It's beautifully refreshing to read. The strong women characters are excellent too.

    AU is more popular than canon, sure, and I for one tend to stay away from reading it because so much out there is just plain old love stories with characters who barely resemble the originals. But I've found myself captivated by ITBOE. that_writr has taken the characters we know and turned even the flattest of them into characters you can't not love. So glad to see this interview gang. Thanks for this.

  4. I have not read this fanfic, though I'm going to have to as my biggest complaint about the Twilight series was that Bella was... too much of a typical teenage girl. I realize that this was the point of her character, but I really loved book four as I felt she finally grew up a bit.
    Thanks for bringing this to my attention!
    Roxanne Packard
    P.S. Look for my name on Amazon!

  5. Having been a follower of this fic for some time, I can say with certainty that it's well-worth the read. The most recent chapter is its best. :)


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