Whoosh! Issue 25 - October 1998

Twenty-Seven Grilled Bards And One Reviewer: Rare, Medium And Supertoasty

15. L.N. James

Interview July 6, 1998

[528] Xena Fan Fiction was found at the bard's website.

*If you visit please pay careful attention to the disclaimers that introduce each story regarding violence and/or sexual content.

  1. Breaking Bread [alt]
  2. Relinquish [alt]
  3. Magnetic North [alt]
  4. Both Hands [alt]
  5. Far Away/So Close [alt]
  6. The Gala [alt]
  7. Hints [alt]
  8. Swan Song [alt]
  9. Welcome Home [alt]
  10. Outlaw [alt]
  11. Queen [alt]
  12. Bedtime for Warriors and Bards [alt]
  13. Chicago 5 AM [alt]

Question #01:
[529] What has been your inspiration for writing fan fiction?

L. N. James:
[530] For me, it's been the completely compelling relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. It's just one of those things that seem so unlikely at first glance because they're so different. It isn't until you scratch a little of the surface away and really get down to some of the basics about what draw these two human beings together that makes it really interesting to explore. So, inspiration-wise, it's really the need to understand these two people on a level that the series doesn't expand upon. Plus, writing fanfic for me has been a really enlightening experience into human nature and relationships so that, in and of itself, is inspiration. More on that later..

Question #02:
[531] Has your motivation changed over time?

L. N. James:
[532] Yes and no. I'm still motivated to understand and think about how Xena and Gabrielle interact on different levels, but lately, I would say that sure, I've been wanting to write a bit differently. I suppose it's the motivation to present more complex issues and/or bigger messages in different ways. My early stuff is pretty straight forward and I don't really deal with big character issues. With what I'm currently writing, it's a chance to try new things and that's what's motivating me now. More on that later..[g]

Question #03:
[533] Have you written other fiction?

L. N. James:
[534] No, nothing besides XWP. I can't see myself, at the moment, being interested enough in another fan show to bother writing other fanfiction. I suppose, if I thought about it, I could expand into fiction that I myself had full responsibility for creating (a step removed from Uber I think). Right now, that would take some sort of conscious decision to write fiction for purposes other than fandom and fun and I don't think I'm at that point. I'm busy enough in RL but who knows?

Question #04:
[535] Do you - or have you ever - like(d) reading Romantic fiction prior to Xena fan fiction?

L. N. James:
[536] Not really, no. I couldn't identify with most of those Harlequin-type stories and I didn't care about the characters. I hadn't found any decent lesbian romance fiction (still looking for the quality and standards that some of the fanfic out there sets). But no, I'm not a big romance reader and aside from XWP fanfic, I rarely go looking for the stuff. Again, too busy in real life to do all the reading (for pleasure) I'd like to. Last thing I read was "The Fran Lebowitz Reader" and well, I think she'd kick your ass if you called her romantic. Unless, of course, doing that required too much effort..[g]

Question #05:
[537] In your opinion, is XWP a romantic show?

L. N. James:
[538] It's romantic if you buy the premise that it's a story about two people who find each other in a big world and, despite all the odds against and differences between them, they complement the other with vastly different qualities. I personally think that the heart of the show is about how both Xena and Gabrielle need each other for more profound reasons than simple companionship. I've always thought those 'higher' purposes were romantic in a way...Xena needing Gabrielle to save her from herself so that she could 'save' other people and Gabrielle needing Xena to teach her and show her the rest of the world, to help Gabrielle find her place to make a contribution in the larger scheme of things. Definitely romantic in the sense that it's dark and light coming together, contrasting, finding a way to fit. I like that.

Question #06:
[539] Do you believe that any of your stories fall within the genre of Romance?

L. N. James:
[540] Yes, because I buy the premise I just stated above and use that as a foundation for my stories. On the surface, I suppose one could come to the conclusion that most of my stories are simply erotica and to some extent, that's true. But I find myself throwing in messages that support the fact that it's really an amazing thing to find another person in one's lifetime that you feel completely committed to, completely willing to give up everything for. That's how I see Xena and Gabrielle. They'd die for each other and a bond that intense makes for incredible storytelling. I would label that romantic, I suppose, depending on what definition you're using.

Question #07:
[541] Are any of your stories as much of a reflection of what it's like to be lesbian in modern times as it is about pre-Mycenaean (uber-Xena time if applicable here) times?

L. N. James:
[542] If you mean, are their experiences similar to other lesbians in committed relationships regardless of the timeline, then yes. I'd like to think I've reflected our lives and our loves in these two. Naturally, the relationship tends to be a bit more idealistic than any 'real life' relationship, but I think my stories tend to mirror the emotional bond between women. So, in part, yes, I think that in the privacy of our own homes, what I write about reflects what it's like to be lesbian. More or less.

[543] Now, as for the social ramifications of being a lesbian couple interacting in the world, no, I don't think I've dealt with that in my stories and it certainly doesn't reflect real life in my part of the world (United States). It's too idyllic in my stories and I tend to presume the people around Xena and Gabrielle are enlightened and non-judgmental. However, in our current social climate and culture, being a lesbian isn't the easiest thing in the world.

[544] I won't step up on my soap box, but I will say that the Puritanical sensibilities that dictate morals in this particular country (US) tend to be less than supportive of things that don't 'fit' with a particular agenda. It's annoying to be sure and the outright homophobia is very frustrating. I get enough of that in real life, I don't want Xena and Gabrielle in their own little world to have to deal with that bullshit. There are so many more important issues in terms of relating to another human being, regardless of sex or gender, that I'd rather spend my time writing about and presenting.

Question #08:
[545] "Relinquish" explores themes of hidden desire and need. It was your first Xenaverse fiction and in the introduction you wrote:

Finally, many great and wonderful XWP FanFic authors out there have inspired and influenced me in countless ways. I thank them each by offering my own contribution.
[546] In the first few days following it's release did you receive support and encouragement from other fan fiction writers?

L. N. James:
[547] To be honest about this, let me just explain a bit about my own introduction to the online world of XWP fanfic. When I first posted my stories (first one posted in Feb 1997), I wasn't in a place (for privacy reasons) where I could put my email address on the stories I wrote. Naturally, that limited feedback quite a bit! I got essentially no feedback on any story I wrote until about my fourth story ('Far Away/So Close') and the feedback I got was from an email list I finally discovered and joined.

[548] So for many months, I was just kind of out there in limbo writing and posting and wondering if anyone was reading the stuff. To my delight, I found that people were and yes, I did eventually get support and encouragement from readers and some fanfic writers. It wasn't until August 1997 with my story 'Welcome Home' that I was able to put an email address on my stories for the web at large and since then, I've heard from all sorts of cool people supporting and encouraging and critiquing. It's been good stuff..[g]

Question #09a:
[549] Your stories are highly erotic-

L. N. James:
[550] -By the way, I had no clue I could write erotica when I started. It's as big a surprise to me as it is to anyone else..

Question #09b:
[551] In the preface to "Breaking Bread" you write: "No unsuspecting diners were harmed in the writing of this story. However, a few eyebrows were raised, though none of which belonged to the Warrior Princess (for once!)." Thus, with lighthearted charm we are ushered into a world of sexual daring. Here's an L. N. James quote from MaryD's site, Bards of the Xenaverse:

The reason I focus on more intimate moments between Xena and Gabrielle is because I think how they interact on that level tells quite a bit about their characters. And honestly, I find erotica to be the best way for me to explore more personal character/relationship issues. As much as I love a good plot, I want the focus of my stories to be on how Xena and Gabrielle relate to each other on an emotional and physical level at one point in time and space. Besides, these are parts of their lives we're never going to see on screen so we might as well elaborate on those parts in as much detail as we can.
[552] In "Queen" we find an unprecedented story that is essentially a scene with 140 kilobytes of romantic erotica "at one point in time and space". I know from at least one who did so, that to read this scene out loud takes three hours. Can you imagine writing a sequel to this and have readers requested one?

L. N. James:
[553] Ah, 'Queen'. Can I just say that I absolutely loved Gabrielle in this? I wrote this story totally for her. But, I'm really not sure what kind of a sequel it would be and no, haven't had any requests for one... [g] 'Queen' was kind of its own little self-contained story and doesn't lend itself well to sequels, other than letting Xena have a go at giving the bard a taste of her own medicine... [smirky grin] I certainly wouldn't mind reversing things a bit and trying my hand at a more 'warlord' Xena, though. That's my next Xena and Gab story I think. A growly, warlordy Xena and a poor, sweet innocent Gabrielle... [slow smile]

Question #10:
[554] About your stories, In a "Bards of the Xenaverse" interview at MaryD's Xena Information Page you have said:

My current favorite (story) is 'Welcome Home'. It's a little hard to explain why I think that but I guess I'm judging it on the fact that my other stories didn't move me emotionally as much as this one did while I was writing it. I remember sitting at my computer while I was writing the scene where Gabrielle and Xena are having a pretty serious conversation about their relationship near the end of the story. There's one point in the dialogue where Gabrielle puts her hand to her head and turns away from Xena. During that whole scene, I'd have to write a bit and then get up and collect myself again and then keep writing. I was feeling both of the character's pain as I was writing it. It was quite draining actually... still is to read it. I like a story to make me feel something and to make me think about things at a deeper level. 'Welcome Home' for me came the closest of all my stories to what ideally I would want to write.
[555] You have written more since then, including one you are currently releasing in parts- a marvelous uber-Xena story called Chicago 5 AM. Is "Welcome Home" still your favorite?

L. N. James:
[556] I'd probably have to say, in all honesty, no, it's not, though I still like it quite a bit. I think I've improved over time and therefore, the better stories are the later ones. 'Queen' really ranks up there simply because it felt so good and so smooth to write that...it really worked for me. And 'Chicago 5am' is a current favorite for a different reason, mainly because it's the first real attempt at writing something epic and complex involving characters that I had to essentially create. Those two stories have been so cool to write... I'm really liking them both quite a bit. Though certainly, I like the older ones too.

Question #11:
[557] To date, which of your stories have received the most reader response?

L. N. James:
[558] 'Chicago 5am'..mainly due to the fact (I think) that I'm writing it in parts and posting to the web. I get lots of 'Cool story, now where's the next chapter?' emails..*grin* [BTW, I started posting 'Chicago 5am' in parts mainly to jumpstart this story rather than to test the 'marketplace' or string the readers along. If I hadn't put it up on the web, I would have never written past the second chapter. Seriously. Plus, I was/am trying out a whole new thing for me (plot!) and new characters and I really wanted some feedback about whether anyone liked it..so far so good, I guess].

[559] 'Queen' is a close second..followed by earlier stories like 'Breaking Bread' and 'Relinquish'. It's been real interesting to see which stories people like and feel the inspiration to comment on. And can I just say, I have not received one piece of negative mail in all the time I've been writing. Not one homophobic piece of email. [see LN tempt fate with this admission] It truly restores my faith in people, you know?

Question #12:
[560] There is some controversy about what uber-Xena fiction is. What is your current definition of a completely uber story?

L. N. James:
[561] Hmmm..I didn't know there was a controversy. My guess is that it centers around whether or not the Uber characters are direct descendents of Xena and Gabrielle and whether or not the story makes some link back to X&G.

[562] I suppose my definition of an Uber story is any story that preserves the basic fundamental aspects of Xena and Gabrielle and transforms them into different incarnations, sometimes similar, sometimes different but always recognizable as X&G. I'm personally not so hung up on the 'how' part of Uber (i.e. whether the Uber characters were directly born from descendants of X&G). I'm more of the feeling that Xena and Gabrielle's 'essence' can transcend time and space and always find a way of ending up together, regardless of the 'how'. I'm much more interested in the 'why' these two souls are able to find each other, what draws them together, why they have to be together.

[563] I'm also of the mind that I don't think there needs to be a direct reference or link back to Xena and Gabrielle. For example, one classic, excellent Uber story by Della Street called 'Towards the Sunset' was enough to convince me that I didn't have to read the names Xena or Gabrielle in the story or refer back to them to know this was about their 'souls' meeting up in another time and place. I still 'felt' the same way about the characters and their relationship as I did with X&G but it was subtly different..and cool.

[564] Of course, that doesn't mean I don't like Uber stories that incorporate X&G in some way (like dream sequences or flashbacks or realizations). I just think it isn't a necessary element to my definition of Uber. I think a few people agree with me in that the feedback I receive from my current story 'Chicago 5am' tends to be along the lines of "You know, I was never a big fan of Uber before I read this story" and so far, I haven't mentioned Xena or Gabrielle once in it or made any allusions to their heritage. Just an interesting observation.

Question #13:
[565] The title of the article, "Romancing The Fan: Romance and Xena Fan Fiction", at least in part suggests that we fan fiction authors, inspired by XWP, write for more than ourselves alone. We are drawn to Xena's power and her envelopment/acceptance/love for us (vicariously experienced) is empowering. We expand on the theme and share our idealized visions of love or emotional bonding with the hope of forming a type of relationship with readers. Life is all about relationships and we - like actors who would woo their audience - we seek not only artistic expression but acceptance as well. There is no monetary profit in this endeavor. Our profit is of a spiritual nature during the writing of it and whenever a reader communicates to us their thoughts and feelings about our expressed visions. If it's positive, our efforts to woo were successful and we are spiritually energized. If we get little response or too many negatives, we will give up or amend our courting in some way will give up or amend our courting in some way. Do you have any thoughts about this? Are you still awake?

L. N. James:
[566] I'm still here with you, honey... [g] Romancing the Fan is an interesting concept, though it tends to evoke an image of the bard as 'playing' to a crowd and manipulating words for specific reasons. I suppose there's that element in it, but I think it's less of a goal for fanfic writers than simply a byproduct.

[567] I know I don't set out with the mindset: "Hmm... how can I get the most response and tug at the heartstrings and make people really connect with this story?". I just set out to write about Xena and Gabrielle in the way I see them, which for the most part, tends to be in a romantic light. Those readers who respond to this are responding to universal 'feelings' I think, rather than my specific 'romancing' of them.

[568] I never set out with the idea "Gee, they'd really like it if I described their love as transcending time and space in this particular part of the story". That's not how I write. I simply let the characters speak and act as they would if I were a fly on the wall. Sure, I recognize that what I write is emotionally provoking (and for some people, erotically stimulating). I don't deny that. It's just not a conscious effort on my part to identify the fanfic reader base, decide what they would want to read, and write for that reason. I feel that I'm 'romancing' Xena and Gabrielle, not the readers. I write for the character's emotional pleasure and fulfillment for the most part.

[569] I do think it's a cool thing though, if the readers get swept up in those moments and feel romanced along with the characters. Being able to immerse oneself in the emotions of a story is more of what I consider being romanced and I doubt many bards set out to do that on a conscious level. For example, I doubt Missy Good is sitting in the swamp thinking to herself "I'm going to write a bit about Gabrielle writing little love notes to Xena and tucking them in the warrior's saddlebag". If I had to guess, Missy is simply not thinking about being romantic, she's just writing, and I consider her one of the more 'romantic' bards out there. {Naturally, I can't speak for Missy so check out her answer to this question for her own words}.

[570] So, in the end, XWP fanfic, to me, is less about 'Romancing the Fan' than it is about exploring the 'romantic' and in the process, drawing the fan in with that exploration. For me, it has been one of the coolest things ever to discover that I could write this stuff. It's really made me evaluate my own personal relationships with people in a different light. It's also forced me to explore some of my own 'issues' in terms of how I see people interacting and relating.

[571] Part of myself goes into the stories to be sure and I think that's what resonates with people... the feeling that this is something they understand, that it mirrors their own view of life/love/relationships. That's a collective thing I think that XWP fanfic has given to those who read and write it. Pretty cool... [g]

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