Whoosh! Issue 25 - October 1998

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

24. S. L. Bowers

Interview July 3, 1998

[801] *Xena Fan Fiction Works were found as indicated and If you decide to go to these websites, please pay careful attention to the disclaimers that introduce each story regarding violence and/or sexual content:

  1. Chiaroscuro - Part I: Tales of Dark and Light [alt]
  2. Chiaroscuro - Part II: The Queen and the Soldier [alt]
  3. Chiaroscuro - Part III: Innamorata [alt]
  4. Chiaroscuro - Part IV: This Fire [alt]
  5. Chiaroscuro - Part V: Time of Grace [alt]
  6. Chiaroscuro - Part VI: Walk Through Fire (Conclusion) [alt]
  7. When The Night Closes In [alt]
  8. The Immortal Scrolls: Story 1 [alt]
  9. Intermezzo [alt]
  10. Lucifer Rising [alt]
Question #01:
[802] What has been your inspiration for writing fan fiction?

S.L. Bowers:
[803] My introduction to both Xena and the world of fan fiction happened in a sort of odd way. I knew the show existed and had even seen one of the episodes (I later learned it was TEN LITTLE WARLORDS), but generally dismissed the show. I had also heard about the infamous "kiss" and the rumblings about something that I came to know as "subtext." :-)

[804] Anyway, in the Spring of 97 I finally bought a computer and became an enthusiastic traveler on the information highway. One bored Saturday afternoon I was surfing and stumbled across a site called "Dax's Obsession" which was filled with something called alternative fan fiction. I read a couple of stories... decided to tune into the show, and the rest is history.

[805] As far as my personal entry into the world of fan fiction, I did it to re-discipline myself about my writing. I've always written fiction-- with varying degrees of success-- but because of my responsibilities as a commercial writer, I had drifted away from fiction and basically my "idea" well was pretty bone dry. Having ready-made characters and a framework seemed a good way to get my feet wet again. As I've spent more time playing in the fan fiction arena, I've found that all those ideas I thought were gone forever are returning.

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

S.L. Bowers:
[807] I think my motivation has changed, simply because when I first started I wasn't sure I had any more stories left in me. But I've taken advantage of the wide range of genres in which Xena fiction exists to play stylistically with my writing and to hone my skills of characterization and plot. It's also given me a forum to write the kind of fiction that I as a reader want to see. I write alt. fiction-- not because of any overwhelmingly passionate conviction that Xena and Gabrielle are lovers on the show-- but because I want to read fiction about strong women acting to assertively control their own destinies. (The fact that they're lovers is just a delightfully added bonus. *g*)

Question #03:
[808] Have you written other fiction? If so, was it before or after becoming a Xena fan? What genre are your other works? Generally, was/is the response from readers of these stories similar or different than the response to your Xena fan fiction?

S.L. Bowers:
[809] I think I kinda already answered this one... but yes, I've always written fiction-- short fiction. Until recently I didn't think I had a novel in me. I can't really comment on the "reaction" portion, because other than my creative writing professors and a few friends-- who were always very enthusiastic-- I've never really shared that fiction with "total strangers." That was another motivation for writing Xena fiction... to muster my courage enough to put my work out there. That's one of the most amazing things about the Web, thousands of people have instant access to your work-- for better or worse. I've been really fortunate in that people really seem to have embraced my work. Or else the ones who hate it just aren't letting me know. *g*

Question #04:
[810] Do you - or have you ever - like(d) reading Romantic fiction prior to Xena fan fiction? Why or why not?

S.L. Bowers:
[811] As an academic and a feminist, I have a schizophrenic relationship with work that is considered "Romantic" or "women's fiction." Historically, women writers have traditionally written about issues most commonly perceived as fitting in the "domestic" sphere. Their writing is dismissed as "not universal" and thus not "great" or "transcendent." But that really doesn't apply to modern "Romance" novels. For me, quality is the predominant issue. The vast majority of these "serialized" romances are just poorly written. So, as an academic-- not to mention a literate reader-- I cringe when I see the "bodice rippers" being hawked at me from the bookshelves of the local Barnes and Noble, etc.

[812] However, the fiction that-- as a young girl/teenager-- that I cut my teeth on was the fiction of my mother and grandmother. Stuff by Judith Krantz and Danielle Steel, Jackie Collins, et al. As a 14 year-old I didn't have any concept of "transcendent" or "canonical" literature-- I knew the stuff we read in school was different, but academic criticism came later. What these books provided me invaluably was my first vision of women as "active" agents in creating their own destinies. I didn't really pay a lot of attention to the fact that the women ended up happily married with a baby... I paid attention to the fact that in addition to this, they ran their own movie studio/magazine/advertising agency, etc.

Question #05:
[813] In your opinion, is XWP a romantic show? Why or why not? (i.e., It's action; adventure; drama; melodrama...) and do you believe that any of your stories fall under the genre of Romance? Why, or why not?

S.L. Bowers:
[814] I'm answering these questions together, because I think my answer is related to them both. My answer to question 4 is kinda related to this as well.

[815] I think one of the appeals of XWP as a show is that it appeals to so many facets of the audience. It's what makes XWP a truly interactive show. Subtext aside, the strong relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is to most people the defining element of the show. Seeing two women with such an unmistakable commitment to the well-being of each other is something that has rarely been seen either on television or film. [even Cagney and Lacey were more business partners than "friends"]. Female relationships have traditionally been explored in "women's fiction." Which is perhaps another reason why fan fiction is so popular. We [the women] as viewers are used to reading about such relationships ... Xena and Gabrielle lend themselves to such works.

[816] The other genre elements of XWP certainly inform the reception of the show. Action is as much a defining element of the show as the relationship is. And I find the intersection of the two fascinating. How many fan fiction pieces have focused around or featured predominantly Gabrielle mastering her staff skills or Xena honing her sword technique? Gabrielle's continued growth brings elements of the teacher-pupil relationship to the show, but also serves as a leveling technique (how many people think Gabrielle could whip up on Xena with that staff?) as well as a bonding technique for the two women.

[817] One of my favorite scenes this season was in OAAA [ONE AGAINST AN ARMY] when Gabrielle was trying to master the flip with a little tiny Xena dolly as her stunt model. Watching the two defend and protect each other is both touching as a symbol of their commitment and inspiring because of their ability to do it both physically and mentally. I think that's one reason so many people were upset by Season 3... for two years we had these two women protecting, not harming, each other-- and when the show (rightly, in my opinion) decided to explore some of the darker elements of this kind of symbiotic relationship, that threw a lot of people. They hadn't considered that if someone is that much a part of you, she is the one who has the most power in the world to hurt you.

[818] That's one of the continuing themes of my fiction. As these women-- or their Uber counterparts-- continue to become more and more involved, they become more vulnerable to one another. And invariably they will hurt one another at some time. It's unrealistic to believe otherwise. But where's there's love/commitment (whatever form that may take) there's hope for forgiveness and a relationship that will be renewed/restored and stronger than before.

Do I consider my work a "Romance?" That's hard to say. Perhaps. To some extent, it follows the conventions of that particular genre-- but it's really not about sex or consummation. (Although some who read my love scenes may disagree. *g*) For me, my writing is about love and fear. It's about digging so deeply into someone and accepting them for what they are, screwed up psyche and all. And, perhaps more importantly, it's about learning to let someone that far into you-- which to me, is a far more complicated proposition.

Question #06:
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?

S.L. Bowers:
I think all of my work is influenced not just by my modern sensibilities but by my personal sort of wish fulfillment ones as well. In my fiction (I think most noticeably in my Uber work) the characters' sexuality is not an issue. In real life, it's always so much harder. In my writing, I'm operating from the assumption that they've already done the all the hard work to get to the point where their sexuality isn't an issue for them. That's mostly because as a reader, I'm tired of reading coming out stories. I think gay literature needs to move past that particular milestone. And besides, if the character is so wrapped up in all the bewildering, wonderful, terrifying sensations of realizing they're not quite like Mom and Dad... then it's really impossible to explore the issues of love and fear that fascinate me.

However, I am currently researching a concept that would take place during the Civil War. One of my main concerns is how would the two women involved deal with this? I mean, we can pass off X&G's easy acceptance as reflective of the Greek attitude towards bisexuality. Modern Ubers can reflect the strides of the contemporary gay movement. But certain other eras can be a bit more problematic. That's probably why I'm hesitating about starting this one. :-)

Question #07:
[819] The "Chiaroscuro" series takes the reader on a wonderful journey with Xena and Gabrielle. Did reader response to part one, "Tales of Light and Dark", motivate you to write these stories "more intricately" connected than you originally anticipated?

S.L. Bowers:
[820] "Chiaroscuro" was always conceived as a five part series. (Okay, it turned out to be six.) It turned out to be more seamless than I had anticipated because I didn't see it as being as interconnected as they were. All five/six parts were intended to gradually develop the growing relationship-- and again, illustrate the whole love and fear thing-- between X&G, but I had originally envisioned them as each standing alone. And they do, sort of, but not really.

[821] "Tales of Light and Dark" originally got almost no response from the readers. Only after "The Queen and the Soldier" was posted did people start dropping me notes. Looking back, I think it's because people were a little confused by the first story in the series, which mainly consisted of Xena and Gabrielle listening to the tale of another warrior and her lover-- and that's when X&G start making some loose connections between the story and their own relationship. I also wanted to use this story to introduce Corin as a foil for Xena-- a warrior who had given in to same darkness that Xena had and had overcome that. When Corin later appeared in "Innamorta" and "Time of Grace", it made a lot more sense. People were also kinda nervous about the attraction between the two warriors-- I've learned that readers are very territorial about the warrior and the bard. *g* I like to play with the transient attractions that someone as sensual as Xena is inevitably going to feel, and how it is tempered by her growing/established feelings for Gabrielle. The same thing applies to their Uber counterparts as well.

Question #08:
[822] "When the Night Closes In" and "Twilight's Children" explore a vampire theme. What motivated you to write these?

S.L. Bowers:
[823] I read Katrina's stories, "Bite Me" and "The Fonder Heart" and was really intrigued by the set-up. It was about the time that The Furies had raised issues about Xena's parentage (which I'm inclined to believe), and the two stories built a convincing case for Gabrielle's immortal parentage as well. As the daughter of Bacchus, Gabrielle is the ancestress of modern day vampires. When Katrina invited other authors to play, I couldn't resist.

[824] My first impulse was to say... what would happen if X&G met up with Louis and Lestat from Anne Rice's "Interview with a Vampire" series? In a way, they're perfect foils. Louis is anguished, poetic, and sensitive; while Lestat is brutal, violent, brilliant, and incredibly sensual. Sound like anyone we know? *g* "Twilight's Children" and the first part of "When the Night" explore those two meetings. The second half of "When the Night" picks up in the modern day-- paralleling the universe established by "The Fonder Heart"-- where Gabrielle is reunited with a strange doppleganger who may or may not be the reincarnated version of her dead warrior. "When the Night" posits that this "mortal" is Xena reborn, and I had planned to do a couple more stories explaining the growing pains Xena experiences as she realizes her immortality.

[825] Both stories were also a stylistic exercise for me. The challenge of writing in Louis' voice for the first part of "When the Night" was an unusual one. In "Interview with a Vampire" Louis has a very distinct, rhythmic way of speaking. I tried to incorporate that into my story by envisioning how he would see Xena and Gabrielle. Using his first person POV, I was able to explore how X&G were perceived by others-- which is something that I've never gotten to do before. Usually I'm smack dab in the middle of X&G's thoughts throughout the whole story. This way, we got Louis' "vampire eyes" studying our favorite duo.

[826] "Twilight's Children" was a similar exercise. I had never written strictly from Gabrielle's point of view or in what I perceive as her voice. Because she's a bard, I had some license to wax a little more "poetic" than I normally do. By picking a city as evocative as New Orleans, I figured it would affect Gabrielle very strongly. In the story, the city has a strong pull on the darker sensibilities of both the warrior and the bard, and I got to play those up in a way that traditional X&G stories really don't let me.

Question #09:
[827] You wrote "Intermezzo" (a story about Ephiny meeting dark Xena)as a response to a question someone asked you about a line in "Innamorata" (Chiaroscuro, Part Three). Which line exactly?

S.L. Bowers:
[828] In "Innamorata" which is set in sort of an "alternate" reality that Ares tosses Xena into to lure her back to him, Xena learns that apparently she and Ephiny had had an affair in the past. Needless to say, Xena was kinda surprised. And somebody emailed me asking me why I saw Ephiny and Xena together.

[829] I couldn't really say, except that most stories invariably have the Regent pining after Gabrielle. And while I can't blame anyone for pining over the bard, I thought that Ephiny-- as a warrior-- would be drawn to the warrior in Xena. So when they asked me about it, I decided to write a backstory for it... "Intermezzo" was the result. In the story, the reader learns that Xena has no memory of the encounter, and the "affair" in "Innamorata" became sort of a subconscious reminder to Xena. Even though she didn't recognize it.

[830] Actually, after the story was posted, a number of people emailed me and said, "Now we know why Ephiny was looking so strangely at Xena during HOOVES AND HARLOTS." The really funny thing was, at the time, I hadn't seen the episode, and my only point of reference for Ephiny was THE QUEST.

Question #10:
[831] "Lucifer Rising" is your latest story and it is getting rave reviews. I think it is your best work to date and I imagine that you invested some major time in creating it. How do you feel about this particular story's success?

S.L. Bowers:
[832] Frankly, I'm floored by the way people have responded to this story. Lucifer is an idea that I've been living with for almost a year-- it was one of the first ideas I had way back when-- back when I first started writing "Chiaroscuro." That was summer of 97. I didn't start writing it until January of 98. From the first it was a very tactile writing experience for me. I could really taste/smell/see the atmosphere I wanted to evoke with the story. Jude was so distinct in my mind, as was Liz. Rather than taking particulars from the Xena "bible" I took the archetypes that X&G represented and placed them in a modern setting and then let the story unfold from there. That way I wasn't hemmed in by the framework, but could rather explore the issues that I wanted to.

[833] Honestly, I really didn't think that it would resonate with a lot of people. It's very violent, very sexual, and there are some really dark moments for the characters. Jude is a woman who responds to emotional pain with physical violence. Add her falling in love, and you've got a volatile combination. I wasn't sure that the readers-- who have already been put through the wringer because of Season 3-- would embrace that in this piece of fiction. But at the same time, I was very confident in my writing. I could hear the characters' voices very distinctly, and the scenes really came together for me.

[834] The really funny thing was... I guess people really started picking it up and responding to it around the time part 2 (chapters 4-6) was posted. At the time, I was writing chapter 10, going, "How the hell am I going to get them out of this?" I hadn't firmed up the ending, and was having a hard time figuring out how all the pieces were going to fall together. I remember I came home from the movies or something, checked my email and had dozens of messages from people telling me they were really enjoying the story and wanted to know what happened next. While it was incredibly gratifying to my ego and tremendously exciting that my work was connecting with the readers, I remember sitting at my desk, breaking out into a cold sweat and going, "Oh god, now they're paying attention. I better not f*** up." *g* I'm incredibly grateful to all the people who kept encouraging me and took the time not just to read my work (which, given LR's length, was a long time) but to drop me a note saying so. As a writer, it does mean a lot to know that what I'm dropping into the "void" of the Web is being received and enjoyed.

[835] My experience with Lucifer has taught me two things. One: I need to trust my instincts more. Everything I thought people were going to have a problem with, they embraced. Two: Never-- repeat never-- post anything until it's finished. *g*

Question #11:
[836] There is some controversy about what uber-Xena fiction is. What is your current definition of a completely uber story?

S.L. Bowers:
[837] I think Uber fiction is entering its third generation or stage of development. The first Ubers were Mel/Janice stories-- which, in a way, aren't "uber" because they're real characters from XWP. But the way that M&J have been developed is waaaay beyond anything that the series' writers envisioned. And I think that's where M&J become Uber. In giving them not just continuing adventures, but back stories, personal quirks and even pets, fan fiction writers have given M&J a completely different existence.

[838] For me, second generation Uber stories are stories that incorporate completely original X&G-- ie, not M&J-- "descendants" or "reincarnations" while interweaving a parallel X&G story. X&G usually communicate with their Uber counterparts through dreams or scrolls or visions. Somebody emailed me near the end of LR and asked me when X&G were going to give their "blessing" to my characters, and I stopped and realized that that has been a traditional element of the Uber stories. I also see second generation stories as more closely adhering to the "framework" of the X&G story. You know, rescue, redemption, dead brother, etc.

[839] I think third generation Uber stories are stories that evoke X&G without necessarily depicting them. These stories play more with the archetypes that X&G represent. More and more stories are coming to do that. I think it represents a growing maturity and sophistication on the part of both the writers and the readers. We're breaking XWP down to its most elemental parts, taking those parts that resonate the most with us, and reassembling them in a completely new fashion. It means we're thinking more-- both about what pleases us as readers and about what we want to say as writers. Rather than being an eternal cycle of "first time" stories (which at its most base, Uber could be considered), Uber fiction is evolving into one of the most creative facets of the fan fiction community.

Question #12:
[840] 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 henever a reader communicates to us their thoughts and feelings about our expressed visions of idealized love. 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. Do you have any thoughts about this? Are you still awake?

S.L. Bowers:
[841] I'm probably more awake now than you're going to be if you actually read everything I've written. *g*

[842] I think one of the most common misconceptions about writing-- held even by a lot of writers-- is that writing is a solitary activity. Yes, the typing is usually done alone, but the act of writing has no meaning unless it is accompanied by the act of reading. If we did not want our words read, we'd never set them to paper. It's the original "interactive" process. Yes, I write for a lot of reasons-- a number of them intensely personal-- but somewhere lying silent and undetected is the statement "I write in order to be read."

[843] That doesn't mean I'm writing what I think the reader wants to read. That doesn't mean that what the reader thinks is going to necessarily influence what or why I'm writing. But if I didn't want to connect-- to interact-- I wouldn't write at all, much less do the virtual equivalent of posting it on the locker room wall. Reading in a lot of ways is about transcending one's essential solitude to see oneself in what is deemed "universal." I would daresay that writing is about putting the universal-- in my case issues of love and fear-- into a personal context.

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