Whoosh! Issue 46 - July 2000


By Nancy Amazon and Ewok
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
4943 words

The Die is Cast (01-07)
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Uber (08-17)
Hail to the Queen, Baby: Janice and Mel (18-43)
You Only Like Me 'Cos I'm Bad: The White Trash Series (44-62)
The Dialogue Must Be Both Witty And Believable! Don't Use The Phrase 'Raven-Haired': Collaborations with LN James (63-69)
Why Don't You Get Out Of That Wet Coat And Into A Dry Martini?*:
   What Passes For A Conclusion [*Robert Benchley]
The Web Sites

The Martini and the Fedora: The Works of Vivian Darkbloom

The Die is Cast

[1] Ewok:
Hey Nancy, what's this I hear about being asked to do "a longitudinal examination of the themes, styles, and development of a bard's corpus" for Whoosh? I don't think I know any bards that would sit still for us to do anything to their corpus, longitudinal or otherwise.

[2] Nancy:
You know, I think the bard we've chosen is a bold, daring exception to any rule you would dare to assign to bards in general. Do you think Viv Darkbloom will mind us messing with her corpus?

[3] Ewok:
But we only do Uber!

[4] Nancy:
That's good, Ewok. But what is Uber?

[5] Ewok:
It's... It's Xena and Gabrielle, without Xena and Gabrielle. There's a tall one, and a short one, and they bathe. A lot. Together.

[6] Nancy:
I think there's a little more to it than that.

[7] Ewok:
Oh yeah? Like what?

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Uber

[8] Nancy:
In the beginning, there was a tall, dark woman outlawed for robbery and murder, slowly walking the path to redemption with the help of a young blonde schoolteacher.

[9] When Della Street wrote what is generally regarded as the first Uber story to hit the web, I'm sure she had no idea what kind of a concept she'd be starting. A few years later, Uber has taken hold and become one of the most unique forms of fan fiction available in any fandom.

[10] Uber had humble beginnings, but, like the Xena: Warrior Princess television show itself, its popularity grew quickly. The format of it began to expand, develop, and move in new directions that thrilled some and horrified others.

[11] However, and this is again in direct parallel to the show itself, some aspects of Uber have always remained intact, despite the rapid growth of this "sub-genre". There is the relationship between the two women, archetypes we all know and recognize instantly. There is some form of tragic past to be lived down, or some kind of burden to be lifted. There are the themes of salvation, redemption, growth, and, most importantly, love.

[12] Ewok:
Or sex.

[13] Nancy:

[14] Uber stories have put our heroines through some of the wildest scenarios anyone could imagine. Xena and Gabrielle have been every profession, every state of health, every state of mind! No one said that the path to true love had to be easy.

[15] In fact, when it comes to Vivian Darkbloom, someone forgot to tell her that the path even had to be tasteful. Viv took up the reins of the Uber story and twisted it in directions no one had ever contemplated before. While some writers had tried parodying the show, the Uber concept, and the rest of the world, they hadn't really mastered the art of capturing the humor from the TV show and taking it to such extremes.

[16] Viv has created worlds that are at once far removed from the show, yet inextricably linked. She makes no effort to disguise the roots and influences of Xena: Warrior Princess upon her fan fiction. Actually, I find it hard to understand why anyone would write fan fiction and then try to distance that fiction from its inspiration. Seems to defeat the purpose! But, we digress.

[17] Despite her obvious use of all the archetypes and cliches upon which Uber fiction was born, no one could accuse her of being unoriginal. The characters are sometimes crass, sometimes loveable. Within her work lies the shadows of lives past and the evils of talk show hypocrisy. We laugh, we cry, we cringe, and sometimes we criticize. Mostly, we just have a lot of fun.

Hail to the Queen, Baby: Janice and Mel

It says right here in your conract, Ren, looky -- I get to hit you in the head and kill you at least once per season starting next year!

Janice and Mel -- together again.

[18] Ewok:
If you're at all familiar with our reviews, you'll probably have noticed this li'l Ewok has a soft spot a mile wide for the good Doctor Covington.

[19] Well, now I've a confession to make: as far as I'm concerned, Renee O'Connor didn't have a handle on Janice in the episode that launched a thousand fics, THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210). I watch it, and I see an awkward imitation of the ruffian archaeologist we know and love. If Janice and Mel are characters with any scope, any depth, it's thanks to writers of fan fiction.

[20] Janice drinking bourbon, Janice wearing boxer shorts, Janice and Mel having any kind of romantic relationship - no matter how ill-fated (The Fallen's "Who Was Going To Miss An Angel Or Two, Anyway?"), unexpected (L. Graham's "Lost In Translation", removed from the web), or otherwise challenged (Lela Kaunitz's "If We Shadows"), these little details we take for granted, accept as canon, come from the fertile minds of bards. From such minds as that of our subject, one Miss Vivian Darkbloom, recently of Detox, Missouri.

[21] Darkbloom has written five stories featuring the archaeologist and the translator. Of these, one exists in two versions ("All The Colors Of The World"), one is unfinished ("Coup de Grace"), and one is a Xena and Gabrielle tale with a cameo on a baseball field ("The Stars Fell Down").

[22] The first version of "All The Colors of the World" was an Uber-hybrid of sorts, being part Mel/Janice, part Xena/Gabrielle. The second is pure Mel/Janice, with the entire Xena-and-Gabrielle component of the story--her participation in an Amazon ceremony, the consummation of her relationship with Xena, and the bard's first experience of being a commander on the field of battle--reduced to a summary from Mel on the last page of the story.

[23] Since Nancy and I only do Uber, I feel well within my rights to ignore "Colors" v1.0 and concentrate on the version wherein Xena and Gabrielle are present only inasmuch as the shadows of their past lives are cast upon their descendants. This shadow, the weight of a past not even their own--SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), anyone?--is one of the main themes of Darkbloom's Mel and Janice series.

[24] Someone a little more academic than myself might decide here was a good spot to throw in a discussion of how a bard who decides to write Uber fan fiction has a similar shadow to contend with. The themes, concerns, traditions and formula (okay, so I mean the cliches) of the television show--the anti-hero, the redeeming power of love, the psychotic blonde with a grudge--have to be fitted into the story somewhere and somehow if you're going to dare call the beast "Uber Xena fan fiction". How do you do that, juggle all these bits and pieces which demand to be addressed, and still manage to tell your own story? Now there's something I bet Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas could sympathize with entirely.

[25] Am I digressing? Depends if you agree with me.

[26] Nancy:
Well, Viv manages to do it in the White Trash trilogy, but with straight Uber you have the advantage of at least being able to decide one's own characters. Mel and Janice are fixed entities in people's minds. Everyone has some idea of how they think the characters should be written. What we need to remember with these two is that they're capable of anything! It's the nature of the characters, the format, and the fact that since there's so little to go on from the show, you can't really say anything a bard makes them do is invalid, unless it directly contravenes the canon from the show.

[27] Ewok:
What about Mel not having the hots for Jack Kleinman? That's a contravention of canon.

[28] Nancy:
I blame the Lunacy Factor.

[29] Ewok:
But back to those shadows. Darkbloom alludes to them in the title of Part III of "The Secret Histories": "Shadows of the Living", and the idea of past lives intruding on the present, old patterns playing themselves out in new lives, is explicated in the epigram for that chapter:

Life itself is but the shadow of death, and souls departed but the shadows of the living.
   -- Sir Thomas Browne

[30] The episode THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210) seems to postulate that Xena's manifestation in Mel's body, to fight and defeat the god of war, is related to the reunion of the two broken pieces of the chakram. Darkbloom's series contends that this isn't so, that the voice of the Warrior Princess has existed in Melinda Pappas since childhood:

"No, Uncle Anton, I shall never be rid of Catlisto," Melinda intoned dramatically. "She is an immortal."

Anton shot a glance at his friend, who convulsed in silent laughter over his tea. Good God, Mel, what do you let this child read? "An... immortal, you say?"

"Yes, a cat is the form she now takes. Centuries ago she angered the gods, and Zeus turned her into a common house pet." With that, Melinda shoved a scone into her face, in the way only a hungry child can.

   -- "All The Colors Of The World", v2.0

And if I ever start to overact, you just cut your hair a little, 'kay?

Mel really *is* Xena!

[31] And that even the warrior's fighting skills that surface in THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210) have been within Mel, untapped, for years:

Catherine opened her mouth to file the obligatory protest (true enough, but...), but she saw something that intrigued her. It was like a translucent film were covering Mel's face, darkening her features and her cerulean blue eyes. It was an anger that transformed her entire being. She had never seen her lover so angry. And it excited her. She watched, fascinated.

Daphne had noticed the transformation too, but bravery-or, more accurately, stupidity-caused her to fling one final insult in Mel's face. "You're just another notch on her belt," she drawled.

When Mel swung her arm, it was in a wide, lazy arc, as if hitting Daphne were barely worth expending energy. But this belied the force of the backhanded blow that sent the woman through the air and across the room.

Mel blinked. Good God, did I just do that? She looked down at her hand, which trembled. It had been like a splash, a blot of black ink, which had spread within her, into a terrible rage. She clenched the shaking hand.

   -- "The Secret Histories"

[32] Past lives cast inescapable shadows on the living. And it is this contention, this assumed connection of souls, life after life - this time around between Mel and Janice, between Catherine and Mel - is pivotal. It is this, most of all, that Viv is exploring.

[33] Nancy:
Actually, I thought it was Janice and Mel who were...err...exploring...and I don't mean Archaeology, baby. You could certainly get to know someone over that many lifetimes.

[34] Ewok:
Oh, great. You're allowed to wax academic for thirteen pages, but I make one point, and you drag us straight back down into the gutter. I'm talking about soulmates here, reconnecting with energies and spirits that should have died centuries and lifetimes ago. It's got nothing to do with knowing thyself, or anyone else, for that matter!

[35] Nancy:
Pwaise Hestia!

[36] Ewok:
NANCY! Shadows! I'm trying to make a point here! Ahem...Janice, certainly, feels them:

"Did you think I'd let you go so easily?" Mel growled fiercely. "Couldn't you tell how much I loved you?"

Frankly, no, Janice thought. "I didn't know...I thought...I meant very little to you." She saw the pained look on Mel's face. And instantly felt sorry. "Why? You know why, Mel. You did since the day we met. Since the day we recognized who we truly are...You were the noble heroine and I was your sidekick, never measuring up to you. I know now...that's not the way it was for them. But I didn't know-I still don't-if that's the way it would be for us."

   -- "The Secret Histories"

[37] The past has weight. It's something that, while not spelled out directly in "Colors", still influences and shadows the events within it. And it's something Catherine Stoller, in "The Secret Histories", is entirely aware of:

So this is our secret history. This is what you are. This is what I am. And then there is the woman - your woman - who always comes between us. And here we are again. And again. We are all just shadows of those who lived before us.

   -- "The Secret Histories"

[38] "Coup De Grace" is, at the time of writing, unfinished, and as such it might be a mistake to try to analyze its purpose without having read the whole thing. But if we assume that "Venezia" is actually the fourth in a series, a fairly safe assumption given it's listed as part of the "Mel and Janice" series on Vivian Darkbloom's "The Time Waster" website, then I look forward to having "Coup De Grace" provide an background to the event that haunts Mel throughout the story: Janice's death.

[39] Nancy:
"Venezia" needs some special singling out, because of its obvious difference in style and tone from all the rest of Viv's Mel/Janice work. The lack of dry wit and pragmatism in this piece leaves a gaping hole, and the (over) dramatics aren't enough on their own to sustain such a soul wrenching concept as the mourning of the death of a major character.

[40] To me, "Venezia" is Mel experiencing an extended version of the "cut off a man's arm, and you can still feel it's presence" idea. Only here, it is more a case of cut off a woman's soulmate, and she can still hear it speaking. I draw the line at a portraying Mel as being quite this... disconnected from reality. It's a bit like THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210) meets The English Patient.

[41] If you've read our review of this story, you'll know that Ewok and I differed quite dramatically in our opinions of this piece. Perhaps it is because there is not yet any firm connection between the remainder of the series and this frustrating little snippet. To be fair, perhaps Mel's grief and agony over the loss of her soulmate would affect her like this. After all, I have already said that these characters are incredibly open to interpretation. After having been with someone who understood the kinds of shadows that have been plaguing you your whole life, losing that person might very well mean that the very thin barrier you have set up to protect yourself from shadows is torn down, and you are consumed by them.

[42] That interpretation supports the thematic buildup from both the Mel/Janice series, and ties this grief into feelings and themes from the show itself. It is a kind of ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69-70/401-402) type of grief, overwhelming and staggering.

[43] Venice is Mel's East, a place where she needs to go to purge herself, and the young Francesca is a taunting shadow of the love she has lost.

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