Whoosh! Issue 56 - May 2001


By Katia Davis
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
4713 words

Editor's note:

This paper discusses and gives literary examples of explicit adult fan fiction.

Introduction (01-02)
What is a Cliche? (03-04)
Dialogue (05-08)
Terminology (09-21)
Characterization (22-28)
Plot (29-37)
Conclusion (38-42)



Now in paperback!
One of Gabrielle's works makes it to play form.

[01] Over the last five and half years, Xena fan fiction has developed into a booming branch of entertainment. However, its very flourishing may prove to be its downfall. This is particularly the case with the alternative genre. Alternative fan fiction is different from the generic form since it involves a relationship between two consenting adults of the same gender.

[02] One of the main avenues of debate regarding this issue is the use of cliche. In this genre of writing, cliche takes many forms, from the language and expressions used, to the stereotyped characters that are written. This is particularly pertinent to alternative Xena fan fiction. In fact, it can be argued that alternative Xena fan fiction has ultimately become a cliche in itself.

What is a Cliche?

[03] The French word cliche originates from type setting terminology. It indicates a common phrase, such as "he said", that was preset by punch setters/engravers of a type foundry, so typesetters could aesthetically kern combinations of words without laborious typesetting[Note 01].

[04] In literature, a cliche is technically an expression or idea that has become trite and dull, due to over use. This concept may also be transposed to dialogue and plot. The romance novel may be regarded as the epitome of cliche. For instance, in the Harlequin style of writing, such phrasing as 'her ample bosom heaved with emotion', or 'his manly chest of rippling muscle' is cliched because it is overused in this genre.


Seconds after she's finished, Gabrielle rolls over and goes to sleep
Xena and Gabrielle talk things out in the classic hurt/comfort tale ONE AGAINST AN ARMY.

[05] The problem with literary cliche is not the words used, but it is the concept behind the words. One may say one thing any number of ways, but the understanding does not alter. This is because of the associated concept to the meaning. It does not cease to appear 'corny'. Let us take this Xena cliche as an example:

Xena looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes to gauge her feelings, "Are you sure?" she asked after a moment.
There is nothing desperately wrong with this bit of dialogue. However, it is the overuse of expressions, such as the above example, that leads to cliche.

[06] This concept holds true to many other genres, not just in Xena fan fiction. Characters and people have been asking, "Are you sure?" for millennia. It is of no consequence if you ask it like the above example, or like the rewrite below.

"Are you unequivocally certain of your emotions regarding the concept of us being together?"
It is still the same meaning, and the reader is still liable to roll their eyes at such an expression.

[07] Admittedly, the rewrite is a little farcical, but one can use any number of other ways to express the same sentiment, "Are you okay with this?", "Do you want this?", and "Is this all right?". Perhaps the ultimate cliche is when there is no dialogue at all:

Xena knew from the look on the bard's face that this was what she wanted, what she desired above all else. From this look, Xena was sure of her feelings and comfortable with her actions.

[08] There is something intrinsically fatal about writing concepts such as this. It seems that cliche is unavoidable. How many ways can you say I love you, or I need you?


[09] Another aspect of cliche in Xena is the terminology used, to put it bluntly, in sex scenes. However, cliched word choices were initially sparked by the advent of Slash fiction based on Star Trek (TV, 1966-1969). In fanzines of the 1970's, such as "Grup", the basis was set for terminological cliche through the description of the relationship between Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock. This was known as 'K/S' fiction, i.e., Slash. For instance, the following passage is rife with cliche. It illustrates Spock divulging his feelings for Kirk:

"Thee has caused me ... to feel a thing ... I cannot deny it ... cannot control it. It is with me constantly ... when I look on thee ... when I hear thy voice ... when I stand beside thee ... Oh friend, my friend," Spock almost cried. "Thee has caused me to love thee, and now what shall I do?"[Note 02]

Spock!  I had no idea!
Spock and Kirk are also the subject of speculation in some fan fiction.

[10] It becomes worse with Kirk's response:

"My friend, my friend Spock..." His whisper was softer, and ragged. "I didn't realize you could ... feel like that. I didn't know ... Oh, don't be afraid! Please don't be frightened. Don't be ashamed. You haven't done anything to be ashamed of. Love isn't such a terrible thing ... No, it's not terrible at all."[Note 03]

[11] The majority of the phrases expressed here do not appear heartfelt for two main reasons. One, they are common, and two, the expression is repetitive. It is these main concerns that echo over the years and throughout the majority of alternative fan fiction.

[12] Another critical aspect of alternative fan fiction is the possibility that authors are using these characters to develop their own fantasies. This may be loosely linked to the concept of Mary-Sueism, where by the perfect character is created. Melissa Wilson of the Star Trek fan fiction genre illustrates this in an interesting piece:

Mary Sue is the perky, bright, helpful sixteen-year-old ensign who beams about the ship. Everyone on the ship likes Mary Sue, because Mary Sue is good at everything. Mary Sue is an engineer, a doctor in training, a good leader, an excellent cook, and is usually a beautiful singer. Mary Sue often has mental powers that may manifest themselves as telepathy, precognition, or magic. If Mary Sue is very young, she is often the offspring of one or two already established characters. If she's a little older, she will probably end up sleeping with the author's favorite character. Her name is often the author's name, be it a net.name, a favored nickname, or the author's middle name (this is seen in the most famous Mary Sue of all time, Wesley Crusher, who was named after Trek creator Eugene Wesley Roddenbery). By the end of the story, Mary Sue will be in bed with the desired character, will have beamed away amid cheers from all the regulars, or will be dead, usually accompanied by heavy mourning from the cast. The reader, on the other hand, will be celebrating.[Note 04]

[13] In Xena alternative fan fiction, the concept of Mary Sue is seen quite frequently. For example, the character of Eleni Mavros from the fourth story in the Bodice Ripper Series by archaeobard (http://ausxip.com/fanfiction/o/ourloveourhope.html), is a Mary Sue. She is beautiful, looks suspiciously like Melinda Pappas, she is courageous as a member of the Greek resistance, she is generally good at everything she does, is well liked and she sleeps with one of the main characters, Janice Covington.

[14] The idea of the perfect character in alternative fan fiction follows through with characters such as Ryan O'Flaherty from I Found My Heart In San Francisco, by SX Meagher (http://www.forevaxena.com/fanfictiondelights/fanfic/ifmhisf/book 1/ifoundmyheartinsfbook1.html). This character is beautiful, strong, caring, forgiving, understanding, patient, has many skills and excels at all of them. Indeed, I know several people who have inadvertently 'fallen in love' with this character because of her traits, she is simply perfect to them. The main character from Dimension of the Heart by Blue (http://www.xenafan.com/fiction/content3/dimensionblue.html) is another well written Mary Sue character.

[15] A variety of Mary Sue 'tests' exist, one of which has been specifically designed for Xena and Hercules fan fiction authors. The Herc/Xena Mary Sue Test (http://adult.dencity.com/Erin/Essays/MarySue.htm), provides a form where an author can check off the main points for Mary Sueism in relation to their writing.

[16] In fact, Mary Sue even appears in the show itself. During the episode, THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER (56/310), the non-Xena fictional character Gabrielle creates is a Mary Sue, who is capable of fighting five barbarians at once and deflecting sword blows with her abs of steel.

[17] If we further the idea of a perfect fantasy character, it is clear that in many instances, the fan fiction author is exploiting established characters. Sometimes, the descriptions and situations given simply defy logic. This is the perhaps the case with two examples from a piece of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (TV, 1997- ) fan fiction.

Buffy's breathing was shallow. Her nipples were nearly an inch and half long and hard as her clit. Fluid was pulsing out of her slit.[Note 05]
Or alternatively:
Willow took the two-inch clit into her mouth and sucked on it three times and Buffy exploded.[Note 06]

[18] The character of Buffy must be very unfortunate indeed to suffer from inch and a half long nipples and a two inch clitoris. Such an affliction could not be pleasant. One hopes that Sarah Michelle Gellar does not have the same problem.

[19] As far as Xena is concerned, there must be floating out there thousands and thousands of throbbing centers with slick juices, impressive mounds with pebbled nipples and blonde haired, green eyed bards coupling with dark haired blue eyed warriors exploding in spasms of ecstasy. They are too numerous to mention.

[20] By April of 1999, I had become so intrigued by the number of terms used to describe the various parts of Xena and Gabrielle's anatomy, that I began to create a database of cliches. I scoured story after story noting author, title, and a list of synonyms for all sorts of nubs and buds. This attempt at compiling a 'Xena Alternative Database' fell flat on its face after a week. There was simply too much information for one person to collate. I shudder to think how much more work this would be now.

[21] There is such a thing as overwriting. For instance, various authors have acknowledged the cliched aspect of alternative Xena fan fiction. Bongo Bear developed a list of cliches used in Xena fan fiction (http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/alternative.html). This was then used by WordWarior to create a parody of the Xena/Gabrielle relationship entitled, "For the Love of Cliches" (http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/appendix2.html). Even I got sick of it all and decided to exploit the use of cliche by writing "The Bodice Ripper" Series in the style of Harlequin/Mills and Boon (http://www.ausxip.com/fanfiction/r/rising-archaeo.html). I was surprised at the amount of fan mail I received that can be paraphrased thus, "Wow, thank you for sharing your talent with us, I am SO enjoying these stories, you write the relationship between the characters so well." That is all very well and good, apart from the fact that I was parodying the relationship and the majority of readers took it at face value without seeing I was taking a jab at the genre.


Can we skip to the 'find the soap' part now?
Hot tub scenes are prevalent in fan fiction.

[22] Admittedly, when one is writing fan fiction, an author should stay true to the characters depicted in the show. However, over a period of time, this leads to the cliched representation of the characterizations. Readers know what the characters should be like. They tend to watch the show. There should be a tall, dark, blue eyed 'nothing ever gets to me' warrior, and a short, blonde, green-eyed naive bard. However, in many cases, fan fiction reiterates this to the extreme.

The tall, blue eyed warrior looked over at her traveling companion. The sun reached through trees lining the dusty road to spark fiery highlights off the smaller woman's blond head. It was a familiar routine; the warrior and bard roaming the countryside with the big gold mare.

"We're not headed anywhere in a big hurry and the last few months have been really...tiring. Do you think maybe we could stop somewhere for a few days and just take a break?"

What the bard had said was perfectly true. The stoic, detached warrior had found herself caught up in an emotional whirlwind lately and some time off to relax would do them both good. On the other hand, it would also mean no distractions from her feelings for Gabrielle.[Note 07]

[23] This obvious overwriting actually detracts from the description of the characters. There is nothing new here. There is no in-depth exploration of character traits or movement away from the norm. This is what causes descriptions such as this to be cliched. There is nothing wrong with presenting more to the characters than is seen in the television series. Using set characterizations is a double-edged sword. It may make the reader feel comfortable, yet it very quickly wears thin. Admittedly, for those readers who are new to Xena fan fiction or have never watched the show, there is a need for some description of the characters. However, overwriting or cliched representations are not essentially the best way to gain an audience.

[24] Perhaps this cliche, concerning Xena anyway, is summed up by the subtitle of Verrath's "The Crazed Ramblings of a Mad Woman", this being: "There's A Dark-Haired Blue-Eyed Warrior Woman Keeping Me Company" (http://fan-fic.com/Verrath/ramblin/ramblin1.htm). This concept of ultimate cliche is reiterated later in the article relating to plot.

[25] In the eyes of many, alternative Xena fan fiction has become worn and repetitive. It has reached a plane. In truth, I do not read much of this fan fiction any more because it appears written by rote. There is nothing stimulating emotionally about the Xena/Gabrielle relationship any more. It is a case of 'been there, done that'. That is the cliche, and that is the cycle that all alternative fan fiction genres must deal with.

[26] In Xena, this insight lead to the development of Uber fiction, where the main characters still hold the main traits of Xena and Gabrielle, but can be placed in any place, at any time and in any position[Note 08]. However, the terminology and stereotyped roles cannot be avoided simply because of the sheer association of previously established parameters.

[27] Uber fan fiction actually began as a pseudo spin off from Xena itself, with the use of characters developed in the episode, THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210). The characters of Dr. Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas are basic role reversals of Xena and Gabrielle. It is Janice (Renee O'Connor) who is the stoic, tough as nails, gun toting, and cursing character, while Melinda (Lucy Lawless) is a meek, mild, and clumsy Southern Belle who would not say 'boo' if you paid her.

[28] Uber fiction has moved on from Janice and Mel and is now seen as a progression towards original fiction. However, the essential character traits cannot be overlooked. Invariably one of the characters has had a dark past, is dealing with some form of emotional problem, or has so many character traits in common with Xena, it appears she has been transposed. Conversely, the other main character may display naivete, and be very aware of her emotional side but perhaps chooses to deny it. Uber fiction too, will eventually suffer the same fate as the classic Xena and Gabrielle.


Don't worry about it Gabrielle.  It's not as if people will be discussing 
our relationship hundreds of years from now.
Camfire scenes also abound in fan fiction.

[29] The conception of plot in alternative fan fiction is not particularly difficult. The main aim of the story is to get two people together. The way in which this comes about is another matter all together. The most simple example of this, is a 'Plot, What Plot?' (PWP) story. Two women meet, fall desperately in love at first sight, and have earth-shattering sex. Beth Gaynor exemplifies this in a very short piece.

"I feel so strangely, undeniably attracted to you," the small, adorable blonde with the heart of gold confessed to the gorgeous tall, dark stranger that fate had brought into her life.

"Me too," the other woman replied. She was the strong, silent type.

"Let's go have great sex."[Note 09]

This piece was written originally as part of a fifty-five word challenge suggested by Wishes on the Royal Academy of Bards (http://www.merwolf.com/academy/, and not only does it capture the cliched essence of PWP, but also of Uber.

[30] "First Time" stories use another form of plot that is highly cliched. This type of story is focused around the first time the two main characters are together in a sexual relationship. So popular is the writing of these stories that many fan fiction indexes have devoted separate web pages to this topic. Fade to Black (http://www.kpiper.com/first/def.html) is an index specializing in First Time stories. Indeed, these stories seem to be predominant in Xena fan fiction, so much so that authors have even commented in their disclaimers. For instance, Pink Rabbit Productions disclaimed the following:

This is another one of those first time stories, but we both have a lot of fondness for it.[Note 10]

[31] I commented previously under the topic of dialogue that there are many common phrases and ideas used in conjunction with Xena and Gabrielle or Uber characters being together. This is especially the case in First Time stories. First Time stories invariably involve one character feeling something for the other character but uncertain if the other character feels the same, so the first character tries to deny what they feel because they are afraid. The two examples quoted below were chosen at random from a general browse of the First Time Index on The Athenaeum (http://xenafiction.net/index.mv) and the short story section of Fade to Black (http://www.kpiper.com/fanfic/index.html#shorts).

[32] Example 1: We have Gabrielle rubbing Xena's shoulders after she is wounded in a battle.

Her exhaustion and the feelings she usually kept bottled up had added to her light-headedness, and she just wanted to lean back and relax. But she couldn't let the feelings wash over her; she was afraid of what she might do. And she knew, whatever it was, she would regret it later. And so would Gabrielle.[Note 11]
But then, there is a change in the attitude of one of the characters, they cannot deny what they feel because it is too strong, destined, whatever:
Xena decided she wouldn't hide anything from her friend. "Gabrielle," she began, letting her shoulders relax a bit, "I've been having certain feelings for you. Feelings that I can't explain. I've tried to ignore them, but if you keep rubbing my shoulders, I won't be able to much longer. And I can't give in to them."

"Why?" Gabrielle's voice was soft and barely more than a whisper.

"Because I'm afraid," Xena whispered, admitting it to herself for the first time.

"Afraid of what?"

"Of losing you. If I give in to these feelings, I'm afraid you might hate me, and I couldn't bear to lose your friendship."[Note 12]

[33] Example 2: Gabrielle has died, and Xena speaks to her hoping that she can hear her thoughts.

And I do love you. I know I've told you that before, but this is something more. I can't remember a time when I didn't love you. Somewhere along the way that deep love I felt for you turned into something even more. I fell in love with you early on but I've always felt that I needed to hide it. I've hidden it for selfish reasons I have to admit. I've just been afraid I'd lose you, that you'd leave me. And so, I've spent my days and nights fighting my feelings and hiding them. I hope you can understand.[Note 13]

[34] Although these two examples have different story lines completely, when it comes to either Xena or Gabrielle admitting how they feel, the wording is extraordinarily similar. This is both a cause and a symptom of cliche. I am not even certain if writers are aware that they are writing in this manner. Is it merely the subject matter and emotions that are associated with it that pre-selects this form of expression? Whatever the cause, it is clear that the sheer volume of material in existence dealing with this phenomenon has resulted in the text having an overused and stale feel. The best First Time stories are those that avoid dealing with the 'are you sures' and 'I'm so scareds'. Della Street (http://www.whoosh.org/issue46/boese2.html) was one author who managed to achieve this in her writing. Although it could be argued that this was because Della wrote during the emergence of Xena fan fiction as a genre, and was thus largely unaffected by the bombardment of cliche.

[35] In 1967, John Norman (alias of Prof. John Lange) published in the United States the first of a twenty-five volume series of novels. This began the dominant/submissive genre in popular literature. It was based around the planet Gor that was ruled over by a series of dominant Priest Kings who chained and controlled the remainder of the population to varying degrees. From this has grown an entire subculture of doms and subs both in reality and on the Internet. "Conqueror" fiction, a Warrior/Slave subclass of Xena fan fiction, clearly reflects a Gorean tradition in its plot design. Born directly from a Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode entitled ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72-73/413-414), where the world existed as it would if Hercules had never been born, Xena The Conqueror is the woman who was never shown the path to redemption. Whilst this genre may not always be graphic in its representation of Gorean elements through displays of bondage etc, the basic concept of the dominant and submissive denotes this style.

[36] Ultimately in this genre Xena is the domineering warrior who takes Gabrielle, for whatever reason, as a slave. There are some variations on this where Gabrielle may pretend to be Xena's slave, or there are role reversals, such as in Kodi Wolf's Xena: Warrior Slave (http://kodiwolf.homepage.com/xenafic/xenaslave.html). However the main aspect is Xena in the role of Conqueror or warrior, dominating the decidedly innocent, resigned, or vaguely defiant Gabrielle, usually with some form of bondage or humiliation. Even T Novan admits this is essential to the plot of the story.

There's also a little light bondage (hey it's [a] plot point, really).[Note 14]

[37] It is clear from the above discussion that writing a decent plot in Xena fan fiction is both simple and difficult. It is simple to write something that has been written repeatedly. It is much more difficult to establish a refreshing plot within the confines of cliche, whether these constraints be imposed by the writer through choice, or simply because they exist.


You don't mind if I call you 'Gabby' do you?
Joxer has what women want in WARRIOR...PRIESTESS...TRAMP.

[38] Over the past several months, I have been generally discussing alternative Xena fan fiction with people who knew this genre existed but did not essentially read it. The main responses I received when asking what they thought Xena fan fiction was are as follows:

1) Porn.
2) Hot lesbian sex.
3) Well sex, who wouldn't want to throw one into Gabrielle?
4) Oh everybody knows they are together so why not write about it?

[39] These are the attitudes that have been garnered from the popular press and idle web surfing. In many articles the issue of 'subtext' is discussed[Note 15], and in a web search on the word "Xena", one cannot help but return thousands of links to Xena sites mentioning lesbian sex or any other form of sex. However, it seems, that despite the tactful way this is posed in press, people develop surprisingly overreaching opinions of the actual subject. Why is this? Although there are many, many GEN rated (meaning non-adult) stories on the net, these are not necessarily the stories Xena fan fiction is remembered by.

[40] The question must be asked that if all fan fiction is seen as sex, what happened to the notion of soulmates and death defying love? What happened to the reason people started writing Xena fan fiction in the first place: to fill an emotional void that was left in the Xena/Gabrielle relationship by the show? This is being bypassed in favor of cheap thrills. It seems that many readers are only interested in a 'quick fix', hence the popularity of 'plot, what plot' stories. It is true that many authors write about the emotional relationship between the two main characters, yet considering this is not essentially what the genre is remembered for, this is the ultimate cliche.

[41] One must also remember that the majority of fan fiction stories being published on the Internet are of an amateur level. People are writing them for their own entertainment value. Not every story is well rounded, polished, and of publication standard. To be sure, it does not need to be. However, the Xenaverse has developed its own form of cliche simply due to the extant number of fan fiction stories, whether these are amateur or published. It was bound to happen, and Xena is not the only genre of fan fiction that has come under the hammer of self imposed cliche. In a way, it is sad, because people's stories are losing their expression, and some things that should be heartfelt and moving, now seem trivial and laughable. This attitude is not something that can be changed with word usage, because the precept has already been established in the reader's mind.

[42] There are many points in this article that may be argued against, and I hope someone will. However I still propose the question, how does one write refreshingly when for the last several years, various concepts in Xena fan fiction, or any fan fiction for that matter, have been used, abused and overused to the point of mockery?


The author would like to thank the following people for their useful input during the writing of this article. Specifically Joseph Connell, Shadowfen, Verrath, Ken Murray and a general thanks to members of The Bardic Circle and the RelaxHaveFunWrite e-mail lists for putting up with my ramblings.


Note 01:
Murray, K., per committee. Publications Unit, University of Sydney, Australia, February 2001
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Note 02:
Leslie Fish and Joanne Agostino, "Shelter", Warped Space XX, 1976
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Note 03:
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Note 04:
Melissa Wilson, Dr. Merlin's Guide To Fan Fiction
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Note 05:
Willowluvyr, "Blood of a Satyr"
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Note 06:
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Note 07:
K.R Brendan, "Closest to Heaven"
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Note 08:
For a quick introduction to the Uber genre in Xena fan fiction, see "What is this Uber?"
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Note 09:
Beth Gaynor, "Uber in a Nutshell"
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Note 10:
Pink Rabbit Productions, First Time
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Note 11:
Katelin B, Best Friend
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Note 12:
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Note 13:
Kelley Piper, The Slumbering Bard
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Note 14:
T Novan, disclaimer to King's Ransom
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Note 15:
Subtext is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the underlying theme in a piece of writing (esp. in a novel or play). The term was coined in 1950 by Hapgood in C. Stanislavski's Building Character viii. 113 "What do we mean by subtext? What is it that lies behind and beneath the actual words of a part?.. It is the manifest, the inwardly felt expression of a human being in a part, which flows uninterruptedly beneath the words of the text, giving them life and a basis for existing." In Xena, this definition most often pertains to the possibility of a sexual relationship between the characters of Xena and Gabrielle. The Xenaverse coinage originated on the Xenaverse Internet (administered by Arbiter) mailing list in February or March 1996.
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Katia Davis Katia Davis

I'm a Near Eastern archaeology graduate from the University of Sydney, Australia, who saw the light (two thirds of the way through her damn PhD no less), and thought, 'gee, wouldn't it be good to be a writer?' Although I seem to be a permanent fixture on the university grounds these days from where I run my sophisticated network of alien spies intent on overtaking the Xenaverse. No, seriously, I make myself useful whilst pursuing my writing. Speaking of which, I've been writing Xena fan fiction for about two years under the nom de plume archaeobard.
Favorite episode: CALLISTO
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "I'll rise, but I refuse to shine" BEEN THERE DONE THAT
First episode seen: WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP
Least favorite episode:DEATH MASK

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