Whoosh! Issue 25 - October 1998


IAXS project #422
By Christine Boese
Copyright © 1998 held by author
11334 words

Reflections (01-05)
     Wow! Phase (06-07)
     Meltdown Phase (08-11)
     Novel Phase (12-15)
     Maintenance Phase (16-20)
Themes and Trends in Alternative Fan Fiction (21-23)
     Alt-Fanfic Character Themes (24-41)
     Alt-Fanfic Setting Themes (42-45)
     Alt-Fanfic Action Themes (46-52)
Genres in Alternative Fan Fiction (53-60)
     Hurt/Comfort Stories (61-62)
     First Time Stories (63-68)
     Warlord/Slave Stories (69-78)
     Uber-Xena Stories (79-86)
Xena Withdrawal Syndrome 1998 (87-90)
Xena as Archetype (91-96)
Works Cited

Spinning Off From The Source:
Alternative Fan Fiction Changes With The Seasons


[01] As we enter the fourth season of the television program Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP), we ought to look back and reflect on this interesting phenomenon Hardcore Nutball Xenites have collectively created in cyberspace. For many Xenites, certain routine and comforting online habits have evolved over time: collecting Xenastuff; having intense discussions with other Xenites on the various discussion groups; going to Xena conventions and fests; creating idiosyncratic, colorful web pages and artwork; and, reading and writing fan fiction.

[02] While participating in and studying all of the above activities in the online Xenaverse culture, I found that, for me personally, fan fiction became the most powerful magnet, specifically (and almost exclusively) alternative fan fiction. It drew me back again and again. I seemed to feed off it, never tapping the limits of the tension and intrigue it held. I found that many other Xenites also shared this habit: the nightly bedtime story. Every night I visited the huge fan fiction index sites. When I began, a year and a half ago, I went to the incomparable xenos Fan Fiction Index. After xenos left the Xenaverse [Note 01], I regularly hit The Xenaverse Codex: The bardeyes & xenabat Library, the designated inheritors of xenos's code, and Shadowfen's Fan Fiction Index.

The index is dead, long live the index!

A screen save of the Index of the now defunct Xenos Fan Fiction Page
[03] Aside from the apparently mundane and erotic appeal of the nightly bedtime story, something more profound and far-reaching about alternative fan fiction is happening, something I can only begin to describe in this article. It led me to write my doctoral dissertation on the online Xenaverse culture, in a quest of sorts to understand the different ways the online communities of the Xenaverse affect Hardcore Nutballs. One thing I noticed during my excursions into the fan fiction cyberscape was that my reading habits evolved over time in distinct phases. I did not realize until much later that elements of fan fiction were evolving as well.

[04] This article examines my personal experience in alternative fan fiction immersion and explores the ways that alternative fan fiction has evolved in conjunction with the television show and independently of it. Reading fan fiction in online contexts is a highly personal and peculiar endeavor, and I cannot separate my personal experiences from the ideas, observations, and theories presented here. My experiences are not unique, and others have reported similar degrees of immersion.

[05] I discovered the online Xenaverse shortly after A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) aired. I am not one of those veteran fans who has been online from the beginning. I did, however, unknowingly participate in the greatest explosion of alternative fan fiction migrating on to the Web. Explicit alternative stories did circulate privately previous to the spring of 1997, but with the subtext reinforced by XWP producers (known collectively online as The Powers That Be or TPTB) in episodes such as RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205), THE QUEST (37/213), and A DAY IN THE LIFE, a significant number of alternative writers started making their work available publicly at that time as well. My interest and immersion in fan fiction seemed to evolve in phases, what I call my "Wow! Phase", a "Meltdown Phase", my "Novel Phase", and my present "Maintenance Phase", which is currently dominated by a subcategory, an obsessive "Uber-Phase".

Wow! Phase

[06] As a Xenaverse newbie in Spring 1997, I assumed the stories I was reading were already well-established on the Web. Until my later research, I had no idea that the alt-fanfic canon was expanding exponentially from the inspiration of the second season of XWP. It was purely coincidental that I happened to be surfing a wave of alternative fan fiction that was just gathering momentum. Somehow, through DAx's Museum of Subtext, I found DAx's Obsession XenaRotica alternative fan fiction site, Lynka's Fan Fiction site and Miss Gabrielle's Private Rooms. Sadly, Miss Gabrielle's Private Rooms is no longer on-line. Much of the intense exhilaration I felt in the "Wow! Phase" grew out of midnight reading in the dark with that "Jungle Trees" background at Miss Gabrielle's Private Rooms.

A moment of silence. Or at least of muted whispering.

A screen save of the now defunct Miss Gabrielle's Private Rooms website.
[07] In the "Wow! Phase," I was naively amazed that the stories existed at all. In the beginning I expected them all to be very badly written, like some kind of lesbian version of Penthouse Letters. While some of the shorter pieces were quite awful, I was much more surprised at how enjoyable many of the stories were. Early in my time in the Xenaverse I was struck by the quality of work by Della Street and Ella Quince. For a while I wondered if it was just because parts of their names rhymed. Even as I began to lose interest in many of the stories I had originally been drawn toward, Della Street and Ella Quince had a level of detail and realism that kept them on my list of all-time favorite Xenaverse fan fiction authors. The lyricism and wit of Kit Wilson and parodies by Joanna also still dazzle me after all this time.

Meltdown Phase

[08] The light reading that had first drawn me to the Xenaverse alt-fanfic became repetitive and unsatisfying fairly quickly, as I expected. At that time I did not have a very high regard for my own Xena obsession. I was not embarrassed to be associated with a deliberately campy television show, but I still held it on par with "All Star Wrestling", as something I liked because it was very bad. I expected the writing in the Xenaverse to be bad as well, and I expected to tap the well dry fairly quickly. For a little while I lost interest, thinking, "That's all there is."

[09] Then I wandered onto Tom Simpson's Fan Fiction Archive and started reading around. Online, I had read a reference to B.L. Miller's "The Cabin". While devouring all of B.L. Miller's stories, I also discovered the longer works by Phopas. With those stories I knew I was not in Kansas anymore. The stories demanded intense, immersive reading. I lost track of where I was, or how long I had been reading into the night. I went looking for more stories that allowed me to disappear into a fantasy world, but became frustrated at Tom's site because it did not distinguish between alternative and general fan fiction.

[10] The Bard's Quill Awards on Tom's site provided a reader's guide of sorts, but I just could not get interested in non-alternative stories. Instead I found Tim Wellman's alternative fan fiction listing (now known as Jane's Alternative Fan Fiction, and rooted around there for at least a month, taking the grab-bag, trying to find work on par with "The Cabin" and finding authors such as Mil Toro, Oversoul, and L.N. James.

[11] While reading through Jane's site, I also learned what I did not like in fan fiction. I have a fairly high tolerance for violence, even when the victim is either Xena or Gabrielle, as can be found in B.L. Miller and Phopas. I also found stories where Xena or Gabrielle got together relationally or sexually with an outsider to be unsatisfying as well. Those stories, and there are not many, seemed to defeat the purpose of reading, which implies that there is an essential purpose for reading alt-fanfic. Others have echoed this sentiment, most notably Lunacy, of Lunacy's Fan Fiction Reviews, making "Xena-and-Gabrielle-together-forever-soulmates" as the dominant plot element of alt-fanfic. I will return to this subject below.

Novel Phase

[12] After I grew bored with the slow load and idiosyncratic, non-alphabetic listing at Jane's site, I once again figured I had tapped the well dry. Real life intrudes from time to time anyway. Then in May 1997, real life took a downturn and I entered the Xenaverse completely and wholeheartedly, never looking back. I have heard others report this total immersion as well, and many describe how Xena and the online Xenaverse literally saved their lives during health crises or other extreme circumstances. Even Lucy Lawless turned to the Xenaverse for comfort during her hospital stay following her accident on the Jay Leno Show.

[13] In my less extreme case, the Xenaverse community and fan fiction threw me a lifeline during a time when I was feeling very low. My depression just happened to coincide with "Xena Withdrawal Syndrome" (XWS) 1997. It was at this time that I dove into epic-length novels being posted online by Missy Good, M. Parnell, Puckster, DJWP, and baermer, as well as shorter, serialized novellas by Bat Morda and WordWarior.

[14] I gave up all pretense of interacting in the real world and went on night-for-day and day-for-night reading binges, consuming whole novels onscreen in a single sitting. The xenos Fan Fiction Index was my motherlode and I methodically sat down to read a substantial part of the corpus of more than 800 stories at that time (the listing currently is approaching 2,000 stories). I also relied on "word of mouth" on the "Xenaverse" and "Chakram" listservs, especially Lunacy's almost daily Fan Fiction Reviews.

[15] It seemed that the better writers gravitated toward novel-length offerings, and the stories were less of a grab-bag when it came to quality. As a rule, however, I would not start a novel until all of the parts had been posted. I had that luxury because I had no life. By this time I had stopped believing that the alt-fanfic well would ever run dry.

Gone to the Great Bit Bucket in the Sky.

The now defunct xeno's Fan Fiction Page was updated often, which encouraged rarely-sated fan fiction consumers to feed their addiction.

Maintenance Phase

[16] No one can keep up that kind of reading pace. Real life returned, but this time in a distinctly Xenite form. I attended Xena Conventions in the fall of 1997, went to GREASE on Broadway (Lucy Lawless was playing Rizzo), and completed a research proposal for a cultural study of the online Xenaverse. My obsession became my real life and I settled into a comfortable routine of the nightly bedtime stories.

[17] I have also had the opportunity to meet (virtually) a number of the authors I have been reading for the past year. I even wrote a Xena screenplay and a nine chapter alternative story myself, neither of which are available online - I am still too shy. I pace myself better now, except for a fairly intense "Uber" phase in XWS 1998 that led me to break my rule about reading novels before they were finished. I will discuss "Uber" in greater depth below. At one point I was reading four serialized Uber-novels at once.

[18] Some people online have speculated that the Xenaverse is entering something of a dry period for alternative fan fiction following the difficult third season of XWP. Some writers have commented that it is more difficult to spin storylines off the trials of the "Rift" and the closing Season Three cliffhanger. Lunacy monitors the number of new stories posted and reports that there has been no fall-off in the rate of stories going on-line.

[19] In spite of that, I am inclined to agree that the character and tone of the stories are changing, and that it is harder for readers to find the satisfying stories just by using the indexes or "What's New" sites. The sudden influx of high quality alternative stories posted on-line from private circulation did not happen this past spring and summer of 1998 as it did in 1997. Some readers admit to sticking with well-established bards. It surely must be more difficult for new bards to make a name for themselves. I still sample new authors quite frequently, but I am often disappointed in what I read.

[20] Not many of us knew how much new energy was flowing into alt-fanfic in the Xenaverse in Spring and Summer 1997. Perhaps we just took it for granted. That is why in this article I want to examine current trends in the evolution of fan fiction, in order to discover if the well is starting to go dry, or if the Xenaverse will be generating quality alternative fan fiction for some time to come.

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