Whoosh! Issue 25 - October 1998

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

2. Baermer

Interview July 13, 1998

[40] Xena Fan Fiction was found at the bard's website located at: http://www.telepath.com/baermer/otherindex.html

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

  1. After Horde
  2. The Eleusinian Mysteries [alt]
  3. Mantic [alt]
  4. Nepenthean
  5. Of Amazons, Warriors and Revenge [alt]
  6. Old Lessons

    The Peloponnesian War Series:

  7. Book I: Precursors [alt]
  8. Book II: Poteidaia Under Siege [alt]
  9. Book III: The Mytilene Debate [alt]
  10. Book IV: The Battle Of Amphipolis [alt]
  11. Read The Fine Runes [alt]
  12. Slumbering Bard
  13. The Personal Scrolls Of Gabrielle, Bard Of Poeteidaia [alt]

Question #01:
[41] What has been your inspiration for writing fan fiction? [i. e., Catharsis; Pleasure/Fun/Self-indulgence or wish fulfillment; Creative compulsion - I just couldn't or can't stop myself; The show pushes against limits and inspires me to do the same; To try to express the inexpressible (perhaps the fantasy of Xena is opening up a deeply held need to be subsumed by some female power. She's protector, partner, friend, mentor, etc... everything men are supposed to be but she's a woman and not foreign so she has even more power)].

[42] You know, I've never stopped to ask myself that question. It's all that you mentioned and then some. I guess the primary motivation is that I view the characters of Xena and Gabrielle as archetypes. They stand for so many ideals -- feminism in its most positive sense, friendships at their deepest and most profound (which can imply any amount of physicality, but their relationship is not based on physicality), the too-often-categorized-as-polar-opposites of strength and passion, politics and art, brawn and heart.

[43] I strive to bring all of those aspects into my own life and I can more easily discern just what they are by seeing them separated into two individuals. But, unlike most characters we see on TV or in films, these two women each embrace all of those aspects; it's just that Xena tends to show one side more often than Gabrielle does.

[44] When push comes to shove, though, they choose to use whatever capacity they believe will work best. Xena talks her way out. Gabrielle busts some heads to get out. Writing about them gives me ready-made fully three-dimensional archetypal characters I can use to flesh out overarching issues such as trust and the ineffable quality of love.

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

[46] I would characterize my motivations as having grown rather than changed, for all of the original aspects which drew me to fan fiction are still a part of the reason to continue. I've used the stories to write completely outside of myself.

[47] I'm one of the heterosexual women writing alt fiction. I can't draw on experience to write graphic sex scenes, just as I can't draw on experience to write about motivations for killing. It felt like I was taking a huge risk the first time I wrote a graphic scene and I like taking artistic risks. Since then, though, it has lost that quality for me, and as of late I've skipped the graphic scenes. If I don't have an artistic reason to write them, they become gratuitous, and I don't engage in that.

[48] And yes, I have learned an enormous amount about writing and that's been extraordinarily helpful in all aspects of my life. I took on The Peloponnesian War before I'd learned much about the craft. Sometimes I regret that, but usually not. That very long work taught me confidence. Though that was bolstered by fan response, all of that pales in comparison to how it feels to have finished something that long. It was remarkably satisfying. Now I know I can take on big projects, make a small amount of progress every day, maintain large-scale themes, tread into water that isn't a part of me, and succeed.

Question #03:
[49] Have you written other fiction? If so, was it before or after becoming a Xena fan? What genre are your other works?

[50] I had outlined a novel several years ago, but engaged in no other fiction writing since I finished school. Because of my relationship with XWP fan fiction, I am at work on that novel. I've heard the same story from many of the XWP bards, that their forays into fan fiction have led them to write the novel they'd been thinking about but never knew they had the resources to undertake.

[51] My book is not much like the world of XWP, it's science fiction, but I have drawn on the archetypal characters. In that sense it is Uber, but only to that extent. The wonderful aspect of archetypal characters is that they are so pliable. They can be molded to fit most any scenario. If you start looking for the archetypes, you see them all around you. The crux is that we can't as yet find as many female archetypes as male. This is changing, though, and in no small measure that can be attributed directly to XWP. I hope TPTB [the powers that be] recognize this and understand the magnitude to which XWP has invaded culture. It's not just a cult icon, it's multi-dimensional force.

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

[53] I never have read it, nor do I now. And, I'll bet I never will. The genre of romantic fiction does not generally embrace those aspects of the archetypes that I find so compelling. Romance can be a part of it, but it's not enough for me.

Question #05:
[54] In your opinion, is XWP a romantic show? Why or why not? (It's action, adventure, drama, melodrama...)

[55] Do I sound like I'm repeating myself yet? XWP embraces all of those genres. That's part of the magic. It's virtually impossible to codify. That's what makes it the remarkable mirror of humanity, particularly the feminine side. Most other TV is satisfied at being one thing, having one facet... XWP really takes a risk in being so inclusive. Sometimes we complain about it. How dare they show comedies in mid-rift, for example. But all helps to define the incredibly large palette that's in play for the show.

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

[57] I think The Eleusinian Mysteries does more than any other story of mine, because the overarching theme running through it applies to Xena and Gabrielle's relationship and its ineffable quality. But, it's first and foremost a murder mystery. And it's action and drama... all of those things.

Question #07:
[58] 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 times?

[59] Since I'm not a lesbian, I'd rather not try to be a spokesperson for them.

Question #08:
[60] Including the four-part Peloponnesian War series, you have written more than a dozen remarkable stories about Xena and Gabrielle. Within your works of fan fiction, each story tends to balance several genres. Like Melissa Good and some others, your writing seems more mainstream in that no one genre dominates. About the novella "Of Amazons, Warriors and Revenge" Lunacy, reviewer extraordinaire writes, "...As tends to be the case with Baermer's tales, this story has it ALL - suspense, mystery, action! It is a hurt/comfort story. It is a romance. It is a tale of revenge. It is unforgettable!..."

[61] Do you consider this story to be more of an action-adventure or romance or something else completely?

[62] Ah, the genre question again. How about this answer? I just write 'em. I'll leave the classifying for others to do.

Question #09:
[63] Lunacy also writes that the "Eleusinian Mysteries" "...contains possibly the most beautiful sentence I have ever read in alt. Fiction".

[64] After reading the story, more than one beautiful sentence comes to mind. Do you know which sentence she is referring to?

[65] Yes [Baermer wished to keep this information private so the sentence will not be divulged in this interview].

Question #10:
[66] The Peloponnesian War Series is a sequel to The Eleusinian Mysteries and includes three novellas and one novel. It is an epic saga and you have described it this way:

This is a long, four-book monster and as such stands to be an intense roller coaster. It's a serious and sometimes disturbing story. Our heroes will undergo difficult tests, the action and psychology of which may prove difficult to read to some. There will be violence aimed at one or both of our heroes and sexual abuse. If you normally choose to avoid such subject matter, please do not read this story. I don't want to upset people, just walk that fine line to make the long read worthwhile.

[67] How long did it take to complete this series and did you do much research into ancient Greek politics before beginning this tremendous series?

[68] I don't have much of a memory for facts and figures and I don't remember much detail from when I was in school. When XWP became important to me, I started to re-read some Greek mythology and I discovered I did remember a lot of it. I liked it then and I'm fascinated by it now. That naturally led to reading more historical accounts which, in turn, spawned stories like The Peloponnesian War. The two, writing and researching, fed each other.

[69] I thumbed through Thucydides The History of the Peloponnesian War in a bookstore. Thucydides is a primary source. He was there, in the midst of it when the war broke out in 431 BCE. When I read that one of the sparks for the war was the rebellion in Poteidaia, and that Thucydides himself led troops into the critical battle for Amphipolis, well, the story begged to be written for obvious reasons.

[70] I then read John Fine's thick historical tome on the ancient Greeks, which helped even the point of view. Thucydides was an Athenian, and as such had a somewhat biased perspective. I've used Sue Blundell's Women in Ancient Greece and Margaret Hamilton's Mythology as sources for many of my stories, but they also played a big role in preparing The Peloponnesian War. I learned about Athena's dark side from Hamilton and Blundell, and about Aspasia and the Hetaera from Blundell. If memory serves, from start to finish, it took about 4 1/2 months.

Question #11:
[71] Your most recent story is a novella called "The Personal Scrolls of Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia ". Different from your other works, it is written in the first person. Also, you rarely refer to Xena and Gabrielle by their names or by "warrior" or "bard", either. This gives it an extremely personal quality. Was this difficult to write and have you received much feedback from readers on this one?

[72] Yes, this was difficult to write. It was a cathartic experience that left me quite drained. And it was a marvelous experience, as well. Though the idea was generated as an exercise, it took over and became the most powerful story I've written. But I should say that it was an odd mix of being easy and difficult. The words flowed rather effortlessly and quite quickly. I wrote it in less than 48 hours and I didn't go without sleep sweating over it.

[73] It was, however, hard to tap that deep, to find a conduit to those emotions of life and death and love and trust. It was hard to write Gabrielle as so vulnerable, so wounded, and so depressed because I was feeling it as I was writing it. I've received some feedback on Scrolls, but not as much as on most other stories. I think that's because I advertise it as a tear-jerker and not everyone wants to indulge in one of those.

Question #12:
[74] To date, which of your stories have received the most reader response?

[75] Well, that's hardly fair... The Peloponnesian War generated a ton of mail. But that's because I posted as I wrote it, leaving people at horrendous cliffhangers for months. Many people wrote in more than once. I begged for feedback at the end of each post and eventually received many responses that began "I've never written to a bard before..."

Question #13:
[76] There is some controversy about what uber-Xena fiction is. What is your current definition of a completely uber story and do you think you will ever write such a story?

[77] I think a lot of Uber fiction uses descendants of Xena and Gabrielle, as Bat Morda did and as THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210) did. I think that's being expanded to use characters reminiscent of Xena and Gabrielle. That works for me as Uber. And as much as I draw on their archetypal characters, I'm writing Uber now. But I don't see myself spending time on a descendant story. I'm much too enthralled with Greek mythology to let go that era.

Question #14:
[78] 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.

[79] Do you have any thoughts about this? Are you still awake?

[80] I have some pretty strong opinions about the function of art in society and I expect this will be a long answer. I am a professional, earning my living in an artistic field other than writing, who has learned and thought a lot about this very question. My answer today is that each person balances the internal and external reasons for engaging in art differently. Each story carries a unique balance. Each reader interprets this balance differently.

[81] I can tell you about my intentions, but I don't know that I can clearly articulate the balance you'll find inherent in each of my stories. Art is about communicating. First and foremost, I communicate with myself. The relationship between creator and self is at the foundation of every artistic experience. That relationship can be denied -- but that's still a relationship, just as choosing to be apolitical is a political choice. I try to write honestly, imbuing my prose with words that are me.

[82] Even when I write well beyond who I am, I am still putting my personal spin on every issue, every thought, every word. The first checkpoint is: how do I read my own work? Is it honest or does it step over into manipulative and preachy dogma. That's a personal button-pusher for me. I respond poorly to art which preaches and therefore I strive to write art which does not. That, in a larger sense, is another example of putting my own honest spin on what I do. My interests and passions, needs and wants, experiences and dreams inform my writing. When I can read something I've written and clearly find all that I intended, I am satisfied.

[83] But there is more. I want to know that others can see it too. I feel a responsibility to communicate with other people. If I have learned a lesson or discovered a connection, I am compelled to share it. That's part of humanity. And I want to do it in an entertaining way. That's part of ego. It's very hard to continue in some endeavor for which you receive no feedback.

[84] We thrive on positive reinforcement in everything we do. But, though this positive reinforcement bolsters my confidence, it does not form it or create it. Writers, indeed any artist, must nurture a healthy ego. I need to know that what I do is worthwhile and will touch a few souls out there before (or if) it touches them. I need to have a measure of confidence to begin the process. That's where ego comes in. It convinces me that I can do it. Feedback convinces me that I have done it. And good critical feedback shows me how to do it better.

[85] Balance is one of the keys to individuality. I have a rather lopsided scale there. If I get but one response that said I made a difference in someone's day, that's enough. I know I am a more erudite writer than some out there. That's fine because that represents who I am. Nothing about my professional life is "commercial". My art fits in a tiny niche. I don't need to, or want to, reach the masses. I do, however, recognize the importance of that. I used to snub my nose at it, but I have grown to realize the hypocrisy in that belief. No one's opinion is better than another's. Some are more informed, more studied; others are more passionate, more reflective of the individual. It's taken some time to figure out what I was missing rather than what I had conquered.

[86] I would imagine that many readers view my stories as romantic. Others may seem them as dramatic or action adventures. I want to put in enough fodder, weave in enough layers, to let the reader find what they might be looking for. That includes what I as reader look for, which is a multi-faceted approach, interlacing many views and interpretations. In other words, reflecting what life is in all its ambiguous glory.

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