OTW Guest Post: Lee & Colleen

From time to time, the OTW will be hosting guest posts on our OTW News accounts. These guests will be providing an outside perspective on the OTW or aspects of fandom where our projects may have a presence. The posts express each author’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect the views of the OTW or constitute OTW policy. We welcome suggestions from fans for future guest posts, which can be left as a comment here or by contacting us directly.

Lee is the founder of Carnation Books, and her goal in life is to read as much fanfiction as humanly possible. She lives in Silicon Valley with her programmer husband, their two cats, and one very cute dog. You can find her on Twitter. Colleen is a 30-something mom of two who has been in fandom in some capacity since the age of 14. She can be found on Tumblr and Twitter.

How did you first get into fandom and fanworks?

Lee: Back in 1996, a kid in my fifth-grade class told me about this cool TV show The X-Files, where these two FBI agents investigated paranormal phenomena (he probably didn’t phrase it quite like that, though). We had just gotten the internet at home, so the first thing I did was go to Yahoo! (which was an index of websites at the time) to find websites about The X-Files. I was enthralled, and spent the next few weeks reading detailed summaries of every XF episode that had aired up through the fourth season.

After I’d memorized everything about the entire first couple of seasons, I was desperate for more Mulder and Scully, so I wondered whether anyone had written stories set in the XF universe. Once I stumbled across an XF fanfiction webring, I was hooked; I spent the whole summer of 1996 carrying around a yellow accordion folder full of Mulder/Scully Romance fanfiction that I’d printed out. We had a dot-matrix printer, which meant that I’d spend hours tearing the dotted edges off of the paper and then carefully tearing the perforated paper into individual sheets.

I wrote my first fic when I was 11. Besides my obsession with XF, I was also into New York City and the TV show Friends, so I wrote a crossover wherein Mulder and Scully went to New York City to solve a case, fell in love (of course), and met up with the cast of Friends. It’s been lost to the tides of time, which is too bad, because I would love to go back and read it, but I was too shy to post it anywhere, and cloud storage hadn’t been invented yet.

Then, in 1999, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released, and it was instantly apparent to me that Sirius and Remus were madly in love. (13-year-old me read “They embraced like brothers” and immediately thought, “Yeah, sure…’brothers,’ got it.”) They were my first gay OTP. Once I discovered slash fic, I was instantly hooked, and it’s all been joy from there.

Colleen: Hilariously, I got into fandom because of the soap opera General Hospital. My friends and I used to watch forums for spoilers and deep analysis of the day’s episode (told you it was hilarious), and on the old SoapZone website was a fan fiction forum. I clicked it out of curiosity and a whole new world opened up before my eyes. Later, I thought to myself, “Boy I sure do love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I wonder if people write fan fiction for that?!” My teenage self had no IDEA what was about to happen.

What experiences in fandom led you to create Carnation Books?

Lee: A lot of little things added up to plant the idea in my subconscious, and I was definitely fortunate to be able to make it possible in the first place (I especially am lucky for the support of my wonderful husband Ben, whom I’ve been with for 10 years this February). But there was one occurrence that sticks out very clearly in my mind:

In 2016, I was sitting on the couch next to my husband, who was playing a video game, and I was reading the epic Kylo Ren/General Hux series Children, Wake Up by hollycomb on my Kindle. And I remember thinking that this was the most beautiful writing I’d ever laid my eyes on, and it was so heart-wrenchingly gorgeous that I closed my Kindle and laid down on my husband’s lap and cried just a little bit.

Shortly after that, I was reflecting on the experience of being so deeply moved, and I thought, “I would love to read stories that are just like fanfiction, but with original characters. I bet fanfiction writers would be awesome at writing original fiction.” And things happened very quickly after that, and Carnation Books was born in August 2016.

Colleen: I joined Carnation Books in January of 2017. I had been stuck in lurker status for a while, having lost steam in my fic writing, and falling behind in keeping up with my online fandom pals. Just a month or so earlier I had written my first fic in years. I still read fic daily, and as a Sherlock fan had been listening to Three Patch Podcast since its inception. I was listening to it in my car, and heard Lee talking about this company they’d started called Carnation Books. What Lee had to say about fandom and the importance of fan works had me pulling over in the Target parking lot to listen. I emailed a few days later offering my assistance getting this thing off the ground.

What strengths do you think fans bring to writing original fiction?

Lee: There’s no question in my mind that fans write the best fiction, period. Writing fic is a beautiful and valid creative endeavor in and of itself, but it’s also brilliant practice for writing original fiction, if that’s something that you want to do.

The advantage to writing fanfic is that you don’t need to spend as much time inventing, describing, and making readers care about your characters –- that work has been done for you. Fic writers usually aren’t spending time workshopping how best to tell the reader exactly what the main characters look like (because the reader already knows) or building readers’ investment in the characters (because the reader already cares about them, or else they wouldn’t be reading your fic).

This means that fic writers get more practice actually writing the things that make a good story: tight plots, believable dialogue, vivid sensory experiences, and prose that feels good on your eyes. They come to the table already understanding some of the hardest parts of writing, and they can turn those well-developed skills into amazing work. The other important stuff that makes up a great long-form story–inventing compelling characters and giving the reader a reason to care about them–can be learned along the way, and since fic writers are already talented and creative people, that sort of thing seems to come naturally.

Colleen: One thing I love about fan fiction is the way writers are free to do what they like. We all tend to follow certain conventions, and we like to write tropes that people are most likely to squee over. But how we do that is so flexible. There is no “doing it wrong.” As a result, I think fans write in a way that can be quite daring and innovative. The way fans engage with less “mainstream” content is amazing – we’re voracious, and willing to give things a try. We also have this strong social connection in fandom. We talk about what we like and why. We dig into what we want to see in what we’re reading, and we listen to each other when we see calls for more, better representation. Fans writing original fiction means we get more diversity, more excitement, and more fun in what we’re reading.

What do you hope to see happen as a result of Carnation being an option in the literary marketplace?

Lee: Our mission statement is “to uplift and celebrate fandom and fanfiction writers,” and my ultimate wish for Carnation is that it makes fic writers feel inspired and appreciated. Whether that means you’re inspired to write the best fanfiction you can write, or inspired to try your hand at writing original fiction for the first time, or inspired to start sending your novel to small presses or agents, or simply to read more stories–if we’ve inspired you at all, then we’ve succeeded.

As a fic writer myself, I’m acutely aware of what it’s like to write fanfiction, both socially (in interactions with one’s peers and readers, within fandom, and with the community at large) and emotionally (in the multifaceted internal struggle that many writers face). And, much too often, I hear fic writers lament that they’re “not good enough,” especially in relation to publishing original fiction. I hope that our existence makes fic writers realize that their work is valued and worthwhile.

Colleen: My sincere hope is that people who have been waiting for a book that speaks to them finds that book in what we produce. Recently, a friend of mine told me that her uncle, a gay man in his 60-70’s, had just started reading m/m romance. He described what would be his perfect romance novel, and I thought well, hey, I bet we could find someone to write that! I want to see people who are interested in queer literature find their favorite book. (In case anyone is wondering and in need of a prompt: our potential reader wants hot m/m romance with musical theater prominently featured! If you write this novel we would love to read it!).

How did you hear about the OTW and what do you see its role as?

Lee: I first heard about the OTW through Naomi Novik’s website! I’m a big fan of her Temeraire/His Majesty’s Dragon series, so I was poking around her website, and saw a link to the OTW site.

I’m a dues-paying member of the OTW. I see OTW itself as a protector of general fan interests, and a protector of the legal rights of fans to interact with and build upon creative works. I also see it as a guiding light for fandom.

AO3 in particular has changed my life. I don’t quite know exactly how to express my gratitude for its existence. I can’t imagine contemporary fandom life without it, and I can’t imagine my life without it.

Colleen: I think I heard of OTW when AO3 went live years ago. I see OTW as a way to keep fan content alive. I remember when fan works were spread all over the internet in various enclaves of mailing lists, Yahoo groups, and small archives. OTW created, with AO3, not just a way to preserve the work contained in those places, but to centralize the way fandom looked at and saved its work. Having run into many 404-not-found messages in my quest to re-read old favorites, I find that to be so valuable, and it’s heartening to know that because of OTW, older components of fandom will not vanish entirely.

What fandom things have inspired you the most?

Lee: Fan creativity never ceases to astound me. And I’ve made amazing friends within fandom. I don’t want to namedrop because I don’t want to forget anyone, but I’ve met some truly wonderful people through fandom, and their warmth, kindness, and generosity of spirit inspire me every day.

Colleen: Fandom has inspired me over and over in so many different ways. This group of people is ginormous and capable of amazing work. We don’t all know each other, or like the same things. We might not be in the same fandoms but we’re all IN fandom. People have banded together to raise money for important causes. People have helped each other out in times of need. I have friends in fandom that I’ve known longer than my best friend in real life, and I’ve never met them in person. I get holiday cards from people in Canada, a place I’ve never been, because fandom brought us together as friends. When I have felt terrible, at my lowest point, when it has all seemed hopeless, fandom has been there to soothe and boost me. From major deeds to small ones, fandom is just awesome. That inspires me to keep being a part of it, and to make what I do count toward making it an even better place.

Catch up on earlier guest posts

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