Episode 37: Queer YA and Beyond
Flourish calls England to talk to both Elizabeth and Emily Roach, an academic (from fandom!) who specializes in queer literature, particularly queer YA. They talk about queer representation—or the lack thereof—in objects of fandom, especially the gap between YA and other parts of the mainstream media landscape. They also touch on Destination Toast’s stats about fanfiction production in the wake of the US presidential election, and ask for listener feedback on the direction of the podcast.
[00:48:16] Annie On My Mind and its 1992 cover:
[01:07:57] Interstitial music (and outro music too for that matter): “Fallin’” by Jahzzar
And, though there’s no time stamp for this, here’s a list of children’s and YA books that include LGBTQ+ characters!
Flourish Klink: Hi Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi Flourish.
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining! Episode 37…
ELM: The podcast…
FK: Oh yeah. The podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: [laughs] About fandom. Episode 37, live from England!
FK: It’s not really live.
ELM: Pre-recorded in England!
FK: There ya go.
ELM: All right, that’s not the title, that’s just where I’m recording from. Greetings from Harrogate! Did I say it right? “Harrow-gate.”
FK: I don’t know how you say that.
ELM: It’s like Harrogate. In Yorkshire! I’m in Yorkshire!
FK: Wow, where the puddings come from!
ELM: Presumably. I know that’s where they got their name. Also, I just said “Yorkshire” like that what’s-her-name in Fantastic Beasts. You know, like “Mistah Scamandah, I’m in Yohkshah! Yohkshah!” I think that’s just cause it says “New Yohk”! I saw a bookshop today called the Little Apple Bookshop, do you get it?
FK: Ahh, because it’s New York! Like the Big Apple and the Little Apple!
ELM: Yeah, yeah.
FK: Elizabeth, I have a question for you. What is the title of this episode?
ELM: It’s “Queer YA and Beyond.”
FK: There ya go!
ELM: Like, I was channelling Buzz Lightyear.
FK: “To infinity and beyond.”
ELM: When I thought of the word “beyond,” so yes. Here’s the backstory: I’m in England right now, the place that I love, and I am visiting a friend of mine who I met at Leviosa this summer, Emily Roach, who is an academic who did a master’s in children’s lit and is now doing research on queer literature and queer YA in particular and also trans spoken-word poetry, I believe, which is very interesting and specific. And she was the moderator at my slash and feminism panel at Leviosa, and I thought she was a fantastic moderator, and because we befriended each other and I am now in her home, I thought she would be a great person to talk to—because she’s incredibly knowledgeable, and it’s an interesting topic that touches a bunch of different fannish angles, about queer YA, queer representation in media in general, intersections between books and fanfiction, and all this stuff. So I think it’s gonna be a pretty interesting convo.
FK: Yeah, personally I’m excited because this has been pitched to me as we’re gonna get to talk about the media biz, the biz, so that’s me. Bizzy.
ELM: Who pitched it that way?
FK: You pitched it to me that way!
ELM: I should just be like: Flourish. Say yes to my idea and then put like six dollar signs, and you’ll be like oh great. I’ll talk about it.
FK: We all know that I love money. OK. [laughs]
ELM: Yes. Yes. You love capitalism.
ELM: That was a slow yeah. I know. I know. It’s a hard time to talk about capitalism.
FK: I just got a faraway, like, “we are now in Trump’s America” look in my eyes. This has become a way less funny joke really quickly.
ELM: So actually that kinda brings me to what I wanted to talk about before we talk to Emily. I was gonna say call her, but she’s literally in the next room over, so just patch her in on the line. I think that people have been listening to the last few episodes, maybe wondering what we’re thinking right now…I mean I think the last episode, the one where we talked about Fantastic Beasts and drew parallels between returning to your problematic childhood fandom and your problematic childhood family, that was pretty fannish, but obviously the one before we were just straight up talking about the election because we were incapable of thinking about anything else. And I think it’s a pretty fair question to say, like, “What are you guys gonna do in Trump’s America with your fandom podcast,” right?
FK: Yeah, because it definitely feels irresponsible not to, like, not to have any political engagement in any space of one’s life, still, which is a feeling I wasn’t sure whether I would still have at this point this far out from the election…turns out I still have it! I think you do too.
ELM: When the news literally gets worse every day, there’s no way to stop having this feeling.
FK: But at the same time this is a podcast about fandom and is not a podcast about our eternal despair at politics right now [ELM laughs] but we’re working on it and we’re coming up with ideas, I think our next episode is gonna be the year in fandom, as we did last time.
ELM: It’s not a question, it’s not up for debate. Just like last year, we’re gonna do the year in fandom, and last year we talked about the five big trends that we saw. I actually would love to kind of, we should revisit. We should do a big rundown of last year’s trends and see if they came to fruition this year, if they kept…
FK: Yeah yeah yeah, I think that’s a great idea.
ELM: I was thinking about this because in the newsletter last week I included, I don’t know if you saw that people of a certain political persuasion are talking about boycotting this year’s Star Wars movie, and I was reminded of that men’s rights article where they said that, last year, they said their boycott of The Force Awakens cost them like five million dollars at the box office which were numbers that actually made no sense. They based it on how many people had replied to a poll about whether they would see the movie or not, then they calculated ticket prices.
FK: Also let me just say that five million dollars compared to the total gross of Force Awakens is a laughably small amount, so good job guys, you really made a difference.
ELM: I tweeted the totals. It was just shy of a billion dollars domestic gross and over two billion dollars international gross.
FK: [laughs] I was gonna say, this is domestic! And this is before you get on to DVD sales and streaming and whatever else!
ELM: No, it was incredible. And the article too was just like “they’re gonna be burned so bad at the box office!”
FK: Not to mention that because it’s an established franchise the toy sales and so forth are really where you’re making the money.
ELM: So I was thinking about that and I thought, cause there’s always an older article in the newsletter, and I thought maybe I could find an article from this time last year about, obviously from the side I support, which is people being really inspired by the diverse casting and, you know, the step forward of the franchise. And there was a piece by Daniel José Older, the author—he’s a novelist [laughs] but he’s the author of this piece also in the Guardian from just the very end of last year, it was talking about the promise of this movie and the promise of 2015. And I was just like, “Ohhh, yeah, there was a lot of promise last year.” [laughs]
FK: Yeah… We’ll talk about the promise, though, and…
ELM: Yeah, I’ll just be curious to see what we thought last year and how that played out. I think that this year, all the politics stuff aside, definitely brought some developments in fandom that I kinda feel like I saw coming, but I was really surprised at the spaces, the eventual endgame of these narratives that I was seeing.
ELM: “Endgame” and “narrative” were neither of the words I wanted in that scenario.
FK: [laughs] Well, you’ll have plenty of time to clarify it next episode for sure.
ELM: OK. That’s next episode. But first, though, before we talk to Emily, there’s one thing that I wanted to say, talking about the future of this podcast. I personally would really value some feedback on this. Partly because, I don’t know if everyone saw, Destination Toast did some stats, a couple weeks ago, you know, analyzing to see whether fanfiction output had increased or decreased post election. And it was partly inspired by us, she said, talking about how we were feeling really disconnected with fandom, didn’t want to engage at all. And she wanted to see if that was the trend, if people were disconnected, or if they were coming more to fanfiction. And she actually found that out, it did increase a fair amount. And interestingly, the level of fluff production held steady but the level of angst rose. Which kind of lines up with the way that I think about fanfiction, which is that I like to use angst to process sad times when I think a lot of people say they use fluff to process sad times. So that was an interesting thing but it also sort of made me worry that we were very out of step with fandom and I’m wondering if the fanfiction numbers were also reflective of broader fandom…people using fandom for self care, or retreating into their fannish practices.
FK: Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.
ELM: But you felt a little…that made you feel a little out of step too, right?
FK: Yeah, although I’ve been really withdrawn from social media, I’ve definitely gotten back on to the using fandom as an escape train. I decided this was the right time to binge on all of Star Trek.
ELM: So what you’re saying is you’re leaving me in the lurch. Now I’m the one who’s out of step.
FK: Maybe, maybe so. Captain Picard is so good and so pure.
ELM: Oh my God. But you’re not wanting, you’re not engaging with fandom, just with something you’re a fan of.
FK: Yeah. I’m not quite yet back. My heart is still too tender for social media, I think, and that’s really how I connect with a lot of fandom, so.
ELM: You’re literally clutching your heart with your long, long fingers.
FK: It’s tender.
ELM: You have long fingers. Um. So curious to know what people think about stats, curious to know if those numbers reflect people’s experiences or don’t jibe with them, also curious to know with the, is caveat the right word? The disclaimer, maybe, that this is not going to be a podcast that doesn’t acknowledge the world around us. This will not be an escape. I’m not saying I’m gonna sit here and give you an itemized list of every terrible thing that has happened in the government, but I don’t think we can promise that, I really don’t. Do you agree with that?
FK: Yeah, I don’t think that’s possible. But I do think we’re gonna try and be back to the original plan, but there’s not gonna be no political discussion in it.
ELM: That’s kind of what we were already doing.
FK: Fair enough, it’s not like we’ve ever been “this is a place for everybody to feel safe and comfortable as long as you don’t have any controversial opinions,” that’s never been us.
ELM: We’ve done plenty of talking about capital-P Politics, we did plenty of talking about this election before the election.
ELM: Then obviously we constantly talk about identity politics, which as you know are the reason the Democrats lost the election…
FK: OH MY GOD. [both laugh] The point of this though apart from flagellating ourselves for our obsession with identity politics that marks us as Millennials is that if you, dear listener, have thoughts on this or ideas about how you would like to hear us proceed, our doors are open, we’d like to hear about it.
ELM: As always, I’ll say this early on because usually I say it in the last 20 seconds. Fansplaining@gmail.com, people seem to have trouble finding our email address which implies that we should make it a little easier to find, and also fansplaining Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook.
ELM: And our Patreon inbox, and we’ll talk more about Patreon in a little bit because we have some Patreon developments, at the very end of the show.
FK: OK! Should we call Emily now then?
ELM: As I said, let’s not keep up this fiction, she’s literally in the next room. We will add her to the call.
FK: Let’s do it.
ELM: All right, so live from Emily’s house where I’m sitting we’d like to welcome Emily to the podcast!
ER: Hi there!
ELM: I’m in the next room, cause we’re all on our own computers, so it’s kinda bizarre. But that’s fine.
FK: That’s OK. We’re gonna have a great conversation!
ELM: Don’t oversell it, Flourish. [all laugh] OK. Let’s get real. Start with backstory. I know that you are in academia, I know you are a fanfiction writer. Do you want to give us a really brief, those two strands and how you’ve come to this place—
FK: Yes please please!
ELM: What you’re studying and how that connects to fandom and what you’re doing as a fan, etc etc.
ER: Sure. So I did a master’s in children’s literature a couple years ago and focused on fannish feminists and the queer practice of slash for my dissertation. And since then I’ve gone back into academia full time. I specialize in LGBT fiction, also LGBT YA, and fanfiction. So also looking at, hopefully, doing a PhD in trans spoken word poetry.
ELM: And can we reveal this to the audience, that you came to fanfiction because you were writing about it as an academic?
ER: Yeah, that’s right. So I had a slightly awkward moment where I turned up to speak at a conference full of fanfiction writers to explain to them what slash fiction was, and that’s how I got into fandom!
FK: OH MY GOD. Oh my god that sounds like the kind of dream you have where you’re not wearing any clothes and you’re giving a speech.
ER: It was kind of like that, yeah. “We start with Kirk and Spock… This is called slash…”
ELM: So good.
ER: So that brought me into Harry Potter fandom, which is my main fandom. So since then, which was back in 2010, I write and moderate and do lots of things in that fandom and lurk and sometimes write in other fandoms as well.
ELM: All right.
FK: So one of the reasons obviously we just met, it’s wonderful to meet you.
ER: Thank you!
FK: You and Elizabeth already know each other…but one of the things that excited me when Elizabeth was like “Hey, we should have Emily on!” was getting a chance to talk about queer representation in the objects of fandom. So you do a lot of work on children’s literature, thinking about YA and so forth, and I’m really interested in how, you know, I’m not as familiar with that side of things generally speaking despite loving Harry Potter, but it feels to me like there’s maybe more queer representation or centered queer representation in that space than there are in other media forms that fandom tends to get really into. So I guess, I don’t know, I’m just curious about why that is. Why is it different? What’s the deal?
ER: I think that’s right, and I think it’s something that I’ve always noticed. I’ve always said if you want to chart what’s going on with teenagers in society, you look to the YA market. You don’t look at how they’re being represented elsewhere, because the mainstream is typically a few steps behind. And I think what YA fiction has always done really well is it’s sort of picked up on the preoccupations of the teenager of the time that those books are being published.
So I think you’re seeing, for example, LGBT fiction in the YA market progressively a few steps ahead of LGBT fiction in other fields. I’m talking specifically about the more issues-based fiction here where the primary focus of the story is grappling with sexuality or gender identity. I think you’re starting to see a movie consciously more into intersectional stories coming out of the YA market, and although we need more of them also a move towards non-binary representation as well. As well as that, I think it’s also a market that’s a very good space for having LGBT characters represented in, let’s say, the next Harry Potter or whatever the equivalent might be. Or the next Twilight! So…
ELM: You mean…you mean not the next Harry Potter but the next thing that is like Harry Potter.
ER: That’s what I mean.
ELM: As successful. Because we know it’s not going to be the next Harry Potter. [laughs]
ER: No. The next text that occupies, or the next story that occupies that kind of mainstream attention, I suppose. The next story that takes off, that has that commercial success. It would be fantastic to see LGBT representation in that kind of story and normalized. And I think you need both, but I absolutely think YA fiction is certainly a good few steps ahead of where we are with mainstream film, television and so on.
FK: Your saying that actually just brings up to me though, it does seem like maybe there’s more on the issues fiction side. At most you get the sort of John Green universe, which isn’t quite all the way to issues fiction but on the other hand there is someone who is dying of cancer in it, so that’s in a very standard YA space. And I’m saying this as though I know, which I don’t, so please correct me.
ELM: That’s like the, realism?
FK: Yeah, maybe.
ELM: That’s what it’s called. There was like a wave of sad “realist” books that don’t follow the paranormal trends.
FK: Right, right! Because then in the paranormal trend space, or what was that book, there’s been a couple of sci-fi ones…there was one that reminded me of that movie that’s coming out now, Passengers, but it was a YA story about a generation ship…anyway, in none of these, I don’t remember there being a lot of centered queer characters in those, though. So. Is it gonna be the next Harry Potter, if we think of Harry Potter as genre? Am I missing all the queer characters in YA genre fic?
ER: I don’t think, I think you’re right to say there aren’t many. I think there’s definitely a push in that direction, and I think certainly the issues fic itself…sorry, I call it fic.
FK: I just did that!
ER: The issues stories in the YA market themselves have shifted and changed. So where they used to be very didactic and they used to be adult authors explaining to teenagers how they should come out or how they should grapple with gender or sexuality, and they focused very much on quite binary stories, now they’re being told in a very different way where the characters will grapple with sexuality and gender in a way that doesn’t feel as though the reader is being instructed or told how they should perhaps handle those experiences by an adult author. I think just in the way the “issues” story has moved on and developed, you are starting to see stories coming out of the YA market where the protagonist, the main character in the story, is LGBT. And I’m hopeful that that will find its way into genre fiction and will find its way into some of those genres where I think there is very little representation still.
ELM: It’s interesting. I’m trying to wrap my head around it because fandom seems so committed to genre characters and queering genre characters, and I’m wondering what that disconnect is. We were talking before, Flourish, you were arguing that Hollywood was getting a little better…
FK: In certain ways and not in others, yeah.
ELM: And I was saying well, think about where are the queer superheroes? And we were talking about Deadpool, and how…I don’t want to diminish anything but that feels a little incremental, where’s the queer Captain America? Maybe he’s right here. I don’t know. Maybe that’s the next movie!
FK: Yeah, Deadpool is complex because, as we were also talking about, there’s this question of the Schrödinger’s…maybe the queer-coded piece, or the Schrödinger’s, the Schrödinger’s queer. [all laugh]
ELM: I thought you were going to say the Schröedinger’s Captain America! He’s in a box.
FK: Deadpool, in the movie I felt like he was definitely bi, I didn’t feel like they dodged him being bi. But he’s also in a relationship with a woman, very very visibly in a relationship with a woman, so it’s sort of like… when he’s the only character who’s queer…
ELM: But in bi representation it’s not just like…
FK: I definitely came out of that feeling like “YEAH BI PEOPLE LET’S GO! FINALLY SOMEONE!” But on the other hand…
ELM: It’s important that it’s not just, you say bi but you portray a same sex relationships.
ELM: I don’t know why that disconnect is there.
ER: I wonder if part of it is to do with commercial success as well. I could be wrong about this, but I feel like big fandoms have come from big franchises that have garnered enormous commercial success, and it’s in those kinds of narratives that we’re still not seeing queer representation in the way we’re seeing queer representation in other areas. For example, in independent cinema you can see lots of queer representation and LGBT focused stories, the YA market you can see authors and texts that are grappling with preoccupations of LGBT teens, but I’m not sure that any of those stories particularly at this stage have reached the levels of success of a Twilight or a Harry Potter. And so therefore haven’t got the same kind of size of fandoms and so on that we’re observing at the minute.
ELM: Maybe it’s disingenuous, maybe that’s not the right word. As you’re talking I’m like “well, actually,” I don’t spend a lot of time in science fiction, fantasy spaces but I do know in my tangential absorbing it, being in the book and fan world, some of the most popular titles right now have plenty of queer representation. So I feel like maybe me saying “why doesn’t the genre,” whatever that means. Genre movies have more of this, and that’s not what I’m talking about I guess. There’s plenty of queer rep coming out of science fiction and fantasy books. We’re talking about the mass media, right?
FK: This is really funny cause I’m thinking about Ancillary Sword, it’s basically the queerest freaking book I’ve read in ages. The entire thing is basically “How do you feel about gender? Let’s deal with that! On every page! Massively! In ways you don’t even understand at the beginning!” But then you think about, like, one of the reasons why I’m very curious, I know it’s been optioned, but I have no idea how you’re going to achieve the same effects in a movie. For those who haven’t read it, Ancillary Sword is told from the perspective of a character who has no concept of gender and therefore calls everybody “she” whatever their gender identity is, whatever it is. And there’s different cultures that have different understandings of gender, some of which call everybody she, some of which have men and women, some of which do other things. And this is tied up in colonialism and all this other stuff, and in this case the colonial culture is the one that doesn’t do gender as opposed to the other way around, but…
ELM: You mean the colonizer or the colonized?
FK: The colonizer is the one that doesn’t do gender, as opposed to the other way around.
ELM: That’s interesting.
FK: Although you don’t realize that until quite a long way into the book.
ELM: Did you just spoil the book for us?
FK: No no no, it’s not a spoiler at all. That’s not a twist exactly. But then there’s questions about how you represent that. And I think one of the things that’s a little tough here is that unlike race, which at least I think has visual markers, often, people will say, “did you cast a person of color? Are they not white?” that’s a thing—
ELM: I love that you’re trying to explain depictions of people of different races to us right now in multiple ways.
FK: No I’m just trying to say I think it’s different from some of the gender stuff!
ELM: I know I know but you can just say it’s different from race!
FK: It’s interesting to try and pick through, movie versus book.
ELM: You just said it one way and then you said it two different ways. Like, no no no, we get it.
FK: [laughing] I was just trying to figure out what I meant! I was going through this being like “Is that really what I mean? Maybe I’ll say it a different way. No, is that it?”
ELM: Flourish. All that really matters is that they option this, if they get Matt Damon to play the lead, it’ll be fine.
FK: [suddenly super serious] OK, that’s a more complicated issue than most people want to think about.
ELM: Am I not allowed to talk about Matt Damon? Is that not contractually allowed?
FK: No no no, you’re totally allowed to! I just think it’s funny.
ELM: No, I know. I also agree that that’s very complicated.
ELM: It’s fine.
FK: You’re totally allowed to talk about Matt Damon, but…context, sorry, I don’t know if you know, there’s this movie The Great Wall, which is an entirely Chinese production, all Chinese actors, director, et cetera, but they cast Matt Damon as the lead, and a lot of people have said things like “Oh, it’s a white savior narrative,” whatever. So from fandom there’s been a lot of negativity—I shouldn’t just say from fandom. I should say online. Like, “Oh, of course, Hollywood whitewashes a character, a story about China to be a white guy in the lead.” But it’s a little funny because it’s Chinese people making a marketing decision, an entirely Chinese company pretty much, making a marketing decision about “Well, Americans won’t watch Chinese people in the lead so let’s put Matt Damon in there.”
ELM: Isn’t that on both sides, it’s also because he’s a big fancy American Hollywood star?
FK: Oh yeah! It’s both. But it’s entirely China run, I guess I don’t know anybody directly in the production but based on what I’ve read in the trade publications and so forth, the whole point of it is China wants to export their movies, so they’re like “How do we make it palatable to an American audience.” So they’re like “Stick Matt Damon in it! Maybe that’ll work!”
ELM: It’s complicated. I led us down this road.
FK: I’m sorry.
ELM: We meandered far away from YA, which is ostensibly where we started.
FK: Let’s get back to YA.
ER: Yeah I think one of the things that is interesting, and I was thinking about it while you were talking about Matt Damon—I was thinking about that also!
ELM: While we were just carrying on?
ER: I feel like that sounded passive-aggressive and I didn’t mean it to!
ELM: “While you were just going on and on, I was actually having some real thoughts, so…”
ER: No, because I was also thinking about…because obviously there’s been…I was thinking about queer representation specifically and I was thinking of you’ve seen similar challenges raised obviously in the context of how Hollywood is choosing actors or actresses to play trans characters.
ER: I think you’ve seen similar sort of online queries being raised about the decisions that are being taken in that regard, and I think one of the things about YA fiction, this is something we’ve discussed between ourselves previously, is that difference between a visual representation on the screen and that representation on the page. So you’re getting to the heart of the identity politics, or you should be to some degree, of a character when it’s a well-fleshed out character, it’s a character that’s got a story that people want to invest in. And I think this is why there’s this push for characters that are queer but they’re also something other than queer. They’ve also got this other story outside of their sexuality and outside of their gender of which those identities are going to be such a fundamental part of the way their lives might be lived or their stories might be told, but they have all these other things and all these other facets to bring to the story, to bring to the narrative.
And I think to see more of that in YA, to see perhaps even the story that does both, that has a character exploring sexuality while they’re saving the world from Voldemort, would be wonderful, and I think that’s really what’s missing, that really well fleshed out story which perhaps falls into one of the genres but it also grapples with issues of gender and sexuality in a meaningful way. I think we’re quite far away from that, I think certainly in the…“adult” market sounds wrong, but the non-YA mainstream LGBT book market at the moment, and I think in terms of mainstream representation you can do quite interesting things with the way characters are visually represented, even though you then veer perhaps somewhat into queer coding territory and whether or not that’s meaningful representation in a positive way. I think in the context of some of the shows that we’ve got at the moment there’s that combination of visibility but also coding which is quite interesting, but with YA you’ve obviously got the prose on the page that can help you grapple more with identity and avoid some of those risks perhaps.
FK: Yeah it’s interesting to think about this and then think about fandom and the ways people are fans of different stories. Cause I feel like there’s fandom around some of those more realism based YA stories, and there’s also fandom around the genre stories, and they don’t seem to meet as often. You know? People in fandom of genre stories include some things that started as YA books but often they’re more on the genre side, they get turned into movies or TV, right, and it’s more of a media fandom-y thing.
ELM: And I’m not sure that, I was separating out science fiction and fantasy, I know people who are in that world and also in the world of Marvel fanfiction, but I don’t know if those are necessarily a hugely overlapping Venn diagram. And I’ve written a lot about quote-unquote “book fandom,” which often tends to be very YA focused, you know, the kind of books that you’ll see high up on a Tumblr…Tumblr fandometrics are coming out right now, it’s that time of year, and if you were to look at that, I haven’t looked at it, but the top books are usually mostly…it’s like Song of Achilles and then [laughs] a bunch of YA books, and then a bunch of things that are bigger franchises. Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or something. But a lot of the standalone titles have historically been things like John Green books or whatever.
ELM: And when I write about that stuff, and I’ve written about it a fair amount, like, Tumblr used to have this reblog book club, and I knew the person who ran it, and she would pick a mix of YA and adult titles all meant to appeal to a Tumblr book person, it kind of had a general aesthetic, and I really felt like I had a disconnect in the people who read most of my other articles which are about fanfiction and representation and…the media conversations that we have. It seemed like those things didn’t connect, and I wonder why.
FK: I believe that. Actually when I think about it maybe part of it has to do with size of audience, but I’ve run a bunch of social listening—yeah, guys, I’m in your Twitter reading your tweets…I run a lot of research on stuff like that.
ELM: You and the government.
FK: Me and the government, reading your tweets. Your public tweets only, let me note. But—
ELM: Oh really?
FK: Yeah yeah yeah.
ELM: Can people really not read locked tweets?
FK: Well it’s not as easy to do so. The government would have to get actual…
FK: You can’t read locked tweets. Twitter will give you every tweet that has ever been tweeted publicly, but it won’t give you locked Tweets. Same with Facebook.
ELM: That’s interesting.
FK: I’m in your Facebook reading your public posts. But point being when you look at people who do that, even if you’re looking at, like, properties that started out as YA books and then come into film or media spaces, people are much more likely to be interested in other film and TV and media than they are to be interested in other YA books. And that’s probably to do with size of audience, because you have a lot more people who get into those books as a result of the film or who never read the books and just see the film, or the TV show, or whatever it is. But it’s interesting cause it does…
ER: Yeah, and actually one of the things that’s interesting hearing you say that is actually that a lot of these LGBT YA books haven’t been picked up for film, or I mean, they might have been but I haven’t seen them made yet. One of the authors that I think we mentioned earlier was John Green, he’s obviously had a number of novels turned into successful films, an author who has written a text with queer characters in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and that hasn’t been picked up, for example. But there’s many more examples. There’s many more LGBT YA books on the shelf. So is there potentially also a disconnect in terms of what’s getting pushed by publishers targeting a specific audience? And then what’s getting pushed by mainstream media, whether it’s television or Hollywood or whatever making the films?
FK: Yeah, there’s also questions about what books are presented or what books are pushed by publishers at Hollywood as well.
ELM: Is that how it works and not in the other direction? Cause everything I’ve ever encountered…
FK: I don’t know, I think it’s more the other direction, but I’m assuming there’s some people who try to do it the other way too.
ELM: I mean obviously there are agents that are specifically working to get not just books but magazine articles optioned and that kind of thing. There’s agencies specifically doing that or agents who specialize in that, right?
FK: More who’s those agents pushing.
ELM: Did I tell you guys that I sat next to one of these at the Think Coffee—oh, I shouldn’t tell you exactly where I was. They’ll never come there again for a meeting. But I sat next to some people having a meeting where it was like, one side was from a film studio and the other side was from a literary agency.
FK: Oh fascinating! I’m gonna pick your brain for this so I can get some insider info.
ELM: No Flourish it made me so depressed. She was like “Well, we have one story about blank and blank and blank,” and everything was just so boring and generic, and they were like “Well, I think that’s interesting,” and I was like “NO!” It was watching the bad movies of the future get pitched, basically. It was depressing.
FK: Well, I mean, one thing that…one thing that I would say in the movie industry…
ELM: You’re gonna sit here and defend this, aren’t you.
FK: I’m not defending it, I’m trying to bring some reality into the conversation about it which you’ve already brought by saying it was all boring, that’s reality to some degree, because one of the things with the movie industry is—not everybody thinks this way, but a lot of people are still focused on this four quadrant idea. So you’ll hear people say things like “this is a four quadrant movie” or “this is a one quadrant movie,” and that means men over 35, women over 35, men under 35, women under 35. That is literally the way that movies are pitched, and then there’s a separate issue which is that in the movie industry the rule of thumb that a lot of people believe in general and seems to be true is that you can have a movie that is all black stars, because black people come out to see people who are black movie stars. And other races will not necessarily support tribally, I guess you could say. You can’t cast an Asian movie star and have every Asian person in America go to see that. And that’s as far as thinking on race tends to go. That is literally this is it. It’s four quadrants and this is that.
ELM: How do they know when they have literally never cast an Asian lead in a movie? How has that never been borne out?
FK: I’m just tellin’ you the received wisdom that tends to be what is, the way that this gets discussed on the most basic standard level within this space. So you can see pretty quickly how you might have, if you have an LGBT story, how that might get dismissed, because they’re gonna—someone’s gonna say “Well no one over 35 is gonna watch that, because most people over 35 are more conservative.” So you immediately have us down to two quadrants and it probably can’t be both men and women so sorry. We’re not making it.
ELM: That’s miserable, Flourish!
FK: I can envision this discussion.
ELM: Just for clarification, what I was saying was boring was the literary agent pitching them to the movie studio.
FK: Yeah, probably because the literary agent was trying to pick the boring ones!
ELM: It wasn’t about the quadrants, it was “this is the story of a man who does a thing and thing.” It was like, I’ve already seen that seven times.
ER: I think you do still see that disconnect in mainstream publishing, as well, and I think this is one of the things that always has drawn me to fandom and fanfiction as an area of interest. Because it’s obviously a space which is free from the fetters of mainstream publishing, and what…just as perhaps Hollywood are making assumptions or the film industry, I shouldn’t I guess limit it to Hollywood, is making about who the film audience is ultimately going to be, and how a particular cast might affect that audience, or telling a particular story might affect that audience, I think you see that a lot in mainstream publishing as well. And one of the examples that we talked about earlier was the trans memoir narrative, and the way that mainstream publishers push that transition story. That’s something that people who are telling these stories are talking about at the moment. They’re saying, “We want to tell other stories. We don’t just want to tell a story that’s educating or is designed to educate a non-trans reader. We have other stories to tell.” And I think, you know, there’s been a number of interviews with people who have written high-profile memoir stories that have come out recently on that.
And I think again there’s that, the YA market has perhaps a better sense, or is slightly more advanced in terms of what its audience is looking for, because it’s engaging with audiences who are online and they’re asking for representation, they’re asking for intersectionality, they’re asking for diversity. And potentially that’s why the YA market can be a few steps ahead. It’s not always right there, but it’s a few steps ahead of the movie industry or the mainstream publishing outlets. Of course fandom, fanfiction, has none of those fetters, it has none of those bars. It’s speaking to, well, I suppose it’s speaking to…it’s not assuming a particular reader, I don’t think fanfiction is. And it doesn’t have to concern itself with commoditized art, which makes it a really interesting space.
ELM: I’m not sure I would say that’s entirely true at this point. I see discourse—discourse, I shouldn’t, that word has lost all meaning. I see discussions every day [FK laughs] about people talking about the presumed audience of their fanfiction or fanfiction in general. And I see people talking about the kinds of stories you should or shouldn’t right—I’m not talking about subject matter, whatever. But I definitely see people, this is within the sphere of where I exist, so it’s like AO3, Tumblr, intersections etc., I think that AO3 is partly responsible for this because it’s very transparent. People can see what’s popular and what’s not. Whereas you didn’t have that metric before, beyond how many rec lists something showed up on, right. So I see people every day—do you not see this on your dash, Flourish? People being like “I see this kind of story works but…”
Or look at all the responses to our fanfiction survey where we got tons of people…not tons, alright, we got a fair number of people being like “Oh, the thing I love writing is the thing that everyone hates most. I guess I just suck.” You know? So I definitely think that there’s no one out there who’s not thinking about their audience. Obviously it’s a different calculation within fanfiction, cause you’re not thinking about who’s gonna buy your product, right? But you are thinking about who’s gonna consume it.
ER: And I think you’re thinking about stuff that’s popular, and perhaps it is a commodity of sorts, but it’s a commodity of kudos, and it’s like, how many hits you can attract and how many, you know, how many readers you can get. But I do think there’s a distinction there because I think as an author of fanfiction, one of the things that I always think about is that I don’t have those fetters of mainstream publishing. And perhaps it’s not something that everybody thinks about, but we’re in a position where I think you know we can push ourselves, as authors, because we’re not pitching towards necessarily, well, we’re certainly not pitching towards an audience for financial gain, but I guess what you’re saying Elizabeth is that actually we’re potentially pitching ourselves differently and it’s about popularity and kudos and things like that, unless I’ve misunderstood…
FK: Are we not always, cause I would say Wattpad certainly has this…I can’t think of any successful well-known Wattpad author who doesn’t think of their audience. And people do think about financial game. Fifty Shades Darker is about to open in February, I hear that people think it’s gonna do really well, I don’t know that I entirely believe it but we’re gonna find out, certainly the tracking numbers look good for it I guess as far as how much money it’s gonna make, and that is a case of somebody who even in the early, relatively early days of the AO3, started off—I don’t know how much you guys know about the way that this gal that she ran her program of doing this, but she started out, she planned how she was gonna write her fanfic to get the most likes, to get the most comments, to get the most—
ELM: Did you just call E.L. James “this gal”?
FK: Yeah, I did.
ELM: I love that that’s the most folksy…
FK: Cause I couldn’t remember her name so I was like “this gal”!
ELM: Oh my God. [all laugh]
FK: Because I was like, let’s just move forward and come with a term!
ER: So I also do, I definitely agree that’s true, but I think that the difference is we’ve got a choice. We can publish our works whatever we choose to write. So…as in we can publish them on AO3, and we can publish them, and possibly to crickets, but…you know, if we choose to write something that’s going to be…
FK: Right but no one’s gonna stop us from putting it out there.
ELM: You can self publish anything you want on Amazon…
ER: You don’t have anyone else telling us “this is the sort of story you’ve got to write,” and for me personally anyway it’s something really important to remember as an author of fic. But if someone wants to write fic cause they want to write the next Fifty Shades, then okay, have at it, I suppose.
ELM: I kind of object to Flourish bringing in actual monetized fic, because I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the currency of the realm, in the non-monetized fic world, which is hits and kudos and comments and feedback and follows and…just having conversations with people who have come into fandom in, like, the late-stage Web 2.0 land where you have a personal brand and you care about your follower count and all this stuff. Which wasn’t a part of the calculation of an earlier era of the web, you know? And I just think that, yeah, it’s easy for me to say, I’m the one who writes fanfiction and doesn’t publish it. I’m not thinking about an audience at all, I’m thinking about myself and what I want to read, and you know, spend time with. But, what do I know? But I definitely see these conversations. So.
FK: I was just bringing monetization there because I was trying to say that they shade into each other, right? Not that there aren’t people who don’t monetize, but that there is…it’s not quite right to say that there’s a caesura between them, just like you also said a moment ago right? You can put anything you want on Amazon self-published. And actually what’s funny is, Fifty Shades in its own way is representative of someone who didn’t go through expectations of publishing, right? For all that I dislike many things about Fifty Shades it is about lady desire sexy sexy times, up front and center in a way that had gotten pretty much kicked over into the erotic romance space and not breaking out into the broader consciousness of anybody who’s not already reading erotic romance and Fifty Shades kicked down that wall.
ER: I think it took people by surprise, because I don’t think it was something that until the success of Fifty Shades mainstream publishers then suddenly went, “Oh, okay, let’s get a lot of stuff like this. Let’s market it this way, let’s try and promote more in that field than we have been doing.” And I think that that’s, I suppose, what I mean more. I think you’re right, it’s not correct to say we don’t think about audiences as authors of fanfiction, and it’s not wholly correct to say that we’re not in any way fettered with what we write, but I do think…I think the publishing industry is to some degree having to react to what’s going on with self publishing and what’s going on online, and what we can do is tell stories without having to worry about what people are telling us to write, but then, you know, then of course there is the chance that you want to be, you want to have that commercial success at the end of it, which is tied into popularity and so on. But I think we come at it from a different angle than perhaps people who are working with mainstream publishers do.
FK: That’s fair enough.
ELM: Can I take a step back, something that you said like two portions of this conversation ago, which is talking about audience expectations, saying, you’re talking about the quadrants or whatever and saying we wouldn’t turn this gay YA book into a movie because we think we’re gonna lose the over-35 audience. I wonder if there’s a, this is totally speculation and this feels irresponsible, I could actually ask someone who works in publishing, but I wonder if there’s a presumption why YA might seem like the few progressive steps ahead, even though as we all know, I mean, maybe I just know from my Twitter feed, that YA is also fraught with problems etc etc…
FK: [gasps] SHOCKING.
ELM: But there’s a presumption that younger readers are just more progressive, that maybe…I don’t know, white Millennials voted for Donald Trump, blah blah blah. I think it’s a nice idea about the, about the younger generation. But it’s more about a presumption that gives them the benefit of the doubt. And that’s why more of these books get to be made. And that’s why there’s less queer content that’s aimed towards an older mainstream audience. What do you think about this theory that I have in my head? Which is not actually based on any, saying that younger people are more liberal than people over 35…
FK: Just that people think they are.
ELM: Who are apparently elderly people, that’s absurd that that’s the cut-off, but that’s fine. I think we have lots of evidence to the contrary.
ER: I feel like there is more awareness amongst younger readers of LGBT issues than there used to be. It was recently, I think the 25th anniversary, I hope I’ve got that right, of Annie On My Mind, which is a famously, I think 1980s YA text, which is famed for giving its two female characters a happy ending. Sorry. Spoilers. But. [laughs]
They interviewed the author and said how would you change this book if you were writing it today? And I think one of the things the author observed was, they would be writing for a different teen audience. There wouldn’t be necessarily the kind of, the one person that was…it’s set in an American high school, there might be an LGBT alliance, for example. The word “bisexuality” might get used instead of just flirting between two binaries. And I think that there was definitely an assumption that is incorrect, but I think there’s definitely an assumption that today’s youth has a much broader awareness of LGBT issues, and I think that could be very well where the market drives, the market actually pitches itself at an audience that seems to be preoccupied with certain LGBT issues and why you see more books in that space. I guess your point, Elizabeth, is whether that’s a fair assumption to make or not.
ELM: Well, but maybe does it matter if it’s fair? It’s kind of chicken-and-egg, or self-perpetuating. If you give a young audience the benefit of the doubt that they would like queer stories, then they’re gonna get queer stories, and they’re gonna consume more, like, Hollywood is very reactionary—they’ll continue to produce more, you know. But I think that every queer success begets another queer success, right?
FK: This reminds me a lot of the discussion in the TV and film industry, the changing discussion about race because the thing that keeps getting quoted is that younger people are…in the United States, younger people are less and less likely, if you picked a random person under the age of 20, they’re much less likely to be white than if you picked a random person between 20 and 40 and so on. So just the sheer numbers.
ELM: One in five babies born in the US right now is interracial.
FK: Yeah, and also just like, the number of Latinos in the United States, right? We saw this, when I was working on East Los High, the Hulu show, we brought that around and a bunch of places said they didn’t want to have it because they didn’t think white people would watch a show that was an all Latino cast. Then the same year it came out Jane the Virgin also came out and East Los High was #1 on Hulu, not Hulu Latino, Hulu, you know? And Jane the Virgin did incredibly well, and now there’s not any question any more. People agree that white people will watch an all-Latino cast on TV at least. So it’s been an interesting shift, as the demographics change, people feel more like “OK, we can make this because…”
ELM: But one would argue that demographics aren’t necessarily changing with, queer people have always been here.
ELM: But maybe it’s more of an awareness and more people out or more people understanding or engaging with their gender and sexual orientation.
FK: I mean, I’m just talking about the perception of it, you know what I mean? As demographics change it’s easy to point to that and say “that’s the difference,” but who knows.
ER: And then as well, in terms of queer people have always been there, they have, but I think it hasn’t necessarily been…we’re moving to a point now where it is becoming more normalized. We’re not there yet, obviously, but we’re getting to a point, I think. Or certainly felt as if we were. And I think that that helps.
ELM: What, prior to a month ago? [laughs]
ER: Exactly. And people are more comfortable about coming out. And this is one of the things that a lot of people say, that there’s a lot more LGBT people out there that potentially are afraid or scared or feel unsafe, to actually make themselves known as LGBT. Getting back to all the representation. And more of those YA books, whether the mainstream publishers are making a false assumption or not, the more of those books that are on the shelves and the more of the queer Harry Potter characters that we get doing brilliant things and saving the world, the more we will see those sexuality, gender differences become normalized and people will feel more comfortable coming out as LGBT and I think that’s particularly important in the YA space where people might be initially grappling with LGBT issues.
ELM: Like if they’re at the library in their school…Emily, I know you saw it, because I told you to look at it, but Flourish, did you see that Twitter thread that went viral about Supergirl?
FK: Yeah I did, oh my God! That was the most heartwarming Twitter thread that I think I have ever seen.
ELM: It was a comic book seller, I think? Who was tweeting and she said there was a young girl who came in and said she’d been feeling hopeless because she…do you remember the details?
FK: Well she was not even, she hadn’t even come out to herself really but she had watched Supergirl and watched the coming out story there, and…
ELM: It’s Supergirl’s sister, right? I don’t watch Supergirl. Someone tell me.
FK: And lots of people had had different feelings about that story on Supergirl but she was like, this girl came into the comic book store and hadn’t even really come out to herself or anything and she was looking for more stuff like this, cause she was looking to read the Supergirl comics and thought there would be stuff like this in them, and apparently freaked out and basically came out to herself in the comic book store in front of this person…
ELM: To the employee.
FK: To the employee! Had this moment and the employee was like “Oh my God let me go buy you ever queer comic book that we stock,” because she couldn’t afford to buy them, and it was just the most heartwarming. I was like “Precious baby!”
ELM: Right, so it’s just like…it’s very nice to see really immediate real-world effects. You know? And it’s complicated. Not to bring it right back down, but I don’t even think we have time to get into conversations about good representation vs. bad and whether representation can be harmful, all this stuff. It’s such a fraught space, I don’t know. I brought it right on down. I’m sorry.
FK: That’s OK! No, I was actually sort of gonna bring it in its own way down too.
ELM: Cool, just bring it down.
FK: Cause one thing we almost haven’t touched on here is fanfiction and its own limits within the audience space—what does or doesn’t get covered or shown in fanfic, and the ways the conventions of fanfic almost, they don’t officially limit the stories you can tell, but limit the way that you think…because they’re generic conventions, I think…
FK: Within fanfic. So…thinking about fanfic being a good place that we can make some kinds of forward movement or progress, but then also saying A, fanfic is not accessible to everybody, especially in rural areas or you know people who only have smartphone internet access or whatever else it is.
ELM: Or lower income people or…I mean there’s, we’ve already talked about this on this podcast I’m sure, that I have a lot of issues with this narrative that fanfic is universally accessible, and not just about whether you have internet access, but it genuinely does require leisure time, right? And even if you’re snatching an hour when you have to work and take care of family, it’s not fully accessible and I think that’s reflected in the demographics of fanfiction communities.
FK: Right. It’s maybe more accessible than some things, but it’s definitely not universally pure, everybody can get it. And also, not everything is gonna be reflected in it. Not everything is reflected in it so there’s also this need for YA, just like you were talking, just like you were saying, Emily.
ER: And I also think for fanfiction, to come to it in the first place you kinda have to be fannish, you have to be interested in the original canon, and I think if you’re not getting excited about the original canon because there’s just nothing there for you, potentially, because you’re not seeing yourself represented or you’re not feeling a story’s being told that you identify with, you might never find yourself stumbling across fandom or across fanfiction which is potentially offering alternative narratives.
So I definitely don’t think it’s accessible to everyone, and I think that’s why having that book or that text or the…as much diversity as we can get in YA is so important because while for me it might have been Harry Potter that brought me into fandom, for someone else it might be, you know, the next big thing or whatever it might be in YA that sort of really speaks to them, for example. And I think that’s really important, because if you’re not seeing sufficiently diverse stories, then you might never get to the stage where you feel sufficiently fannish about something to investigate the world of fanfiction.
ELM: Two things that immediately strike me, I think that Wattpad is very interesting in this regard. I don’t know how much time you’ve spent on Wattpad, Emily, but since so much of it—it’s only a fraction of it’s fanfiction. And you see it really breaks down barriers. People are writing original fiction, there’s a werewolf section and a vampire section, you know. They’re original stories. It kind of breaks down a lot of these hard divisions between original and fanfiction. Sometimes problematic divisions, problematic breakdowns in terms of people being confused about what’s plagiarism and what’s transformative and everything. So I think that’s interesting and that’s a very young demographic, so I’d be curious to know when that, when the people who are growing up with Wattpad, who are 12, 13, 14 reading Wattpad, when they’re in their twenties, when they’re starting to enter the writing world, the publishing industry, how will that group effect the publishing industry.
ER: And I think that extends beyond, say, even Wattpad as well. There’s a lot of poetry as well, poets of Instagram, poets on Tumblr, the spoken word poetry accessible on YouTube, I just feel there’s a lot of those creations out there that are coming in in different forms and it’s effectively the publisher is taken out of the picture, to a large extent, and it’s the online audience that are the ones that are disseminating the works by reblogging them, by tweeting about them, by encouraging other people to go and watch a spoken word video or to read a story on Wattpad. And I think that is very interesting and I think it really does change the balance between publisher and consumer to an enormous extent.
ELM: Totally. The second thing I was gonna say is, and I wonder what you guys think of this, and we’ve been talking about this a bunch, Flourish, one limitation I think of fanfiction as an entry into queer spaces in addition to if you’re not fannish about a thing you’re not gonna even walk through that door, is I think the extreme emphasis on shipping within fandom can be very limiting.
That’s not to say that I don’t think queer teens should have access to queer romance, I think that’s an incredibly important part, but I think it’s a lot harder to find queer stories of queer individuals within the fanfiction world. You might get individual stories that culminate in a romance, in a longfic or whatever, but if you want a story of just one kid dealing with being trans, trying to process it, I think you're—trans stories in general are I think a little bit hard to find, at least in the fanfiction spaces I’m in. Not impossible to find, but I’m not stumbling over them.
FK: But this is part of the generic constraints thing, I think. I agree with you completely, and I think that’s one of the things about fanfiction as a genre is different than other genres in other ways. Maybe I’m not even using the right turns, you guys are way more up on how to talk about this than I am I’m pretty sure so correct me, but…
ELM: I don’t think so, but go ahead!
FK: Using the term genre I’m like “What does this actually—I’ve never done literature of any sort—”
ELM: Genre is an artificial construct so if you can start from that point, it’s fine.
FK: I do know that much! That much I’ve got! But the idea that within fanfiction shipping is a thing, that organizes our perception of fanfic, often. Right? If it’s not shippy, then it’s gen, which typically just means not about a ship. [laughs] So we’ve got these two big camps, things that are about ships and things that are not about ships. Cool, guys!
ELM: Even when, the trouble is sometimes I think our quantitative analysis really steamrolls over any nuance within there. The fanfiction I write, it doesn’t privilege romance but there’s still…the ship’s gettin’ together, you know? It’s not priority number one. Whereas there’s tons and tons of fic where it’s flipped, where…but it’s not like it’s just, you know, just about only about their feelings and their kissing and whatever. Or their sex. It’s also they’re doing things in the background, there’s plot, you know. It’s not even about plot! So I feel like you can say “it’s all about shipping,” I don’t know. I’m the one who said it so I don’t know why I’m arguing against this.
FK: In romance novels there’s other plots, also, in a lot of romance novels there’s a plot that has nothing to do with the romance itself, which however the happily ever after ending is the thing that is privileged in a certain way, and…even if that’s not the case in all fanfic, the way that we organize…the way we search for fanfic or the way that archives get organized…
ELM: Or just the way we analyze it. We talk about what ship is doing what and blah blah blah as if that’s, or in my newsletter we have people more often give us recs via ship than via…some other metric of organizing these stories.
FK: Maybe this is why, again going back, one of the things about YA that allows more queer representation is this history of there being issue stories. Because in YA, if you look at what the kinds of YA are, one kind of YA is a story that’s about an issue that teens deal with.
ER: It’s a coming of age story as well, which I think is a really important part of the YA narrative. I think that kind of, you know, coming of age and grappling with sexuality, with gender, is a really…fits very nicely within the YA market. And you tend to see it, even those books that have had the coming of age stories, the kind of Holden Caulfields and so on that have had success beyond a teen audience, are still coming up on those lists of coming of age stories you should read. And I think, I think it does fit very well into that sort of teen-based audience, teen-based story, when you’re looking at sexuality and gender at that age.
ELM: Right, as opposed to fanfiction isn’t universally…fanfiction is not just stories about teens.
ELM: In fact, I know a lot of people who don’t want to read or write about teens in any way, you know?
ER: And I think the interesting thing with fanfiction, the point that you were making about romance as well, I’ve often been surprised by the fact that my probably my most popular story is a very…well, it’s a coffee shop AU. And it’s very fluffy and I wasn’t terribly happy with it when I wrote it initially, it’s certainly not one of the ones that I’m prouder of from a sense of personal accomplishment. And I do wonder if, again, we talked about the audience and the currency of likes and the currency of kudos and reblogs or whatever it might be, depending on the platform you’re operating on. Perhaps that to some degree does drive the kind of stories that are getting written, because if you’re seeing a particular kind of story gain the most traction, or gain the most commercial success using that slightly incorrectly in the context of not-for-profit work, but perhaps that is driving those kind of stories that can then be off-putting or can be shaping a particular kind of narrative within the fanfiction space that makes it potentially harder to look at other stories.
I also think there’s something to be said in terms of some of the criticisms of fanfiction, and what people perceive to be good fanfiction and bad fanfiction. [FK laughs] Things that people don’t like to read, and the much derided Mary Sue construct I think does make people hesitate, it’s made me hesitate honestly with exploring gender fluidity in my slash ships. That might sound like a very odd statement to make, but it genuinely has, because I’ve thought “Are people going to think I’m writing self-insert wish fulfillment narrative if this is something that I’m exploring with the slash ships that I like?” So I think there’s also those kind of hangups that people have, that self-censorship that fan writers have that may be, again, make them gravitate towards particular kinds of story, following the form of what’s proved popular before.
ELM: And in a way I wonder, because the feedback loop is so short as opposed to within the YA or any published book space, or especially within movie space. I wonder if it gets more reactionary? Because you know you’ve a much…it’s much more transparent to see what’s working and what’s not working. I say that, write whatever you want like me and never publish it! Then no one can tell you it’s not good!
FK: Can I also just say that the whole thing around Mary Sues and self-insert, the longer I’ve been in fandom the more mad I get at this idea and the more I recommit myself to writing nothing that is not a Mary Sue on some level? Because you know what, fuckers, no one ever told, I don’t know, the male authors who write about having sex with their undergrad students or whoever it is. None of these, John Updike, no one ever sat him down and was like “are you sure this isn’t a Gary Stu, John?” That doesn’t happen! So they can fuck right off. [all laugh] Anyway all I’m saying is, fuck that, self inserts are good, and now we’re…
ER: I agree with you, I think there’s a real misogyny to the way we talk about wish fulfillment in the context of shipping, in the context of fanfiction, and in the context of the Mary Sue.
FK: But this is a totally separate conversation.
ELM: You know what’s amazing, before we started talking we were like “let’s try not to talk about fanfiction.”
FK: Yeah we couldn’t keep to that.
ELM: Whoops. No that’s fine, because I think that you, Emily, are a really great resource on it and I think you have great perspectives.
FK: This has been an awesome conversation.
ER: Thank you for letting me take part!
ELM: Thank you so much! [laughing]
FK: Thank you for taking part! It’s awesome. We’re so so so glad you were able to do it, and, you know, we’ve been talking about trying to move…we’ve been like “we’ve been doing so much about fanfiction!” And if this is gonna be the last thing about fanfiction for a little while, you were the right person to have talk about it.
ELM: All right.
FK: Thank you!
ELM: Thank you!
FK: I feel like I always say this, but that was an incredibly delightful conversation.
ELM: You know what, it makes me feel like I have good judgment.
FK: You do have good judgment! You do have good judgment! You were like “Flourish we’re gonna have Emily on” and I was like [dopey voice] “OK” and then it was great!
ELM: [laughs] Apparently you’re like Scooby-Doo.
FK: More specifically it was like “OK but but but like fanfiction we’ve been talking about that a lot I don’t know” and then I was like “OH BUT IT’S SO GOOD” so.
ELM: And it’s like, nah, don’t worry about it. I don’t know. It’s kind of like, you know, just like I feel like I have this disease where if I talk to you for more than five minutes we start talking about politics, I feel like we have this disease where if we start talking about fandom for more than five minutes eventually we’ll make some fanfiction reference. I think that’s just who we are. Our cross to bear.
FK: That is true. Although I will point out for the sake of our listeners that we’ve got a bunch of new guests brainstormed and ideas for episodes in the coming few months that are not fanfiction focused, so if you’ve been sitting here twiddling your thumbs through all the fanfic stuff, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
ELM: I think that the flipside of that is if you are a fanfiction person who finds it harder to hold on, you know, wants to hear mostly about fanfiction stuff, we—obviously we welcome feedback, we’re not gonna not talk to non-fanfiction people but I’m curious to know…
ELM: I’m curious to know the full spectrum. We would love feedback like that. You know? Just saying, here’s the kind of fandom I come from. I have to assume that a lot of our listeners are from fanfiction fandom, just because that’s clearly our point of reference.
ELM: Which isn’t, that’s great.
FK: OK. So fanfiction-ish, related, or at least the tradition of fanfiction related, I think we should talk about the new developments in our Patreon.
ELM: What’s a Patreon, Flourish?
FK: OK! We have Patreon which is how you can support us, where you pledge a rolling Kickstarter, you say “I’ll send them $1 a month!” Or whatever. And—
ELM: Or $400 a month.
FK: Or $400 a month if you want me to knit you a Weasley sweater. Because then we give you back things! And one of the things that we are giving back to some people is we’re making a tiny zine for people who have pledged $10 a month, and you still have time to get in on the tiny zine, by the way, if you pledge $10 a month right now! Cause it’s in progress.
ELM: I would say if you do it by maybe the 20th?
FK: Yeah that sounds about right. I think they’re gonna go out around the 20th.
ELM: So before, by the end of the weekend of my birthday.
ELM: Should I announce my birthday on the podcast? Is that weird?
ELM: December 17, my birthday, greatest birthday of all the birthdays.
FK: Best birthday. [laughs]
ELM: Yep. I think my birthday is the specialest birthday. That’s fine.
FK: How old are you turning? 30…
ELM: That’s private.
FK: OK. I’m glad that you said it cause I was gonna guess 33.
ELM: [sighs] Wow.
FK: I KNOW! But feel better cause I’m turning 30 on the 14th of January, so.
ELM: No that’s great. Welcome to the better decade! Twenties, lame. As previously discussed, when I get back to London, I will be there this weekend, and I’m going to see the Muppet Christmas Carol singalong. And drink mulled wine and eat mince pies. Last year, I went to the Harry Potter studio tour, and I was not aware that I was supposed to tell them up front that it was my birthday but apparently they would have given me a birthday badge [FK gasps] and I would have gotten to push the doors open to the great hall when they all entered.
FK: And you didn’t?
ELM: No one told me this till the very end! They were all “Oh it’s your birthday! Did you get the button? Did you get to push the door open to the Great Hall?” and I was just furious.
FK: Aww, I would be so sad! But this will be a better birthday. Because, you know…
ELM: No it was an incredible birthday. We got to see all the things from the Harry Potter movies.
FK: OK, good. I’m glad it was good. But as related to this, there’s gonna be a tiny zine.
ELM: Ohhh tiny zine OK! So this is something that we’re gonna do hopefully on a, at least a couple times a year for $10 a month and up patrons.
FK: Our goal is quarterly although we may or may not, we’re tryin’.
ELM: I would like to do it quarterly so barring any other catastrophic presidential elections we will be on track. And our tiny zine will be incredibly tiny and incredibly adorable, we’re gonna have some fanfiction, some nonfic, some fan nonfiction, I would say, and I think Flourish you’re gonna be doing some art?
FK: There’s gonna be some art and probably some stats, and maybe even a connect-the-dots-y like thing.
ELM: I didn’t know about that. But now I want one.
FK: YEAH! I don’t know what it’s actually gonna be. It might be a tiny crossword puzzle? I don’t know. I’m thinking something puzzly, or. We’re gonna figure it out.
ELM: Anticipation! Jesus. So, I like how we just said the anticipation, Jesus, during Advent. [FK laughs] It’s a Christian joke for you Flourish. [both laugh]
FK: Someone started singing “Silent Night” at me the other day and I got really mad at them cause Jesus isn’t here yet.
ELM: You’re not allowed to sing “Silent Night” till he shows up?
FK: Well I feel like he…I feel like it should be sung on Christmas Eve alone and this is a personal preference.
ELM: It really is.
FK: And I get mad at people if I hear “Silent Night” before Christmas Eve.
ELM: You know Flourish. When I was in high school, I was in the Empire State Youth Orchestra, and every Christmas we did a charity benefit called the Melodies Of Christmas To Benefit Children With Cancer. And they would invite a variety of the children who currently were battling cancer to come on stage and sing “Silent Night” and this usually happened around December 9. Would you have gotten mad at them?
FK: [laughs] I wouldn’t have said it to any of them [ELM whoops] but I would have been a little mad, yes.
ELM: There’s no way you could watch it and not cry.
FK: I’m sure that I would be crying and also a little mad but also refusing to say that I was a little mad.
ELM: Anyway you can still see the Melodies of Christmas, the Empire State Youth Orchestra does it on Christmas Eve, on Channel 6 in the Albany New York area.
FK: Great, well, next time I’m in Albany New York on Christmas Eve…
ELM: [laughs] You’ll be at my parents’ house!
FK: I’ll tune in! OK OK. What else do we need to talk about.
ELM: If you want this zine, sign up for Patreon, you go to patreon.com/fansplaining, and there’s other levels obviously, one, two, three, whatever, if you do $2 a month you get early access, we put out the episode on Tuesdays, if you really can’t wait, yeah! So we obviously, as always, thank you so much to everyone who continues to donate to us, and we appreciate your patience in this very trying time. And we want to get back to giving you guys stuff. And also, this money goes towards our Medium collection, which our last article—I don’t know if everyone caught it, it was by Anne Jamison about Donald Trump and fanfiction that was written before the election that I’m not sure I could bring myself to read now, because it was about horror stories coming true.
ELM: But it was an incredible piece with all the insight that Anne Jamison, the author of Fic, which is a book I love, so if you can stomach it…
FK: It was a really great piece and we’re gonna have more pieces that, I won’t say like it cause I don’t think I could bear another piece about Trump and horror stories coming true, but we’re gonna have a lot of good stuff, right? I mean…
ELM: Yeah. I’ve got a piece that’s been in the works for a little while where I’m gonna write about Mary Sues which I now know you have a great passion for. And we’ve had a few people pitch us ideas that sound great. And hopefully we’ll be doing more stats, our most popular post by far has been our analysis of our fanfiction stats. And oh, our fanfiction stats! Kinda got swallowed up in the election, but people have been sending us recs for stories they make exceptions for so hopefully we’ll be able to put out a list super soon of the one mpreg story you’re willing to read, that kinda thing. Or the one fluffy story you’re willing to read amongst your darkfic. So. Keep an eye out for that, hopefully we’ll have that out soon.
FK: So yeah, we’re getting back on the horse, is I think the summary of all of this. We fell off the horse during the election.
ELM: I’m not sure the horse is the right metaphor, but.
FK: Well whatever. It’s a metaphor. Let’s just go with it.
ELM: Ride it. Ride that metaphor.
FK: So our next episode is gonna come out right after Christmas and it’s gonna be the New Year’s episode and I will look forward to recording it with you Elizabeth.
ELM: Yeah I guess I’ll talk to you before Christmas, but you know, merry Christmas anyway!
FK: Merry Christmas!
ELM: But actually what you could do is wish me a happy birthday cause you’re not gonna talk to me before then.
FK: Am I not? I guess I’m not.
ELM: Probably not.
FK: Happy birthday, Elizabeth! I hope that you have the best ever birthday and also that the Muppet Christmas Carol is the most magical thing.
ELM: [singing] It’s in the singing of a street corner choir…[FK joins in] something something something fire…dah dah dah…wherever you find love it feels like Christmas!
ELM: Yes yes EXACTLY. Too bad that’s copyrighted or we’d just play that song only in this episode.
FK: That’s true.
ELM: OK bye I’ll talk to you soon!
FK: Bye Elizabeth! [laughing]
FK & ELM: This podcast is brought to you by a whole ton of wonderful Patreon supporters and especially Goodwin, earlgreytea68, Lindsay Smith, Elliot Byrom, Chloe-Leonna Steele, Clare Muston, Christian Gossett, Menlo Steve, AR, Katherine Lynn, Clare Mulligan, Heidi Tandy, Megan C., Amelia Harvey, Maria Temming, Anne Jamison, Jay Bushman, Lucas Medeiros, Bradlea Raga-Barone, Jules Chatelain, Georgina, and in honor of One Direction! The opinions expressed in this podcast are not those of Chimera Media Group, Chaotic Good, or our clients, or employers, or anyone’s except our own. The music this week comes from Jahzzar.