Episode 47: Grace and the Fever
Flourish and Elizabeth interview Zan Romanoff, the author of the forthcoming novel Grace and the Fever, about a boy band fan who winds up in the band’s inner circle. Topics covered include vintage Beatles fanfic, the Hanson brothers’ tendency to marry fans, fans’ search for the truth about celebrities’ lives, and of course, a discussion about and critique the book. They also discuss a reader comment about Mary Sues and fandom ambivalence towards original characters.
[00:00:00] As always, the intro music is “Awel,” by Stefsax.
[00:12:12] Music is “Never Enough,” by Jahzzar, from Scenes From The Zoo.
[00:14:30] You know it’s time for Hanson now!
[00:19:35] The Sweet Valley High wiki is painfully sparse on the issue of George Fowler.
[00:21:09] A Song to Take the World Apart!
[00:21:46] Devil Angel is wildly popular, so probably you should read it.
[00:22:50] Draco Malfoy, P.I.—we can’t find a link to this fic! Help! Do you have it?
[00:26:42] @oneweekoneband is on Tumblr!
[00:33:45] You heard that right: Zan will send a copy of her book if you send her a link to Harry Styles as a big floppy dog fic.
[00:34:55] The music is by Jahzzar, again!
[00:48:16] We’ve even got the ONTD thread about Hanson and their “fan wives” (this is a term ABC used and now we want to die)
[00:58:18] The music here—and the outro music—is all by Jahzzar!
[01:01:56] The cafe where JKR wrote Harry Potter!
[01:14:26] Allyson’s piece about boyband YA novels
[01:14:37] And last but not least, our Patreon!
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: This is Episode 47, it’s called “Grace and the Fever.”
FK: Which is the title of the book written by the person we’re gonna be interviewing, which is Zan Romanoff.
ELM: Yeah. I watched that sentence come at me like a very slow…it was like watching a car crash in slow motion. I was like “No, don’t do…no, no!” But it was already in motion, there was no stopping it, right? You know?
FK: [laughing] There it went. It just spun. You know the thing in comics where sometimes you’ll have one word and then the next appearing out of a character’s mouth? Like in a wiggly line?
ELM: No, I don’t read comics, Flourish. Sorry.
FK: That’s okay.
FK: Somebody who’s listening will get that.
ELM: Definitely some of our listeners will. This is why I’m out of step with the quote-unquote “geek community.” Anyway, Zan Romanoff is an author. This is her second novel, I believe.
FK: Yes, the first one was A Song to Take the World Apart.
ELM: Which I still haven’t read but I have a copy of. I’m sorry Zan. [laughs] I read this one, it is not about fandom, although as far as I understand it’s somewhat connected in the sense that it’s about a girl and a band.
FK: Yeah, but not like fandom-fandom.
ELM: Yeah. This one, Grace and the Fever, her newest book, it is coming out very soon, May 16th, in both the US and the UK, and I can’t speak for other countries but you know, sorry. It is about fandom!
FK: It is specifically boy band fandom.
ELM: OK, so I feel like we’re gonna talk to her about the book but we’re not gonna get into a lot of the details of the plot. Unfortunately, there’s a point where it’s gonna get too spoilery, I feel like. Unfortunately because some of the most interesting parts of the book, to talk about them we would have to spoil major revelations, especially when you’re reading it from a being interested in fandom perspective.
FK: Yeah no, that would be bad.
ELM: But I think we can do basic summary, so should we do that before we get her on the phone?
FK: Yeah! Let’s try and summarize.
ELM: OK. So it’s about a high school girl named Grace.
ELM: She’s just graduated from high school, she’s starting college in the fall, it’s set in that summer, you know, that summer where everything happens.
FK: Where every YA book takes place.
ELM: I don’t know, that was my most eventful summer. I don’t know about you. It was very eventful.
FK: That was not a super eventful summer for me.
ELM: You could write a YA novel about that summer for me.
ELM: It involves the racetrack, and a jazz musician.
ELM: Maybe I should do the next La La Land except it’ll be a teen romance at the racetrack.
FK: Oh my God, that’s totally what you should do. OK OK. But Grace is, Grace is kinda cool but she’s also really obsessed with this boy band Fever Dream, a fact which she’s been hiding from most of her friends in high school, but she’s really obsessed.
ELM: I like the way it’s set up where when she was 14, she and her high school best friends would be like “Fever Dream!” And then they stopped talking about it. And so she’s like, “Eeh…” but she got only, only more invested in them and found Tumblr fandom and set up a pseud and had no connection to her real life, and made a bunch of friends that way and had a big community there, and was living I think this very relatable, kind of fandom dual life where you’re like, “Yeah!” You know what I mean?
FK: I found it highly relatable. And Fever Dream is composed of four guys, Jess, Kendrick, Solly and Land.
ELM: I love that you’re really gettin’ into it right now.
FK: And she is really obsessed with Land and Solly and thinks that they are totally gettin’ it on.
ELM: So she’s a Lolly shipper, and…Lolly’s so good. But Jess is the heartthrob, he’s the star. And everyone else is secondary. So you know, it’s…for her it’s about, it very strongly parallels Larry shippers in particular in the One Direction fandom I would say.
FK: Yeah. So it happens that while the band is from Georgia, I think…
FK: Jess actually grew up near where she lives, which is in a little town outside of LA, and then moved to Georgia and met the rest of the band there. So she’s just hangin’ out in her neighborhood and she literally stumbles across Jess sittin’ and having a cigarette, and she’s like…I can’t, I mean, I can’t say what she’s like. Because there’s an emoji face. Zan writes it and it’s great, but only emoji can express how she is.
ELM: I love that you literally just made a human expression of a face, but for some reason you have to describe it as an emoji face even though it was the actual expression your face made. Not like a cartoon drawing of a face.
FK: All I’m trying to say though is I don’t think I can say how she feels. I think you can think how she might feel.
ELM: One thing I think, that’s interesting and we can talk about this a little, because it’s very early on and we’re not giving away too much of the plot, she’s a Lolly shipper, she’s not…and there’s a ton of fans who are interested in Jess. He’s the front guy, he’s the star. So she’s like, “Ah!” You know, it’s not like she has pictures of Jess all over her walls and she’s like “What if I stumbled upon him,” she’s just kind of like “Wait this is super weird.”
FK: It’s a little bit like if I ran into, like, Liam, from One Direction.
ELM: No, it’s not like that at all! Liam is not the star! He’s not a heartthrob!
FK: But if Liam was the star and the heartthrob that I didn’t care that much about then…
ELM: This is the dumbest analogy. It’s like if you shipped Joey Fatone and…I cannot name anyone else in *NSYNC. Joey Fatone was in *NSYNC, right?
FK: I don’t know if Joey Fatone was in *NSYNC! Lance was in *NSYNC. I think. I hope Lance was in *NSYNC.
ELM: I think Joey Fatone was too. I don’t think I can name any of the Backstreet Boys.
FK: I don’t think so either.
ELM: Was he a Backstreet Boy?
FK: I don’t…
ELM: Anyway, it would be like if you shipped two of the guys in *NSYNC and you never really thought about Timberlake and then you ran into him. That’s what it would be like. The actual star.
FK: Yeah, you’re right. That’s more accurate. That’s true.
ELM: Anyway, so one thing led to another and it’s somewhat serendipity but also somewhat, I don’t know. It’s not just pure dumb luck, it’s also like through a friend of a friend of a friend she winds up at this party, blah blah blah.
FK: Yeah, and then she runs into him again.
ELM: She winds up getting drawn into their circle in a way that doesn’t feel completely…it doesn’t feel unrealistic. It’s not like she’s tapped out of nowhere and he’s like “Please, come back to my place.”
FK: No, not at all.
ELM: Which if that would have happened I would have lost me, at a certain point.
FK: Yeah, I agree, unless it was very very very self-aware of what that was. But even then I think that would be really hard.
ELM: So anyway, we can’t say much more about the plot because I think it would give too much away, but there’s so many fandom elements in this, there’s ideas about her…oh, and they don’t know she’s a fan. That’s a really important part of it, right.
FK: She plays it cool.
ELM: She’s there in that space and she’s like, so imagine the biggest object of your fandom, and in a way…we talked about this in the podcast before but I found this somewhat relatable in that we’ve talked about when I was deep in Sherlock fandom and went to the premiere of the third season of Sherlock and I was with all the journalists and they were like, “Oh, I like this show!” And I was like “Heh heh heh.”
FK: “Not the way I like it!” Yeah, totally.
ELM: They were like “Those people outside in deerstalkers who camped out for hours, ha ha,” and I was like “Ha ha ha.” You know?
ELM: Super awkward.
FK: And it also sort of parallels how she has been hiding her fandom from everybody in her real life, basically, right? So she’s living this sort of double life already and so it’s really easy for someone to look at her and assume that she is not a fan, because she’s kept it pretty on the downlow, like you might if you were a teenager who used to be into Fever Dream and now is not.
ELM: Right, and I think that particularly when people talk about teen girls and boy band fandom, there tends to be an image of what one is. And it leans very heavily on—not that there’s anything wrong with really highly emotional teen girls at a boy band concert screaming, right? But it tends to lean on these ideas of this, very misogynistic ideas of this crazed fan. So obviously we know that that’s only one way to fan, right? But you kind of get that there’s an implication that they don’t really have a full sense that she could even be one of those, one of those girls.
FK: Right, exactly. While we know that it’s possible to both do that and do many other things, their perception is still very much you either are a continually screaming crying wreck of a human being…
ELM: Who’s constantly stalking their movements to determine if they’re all…and it’s not just about the shippers; there's someone who has to pick up a ring for someone’s mother or something and they’re all like “someone’s getting engaged!” All these interpretations, which I think if you are in celebrity fandom, at least my conversations with celebrity fans, you’ll find this very relatable. You’re a celebrity fan, Flourish.
FK: It’s definitely relatable. [long pause] It’s relatable!
ELM: Long, sustained pause.
ELM: So yeah, it’s partly about her personal fandom but it’s also partly about fans. They are a very popular boy band with a fan base and she kind of finds herself simultaneously being in the eye of the fandom but also a part of the fandom and so…
FK: She has become part of the conspiracy.
ELM: That;s a complicated position. So I think it makes some really great insights, and I…this is not my kind of fandom and I still, obviously I really enjoyed reading it but there were definitely parts that resonated with me even though nothing about it except literally the one sentence where she mentions reading fanfiction has anything to do with my fan experience, you know what I mean.
FK: But psychologically there’s certain things, like even though lots of the outer trappings are different, you’re like “But I understand.” I feel like there’s certain things that are the same across fandoms even when so much of what’s, and fan experiences, even when so many of the things that you're doing are different.
ELM: Sure. This is to say, like…we’re both extroverts, right?
ELM: You’re definitely an extrovert, right?
ELM: That’s weird. Weird hesitation.
FK: I guess so, yeah.
ELM: I am 1000% one and I don’t need to hesitate when I say this.
FK: I’m not 1000% but I am an extrovert.
ELM: Okay maybe you’re like 995%.
FK: That is inaccurate.
ELM: Extrovert doesn’t mean you’re always like “Boom boom boom always on!”
FK: Let’s not get into this argument which…
ELM: Know what I mean? Anyway, I feel like sometimes, there are parts where she’s like “I wish I was just…I don’t wanna hang out with my friends from high school, I wish I was just home on Tumblr reading this stuff.” In the sense, sometimes, I feel like, this is common discourse in fandom, right? You’re like, you’re at a party and you’d rather be at home reading Tumblr or whatever. That is not as relatable to me because I genuinely enjoy going to parties and talking to people, right?
FK: That’s true. Me too.
ELM: But there are definitely times where I’m thinking about…I was hanging out with my friends today and I was thinking about fanfiction, know what I mean?
FK: Yeah. Hope those friends don’t listen to this podcast. Guess what day it was, guys?
ELM: Yeah, my friend, he does not listen to this podcast. Don’t worry about it. He won’t mind, he’s probably thinking of Mahler.
FK: Oh my God. [ELM cackles] Okay. I think we have actually talked about Grace and the Fever never enough, but I think we’ve probably kind of summarized it and I think we should probably call Zan.
ELM: Yeah, let’s talk to Zan about it!
FK: Let's do it.
FK: All right! I think it’s time to welcome Zan Romanoff to the podcast! Welcome Zan, woo hoo!
ZR: Thank you! Woo!
ELM: Hi Zan!
ZR: VERY excited to be here.
FK: I’m so excited for us to team up on Elizabeth with our love of One Direction.
ELM: I thought we all got that out of our systems before we hit record.
FK: [laughing] Never out of our systems.
ZR: I can’t believe you think this is a thing that can be gotten out of a system. I think it’s very clear that it is a…chronic? That’s the word I’m looking for. Chronic kind of a situation.
ELM: What if I wanna talk about Fever Dream?
ZR: Oh, I mean, OK, I will transition from One Direction to Fever Dream. That is an allowable transition but that’s it. That’s the only things I care about.
ELM: That’s the only band I care about in this conversation. [all laughing]
ZR: It is true, I created Fever Dream and I care about One Direction as much if not more than my own.
ELM: Than your own?
ZR: The product of my own imagination.
ELM: That’s interesting. Should we delve into that or should we actually go back and do the normal introductory questions?
FK: Let’s do the normal introductory questions.
ZR: People are like, “What is Fever Dream?”
ELM: OK. So the two things I wanna know, I wanna know about your fannish journey, and I also am particularly curious to know…I know that you’ve been in a bunch of media fandoms over the years, but were you, when you were a teenager were you into boy bands? Or is this an adult fandom of yours only?
ZR: Oh man, if it wouldn’t require moving four different pieces of technology right now I would shift this computer to show you the Hanson poster that is hanging over my bed at this moment.
ELM: That’s incredible. Good. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear and I would have been disappointed if I did not hear that.
ZR: If I was a latecomer to the whole situation? No, I was a Hanson fan starting when “MMMBop” came out, basically, and very shortly after that typed “Hanson” into Ask Jeeves or whatever…
FK: Ask Jeeves! What a blast from the past!
ZR: Right? But I literally, I think if it wasn’t Ask Jeeves it was like Yahoo search. I was like “What…” And truly, it’s funny to think about now, because I had so little understanding of the internet, the internet had so little understanding of itself. But I found Hanson fanfiction by Asking Jeeves. Jeeves! And was like “Oh, this combines my two favorite things: storytelling and boys I think are cute.” [laughs]
ELM: Was that the first fanfic that you found? Was it Hanson?
ZR: Yeah, it was Hanson. I didn’t know that fanfic existed till this happened, but immediately I was like “This is the dream. This is where I wanna hang out forever.” And actually this is very cute: so I started writing Hanson fanfic and mentioned it to my mom at some point that this is what I was doing with my computer they bought me and she was like “Oh!” She had written Beatles fanfic when she was a kid. [FK yells] She had a physical binder with her handwritten Beatles fic in it. [now ELM is yelling too]
ELM: We’re both very excited about this!
FK: Can we have your mom on the podcast?
ELM: Can she come on next week?
FK: Like, genuinely this is not even a joke, I want your mom on talking about the Beatles fanfic.
ELM: Can you patch her in right now?
ZR: She would love it, honestly. She wrote, and this without any community…not that there wasn’t community around fic at the time, but she didn’t have it. She just was like, “I wonder what it would be like to live with the Beatles? I’m gonna write my story about them.”
ELM: Did you both write self-insert fic around these bands?
ZR: Yeah. I mean, she didn’t have the language then, but her was this very cute story about a girl who is…I mean, I’m like “It’s so cute!” [laughing] The girl is orphaned.
ELM: Classic, classic story.
FK: And it’s a thing that appears in One Direction fanfic to this day, right? Adopted by One Direction?
ZR: Right! And this is what’s amazing about it. There are tropes in it that she didn’t even know were tropes, but it’s a girl is orphaned and I think John is her uncle or cousin or something, anyway she goes to live with the Beatles, and she and Paul fall in love, you’ll be shocked to hear.
ELM: This is fascinating.
ZR: Yeah, so it’s actually genetic.
ELM: That’s incredible. So wait in your fic…
ZR: No no no, this is in hers.
ELM: No, what happened in yours? Do you remember?
ZR: What happened in my fic? Oh boy. [heaves a sigh] I, then as now, was prolific. I wrote…I mean, I didn’t finish anything, let’s be really clear, but I wrote a shit-ton of fanfic. What happened? A lot of walks in the rain. That was my big motif. [all laugh] Romantico-tragical. Actually, this is good. This is actually good and I always forget that it’s true, that the first fic I ever wrote started out being very typical, it was like, girl wins a radio contest and meets Hanson. And Taylor falls in love with her and Zac falls in love with her little sister and Isaac falls in love with her older cousin. Whatever. But I got midway through it and I was reading enough at that point that I was like, “Oh, this is very typical, it’s sort of boring, no one’s gonna want to read this.”
So at, I think I must have been 11, I was like, “I’m gonna write a reverse trope fic where I take what I see…” There was a big thing at the time, Taylor would be in a coma, and his girlfriend would come and talk him out of it, essentially. So I put Taylor in a coma but his little brother talked him out of it like his girlfriend couldn’t, because the bonds of brotherhood were stronger. [FK gasps]
ELM: Subversion! Oh my God. This is really incredible. Do you still, wait, do you still have these?
ZR: Not all of them, but a lot. Piece of a lot of them. I actually read excerpts from one of them on stage at a Mortified stage show recently.
ELM: Mortified, yeah.
ZR: It was amazing. Yeah, I have a lot of it. It’s really bad. It really, it’s pretty incredible to me to look back on it and if you read it now and you were like “This girl is gonna become a professional novelist!” You’d be like “No.” [all laugh]
FK: But aren’t we all. Don’t we all have those.
ELM: That’s wonderful though! Hey hey, my corporate board, I’m sure that was really serious stuff. Do you know about my early fanfiction? Have you heard me talking about this?
FK: She wrote Sweet Valley High fanfiction. About…what was it? The corporate board of one of the…
ZR: The corporate board of Sweet Valley?
ELM: Wait, no, did you read Sweet Valley?
ZR: Yeah, of course!
ELM: So, there’s Lila’s dad, who’s a silicon chip magnate…
FK: I’m gonna aspirate beer just hearing you describe this story.
ELM: It was about him, he was the star, and I created a corporate…I didn’t really understand, I guess, how corporate board structure worked at the time…
ZR: [laughs] That’s so shocking!
ELM: I created this team, basically, and they were all running the corporation, but I didn’t really understand how the board wouldn’t necessarily be involved with day-to-day operations. They didn’t have roles like Chief Operations Officer or anything like that either.
ZR: They just were like the executives.
ELM: They were the team, and they were all stationed at different offices around the world, and they all had incredibly complicated backstories. Pretty diverse, so just classic Sweet Valley High fic obviously. [all laugh]
ZR: The things that normal teens were very interested in.
ELM: Yeah, look, I was interested in capitalism! Flourish, you would think you would find that to be, we would have more of a connection because of this.
FK: [laughs] OK but I’m curious about how Zan got from writing Hanson fanfic to writing Grace and the Fever.
ELM: You wanna skip all the way ahead.
ZR: No no, I think she wants…I mean…
FK: I want the story! I wanna understand the process that goes from there to here.
ELM: Not to answer for you, which is what I feel like what I just did just there…I’m gonna mansplain your entire life to you…but I know that you were into a lot of other fandoms over the last 15 years or 20 years since then, so I’m wondering what made you…but you’re also a novelist. You’ve written at least, you’ve had one other book out so far, right? Which is called…
ZR: Yeah, yeah! A Song To Take The World Apart.
ELM: Which is not about fandom.
ZR: Which is not about fandom. It's funny, it's also about a girl falling in love with a guy who’s in a band, sort of the same way about a girl falling in love with a guy who’s in a band and then discovering that falling in love with a guy who’s in a band is not all there is to life, but it is not about fandom.
ELM: So, OK. Now that we’ve set the stage, how do these threads connect is my question.
ZR: OK so I discovered Hanson fandom, it was the best thing that had ever happened to me, I was reading basically self-insert hetero Hanson fanfiction and then somehow I got linked to this story that if anyone out there was in Hanson fandom at the time, I’m sure they remember, it was called “Devil Angel.” It was by a person whose pen name was Aspen. It was slash. It was the first slash I ever encountered and it was pairing the Hanson brothers with a different band of brothers called the Moffat brothers.
So I read “Devil Angel” which was, I think, I don’t wanna overstate the case, but I do think for really a lot of people around my age that was a seminal introduction to slash in general. I was just like “Oh my God they could be GAY!” [all laugh] Aspen went on to write Harry Potter fic, which was truly…I was so young, it just didn’t occur to me…
FK: [shouting] Wait, it was the same Aspen?!
ZR: Yeah! As far as I know, yeah.
FK: What. Mind blown.
ELM: You know this Aspen as Harry Potter Aspen?
FK: Yeah! I know Harry Potter fanfic writin’ Aspen! I had no idea that she wrote Hanson. Amazing.
ZR: She not only wrote Hanson, she introduced me to the existence of slash!
FK: Of slash!
ELM: So good.
ZR: Other people reading Aspen, Draco Malfoy P.I. was the first Harry Potter.
FK: Yep yep yep yep!
ZR: So that was the moment I discovered that fandom existed, and then yeah, oof, oh god, oof. And then I read Queer as Folk fic.
FK: Oh man, I remember when Queer as Folk fandom intersected with Harry Potter fandom. That was a whole thing. I’m still friends with a bunch of those people who crossed over there.
ZR: That was a very brief blip, but that was enough to know that fandom in a larger sense exists beyond Hanson or whatever specific fandom I had been in. And then I stopped. But I was, like, in middle school, it’s not…you know, normal, whatever. [laughs] And so I cut it out of my life for a really long time, until I was in college and I was getting my heart destroyed by this dude and I guess at that point it had sort of come back into my life. Because I had friends who would embarrassedly admit, they’d be like “Oh, I read fanfic when I was a kid, it was so dumb and horrible.” And I was like “Oh, I remember reading fanfic, I kinda loved that!” And so at some point when I was being emotionally tortured by this dude I was like “What used to make me happy, what comforted me?” And the answer was Harry Potter fic. [FK and ELM dissolve] I think I literally googled Harry Potter fanfiction. It was when Maia, now Sarah Rhys Brennan, young adult author, was writing “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” and I loved, that fic…comforted me during my time of heartbreak. Yeah. I still love it. I have it as a PDF, I read it all the time.
FK: Sorry Sarah, the internet will never forget your fanfiction.
ELM: We’re not supposed to discuss it!
FK: It meant too much to us.
ZR: Right? I totally understand wanting to separate a fan persona from a professional, not because anything is wrong with it, but because of the way that people interact with the idea of a fan persona who haven’t been in fandom. I totally understand wanting to separate those things. On the other hand I’m like “But your fanfic changed my life.” I can’t. This is a fan thing. Anyway, so yeah, fanfic came back into my life in a big way then. Right after college I read a lot of Jonas Brothers bad self-insert stuff.
ELM: Wow, you are committed to the brother bands.
ZR: You know, I always say if I went back to grad school I would really wanna write a thesis on the existence of these brother bands. Cause they’re so weird. I love them so much.
ELM: Fascinating to me.
ZR: Anyway, since then I would say that fanfic one way or another has been part of my life. If I was watching a TV show I would google it. Once I discovered AO3, go on AO3 and be like what are the popular pairings, what’s goin’ on out there. But I, oh God, I’ve done time in Sherlock, done time in Supernatural, done time in Teen Wolf…
ELM: You are hittin’ the hits here. The great triumvirate, Sherlock, Supernatural, and Teen Wolf. OK, but at what point…five years ago, if I had told you you’re gonna write a novel about fandom, would you have been like “Uh-uh”?
ZR: I would have been like “What, do you have a head injury? No.”
ELM: How? How did you make that leap, or was it over time very slowly, you were like “Oh maybe this is a thing I should…something I’m passionate about and I could write a protagonist who’s also passionate”?
ZR: No. It was not a conscious decision at all. No, it’s really funny to look back on where you’re like…in retrospect I can see the things happening, but at the time it was just like, getting swept along a river.
ELM: We’re here to construct that narrative. You didn’t need to have that narrative in advance, don’t worry.
ZR: No, I mean, I’ve thought about it a lot, obviously. Because it’s so wild to me. This is not something I would have expected even three years ago. I was sort of poking around fandom and thinking about it and I feel like, people I’d been reading in other fandoms were starting to write about One Direction a little and I was vaguely aware of it. But really what happened was I was writing a series of blog posts for a Tumblr called “One Week One Band,” about 1989, the Taylor Swift album, and I’d written my thing and I was like “OK good” and then I went on Tumblr to be like, I just wanna see what people on Tumblr have to say about Harry.
FK: Oh my God.
ZR: Goin' to the Haylor tag on Tumblr. [laughs]
FK: Precious baby, oh no! The Haylor tag! Don’t go there.
ZR: Precious baby! It was just like “Oh my God! Oh my God, I had no idea this was very controversial.” [laughs] The idea that they had had a…I really didn’t know!
ELM: That’s incredible.
FK: I can’t, that is so pure. That’s the purest thing I have ever heard.
ZR: Truly. So one of my friends, I mentioned online that I was writing this piece, one of my friends had emailed me, like, “I’m so excited to read your Taylor Swift thing!” I was like “I’m excited too but I’m scared now because I just discovered people are really flipped out about whether they ever dated,” and I sent her a link to some Larry posts. My friend Logan [?], shout out Logan, none of this would have happened without you, and she had not known about this beforehand, but she was like…
FK: She went from zero to Larry, in like…through Tumblr posts?
ZR: Yes! She was ready for it. She was like “Yep, I’m a Larry now. This is real.” [laughs] I was like, “Eeh I don’t know. I personally don’t know about Larry.” But for the first time I had a friend who wanted to talk about fandom with me. And that changed everything. Because it went from me being like “Oh, I’m on Tumblr lolling alone,” to I would send Logan stuff. I’d be like “Oh my God did you see this crazy thing?” And she’d send me stuff and pretty soon it devolved into we were both reading fic. So it went from being, I really do think that it would have faded out…I would have moved on from it. But I had someone to talk to about it and it was just so much more fun. [laughs] I’m getting really into this!
And also, so then I’d written A Song To Take The World Apart, I had gotten an agent for it, I hadn’t quite sold it yet, but in the meantime while it had been out to editors I had been writing another what I thought would be a book that turned out not to be a book. [all laugh ruefully] 50,000 words of nothing, just nonsense ramblings.
FK: That’s the worst.
ZR: Yeah it was bad, it was very bad. So I was just at this point where I was like “Ugh, I’ve written this thing, it’s not good, maybe I should come up with another idea for a book,” I was thinking about book ideas, and I came up with one that is not actually what Grace ended up being, but was about a teen girl who is in fandom and who is a conspiracy theorist and who is following the band around and accidentally sees a real crime being committed, sort of like Blow Up, the Antonioni film. So she tries to convince people, this horrible crime has been committed, and everyone is like “You’re crazy, you believe this conspiracy theory, we don’t have to listen to you.”
And I was like “Logan, here’s this funny idea I had for a book, wouldn’t it be great if I wrote it—but I’m not going to.” And she was like “YOU’VE GOTTA WRITE IT.” I was like “No no no no, I’m not gonna write it, it’s not gonna happen.” She was like “Zan, you’re gonna write it, it’s gonna happen, and you’re gonna tell me when you do.” And I did not, but that was the point at which I was sort of like, “I could write a novel about boy band fandom and specifically about conspiracy theories in boy band fandom. That would be really interesting to me and that would be a hook that wouldn’t be embarrassing.” Which makes me so sad that I was still so embarrassed by it, but too late now. [laughs]
ELM: Wait, but as you wrote it…now, post-writing it, when it’s coming out in the world, you shed that embarrassment that you had when you started writing it.
ZR: Largely. There’s still pieces of it…my thing about fandom really is I don’t like talking about it with people who aren’t in it, only because they don’t understand it and it’s something I love so much that I don’t wanna have to explain it to people and I don’t ever wanna have to, like…I don’t want it to not make me happy. Having these conversations with people…I don’t wanna have to explain my joy to you! If you don’t get it that’s totally fine, I have zero interest in…you don’t have to. But I’m not gonna be responsible for teaching you to like it. So that’s my thing. I’m perfectly happy to be like “Yes, I’ve read a hundred gazillion hours of fanfic, I basically have written a fanfiction.” Or something that comes from what I think of as the literary tradition of fanfiction. I don’t wanna get into the nitty gritty with anyone of “What kind of fic have you read?” If you’re not in it, that’s fine.
FK: Cause there’s also that…for me anyway, there’s also that thing where when someone you respect and like, doesn’t like the thing you like, and really doesn’t like the thing you like and explains to you why it’s bad, you’re like, “Oh no.” I can still like the thing but suddenly it’s tainted and you’re like “Oh no! I wasn’t in this for a critique, I was in this for a…”
ELM: Is that how you feel when I talk to you about One Direction?
FK: No, I tune that out. [ZR laughs]
ELM: Wow, so I guess I don’t count, huh?
FK: You totally count but in this particular area I have armored myself with thick armor.
ELM: What if I keep hitting you with it and what if I actually get mean.
FK: Sometimes I do get mad when you get mean. But I have to deal with that.
ELM: All right, sorry to hear that.
ZR: I also do think there’s a really distinct difference between someone who’s not in your fandom and someone who’s not in fandom period.
ZR: You know what I mean? There’s a certain level where you’re just like…
FK: Right, and that’s part of why I can dismiss you, Elizabeth! Is I know that you are teasing me in order to get, to rile me up, and you’re…maybe you, I’m sure you believe all the things if you say mean things about One Direction, but you’re saying them in order to poke me knowing full well what you’re doing, as opposed to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and genuinely thinks that I’m a shitheel for liking One Direction. You know what I mean?
ZR: Or a stupid little girl! I’m like, “I don’t care.” I’m not gonna have that conversation with anyone anymore.
ELM: But also Flourish, Zan, I don’t know how you feel about it, Flourish and I are relatively on the same page where I get a little frustrated with fandom, I understand why people do it, but when it’s not enough to just say “I’m really into it because I’m really into it,” you have to try to prove that it’s also extraordinary art, you know?
ZR: Yeah, no no no no.
ELM: Yeah. And you write about something very basic in breathless tones. But since we’re already on the same page with that, then I…so it’s not like you’re over here trying to convince me that One Direction, that Harry Styles is the next…
FK: Watch out. Pick your steps carefully. Pick your steps! Pick ’em carefully!
FK: OK that’s fine. I’m pretty sure he’s not Beethoven, neither the composer nor the dog, although it would be adorable if somebody wrote a fanfic in which he was a big floppy Bernese Mountain Dog. And now I’m thinking about that.
ZR: I will send a galley the second someone sends me a link to their Harry Styles as a Bernese Mountain Dog fic.
ELM: Is that the kind of dog Beethoven is? I thought he was a St. Bernard!
FK: Maybe he’s a St. Bernard.
ELM: God, Flourish.
ZR: Any kind of dog.
FK: A big floppy mountain dog.
ZR: The kind of dog Harry Styles would obviously be.
FK: Really big and floppy.
ELM: He wouldn’t be an English sheepdog, the finest of all the dogs?
ELM: OK, cause FYI, sheepdogs are the best of all the dogs.
FK: If anybody would be that it would probably be Louis.
ZR: Eeh…no, I can’t, this is a whole separate…
ELM: We can’t do dogs. We can’t do One Direction dogs.
FK: We can’t do One Direction dog casting?!
ZR: Did you know that someone literally started a podcast called “1D As” and it’s like, “1D as dogs! 1D as flavored pancakes,” or whatever.
FK: No, but I love it and I would want to be a guest. I’m so ready. My body is ready for this podcast.
ZR: Yeah. I don't wanna intrude on their, you know, their niche.
ELM: That’s their thing, we’re not gonna step on that.
FK: Alright, OK. Let's take a quick break and then when we get back we’ll talk about the book.
FK: All right, we’re back and it is time to talk not about Zan’s fandom history but about the book she wrote.
ELM: They’re kind of tied up together.
FK: Yeah, but you know, we’ve covered the fandom history bits, and now I’m really excited to talk about the book.
ELM: All right, let’s talk about the book!
ZR: Let’s talk about the book.
FK: I have so many feelings about this book.
ELM: OK, first of all, you just described it as fanfiction! Can you speak a little more on that?
ZR: Yeah! For sure. When I started writing it, I think the way that I described it to everyone, was like “It’s not NOT One Direction fanfiction.” [all laugh] Which I gotta say, and I always feel like I make that joke and I’ve gotta clarify: it is not One Direction fanfiction. One of my favorite things, and I think we talked about this on Twitter, is when people come to me and they’re like “OK! So Jess is like this and I think Solly is this and Land, but I can’t figure out who Kendrick is, whatever,” and I’m like "YES! You're right you cannot because my characters do not map neatly onto the men of One Direction because it’s not a fanfiction.”
Not that there’s anything wrong, obviously, OBVIOUSLY I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fanfiction, but if I’m gonna write a novel and sell it it shouldn’t be a One Direction fanfiction, it should be a novel. I think what I mean when I say that is that it really consciously and I hope—no, proudly, I know this, because I wrote it and I know how I wrote it, proudly considers fanfiction its literary tradition. I grew up reading self-insert “girl falls in love with boy band” stuff, and I wanted to write the novel version of that, to be like “This is the work that influenced me growing up and that’s what this comes out of.” So I really, I do think that if you write fanfiction it will be familiar to you as a literature that resembles fic, in terms of its structure and themes, which is not to say that anyone should attempt to map any characters onto 1D or map Grace onto me.
FK: Too late, too late.
ELM: We’ve already argued a lot about this, we can’t start it again Flourish.
FK: Way way WAY too late.
ZR: I’m happy to entertain the conversation, because they’re inspired by, for sure, and there’s stuff that’s pulled…it’s very obvious in certain ways that there’s characters that are pulled from One Direction.
ELM: Let’s not get into this. We will literally take up all your time.
FK: It’s true, it’s not a good idea.
ELM: It’s funny though that you say that anyone who’s read fanfiction will recognize it. I don’t read boy band self-insert het fic. Nothing in it to me had anything to do with the fanfiction that I’ve ever read. I obviously understand how it would for other kinds, but it’s just…you know what I mean? It didn’t feel broadly tropey in the sense of, I think there are some tropes that are universal across all types of fanfiction, right? At least I assume.
ZR: Yeah, it’s also true that, now that you're saying this, there are things that aren’t actually in there that I thought a lot about. Or I don’t know if this is a spoiler to say, but there’s a little bit, at the beginning it seems like maybe there’s gonna be a fake girlfriend thing going on, and there almost was a fake girlfriend fic. That was gonna be the plot. [laughing]
ELM: That I would have recognized, if you had done that.
ZR: And then I ended up moving away from it cause it just didn’t make sense. But some of it is more in my intention or thought process in writing it than what ended up on the page.
ELM: Funnily enough, that is one of the few real-life instances where actually a fake girlfriend story would be realistic. Normally they have the most absurd reasons why they need to pretend to be in a relationship and you’re like “No, never on earth would the police captain need to be fooled in this way while you’re investigating a murder,” right? But actually in Hollywood there are fake relationships every day, right? I don’t know, you guys tell me, you’re in Hollywood right now. That’s a thing, right?
ZR: I mean Flourish’s marriage, as far as I know, is totally for show.
ELM: It’s true! It's cause we’re having a secret affair. [all laugh] Nick doesn’t listen!
FK: Nick does not listen to the podcast. Hi Nick, if you’re listening to this years later.
ZR: Wondering what went wrong. [all still laughing]
ELM: He’s got a Google alert on our transcripts waiting for this moment.
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: Anyway! That’s super interesting, and it’s very heartening to be in an era now where you could be like, “Oh, I wrote this thing and its literary ancestor was the fanfiction I loved and wrote,” you know, and we spent all this time struggling over where to draw the line for what fanfiction is and is not, and I think that’s a really positive way to talk about it without saying “This is fanfiction, and I am doing the same thing.”
ZR: Yeah, and I certainly wouldn't claim to have any wisdom at all about the hard line between fic and other kinds of writing.
ELM: I don’t think anyone does, including us.
ZR: Me among the masses, right, doesn’t really know what that is and is interested in the conversation and doesn’t think there’s really an answer for it. But it was really really fun. Truly, I think every single day I sat down to write this book I was like, cackling to myself. Cause I was just like, “I can’t believe this is so close to the thing that I loved and did for free.” [laughs] You know? As a tween! And I’m gonna get paid for this! I’ve figured it out, I’ve figured it out! I’m so happy!
FK: OK. But I wanna jump back a little bit, because actually it’s funny, you talking about how the boys in the story are not direct analogues. I’m not gonna…
ELM: Wow Flourish.
FK: …gonna get into whether or not they are, but one thing I really noticed while reading it and something that made me feel a little uncomfortable about it was how much of the story, like most other fanfic, I guess feeds into the feeling or the belief that you might get to see what's behind the curtain. That there is something there, and that there is a fan somewhere, maybe not you, but somebody gets to see behind that curtain, and that’s something I really struggled with in my own RPF writing. I know we’ve talked about my fic and how it’s weird and postmodern and shit, and all of the reason it’s that is that I feel so uncomfortable with it.
ELM: That’s your way of mitigating that discomfort, that’s interesting.
FK: Yeah, cause if every stage of it is obviously unreal, then I’m ok with it. But when I read your book literally I put it down and I was like “What if that is what’s really going on with Harry and Louis?” That was literally my first thought. [all laugh] I was like “Maybe I need to update what I think is really going on!” And then I was like “Shit, she’s gonna hate me for having that reaction! …but also kinda love it maybe.” So I’m curious about your response to that, cause I felt so strongly like I was reading a book about One Direction.
ZR: No, totally. I will say that I’m flattered that you have that response, honestly, because certainly when I started writing the book it was my theory of what was going on with One Direction. [laughs]
ELM: Oh my God, really?
ELM: Say no more because we’re not giving away…what you think at the outset of this book is not where it winds up. Not to say that it’s shocking twists and turns everywhere you go, but there’s much to be revealed as you go along.
ZR: You can describe its premise without describing very much about what is ultimately revealed. But…here’s what I think is going on with One Direction, but also kind of…it was also what I thought was the most interesting thing that could be going on with One Direction? Right? [FK laughs]
ZR: I could believe lots of scenarios, but I was obsessed with this one because it seemed to me most interesting, and weirdest, and sort of combined the most, highest number of truths, if that makes sense.
FK: Oh my God.
ZR: Of fan truths and band truths and…you know. Whatever. All that stuff.
ELM: Can I just say as someone who’s not in One Direction fandom and literally never will be, I can swear right now on a stack of Bibles…not Bibles, I don't know why I said that. I did not feel any discomfort whatsoever while reading this, and I think that I have to wonder if this is a function of your fandom.
FK: Oh yeah!
ELM: You think so?
FK: I totally think so. The thing that made me uncomfortable about it was not, I don’t think, anything inherent in the object, it was in my response to the object. It was in the fact that the book was convincing and exciting and interesting and touched on all these fanfictional things enough that I was drawn in enough to speculate in this way that I find uncomfortable when I speculate. You know what I mean?
ELM: That’s interesting!
FK: I don’t wanna have these speculations and yet of course I’m a human and I have my own ideas and opinions. But it’s not my place!
ZR: So lots of the book is not about me but there’s a moment where Grace, the main character, is watching a YouTube video of various clips from their interviews and it ends with these paparazzi photos and it says she always feels really guilty for looking at paparazzi photos of them, but she does it anyway. And that’s very directly, you know.
FK: It’s so true though, right? You’re like, “This is invading their privacy, I hate that I am looking at this, and yet somehow I am a weak and feeble fuckin’ worm and I’m still looking at them because the boys are so…”
ZR: OH MY GOD I KNOW. How many other hundreds of thousands of people? Is my pageview making the difference? And yes, in some sense, and for my own moral compass it is…
FK: It is!
ZR: And I should stop but I gotta know! [all laugh]
FK: I think this is actually, Elizabeth, our reactions to this were really different. I think that’s partially because I share with Zan that feeling of, on the one hand I feel like I’m doing something wrong, on the other hand I can’t stop with regard to that kind of fandom.
ELM: Absolutely. There's some things that I would really wanna discuss which I think are actually giving things away, but some of the parts where we had serious disagreements were about the level of…this duality that you hold where they’re like, you know they are real people but you’re also like, “They are the object of my fandom so they’re not,” simultaneously, right. And if I do something that actually affects their lives, maybe in a negative way, but I can disassociate from being the one responsible for that, and I will say no more and if you’ve read the book you’ll know what I’m talking about. And I was very upset by that, and Flourish and some of our friends who are also in One Direction fandom—and I’m not pinning this on 1D—
FK: No no no it's fine.
ZR: Any kind of fandom.
ELM: I think this would be a part of, if celebrity fandom appeals to you and it appeals to a lot of my friends but it doesn’t appeal to me, maybe that’s part of it, being able to split your brain in half and think those two things at the same time. Whereas my brain doesn’t wanna do that, I’m not really drawn to that. So I don’t know.
ZR: I’m happy to write my book and to have a conversation as long as it is very clear that that conversation is about persona. That to the extent that you can map members of 1D onto members of Fever Dream, it’s because of our communal perceptions of One Direction's personas. Right? The minute I start trying to tell you facts about who Harry Styles is in his private life, I’m not gonna do that. Does that sound fun or interesting? To me, no, but to some other people yes, but where you find joy is where you find joy.
ELM: But isn’t that…if you find joy in it’s fine?
ELM: But that’s the fundamental heart of celebrity fandom, right? And RPF?
ZR: Mmm. So this is where we come to a place where I really, like I say, fell into this when I was a tween and then fell into it again when I was older, and it’s so instinctual for me on certain levels because I started it so young that I didn’t have…and it was just so different, pre-social-media, it was just so much less possible to stalk Hanson than it was, than it is to stalk One Direction!
FK: I think that that was the thing, the fact that the book was engaging so strongly with that was the thing that was really challenging me about it. Not because I felt like…because I felt like even just reading the book and thinking about what it would be like to be engaged in that and to know anything about it, it was like, “Ahh God, this is lighting up areas of my brain that I would prefer to keep unlit!” You know what I mean?
ZR: Yeah, and I will also say that one of the things that I really struggled with in writing it was the idea of the “special fan.” In part because Hanson, every single Hanson brother met his wife at a concert.
ELM: Oh my God, really?
FK: Yeah they did. They all married fans.
ZR: Two of them met their wives at the same concert. Which is…
ELM: What was happenin’ at that concert?
ZR: Listen man, Georgia…I don’t know, 19…
FK: Sex pollen.
ELM: Oh, is that why Fever Dream is from Georgia, because Hanson is from Georgia?
ZR: Hanson is from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
ELM: Sorry. It’s just that concert was in Georgia. I don’t know, that was one thing that made it very easy for me to not think of Fever Dream as One Direction, is the fact that they are from the American South.
ZR: This is literally when I sat down to write the book, when it became apparent to me that I was really gonna write it as a book, I was like “OK, what can I do that will make, that will separate Fever Dream from One Direction in my mind?” And literally the first thing in my mind was: “They can’t be British.” What’s the opposite of British? Southern. [all laugh]
ELM: Weirdly, there’s a lot of similarities.
FK: Nice thinking, but it totally, your jiu-jitsu didn’t work on me.
ELM: Flourish, you’re so deep in it.
FK: In my mind, I don’t care how you describe them, they all look exactly like One Direction.
ELM: You’re so deep in it Flourish, it’s incredible.
FK: I can’t not.
ZR: No, but I wanted them to be regionally specific, right, in the way that being from the South in America is a regionally specific thing, but it can’t be English, and then I made them be four of them and not five in part because I was just like, coming up with five separate characters and moving them around the narrative, too much work.
ELM: I thought it totally worked. I found it very compelling. This is fascinating to know that it caused Flourish so much distress.
FK: I loved it, I loved every minute of it, but it was a good distress, but…
ELM: That’s really interesting.
ZR: I thought a lot about how much I struggled when I was a teenager with the idea that other girls were the special girl, or the special fan, and I wasn’t. And part of me sort of hated that I was playing into that, and I was writing this narrative where the special fan gets to know all the inside stuff and they fall in love with her…so without giving anything away I tried to cut that down as much as I possibly could. I will say, not a spoiler, that my favorite scene in the book is when very early on she’s going to a party with these boys and I had this moment where I was like “She’s gotta get dressed for the party, this could be a makeover scene where they send their stylist and a makeup artist and whatever,” and I was like “What would the opposite of that be?” and I was like “Well, what if she got her period.” [all laugh] I felt so mad at myself for putting a girl in the most enviable position and I was like, “What can I do to prove no, she’s still really human!”
ELM: That’s really harsh!
ZR: And she’s still really subject to the laws of nature and a bad period!
ELM: Harsh for real!
FK: Harsh, really harsh!
ELM: So, all right, we’re running out of time, but I wanna ask you one question that I’ve been thinking about. So something that I think comes up as a journalist who writes about fandom a lot, and Flourish you may get this too, I like how…Flourish, you ready?
FK: I’m ready! I love how you always ask questions to both me and the guest. You are the official interviewer and I’m, like, the bouncer-offer-of-things in this podcast.
ZR: It’s cause she’s a journalist! It’s her instinct.
ELM: That’s true.
ZR: I gotta pose the question.
ELM: Just gotta get that scoop, going in there! [laughs] So I think there’s a tendency, when you’re writing about fandom for a broader audience, to portray it in a very good light, when a lot of the time there’s a lot of bad things that are happening within it. And one of the things that Flourish and I discussed after the book ends some other friends of ours who had read a copy of the book, including people that you know, I was like “I think this paints fans in a very negative light!” And I remember everyone else was like “No! You’re so wrong. It’s a very positive book,” right? So I’m wondering how you feel about this in the sense of, I do think that one thing I really appreciated about it is there were a lot of positive elements of “Oh, this is what it means to be really passionate about something, to feel like this is yours.” There were relatable moments where you’re like, “I don’t wanna hang out with these losers from my high school,” they’re not losers, they’re obviously the popular kids, “I don’t wanna hang out with these basic…”
ZR: “But I don’t like them! Even though they’re popular, it doesn’t matter.”
ELM: Right, and what a tedious and relatable scene that was at the party. There’s a pool party…anyway, if you went to a high school like mine…you know, and thinking “I wish I was at home on Tumblr,” I was at home writing a fic right now, that’d be great. But I also think it’s a very ambivalent portrayal of a fan and fandom and I think some of that’s reflected in what we’re all talking about. And you’re talking about your anxiety while reading it. And so I'm wondering how you would respond to that, and especially with the idea that there are people reading this book who have never been in fandom, and I wonder what they’re gonna take away from it. And what you think about that.
ZR: I totally think about it. I think about it a lot. Because, and I think this comes back actually to the story of how I wrote it, that I was writing it…I was writing it into a Scrivener document, but then I would take every chunk that I wrote every day I would email to my friend Logan. Who I lured into One Direction fandom with me. And who had never been in fandom before. And she was freaking out. She was like “Zan, what the fuck is this. What am I feeling? What am I doing? What have you made happen to me?” And truly the book was my attempt to explain to her via whatever it is, 85,000 words of fiction [laughing] “This is what this is. What we’re feeling is, it’s completely insane, it’s fuckin’ batshit, and it’s really fun, and it has a lot of really…it’s really cool and it’s really horrible.”
And I guess, if you haven’t been in it, I don’t know how much that will translate. And I don’t know what kind of impression it would give you. And I frankly, I don’t know that I could even know that. I’m not super, I don't know, people who aren’t in fandom explain fandom to each other all the fucking time. Not my interest, not my job. Truly, again, I don’t wanna explain it to people. If you don’t get it that’s totally fine, but it’s ultimately a feeling. At the very basis of it, it is a feeling. And I can’t make you have my feeling and I’m not interested in making you have my feeling.
So people who have never done fandom aside, my hope really was to have this be important to people who have been in fandom and who’ve been confused by these feelings, and who’ve had worries about their relationships to RPF and to celebrity fandom and to fandom in general, to writing fic. “Is this crazy, what am I doing?!” To say both that you meet an incredible community and it is creatively amazing and I think it’s no coincidence that the way that I wrote my book about fandom was while emailing it to a friend, in conversation, wasn’t like, me as the author creating my work, it was like posting chapters every week. “Here’s my WIP! Here’s my work in progress, here you go!” To say both really incredible things can come out of this and also it’s dangerous. And not to get too deep, but I think that all the best things are dangerous. That’s what makes them good. I love fandom and I think fandom’s really fucked up.
ELM: Well, that was exactly the right answer then, if these were the complicated feelings we were having, that you meant to express all of…you know what I mean though? I’ve read a fair number of books, YA books in particular, about fandom, they don’t always really express that full range of…you know what I mean?
ZR: I will say, without disrespecting anyone else’s work about fandom, truly, many of which I have read and really liked a lot, they often strike me both in terms of the technical details and also in terms of the emotions involved like they’re written by people who are not actively engaged in fandom. They’re people who had fandom phases when they were younger and are not in it, and I do think one of the things about Grace is it is written from the depths of a fandom fugue state. [all laugh]
FK: I really appreciated that it was truly…I think it’s a big disservice to fandom to treat it all as being hugs and flowers. You know what I mean?
FK: That’s not what any part of life is, and if you treat fandom that way then you are ultimately going to just play back into the hands of people who think fandom is a bunch of freaks, because they’re going to be like “But it’s not that way.”
ELM: And also, anyone who has a…so many problematic things happen within fandom. And so I feel like we’re sort of gaslighting people when we’re like “It’s a magical space where everyone just loves things!”
ZR: Where we all express our passions!
ELM: Everyone else is sitting here being like “wait wat” including ourselves! Because there have been plenty of times when I’ve been like “Everything is garbage here and I hate this and I wish I didn’t even have a computer, I wanna walk into the sea.” So. Fandom™.
FK: Fandom: I want to walk into the sea either because I’m happy or because I’m sad or because people are being shitty on the internet or because people are being shitty on the internet.
ELM: I’m walkin’.
FK: And we don't know which of these things. It could be all four of them!
ELM: Off I go!
FK: All at once. It’s just me and the sea.
ELM: I live next to the sea!
FK: And the octopus probably.
ELM: I am here one block from the sea, I could go in right now.
ZR: Ugh, I’m so many miles from the sea. Flourish and I are both.
FK: We could carpool, though. We could carpool right now.
ZR: I was gonna say, do you wanna just go to the sea after this?
FK: Let’s go find a friendly octopus and name it Larry.
ELM: Oh God, now it’s back to your octopus obsession. [ZR whoops]
FK: I love tentacles. I love ’em.
ELM: OK, I think we actually do need to wrap up, unfortunately.
ZR: Sorry sorry sorry.
ELM: No, it’s fine! We both loved Grace and the Fever so much and we’re so excited that we got to talk to you about it!
FK: And everybody who listens to this podcast should definitely go buy it.
ELM: Even if, as you just heard cause you listened to us both talk, I’m not in boy band fandom, I’m not in celebrity fandom, and this is one of my favorite books ever, so go. Yeah!
FK: And I am in celebrity fandom and it fully expressed all of my feels.
ELM: OK. So one or the other, it’s a binary, you can either be like Flourish or me and you should go read it regardless. [all laugh]
ZR: This is the dream!
FK: It was such a pleasure having you on.
ELM: Thank you so much!
ZR: Thank you guys, this has been my dream interview!
ZR: YEAH! [all laughing]
FK: All right, bye guys.
FK: So I had never actually talked to Zan before this moment, basically.
FK: And she is so delightful.
ELM: Aren’t you both in the One Direction Slack together?
FK: Yeah, but not talked-talked.
FK: You know? Like we’d interacted on Twitter a little bit but never had a heart-to-heart.
ELM: All right, and now you feel really close to her.
FK: I do!
ELM: Yeah! It was interesting, I…I wonder what kind of conversation we would have had if we had been able to talk about the plot a little more.
FK: Me too. You know, it was also interesting to me because I think it really highlighted for me another way in which you and I have different fandom experiences, right?
ELM: Cause you’re a stalker.
FK: I have never stalked anybody in my life.
ELM: The podcast listeners can’t see your affronted face.
FK: I haven’t! I have had impulses to do so and I have always not followed them.
ELM: Right, this is how you and I are different.
FK: Because you don't even have those impulses.
ELM: I mean like…no, not really.
FK: Don’t know what to say. Different people, different things.
ELM: I mean I used to live a block away…I’m not even a fan of him, so I don’t know why I’m telling this story. But I read in the times that Martin Amis had moved to a certain street in Brooklyn, it is one block long and it was one block away from my house.
ELM: It was like a little street that just connected two cross streets.
FK: Yeah yeah yeah and you were like “Oh shit!”
ELM: So my friend and I were like, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we just saw him, like, putting out the trash?” So we walked up and down the street like six times and then joked as we looked at people's houses, “That’s him watching HGTV!” But neither of us care about Martin Amis so this is a really weird example. We were not Martin Amis fans, but we did know where he physically lived and that excited us. I’m, in fact, the opposite of a Martin Amis fan, I find him very tedious.
FK: Now imagine if you were his fan.
ELM: No, then I wouldn’t want to do that.
FK: Yeah. I don't know. Well anyway, it’s interesting cause it hadn’t even occurred to me, I know that some people are interested in…some people have the desire to do this and some people don’t, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that you wouldn’t even feel a twinge, you would feel the opposite of wanting to do that. That to me is really interesting because…I don’t know. I guess my experience of celebrity is definitely, of course, I may know that it’s not good for me to try and get close to somebody in that way, and I don’t do it, but I guess I assume that many, that almost everyone had that impulse.
ELM: It’s also, OK, so right after I graduated from college I moved to Edinburgh, where as you know J.K. Rowling lives. I was never like “Oh, I wonder if I’ll see her in the street,” I thought that was pretty unlikely. I never even thought about her except I knew she had written part of Harry Potter at this one famous café. So I was like, “Well, I’ll just go there and sit there and I’ll think about it while I’m sitting there.” Right? And that’s as close to her as I wanted to be. And obviously she’s not gonna roll up to this cafe and get a muffin and start writing. You know? But I felt like that was one of the few times where I felt like, to be physically in the space with someone who created someone I really cared about, meant something to me. But I didn’t have any desire to be in the space with her, I was just like “Let me scoop up all these great café vibes.”
FK: Yeah, I guess…that’s really cool that you feel that way, I think.
ELM: [laughs] Really cool?
FK: Really cool! It is cool. You are a cooler person for feeling that way.
ELM: But I don’t, this is the thing, the reason I don’t like talking about this is because it makes me feel like I’m trying to be, “Oh, I’m not one of…you’re all these loser fans who are stalking people.”
FK: No, I don't think you mean it like that! Because I do think there’s something that has a relationship to that. I’ve heard people described in my work as “starfuckers,” meaning they just wanna get close to a star. And that’s certainly not a relationship that you want, and it’s not one I have I don’t think, despite all the fandom stuff.
ELM: To clarify, “starfucker” does not mean…
FK: Literally fucking the star, no. It just means that you wanna be like…
ELM: In their space.
FK: In their business and in their space and with them all the time and you’re droppin’ the name and you’re…you know.
ELM: You should see the way that Flourish is bobbin’ her whole top of her body, actually. Just weavin’ and bobbin’.
FK: Well anyway, all I’m saying is I think there’s people who are jerks about that, who are like “I’m not like you asshole fans,” and then I think there’s genuine, no, you don’t wanna be like that. Act like a normal human with other normal humans. It’s just a complicated question. But I do think, I kinda wish I didn’t have that impulse in a certain way. It would make life easier for me. So I’m jealous. [laughs]
ELM: Well don’t be.
ELM: Maybe you should be, actually.
FK: We can agree, however, that both ways of existing in the world are totally normal.
ELM: Well, but, this is the part where I start to sound judgy. We kind of get at this a little in the conversation, I remember, because Zan was talking about people who wanted physically to be in the space, and I was like “Well, is it always OK?” This is the part where I start to feel like I’m policing what people are doing. If you’re stalking someone, there's no way I can condone that, right? “Oh, just fans being fans,” I can’t…you know, if the object of your fandom feels like their life is in danger because of your affection for them, something’s going wrong.
FK: I do think there’s a difference between doing something like lining up for Comic-Con or for the Today Show or whatever and camping out a long time and waiting at a stage door, and following someone to their house. You know what I mean?
ELM: OK, but what about following someone to their hotel? Which is something that Grace does in the book.
FK: And it’s something that a lot of fans do.
FK: And I think…I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable with doing it, but I also know lots of people who do.
ELM: Is that OK?
FK: Not for me!
FK: I mean, I have a hard time saying that it’s not OK for anybody because I also know that there are plenty of stars who welcome it to some degree. Nobody wants it all the time.
ELM: Yeah, but you can’t play that game unless they put a thing on their website saying “Feel free to camp outside my hotel if you think I’m in town.” Beyond that, you’re never gonna know who's OK with it and who’s not, and the default should not be “they’re probably OK with it” unless they issue a statement saying “Please do not follow me around.”
FK: Well, I think it’s a complex issue. You know what I mean? Because it’s hard for one person to express their…OK. If I’m a single human and there’s a single other human stalking me.
ELM: I’m stalking you. I’m a fan and I'm stalking you.
FK: I can turn to you as a single other person and say, “No, please don’t do this, go away. I will call the police.” If there’s a bunch of people, maybe you’re like, “I just wanna…” Maybe you like the attention or hate the attention but you feel like you better appease them. It’s hard to know. Or maybe you want no part of this. There’s no way to know, and that’s actually why I feel like it’s not…it’s the line for me. I don’t feel like, I don’t know, no matter what the interaction is.
ELM: The default should be no, no one wants that.
FK: Yeah. I don’t know, at the same time I have a hard time judging anybody for it because as I’ve said I too feel that desire. I’m not saying that, I’m not saying anything about moral rightness or wrongness of that, I’m just saying I have a hard time getting on a high horse, you know?
ELM: Well, we’re not gonna cancel the podcast because you’re pro-stalking.
FK: We might cancel the podcast because you said that!
ELM: [laughing] You know I’m kidding! You know I listened to everything you said and it was thoughtful.
FK: I do, but it’s so much more fun to play-fight with you.
ELM: Yeah, but how do I know if I really crossed that line?
FK: Oh my God, how can you know anything.
ELM: It’s really hard! So I should just assume I’ve always crossed the line. Just default to assume the worst about everything is basically the takeaway for this conversation. That’s the gist.
FK: OK, OK, OK, but I think we should stop talking about this before we actually cancel the podcast, and we should talk about the other thing that also comes up in the interview that has also been coming up in this audio clip that a listener sent us, which is about Mary Sues and self inserts.
ELM: Yeah! So we got a bunch of responses to our last episode, which was about the fanfiction definitions survey. We’re gonna hold off on those just because we had so many. We’ll do a whole segment. I’m not sure. We may save them for the episode where we talk about the results.
FK: Yeah, we’re gonna have to decide how we handle that, cause it might be a lot.
ELM: We got a lot of feedback.
FK: We may have to do a special edition or I don’t know what.
ELM: Yeah, so we’ll figure that out. And if you contacted us, thank you so much.
FK: And we want more, by the way!
ELM: Please continue.
FK: Happy, happy, happy to have this problem! Please make us have it worse.
ELM: Right. So this comment was sent in by FryAdvocate.
FK: Should we just listen to it now?
ELM: Yeah, let’s play it!
FryAdvocate: Hi Elizabeth and Flourish, great work on the podcast. I'm loving hearing your points of view and hearing from your different guests. I’ve been pondering your episode on Mary Sues for a while now. I’m a fan who started in the late 90s when most fanfic was off listservs and archives that are now dead. I started in comics where there were some awesome fans who were both great role models and incredibly protective of preteen fans like I was. I think what I’m struck by is how over the course of a couple of decades, I’ve gone from seeing Mary Sue mean an actual perfect or loved or hated woman who shows up in fanfic to save the day, to mean any original female character who shows up in fanfic.
I guess that part of what makes me a little nostalgic and a little sad is that there were some really awesome original female characters that were popular in the comic fandom, and I feel like our current distaste for original female characters can be kind of detrimental to fandom as a whole. Original female characters allow us to add women to fandoms that have few or no female characters: they let Logan move on from Jean Grey and find a new love interest, they let Hank McCoy have a plot that is not all about him being big and blue and furry, or they just give us new, less stereotypical characters to add to a team. I think it’s a fannish cultural thing, though, and I’m guilty of it too. I tend to avoid reading fics with original characters, but I do think that a certain amount of self-expression was lost when our fannish culture moved from “original female characters are OK as long as they’re well rounded, realistic people,” to “I will only read canonical characters.” Anyway, keep up the good work, I really look forward to future episodes.
FK: Oh man, this hit me right in the feels. I agree with her so hard.
ELM: Yeah, the thing is though, no, I agree too. [FK laughs] But the thing is that, so as we saw, as researching for the Mary Sue thing, this was long in place before you or I or our listener got into fandom. Right? Women’s original characters, original female characters, were being mocked and called Mary Sues in the 70s. So it’s interesting because it’s like, I don’t remember thinking too much about this or being aware enough to notice when I was a teenager reading fanfiction.
I wonder if it wasn’t, maybe it's not as widespread? Is this an overarching…think about our conversation with Tanya, Tanya DePass from I Need Diverse Games, I don’t know if this was in the conversation or just in our conversation with her, she was saying that in video game fandom there is a ton of original characters.
FK: Yeah, or your version of…
ELM: Right, because the characterization isn’t that set because you’re not getting that much information.
FK: And/or you’re choosing different things based on what you’ve done in the game.
ELM: Different versions of canon, right. She was saying that OCs were a lot more welcome in those spaces, and that’s really interesting. I wonder, or, to tie it back to Zan, self-insert fanfiction, wildly popular. You know?
FK: I do think she is right to some extent about…my gut says she’s right in certain ways, which is that…
ELM: Yeah, I agree.
FK: I do think the term started off as always something that could be used to bludgeon somebody, but also was pointing out a real thing that may or may not be bad but was actually pointing out a phenomenon. And now is pointing out any female character of any sort, right. And I do think that’s true. I think any time you write a female character you have to assume somebody’s gonna call it a Mary Sue.
ELM: I saw the resurgence with the new Star Wars trailer, I saw the “Rey is a Mary Sue” [FK sighs] discourse.
FK: But by comparison, I think about X-files fandom and I think about, I can think of many many many many fanfics that have original female characters in them that are, were really popular and loved. You know what I mean? And I can’t think of as many in more modern fandoms but maybe that’s just the fandoms I hang out in. It’s hard to say.
ELM: Or maybe they've fallen out of…
FK: Or maybe she’s right and they really have fallen out of fashion because of this.
ELM: I guess there’s a difference between, and this goes back to the old secondary focus in fanfic: is it really about blank? But I definitely all the time read Harry/Original Character and then eventually it’ll be Harry/Draco or whatever. In the story that I’m writing, actually, there are flashbacks, because just to contextualize things. And he has a relationship with an original character. Not an original female character, so you can’t call him a Mary Sue. [FK laughs]
FK: Gary Stu.
ELM: He’s not. I swear. [laughter] So, but I feel like that’s kind of, that being said, I’m not going in there looking to read Harry/Original Character. Ever.
FK: Absolutely. And I think there’s also probably something to be said…let me rephrase: I wonder if there’s something to be said also about the changing attitudes towards shipping and shipping becoming more central, right? Because it’s hard to have, unless it’s a clear self-insert, it’s hard to have an original character and a canon character in a ship and have that be a ship that people find things from, right?
FK: They have to be coming at it from some other way. That maybe has an impact also.
ELM: Look at General Hux. You know what I mean? One might argue that a lot of the depictions of him in these stories are…if it’s a character with almost no canon.
FK: Then it might as well be.
ELM: So then the question is why not a female character with very little canon. So. Slash. You know. Obviously. Characters of color, to come back to the old Kylux discussion.
FK: Right. Let's not. [laughs] But it was a really good comment though and I’m glad that we had a chance to hear it.
ELM: Absolutely! If you didn’t listen to that episode or read my accompanying article…
FK: Do it now! Do it now. Right now. It was a great article.
ELM: Oh, thank you! While you’re visiting our Medium you can read Flourish's most recent article about her fighting the dictionary over the space between “fan” and “fiction.” Also a great article. Let’s just pat ourselves on the back.
FK: Well, I could really get smushy and mushy about that because almost all of why it’s great is you, Elizabeth!
ELM: All right, thank you.
FK: All right, now we can be done with that.
ELM: And, our most recent piece is our second guest post! By Allyson Gross, about Grace and the Fever amongst other books, about boy band YA!
FK: It’s so exciting to be able to have people on to write guest posts in the Medium, and that’s all down to our Patreon, so I just wanna shout that out too.
ELM: Smooth transition.
FK: Smooth transition! No really. Allyson’s piece, I’m so excited it’s there, and it wouldn’t be there if not for people, you know, giving us money.
ELM: Absolutely yes. So if you want an example of, if you’re thinking of becoming a Patron and you want to see the kind of work that your dollars will support, definitely check out Allyson’s work. Check out Maia’s illustration for my Mary Sue piece, still my favorite thing ever, I just can never stop staring at it. We were able to commission them.
FK: Yeah! Fan creators for the win!
ELM: Yeah! So that’s patreon.com/fansplaining, all levels of support, if you’ve been on the fence come check it out, the special episodes, tiny zine coming out soon.
FK: And if you can’t do that, if you don’t have the cash on hand or just don’t want to or whatever, or even if you can, you should also go and rate us on iTunes. It makes a huge difference.
ELM: Oh, and leave a review please!
FK: Leave a review! Give us five stars if you think we deserve them. We think we do, but if you think we do.
ELM: Good, that was subtle.
FK: It was really subtle, right?
ELM: Really subtle. Yes, we would love that. Since we last asked we had a few new reviews and we appreciate them so much, so.
FK: Oh my God yes. I think that our next episode is going to be about Con or Bust, the organization that helps people of color, largely, I think…is the mission marginalized people in general or is it particularly people of color? I believe it’s people of color.
ELM: Well let me see, I’m looking at their website right now. Tagline is “helping fans of color attend SFF cons,” so.
FK: Well, there we go then.
ELM: I think that specifically. So we’re gonna be talking to Mark Oshiro, right?
FK: Yes, yes! And I think somebody else from the organization may come along, not sure about that, so I’m really excited about that. The more the merrier.
ELM: Great! I wanna hear all about it. So we will do that. After that, I think we’ll be assessing the results of the survey.
FK: We will, we will!
ELM: I think that’s it! There’s no more business!
FK: OK. In that case, I will talk to you later, Elizabeth.
ELM: OK bye Flourish!
[Outro music, thank yous and disclaimers]