Monday, August 26, 2013

A Short Q&A With JS Stephens


1. Why did you start writing?
I started writing fan fiction because I hated the way the episode Ulysses was written. I had to come up with a reason that Xena would ignore Gabrielle and take up with that wimpy man.

2. If you had to do it all over again would you still write?
Yes. I enjoy writing, creating new worlds, creating new characters, and seeing how they interact in different situations.

3. Once you’ve written a story do you ever sit down and read it for enjoyment?
Yes, sometimes. I find, though, that my earlier fiction can grate on my ears.

4. How did you start writing Xena fan fiction? 
See #1

5. Is your muse a constant companion, or does it abandon you for long periods of time?
She comes and goes at her own whims.

6. How do you feel about sequels?
Sometimes I love sequels, but sometimes I wonder why they are written. My original fictional worlds (Xena and Uber) were set in a loose series, written to portray different times in their lives. But, I haven't created sequels for any of my original fiction. Once the story is told, the characters stop speaking to me.

7. Is writing a quiet thing for you, where there can't be any noise or conversation going on?
I love to have music in the background, preferably instrumental (classical, jazz, movie soundtracks). The last couple of years I've written quite a bit on the train, so there is usually a fair amount of background noise, and I manage to tune it out. I find that having a set number of minute (about 30) focuses my writing intensely.

8. Do you prefer to write/read romance, angst, horror etc, etc?
I like to write mostly plain fiction with romance thrown in. I've dabbled in science fiction, mystery, parody, and humor, but find myself mostly writing fiction that arrises from a situation.

9. What usually sparks a story idea for you?
Many things. Sometimes it is a song, sometimes a scrap of conversation, sometimes a personal situation.

10. Where do your ideas come from? 
See above.

11. What advice can you give to future writers?
Use an editor! (Good advice that I fail to follow.) Run spell check and grammar check before sending out your story. Do a little research about the place, the time, the situation that you've set your story. I've stopped reading interesting stories due to spelling and grammar errors.

12. What has the show Xena meant to you?
It was a wonderful fantasy. The show revived my desire to write (I'd started and abandoned stories in my teenage years), and it sparked my interest in web design. Sadly, I haven't even finished learning HTML 5 due to lack of time.

13. How do you feel about the way it ended?
I hated it. It felt like a complete mess; having Xena sacrifice herself for a people we'd never heard about before felt wrong. I liked some of the backstory, but the rest felt like a way of Rob Tapert thumbing his nose at the fan base.

14. How real are your characters to you? 
My best characters feel very real to me, others flit through my head for a short time and disappear in a puff. Some of them have elements of me in them, so naturally they feel very real.

15. Do your characters speak to you? 
Yes, they do.

16. Are you in control of your story, or do the characters run the show?
I try to force them along the path I've chose, but they usually take over and tell their own stories in their own ways.

17. Have you created a character that you would like to meet?
That is a good question. Some of my characters share characteristics with me (Elizabeth Temple Green of "The Librarian", for example.) I'd be fascinated with Ruby Bills and Laura Wilkins in "That Texas Summer" and "The Revival". They were women in the late 1800's in Texas, trying to make the best of a bad situation, creating a family.

18. How would you feel about another writer giving one of your characters a cameo in their story?
If they asked permission and gave me an idea of how the characters were to be treated.

19. Has online writing changed your life in any way? 
In the early years (late 1990's to early 2000's), it made me aware of how long each segment of the story was, so as to download quickly. My original goal was to write short enough sections so as to download in 20 seconds or so using a 1400 baud modem. (Remember dialup?) Later, I taught myself how to write sustained stories of 50+ pages (aka printed pages), which made me more aware of how to organize and carry out long term projects. This has been useful at work.

20. Have you ever been stalked on the internet by an overzealous fan?
Nope, I don't have any overzealous fans.

21. Which one of your online stories is your favorite?
Just one? I'd say "Hidden Identity", because  I was able to explore a character who hides behind a mask, and how I personally have a push/pull relationship with religion. I was also able to introduce a minister into my fiction. She wasn't based on anyone I knew personally, but I do count four women who are ministers as close friends.

22. Do you have to do a lot of rewrites? 
Sometimes. It depends on the complexity of the story. I rewrote several sections of "What If?" to make it flow better (available at Academy of Bards).

23. Is there ever a point in your writing where you get stuck each and every time? How do you get out of it?
Often! I have about 15 or so abandoned stories that I could not finish for one reason or another. Sometimes I'm able to pull out, other times I have to reassess and sketch an outline to get finished. My Facts of Life story, "The Impossible Dream" (on The Atheneum), took several years to finish. I abandoned it because I got stuck at how Jo and Blair would get back together following a blow up, then resolved it a year later. I decided that they would have to lay aside their stubbornness and make a few compromises.

24. Which part of the writing process do you enjoy the most and why?
I love dreaming up the background of the story. Where is it set? What time frame? Are there any organic reasons for the characters to interact? What is their background, their education, their profession? Are they introverted or extroverted? The hardest part is actually finding the conflict and deciding how to resolve it.

25. When you're working on a story are you obsessed with it until it's done?
It depends on the story. There have been times I've hardly been able to stop when I get on a roll, other times, I can lay it aside and nearly forget about it.

26. Who are your favorite top five writers? Online or published.
Oh, gosh, that's a hard one. Blythe Rippon is currently one of my favorite online writers because her stories are so plausible, and she must do a lot of research. I liked "Stowe Away", but loved "Barring Complications".

Others: Clare B. Dunkle, Julie Anne Peters, Libba Bray, David Weber, and Elaine Pagels. Okay, so it's more than five, I like to break a few rules. Just a few.

27. The song says "Who rules the world? Girls." If that were true would the world be a better place? 
Depends on the girl.

28. Do you write a story straight through, or do you write in pieces, then put it all together.
Short (under 10 pages) are written straight through, but anything longer it written in pieces. I usually do a rough straight through, then go back and tweak, add, subtract, and rewrite longer pieces.

29. Do you read books for pleasure while you are writing?
The question should be do I ever NOT read books for pleasure. I'm the type who is usually reading 1-3 books simultaneously.

30. Do you have a favorite Greek God?
No, I really don't.

31. Do you have a pet peeve?
Drivers who endanger others with their driving, usually by speeding and cutting in and out rapidly.

32. What do you see yourself doing in the future?
I'm not sure. I'd love to start going to professional conferences again and even run for a committee chair position, but our funding for travel was cut. Boo.

33. What is your favorite word? 
I don't have one.

34. What is your least favorite word?
I don't have one.

35. What turns you on? 
Intelligence. My partner is extremely intelligent, and that's what attracted me in the first place. My best friend from grade school on is very intelligent, and we used to discuss all sorts of high level subjects on the playground. Can you imagine sixth graders discussing comparative religion?

36. What turns you off?
People who use curse words as descriptors. If you can't think of a better way of saying something, then you are being linguistically lazy. I get tired of hearing people talking about this or that fucking thing. Are you really wanting to penetrate these objects?

37. What sound or noise do you love?
The coffee pot dripping in the morning. That is the sweetest music ever.

38. What sound or noise do you hate?
Overly loud thumping bass from the cars two lanes over. If I can hear your music down the block, it's too loud. You don't want to hear me blasting Diana Krall, do you?

39. What is your favorite curse word?
My ex's grandmother used the word "frazzling" as a curse word. It charmed me to hear her talk about "that frazzling car" when I knew she meant something stronger.

40. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? 
I really don't know. The only other thing I'd like to know how to do is front end web design. I see some really good ones, and some that are awful in my profession.

41. What profession would you absolutely not like to participate in?
I would not want to be a lawyer.

42. If Heaven exists what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? 
Come right in this house! (My mema's favorite saying.)

Here is JS Stephen's favorite story:

Hidden Identity by JS Stephens - 78 pages
Caitlin Grant had spent years touring with Harriet and the Heartwreckers, but had rarely taken any time off for herself, let alone make time for any relationships. Besides, her alter ego, Harriet Benson, romped through boytoys by the dozen, breaking their hearts right and left.

Rose Grant was a thoughtful minister in Brook Center, MN, who worked with a church and a college ministry. She enjoyed her life, loved her college kids, and was happily single.

Fate threw these two together when Caitlin made an unexpected visit to the hospital following a concert, and Rose just happened to go into the room.


  1. Hi JS. I loved this story. You handled the issue of religion and homosexuality with sensitivity and understanding. I would love to see the process that Caitlin went through that caused her to change and make Rose's faith her own.

  2. I tried to comment before, but it wasn't working at the time. I'm thinking of actually writing a sequel to explore what happened during the time that Caitlin was away. If so, I'll see about getting it posted, although I'm not sure where, since the Atheneum seems to be in a holding pattern at the moment. I'll check with The Academy of Bards about hosting my stories there.

    Thank you for your kind comments.