Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Short Q&A With Iseqween


1. Why did you start writing?  
I love exploring philosophical issues/conundrums. RETURN OF CALLISTO, when our hero calmly watches the villain sink in quicksand, stunned me. I realized the show was about a lot more than the female warrior who initially got my attention. RoC sucked me in like the helplessly sinking Callie.

I started doing ep reviews and posting them on the Chakram list (as IfeRae). IDES OF MARCH moved me to write first-person, in-the-moment reflections – one from Gabrielle’s perspective, the other from Xena’s. I titled the pair, “So Close.” The Chakram moderator rejected this submission, indicating the forum did not accept fiction. I was shocked, as I never intended to write fanfic, nor considered my “review” as such.

A writer on another list encouraged me to send “So Close” to the Ausxip Bard’s Corner. I blame Mary D for accepting the darned thing and planting the seed to consciously try doing a story.  I wrote the first, “Under Other Circumstances,” as a lark, fully expecting it to be my last. That was some 80 or so stories and over 10 years ago.

2. If you had to do it all over again, would you still write?  
For whatever reason at the time, things happen. Without the magical ability to return to the past, “could’ve, would’ve, might’ve” don’t matter to me so much as building on where I am in the present and may want to go in the future.  XWP fanfic is my outlet for creating a fantasy world where characters can sometimes spend time questioning (or reliving) previous decisions, in the process helping me gain insights into my own motivations.

3. Once you’ve written a story, do you ever sit down and read it for enjoyment?
Frequently. I write for myself – to explore questions and honor the characters Xenastaff so lovingly created. I am a journalist at heart and by training. I observe and report. I try mightily to stay true to the show’s spirit, “personality” and themes. The TV version is my bible. I can’t pretend whatever I saw or heard didn’t happen, just because it doesn’t agree with what I might’ve preferred.  I still watch an ep or two on weekends when I can. My stories are like extensions or new versions, enabling me to continue giving life to and enjoying XWP.

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

5. Is your muse a constant companion, or does it abandon you for long periods of time?  
A day rarely goes by when I don’t think about a story I’d like to do. Beginning in 2000, I used to post one a month, at least five or so a year. My last was in 2011.  It’s more like I abandoned my muse on the altar of “real” life. However, I do remain open to writing again.

6. How do you feel about sequels?
Of the show? Only with Lucy and Renee – no matter how old they are. If you mean stories, good writers usually do good sequels.

 7. Is writing a quiet thing for you, when there can’t be any noise or conversation going on?
I tend to write at night, just before turning in. I guess I like being able to immerse myself in the “other” world I’m creating. Stuff can be going on around me, but I tune it out.

8. Do you prefer to write/read romance, angst, horror, etc.?
I love that XWP covered nearly every genre, often in the same ep. I try to make most of my stories a blend of heart, serious chats, action/adventure, and playful banter.  

9. What usually sparks a story idea for you?
What doesn’t? A walk through the woods, my martial arts class, two senior citizens sailing a boat, young people arguing about who’s “right.” XWP explored issues and settings that could happen anywhere, to anyone at some point in their lives. I’m often moved to “noodle” what might occur between Point A and Z, using XWP as the medium. I believe Steven King said he started most of his books with the question “What if?” Works for me.

10. Where do your ideas come from?
At first, the eps themselves – filling in the gaps, imagining what was going on in the characters’ heads, delving into the ambiguities. After the series ended, I felt free to go beyond what I’d seen on TV in terms of X&G -- their relationship, growing older, adapting to new challenges, being with friends and family for extended periods. As I’ve “matured,” I sometimes have them dealing with situations I’ve personally encountered.    

11.What advice can you give to future writers?
Don’t worry about others’ opinions.  Follow your heart, your interests, your questions. Create characters who are different from yourself in some ways. Respect their viewpoints and try to see the world through their eyes. Put them in situations you might find personally uncomfortable. If you’re true to them, they can teach you something new – in the process, possibly stimulating the interest of readers. As example, I’m very much a Xena girl. I used to fast-forward through Gabrielle moments. Forcing myself to “be” her made me appreciate her strengths and understand why the series (and Xena) would have suffered without her. I believe it actually made me more empathetic and open minded.  

12. What has the show Xena meant to you?
I may be searching for the words to convey that for the rest of my life. What I know now? Self-discovery. The framework to express my creativity in a way that satisfies me. Learning from and being inspired by strangers around the world. Being motivated to delve into technology, new media, activities and journeys as I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Feeling I have companion spirits whom I can call upon whenever or however I want.

13. How do you feel about the way it ended?  
I didn’t like losing the show, but loved that Xenastaff stayed true to its “bold” vision. As a bard, I found myself even more inspired, than if X&G had simply strolled happily into the sun. It forced me to imagine how to resurrect the characters, how they might evolve, what they might do if the series continued. I feel lucky to have that choice.

14. How real are your characters to you?
Flesh and blood.

15. Do your characters speak to you?
Absolutely, especially X&G. I disagree or get impatient with them sometimes, but they always get their way.

16. Are you in control of your story, or do the characters run the show?
I have definite impressions of them, based on wonderfully confident and nuanced portrayals I saw on TV. I control the “What if” that starts the ball rolling, as well as the extent to which I’m open to honoring the actors’ interpretations and to creating new scenarios true to the show’s spirit. The characters dictate how everything plays out.

17. Have you created a character that you would like to meet?
I can’t think of one. Yes, I try to make them “real.” Frankly, I mainly use them to draw out what’s interesting to me about X and/or G. I only write “classic” XWP fanfic, with no desire whatsoever to do stories beyond that.

18. How would you feel about another writer giving one of your characters a cameo in their story?  

19. Has online writing changed your life in any way?
Definitely. As mentioned above, it opened up a world of new friends and ideas. It’s amazing to think a part of me will live on – even if anonymously – in cyberspace or somebody’s collection of saved stories.

20. Have you ever been stalked on the internet by an overzealous fan?
That hasn’t been a problem for me. Most mail (which I always answer) is quite kind. I nip the rare questionable messages in the bud.

21. Which one of your stories is your favorite?  
I like a few equally for different reasons. I’m particularly satisfied with my vignettes, many of which give the viewpoints of minor characters (e.g., Minya, Salmoneus, Tataka, even Argo). The Academy of Bards’ 50-word fiction was a great challenge.  “Seasons” was a series of them where I tried to capture the essence of each year of eps. I like the precision required of these shorter pieces.

On an intellectual level, I like “When Xena Was Callisto.” It explores a concept that has always intrigued me – justice – which I also dealt with in my first story “Under Other Circumstances.” In the show, Xena was formally tried for crimes she didn’t commit. “When Xena” examined what “justice” might mean from a lot of different viewpoints. It’s ripe with the irony indicative of XWP.

I like “Fifty Winters Ago” as the true launch of what one fan fondly labeled the “geezer” series. It became the framework for portraying X&G in their later stages and giving them unique opportunities to re-experience what made them or what they did in the past. I don’t think anyone else has written as much about that.

In terms of pure writing, “My Dance With the Devil” uses a sort of poetic format to review highlights of XWP through the 6th Season HEART OF DARKNESS. It was very different for me – a pretty analytical person. I feel good about the way I could use the sensuality of that ep to convey – in one reader’s words – “many layers of meaning.”

“What Stories Are For,” my sentimental favorite, is actually one of the few I set out to do for someone other than myself.  Though I was okay with A FRIEND IN NEED, I came to empathize with fans who had a deeply negative reaction. I particularly understood those who felt it was unfair to Gabrielle, who had to endure a terribly painful “goodbye” to the physical Xena. I wanted to leave those fans with a possible picture of how Gabrielle might’ve imagined Xena’s death in AFIN. It’s poignant, but ended up allowing me another chance to grieve the finality of the show, at the same time reminding myself and others our girls could always live on through our imaginations.

22. Do you have to do a lot of rewrites?  
Not usually. Again, I try to go with the flow dictated by the characters. I do tweak quite a bit, often based on feedback from a long-time beta reader.  I especially focus on fiddling with dialogue or gestures. I prefer the characters communicate for themselves, rather than using a lot of exposition.

23. Is there ever a point in your writing where you get stuck each and every time? How do you get out of it?
When I’m dealing with a particular philosophical issue, I sometimes get bogged down in making things too complicated and “heavy.” That usually means I haven’t paid enough attention to the “heart” of it. I ask the characters why or whether what I’ve written is important to them, or simply an excuse for me to go off on my own tangent. They may have little chat about it in the story, or another character/situation may pop up to keep the flow going in a way that takes me out of my quandary. If I’m actually trying to impose on them something that just doesn’t “fit,” I cut it and move on by getting back to what’s “true” for the characters.

24. Which part of the writing process do you enjoy the most and why?
The beginning can be somewhat stressful. I have a question I’d like to explore, but not necessarily a clue about how it could play out.  Somewhere in the middle, I start to see the end. I feel comfortable/confident enough about the foundation I laid for the characters’ journey. I get excited because I’m curious about what will happen. I may write a section (about 5 pages) and stop where I can imagine a commercial break. I may or may not have an idea what comes next. I go to bed anticipating what will be revealed in the next section. What I enjoy is feeling less and less like it’s about what I already know, more about discovering something new, as the characters take more control.

25. When you’re working on a story are you obsessed with it until it’s done?
Frequently. I’ve started a few that I had to put aside for some reason. When I finally get back to one, I begin where I left off and keep going.

26. Who are your top five writers?  Online or published.
XWP bards DJWP, Friction, Joanna, Missy Good, and Wishes. I don’t read much uber, but I do love Jules Mills’ Nano Series.

27. The song says “Who rules the world? Girls.”  If that were true would the world be a better place?
I believe so, assuming we would do a better job of including the boys in decisions and operations.

28. Do you write a story straight through, or do you write in pieces, then put it all together?
I generally write in sections that flow into the next one. That could span a couple of days or weeks.

29. Do you read books for pleasure while you are writing?
Sadly, I don’t read many books at all anymore. I used to do so avidly. I think that may be one of the unfortunate fallouts of my XWP obsession. Even today, it takes up a lot of my “free” sitting time.

30. Do you have a favorite Greek God?
Oooo, Ares. I absolutely loved Kevin Smith’s “look” and portrayal. He was absolutely perfect as Xena’s foil and attraction.

31. Do you have a pet peeve?
I’m really turned off by bards who project stuff on X&G I don’t believe is true to the characters. Making Gabs a victim of abuse (sometimes at the hands of Xena) is one I see often. Yes, stories are a way to work through internal demons. It may be cathartic for the writer. I’m glad they have an outlet. I might not even mind if they used other characters. I just can’t read work that transforms characters I “know.”

32.  What do you see yourself doing in the future?
As relates to Xenadom? Continuing to watch eps every now and then, check the internet for related developments, maybe write a little more fanfic, and keep following Lucy’s career. (I got hooked on Battlestar and Spartacus because of her.)  

33. What is your favorite word?

34. What is your least favorite word?  

35. What turns you on?
Good deeds – smiles at strangers, simple courtesies, teaching, defending, standing up for a cause.

36. What turns you off?

37. What sound or noise do you love?
The ball coming off my tennis racquet when I hit it just right. Music to my ears.

38. What is your favorite curse word?
What, me? Curse? Fuck.

39. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Fitness/ motivational coach.

40. If Heaven exists what would you like to hear God way when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“Well done, IQ.  Not perfect, but not too bad.”

Here is one of Iseqween's favorite stories. The Geezer series:
Fifty Winters Ago
A middle-aged Xena and Gabrielle find themselves reprising roles from their past, after receiving a mysterious invitation from Cleades, the baby-to-man monarch of season four's KEY TO THE KINGDOM.

Two-Thousand Winters Ahead
A detour on the journey home from their 25th anniversary adventure in IseQween's Fifty Winters Ago offers Gabrielle and Xena an extraordinary chance to rediscover themselves.

Not Yet
Still headed home after an unscheduled 25th anniversary trip they embarked on in Fifty Winters Ago and continued in Two-Thousand Winters Ahead, our Golden Girls get the most out of their maturity when they run into trouble that underestimates the Grandma Brigade.

Something New, Something Old
Shortly after events in IseQween's story Not Yet, Gabrielle questions Xenas perturbing response to perceptions the legendary duo are too dead or too old to aid a village in distress.

Done There, Been That
In this follow-up to Two-Thousand Winters Ahead and set after Something New, Something Old, a middle-aged Gabrielle finds herself threatened by the immature Xena destined to become Destroyer of Nations. Based heavily on events in the ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE eps.

Various generations offer clues to Gabrielle's concerns about the long-term impact of her scrolls.

A Scroll in Time
As Season Two's THE XENA SCROLLS concludes, Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas find themselves continuing a different saga, begun in the stories Two Thousand Winters Ahead and Done There, Been That.

Extra Credit
After Something New, Something Old, Gabrielle and Xena reconsider their notion of semi-retirement, given the succession of adventures that began interrupting their attempts to celebrate 25 years together in Fifty Winters Ago.

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