How did you discover fan fiction?
It's funny, really. Back in high school I would write 30-page stories for friends at their request, stories that invariably centered around themselves and whatever famous celebrity or movie character they had hanging on their bedroom walls at the time. I never thought of it as fan fiction, of course, but rather as a fun, escapist diversion. It wasn't until much later, when I had the Internet, that I discovered that there was an entire world of such stories, and that it had in fact been in existence for years. Very intrigued by the character of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter books and the Harry Potter universe in general, I spent some time reading some of the existing Snape fan fiction available on the Web. Doing so sent me back to those high school days when I would write gothic tales involving dark personalities, and whether out of a sense of nostalgia or the desire to see if I could still weave a passable tale, I decided to dip my hand in.
What is the writing process like for you? Do you find any part of writing difficult? (Coming up with ideas, narrative, dialog, etc.)
In a word, I find the writing process painful. I find every part of writing difficult. It has everything to do with the fact that when it comes to writing I am an absurd perfectionist. It will literally take me weeks to write a few pages, because I go over each word, each phrase, each paragraph, until I am sick with it. I will pick up a book and compare its writing to mine, and inevitably I always fall horribly short. Of course it's unhealthy. And I'm never pleased with the final product anyway. But when I am writing I feel so alive, can feel my creative brain cells sparking like raw electricity in my head. . . and that, along with the positive feedback I get from those who read my stories, is what keeps me from throwing in the towel out of sheer frustration.
Where do you get your ideas or inspiration? Do other people ever suggest the ideas for your stories?
Inspiration is found everywhere, when I'm receptive to it. Primarily music, oddly enough. A particular song will stir my thoughts, will become the soundtrack for certain scenes in my mind, and these in turn manifest into words on the screen. Perhaps I've seen one too many films, or perhaps it is a result of growing up with things like MTV, but my ideas always take an abstract, visual form—like a film—rather than anything linear or dialogue-driven. Or quite possibly I'm just tremendously moved by music, and everything that follows is a direct result of that.
Which story are you the most happy with how it turned out? Looking back is there anything you'd want to change about any particular story now?
Certainly. I would love nothing better than to go back and completely rewrite ADH. But this is a symptom of my problem with perfectionism which I mentioned before. I doubt I could ever truly be happy with any story I write. I don't think I'm alone, however, in wanting to change something after a time; I think most writers see things they could improve in a story once they re-read it. Hindsight and all that.
Are there any particular themes that you find recurring (intentionally or unintentionally) in your stories?
There are loads of recurring themes in my stories. I rely strongly on symbolism. I also rely heavily on myth and history. Not to the point where my characters are archetypical, but I do think that certain elements are eternal. Fear of death, attempting to decipher the unknown, the desire for acceptance, etc. I also like to pepper my stories with symbolic clues as markers pointing to what will happen further on in the story. If you pay close attention and you are familiar with the meaning of certain objects, you may be able to see the bigger picture and perhaps even guess the ending.
Is it difficult to write dialogue that stays true to the characters?
Let's talk about this in terms of Snape's character. The problem with the dialogue in the Harry Potter books is that it is very simplistic, for obvious reasons. To my mind it would be difficult to stick to JKR's particular form of dialogue and really give a story emotional depth or a certain degree of realism, if that's what you wish to achieve. I write primarily for adults, and so I prefer to use both language and dialogue which is a bit more complex than what is found in the Harry Potter books. To me personally this means Snape remains his elusive, cold self, and yet he expands a bit more in his dialogue; several more layers of his character are revealed to us through his speech. I have been accused of using dialogue that is too formal. Having read all of the Harry Potter books, however, I think it far more in his character to be stiff and overly formal than to curse like a sailor and smoke in the teacher's lounge.
Are there any special things you do for inspiration? (Read certain books or fics, listen to certain music?)
Music is my favorite muse, particularly classical. For the most part classical music allows one to write one's own story; it sets up a mood or backdrop upon which characters can interact. I find music indispensable. A good deal of ADH gives nods to the music which has influenced it, including artists such as Dead Can Dance, Current 93, Arcana, and Arvo Part, to name just a few. Books that influence me are writings by James Joyce, John Gardner, and many of the 18th and 19th century gothic writers. Otherwise, inspiration usually doesn't come to me willingly. Certainly not when I'm sitting in front of a blank Word document. It picks far more inconvenient times.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about writing their first fan fiction?
Write what pleases you, what you yourself would like to read. Don't be afraid of what others think of your story; write it for yourself first and foremost. If you enjoy it, chances are others will as well.
Do you find any particular genre (angst, romance, humor, etc.) more difficult to write? Do you prefer to write any particular genre?
I prefer to write drama/angst/mystery. Those are the genres that come most naturally to me. I definitely find romance the most difficult, much to my dismay. I love to read it, and I can think up some great scenes in my head, but it's tough for me to get those thoughts into words without making myself blush to the ends of my hair. For some reason I find romance so terribly personal, so intimate, so moving, that I find it impossible to translate it in a cold, black and white form. I have the utmost respect for the writers who boldly write romance with confidence and intelligence. And there are several.
Almost every writer at some point or another suffers from writer's block. Have you ever had that problem and if so, how do you get past it?
I do believe I have the worst, most continual case of writer's block in all of fan fiction. A couple of chapters every six months if I'm lucky and feeling remotely creative. I'm certainly not known for my prolificacy. If someone knows any good tips at getting past it, please write to me directly.
Do you set a specific goal with each chapter of a multi-chapter story?
No, not at all. I have only the very end of the story and the journey toward it is always unpredictable. Not a very good way to write, certainly, but I simply am not that organized. I write a chapter until I think it should end and then I end it. Chances are that between the ending of one chapter and the beginning of the next I will think of something else I want to say, or determine that there is a better way to drive the plot than originally planned. Heck, I have six months between chapters to think about it, after all.
Was it harder to read fan fiction after you started writing it?
Absolutely. I suppose it's like a director after making a film; he or she has a difficult time enjoying the medium on any level because all he or she can think about is the logistics of it all – how could they film in that sort of lighting, didn't the soundman know to stand more to the left to catch less background noise, etc.? You certainly view things with a more discerning eye. I used to fully enjoy certain fan fiction before I started writing it myself. Now I find it very difficult to simply allow myself to enjoy a story without scrutinizing it. I love nothing more than when I discover a story that is so enjoyable, so well written, that I completely forget everything and can surrender to the storytelling. It has happened a few times, and I admire those writers tremendously. To my mind, that's the mark of an exceptional writer.
What do you do with snippets of story or scenes that you write, but that don't make it into the fan fiction? Do you save them? Delete them?
I burn them at sea. Seriously, if they don't make it into the story then they are deleted and promptly forgotten for all eternity. I doubt very much I will revisit them at a later time and decide they are brilliant after all, or decide to use them elsewhere. There is a damn good reason they were not used in the first place.
Was there ever an instance where you had solid ideas for a story but the characters refused to cooperate? If so, what did you do?
Snape is notorious for doing this very thing to me and I can't stand it. I desperately need him to do a certain thing and he will have none of it. If I force him, he does it in either a clownish or sarcastic manner and ruins the whole scene. There is nothing for it; you have to let him do what is natural to him. Sometimes it means changing your storyline, and sometimes it means writing many more chapters than you had hoped to get him to the point where he may considering doing as you wish. In the end, it is best to never force a character to do something but rather let them approach it at his or her own pace. Your readers will understand and appreciate your decision.
Have you ever been flamed or received negative feedback regarding your stories? How do you handle it?
I've been very lucky with my feedback. The readers of my story have always left helpful, intelligent responses. My story has several more chapters to go, however, so who knows? I may have to answer this question again in a year.
Would you describe your ideal writing surroundings (food, weather, music, etc.)?
My ideal surroundings would include a well-stocked manor house on a peaceful lawn surrounded by gardens. A 18th-century wooden desk and a full bottle of brandy. A view of the gardens and mild weather, except perhaps the occasional dramatic thunderstorm. Creative and handsome young men fawning over me and providing enjoyable conversation. They may have palm fronds in their hands. Perhaps a costume party that involved a lot of wine and secluded alcoves and a chamber orchestra in powdered wigs. Pheasant under glass. Candle light. Absinthe fountains. And peacocks. Lots of peacocks on the lawns . . . sorry, what was the question again?
Is writing sexual tension different from writing smut?
Absolutely. Done well, sexual tension is so much more exciting, stirring, delicious. It requires good characterization, believable situations, and the tantalizing effects of a hot whisper in your ear. It calls for restraint when you don't wish to restrain yourself, and always, always the promise of a fulfillment that is just out of reach. Sexual tension can take so many forms, from a brief, heated look to an angry outburst filled with passion and despair—there are just so many possibilities. Smut…eh, I like it too, but it is somewhat limited in the forms it can take. But then I was pretty sheltered growing up so what do I know?
How did you go about creating an original character? What are your thoughts on original characters in fan fiction?
Creating an original character is far more difficult than most people believe. If you choose to use only the given characters in a book I think you rob yourself, in a way. You are using characters that already have established personalities and often have had previous interactions with one another. With an original character you not only have to create a personality from scratch, but also introduce that personality in a way that is seamless into the universe which they inhabit. Far easier said than done. Add to it the desire to avoid the pitfalls of creating a ‘Mary Sue', and your work is cut out for you. When creating my original character I knew that she had to be entirely human with corresponding flaws, and yet special to a certain degree in order to be interesting. I thought of many typical female fears and insecurities, I thought of, a bit, what kind of female character I could relate to and get behind, and one that I would want to follow on her journey into change. If you have created good characters, your readers will not only like your original characters, but they will also empathize with them and care about them.
How long does it usually take you to write a story? How many revisions do you go through?
Eternity, apparently. And you don't even want to know.
What do you think are your writing strengths--plot, characterization, dialogue, action, etc.?
I think my strength in writing is in creating atmosphere and descriptive language, and I believe this is due to the fact that I think in pictures and not words. Atmosphere is actually the very first thing I create when writing a scene. Characterization and plot are created next, followed lastly by dialogue. Plot would most likely be my weakest point. I'm great at creating characters, I just am not entirely sure what to do with them once I have them. I guess, in the end, if you enjoy enveloping yourself in rich descriptions and unpredictable characters, you may enjoy my stories. Whatever my strengths and weaknesses, I hope that those who read my stories come away satisfied.
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