The E-Files

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Press Commentary
Title: The E-Files
Commentator: Nancy Schultz
Date(s): 29 April 2001
Venue: The Washington Post
Fandom: multifandom
External Links: The E-Files
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Contents

The E-Files has the subtitle: "Mad for Mulder? Got a Jones for Buffy? Juiced by JAG? In the Fanfiction Realm, You Can Make the Plot Quicken." It is an article by Nancy Schultz that was published in a special to The Washington Post.

The article attempts to explain the online phenomenom of fan fiction. It includes, among other things, the obligatory Henry Jenkins quote, a short interview with Roxanne Longstreet Conrad (a professional novelist who wrote fanfic), an explanation of how a character in The X-Files was named after a fan named Leyla Harrison, and of how a fan named Mere Smith became a writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The article was reprinted in full in DIAL #18.

Excerpts

Fanfic isn't new. The spinning of stories based on someone else's creations began decades ago. Back then, however, stories were photocopied and bound together in fanzines and taken to conventions where writers and enthusiasts communed. You had to know about it to get it. You had to care. Above all, you had to drive. Now the only driving you have to do is with your mouse. Click and you can go from one Web site to another, from one story archive to another. The Net has beamed us up, making it easier to trace this new-and-improved culture.
[www.FanFiction.net] is a little virtual store filled with musings, ranrings and stories. "Unleash your imagination and free your soul," urges the statement below the header. Below that are links to various fanfic randoms. Click on TVshows and you'll find more than 300 series listed, each with its own set of fanfiction. The site has more than 41,000 stories in all, the work o f 13,000 authors.
La Femme Nikita has generated more than 4,000 stories that can be found on a variety of sites. There are also thousands of Buffy the Vampire Slayer tales floating around on the Web. The Gossamer Project (www.gossamer.org), just one of many fan sites devoted to The X-Files, has more than 25,000 stories archived. And FanfiX.com is just one site devoted to fanfiction about Star Wars. It has about 1,5000 stories. Then there are freshman shows. James Cameron's Dark Angel has already started to generate fanfiction and has several Web sites in its honor. Survivor, believe it or not, has fans writing their own versions of the Outback quest for $1 million.
But what's the point of cranking out reams of story line devoted t o . . . a television show? Especially when there's no money in it? Was William Shatner right when, during a Saturday Night Live skit, he told his fans to "get a life"? "There's a stereotype that anyone who sits around and writes stories about TV characters for Internet consumption must be a clueless, lonely dork with no friends and no life," says a 32-year-old X-Files devotee who goes by the pen name DashaK. "But I've met over 30 writers in real life and I have to say that that stereotype is utterly untrue."
DashaK, BoneTree, Shrift, Robyn the Snowshoe Hare: Pen names come in all forms. In public, these fans may admit to taping their favorite shows, but getting them to talk about writing fanfiction is another matter. "I'm not ashamed I do it, but I do write some stories that are high in sexual content," says DashaK. "I wouldn't want some weirdo to show up on my doorstep one day. Sadly, this has happened to a few writers I know. Or I would hate for my boss to cruise the Net one day and find what I've written. I know a writer who had a co-worker find her stories and maliciously 'out' her to the entire office."
[Frank] Spotnitz [of The X-Files] says he feels flattered that fans are writing about the show's characters. "I think it's an incredible compliment. When people are writing fanfiction, it's avery sure sign that these characters have become dimensional enough to them that they justify that sort of time and thought," he says. Marti Noxon, an executive producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, says staffers on Buffy and Angel know better "than to disrespect the creative process of any of these people ... It's flattering because something you're creating - a universe you're a part of - has inspired people to go off and continue imagining." She says that she hasn't read fanfiction but that some staffmembers have checked out some of the more titillating stories on the Net. However, if a storyline starts to lean toward something that may appear on the show, they have to bow out because they don't want to be accused of stealing someone's story. "We're in a weird position with fanfiction . . . Because of legal stuff, we have to be really judicious about how much we read," she says. Noxon, who has penned 19 Buffy episodes, admits feeling creeped out by some of the stories she's heard about, stories that take the characters to "a really dark or gratuitously dirty place. Sometimes you feel protective of your characters and you don't want to see them sullied. I've heard about some stuff that's going on, and I feel like saying, 'Use your own nubile girls. Get away from my girls. These girls are not like that.'"
Mere Smith, 26, was living in Brooklyn when she discovered Buffy. She spent hours on an Internet posting board called the Bronze and wrote fanfiction that she stored on her hard drive. When a yearly gathering for Bronze members came up in 1998, she hopped a plane to Los Angeles. Among the 150 or so attendees, she met someone who helped her land a job as an assistant to a co-executive producer for the short-lived ABC show Strange World. Now she's an official writer for the show. Her two worlds have merged. "It's just so odd because I've been in both places," she says. "I've been in the office at 7 in the morning on the board in New York ... And I've done the part where I stand over [executive producer Joss Whedon's] shoulder as he reads the board. It's very strange." "Every time I write a script now, I feel like I'm writing fanfic," she says. "I get to actually make the characters do what I want them to do. It's like fanfic but 10 times better because you actually get to see it on-screen. I feel like I'm writing fanfic, it's just that they're paying me to do it now."
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