Couple of Sheepskins

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Couple of Sheepskins is a phrase from a post by prufrock's love in 2000 to alt.tv.x-files.creative.

In her post, she explained at length how she did not want fans to give her any feedback for her X-Files fiction, explaining (among other things) that she was both uncomfortable about feedback from strangers, and that she was concerned about the legalities of fanfiction and didn't want her professional career and real life affected by her fiction writing.

The phrase "couple of sheepskins" refers to her comment that knowledge about her fannish activities could result in her academic degrees (sheepskins) being revoked.

Some fans were supportive of her statements. More fans, however, were bothered by them, citing social norms, elitism, fannish expectations as some of the reasons for their criticism.

Topics Discussed in the Resulting Debate

  • the role of feedback
  • was prufrock's request a savvy self-pimping move? a clumsy fannish misstep?
  • a fan's right not to have to interact with others
  • was the internet was a private place?
  • what happens when a fan does not play by the expected rules
  • is prufrock really Stephen King? Danielle Steele? John Ordover?
  • the anti-Semitism of T.S. Eliot
  • that there were two "prufrock"s in fandom at the time -- this one, and one who had no idea what everyone was talking about

Some Excerpts from Posts

The original post had been deleted by May 31, 2000 as per a fan's post about the inability to read it.

The date of this first post would have been on, or very shortly, before May 26, 2000. The topic appears to have been the announcement of prufrock's new website; several comments by others quote from this missing post.

"prufrock website"

All comments below are excerpted from alt.tv.x-files.creative: prufrock website; archive link, first post: May 26, 2000.

[prufrock]:
No- lawyer still sweats it- not so much the threat of a lawsuit, but as an ethics violation, which could put me out of a career. I get flames about how silly that is (that isn't the word they use), but if they'd sunk as much money into a couple of sheepskins as I have, they'd be antsy too. My compromise is to keep a very low profile in the fan fic community now that I'm a little more savy, but to continue to post. I write because I enjoy it- something to let my brain unwind- so knowing that OTHER people enjoy it is just a nice bonus. I actually post my fics so I'll stop doing rewrites- I get a little obsessive otherwise. Many readers e-mail asking if I have a site, so this one should fill that void, and it would take the Lone Gunmen to trace it back to me in real life.

Now that I (and that lawyer who hangs around) understand better how feedback works, I do read it and respond with a "thank you" to readers who write despite my request. Anyone hoping for a debate, though, is disappointed. Sorry, it's not personal. Ya'll have to figure out the Wasteland on your own. I'm comfortable that my writing is good before I ever post it, so I'd rather readers spend their time encouraging newer, less confidant writers who do need and want feedback. I also get comments on my spelling & editing goofs, which give me stomach cramps that I could do without. And lastly, even through I discourage feedback, I get some that is, frankly, scary and makes me glad yahoo and a friend's mindspring account are between us.

Anyway- long answer to a short question. Thank you- that blooming website took all day to do. I'm already considering revisions; maybe a sequel site or a series. <prufrock smiles>.
[Jerry]:
>>prufrock wrote: "Bowing to popular demand: No animation, no background music, no dancing aliens, but ALL of the most recent versions of my fan fic including the revised Wasteland Series and dust jackets for Wasteland, Negative Utopia, & Cycles:"<< Congratulations -- lovely page. I'm curious about something, however -- how did you know there was a popular demand if your lawyer asks you not to receive feedback? I have read your work and been motivated to write you, but I have refrained because of your emphatic insistence that readers not do so. Did I miss a change in your attorney's position on feedback?
[Teddi]:
>> My compromise is to keep a very low profile in the fan fic community now that I'm a little more savy, but to continue to post.<<

I certainly wouldn't claim to be in any way savvy (After all, I actually post under my real name; and I do admit it's probably not a great idea.); but it does not really seem that your strategy to keep a very low profile in the fanfic community is the best one. To me, it would seem the best way to keep a low profile is to just post under your cute screen name (Like *most* people here do ... regardless of whether or not they have a need to be anonymous.), *avoid posting non-fanfic statements that call attention to yourself,* and respond to feedback letters briefly with a simple thank you. If you really don't feel comfortable responding to e-mail, a simple "Please don't e-mail me. I'm using the computer at work, and I really can't respond to personal e-mails," would be a example of a valid, believable excuse *that doesn't call undo attention to yourself.* However, presenting yourself as this mysterious person who absolutely, can't have his/her true identity revealed for legal/ethical reasons implying you are in a position of power, write fiction for a living or are in the entertainment industry ... well, frankly, it just doesn't cut it as keeping a low profile at all. I don't know the real names or the careers of *most* of the people here and really have no burning desire to find out. *You,* however, seem to want to make us all be incredibly curious about who you are and what you do.

Basically, if your desire is to remain anonymous, *continuously* saying so and offering intriguingly desperate reasons for this desire, is not the way to do it.
[Dasha K]:
I'm just a little confused about how having a lot of diplomas means you have to be extra-skittish about your privacy. There are many, many of us out there with advanced degrees (I know several professors, doctors, lawyers, etc) and they don't seem to have lawyers who need to advise them on how to skulk around in the shadows of fanficdom.

But maybe that's just me...

Privacy is a good thing, but it doesn't need to be made a fuss over. All you have to do is:

1. Have a pen name
2. Don't use your real name anywhere
3. Have an anonymous email address
4. Be careful about to whom you give out personal info.
That's all. Other than that, you don't need to make a big deal of it. Unless you enjoy the attention of a "mysterious online persona." At least, that's what *my* lawyers say. <g>
[Kim]:
Silly is one word. Bullshit is another word.... I didn't realize that one's diploma could be rescinded due to writing fanfic. If so, all of us with expen$ive educations just like yours are screwed. Hey, I'll work the drive through if you'll make the french fries. We can get some professors to make burgers, and some doctors to make the shakes. All those careers, brought to ruin, by fanfic. We'll be in fine company. But I do feel for the sheep.

If you're worried about anonymity, reveal nothing of yourself, use only your screenname pseudonym, and use an anonymous email remailer service. This was explained to you before.

If you're worried about your blessed career, get over it. Lots of people here have good careers that coexist with fanfic. This, too, was explained to you before.

If you're worried about your fanfic writing, use spellcheck. That would be a good start.

If you're worried about how much we fret over who you are and how we wring our hands when we are told you're so important and mysterious......

...oh I get it. That IS what you want us to worry about.

>>My compromise is to keep a very low profile in the fan fic community now that I'm a little more savy, but to continue to post.<<

If this is low profile, I'm Vivian Eliot. My advice? Datta. Dayadvham. Not Damyata. Damyata is an illusion.
[Kipler]:
The stories are moderately interesting, but I have three thoughts on the "no feedback" issue. A) I'm in agreement with those who think that the dramatics of the "no feedback" statements are actually designed to call *more* attention to the work and the possible identity of the author, rather than less. I'm sure that I'm not the only person who's been guessing the identity of this particular author. If she really wanted to be anonymous, she wouldn't set up this guessing game. B) The legal issues occur with the writing of fanfic - not the receipt of feedback. If you're jumping over that ethical hurdle and doing the *writing,* then receiving the feedback shouldn't give you lawyer any additional indigestion. C) The first time I was asked not to respond to this author's work, I filed it under the "do not read" column. I write to Big Name Professional writers and musicians, and they're frequently gracious enough to write me back in their own hand - even with the rising cost of postage! If an author lets me know beforehand that my opinion of her work is of no value to her, then I'm content in the knowledge that there are thousands of other authors I can read - authors who might find the connection between author and reader something to be treasured rather than shunned.
[Pita M]:
I agree totally. I don't like reading when it seems like the author doesn't give a bleep about what the readers think. Of course, the whole idea of NOT wanting feedback absolutely floors me, as a beginning writer. I'd just about sell my left kidney for a good chunk of feedback, whether it's illegal fanfiction or totally unrelated to anything else, and I know there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Having someone tell their readers not to respond is almost insulting. My two cents worth on this fascinating discussion!
[Nicola Simpson]:
I didn't plan to get involved in this discussion, but after reading the dozen or so messages in this thread today...

You know what? I'm with Dasha on this one. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the *inability* to receive feedback. Prufrock may be *declining* to receive feedback, or *uncomfortable* receiving feedback, but being "unable to receive any praise or critiques" stumps me.

Someone in this thread (forgive my short term memory lapse here) implied that perhaps Prufrock has this disability because she is a) in the film business, b) a professional writer, or c) I can't remember c.

Guess what? There are *lots* of professional writers here writing fanfic under assumed names! I was about to say that "As far as I know they haven't been under any ethical violations," but I just pulled out my contract with my agent, and technically I'm not supposed to be writing fanfic myself! Ooops! However, I don't see anything in here that precludes me from receiving *feedback* on fanfic I'd written before signing with my agent. You see, my agent may have the exclusive right to represent all literary material owned and controlled by me, but she doesn't control the rights of readers who like my stuff and want to tell me so.

And guess what? There are fanfic writers and readers here who work in the film industry! Some (more than one, no less!) who have even <gasp> worked on XF!!! [smelling salts will be available in the vestibule for those in need]

Some hide their identities, some don't. But I don't know anyone other than Prufrock who is so ashamed of writing fanfic that they refuse to partake in one of the most gratifying aspects of writing fanfic--feedback from your loyal readers. I'm not sure what it means... Either Prufrock has an ego the size of cyberspace, or she's just downright terrified of anyone in the real world knowing about her dirty little secret.

Nic, Who loves writing fanfic, but now wonders if she will be forced to retire again due to potential contract violation. Rats.
[Tinka]:
But you have to admit that it is working out to be a rather good marketing ploy. Y'know what really clinched it for me? The web site "by popular demand" bit. Uhmmm.. sorry.. but how could people be begging for a web site when feedback is unwanted? Telepathy?
[syntax6]:
Okay, I find the whole "I'm so secret I can't get feedback" thing to be 100% ridiculous. But I've given it some thought, and the ONLY one I can think of who might have reason to fear reprisals from corresponding with people from atxc is... (whispering to avoid summoning the demon) john ordover :-P Just my contribution to the fray!
[Kipler]:
The feedback issue, if not moot before, certainly is now, Kipler. I tried today to write Prufrock a personal note about his/her fic, and about this discussion, a note with both blunt honesty and good wishes. No mail can be delivered to either the mindspring address listed on the website, nor the de-smutted yahoo address. The returned mail thing said there was a forwarding loop going on. I suppose mindspring was forwarding to yahoo which then forwarded to mindspring, ad infinitum. Oh well.
[lxnay]:
Okay, time for me to jump in here. I, myself, have cooresponded with Prufrock on several occasions. The person (I will not reveal any info about them due to their wishes) is an extremely gifted writer and a very nice person. They wrote an episode for the X-Files Virtual Season#X-Files One, and is planning an episode for the second season. This is how I came into contact with Prufrock, and I don't even remember how I got the real e-mail address. Anyway, what this long rambling mess is about is that I believe Prufrock to be in the situation that she fears getting in trouble. I have cooresponded with the person for about a year now, and has always asked their name and e-mail address to be kept secret. The writer DOES care about feedback and what others think of the work, but is unable to recieve any praise or critiques. Perhaps we should simply respect thier wishes and read to enjoy?
[Dasha K]:
I'm still unable to grasp (and forgive me if I'm slow as hell) why prufrock is unable to receive and respond to feedback and how his/her anonymity is compromised by doing so. But you know what? I don't blame the writer for feeling like he/she needs to have a hook, a signature something or other to get noticed in our large fandom. Trouble is that it can also have a negative effect. I hear that prufrock's stories are pretty good but I've so far ignored them because the self-aggrandizing author's notes have put me off my lunch.
[Lara Means]:
I'm one of those pro writers writing/posting fanfic under an assumed name -- and because I don't make any money at this, neither the Writers Guild nor my agent has anything to say about the matter (even if they knew about it).

Nicola, your agent contract may be different from mine -- but mine just says they submit my work and negotiate the deals. If there's no money involved, or if it's in another field besides film/TV (like the column I write for a magazine), they have no say in the matter and certainly no claim to my work.

And about feedback -- hell, that's a huge reason I write fanfic! In the TV business, you rarely hear what people think about your work (except when your agent tells you months later that somebody hated your latest spec script... sigh...). It's quite gratifying to post a story one day and sign on the next to find a dozen glowing e-mails waiting for you!
[Kipler]:
Name Snipped was the first person I thought of, too - and then I thought of those who were following Name Snipped's advice, who had been convinced that writing fanfic would hurt their professional lives and felt obligated to go into hiding when they found that they still loved fanfic and didn't want to give it up, after all. Fanfic is not a sin! Fanfic is not a sin!
[Dasha K]:
>> (whispering to avoid summoning [John Ordoverthe demon]])<< Yes, it *is* a sin. <name snipped> told me so. But it's such a tasty, delicious sin. Mmmm, fanfic! ;-)
[Joyce R-W]:
Ordover had a long discussion over on rec.arts.sf.written about Star Trek, what does and doesn't sell in books today, and his theories about why media tie-ins don't necessarily carry over to science fiction book sales. Was quite interesting since fellow editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden got into the act as well. If Ordover wrote something, it would be way thumping rockem sockem space opera. Purfrock's stuff is good, but it's not a match for the stuff Ordover supports.
[Meg]:
I can attest to having received a lovely note from Prufrock during some recent unpleasantness. However, when I attempted to say thank you, the address was blocked.... If someone's willing to try something so attention-getting as *refusing* attention - which interests me in a Minimalist-gone-mad sort of way - then there might well be a price. As someone wisely said earlier in the thread (I think it was Teddi, but forgive me if I'm wrong), the best way to say that feedback was a problem would've been to tell the audience "I can't receive e-mail on this computer but thanks for your good wishes" rather than "I have a job so secretive and important that I had to call a lawyer in to tell me if it's okay to write fanfic." It's when the writer says he/she'll only accept feedback if it truly touched your heart or changed your life that I have to wonder if someone's smoking something around here. Anonymity is a good idea on the internet. I don't post under my real name, either. But then again, I'm one of those newbie writers who needs feedback, not a seasoned professional (who could still use a spell-checker no matter how lovely the prose). Besides, I only have one sheepskin because I decided to go teach underprivileged children instead of staying in a conservatory to get me a more 'spensive eddicashun. </bitterness because it's a lovely day>
[Kassandra]:
"Bowing to popular demand" is suspiciously like the prima donnas who resign from the community to trumpet fanfare and loud wailing, and then show back up "due to popular demand, my public calls me, they demand me." I fail to see why your little charade should arouse this much indignation; it's more laughable than anything else, and while I wish you well in your search for internet fame (here, here's three fifty, internet fame and the three fifty might get you a small latte), I also think you're very silly.

"It's funny how . . ."

All comments below are excerpted from alt.tv.x-files.creative: It's funny how . . . ; archive link, first post: May 28, 2000.

[queequeg]:
this community gets in an uproar about the silliest things. Who cares if Prufrock likes their disclaimer and prefers not to have feedback. Some of you should rethink your "begging" ways when it comes to feedback. Be thankful you get any; some of you shouldn't. The kind that encourages you to write more. Not the kind that discourages you to write more. If you like Prufrock's stuff, read it. If you don't, then don't read it. If you just can't understand that someone doesn't like to receive feedback, get over it. And you seem to have done what some of you are accusing this writer of. You've made this a controversy, when there didn't have to be one.
[lxnay]:
There is a difference between a controversy and a debate. I guess you can decide which this is.
[Teddi]:
It's not so much about not wanting feedback or not wanting e-mail for that matter. When you come down to it, it's the pretentiousness and the elitism this writer has displayed in her comments. (But then, she's a big fan of T.S. Eliot so it kind of fits.) If she had simply said, "Please don't send me e-mail; I can't respond," I doubt there would have been a problem. Even a statement like "Please send no criticisms. This is just a hobby; and I don't need the stress," which is commonly written as "Please be gentle," would have been respected by most for its honesty and honored. Statements like "I'm comfortable that my writing is good before I ever post it," and that feedback is for "newer, less confidant writers who do need and want feedback," though, tend to turn people off.
[Becky C]:
You know, it strikes me as odd that this has caused such a ruckus. IIRC, this whole discussion came about because of the revelation that Prufrock now has a website, which I was glad to hear, because Prufrock writes good stories.

It had never occurred to me to wonder who Prufrock really is. The "no feedback" bit struck me as a little odd, but it takes all kinds. Thus the process generally went: Prufrock posts story. I read story. Story is good. I rec story at Ephemeral.

I was also surprised to see that the author's notes had been off-putting to some folks. I couldn't swear to having read them -- if I did they didn't make any great impression on me. I tend to class author's notes as "non-fiction" and therefore accord them little weight, as there are several folks on this newsgroup who write good fiction and with whom I rarely (if ever) agree. In Prufrock's case, since he (please note: I am using the unmarked pronoun here, making no assumptions about Prufrock's gender) writes well, I haven't much cared about the rest of it -- who he really is or his reasons for refusing feedback. (Come to think of it, this probably explains why I like Eliot's writing despite his major character flaws....

Quote #1 didn't really seem egotistical to me. As someone who is apparently going to spend her entire life in institutions of higher learning, I write an awful lot. It was years ago that I developed the ability to be objective about my own work. And since writing for school always means writing with a deadline, very few papers I submit are as good as they could ideally be -- but I can tell you how good they are or are not. So when I say of my own writing, "That's a really good paper," it isn't vanity; it's just that I can recognize it by now. I've only written one piece of fiction within the past five years, which meant that I had absolutely no idea whether it was even worth the space it took on my hard drive. However, I imagine that someone who writes fiction regularly develops the same objectivity about it. I've also gathered from some of the responses I've gotten to feedback that an awful lot of feedback is along the lines of "I like it" or "This sucks [sometimes with "because it isn't shippy" appended]." If you already know whether or not your story sucks, this would seem fairly unhelpful. Quote #2: I took this not as "feedback is for people who aren't as cool as me" but rather as "spend your feedback time & energy on those who need some encouraging." This seems like a reasonable statement to me. If I've written something that I know doesn't suck, I don't need external reinforcement of its non-suckiness. However, some of my peers aren't sure whether or not their work sucks, so letting them know that it doesn't means a lot to them.)

"You know..."

All comments below are excerpted from alt.tv.x-files.creative: It's funny how . . . ; archive link, first post: May 29, 2000.

[Lark1180]:
I just wanted to say that, as a writer *and* a reader, I can appreciate Prufrock's requests on feedback. As a writer, I love getting feedback, good and bad, because then I know if what I'm writing is good, or if it's crap. But, not everyone does, or is comfotable with it. As a reader, I love writing it, but I respect anyone who doesn't want any. Just my two cents.
[Kim]:
I respect anyone's right to write or read feedback, or not, upon their choice. I do not respect anyone's choice to shovel out a bunch of pseudo-legal mumbo jumbo that insults my intelligence about how feedback, not fic, feedback, creates an ethical dilemma for the recipient. We all know what feedback is. It is "I enjoyed your story." or "This didn't work for me" or "Please write some more" or "I was touched by your story" or the other things we share with authors. This represents no sort of threat and I won't believe otherwise until it's demonstrated to me.

"You know..."

All comments below are excerpted from agunah (1/1) by prufrock's love; archive link, first post: August 30, 2000.

[Ashley Trent]:
>>Prufrock posts: receiving feedback from strangers feels like someone opening my underwear drawer and commenting on my choices. <<

But when the underwear is hung out in public from what amounts to a cyber-Statue of Liberty (I don't think one could compare the WWW and a Usenet newsgroup to even a private backyard clothesline) wouldn't comments be a natural, and expected, part of the territory?

Just asking, honestly.
Brandon D. Ray:
>>prufrock wrote: As for feedback - I'll save everyone the bandwidth (please don't make me sorry I did). Aside from fanfic being a gray area legal-wise, which I am becoming more comfortable with as I become more comfortable with the Internet and the fanfic community, receiving feedback from strangers feels like someone opening my underwear drawer and commenting on my choices. I'm very private by nature, so it feels slightly invasive. I enjoy writing much more than praise, so I would prefer feedback go to other writers that specifically request it.<< That's not a good analogy. You post the stuff to the Internet, voluntarily, of your own free will. So having people comment on it is more like having people comment on your underwear as you walk down a public street, wearing nothing *but* your underwear.
[Shaco]:
Feedback, smeedback. As long as you keep writing, Prufrock baby, that's all I care.
[Tim Scott]:
Actually, I think this is a terrific attitude. Writing in its purest form, for the pleasure of the act of creation itself and not for the responses it may bring. Thanks for the wonderful story, Prufrock.
[Karen Conrady]:
I just couldn't agree more with [Tim Scott]. Just keep 'em comin' Prufrock! I love it!
[Pen]:
Writing in its 'purest form?' I'm more than happy for Prufrock to write her stories and get no feedback - it's her work and she's working with her own personality and that's what she wants. It's cool. But don't tell me that's the purest form. Things aren't 'tainted' by an interest in public opinion.
[Tim Scott]:
TAINT (v) 1: to affect with something physically injurious, unpleasant, etc.; infect, poison, etc.; to affect with putrefaction or decay; spoil 2: to make morally corrupt 3: (obs) to sully or stain

Did I say that writers who are interested in public opinion are 'tainted'? No, I did not. I myself print out my best feedback letters and roll in them buck naked by the light of the moon. But I digress...

Where was I? Oh, yes -- pure writing.

Ah, the hell with it. It's too nice a day to get involved in one of these things. But it's a hell of a note when you can't even compliment someone.
[Pen]:
let's try that again... ah yes, I was feeling a little punchy about something or other... sorry bout that. though I do think pure and untainted are vaguely synonymical.. And it did interest me to think about art and art's public and the relationship tween the two. ah well. another thought, another time btw I do the PL's writing is fabulous. I'd love to tell her/him? so but since I can't I'll have to tell you when I read something of yours - so you can go roll in it :)