Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Julie Levin Russo

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Julie Levin Russo
Interviewer: Abigail De Kosnik
Interviewee: Julie Levin Russo
Date(s): July 24 and August 1, 2012
Medium: audio, print transcript
Fandom(s):
External Links: Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Julie Levin Russo
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Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Julie Levin Russo was conducted in 2012 by Abigail De Kosnik and archived at the University of Iowa Libraries.

This interview's medium is audio (length: 01:10:21), and it has a 48-page transcript.

It was part of the series: Fan Fiction Oral History Project also referred to as "a Fiction and Internet Memory Research Project," "the Fiction and Internet Memory Program," and "Fan Fiction and Internet Memory."

The interviews conducted for this project were used for the book by Abigail De Kosnik called Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

In terms of the Battlestar Galactica Master List, I had actually completely forgotten that it sort of went through different formats in the years that I was working on it. And then I also even forgot that I had archived all of the femslash100 drabbles, and that that went through several different formats. So, it's like, I remember the big picture, there was this sort of thing that I worked on. And I think it's the same with my website as well. So I remember I've had it for a while but all the different ... Like, it's all sort of like an evolving system, so I think without those traces, a lot of the details of different moments get kind of submerged as things shift and time moves forward. But I actually discovered that in the BSG femslash community on LiveJournal [LJ], I posted a lot of updates on the Master List as it was happening, which is this ... I was going back and reading some of it, and it was this really fascinating record of the process, but also the way that the process for me and hopefully for others was part of the development of that fandom space, I guess.
I remember that I very consciously chose to do a master list rather than a recs list. I wanted everyone to feel included. And I think as I reader, I definitely value really well-written, like, sort of literary, high-concept, meta fanfic. But I also really believe that the creative practice of fan fiction is really valuable for both individuals and for the community, regardless of how good the fic is. And I also felt like I didn't want to be in the hierarchical position of making some authoritative recs list where then I would decide what fic was good or worthy, rather than ... I feel like people also have really different tastes in fic, and I wanted to create a kind of document of the collective achievement of the group that was free of judgment, or that was egalitarian in the way people would be treated. And because I also did ... I mean I guess recs encourage people to write, too. But I really wanted people to feel welcomed in that space, and to feel that their contributions of fic were valued. I wanted everyone to feel included in that.

So Star Trek: Voyager started when I was a junior in high school, and I fell instantly in love with it and was super obsessed with the show. And I was also, I think, aware, during my high school years—I graduated from my school in 1996—I was sort of aware of other erotic fiction archives, like Nifty and Literotica, that I would go to, that were grassroots amateur fiction archives. So I don't actually remember—this is another thing I don't remember—at what point I knew [of] the existence of fan fiction, but I think that I must have figured it out in the course of my web surfing, because I remember reading Janeway/Torres fan fiction at fan fiction archives back in the day that was really great. But then at the beginning of season four of Star Trek: Voyager, they introduced a new character, Seven of Nine, and it really ramped up the femslash subtext. Like, a lot. So, I was kind ... It was, like, that moment when you kind of feel like you're going to explode, there's just so much excess affect that you can't stand it and it has to go somewhere. So then I was like, I have to write some fan fiction about what's happening. And it's both the sense of delight that this dimension is being given to you by

television, and this sense of frustration that it remains subtextual, and you just want to take it to the next level. So while I was in college—so I would tell my friends, I want to write this fan fiction story, and they said, Oh, we know this other girl at Swarthmore who writes Star Trek fan fiction. You should talk to her. So that's a whole other story, I never did meet her till years later. But we exchanged a few e-mails, and so she told me, Oh you should join this newsgroup alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated, or ASCEM, which was originally a Usenet group but by that point was some sort of e-mail group before it then migrated to Google years later. So I joined this group and spent a few years being very dedicated to reading it, engaging in discussions, reading all the femslash that came through that group. I participated in some related fests, most notably the Femme Fuh-Q Fest, which ran several rounds of an all Star Trek femslash challenge. And I also met various people through that group who then I ended up meeting in real life later. And it was really—it was my first experience with organized fandom or online community in any sense—it was just really exciting to me that people could come together around this creative engagement with a television show. So I posted my first fan fiction there. Everyone was very nice. But actually the very first thing I posted was a TrekSmut University [TSU] story.
But among the sort of interesting experiments that were going on within that space[of alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated] was this shared virtual world called TrekSmut University. Various people who participated in ASCEM also had their persona within TSU, but Star Trek characters could also come to this world and then people could interact with them. And the way it was created was through people posting fan fics in "TSU world." So I think it was modeled on text-based virtual worlds like the Well or MOOs [MUD, object-oriented]. It was collectively created through these different installments that different people would share that usually related to some event within the community, or some event within the show, or some kind of ongoing joke. So actually the very first fanfic I ever posted was a TSU story, which was about how long it was taking me to finish my fanfic.

On Twitter, people started tweeting as Battlestar Galactica characters. So actually, when I decided to create a Battlestar Galactica Twitter character account, I was already following a couple of people. And so one of the interesting parts of the process of doing essentially an RPG on Twitter is that it was a very mixed group and an anonymous group. There was really no ... I mean, Twitter, because it was so simple, also just didn't have a lot of, like, social network features. It was just a screen with tweets. So people didn't really communicate outside of their in-character Twitter accounts. So it was like you didn't really know who anyone else was, and it was this combination of what I call "muggle" fandom, or casual fandom, or

fanboys, with my LiveJournal group. So I recruited a couple of people through LiveJournal because I did have a fandom network. I was like, Come on, this will be really fun, let's be Battlestar Galactica characters on Twitter, and we'll do this event—I think it was for one of the season premieres—and interact with the characters that were already existing. But we totally hijacked it with our femslash agenda, so it was an interesting experiment to see how the other characters would react to stuff that we would do. It was all very PG-rated, I think. But it was still ... We had some stuff coordinated behind the scenes, but there were other anonymous people that were involved, so it was just this really fascinating creative experiment in collective storytelling.
I would say that Future Julie is very happy that I saved all these things. I would say that part of the pleasure is being able to exist in more than one dimension. Because like I was saying, a lot of my memories of the details of things that I've made and done and been engaged in don't really stay with me in my memory. So, having these archives is a way to still have access to the past. And then, more than one dimension of both who I am and sort of history in a larger sense. The history of fandom or the Internet. And, I mean, that ... How does that feel? Um ... I don't ... It makes me feel that I have ... I don't know, a deeper way to communicate between my past self and my present self. And I guess to have a richer perspective on the present, both personally and historically. To be able to see more of the specificities of the way things are now. And to be able to have a more nuanced understanding of how I got here. How fandom got here.
I think the stylistic emphasis of late-'90s fanfic was very much influenced by romance novels. Or there are maybe two genres. So one was just straight-out porn, you know, Nifty Archive, like, PWP. Dirty fic. And then there were these whole romance novels that people would write. There was a real emphasis on the first time story, like the saga of how two characters first got together. And even after you got past the first time, I think in the lesbian romance novel tradition, there would be constant obstacles that would come up in the relationship that the characters would then have to overcome. So there were some things that were just, like, infamous. So I think part of the nostalgia is both the pleasure of returning to this very different affect that was just very driven by the id, and fic that was really oriented toward producing certain feelings, and it didn't really matter if it was well-written and if all the punctuation was right. But then also, I think, looking back at it now, you also have to cringe too. Because a lot of it is so bad. So you can both really enjoy reading it, and get caught up in the story and the feelings and the erotic charge, and then also at the same time be really uncomfortable with how bad it is. So I think that's a unique pleasure of reading fic that's a decade old today. And I think that [in] my later experiences in LiveJournal [LJ] fanfic communities, there was a much bigger emphasis on literary writing, and on show-don't-tell, on carefully crafting prose. And on fan fiction as a sort of creative writing exercise.
I resisted Dreamwidth for a long time. I was very, like, I was really mad about Dreamwidth. I was very anti-Dreamwidth and then finally I just, like, gave in.  : Oh, God. I mean, the name is dumb. I hate the name "Dreamwidth." Also, it was an LJ fork. So partially, I thought it was just dumb to take like the same code, which was, like, 1999 code ... I mean LJ just felt so dated by that point, and it was so cumbersome to use. So one of the reasons that I relented eventually and got a Dreamwidth account was because they really did significantly improve, update, and modernize the interface over the first few years and it is now much more pleasant to use than LiveJournal, and just looks much better. But by that point, I hated how LiveJournal looked, Dreamwidth looked ugly, there were no good layout makers yet that made layouts that made it look prettier. Again, I felt like there was a missed opportunity to create the next platform for fandom rather than, like, a better LiveJournal.
I have watched shows where it's happened that I've somehow gotten really exactly what I wanted. Like the finale of Star Trek: Voyager is like, my favorite episode of Voyager ever. It's amazing, it's like all my kinks. Battlestar Galactica is the opposite, ere's such a charge of being in the fandom of a show that's show that's currently going on, because it's dangerous. It's both really exciting to not know what's going to happen, and to be wanting certain things and not know if you're going to get them, and then also to have a live narrative in which to make interventions. So often, if I really want to write fanfic, it's because I want to create—sort of take ownership of the narrative before the show gets a chance to go on and establish its version as the canonical version. So there is this moment where it's an open text and you can make those interventions by imagining what will happen or how things will happen when there's not the official word from on high. But it's also—it'salways this peril, that you sort of have your whole own architecture for these characters and the story that can be sort of like struck down at any moment.
I don't think it was possible to repair BSG fandom after the ending. And I will say that although I've made my peace with Battlestar Galactica, I feel like we all got really burned in our overall trust of television. So I feel like me and my friends are much more reluctant to engage wholeheartedly with TV shows that have open canon. And you trust them to take us on a journey. For example, I've said I refuse to watch Game of Thrones until the show is over, and I see how it ends. Because I feel like that's a show where there's a couple ways they could go with it. And it's been harder to put my trust in television shows and to give myself over to the experience of television shows after Battlestar Galactica.

References