Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Karen Hellekson

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Karen Hellekson
Interviewer: Abigail De Kosnik
Interviewee: Karen Hellekson
Date(s): July 27, 2012
Medium: audio, print transcript
External Links: Fiction Oral History Project with Karen Hellekson
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Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Karen Hellekson was conducted in 2012 by Abigail De Kosnik and archived at the University of Iowa Libraries.

This interview's medium is audio (length: 1:58:25), and it has a written 54-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


...originally, I hard-coded all of the stories [for Warp 5 Complex]] ]... Because of the Yahoo! list, I would hard-code them in HTML—and I had a macro to do this, it did not take that much time—and I threw them up online through linking GeoCities sites. Then we bought a URL, and then all the hard-coded stuff was there, with the stuff on GeoCities as sort of a backup. Then I deleted all the GeoCities fic, just to have an index, and then switched all the fic from hard-coded to Auto Archive. And then in 2006, we switched to eFiction. So we used hard-coding, Auto Archive, eFiction. (DE KOSNIK laughs) We use eFiction to this day. We've been thinking about moving it. We were getting a lot of spam, and I contemplated moving it to Archive of Our Own, under sort of the ... save-the-archive thing. But we decided not to do it, because the other person helped, and I decided we have enough money, and we'd rather just keep it up. So I had to block comments to get rid of the spam, which, of course ... But that's, like, the whole Star Trek: Enterprise, Warp 5 Complex fan fiction history. It started in 2002, and it's still going.
I got the idea because Sarah and I, the co-list owners of the slash Star Trek: Enterprise community—and then later we started a non-slash one, because people who don't like slash didn't want to be on a list for slash, so—we actually created two lists: one for slash, one for not. When we started though, that was in response to the person who flounced, and actually we did not have an archive. We just had the list in Yahoo!—there's a way to make little tables, and you could hotlink directly to the fics. So we started by just indexing it. And then that became increasingly confusing. Because you had to be logged in, and some were multi-parters ... And I mean, I had this whole thing. I'm very good with data analysis, and I had learned to HTML tag in my job. I copyedit manuscripts, and for my clients, I HTML-tagged them. So it was the work of but-a-moment to figure out how to make a web page. Seriously, it takes five minutes. I don't know why people think it's hard.

Well, because [I keep archiving]... in some ways it's because I appreciate the fact that it's a historical record of something that was really important to me. And in fact, I also have backup archives of all the lists of the posts to the slash list, the Yahoo! slash list. I have all those posts. On a hard drive somewhere. So I have the whole thing backed up. Like, what if somebody wants to do research, right? So there it all is. And we've had to remove some fics because some authors decided that, you know ... They found religion, they didn't want to ... Seriously, one of them found religion, (laughs) and she didn't want to be on there anymore with having slash, even though she was under a pseud. So she requested it all be taken down. But some of that stuff is still on the list, so if you wanted to read it ... And others we have taken down from everywhere, so that's a ... there's a gap there. But I think that it was, in part, because I said I would. You know? I said I would do the archive and I am. And it's not a lot of work. It's not hugely expensive. It's really not that big a deal.


I said I'd do it, and it does kind of keep me involved in something that I remember very fondly from my youth. And, in addition to the archiving and maintaining the list, I also wrote a lot of fic. So I have my own fic on the site as well. And in addition to that, the show had canceled ... the Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled after—ooh, I want to say season five. And—no, season four. It was canceled after season four, and usually shows run to seven seasons before they cancel them. So we wrote a virtual season five, six, and seven from 2005 to 2008. And I was the leader of that as well. In another Yahoo! Group, people would bid by writing a plot that they'd like to have, then me and a couple other people went through all the bids, and arranged them sort of chronologically, and then got the people to write the stories. So we posted them all on time. Three solid years of virtual seasons. So, I did that, too!

Well, it was a lot of work. That was actually more work than anything else. It was very difficult. There were a lot of personalities to, sort of, you know, maintain. We wanted them to be very gen, very sort of like what you see on the screen. So we couldn't have romance. Everybody was having their Mary Sue do something fabulous. We're like, No! That's going to be Hoshi! So we went in, and we rewrote, and that caused some anger, you know. But, everything seemed to work out fine. And I'm very proud of the fact that we posted every single fic on time. So we published a listing of when they were due, and we had due dates, and we were on people, and the whole thing happened.
So I was an early adopter for Stargate Atlantis and then some Big Name Fans came in on LiveJournal, and the whole fandom sloshed over there. So I sloshed over there, too. And those of us who were in there from the very, very, very beginning are still sort of resentful of the way suddenly it got all this attention. There we were, faithfully writing, still trying to decide what the One True Pairing would be, and then these new people come in, and suddenly it's John/Rodney and nothing else. So. And I liked, I liked a lot of different pairings, you know? I'm not real catholic about my pairings, so I was sad to see this little group kind of get broken up over that. Because some people didn't like dealing with this other group of fandom. Or people would come read your fic you didn't know, and they would make these comments. And you're like, Who are you? And why are you not understanding the context here? And it was become they were from this other part of the fandom, not our part. You know how fandom tends to make little bundles. We were in one bundle, other people were in other bundles, but this other bundle didn't seem to realize that we were a bundle. They thought we were all one bundle. But they were wrong. So we had to deal with them.

I could probably just look at the Big Name Fans who were responsible, who were Cesperanza and Shalott. You could check them, and when they first got involved in SGA; that would give you your dates. But we started the Yahoo! Group before the show aired....

Well, you know, we were reading all the promotional materials. And Stargate already had a huge fandom, so it had sort of a built in ... You know. A group of people who were watching the Stargate lists and reading all the media stuff on the blogs that were put out by the producers. So we started the list, and we were looking at the cast listings and the ... You know. Everything got cast pretty early on. We had the head shots, we had the stuff on the websites affiliated with the program that gave all the descriptions. So we just went ahead and started a slash list before the show even aired. So we started before it aired, but we didn't really write fan fiction until it did air. So I would say from the time of airing. (laughs) Right then is when it all started. I think we wrote just some short fics based just on the premiere.
Well, the clash was getting feedback from these people who were asking us stupid questions. Like, A) they haven't seen the show, and B) they weren't following the Yahoo! Group discussion. So they'd read a fic and they'd say, "I don't get this thing." And we'd be like, "Because it's a response to this other fic." You know? They weren't involved in the fic, in the fandom well enough to understand that we were part of this much larger meta-text and we were commenting on one little aspect of it which they were unaware of because they weren't reading the Yahoo! Group. They were just going on LiveJournal. So it's awesome that they gave feedback, but at the same time, it's like, Who are you? You know? And I think that's a lot of ... Like, Transformative Works and Cultures has a rule that you have to contact the author and request permission before you cite their fic or hotlink to it directly. So you could cite it but not hotlink to it. And that grows out of the fact that the experience of me and the other person—my experience and the experience of the other TWC person, is that even though something's publicly posted, you don't feel like it's public; you feel like it's private. It's unlocked, it's there for anybody to read, but really it's not. It's there for your friends to read. It's there for your group to read. And every now and then, somebody will pop in and say, Hey, I loved it! And then maybe you'll make a new friend. But to get, like, critical pieces of feedback that are like, I don't understand this, or—negative feedback, it felt like, it was ... not welcome. Because, "Who are you? Why are you saying this? How do you not understand all these facts that would answer your question?" I mean, it's one thing to get something critical, you know, where they're like, I thought this was out-of-character. And that's ... you know, that's always good to get valid criticism. But is seems, especially in LiveJournal, you really only post positive feedback. So, to get this kind of comment was very strange to us. From people we didn't know, and we didn't understand where they were coming from. And then, we quickly became elided and erased, where other people were getting a lot more attention. So, our Big Name Fans were not their Big Name Fans. So the very best writers in our fandom weren't, like, "good enough" for the new people. Which was very disappointing. The new people were awesome, but we had awesome writers too, and they were not getting the attention that we thought they deserved. So there's that aspect of it, too.
Fans are not about the plot; we're about the characters and how they got where they got. So you could write some back story stuff, and make it up, and then Joss is totally going to joss you, because that's what he does.
Well, for one, I have to say I'm in a position privilege because I'm unaffiliated. So the fact that I write pretty hot slash is not going to affect my employability? I don't care if my clients Google me and discover all sorts of stuff about me. I think I have enough control over my online persona that that won't necessarily be a problem. But. It was that I published an article under my pseudonym in a peer-reviewed academic journal. And I wasn't thinking when I did it. I thought, "Well, this is about fandom, and I'm talking about fans, and I contribute. I would just publish under my fan name." Because it seemed like that was sort of growing naturally out of that persona. And then later I realized, "Oh. Peer-reviewed. Maybe I should have just published it under my real name." But it's really easy to link the names. Because all you have to do is google a couple of things. Like, the article title of the article which is published under my fan pseud. But if you google the title, it comes up on my CV. Because I have it on my CV as published under a pseudonym. So although I don't list the pseudonym, if you do the name you'll get a hit. And I discovered somebody published an article where they cited that and talked about me. It was in a legal journal. And the woman deliberately didn't link it. She said, "Karen Hellekson published under a pseudonym this other article, and has done these following things." Which were all true. But she deliberately didn't link, which I thought was very kind of her. But the only way she would have known that that was me was if she googled the name of the article and found it. And I put the article name up there to show that I had published in fan studies. You know, I was doing it to sort of get my credentials in line for that. So in some ways I just don't really care, because it's not super- important, but it would be kind of nice if they weren't linked in the same post where somebody can do one to the other. But it's spoken language and ... whatever else; I don't really care. And I think it's just pointless to try to guard it any further, and I don't want to create an unnecessary burden on other people. You know? It's too hard to keep track of these little [unintelligible], so. If it's out there? That's fine