Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Liviapenn

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Liviapenn
Interviewer: Lisa Cronin
Interviewee: Liviapenn
Date(s): August 16, 2012
Medium: audio, print transcript
External Links: Fiction Oral History Project with Liviapenn
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Livia Penn was conducted in 2012 by Lisa Cronin and archived at the University of Iowa Libraries.

This interview's medium is audio (length: 2:13:41), and it has a written 56-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

  • Sailor Moon
  • Power Rangers
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • DC Comics
  • Cabin Pressure
  • Avengers
  • Sherlock
  • "Neoliberal Holmes: Where Every Generation Gets the Holmes they Deserve"
  • kink memes
  • the Unconventional Shippers List
  • creating the pseud "Livia" after writing a Giles/Ethan fic that got pretty sexy and being worried her grandma would find it
  • writing "what today we would call poly fic, but back then they just called "group slut fic.""
  • writing magical realism: ""Lance woke up and he was a toaster.""
  • founding Smallville Slash Archive, its move via Open Doors
  • LiveJournal as a place to become more creative because you didn't have the on-topic constraints of mailing lists
  • journal communities as places to keep track of your friends
  • differences and similarities among LiveJournal and Dreamwidth and Tumblr
  • the meme about John Watson's creepy cat jumper
  • styles and kinds of archives actually shape the sort of fic that gets written


Going back to, let's say, high school. I think honestly my first online fandom was Power Rangers. And I would get home from school and just watch it. And it was goofy, and fun, and different, because they ... It was a Japanese TV show, and they took all the action sequences and then just filmed new sequences when they were out of costume with American actors. So it was, it was different. And I went on ... I don't even know how I particularly found the fandom, but it was on Usenet. It was a Usenet group: rangers. And I was posting there, obviously, under my real name, I think with an AOL e-mail address. And they had—There were mailing lists. People would post fan fiction—obviously a ton of Mary Sues. You know, like, Oh, I'm the mysterious seventh Ranger, and I just moved here, and blah blah blah. And ... There was a crossover, obviously, a slight crossover between Power Rangers fandom and anime fandom. Because it was originally a Japanese TV show. And so from there I kind of got into Sailor Moon, which was showing, I think, on Saturday mornings at that time. And Sailor Moon was like—it was like Harry Potter, in that it brought in ... It was like the big crossover anime. Like, it was no longer something for twenty- five-year-old guys in their basement. You know. And no one had ever heard of it, and they were like, Anime? What is this? All of a sudden everyone watched Sailor Moon.
I don't know if you were in Buffy fandom, but there was a big controversy called "Xander's Lie," because Willow was working on a spell to give Angel his soul back, and Xander knew about it. And if he had told Buffy, you know, this might have affected her actions. But instead he said, "Oh, Willow said to tell you she wants you to kick Angel's butt." And so people were like, He took away Buffy's agency. He didn't trust her. And other people were like, Well, we are literally talking about the fate of the world, so maybe it's okay that he didn't give her false hope. Like, he didn't even know if it would work, et cetera. And I remember that discussion happening on And participating in it. And a lot of people still remember. You know, if you say, "Remember 'Xander's Lie'?" They'll be like, OMG, yes, I remember that.
Like, how did I even find this [due South fic]? I don't even know. Probably I went to—again, like—Yahoo!, and I was like, TV, Due South, fan sites, click. And I don't know if it was DSA or Hexwood. I think it was Hexwood. And I still remember the color scheme of the page. It was this kind of beigey yellow, and then, maroon, dark red highlights. For a Due South site, obviously. And it was p— it was porn, obviously. Fraser/Vecchio. And I remember clicking on it, and reading it, being like, Hmm, like, no. And just clicking away. Like, Just why would anyone write that? This is weird. No, you know. And then of course, ironically, four years later, I was totally writing Due South. But yeah. Like that's, that's what makes me think ... You know, a lot of people will say, "Well, you shouldn't post porn on the Internet," and I was just like, If kids aren't interested in reading it, they're not going to read it. You know? They're just going to be like, Hm. And then they'll click away.
I have a funny story that I tell. I can't remember who it was now, but a couple of Due South fans that I knew sent out super secret, private invitations, and they were like, Okay, we're only going to invite, sane, non-hostile, non-argumentative people. We're going to have a Due South lists without any of— People weren't saying "wank" at that time, I don't think, because this was pre-LJ. But, you know—There's going to be none of that. We're all just going to be pleasant. And this is going to be a good list with good discussions. And then within three weeks, it had blown up into a flame war. You know? You're only getting on this list if, like, three people vouch for you that you're not crazy and mean ... Oh! And it's done. And that's what the Ray Wars were like. But yeah. So I was on a couple different Due South lists. I would bounce around. And I was on Prospect-L, which was great—which was just the best mailing list of all time. And I joined a couple of different ones later on, just to have a place to post things. And I don't know if you can underestimate how the places that were available shaped what people posted, you know?

You know, back in the day ... People tell stories where it's just like, Okay I'm leaving Starsky and Hutch fandom and I'm going over to Pros fandom, and it was like sending half your family out on the Oregon Trail. Okay. Bye—you know?—I'll never, ever, see you again. Because you wouldn't. They would leave your mailing list and go off to some other place, and you would never see them again. You would never know what they were up to. But now ... And so, like, people felt it really intensely. Like it was this huge betrayal. Like, back when you know ... People would make an excuse to join new fandoms, because their friends would just be like, Why are you abandoning me? And not even just their friends, but people who wanted them to finish their fanfic or their series. Where are you going? You can't leave, you can't be in another fandom! There was a lot more monofannishness. You know, people would say things like "fannish butterfly" to indicate that that was just a weird thing to be, to constantly move from fandom to fandom.

But on journal-based fandom, you know, you could post about a different thing every day of the week. Nothing was off-topic. You might unfriend somebody if they moved into, say, Teen Wolf fandom and just started posting about Teen Wolf five times a day and didn't talk about anything else ever. But, you know, the journal was ... I think a lot of people saw it as a way to keep track of their fan friends even if they were in different fandoms. So there was a lot more freedom to get into different things, to talk about random things, to say, Hey, has anyone else read this obscure YA novel from 1953? Because wouldn't it be cool if there if there was this story where this happened. And then four people would be like, Oh yeah! And that never would have happened on a mailing list, because it would have been totally off-topic.
I think—back in the day, people would wait to get into a fandom [before thinking about setting up a website or archive], because it was a more serious thing. It was like moving into a new house, you know? Like, I don't know about this; let's wait. Let's check it out, let's think some more, let's check out the basement, let's make sure there's outlets. All this kind of stuff. And nowadays it's it's like ordering lunch. You don't like it you can get something different tomorrow. So it's not such a huge step as it was back in the mailing list day, where, you know ... You'd have to be like, Okay, now I have to find a new mailing list. What if the mod is crazy? This is just going to ruin my whole experience of the fandom. What if this is one of these fandoms where slash is any unconventional pairing? It's just going to drive me crazy; every time I sign on to this list I'll see that.
I'm probably mischaracterizing it a little bit, but what, you know, the sort of people who don't like Tumblr, what they say is generally along the lines of (a) everyone in fandom is getting into Tumblr, (b) it's confusing, it's hard, I don't understand it, I'll be lost, and ... And that will be it. It'll be Tumblr fandom or nothing. And I don't like Tumblr fandom, therefore, I will just be left on the shore, like a fish, and I will dry out and die. As, you know, fandom moves away. And to that, I would say (a) not everyone is going to move to Tumblr, you know. And they're always going to want a platform where they can talk. And journal-based fandom or, even Twitter—which a lot of people are on, and I'm not—fans are always going to want to talk, and talk and talk and talk. And they are going to stay on platforms where they can talk. Whether it's mailing lists, or a journal, or Twitter. Or some adaptation of Tumblr to which they've added, like apps—or what am I thinking of—Like Missing E, [which] is a little Tumblr app you can install, and it gives people the ability to comment on your Tumblr posts. People are always going to talk, like don't worry. Nobody's going to stop talking. (b) not everyone is going to move to Tumblr. Maybe some of your friends will disappear there and you'll never see them again. Tumblr is the new Oregon Trail. But, you know, it's not like it was in mailing list days. You know, you can still keep track of people a lot easier. And (c) there's so many new kinds of fan works on Tumblr, it just blows me away. Filk; it's huge. Where is filk on LiveJournal and Dreamwidth? Nowhere. No one does filk. I don't think I've ever seen anyone post a filk on LiveJournal or Dreamwidth. Probably I have, maybe once in ten years. But I just don't remember it. At all. Because there's no file hosting ability on LiveJournal or Dreamwidth, except for pictures. And on LJ it's very confusing and weird and hardly anyone uses it. But people in Sherlock fandom write filk all the time. And they post it, and it's really easy, because there's this easy little audio embedding app.
You know. Then the archivist may go crazy and delete all the slash because they've come to Jesus. They may burn the archives to a CD and start to sell it, as happened with Master/Apprentice. Anything can happen. And mainly you trust people. But a lot of times, you know, you have to realize that that is an act of trust. That you are handing your story over, saying, "Hey, take good care of it," you know. "I'm letting people take care of it." And most archivists, I think, are very sensitive to that. And will always, I think, be very aware of their responsibility. Like if somebody had a personal crisis and they have been outed at their job or to their husband or something, and I—they say, "I need all those stories taken down now," a lot of people will immediately jump to it. Even if it's something ... I saw somebody post to Dreamwidth recently about Fanlore. Someone had posted some scans of an old meme, and they had her full name on them. And she e-mailed, and was like, "Can you fuzz that out? Blur that out?" Which is a policy on Fanlore, they will do that for you. And she had googled and also found her name on some e-mail resell website. Some agent, some kind of agent, and she e-mailed them and said, "Can you redact my full name?" And she posted to her Dreamwidth, and the posts are like, "I am so surprised that both of these people ... " you know, well, and Fanlore, associations and individuals, " ... acquiesced immediately to my request and said it's gone, you know, check here, check here. Hopefully we've taken care of this to your satisfaction," both the zine editor and the Fanlore people. And she was so surprised and pleased that it happened. And I think people do realize that when you're looking after people's stuff, you have a responsibility. And in the case of the Smallville Slash Archive, the primary responsibility, I think, is to make sure it stays up. That's what you do when you're an archivist. You make sure it stays up. You make sure it stays available.