Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Morgan Dawn

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Morgan Dawn
Interviewer: Lisa Cronin
Interviewee: Morgan Dawn
Date(s): July 21, 2012
Medium: audio, print transcript
Fandom(s):
External Links: Fiction Oral History Project with Morgan Dawn
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

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

This interview's medium is audio (length: 2:04:57), and it has a written 60-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

I resisted LiveJournal because... in the olden days, before the Internet, you would go to someone's living room. Literally, you'd be sitting in their living room and you usually knew who you were visiting and everyone talked around the kitchen table. And you were polite, because this was someone else's house and you brought food, and then, when we got on the mailing lists, you were in a friend of a friend's living room. So, you didn't know everybody there, but you still were talking all around that table and you still had to be kind of polite, because it wasn't really your living room. But when we went to LiveJournal, it was like this crazy series of room parties in a hotel. So, everybody owns their own room. The windows are open. The curtains are drawn. Everybody can see everything. You want people to come in, but God-darn it! It's your room. And you want to talk. When you go to a room party, someone talks. "It's my room, my room party. Listen to me." (CRONIN laughs) And people were there to have fun, but they're not talking at the table, they're munching on the floor, there's someone who's hanging out in the bathroom. It's all very chaotic and not centralized. And you feel very proprietary about your room. Trust me. Now to me, Tumblr is like getting in your car and driving down the highway and going past everybody, waving, stopping for a quick bite of fast food—junk food usually—going down. And maybe, if you want to socialize, you stop at a mobile, mobile food truck. So, you don't actually talk to anyone. You don't have to if you don't want to. But you can. But it's more like, "I'm having a blast! I'm driving real fast! Woo-hoo!" And then that's it. And that's how I feel about how social interaction is changing; it's becoming more ... It's not just fandom. But more transitory, more temporal, more situational. So, I do mourn that possibility. But I don't know if it's going to happen.
I had no desire nor interest to get involved on Fanlore at all. I had no desire or interest to preserve fan zines at all. I mean, except for the collection I had that was gathering dust. But what happened—and I think that this was in the summer of 2009—is, for many years, fan zines had been sold fan to fan. But, eventually, people began to sell them on eBay. Initially, in the early, mid-2000s this was a bad thing. You were bringing visibility to the fan writers who never had the desire to have their stuff shown up on eBay. But by 2009, more and more people were doing it. There are a few professionals, I like to call them, fan zine sellers. Basically fans that pick up zines at really low cost, sometimes for free, and turn around and sell them for thirty bucks a pop. Not that I agree with this, but they have a big inventory. So, what happened in 2009 was, Doctor Beth is her name, listed a few fan zines that apparently—and this was after a lot of back and forth in research—were what we now call "custom zines." We never had a term for this before the Internet. But what a custom zine is, and we came up with the phrase—this is the phrase that I came up with to explain to fandom—a custom zine is where you take fan fiction off the Internet, and you bind it, and maybe you put a pretty cover on it. And the more technology access you have, the more it starts to look like a real zine. So, there were several situations, several things that Doctor Beth was selling, that were clearly, after much research, not real fan zines, but someone's Internet fic that had been printed off. And how it ended up in her hands, no one knows. They were being sold and what happened is there was this whole thing starting on LiveJournal. This "people are stealing your fan fiction and they're putting it in zines and they're selling it" and the next thing you know, a whole generation of LiveJournal fans discovered the concept of fan zines and were horrified that anyone ever, ever got paid for fan fiction. This was wrong. It was as if they never knew their history. Not only did they not know that fan zines were the only way for people to share fan fiction before the Internet, they didn't care. They were about to report the last five fan zine publishers for IP infringement, because they already started reporting Doctor Beth to eBay for this. And they were sending out one of those LiveJournal internet memes where "Look to see if your name was on this list. Must report immediately. If you see someone, report! Report, if you see someone selling a fan zine! Report!" And I went ballistic, because to me, it struck three different aspects of fandom. One is the love of the written word, the love of our history, and how we got there. And the desire to police fandom by using outsiders, just, you know. Reporting a fan for copyright infringement is like taking up a gun and shooting yourself in the head. And then complaining that you're dead. (CRONIN laughs) I sit there and I'm like, I was offended. So, I did my own counter-meme and ended up being in contact—we managed to squelch it through a lot of, you know, "You idiot!" kind of conversations and, "Don't you know your history?" "Have you ever heard about ...?"
[Virgule[L] was all run for women, by women. And they had a pretty strict no-advertising [policy]. You couldn't even mention it online, mainly because we were concerned with what was happening to women, who were online in the early '90s. Which were, "Hi! I'm a woman." "Hey, want to have sex with me?" You know, literally, that's what we were constantly getting hit with, when you identified yourself as a woman. And God forbid you identified yourself as a geek woman, because you would get hit on even harder. So, and there we were talking about slash, or wanting to talk about slash, which was not very well accepted in fandom at the time, or at least online. And so we had all this vulnerability. So what we did with that early mailing list was —again, I joined it just as a member—was, you had to give them your real full name. You had to sign a statement that no one but you would be reading your e-mail, (coughs suggestively) [redacted]. (CRONIN laughs) You had to then promise not to advertise or talk about the mailing list in open areas. It was extremely restrictive, but ultimately, what we needed to get off the ground. Within a year or two, of course, more and more people were joining online—in various CompuServe and AOL and GEnie communities. So that, it became less of an issue to be open and talking online about slash or Star Trek or whatever. That's how I entered fandom. So, my world was maybe 100 women. I think after a year or two, they needed somebody to be a co-moderator so I was asked to be a co-moderator, and they actually ran it off of my Internet server for a while—you know, the mailing list software.
Virgule. So, this is my introduction. This is how I identify myself as a fan. I walked into the Internet, found a room filled with a hundred amazing women and just sat down and spent the rest of my life there. And that's how I started fandom, and of course, you know, people introduced me to fan zines, more vids. I sat down and watched my first few vids with people, and it was all very, "Let me send you this stuff. I don't even know who you are. I'm going to mail you these tapes. I'm going to mail you this fan zine or these photocopies." And you would sit there and you would then hand them to the next person.
We had a whole discussion on the Virgule mailing list. When someone discovered that someone had put up a website, and this was just when the websites "www" were happening, of a list of places you could get fan zines, where you could buy them, and they had actually gotten permission for some of the people, but not everyone. It was like outing. It was considered the equivalent of outing someone who was gay, you know. It was the most horrific debate. You were exposing these people, who you have no idea what issues they have in their life. You have no idea what vulnerabilities they might have that they are reading and watching slash. And keep in mind, most of everything I'm talking about is through the slash filter. So, that's kind of skewing this. But that's why, anyone, anyone could see this stuff. And there were arguments on the mailing list where people were just furious with each other. It was the end of the world. And then there was a whole other group of us, who were like, Whatever. So it was back and forth. And eventually as I often like to say—and we have put some of this up on Fanlore, sort of not naming names, but just sort of summarizing some of this. Eventually, while we were in our room going, Ahh, this wave of people from AOL and GEnie just completely sweeped— sweeped?—Swept by. And it just overtook. And suddenly fan fiction was everywhere. And that was actually a problem, because we couldn't find it. There was no Google. There was no way to find fan fiction. The only way you found fan fiction was if somebody gave you a link. Then you would go to the link page. Everybody had a links page. Then you would click on the next link. That would take you to someone else's page and then you'd go to their links page and it was literally for years, and then you wouldn't know where you were. You'd be ten links down and you couldn't remember where you were. So, it was this sort of treasure hunt. Originally, that's how we found fan fiction. Mailing lists helped a lot, because at least on a mailing list, people would post their stories to the mailing list. So you would get it in your inbox and you didn't have to go looking for it.
Sandy was one of the people that administered and moderated the Virgule mailing list with me. She was kind of like my peer and she had been diagnosed for the second time with breast cancer. So, she was talking a lot about ... You know, looking back at her life and realizing the connections she made with women and how, how horrible it would be if yet another generation of women['s] creativity was just sort of vanished. Because nobody felt that it was important to record. So that's kind of what made—And then she went ahead and found the University of Iowa. She was looking for a place to donate her collection. This was before OTW even existed. And she found them. She e-mailed them. They were open to it. So, she sent her Blake's 7 collection, Blake's 7 fan zines. So, when the time came for me to downsize, I already had someone's path to follow. So I began donating my stuff, and then I found out there were many fans who wanted to get rid of their zines, wanted to work through the OTW's Open Doors, but they really weren't set up to handle donations yet. Kind of lagging here. So, for two or three years, people would be sending the zines to me and the University of Iowa gave me prepaid labels, shipping labels. It all became soft of this mushrooming project where I'm sitting here going, How the hell did I get involved in this?, but I wouldn't be able to do it without [redacted]'s help because he does most of the labeling and everything and we just now got Open Doors more actively engaged. We have now a full-time volunteer who knows zines and is actually keeping track of everyone who's writing to donate and following up and sending e-mails—things that weren't happening before.
I found a woman. Her name is Mrs. Potato Head. That's her fannish name and she basically has the capability of going onto Fanlore everyday and adding, and adding, and she's pretty much single-handedly put all those 1,000 fan zine scan covers up on Fanlore and I would say, she's pretty much touched every one of the 8,000 fan zine entries on Fanlore. And, bless her heart, I've got access to some of the early newsletters. We're talking Star Trek. We're talking the Professionals, Starsky and Hutch. And I scanned a few of them, sent her the scans, and what she did—something I never would have imagined—she sits down and she'll take a newsletter and she'll read the whole darn thing and then she'll pick maybe four or five quotes from that newsletter. And she won't name names. She'll say, "A fan here discussed the declining state of quality of fan writing." And then she'll quote a little bit. "A fan is discussing the excitement they have over this upcoming convention." So, if you go to Fanlore and look at some of these newsletters, you're actually seeing little excerpts of what the people discuss—without actually getting their names, because we all wrote under our real names back then, so, you don't want that out there. And she's just methodically going through each of these newsletters, just sort of recreating little glimpses so that it's not all locked away in a vault somewhere. If you want you know what Star Trek fans were talking about in 1987, you can go and read about their crazy stuff. So, again, it's more of a question of finding the right people, who have the time and energy and, really, you just point them in the right direction and hope that things happen.
[Trying to archive Pros fic online] sort of set the stage for all subsequent archiving discussions, the whole concept of permission and needing permission, before you could put someone else's story in your web. I mean this all was all sort of tied up into "Who owns what?" And it's a sort of a complicated thing that I think fandom still hasn't resolved, because we own what we don't own. We think we own—we give it to you, until we don't want to give it to you. We want control, but we don't want control, because with control comes liability. And it's all very mixed up and confusing. And so, when you see the OTW saying, We have rescued the Smallville archive! And the archivist has given permission! And it's just a server change!, you get feedback from some small group of community members who act as if, again, you have marched into their house and stolen their children.
And the University of Iowa is not yet set up to take [digital scans]. We had one fanzine publisher in the UK scan every zine she published, 221, and she did donate those. She e-mailed them to me and burned them on an archival gold DVD. They can keep them. There's precedence for this. It's called "Preservation Copies." It's an exception to the copyright code, which says that if you are an archive or a library—you have to be open to the public, number one—you can make up to two digital copies of anything you have in your possession for archival purposes. You may not display them online. You can make them accessible at wherever location you want. So, you can like, "Here's the PDF. The original is so delicate, we can't let you touch it—but you can look at it on site." That's the theory we're kind of going with right now. So, when we start to get these donations, donated PDFs, right now they're sitting on my hard drive. They're sitting on a server, because we're backing them up. And we're waiting for some institution that has the sensitivity and the understanding—real names et cetera, et cetera—of curating them. So, yes, we are going digital. But I want to show you more [print zines]. Analog.
Yeah, and that's the ephemeral nature of fandom and that's when I started to realize that—Well, first off, when I started doing research about web archiving? And I was running into people who felt very, very strongly against it, that you were stealing and thieving by backing, by making a copy and downloading it to your hard drive—we'll get to that, all that, in a moment—I did some googling and I discovered that, in the UK, they have their own Internet archive, their own Wayback Machine, but it operates on an opt in process. Which means that they want to back up something, they have to get written permission from the web master—who is often times not the owner of the content, as you know. Okay? And so, what they're discovering is they're getting less than one percent compliance or permission. Which, when they ran that number against the number of books that were saved by the Irish monks during the Dark Ages, is less. So, less than one percent of the UK, for example, is being saved. Less than the Dark Ages. Now, in the US, with the Wayback Machine, we have an opt out process. But there're problems, as I've indicated to you, with their retroactive wiping. And because this is from DeviantART and other places, and LiveJournal, none of it's indexed, because none of it is—you know, the robots, exclusion, the robots, exclusion. So, that's why we're doing analog.
No, even if recognition never plays a factor. "I told you this in confidence. This was a private kitchen discussion. You are now taking my private confidences and spreading them over the Internet, even if no one ever knows you have betrayed me." And that's the level of concern that they have. So, it's not just a question of "I can't tie it to Person A." It's a question of, "I would never have spoken to you that way." Now here's the irony; I am typing this in 1985 on my typewriter. I have my name and my home address and maybe even my full birth date and my Sagittarius sign up there, right? I am totally happy, having this conversation and I know that I'm talking to 100 other people—or maybe twenty; it depends on the number on the letter zine. And yet, that letter zine is ending up on eBay. So, and then there's someone on Fanlore, quoting five lines anonymously. You know, it's just ... I really have a hard time connecting. So, because of that, some of the historians are having to go more under the radar to avoid getting a phone call, "I know who you really are and only because I'm a good human being will I not out you." Which is what I got, so.
People who do archiving and history don't get a lot of positive feedback. In fact, the only time you hear from people is when they're literally at your door with flaming torches. You know, "How dare you!" So, that's why people on Fanlore are trying to keep a low profile, me, keep a low profile.
We have three kinds of fans; those who, like, I having too much fun, man! Those who, "I have it, my precious" (CRONIN laughs) I've worked with a few of them. I finally had to give up. I mean, they're lovely people. I adore them, but oh my God, I'm never going to get that stuff out. And when they pass, it's going to go straight to the garbage heap. No matter how many times they say, they've made provision. And then there's the rest of us who are like, Oh, I have some stuff here. You want? If I can find it, I'll give it to you, and that's us.
I think every convention has a life cycle. Let's put it this way, if you were planning to go to MediaWest, go next summer. I don't think the organizers are going to have much stamina. They did something that was kind of foolhardy for them, after thirty-three years of not allowing any public discussion of their convention ever, ever, they opened up a Facebook account and said, "We would love to hear your input on panels." Instead, they got thirty-three years of input on the convention as a whole. And they didn't appreciate it. They felt very, very imposed upon, because they've some very odd restrictions set up in terms of how you get registered, and you have to enter a room lottery, but it's not a room lottery, it's a room reservation system, but it really is a lottery. But don't call it a reserv— ... You know. So they are teetering on the edge, in my opinion. I think that the con still has a couple more years.
But this will be the first year at VividCon that I don't think we're going to have that meta meaty community discussion. I think it's partially—my speculation—the fallout from the recent OTW board elections. Because I think there's a lot of pressure being put on people who are very visible and active to step aside, and to ... There're these very weird preconceptions as to the people who are the drivers. There are very few people who get off their butts to do much of anything. And sometimes they're not the easiest people to work with. I mean, usually they're not. But you have to admire the fact, and respect the fact, that they're getting shit done. And what you have to do is find a way to work with them and that is not happening. So, when I bring that up, I'm saying. I think VividCon's taking a break from the meta discussion, because they themselves were the target two years ago of criticism about their disability access policy. Which, as someone who is disabled, I found to be highly insulting. In terms of how the debate was handled, and the criticisms that were labeled against VividCon, and also when people with disabilities like me spoke up to tell everybody what we really wanted and needed, we were told we were doing it wrong. So, it's one of those classic ... I hate to use the word[s] "social justice" situations, but where people who felt very empowered to speak on our behalf, spoke up and didn't get it right and didn't like being told that they weren't getting it right, so it all devolved into (whispers) "VividCon bad." And, you know? That's the kind of stuff I worry more about in terms of fandom—rather than platforms.
[This interview, in part, is] sort of like a criticism of fandom and yet a love letter, because all of these people who give me so much in terms of creativity and time and effort and, in retrospect, I just want a "I love you all!" you know? And I want people to recognize that it is a labor of love and to be loving back to the people who are doing all of the hard work.

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