Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Rachael Sabotini

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Rachael Sabotini
Interviewer: Lisa Cronin
Interviewee: Rachael Sabotini
Date(s): August 20, 2012
Medium: audio, print transcript
External Links: Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Rachael Sabotini
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Fan Fiction Oral History Project with Rachael Sabotini was conducted in 2012 by Lisa Cronin and archived at the University of Iowa Libraries.

This interview's medium is audio (length: 1:41:34), and it has a written 37-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

  • Narnia
  • Sime~Gen
  • missing curated rec lists -- the personal touch, the ability to find things by year, reading by recs is no longer individual person doing a review, but rather crowd sourcing; "it's crowd-sourced recs, as opposed to the individual reviewer"
  • Rachael Sabotini's House O'Fanfic
  • fandom is made of people watching different shows together, a comment on personal perception: "This show that I am watching is not the same as the show that you're watching"
  • life cycles of fandom interest
  • vidding
  • getting into fandom through The Professionals, getting into online fandom through Highlander, moving from mailing lists to LiveJournal because of Harry Potter
  • the meteoric rise and fall of The Phantom Menace fandom
  • the opinion that Supernatural will never improve because TPTB don't understand what's "wrong" and canon creators not understanding their own shows and the potential these characters have
  • Stargate Atlantis, how fans created derivative works because of a dislike of what was put in front of them
  • "good shows" don't generate a robust fandom like "bad shows"; one needs some gray areas, plot holes, and incomplete characterization to fix
  • a fandom is reliant on the fans and the conversations and community they build around it; a show without these things will not take off as a fandom
  • the two first slash Starsky & Hutch zines published in the United States and the drama behind them, see Code 7 and Trace Elements
  • the term "outing" as it pertains to fans and their fannishness
  • pseuds and connecting them to legal names
  • kudos -- their pros and cons
  • loss of single, personal voices in fandom
  • Sandy Herrold
  • the origins of the Pros zine Guilty Pleasures


How did I first find fan fiction? Okay. Back in the day, this is probably ... '82. I had a friend named Sandy Harrold, who was living in a house with a couple of other people from the SCA. And she—and we went over to help collate her — the letter zine for the SCA. And got to drinking wine and talking afterward. And she had collected ... She had several other contacts at the University of Washington, that had fan fiction, and they had been passing around zines and that. And so she started passing me some fan zines. And it started off with zines like Broken Images, and Tales of Feldman, and got to be more and more and more stuff. So I got hooked up with an unofficial circuit. And from there, Sandy and I developed a very fast fannish relationship. And that's how I found it....I started in zine fandom at, like I said, probably '82. Or maybe '83. I was in college at the time.

And Star Trek: The Next Generation was just coming out. I read some Starsky and Hutch. And, so, that was kind of what I started with. And then I got into Professionals at my first con. We kinda got hooked into the Starsky and Hutch fifteen-year anniversary. In 1990, I guess. And at that point in time that's when we ... Well, actually, first we'd seen Koon-ut-Kali-Con 2. And we took a trip down to San Diego to that. And that's where we first saw the Professionals. We saw vids for the first time at that point, too. We didn't, you know, know who those guys were, but it looked pretty cool. And so, they had ... Candy Fong's husband was running a dubbing system in one of the rooms downstairs. And he had slaved-up several different VCRs, so he could put in a tape and make a copy of several episodes simultaneously. And so he was dubbing whatever they happened to have. If you said, "I would like some Professionals," then he would slip in, you know, two or three or four episodes of the Professionals, and dub them into several different tapes, and then you could take one of them home for a small fee. For basically the cost of the tape. And so that's what we did, and we got several Professionals episodes, you know and we couldn't quite tell who was who, you know. We saw that there was fan fiction, and one of the guys had the green eyes, but you know it was so hard to tell. You know. Dubbed down twenty-five different levels. And I got some Man from U.N.C.L.E. episodes, that, because they were so hard to come by at that time.

Okay. So we started off, back at the Starsky and Hutch Fifteenth Anniversary, we met up with ... You know. We'd seen vids at San Diego. And we met up with DJ, who made vids in our area. And so we decided that we would learn to do vidding. And so we started vidding on VCRs, Sandy and I. And sent tapes to Escapade. And we started getting a bigger group in Seattle that was interested, first in zine exchanges and writing prose, and then we decided that we wanted to get a vidding VCR. And so we needed to earn money to be able to get that new vidding VCR. So we put a zine together in order, as a fundraiser, with everybody writing a story. And it was at that time that I fell in love with Highlander.

And I learned that Highlander was primarily online. If you wanted to be a Highlander fan, you had to go online. And you had to get a connection there. So I had been dabbling with, you know, the friends that I was talking about as a group, we e-mailed back and forth, we all had accounts either through universities, or work access, or something like that. So we had a small group — and that eventually became the foundation of Virgule, the first slash list online. And, um, we used that. And so I'd just written a story for this new zine, new fandom, new name, so I signed up with some of the Highlander stuff, under Rachael Sabotini, and that. And started creating an online presence. Just so I could be on the ROG — Really Old Guy — list for people who liked Methos.

[My move to LiveJournal was due to Harry Potter]. I had written some Harry Potter stuff back ... Book one, book two. Because I was just interested in the character Neville. And then the movies were coming out, and I thought, oh I should try to find fannish interests that were similar. And I found some Snape people. And so I joined that list. And at the time they were just starting a Harry/Snape list. And so I joined that as well. The first weekend, right before the movie opened. And then it became huge. So. That list, then, was having outages; the traffic was just so massive. And so the back-up plan was for everybody to be on LJ, and connect up with other LJs, so we could find each other. And, basically, that was the impetus. So everybody got an LJ, you know, these hundred thousand — not hundred thousand, but a hundred, then 200, then 500, then a thousand people. And by the time we had all gotten LJs, you know, some people had had them for a couple years by that point. But I was able to, like, get a permanent LJ account as a founder sort of thing. They ... You know. That became the real method of communication, rather than the mailing lists. It slowly, you know, instead of that being the backup to the mailing list, the mailing list became the back-up to the conversation that was going around on LJ.

How does the technology do [affect fandom]? Well, okay. Early fandom was more like a giant house party. Since you tended to participate together either at cons, or in local gatherings, you know, or in writing letters and stuff. It was a very, very ... You know, fandom was always a very private experience. It's got this huge public aspect, but it's, it's you and the material, you watching the material, you talking with people about the material. But the presentation of it was ... Okay. Television is "in a public space" medium. Or initially it was, you know. You sat on the couch, the TV was far away from you, you had people sitting in the room with you, and so that was "other, over there." Nowadays when you watch TV, it's usually right up close, on your computer — not everybody watches it that way, but — it's a much more "within the private space, of you and your mind." Same thing with entering the information onto an online environment. It's much more in your personal space, in your personal mindset, because it's right in front of your eyes when you're typing all of this stuff in. Whereas you had to send it off, to go away, to be published in a zine, and then it would come back to you, and could be consumed by multiple people that way. So it was a little more ... Extroversion was required for that initial stuff. Yes, you participated, and you lurked, and you could buy things and have it all come to you, but there was a lot of activity that required you to go outside of yourself, that the technology of having your phone, that having the computer, just brings a different aspect to. It's much more; you're carrying fandom in your head all the time now, as opposed to, you know. It's in your head, it's in your pocket, it's—you're constantly immersed. Whereas there was much more space in that original environment. And other people tended to fill that space, and it wasn't so much in your head. If that makes any sense.'s always sad when the show is fading, and people aren't as interested in it anymore, you know. When it — during the early years, you could count on the fandom for being around for a long, long, long time. I mean ... And being central to people for years and years. Initially—. I mean, Star Trek; decades.

But as the cycle has wound up, and as the media has realized that they can get more product from fans ... Then, much speedier for the cycles to go through. But the, I mean, the fandom, with the absolute fastest meteoric rise and fall that I know of, was Phantom Menace. Because that, you know, had such a pent-up demand for fan material. And then — For fan material not of ... I don't want to say, "of a boy nature," but you know what I mean. Of ... That appealed to the relationships and emotional context that women look for. That when the Phantom Menace started to come out and the first photos were coming out, people jumped on that bandwagon right away. And it just, it was taking off even before the movie opened. And it skyrocketed. For, like, two years. And then dropped like a stone. Within a year after that, nobody was really interested or writing in it. It was like, huge pent-up demand, everybody must spill out every single story idea that they'd ever thought, every vid that came to them needed to be done now now now—and then oh my God, I can't believe I ate everything, I binged, I ... You know; I'm done. It was a mass insanity party.

I do have a fondness for immortality and regeneration, in that I really don't like death to be a permanent thing. I like "found." I like common people who step up to the odds and become heroes; who find their family and find their place, no matter what it might be. So it's a whole ship of misfits that unite together and can get things done. And that's what I really like. And shows, and I mean ... There've been a bit of that thread, I mean, even in U.N.C.L.E. there was all sorts of fun stuff. But those guys, in the early early early shows, they were — they would get injured, and hurt, and electrocuted, and all sorts of hurt/comfort goodness, and at the end of the episode they were all bouncing back; there were no consequences. And so, that, it was fun to see some of those consequences explored. And, and "What happens if you break them?" and "How do they come back?" and "Who can they rely on?", you know? Because those are always, always things that I loved in those shows. But there's lots of things; that's a thing that, you know ... People to rely on, found families, I think is a step that I keep coming back to. And misfits. You know? I love me the outsiders.

I need ... (laughs) I need a show—not in the sense that I need to find fan fiction — and I need to find other people to talk about it. It's more ... The show gives me the universe, and I need a universe with holes, I need a universe with grays, because those holes and the grays are the places where I exist. If the show is too seamless, then there's no place for me. Farscape I think, the early part of it, there was less room for people than there was in the later part of the series. And depending upon when you fell into it, you would've felt "Wow, this is seamless; I'm getting everything I need from this show," or "There are all these things that are getting dropped and I need to see what's happening with them." You know. And that's just the way it works for me. So a show that's too good is actually detrimental. Because all I'm going to do is I'm going to sit there and passively watch it, and I'm going to talk about it with my family, and maybe people from work, but I'm not going to feel the need to go online and write about it.

[Curated rec lists are] something that I do miss, is the ability to go back and say, "What were the good stories of ... you know, five years ago. 2005. What ... Because ... Not the great stories, the two or three stories that everybody's talking about, but the ones that were good, solid stories." Those have fallen off the planet. Nobody — You know. If it wasn't by a known author at the time, or if it wasn't the watershed story of the day, they're gone. And you won't be able to find them in something like Archive of Our Own, because it's just, it's not present. But if somebody like Amothea used to keep her Archive of Angst — but really it was torture and pain and bad things happening to your favorite guys, you know. And that was great. Because here it was this person, putting together this list, putting themselves out there, saying, "These are things that I like, and I think you'll like them too." And I'm losing that. With the crowd sourcing, I'm losing this sense of a recommender, and who they are, and what their tastes are, and how much they match with mine. And I've read, using the method that I have, of looking at kudos and comments, and saying, "Ooh, these look good," I have read some good stories. But they are not my perfect stories. I ... You know, Sandy Herrold was primary recommender because she would read voraciously. And I don't have that primary recommender anymore. And I can't find, you know, don't have any mechanism, really, of being able to say, "Ooh, this is the perfect story for me." I will find, "Oh here's an author that I like and they have written stuff I kind of liked before," but it's not, it's not that one hundred percent fit that you — that I could find with personal recommendations....

Because, you know; you would get a feel for who the person was, and then you could know how you could rely on them. So maybe the story that wasn't as well known as all of these other stories, but it would have that thing that you were looking for, whatever that thing was. This person, you know, was really good at ferreting out, like ninety percent of that stuff. And that's what I mean. With the crowd sourcing level of recommendations that we have, you know, our recs have become crowd sourced. And that is losing the, that connection that you're really kind of looking for to both the source, and the fandom, and the recommender.

Criticism, good for a kerfluffle, no matter what flavor. Whether it was reviews of zines on mailing lists, to somebody mentioning a story on LiveJournal. Any flavor of comment that "not everything is perfect, not everything is good," has caused problems. One of the ... Okay, back on one of the mailing lists, a woman was writing a series called the "Terra Nova Situation." And she posted happily, "I just broke a million words!" The response was, "And they can never be fixed." So that, you know; those were all good. We had, oh man, back in Smallville, there was all of the people faking identities, in Sentinel people faked identities, of Münchausen's-by-Internet people. We had people really go crazy and lose it, and post massive flounces, just ... There are so many in my brain. Because it's just true of people, you know? They take their ball and their bat and they go home and they slam the door, and then five years later they show up in a different lot playing, you know, hockey instead of baseball this time.

Originally female geeks were completely hidden from society. And we did not exist. And that has changed with the rise of the geek and recent culture has really become aware of women as ... As... You know, I don't want to say, "intelligent human beings." But yet I keep coming back to "intelligent human beings." That ... It's a much different environment, I feel, now, with people like Joss Whedon, and the Avengers, and their coming round to the idea that there is, you know, lots of money to be made. That they don't have to look down on us the way they did when Aaron Sorkin had his problems with West Wing fans, and that sort of thing. That we — that there's been this whole gamut of going from invisibility to "there, there little girl," you know, pat them on the head, sit them aside, be — you know — be pissed off at them, "how dare they, what do they think they're doing," to being in a place where we're finally getting, "Hey wait a minute; we're women, we know what we're talking about, we're powerful," and it's a rise out of the geek culture that's really making that happen. So I think, depending upon who you talk to and when their formative experiences were, you'd get whole different range of feelings about it. And thoughts about it. That I can't say how any one group looking at us would act like, because there's just so many different ways to look at us.