Hurting the Ones We Love: An Interview with Kelly Chambliss

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Hurting the Ones We Love: An Interview with Kelly Chambliss
Interviewer: Seema
Interviewee: Kelly Chambliss
Date(s): November 12, 2002
Medium: online
Fandom(s): femmeslash, Star Trek: Voyager
External Links: interview is here, Archived version
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Hurting the Ones We Love: An Interview with Kelly Chambliss was conducted in 2002 for Zendom.

The introduction: "Kelly is one of the most lyrical authors in Voyager fandom today. Her stories are hot, compelling, intriguing and always thought-provoking. Kelly's fics focus mostly on Janeway and Janeway's complex relationships with her crew - and did I mention her fic is *hot*? Kelly was kind enough to talk to me about pushing her favorite character, Kathryn Janeway, to the limits as well as sharing her thoughts on smut in fanfiction."

Some Excerpts

I hate to see so many people leaving Trek fandom for others. I know it's only natural, but I'm not finished with Trek and Janeway yet! And I selfishly don't want others to be.
When I started writing, I never thought I'd be able to write an explicit sex scene. I hadn't read all that many, and those I had read made me nervous. Not because they were explicit, but because they seemed so lacking... some people try to include every little detail, which can be distracting rather than erotic. Plus, so few writers seemed to have strong control over their language. For instance, they would often sound far too clinical, so that the scene would read like something out a gynecology textbook or they would go to the other extreme, using romantic euphemisms that became just laughable. Or they would seem to believe that writing about sex had to be daring and shocking, peppering their writing with words like "cunt" and "pussy" regardless of whether this diction made any sense with the characters and the situation.
Another difficult act is posting the explicit scenes after I've written them. I feel awkward, vulnerable-- I'm always afraid that people are going to assume that my sex scenes represent my personal fantasies (which they don't.) It's odd -- I never think that if I write a story about a male alcoholic teenager, people will assume that that person is me. But sex -- so much baggage goes along with it. I heard a lecture by Barbara Kingsolver once. Someone asked her if she wrote with a particular audience in mind. She said yes, although not specific people. "I mean, I can't worry about what might happen if my mother or my high school gym teacher read a sex scene I've written... I haven't talked to too many people about explicit writing, but the ones I HAVE talked to -- Boadicea, august, monkee-- say similar things -- that they worry that they will write something that will suggest they don't really know anything about sex, or that their mothers will search the web and find them, or that people might think they are perverted or something."
I don't think that it makes any sense to expand the term "slash" to cover m/f relationships, but I do understand what the speaker meant. Though there are many reasons to account for people's interest in slash, I think a common denominator is that slash represents something subversive, something outside the usual comfort zone, something that challenges cultural definitions and expectations.
The Janeway paradoxes get played out in other writers' fanfic, too, but too often, they get translated into melodrama or silliness. I've read stories in which Janeway is so tortured by guilt that she gets hysterical paralysis, or gets raped by Kashyk and goes into a catatonic decline, or where her vulnerabilities are turned into such weakness that she is constantly sobbing or begging Chakotay/Tom [fill in the blank with strong male] to rescue her, etc. But to my mind, she would never break into pieces in this way. She would retreat into herself, perhaps -- she might take up bondage, etc, or find ways to punish herself, but she would remain highly functional and even, odd as this may sound, relatively well-adjusted, however much mental and physical pain she would bear.
Yes, Scully is another fascinating character. And the whole man thing is one of the issues that bugged me about another of my favorite TV characters, Cagney from Cagney and Lacey. They were so determined not to let there be any suggestion that she might be a lesbian that they ended up turning her into a sort of crabby nympho.... The usual thing is to portray such women as unnatural, unsexed, or at the very least, unhappy. I don't think TPTB or Jeri Taylor or Mulgrew herself really quite knew how to generate any conflict or interest for the KJ character in any other way. And the same seems true of many fanfic writers. Not that I'm saying that all writers have to be radical feminists, or that any woman who writes about a woman who *does* want a man is unenlightened. But as I get older, I realize just how much of what we think of as our individual, considered opinions is really tremendously culturally-conditioned.