Legacy Interview with Syn Ferguson
|Interviews by Fans|
|Title:||Legacy Interview with Syn Ferguson|
|Fandom(s):||Star Trek TOS, slash|
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In 2007, Syn Ferguson was interviewed for the zine Legacy.
Which comes first, the fandom or the author? In my case, I was writing Trek long before I knew fandom existed. Then I found a paperback titled New Voyages, which presented fan stories. One of them painted what I thought was an inaccurate or unflattering picture of Kirk. In the back of that book was some small print inviting submission of other fan stories, so I sat down and wrote my response to the story I didn’t like and sent it off to Carol Frisbie. The story sat around in a slush pile in her basement for a while, but when she read it, she sent me a postcard that said, “You must submit this for professional publication!” I still have the postcard. Carol gave me the address of another Oregon writer, Gayle F., to whom I sent off a tentative letter of self-introduction. Gayle replied on stationary with the most incredible illo I had ever seen. Ever. Anywhere. I couldn’t believe it hadn’t burst into flame in the mail. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t burst into flame looking at it. I wanted to blow it up lifesize on the wall of my bedroom. I didn’t know anything about fandom, but if that was what it was about, I was in! Thrust was the first zine I read. I’m thinking that was mid-to-late ‘70’s. K/S was already going strong, because I spent many weekends visiting Gayle and reading from her collection of zines. I never attended any K/S con or other gathering of K/S fans. Carol Frisbie and Gayle F. were K/S fandom, so far as I knew. I did read a few letterzines and just remember being amazed at the passion and literary acuity being expended. Topics under discussion included Kraith, Mary Sue stories, hurt/comfort and what was or was not pornography. I also got the first intimation that fanged egos might lurk under the surface of things. I didn’t meet either K/S fans and straight Trek fans until after I began to write.
When New Voyages hit the stands, I grabbed it—there was never enough Trek—gobbled it down and was left both aroused and unfulfilled. More! I wanted more even if I had to write it myself. Mission to Mrinn was that effort.... I sat in the kitchen, fireplace at my back, and wrote Mrinn. Longhand. The day I finished typing it (manual typewriter), my horoscope said “Good day for publishing.”... [snipped] ... Now, I can see the strong bias toward K/S in Mrinn, but at the time I only wanted to write Trek the way it “should” be— which obviously had a lot more to do with Kirk and Spock than what’s-her-name. I had never heard or conceived of K/S.
As for “reusing” my own characters, doesn’t everybody? If not, why not? Once they were in my universe, they were people to me, a kind of repertory theater group. They don’t give Oscars for “best actress in a supporting role” for nothing. A strong supporting character adds dimension to the star and can carry parts of the plot that would be out of character for one of the regulars. Besides, I liked my characters. When they showed up again, I was glad to see them.You wondered if I wrote “The Price” with the idea of a sequel in mind. No. I had written “Freedom is Standing in the Light” which still had no sex in it. I think I’d also written “Valley of Shadows.” No sex again. I think I wrote “The Price” as my way in to a universe where Kirk and Spock could be lovers. Anyway, I remember it took me a while. There was a big, big question mark in my mind for a long time as to whether I could write sex scenes at all, much less sex scenes that anyone would want to read after reading Gayle’s. I felt the territory had been pretty well covered.
How did I choose my themes and develop the background of my universe? Arrgh! Not consciously. I’m not one of those people who can outline a plot, write up little thumbnail sketches of characters, etc. What I do is much more like hunting up and down the radio dial for a clear signal. I’m as surprised as anyone when all of a sudden cannons boom and it’s the 1812 Overture. I write scenes. Little packets of conflict. Then put them where they go. At about two-thirds of the way through COH I remember having scenes in little stacks all over the living room floor—and it was a large living room—wondering how in the hell I would ever fit them together in a linear sequence. My conscious mind could not hold the whole novel at once. Thank God for the unconscious.
Perhaps the media got into COH because I’d worked as a reporter. I know the refugees got in because I’d been involved with boat people from Vietnam. Computers because I worked in the computer science department of the University of Oregon. Students because I was one and also hosted and counseled foreign students. Writers are sponges—suck it up, spit it out.What would I most like to tell people about my work? (Besides “Read it!”?) If by people, you mean readers, I don’t want to tell them anything. A writer’s job is to show readers.
I have such mixed feelings about [how popular Courts of Honor is]. I love to hear it. I’m as proud of COH as if it were a child instead of a novel. It still gives me such a high to get an e-mail from a total stranger saying they stayed up two nights running, ruined their eyesight and wept in all the right places. I should be really proud, right? Instead, I feel as if I only escaped by the skin of my teeth. The best of me is in the book, but I live with the rest of me. My life was a mess while I was writing this. Other people supported me, psychologically and financially while I wrote it and nobody’s giving them any credit. I had a terrible writer’s block for over a year, was unemployed, broke and—yes—living on pre-orders, had three important relationships go to hell on me.... [snipped]... I only finished it, in the end, because of Mary Ann D.’s superhuman coaching and because one of the ex-friends said in print I never would finish it. (I showed him!) Anyway, angst. Artists often don’t live up to their art. I had the conviction that the book was going to be good and all would be forgiven if I could just get it written and published. So, yes, I do know people loved COH and thank God it turned out that way. I didn’t send my kids off to the foundlings’ home or abandon my family to go paint in Tahiti, but I did the moral equivalent. What if it had been a flop?
Almost everyone liked Spock better than Kirk. Don’t hit me, but I think more women, or maybe more straight women, identified with Spock’s repression than Kirk’s aggression. They were always beating Kirk up. I certainly felt a lot of anger toward men at the time I was writing COH—I had gone back to college and discovered women’s studies—but I really couldn’t hate success and power and competence. Kirk was right there modeling them and collecting his percentage. Spock was even more competent, probably more powerful, but he modeled a competent, powerful person with lower status and recognition—someone who was feared, when he demonstrated his power. Spock was about keeping strength hidden, sacrificing his ego for love. Talk about the history of women in the world! (Currently, my favorite quote is “Women hide their egos the way men hide their emotions.”) It wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair. Couldn’t people see they complimented and balanced each other, needed each other. Arrrgh! Lots of stories are written to show other people where they got it wrong. It’s probably a little late for a disclaimer, but I never saw Kirk or Spock as gay. If I have a belief about sex it’s that the bodies are the least of it. They both happened to be men, I like men, beautiful bodies, sex with same—but I didn’t see them as homosexuals. (I’m straight so my opinion probably isn’t very informed, but gay culture, as opposed to homosexuality per se, seems to have a lot to do with being a minority, being underground, under attack, fighting back, being outrageous—elbows out and jostling for position in the mainstream.) The explicit sex I’d been exposed to pre K/S was all about male fantasies: violence, dominance, victims. It took pleasure defined by women to show me sex between equals for the first time.
Reactions and Reviews
Thank you for finding this classic author and asking her so many interesting questions. Of course the balance of the material was on Courts of Honor, which I own but have never read. I do love her earlier story on. It sounds as if Courts of Honor extracted a high personal toll on Ms. Ferguson, yet you can also sense her pride in this epic accomplishment. I have no compelling reason for not having read COH, I think I may just be intimidated by its size and small difficult-to-read print. It was great hearing in her own words how the novel came about and how she feels about it today. She ends her interview with "...this is boring." It was anything but I loved reading it! 
Syn Fergusen's interview was like a trip back in time. She's always been an idol of mine, one of those to whom I sent a fan letter back in those passionate early years. I knew her work but never knew what personal struggles she went through. It was brave of her to show us those struggles, laying them out for all to see, just as she said she used to lay out those scraps of paper on her living room floor, which she fitted together to form her wonderful work.
That method rang such a bell with me for it was my method as well. I felt a warm connection with her, only my way was to spread the pieces out on my dining room table so they wouldn't all blow away when the kids opened and closed the doors. Keep a pad of paper in every room, that's the ticket, as she revealed. Me too. I even carred one in my car and would stop along the road to quickly jot my deathless prose before it escaped my preoccupied mind. Those were the days! And I miss them, except for the cut and paste! Lord! This peek into Ms. Fergusen's life was such a treat and left me in the best of tempers. It was so personal, it made me feel excitingly connected to someone who has done so much to profoundly enrich and enlarge our visions of Jim and Spock.This was a momentous interview, I think, because of the depth of the questions asked by the interviewer, our Publisher. Thanks a million to all involved! 
I really enjoyed reading this. Courts of Honor is what finally convinced me to consider K/S is highly possible. And the writing! Oh the incredible writing! To hear Syn’s doubts when she is so very gifted was encouraging to those of us who attempt to write and know that we will never reach that level of writing. I truly enjoyed this interview and appreciate Syn’s honesty...