Legacy Interview with Valerie Piacentini
|Interviews by Fans|
|Title:||Legacy Interview with Valerie Piacentini|
|Fandom(s):||Star Trek TOS, slash|
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I first learned about fandom about 1976. There was an article in a newspaper about STAG— Star Trek Action Group—that was being run by Janet Q. and Fiona J. I wrote to the paper, they sent me Janet's contact address, and things took off from there. I became friends with Janet and Fiona, and visited Fiona regularly, where I read zines and stories to the great detriment of my sleep! After we'd known one another for a while, we got onto the subject of K/S, and she introduced me to Audrey B.'s stories and “Ring of Soshern,” among others. Fandom was much slower in those days. Communication was by personal mail to individuals, our wider circle communicated by newsletter. There were several groups in Britain, and most of us belonged to more than one.
Actually, the first Trek story I wrote was K/S. It was very, very bad, and no one has ever seen it, or ever will. The inspiration was Spock Must Die (by James Blish). I’d always had the habit of telling stories to myself, even from childhood, but I’d never written them down. My favourite reading was anything that depicted a close friendship between male characters, and that was the hook that caught me when I started watching Trek. This story was my deep dark secret—I wasn’t even involved in fandom then. When I did discover STAG, I began writing stories; these were gen, but I always tried to show the deep friendship between Kirk and Spock. Basically, I wrote what I wanted to read. Eventually I discovered K/S, initially as circuit stories, later in zines. That was the next stage in my writing. (That very first story, extensively re-written, was printed as Replica by the editor of Duet). Really, I think my writing evolved from relationship through hurt/comfort to slash, so I never felt there was a conflict. If I was writing for STAG the story was gen, but might have developed into K/S if I’d let it; writing for Duet, or one of the American zines, it was K/S. Sometimes there was the urge to see how far a story could be taken. By today’s standards writers of that time were perhaps a little more restrained, but so much of what we wrote was being done for the first time.
We had our conventions, too, not as big as yours, but very enjoyable. In the earliest days we couldn't always afford one of the Trek actors, but we had guests from the world of SF. Also we had more local get-togethers, groups meeting in each others homes. Warped Out, later the Away Team, was the Glasgow group; the Away Team went on to run the Glasgow conventions, some of the best British cons ever. They seemed to be able to persuade their guests to really join in—I remember John de Lancie's wife singing “I can do without Q,” and dragging him on stage to sing it to him. Also Armin and Max doing a spot in character as Quark and Rom.
Through talking together at conventions K/S fans found one another, though it was kept very low key; in fact the biggest fuss was made by the antis, who never seemed to grasp the fact that by making a fuss about it, they attracted more recruits to the cause. Generally, though, both sides co-existed peacefully.
... we often joke that the first K/S story was printed in Log Entries 2. It was a very short piece by Margaret Bertram, either 1975/6, and mentioned Spock's realisation and acceptance that he loved Kirk. It was the only time we broached K/S in Log Entries, and as I said was very mild. (Editor's Note: Diane Marchant’s “A Fragment Out of Time” was published in Grup 3 in 1974.) Other than that, yes, Ring and Audrey's stories were the first circulated K/S. You had to know someone on the circuit to have access to the stories, and we were pretty careful about making sure they didn't fall into unsuitable hands. The same system developed in the Professionals circuit. Those who knew how to or could afford to buy American zines were generous in lending them.
I think it is useful to remember the social climate in those days. I don't know about America, but in Britain homosexuality was still illegal. As a local government employee, I didn't dare appeal HM Customs confiscation of my contributor's copy of The Price and the Prize—I could have been sacked for unseemly conduct.
Ah, Nocturne. At that time British zines were typed on stencils and duplicated, since there were few print shops, and K/S editors didn’t have much option. There were very few illos, and while we had some good artists (Anne H. and Roo, for instance,) we could not reproduce their work as it deserved. We used to drool over the quality of American zines. Nocturne was put out by the group that ran the Sol III conventions. They decided to try to put out a British zine that would match the quality of the American zines. It was meant to be a tribute, and Lee, the editor, received contributions from some of the well-known American writers and artists— Gayle F. did the cover. It was their intention to make the zine as perfect as possible. It was proof-read over and over and over again, both by the editors and the authors. When everyone was satisfied, it went to the printer. Contributor’s copies were sent out—and one author spotted a typo in her poem. I can’t remember now exactly what is was, but it was something like these instead of those—it certainly made no difference to the sense of the poem, and only the author would have noticed, but...the best-laid plans.... Speaking of the printer, it was clear that stencils and duplicating would be a no-no for the zine. The committee scoured London looking for a printer, and were refused when the nature of the zine was explained. Even a gay men’s press turned them down, if I remember correctly on the grounds of “What do women know about homosexuality?” Finally, the zine was printed by a lesbian press, who thought it a great joke for them to print stories about gay men. I seem to remember Lee telling me that the printer had made a mistake with the plates, and that they wouldn’t be able to do any reprints as they had hoped.
I was really excited about The Price and the Prize—I never expected [The Prize] to be a featured story. When I had word the zine was ready I started counting the days waiting for my copy, but instead I received a letter from HM Customs and Excise saying that a packet addressed to me from America had been seized by Customs on the grounds that it contained obscene material. Since the packet was marked as a gift, they assumed it was not something I was trying to import, so no action would be taken. If I had any questions, I could contact the Customs office. I realised it must be The Price and the Prize, and wondered if there was any way I could manage to get hold of the zine, so I decided to visit the office. First thing was to make sure that I looked ultra-respectable, so I dressed up in my best librarian-on-the-way-to- a-meeting outfit. At the office I was lucky enough to be dealt with by a really nice, grandfatherly officer, who couldn’t have been kinder. BUT. He was adamant that the magazine, as he called it, had been confiscated because it contained illegal material. He said that I could appeal against the seizure, but Customs would contest the appeal. Could I, I asked, see the magazine to decide if I agreed it was obscene, and decide if I wished to contest the seizure? Ah, well, no, that wasn’t possible; once the decision had been taken, no one could see it, so if I wanted to appeal I’d have to do so “blind,” and the appeal would involve appearing in court to claim that it was legal—but there was no way I could know whether it was legal or not. Talk about Catch 22! I said that I couldn’t understand; an American pen friend sometimes sent me Star Trek magazines, but I really couldn’t imagine that they’d be obscene. He said that yes, it did seem to be about Star Trek, but it dealt with an “inappropriate” relationship, and contained obscene pictures. Bless him, he was really concerned about my supposedly innocent mind; did I understand what it was about? I didn’t have the heart to reply, “I should do— I wrote some of it.” All I could do was say that there had to have been a misunderstanding, and no, I wouldn’t contest the seizure. (I would have liked to, but as a librarian working occasionally with children, I didn’t dare take the risk. At that time homosexuality was still illegal in Britain...) It turned out that someone who was rabidly anti-K/S had alerted British Customs that this “obscene” material was being sent into the country, and they seized everything with Gayle’s return address on it. Believe me, if we’d ever found out who she was.... Subsequently we learned that one copy of the zine had slipped through the net, but all others were seized. Eventually I did get my copy, sent a few pages at a time, as letters with different return addresses; several others who ordered it did much the same thing, so most people got their zines—eventually. However, apparently anything with Gayle’s original address, even letters, was opened for quite some time thereafter, even though she only sent innocent material under her own name after that. I did hear, though I don’t know if it’s true, that Gayle changed the cover illo in later copies. The very explicit original cover might have been the reason Customs made the judgement. (Editor’s Note: Yes, a later edition of The Price and the Prize had a completely different cover.) As an aside, the law here used to be what we called the Mull of Kintyre standard in my course on censorship and obscenity. The Mull is a peninsula off the west coast of Scotland. The rule of thumb at that time was that in a male nude, if the penis was at an angle greater that that of the Mull, it was considered erect, and therefore obscene; a lesser angle was okay.
Often an idea came from another writer’s story; many of us wrote what we called “creative responses,” though it was considered courteous to ask the original writer’s permission first. I did once make a bad mistake, though. I wrote what was intended to be a short story based on Kraith, inspired by a version of Spock who appeared briefly. I didn’t ask permission, thinking it was too minor, but the short story grew into what became the Variations on the Theme series. (That’s another of my favourites, co-authored with Fiona, but as it’s gen, I didn’t include it.) Some years later I received a very gracious letter from Jacqueline Lichtenberg saying she would have allocated it an official Kraith number.
We all explored the chances offered by pre- Reform Vulcan culture—fanon, yes, but great fun to play with. There was also, for some reason, a spate of slave stories; the challenge was to start with either Kirk or Spock as a slave, and use the story to bring the situation as close to canon as possible. Because we were doing many themes for the first time, there was the question of how far to go; the sex scenes became more and more explicit. Sometimes this led to problems. Doreen, the editor of Duet, refused to print one story by a well-known author because she felt it went too far.  Nowadays it would probably be considered not so bad, but it was a big step then.
...the most amazing thing, though, is how much sheer talent there has been and still is in K/S fandom. It’s wonderful that it has not only survived in the face of so much competition, but has actually thrived and grown. Of course, we had brilliant material to work with.