Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Jan Levine
|Interviews by Fans|
|Title:||Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Jan Levine|
|Date(s):||February 24, 2013|
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For more information about the origins of this interview, where it is housed, contact information, suggestions regarding future interviewee candidates, and how to become volunteer interviewer, see the Media Fandom Oral History Project page.
Some Topics Discussed
- the zines The Other Side of the Coin, The Totally Imaginary Cheeseboard, The Cost of the Cheeseboard, Code 7
- Allamagoosa Press
- Blake's 7
- The Professionals
- Alexfandra's Pros Fanfic Angst Viewed As a Five-Star Thai Menu
- making a distinction among “sf fandom,” “Star Trek fandom,” and “media fandom”
- the proliferation of slash, and gen, mailing lists
- slash as underground
- Interstate Writing Group Workshop AKA the Scribblies
- Fannish Gift Economy
- Jane of Australia, The Hunting, Doyle as an elf stories
- Bill Hupe, Peg Kennedy, and Operation 'Zine Rescue
I started as a science fiction fan back in the days of stone knives and bearskins. Let's see, I think, actually, my very first convention was the 1975 Star Trek Chicago Strektacular, I think they called it. It was one of the very last of the very huge Star Trek scenes where they had all of the guests there. And I was looking for fanzines. And unfortunately, it was a terrible disappointment. I did not know about slash at that point. I did not find slash; what I found was like two zines that were so terribly bad, even then, [laughter] that I knew there had to be better, but I did not know how to find it. So I had a great time, but that was kind of not a success in finding my tribe at that point.Then I went to, started going to science fiction conventions, and met Joan Verba, who was kind of the odd woman out because she was a science fiction fan, but she was also a Star Trek fan, and the only one that I knew. And I knew that I wanted to get involved in Star Trek fandom, or at least read the zines. And she invited me over to her house and explained that there were some that were K-and-S, which were Kirk and Spock and hurt/comfort and that sort of thing, and some of them were actually more...and she actually didn't have to go into detail. And I said, “That sounds interesting too. I am okay.” So she lent me a handful of old zines, and I read them, and, “Yeah, I like this.”
...really my interest was primarily hurt/comfort. And still, has always been; it's more about the relationship than about the hot sex. But this is my own personal quirk... The way I use [the term hurt/comfort] is the way Leslie Fish used it in the story, “This Deadly Innocence”, in that one of the pair needs to get hurt so the other one can comfort him about it. [laughter] And I am, I swing both ways. It doesn't have to be one partner or the other, usually, whereas I have, I know some people that it has to be Bodie, it has to be Doyle, or Kirk, or whatever.... Physical [hurt] is always good [laughter] but it can be about past trauma, or current trauma, or recovering from a terrible experience. One of my very favorites from way back Star Trek stories was one where Kirk was in, essentially a prisoner of war sort of situation, where he was tortured. He was the leader of a group and he managed to keep the group together. And what we see are the flashbacks after he's been rescued. And how he and Spock and the Enterprise crew in general help him deal with it.
[ The Totally Imaginary Cheeseboard is a] classic story. Then Ruth Berman and one of the other writers, there were two co-writers of this, wrote something called The Other Side of the Coin, with Paul Darrow's experience on the Liberator. So I have a friend who's a professional writer who said, “But it really ought to have been 'The Other Other Side of the Coin', where you have a Blake's 7 fan who goes up to the Liberator.”
And so we had a lovely evening, having dinner and plotting out this thing, and she says, “But I'm not going to do this, because I'm a writer, and I don't have time to do this.” And I said, “I don't write. I edit.” And a day or so later I wrote down a thousand words, and, in a white heat of fury, and sent it to her. And this was really before email, even. We had a friend who had a bulletin board system that there was a way to send private messages. I sent it to here as a text message, with a header that says, “This is a bad idea”. And she sent it back to me the next day, after having edited the hell out of the thousand words, which needed it, and another thousand words. And a header that said, “I am going to kill you”. And so I wrote a thousand words pretty much every day at lunch, and she sent me another thousand words, and I learned a huge amount from the experience. And about three months later we had a novel. And then she said, “What are you going to do with it?” And I said, “Oh, hell.” [laughter] And I ended up publishing it.Luckily, this was in around 1996, I think, oh, wait, early nineties. Before email took off, but in the heyday of print zines. So I printed out about a hundred copies that I made myself, I started up a bank account so that I could do the press properly, and sold out a goodly number of them at the first MediaWestCon that I went to. And it was very gratifying."
I kind of moved from Blake's 7 to The Professionals. And that one was all Camille Bacon-Smith's fault. [laughter] She wrote Enterprising Women, and she, which is an anthropological exploration of women in media fandom, primarily. And she had a bunch of pull quotes from various stories. And one of them was a story called “Endgame,” that looked really interesting. And again. Sarah Thompson again, who was not a Professionals fan, she was very much a Pros fan, still is – I mean a Blake's 7 fan, I mean, still is – but I said, “I want to find a copy of this, but I don't know any of these people.” She said, “I think I have that story,” and she sent me, she sent me a Xerox, and my introduction to Pros, my first introduction to Pros. The first story I read was one of the most gritty death-stories ever written [laughter], so that sort of shaped my feelings about it. And I loved it. It was a great story.
I love Yuletide, being able to find itty-bitty things from things that I never would have thought of as. And I was always kind of uncomfortable with the idea of print fandoms for authors who are still alive. And I've gotten much more relaxed about it, except with a few authors that I know that they personally are unhappy with it. And so I won't ever request those. But, and in fact, it kind of, it would creep me out to request stories in a fandom from an author who I know personally. So I won't do that.
[When I was publishing the Roses and Lavender zines, it was] to some extent a feedback loop. Because it was hard to get enough submissions, people were getting really antsy by the time I had enough stories to publish. “You've had this for two years, are you going to publish it, I'm gonna yank it and send it somewhere else.” And by the time I, my last couple of zines, people were just posting them on the internet. And that's when I realized, “No, this is not going to go any further.”
In the period where I was involved with Pros, there was this weird disconnect, where British fandom mostly did not order zines from American publishers, and, in fact, I went to a, one of the British Pros small conventions once, and was kind of leapt on very happily. And it turned out that they had been kind of having kind of their own auction or internal sale of stuff, where people would bring things over. I was really appalled. “Why don't you just buy them? Postage isn't that bad,” and I don't know what drove the culture there. But it was kind of alien to me. And I bought a bunch of zines from a British publisher, and, again, we had the money issue. And I ended up sending her unsigned Traveler's Checks, because that was the cheapest way to get her money in pounds. And luckily it got there, and she was – she took it to the bank, and said, “They won't take it.” And I said, “No, you need to sign it. Sign it first and then take it to the bank and co-sign it in their presence, the second time around.” [laughter] And this was of course before Paypal, which makes things a lot easier.