Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Linda Deneroff
|Interviews by Fans|
|Title:||Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Linda Deneroff|
|Date(s):||July 7, 2017|
|Fandom(s):||Star Trek: TOS, Star Wars|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Interview length: 53:55.
The Media Fandom Oral History Project is supported by the Organization for Transformative Works, the organizers of Escapade conventions, and the University of Iowa Libraries. 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 or transcriber, see the Media Fandom Oral History Project page.
Some Topics Discussed
- writing the trivia questions for the Star Trek Lives! conventions, as well as the trivia questions that appear in the pro book by Joan Winston: The Making of the Trek Conventions: Or, How to Throw a Party for 12,000 of Your Most Intimate Friends
- tensions between fans of Star Trek and fans of "literary" science fiction
- working at Worldcons
- being a recipient of the threatening Open Letters to Star Wars Zine Publishers (1981) sent to fans
- much about the zine series: Guardian
- being involved with Universal Translator and its near Hugo Award win
- being in the audience, along with Mark Hamill, to see the opening night of Empire Strikes Back
I knew about the World Science Fiction Convention, and I’d been reading science fiction, including Analog,for many years. And I knew about the Hugo Awards. I’d always thought that they were just professional[awards], and not for just casual readers or readers in general, until I was in college, or maybe my senior year of high school – I don’t remember anymore exactly. But I met a woman named Erika –I’m not going to use last names – I met a woman named Erika who had a friend named Robyn. And Robyn knew about conventions, and we talked about them, and we talked about going. They offered to introduce me to a friend named Barbara. Barbara had Star Trek fanzines, and I was like, “Wow, fan-written stuff.” I couldn’t believe it. So they introduced me to Barbara, and then when I was in the line registering for college, I was talking to a friend of mine about how my mother had made me miss the one and only – what I thought – decent episode of classic Star Trek’s third season, “The Paradise Syndrome”, because she wanted me to go to a college dance I really wasn’t interested in going to. And there was a tap on my shoulder, and this woman said to me “Oh, are you a Star Trek fan?” And I said yes. She, it turned out, happened to be the cousin of Barbara. And this cousin, Eileen, had a copy of the Star Trek blooper reel. We showed the blooper reel at college. We showed it about a dozen times, each time in a larger room, each time with people hanging from the ceiling. Eileen knew about conventions. In fact, she was helping plan the very first Star Trek convention. So in the space of one year, I met three very – four very influential people in my life, went to my first science fiction convention in April of 1971, and attended the very first Star Trek convention in January of 1972. Very whirlwind. Very, very life-changing.
I got into a big fight with my dad one time because he kept saying, “When are you gonna give this up and, you know, get married and have kids or whatever.” And I said I wasn’t planning on getting married and having kids, and fandom taught me a lot. I taught myself photography, I travelled, I edited a fanzine, I’ve run conventions. So, you know, I just hit him with both barrels. And after that, he was very pleased to tell his friends all my accomplishments that he had just overlooked. ... so I was happy about that. That was a happy outcome for both of us.
Like anything else, you know, it’s the same tension between Star Trek and Star Wars, or in those days Star Trek and UFO or Space 1999. It’s the idea that, you know, it’s not an either/or for me. For me, it was a case of “these are my interests, and I’m not going to make a choice,” but other people wanted you to make a choice. And there were ... grumblings. I mean, it never broke out into all-out war or anything like that, but... when you got into discussions with people, it came out sometimes, you know. But yeah, that’s been going on since the beginning of time, I’m sure. The fanzine fans versus the literary fans versus whatever other fans are out there.... In a way it became, in some instances, a religious war. And it’s died down over the years and new religious wars have erupted, as it were.
I got into fandom before before slash even started. And I never really had much truck with the slash stuff, it just – to me, it distorted the characters beyond recognition. And that’s probably another religious war, but I don’t want to get into it. [laughs]
I got to be the liaison for Story Musgrave, the astronaut [at the Worldcon in Chicago in 2012], and he was just such a wonderful, wonderful person. He is – and I guess you have to be to work for NASA, you know – but he answered questions with kindness and patience. He was wonderful with the children, he was wonderful with the adults, he was a terrific speaker, and it was just a great honor for me, one I will always cherish. And then I think more recently than that, again this is science fiction fandom, I was the division head for the WSFS –the World Science Fiction Society–at the 2015 Worldcon, Sasquan in Spokane, Washington, and that was a great honor. [LAUGHS] I worked my butt off. It was something. It was nice to be able to return something to fandom in a way, you know? Because fandom is about contributing.
I don’t go to the celebrity [Star Trek cons], the ones you pay big bucks for, [where] you pay $50 for an autograph, things like that. I don’t go to those. Those are professionally run. They’re there to make money for the people running the convention, and the guests attending it. But when we started the Star Trek convention, it was run along the same lines as a regular science fiction convention. We invited the guests, and it wasn’t just the stars of the show. We had the writers, the producers. We had science fiction writers. Isaac Asimov was there, Hal Clement was there, Gene Roddenberry was there, Dorothy Fontana was there, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy... not every year, not every Star Trek convention, but pretty much that was the way it was. And there were all different panels –it wasn’t just the stars on the panels, there were other people on the panels –and there was an art show, a dealer’s room. It was just a lot of fun. But it was run along the lines –because the people who ran the first Star Trek conventions were science fiction fans, and science fiction conventions were what they based the Star Trek convention on. So it probably wasn’t ‘til the late 70s or early 80s that you had your Creation Cons, and they just weren’t the same. And they’ve just gotten bigger, you know, now you have the International Comic-Con in San Diego, and ... I don’t know, it’s a whole different world. Back in the day, if you wanted Nichelle Nichols’ autograph, she signed something for you; now you stand in the line and wait and pay big bucks. And it’s just –it’s just a completely different animal.
These days if you wanted to, you could go to a convention every single day of the week! [LAUGHS] That was not true in the early 70s, or even the early 80s. I mean, it’s just exploded. And then Star Wars had a great deal to do with that, and also the explosion of science fiction on television. The big difference is today it’s popular culture. Everybody knows about these things. But when I first got into fandom, there was a saying: “It’s a proud and lonely thing to be a fan.” Because you almost had to know somebody to get an entre into it, you know. I don’t think even Analog was advertising conventions back in those days. You just had to know somebody. It started as fanzine fans corresponding with each other all across the country, back in the 20s and 30s, because travel was so expensive, and the only way to get to know people was by writing letters and putting things in fanzines. And, in fact, I was at Westercon this weekend and Bjo Trimble was there, and somebody from one of the Star Trek clubs was interviewing her, and he tried to say that fanzines started in the 1960s – excuse me, late 1960s, early 1970s. And John Hertz and I jumped up and said, “Not true! Not true!” and gave him a brief history of fanzines. But the very first Star Trek fanzine was probably –and I believe I’m correct –Spockanalia put out by Sherna Comerford and Devra Langsam back before Star Trek was cancelled, so back pretty far.
I had a friend, Fran. She and I – Kraith was one of the most detailed and interesting [fanzines], because it was a different Star Trek set of continuing stories. And I think there were four volumes, and Fran and I wrote two stories that we felt needed to be explored, and we worked that out. But I’m not really a writer. My problem is I can write, but I can’t plot for beans. But I can edit!
... it was primarily Jackie who was writing it back in those days, and putting it together. And I was confused by it, because she had the first story, and then she skipped generations and it was like, “Well, I don’t want you skipping generations, I want you writing more in this timeline.” But she was skipping all around, and then she started collaborating with Jean Lorrah, and then she got published.She was the executive editor. It was actually put out by Carol Lynn –Carol Lynn, two words –and [[[Debbie Goldstein]]] Anyway, they were publishing it, but Jacqueline was the overall –you know, it was her baby. Like I said, we wrote two Kraith stories. And I was always –you know, I think the biggest problem with a lot of these series that the people wrote them were so in love with the idea of writing and telling a story that they didn’t want it to end. So when they stopped writing, the stories just... ceased, and there was no concluding novel or short story or anything. And that was one of my biggest frustrations, you know? That they just dropped. That’s life, I guess... When [Jacqueline Lichtenberg] got published with Sime~Gen, Kraith pretty much just stopped, or Carol dropped out of doing the zine. I don’t know the particulars. I just know it just stopped. That’s human nature and life, so what are you gonna do? And that’s not just them, it’s a lot of other Star Trek/Star Wars stories, series that just, you know... even other fandoms as well. They just ceased. And you never got a satisfying conclusion, they just... The story ended, that was fine, but you wanted it to go on and you never got the final denouement, as it were.
Mos’Eastly was run by Devra Langsam and Joyce Yasner, I think they were the two chairs. That was Mos’Eastly. There was a convention in the Midwest in Lansing, Michigan, and it was called SekWester*Con, and then it was called MediaWest*Con. And we wanted to run a convention in New York. And we called it Mos’Eastly, and we just did it for one year. I’m trying to remember... I don’t remember too much about the convention itself. I do remember that The Empire Strikes Back had just opened, and we rented a bus. There was a theater on Long Island –I don’t know why we chose a theater on Long Island. Anyway, we rented a bus, and we had people in costume going to the convention. So we had Darth Vader and Chewbacca on the bus and got to the theater and there were other people in costume, and we all went as a group to see it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back, or Star Wars in a movie theater. I know that wasn’t –I don’t believe that was the first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, I know it wasn’t. But it was great to go see it with a group like that. It was a lot of fun, a lot of fun.
The first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back, I actually had a free ticket from Lucasfilm, because Lucasfilm in those days was buying fanzines, and we [Cynthia and I] had sold them [copies of ours]. I think they wanted four copies, and I don’t know how they were dividing them up. But they wanted four copies of the fanzine and we sold it to them. So they had, you know, our name and address and everything. And they sent us these beautiful, probably four-inch-wide and a foot high invitations with the poster from The Empire Strikes Back on it, and said, “You are invited to this preview,” because I think it was the night before the movie officially opened. And I remember I was the fifth or sixth person in line waiting to get in, and I remember this guy walking past us. I didn’t recognize him. He walked past us and he said, “Enjoy the show!” and he kept on walking. And the person in front of me said, “That was Mark Hamill!” Because to me, it didn’t look like Mark at all, but he was playing just down the street in Amadeus. So I just thought that was really nice of him, you know, even if I didn’t recognize him. But, yeah, so that was a lot of fun. And I did get to go see Amadeus. I knew the president of the Star Wars fan club by that point. She had come to interview Mark and we went – we saw Amadeus.I had a[n actor]friend in the theater, so we got good seats. And we went backstage, and I will never forget this. It was just after Father’s Day, and the Daily News had printed this little cartoon, and it was on Mark’s dressing room wall. And it was a boy shaking his father’s leg and saying, “Daddy! Daddy! The Star Wars” - I’m ruining the joke –“For Father’s Day, we’re taking you to see The Empire Strikes Back!” And I was like, “Yes!” [LAUGHS]
[Lucasfilm] bought fanzines in general. They bought Guardian, which was my fanzine. I guess we sent them or sold them, I don’t remember anymore... ThousandWorlds Collected, which was Maggie’s solo zine –well, mostly solo zine, that we printed... they bought other zines, I mean, they must have had a huge collection, and... I don’t know whatever became of it.  [LAUGHS] But they had them.
Oh my God! Oh my God! I completely forgot about [ the series of letters that Lucasfilm sent to zine editors]. What happened – I can tell you the history of that. There was a Swedish fanzine that, I guess, printed some rather... obscene stuff. I don’t know, I never saw it. And that came out at around the same time that we printed a story called “Slow Boat to Bespin.” And there were two variations of “Slow Boat to Bespin”: one where Han and Leia had sex, and one where they did not. And so I guess the combination of these two things set Lucasfilm off, and they sent a letter saying, you know –and by this time the zine was sold out, okay, Guardian was –so when we got the cease and desist it was like, “Pff, not a problem!” And you know, we wrote back a very nice letter, and we thought that was the end of it. Except that it wasn’t the end of it, because fandom went to war, and... Lucasfilm, I mean their lawyers, lawyers do not want to be specific if they can be general. So they were saying things like, “Play nice,” and fans were going, “Well, what does this mean? We want hard, concrete guidelines,” and, you know, you’re not going to get that from lawyers. So there was a lot of arguing about that, and finally that died down. But it was pretty nasty for a while. But having been the ones who received the letter –I don’t know if any other letters were sent . As far as I know it was just the Swedish zine and Guardian. As far as we were concerned, you know, we didn’t have a problem with it, because we never wanted to be an X-rated fanzine in the first place. Or even R-rated. I mean, really, “Slow Boat to Bespin” is so tame. [LAUGHS] It was just a bizarre coincidence between the two, you know, coming together at the same time... I was [satisfied with how it ended]! Like I said, you know, it’s not like we lost money on it. It’s not that we made money, you understand, but we had sold out the zines already, so it didn’t really affect us. And... it’s out there. We printed a thousand copies. [LAUGHS] And those copies have got to be floating around. I know I have my copies still, but that’s about it. You see everything ou ton the internet [these days] and everything’s X-rated, so... [LAUGHS]
I think we were very lucky [in finding good artists for Guardian]. We started Guardian in the late 70s –‘77? ‘76? I don’t remember anymore. And we wrote to the people whose stories, whose writing we respected, and we asked them if they would give us something for our fanzine. And a lot of them did. We even published a Diane Duane Star Wars story, and Diane was a professional writer by that point. We got the stories, and we knew a lot of the people already, you know, so we knew which artists we liked. And we’d send them the story and say, you know, “Would you mind illustrating this for us?” And most of them said yes. And if they didn’t say yes, then we found another one. So, no, we never had any real problems with that. But we wanted to be a well-produced fanzine. We were one of the first fanzines that not only went to offset printing, but went to perfect binding on the recommendation of the printer. And I think that helped because it gave it a more professional look. And when I say professional – [When we went to our first] printer, we said, “This is what we want, and we want it stapled,” and he said, “Well, we can do, we can do this perfect binding, which just glues the cover to the spines,” and we said, “Go for it, because that’ll save us having to staple everything,” you know? That was the best thing we ever did... in terms of making the zine look nice. It gave it a nice look and feel, and we had textured covers on one of them. We just aimed for it to be a zine that people wanted to buy. And for the most part they did. I think I have –by the time we stopped, we stopped with number 8, and I still have copies of 5, 6, 7, and 8. I’ve got about a hundred copies left of each, because I don’t want to throw them in the garbage, but yeah. That means we sold 900 copies, so I’m not complaining. I mean, we made back our printing costs, and that was it.
In the early 80s, I worked with another woman and we did a fanzine called Universal Translator. And Universal Translator was simply a list of all the available fanzines with mailing addresses, prices, and descriptions of the fanzines. And –[LAUGHS] –there was a group of people in the Midwest who said –because “fanzine” is a category of Hugo Award, and a media fanzine had never won a Hugo Award, a fanzine award—“Let’s get a Hugo nomination or Hugo Award for Universal Translator!” And it got nominated. But we didn’t win. But when I got to Atlanta, where the awards were being announced, I heard such vitriolic epithets. “Oh, they bought the nomination, and they asked people to nominate it,” you know, because the fanzine fans, the science fiction fanzine fans had never heard of Universal Translator. They had no clue what it was. But we came in second. We didn’t win, but we came in second, so I was pleased. My name wasn’t on the ballot because I was the silent editor. I didn’t want to be – I didn’t want my name on the fanzine, because it really wasn’t my fanzine. We were using my office to type it and print it, but the real work was being done by the editor, Susan, and I didn’t want to take any credit for that, so I never put my name on the fanzine. But I knew that we were nominated and that was a great honor.
...there were a lot of big changes [during the years we published Guardian]. Desktop publishing was the new trend, as it were, and I was like, “Wait a minute, we discovered desktop publishing long before it had a name, you know?” [LAUGHS] But they had come out with all these different computer programs, and it was a changing time. Not as –and it has changed so much more now. I haven’t done a fanzine since Guardian, but, you know, now everything’s on the internet. Personally, I think it makes it harder to find things, but I’m not into that into it anymore, so it doesn’t bother me.
I’ve been doing this since 1971, so that’s, what, 40-some odd years? If I had to do it over again, I would. There’ve been bad times as much as there’s been good times, but for the most part, the good outweighs the bad. It’s funny, because in talking to you, I look back and go, “Well... this hasn’t been a bad life after all!” [LAUGHS] You know, I don’t go, “Gee, I wish I had done this” or, “I wish I had done that.” I’ve done –for the most part, I’ve done the things in life I’ve wanted to do and I’ve had jobs that have paid me enough that I could do what I wanted to do. That’s not to say I’m a millionaire or anything like that, but, you know, I’m single and I don’t drive a car, and those are the two biggest money-saving things you can possibly do! [LAUGHS]
[My advice for people coming into fandom today?] Stick to your guns. ...I don’t know. Do what you enjoy doing, and don’t let anybody talk you out of it, you know? I think that’s it. That’s true for me, and I’m sure it’s got to be –if it’s not true for everybody else, I don’t know. But that’s the only advice I can give. If you enjoy something and it doesn’t hurt anybody, and if you can use it in other ways throughout your life, go for it. I used it as a tool, as much as anything else.
- This collection became The Fanzine Archives: A Library for the Preservation & Circulation of Fan-created Material and The Fanzine Archives: A Library for the Preservation & Circulation of Fan-created Material.
- Actually, many fanzine editors received these letters.