Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Maggie Nowakowska

From Fanlore
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Interviews by Fans
Title: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Maggie Nowakowska
Interviewer: Megan Genovese
Interviewee: Maggie Nowakowska
Date(s): August 18, 2017
Medium: aural, transcript
Fandom(s): Star Wars
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

In 2017, Maggie Nowakowska was interviewed by Megan Genovese as part of the Media Fandom Oral History Project.

Interview length: 2 hours and 41 minutes.

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

  • her pseuds, her real name
  • reading and discussing science fiction books and shows with her mom
  • the fan club Starbase 12 was where Nowakowska got some fanzines, reading them, and thinking: "I can do this. I can do this better."
  • making the decision to see Star Wars even before the movie came out due to observing a man named Kermit in an impressive Darth Vader at the Ballantine Books display at ABA, the Annual Library Association’s convention in San Francisco
  • the Star Wars stories Last Sanctuary and Phantom of Shadows
  • the ThousandWorlds universe
  • amazement regarding the amount of sex in fanfiction today
  • agreeing with a fan's statement about Nowakowska: “You don’t write science fiction; you write sociology fiction.”
  • positive comments and memories about Bev Clark
  • the mini-con Not a Con
  • the zine JediStarDarkFalconKnight
  • comments about First Terran Enclave
  • the beginnings of the The Fanzine Archives: A Library for the Preservation & Circulation of Fan-created Material
  • "Luke Skywalker is a Mary Sue for George Lucas, if you’re going to go by their ways of doing it. James Bond is a Mary Sue for Ian Fleming, if you’re going to go by that definition."
  • having to envision and worldbuild what "Sith" and "Dark Lords" were in fanfiction pre-canon
  • being a guest of honor at the Italian annual science fiction convention, watching "Star Wars" in Italian
  • how labels on stories have changed from identifying "simply a matter of “what kind of stories do you like to read?”" to warnings and contril
  • comments about Geekgirlcon
  • "Keep your own Star Wars. The only Stars Wars that exists is the Star Wars you love, and everything else evolves from it."


There were paperback books coming out, talking about Star Trek in the late sixties, and I had heard about Spockanalia there. Now, I had already been writing stories for myself. You know, to continue the adventures of the Starship Enterprise, and actually back when I was ten or eleven years old, I was a Bonanza fan, and one of my friends and I would sit down and actually script out a story, including the commercial breaks. (laughs)

And make sure that the story ran 55 minutes, because in those days, the commercials—there was one commercial at the top of the hour, one commercial at twenty, one commercial at forty, and one commercial at the end. So, you had a long story back in those days.

So, I had always been making up stories about what I liked. When I was four, I was making up stories about Roy Rogers, and then Matt Dillon, and then Paladin. I was a westerns fan in elementary school, and usually I was the heroine. I was what we would now call a Mary Sue, only nobody fell in love with me because I wasn’t interested in that kind of stuff at that point, but I would come in because Matt Dillon had broken his arm, and I would solve the case for him, that sort of thing.

I would help Roy Rogers when I was a young child, and I would get to ride in the parade afterwards... I knew what it was to write stories based on TV, and when Star Trek came out, it was a natural because it only ran three seasons, because we only had so much background on Spock, and there was a lot to imagine—what was really going on, on Vulcan, and none of my friends wanted to read it. I had to hunt down TVs and watch an hour of Daniel Boone in order to have the TV be “mine,” so I could watch Star Trek after.

It wasn’t so much a problem when I was in Iowa at Clark College, which was a small woman’s college, because nobody watched TV that much, and eventually I got a lot of people watching Star Trek, which was nice. When I went to Ohio State, I was in a big dorm, and there was no way you were going to get the TV there, so I had to find [somewhere else]. I eventually found the Catholic fraternity, The Newman Club, on Fraternity Row, and found a TV that nobody was using, and ignored the boys who stood in the doorway and snickered. They had never seen a girl who liked science fiction before. This was, we’re talking, 1967.

I got into Star Wars because I saw the movie, and I fell totally in love with the movie. I said, “This is the universe I have been waiting for. I want the Millennium Falcon. I want that ship.” Because Star Trek was too militarized for my personal taste. They were the only ones in space except for aliens they ran into. There was no way an ordinary person like me, who drove a Chevy Nova and then a Datsun 710, to imagine myself flying around in space unless I had a uniform on and had to follow orders.

So, I couldn’t put myself into—I couldn’t see myself—in the Star Trek universe, so it didn’t capture me as a personal fan like Star Wars did. If Han Solo, a guy like Han Solo at 30, and I was 28 when Star Wars came out. If he can run around and make a living of sorts with his own starship, then so can I. I liked the way the Star Wars universe was an old, established, galactic universe. It opened up the story possibilities.

I liked Star Trek. I liked exploring new ideas and how they handled the stories, but then Star Wars gave me a whole damned galaxy in my lap, and I liked that.

I think I had a couple of letters in The Halkan Council, but ... that was really established, and the people really knew their Star Trek, and they were really used to talking about subjects, and I was still new and a little bit intimidated because I wasn’t quite as---however much I liked Star Trek, and I wasn’t afraid to admit it to anybody, I wasn’t “true fannish” as many people already were. If I came in ’76-’77, the beginnings of the K/S were starting then, and it took was time to get into the fan universe. It just happened to be that because I was there at the beginning of Star Wars universe, I was there and running.

Star Trek was fun! We had small, little cons here in Seattle. Starbase [1] sponsored small, little cons held in the meeting rooms at Seattle Center. George Takei always came up for them. Every year was the year that he was going to have a TV show of Captain Sulu. He was a really nice guy, and we had a lot of fun. They finally put on, in ’75, I think it was, a bigger con at one of the local hotels in downtown and got Harlan Ellison as a guest and David Gerrold as a guest, and so it had gotten that big.

But then the whole world changed in ’77. Star Trek got more juice behind it, and we ended up getting Star Trek movies when every year before that, people would say, “Oh, there’s gonna be a movie this year,” and then it would die. Or “Oh, there’s gonna be a TV show,” and then it would die. The whole media fan community was still operating under the old late ‘60s of “Those are all just a bunch of weird college kids.”

A lot of fans ask me about what [fandom] was like in those days and how popular it was, and saying, “Oh you don’t understand. Star Trek was only popular in a small, but what-became-very-vocal group. It was considered a weird show. We were considered weird for watching it, and it wasn’t until the fans started writing the letter campaigns to get another season, a third season of Star Trek, that people started noticing us.”

The sixties were a transition period about paying attention to people under 20. If you went to a garage sale and picked up a whole bunch of Life and Look magazines from the middle sixties to about the late sixties, you would be able to look at the ads and see how the features of the people in the ads dropped from late to middle thirties—those were the ideals, the Mad Men age of people, women and men—and then about the time The Beatles came out, the age dropped a little bit more. Suddenly, the models looked like they were in their twenties, in their middle twenties. It wasn’t until the late sixties that you really started getting the grownups thinking of the kids as a segment of the population to really pay attention to. That was when the Boomer generation really made itself known, the late sixties and early seventies. Up until then, we were just kids, and who was interested in what the kids were doing, aside from patting us on the head?

[One of my bosses] told me, “You know, we were very, very worried when we heard that you were a Star Trek fan, because we once hired somebody who was a Star Trek fan, and she would wear pointed ears to work.”

And that’s how people thought of us. “They were the ones that ran around with pointed ears.” Conventions were—whenever they covered a convention in the paper, they went straight to the people with the oddest costumes and the pointed ears, and we did not get no respect.

The first three years of Star Wars fandom were a unique bubble because all we had were the bare bones of the story. We had the archetype. We had no explanation of what The Empire was, no explanation of what world Han lived in. In the movie, he’s not even called a Corellian. We got that from the collateral material in the book. There were a lot of things that people assumed they knew about Star Wars even then that weren’t in the movie.

When the script came out, people got it out of that, but we had a whole galaxy to play in, a whole universe to play in. If we wanted to write stories, we had to create the universe. As Susan was saying, if she wanted to tell her story, she had to create the universe for her story. Well, those first three years of Star Wars, you read a whole lot of stories where people invented, created their own universe, their own back stories. They were dense stories. As I’m sitting here looking through the zines, looking back through some of the early zines, I’m going, “My heavens! These are great stories!” These people are putting thought into it. Who was Vader? Who are Luke’s parents? How did he, you know, how was the relationship going? Who was Obi-wan?

The first summer of ’77, my friends are sitting around talking about what the back story could possibly be, we’re all sitting there looking at each other and saying, “What wasn’t Kenobi telling Luke?” Because we saw the movie every week. We went every week to see it. And we’d look at that and say, “There’s no way he’s telling Luke the complete story.” The way Guinness played him and such. We’re grownups by this time. We know how social lies go. (laughs) Social fibs. The way you talk to people when you don’t want to scare them or tell them something you know they’re not going to enjoy hearing.

So, that’s how our storytelling got going. How did Darth Vader end up where he was? How did Han end up where he was? The very first two stories I wrote were the story of Obi-wan and Darth came to odds and how the Empire rose. The second story I wrote was how did somebody like Han end up in space? I knew I didn’t want to write the cliché of the orphan, abandoned on the streets and grows up cynical. I wanted to write something different, so I wrote Han as a middle-class boy who got more than he bargained for. And he ran away. There were a lot of discussions. A lot of people had a lot of different ideas what Han was like, and I fell down on the “he talks too well when he isn’t trying to spiel a line that he had grown up on the streets.” Especially after Empire came out. I said, “He knows subjunctive, and he uses it when he’s serious.” So for me, Han did not have a street background. Han was somebody who had schooling, grew up in a family, and picked up the jargon afterwards.

I think the fact that we were in our late twenties and had come out of Trek fandom, and also were science fiction readers, and generally, we were readers. We liked history. We liked mythology. It gave us a leg up on being able to just jump into Star Wars and create universes. There was a place where all that odd knowledge actually worked in our favor instead of simply being the nerds, the strange kids with their books in noses, the ones that didn’t date.

I was wonk. I didn’t even know I was a nerd. There is a level lower than nerd, and it was wonk. I had no idea people were laughing at me. (laughs) “Oh! They said something about something I’m interested in! And I enjoy talking about it!” as fans do for 15, 20, 30 minutes, and I thought they were interested.

They were talking to each other at the same time, you know? I think we all know, we’ve all run into the fan who just starts talking. Get up and get a cup of coffee, and they just keep on where they left off. That was who I was, and I’d know all the details. Eventually, eventually, ... by the time I was in my thirties and forties, I learned. Don’t go out to lunch with people because it’s too much of a temptation. You will talk too long. You have to stop talking after five minutes. And when they say they really like Star Wars, they only mean that they really enjoyed Star Wars and no, they don’t want to talk about the details.

The Empire Strikes Back. You know, not saying it was a bad movie. Empire is a good movie, but the distance, because I had spent three years creating my Star Wars. When I went into Empire I had to click my mind to remind myself that we’re now looking at George Lucas’ Star Wars. And generally, the way I talk with people these days, I say, “Look. The first time you fell in love with Star Wars, whether it’s the first movie or whether it was Clones, or a book you read, that’s the real Star Wars for you. [2] Everything else is alternate.” And, as a matter of fact, I go back hard-core to the first movie. Everything, including George’s, are alternate, because the first movie is such a primal presentation of a story, and is so spare, is what made Joseph Campbell like it, that everybody walks out of there, quickly, thinking about what happened elsewhere, filling in the holes. Who Luke is; who Han is; who Leia is, and that becomes embedded in your brain real fast, because you’re in love with it. It strikes that chord, and so—all the movies are George Lucas’s the story that started with Star Wars. He sort of channeled Star Wars, the original and the first one, as far as I’m concerned. From wherever else in the universe, that galaxy does exist. He channeled the story, and now we’re all writing our own versions of Star Wars.

That gets me out of an awful lot of canon arguments. Umm, I could sit there and talk it with people, but it keeps my emotions out of the canon arguments. Because, for us, the first three years, they weren’t brother and sister. The romantic aspect was wide open, and if you read ThousandWorlds, it’s Luke and Leia. It’s awkward, and I can list the reasons why, but it’s not Leia and Han, umm, umm—as Leia and Han were developed in Empire and Jedi. I was so happy with The Force Awakens, that they did not make it a long-standing, established marriage, that there were problems. Because I looked at Leia. I said, “Look, she’s never had a life. She’s never been able, to be free to do what she wanted. She needs to learn how.” I looked at Han. He’s been spending the last—all of his twenties—denying that he’s getting older, because he’s laying down a line in his thirties that he really should have given up a few years back. And so, he needs to get a hold of his life, so I could very easily see them having an affair, learning some lessons, and then the affair goes away and they stay good friends. Because that happens a lot in real life. People get divorced. People have a break up. They have a slingshot relationship with somebody because they need to have some reassurance that they’re still lovable, and then that falls apart.

Remember when [ Camille Bacon-Smith in Enterprising Women talked about first fandom and second fandom, when the second wave of fans come in, how they tend to push aside the ideas of first flavor fans?

After Empire, we got into a lot of “But you didn’t like Star Wars!” “But we loved Empire, and this is what Star Wars really is.” So a lot of that went on. I read that section and said, “Oh God, I recognize that.” She writes about it regarding Blake’s 7 fandom. But after Empire, we got a lot more new fans. Some very good new writers came in, but there was a certain romance quality that showed up in the fandom where we got a lot more stories that were focused upon the courtship of Han and Leia, and they had some aspects of the universe, but it was more closely aligned to the universe in Empire and we started to get a lot of “Han is the real hero” because a lot of the people who really, really liked Han did not like Luke, and it—they had some very articulate people promoting their side. So we got some interesting discussions going.

The letterzine you want to look at most for that discussion is Jundland Wastes. That was the one where a lot of [fannish discussion] happened and then carried over to Southern Enclave and Scoundrel a little, but Jundland Wastes, I can say, Jundland Wastes and Alderaan are the two letterzines that I think are the primal Star Wars letterzines because we are still arguing and talking about themes and ideas that came up in those zines in ’78, ’79, and into ’83.

I have some stories on AO3, Archive of Our Own, online. I put my Lando stories up there. I follow them on Facebook, and I have to bite my tongue an awful lot because there are only so many times you can say, “You know, we talked about that in 1979,” or “Go find some copies of this because there’s a really great discussion about that problem!” Or that concept. And a lot of people my age are going, “Oh my God, they’re reinventing the wheel!” and that happens. That happens because when... print zines faded, with all of the extended universe shown up in the pro books, and then the Web came.

And just as you may hear many people say—clearly these people think nothing existed before the Web—and for them it didn’t. They’re young, you know? They only know the Web. That happens to a lot of us older fans. We go, “But-but, but we’ve already explored that idea. Here. Read this.” But there wasn’t any “here, read this” because a lot of people didn’t know print fic zines, or had no access to them. There were some people putting zines online, but that ran into problems, too, with permissions.

And, also, by the time the nineties came around, a lot things that were esoteric ideas or just-between-us-fans ideas had become mainstream. People were actually writing—I have copies of articles written in the eighties, late eighties and nineties, about this strange thing called “slash” in weekly newspapers, in magazines. Joanna Russ had already written her bit on that. These kids came into a world where slash was the norm.

And so it’s a, ... the whole concept of writing stories, well, sex was the norm. The culture changed a great deal. When I started writing zines, I remember once, somebody—I read her story, and I commented on it, and she said, “Oh good. I didn’t want people to think that Luke was having an affair,” and I wrote back to her, “You still use the word ‘affair?’” (laughs) In her part of the country, they still use the word “affair.” People were apologizing for extra-marital sex. Between men and women in their characters.

The world changed, especially for women, a whole lot between 1970 and 1990.

I know that there are still people who live in areas who feel that they’d get in trouble if anybody knew what they wrote. I know that people still use pseudonyms, and, if nothing else, the last few years have really accentuated the differences in different areas of the country. In the late seventies and early eighties, we still had women having trouble with their husbands because they were publishing fanzines. One woman I knew lived in Minnesota or Wisconsin, one of those areas, and she wanted to go to the con. Finally, he said, “Okay, you can go to that con, but you better leave food back for me, and this is the only time.” She left him a full refrigerator.

This kind of stuff happened. You know, we still had women who had never had a checkbook in their life, who had never driven. We still had discussions about the difference between you career women and us non-career women. We would hear snide comments on both sides. “Oh I read that story, but it was probably written by somebody who A or B, because I can tell.”

A lot of women had never handled anybody else’s money before they did a zine, and there were financial scandals, as people who were naïve became overwhelmed, and in those days, you sent money—a couple of bucks, maybe five--for a down payment on a zine, to provide a bank of money for the person to produce the zine; and then, if she didn’t produce the zine, the money was already spent on the production. People would get angry if they didn’t get a zine. That went away after a while because times had changed, and we didn’t have as many women who had grown up in the sixties and were doing this for the first time, or the early seventies and doing this for the first time.

So, there’s really a story to be told about looking at fandom to see how a disparate group of women—because we were from all over the country, and we came from all kinds of backgrounds. Those of us who left college, and immediately all started working, and those of us who got left college and got married. Two different worlds we lived in.

Some of the early, ... comments that were made about some of the early slash, you’d say, “Okay, obviously this person has never had sex.” And you’d say that about the female parts of the stories, too, but that went away, because the culture changed. There were a lot of things that the older fans weren’t exposed to as teenagers. ... we’re exposed to it as adults, and it made a difference in the kinds of stories you wrote and the kinds of stories that you were looking for.

I look on AO3, and people are saying, “Will people read a story if you don’t have a sex scene in it?” And I’m looking at that and going, “Oh my God.” (laughs)

I’ve always been more on the reality side of fanlit. We used to call stories where we wrote what we ever wanted to, pizza-and-beer stories, because they were the stories you let your friends read, but you didn’t print them in my crowd.

But, I couldn’t see Kirk and Spock. The idea of two men didn’t bother me at all, but I also was one of those who would sit there and say, “Well, why aren’t you writing any two-women stories?”

... and actually when a couple of people did print them, I remembered the story that got a bad response, and I was looking through the Halkan Councils because I had those zines, and yeah, people weren’t interested in that, and I think that’s what led to Joanna Russ’ theory that in the early days a lot people wrote Kirk and Spock because they were the only admirable—the characters they admired the most. They didn’t necessarily like Christine, Uhura. Maybe they didn’t turn them on, but they liked Kirk and Spock, and they wanted to have emotions so they identified with one of them. She also pointed that, ... Spock was “the Other,” and women were very much the Other.

So then you go off into the argument about dominance and submission, and that’s been an ongoing discussion also. I’m the kind of person who is—unless the sex, something that happens in the sex pertinent to the plot, I’ll take you up to it. I’ll take you afterwards when we’re having a cigarette, or, ... the equivalent. But the times I’ve tried to write it, I’m really much more interested in doing it. (laughs) I get distracted.

I was going through Comlink—no, I was going through real small, little, five-issue zine that came out, and Bev just got a letter from LucasFilm, and David Gerrold is going to review the zine in Starlog. I’ve got to go dig that issue of Starlog out. Bev and I talked to Gerrold at IguanaCon, I think it was, and we were talking to him about, ... the good stories that were coming out of Star Wars fandom and told him “You really ought to read them,” and he said he’d review Skywalker 1. I have to look at the letter exactly. I’ve asked Bev’s husband to dig out the last of everything he’s got from her desk to see if I can find the actual letter, because the report was that yes, they had seen Skywalker 1, and it was basically encouraging, “keep up the good work;” “we like seeing how people are playing with our universe;” “we can’t say anything specific about the stories that we liked.” Well, there were legal matters. They couldn’t do it. I talked to Gary Kurtz in England, at SeaCon, at the Worldcon there, and talked to him longer, and at one point, he said, “We can’t talk about this anymore,” and I understood.

LucasFilm, ... when we had the Star Wars Lending Library — we passed it on to Ming Wathne—but while we were set up, I was in communication with Maureen Garrett, who was the fan liaison at that time, and LucasFilm had been buying up zines, and they’d gotten dupes, and they were triaging their collection, and they were getting rid of dupes, and that became the basis of the lending library, because she said it was about eight-ten boxes of zines. And, but, in the course of talking with her, she said that “You have any extra Skywalkers? We can’t keep them. They just disappear.” Which was nice to hear.

And so they, they knew about the zines. They were a little disappointed that they were all, they turned out to be 99% fiction because they were looking more for articles. The very first early ones have articles. There were some good articles on how much Lucas borrowed from Hidden Fortress and Yojimbo, hugely from Japanese media and cinema. There were some on how to build a light saber out of bathroom piping, because that was all we had in those days, and such, but they went to fiction.

In those days we were going to MediaWest Cons, which was all fans. It was fan writers. It was fan artists. It was the fans who read. It was a fanzine con. No guests. We complained bitterly when people brought a VCR when those came up because it kept people in hotel rooms instead of out, talking to the rest of us.

Those were the days when they were called hall costumes. When you could still have a blaster war in the halls. They were primarily women, but they had men, and they were wonderful to have around. In fact, one of the guys was the best costumer. He made brilliant costumes for both sexes, and he was great.

I eventually had a friend make myself a Mon Mothma costume after ROTJ, and that has not survived. The Jedi costume, there’s no way—I would fit back into it in my dreams because I was about 120-130 pounds at that point, too skinny, but I simply wear outfits now to cons that wouldn’t be easy for me to wear on the street, unless I was going to a street fair or something like this. Umm, I always pushed it at work, with what I wore to work, but I always knew when to quit.

You get a fancy mask. You buy a fancy mask. You buy a fancy shrug that looks like a steampunk jacket. You wear long skirts. You do things like that. An outfit like the librarian in the Jedi Temple. That was a cool outfit. And it would look good on an older woman. One of the problems with finding costumes as you get older is finding one that doesn’t a little silly on you.

[Interviewer: Yeah. That’s true for people in their thirties. (laugh)]

I applaud the people who don’t give a shit about that. I want to wear an outfit that I don’t feel awkward in, and I’d feel awkward in my old short Jedi skirt. However, I really liked that. I’m trying to talk one of my friends into making one. I don’t think she’ll be able to get it done before GeekGirlCon, but I would love to have it.

I know how much and where my stories were exposed, but I write and produce fanlit, and I’m happy to and glad to, and thankful that I can, because it’s such a wonderful universe, and it takes me right back to it.

I used to feel bad about not sitting down and doing what Susan did [3], and I started a couple of times. Susan sold first, and so I did a website back in the old days, in the mid-nineties, a primitive website. It was there. We did a film on it (she said modestly). But, ... I watched what went on in the publishing world and how you have to adapt and change and the things you have to do, and I didn’t find it appealing. So I beat myself up for a decade or so for being lazy and not doing this and not doing that, but I’m not there anymore. Now, I’m just enjoying. I’m just enjoying writing my stories. I really don’t have anything to prove, and that’s what was really going on in my mind. To prove myself, but my parents were dead. Their expectations were gone, and I didn’t have anybody to prove myself to because I had a good career. I was able to, through luck and effort, be able to retire early, and that is an accomplishment. So now I can enjoy myself in the Star Wars universe. I write with Tish and her Star Wars universe. I write in my mainstream universe. I have my Lando stories. Well, they can still straddle. The Lando stories have not yet been kicked out of confirmation, shall we say. If I wrote the next one that followed, it would, but so far, they don’t.

And I enjoy doing that, too, as I’m a big Obi-wan fan. I’m a big Mothma fan. Boy, I wish people wrote better Mon Mothma. There, I think she suffers a little from the Hilary Clinton problem. She is a mature woman in authority, and nobody wants to touch it. All she gets to do is to sound like the wise, mature woman in authority which is boring. Now there I give her lovers.

You were asking about sex earlier, too, and there’s a lot of interesting things. I want to tell you one story. In my stories, I have gay characters. I remember talking to somebody once, and she said, “You know, you don’t write any gay characters.” I said, “What are you talking about? What are Wel and Bart?” And she says, “No, they’re not gay.” I said, “What?” I thought I’d made it clear that they had been together for about 20 years in the story, and she said, “Yeah, but that’s not the same,” which I found really, really interesting, because not only do I have marriages that have both multiple male and female, and the males are just as involved as the females, .... Everybody is involved with each other, not just two couples in bed together, but for some reason she just thought of them as ordinary people. She said, “They’re just people.” I said, “Yeah, that’s the point.” (laughs)

So, ... there is a lot that has happened over the years, and the attitudes people bring, or the expectations people bring really will change how they react, and that just floored me when she, ... when she said that. Here I was feeling kind of nice, I mean, in a way, Wel and Bart are a nice, married, old married couple in many ways, and she didn’t get it.

I’ve talked with Paula Smith who invented the term Mary Sue, and she just shakes her head. She said that this was a very specific description for a very specific kind of story. It doesn’t mean anybody that the writer, that you can imagine the writer identifying with. It’s the smartest, bestest space cadet out of Federation who solves everybody’s problems, everybody falls in love with her, and then she dies, and all the main characters sit there and regret the fact that she died. That kind of story. I’m sure you’ve seen them. [They are] often the first stories people write. ... it first gets them going, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they’ve taken the idea and used it to beat people up

We used to have zines mimeoed, and then people started doing photocopying, and then people started doing small, fast printing. Artwork was, ... just black and white on a sheet, and then people started getting heavier paper for the artwork and slipping it in between the text pages, and instead of stapling the zines, they started getting spiral-bound or perfect, perfect saddle stitch with staples or perfect-bound by a printer, a wraparound covers, colored covers, and the price just kept going up.

And then PageMaker came out, and a world where every white space had to be filled because, hey you were paying good money for it and none of us had much. Suddenly, you had stories that were Laid Out, with a capital L, not just on your kitchen table. Umm, ... that came in in the middle eighties, later eighties, and some people were really unhappy about that, and they found themselves intimidated because they didn’t have computers; they didn’t know how to do it, and it looked so perfect, because it had too much damned white space.

It got to be expensive. They were big zines. I’ve got zines here that are nearly ¾ of an inch thick. I’m looking at a couple of them right now—between 5/8 and ¾ of an inch thick. My last big ThousandWorlds story was big, and the prices just kept going up, and people got fussier. It wasn’t just a hobby. It wasn’t something you could do in your car anymore. One fan put out her zines, had all of her equipment in her car. It was a problem. And then, and then, oh gosh, when at the very tail-end of the big print zine period for Star Wars, at least for me, ’77 through about ’85—people stopped writing letters of comment. Letters of comment were really important. When you wrote your story, you wanted to have people at least say something, but as time went by, people weren’t writing letters of comment, and when we asked them why? “Hey, I spent twenty bucks for that zine. I don’t need to do any more.” They were seen as a commodity.

Instead of having participants, and the readers were considered participants in the early days, we started basically having consumers. They bought a zine. They got a story. The culture was going that way very much, too, and, ... the artists could sell their art at cons, but the writers couldn’t, and if you’re not able to talk to anybody about your universe, you’re not able to talk to anybody, get any comments from anybody saying whether they liked it or not, it’s very discouraging.

I had one person, knowing that I was going back to a con, saying, “Would you please go in there and absolutely destroy this other person?” Umm, because she was not a nice person. Good writer. The subject matter she wrote about didn’t interest me, but she was much one of those people who figures out the point she wants to make, the moral, and then writes the story around to fit the moral. And she was a lawyer, so she was very articulate and intimidated a lot of people. So I went back to the con, and was introduced to her, and I came back, and my friend said, “Did you do it?” I said, “No. She’s a butterball.” When actually face to face with somebody, I was not going to get involved and get my hands dirty on anything like that. Yeah. It’s one of the problems with the net, because people aren’t face to face....And that’s exactly what her letters were like. Face to face, she was polite and all this kind of stuff, but in her letters, she was horrible. That goes back to every human group in any time period. It has the same basic problem. People want other people to agree with them. It’s natural! It’s like saying, “I want you to like my story.” You know, if I didn’t agree with your story, it’s hard for me to say that I liked the story, and that’s where manners come in—and little white lies.

{My advice to fans today]: Write, write, write if you want to write. The old saying is that you have to write all the time. You don’t necessarily have to finish it. You can decide that that was horrible and toss it out, but the more you write, the better you will get.

I’m a much better writer now than I was then. I wrote stories because I wanted to see if I could write people that other people recognized, because everybody had been telling me that I’m totally ignorant when it comes to people. Well, I discovered that I can write people that other people recognize, and that was good. And then I started concentrating more on style. I started writing short stories in the late eighties, and now I like writing short stories. You can really condense a whole lot in short stories and my style improved. I still make at least four to five drafts to get a story up. My first draft is an absolute mess, same as always, but that’s mechanics. That’s just the way my brain works, but I’m a much better writer than I was then, about people, and even not with them, and how to make a plot and people work out, so neither one overwhelms the other.

Writing is wonderful. ... it’s—I enjoy it. I like telling stories. I like other worlds. Gives you something to do when you’re standing in line instead of looking at a smart phone....

Try to find a group of people, first through lettering and then see if you can find people locally, a safe place where you can talk all you want because otherwise, it’s just any other group of people who is going to run into problems.

[Fandom is] a very tight cauldron. It isn’t that easy to run away from because then you’re outside of fandom, the worst place to be.

Don’t take everything personally, which is hard, but don’t do it. You’ll do better in your job; you’ll do better in your church; you’ll be better as a parent if you learn how to not take things personally. Fandom is very good at teaching that.

I am really, really happy that people like you and the other people who are working on it are doing these histories, because the zines are being saved; the material is out there. Maybe not in in my lifetime, maybe not for another 50 or 75 years, but somebody is going to come as a scholar and start going through and looking at what things were like back then. And they’re going to discover the trove that’s sitting here, and Texas is digitizing the zines.

I will take credit for being one of the people keeping the torch alive. I’ve been talking about fanzine history, ... since the late eighties-early nineties, to people, and I’ve been passing on as much information as I can, and over the last couple of years, I’ve seen it finally coming to fruitation (sic).

Sometimes you just need to add enough twigs on a fire. Somebody else may light the fire, but you’ve added the twigs.


  1. ^ This may be Puget Sound Star Trekkers Science Fiction and Star Trek Convention.
  2. ^ This sounds a little bit like The Wave Theory of Slash.
  3. ^ This is a reference to "going pro."