Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Rachael Sabotini

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Rachael Sabotini
Interviewer: Franzeska Dickson
Interviewee: Rachael Sabotini
Date(s): March 5, 2015
Medium: aural
Fandom(s): vidding, Highlander, Stargate: Atlantis, Starsky & Hutch, Harry & Johnny
External Links:
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In 2015, Rachael Sabotini was interviewed at Escapade as part of the Media Fandom Oral History Project.

Total time: 1:10:57.

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

Excerpts

[Rachael]: And Sandy, of course, became a pipeline, and copied things, and passed them on to other people. And so, because we also were, you know, we were in the SCA together. We were in a Science Fiction group together. We lived together. We ate together. We slept together. You know, it was just one of those hugely incestuous relationships. And she started off with giving me copies of “Broken Images,” which was original fiction. Really, some people called it a Mary Sue, but I can't call it that. Because the characteristics about a Mary Sue being a really clear author surrogate; yes, there are some markers of that, but it's not as virulent as you usually think of in a Mary Sue.

And then, she also gave me a couple of the Ensign Feldman books, which, again, fanfiction about Ensign Feldman, the Jewish officer on the Enterprise, and they were very exciting. And then she introduced me to slash. And I got really interested in it. Always, you know, it was Star Trek. And I think at around this point in time – I get a little fuzzy on it – but we might have moved down to Vancouver at around that point in time. We also started going to conventions together. We went first to Koon-ut-Cali-Con 2, down in San Diego, and one of our other SCA friends drove down, and I flew down with another friend of mine. And we met there, and our two friends weren't as interested in it. Sandy was taking the I-5 Friendship Tour, we called it at the time, stopping at a different slash fan's house on her way down to San Diego. And among those were the people who did the “Frisky Business” zines. And they ended up publishing some, my first story that I wrote.

[Rachael]: And we also, when we got down to Koon-ut-Cali-Con, we saw vids really for the first time. We also saw, were able to get tapes made. They had a giant duping room, which I believe Kandy Fong's husband ran at the time. And so there were all these slave, master/slave VCRs, and so if you wanted to, say, get a sample of, you've never seen The Professionals before, he had tapes, he'd pick some episodes, and then it would just duplicate huge, vast quantities of these things....

And then, we also later, the next convention that we went to, that was about the time I got in to Man from U.N.C.L.E. fandom, because Man from U.N.C.L.E. had had a renaissance on TBS, and so there was a lot of new zines, and new people doing stuff. And so I started getting much more heavily in to Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Which was great, because the TNG fandom, which was where I started writing, didn't survive all that long.

I do have to say, one of the big things for me in starting to write, was the invention of the word processor for consumers. 'Cause it was really, the MacIntosh was what really allowed me to start writing, because I am, have terrible handwriting, and I'm a horrid typist, and so the ability to go back and edit things was really the thing that got me actually constructing sentences and putting stories together.

[Rachael]: Sandy always read wildly. She read in just about every fandom, and we ended up, she found out about the Starsky and Hutch Fifteen-Year-After event, which was taking place in the hotel in LA that Starsky and Hutch had used, and I don't know, Wiseguy, and some other, so there were like, three different - ...

so we went there, and there had been, supposed to be writing panels, and that sort of stuff, but when we got there, the panels turned out to be kind of lame, and we met some other people from Seattle. We met a woman who was, would later on introduce us to DeeJay, which is, who taught us how to vid. We also ran in to the people who created Escapade down there. And they were – you know, we drank a lot [laughter] and talked, and they said, “We can do better than this. We can do better than this.” And so, like, four months later, they had Escapade 1.
[Rachael]: When I got involved in vidding, we had moved on to flying erase heads. And what flying erase heads did is that, before the invention of flying erase heads, when you paused, it would warp the tape, and so you would get a rainbowing effect. And flying erase heads would do the erasing so that you didn't have to lay things down in order, in order to prevent this rainbowing effect from happening so much. You could go back and do insert editing... And that's the way we learned, from DeeJay was, you know, you would basically, put in a tape, watch it through, and when you saw things that you wanted, you'd pull it out, and you'd put it where you wanted in the song. So you didn't have, you know, so you would lay down the song first, with waste video, just whatever was on, and some of them were great unintentional vids that were hysterical. Or some, we did the video “Rescue Me” it had, we kept some of that waste video in it, because it worked so well with the song, and we just—it was a garbage can vid, of just everything in the kitchen sink, and some of the commercials stayed in there.
[Rachael]: Movie fandoms just weren't that popular, because, remember, okay, when TV shows, you know, people are building relationships with TV shows because they watch them. You see the images come up in front of you a lot, you get a feeling of connection with the characters. It's a variation on the marquee effect. And so, series that go for a long period of time, or series that you got a lot of reruns with, or series where, like, you passed tapes around, from groups to groups to groups, so that everybody could see them, people, that's how you build a fandom. You know, it's not a watch once, and walk away.

[Franzeska]: Were you guys like a fan pair? This is not really a concept we use now, but it seems like something that was really like a thing people talk about.

[Rachael]: Well, it's been something throughout eternity. The thing they called a “Boston Marriage,” where you had two women who basically lived together. Fandom is full of those. Maybe they were a couple, maybe they weren't. They're still two women living together, and doing everything together. And in fandom, we have lots of those. And Sandy and I were definitely one of the ones that people were thinking of at that time, because, you know, I was her spare brain, her, you know, because. I can't go to extrovert and introvert, because that's too simplistic. It is also not, yeah...it's hard to say. An entertainer and someone who likes to be entertained. You know, it's much more complex than that. But it is very much along the lines of, one person who has the charisma, and one who is the organizer.
[Franzeska]: For the record, Sandy Hereld died right before I started going to cons, and this whole Oral History thing was her idea. [Rachael]: Um-hmm. She was a historian. She was a history major. Like I said, we'd been in the SCA. And she was also a very strong feminist, and a champion of the underdog, and she very much wanted to make sure that our women's history didn't get erased. And, boy, that's another part of the whole society. Of media fandom as opposed to other fandoms, because it was woman-focused. We had a lot of controversy when men started appearing, because it was the same as men going to any other women's gathering, women's conventions. And we had a hard time getting women to understand some basic things like, when you are complimented, you say “thank you”. You don't go on and denigrate yourself about the work, and about how, “Oh, I'm just a nobody, and, you know, other people are so much more important than me.” You know, it's just, we're so used to doing that. Still are. But we really wanted to make sure that we were focused on women, and in being, in coming from a position of power, and that when men joined the conversations, that the natural deference – you know, “Oh, a man is speaking, so we must sit and listen to him.”
[Franzeska]: [Laughter] Hear that, convention runners? That's so funny, because so many cons are so tame now, but, clearly, it's so funny. [laughter] There were many shenanigans.

[Rachael]: Many shenanigans. Like I said, we came up with ideas when we were drinking.

[Franzeska]: Oh, I get all my best ideas then!

RS: And, so, at that point in time, they started saying, “Oh, well, some other cons do skits. Maybe we can do some skits.” And we did. We had skits written by one of the really good women from the Houston Whips group, came to Escapade a couple of times, and wrote Jurassic fandom, or something like that. Was just, (a) adorable, and (b), hysterical. So those were real crowd pleasers, so they did like two years in a row, and after that, you know, we couldn't get, we couldn't get a new one, a new play written every con. So that was when they started getting the singing group, and doing the filks, fannish filks, and doing them between the vid show intermission and stuff like that after, as time went on. But the filks were great fun, and very crowd-pleasing. So I'm kind of sad that we don't get to do those any more.
[Rachael]: Pros. Okay, we all know about Starsky and Hutch, and the fact that they were very close emotionally. With The Professionals, there was a little more distance, because it was coming from Britain. And, but there was still that adventurous life. And it started off as a circuit, and you had to know people, and pass around stories. And the thing that, and again, I'm back to, this was also part of the gay rights world at this point in time. Because we have women who have not ever experienced alternate sexualities getting involved in fandom, and through that becoming more, you know.

When I was growing up it was hard to find books that had a female lead character. So I got very used to putting myself in male bodies. I was a big reader, and so I was very used to being a male. So when you come to slash fandom, yes, there are some people who are looking at it and playing with dolls, but it's also, you are identifying and having affinity with these male characters, these male bodies. It also allows you some distance from it, from sexuality, because it's not your same gender. And it also rebalances power, because, again, women were, and still are, not in the same level playing field as men.

And so these, The Professionals came over, and you had the stories, and people could circulate, and they started building their fantasies. And there got to be a whole realm of, “Oh, your fantasies have to be rooted in male reality. Your fantasies have to be rooted in gay reality. Your fantasies are really fuckin' weird.”

[laughter]

So, you know, it was, we were all playing in the same sandbox. And we, you know, and it just started taking off. And we could all converse about the same stories. We'd all read the same stories. And so it just became this big attractor for everything. You know, once you've moved on from just K/S, you know, it really allowed you a lot of different things to play with.

So, and that's where I think Professionals comes from. Is because we were communicating about fandom, communicating about ourselves, we were communicating about our sexuality, all the while this was transitioning and changing. In talking with one of the older women of fandom, I mean, there's this very old survey that was done, about slash fandom, that said that slash is written by heterosexual women, primarily. This was like in the late '80s somebody did this survey. And in talking with one of the women who had taken the survey, she later said, “You know, that's what we thought we were.”

[Franzeska]: [chuckles] Well, my many interviews with middle-aged ladies who weren't gay, they just loved each other [laughter] suggests otherwise. I kid you not. I've had many people describe their relationships, and I'm like, “Look, we know.”

[Rachael]: Exactly! And they were working through this. And at the time this was all in the culture around us, and this was in ourselves. We were fascinated with us, and yet, and we had this great way of exploring it without it being tied to us so dramatically. In other words, it wasn't unsafe....

Yeah, because, you know. Safety is very important, and we were used to playing with a lot of different realities by reading words. And so a lot of the argumentation that happened was through fiction, and, I don't, you know, I can't express a lot of it, because I was not necessarily there. But I know that, like, Jane of Australia would, wrote some things, and then Jane Carnall, who is very out, who just would get pissed off, and so she would write new variations.... Exploring it, you know, bdsm, and power dynamics, and who, you know.