Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Roberta Stuemke

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Roberta Stuemke
Interviewer: Franzeska Dickson
Interviewee: Roberta Stuemke
Date(s): May 25, 2012
Medium: audio recording
External Links: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Roberta Stuemke
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In 2012, Roberta Stuemke was interviewed by Franzeska Dickson at MediaWest as part of the Media Fandom Oral History Project.

Length: 1:07:20. A written transcript is available.

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.

Topics Discussed

  • writing fic and being jossed
  • real life identity and fandom
  • Star Wars, Blake's 7, The Professionals
  • views on slash and gen
  • changes in fandom
  • the rift between book fans and media fans/science fiction fans and media fans
  • the decline of editing in fanfiction now that it is all online, the necessity of a good editor
  • the scourge that is an unfinished WIP, her dislike of cliffhangers


[regarding her decision to not use a pseud]:
Well, I had too many awkward, silly names stuck on me when I was in junior high, and I got to where once I was away from home, it was Roberta or it was nothing....Use Roberta. I'm set with that, and it just never occurred to me that I would want to be a different person in fandom than I was in real life, because real life was bad enough as it is, and I wanted fandom and real life to be together, so that I could feel a little more like I was enjoying life overall. And since fandom was my introduction to having a social life, and everything else, I just— "Okay. That's it. One person." I was also lucky enough— I had not realized this until I started going to conventions and meeting other fans, how many fans had to hide or disguise their fannish activities. Now, I got into fandom in 1977, '78, and at that time yet — I don't know if it's still that way — people couldn't tell their employers that they were going to conventions, because it could cost them their jobs. Y'know, all of this stuff. I was really lucky that the university library where I worked for my entire professional life, my supervisors thought it was fun. They wanted to hear about the conventions when I got back. "How did this one go?" And since they knew I was not a groupie-type fan, I wasn't going to be doing anything that would embarrass the university, so they just all thought, "That's neat." Then I started meeting people who had to hide it. That's when I began to understand why people would have a separate fannish identity. And I didn't need one. So, lucky.
[regarding being a gen fan, her fanac]:
For me, gen fan just means that my fannish interests cover a very broad field. There are films I like, there are television shows I like, there are authors I like, types of literature I like — and there are fannish activities I like. Costuming. Although I'm a lousy artist, my house is virtually decorated with fan-oriented art. We've got a staircase that's all Star Wars comic things that were turned into prints, and there's a Sean Connery wall, and a winged cat wall, and all of these things. So there's fannish art. And at conventions, I started working at art shows, and kept that up throughout my fannish — well, still now. Also, I write fan fiction, and I read fan fiction. So my interests are very broad. Also I prefer the gen name, if there has to be one. Y'know, if you have to go with an identity, I'll go with the gen, because I'm not a great fan of slash in fiction. I can understand why some people are, and I can accept people writing it, as long as it's identified as being slash.
[more on slash as an alternative universe, and The Professionals]:
...most of the fan fiction and the fan art that was coming out at that time for Professionals — and this was when the show was still on the air — was slash. And in fact it ended up turning me off entirely from the show itself. And the fandom. I have all the books, and I've read them and loved them, but that's as far as it went. Because in my mind I just kept seeing these stories, and the artwork, and hearing some of the explanations for why they wanted to do it, that — Turn off. So I have to make that clear. I'm not opposed to slash as long as it's identified as such, because it is alternate universe, to my mind. Unless canon is that these characters are gay. Y'know. You've got Will, from Will and Grace. Yeah, he's gay. So Will is gay. That's fine. But otherwise, unless the character is specifically identified, or you can see that this character is physically and emotionally involved with a same-sex individual, it's alternate universe to write them as being gay and involved. And since— Like I said, as long as it's identified as such, I've no opposition to it. I just don't like it myself.
[wanting her fic to feel as though "it could have been filmed"]:
You want it to feel like it's from that show. And then, if you want to put in your own events and your own characters, they have to fit closely, and have it all still match what you had with the original universe. To me, that's one of the major signs of what I categorize as good fan fiction. I want it to be as close as possible to the original, but still have— the author's inclinations in it. And it makes fan fiction, if you want to do it well, a major challenge, and definitely a way to learn how to write. Because you have to really study it, to know what's there, and to know exactly how you're going to do the characters and how you're going to blend it all in. As you may have seen from the website, my website, I've written a lot of different universes in my fan fiction. I don't know, I've never— I’ve hardly ever seen anybody else having written much from the movie Willow, and I also — The very first Western one I did was a cross-universe between Bordertown and Paradise. I haven't seen a whole lot of fiction from either of those. But I found them challenging, and so I, "Okay, I like this." And I knew enough of some of the top Midwestern fanzine editors that I knew they'd let me do things from less familiar shows, and I would still get them in print, and being read. So that was fun. Admittedly, the last universe I started writing fan fiction in was ER. And I definitely went a little AU because my ER fanfic, with two short-story exceptions, are paranormal, involving selkies and shape-shifters and various of those things. I still tried to keep everything else as close to canon as possible, but just fit the other things in, as though you could turn on an episode of the show and meet this doctor who runs a special underground hospital for big-cat shape-shifters. It was one of the challenges of doing the ER fic. So that was very enjoyable. But you would— Probably most people would have to say it was an alternate universe. Otherwise most of mine has stayed reasonably canon, as part of the challenge.
[fandom and money]:
Let's face it, money, or the lack of it, can be a major effect on everything in life. There's no real way around it. Much as we'd like it to be, nothing is actually free. When fanzines were still the only real way that fan fiction could be distributed, some people were arguing, "Well, they say they can't make a profit." They aren't making a profit. But, people, it costs a lot of money to print these out, especially if you're putting illustrations in the zine, which is one of the things I preferred. One of the reasons I preferred printed fanzines to any of the on-line things, is that you could get really good illos in an actual fanzine. But the editors had to get enough money back to be able to pay for putting one out. And it meant you had to be very selective. But you have to be that way with buying books. Virtually anything you want, you've got to be selective about, and careful, and watch the budget. So, the fact that you do have to pay for fan art and fanzines, and for going to conventions. Virtually anything you're going to do— you're not going to find virtually any hobby, anywhere in the universe, that is not going to cost you something. Fannish activities are no different. It's a question of how much value you want to put on this activity in your life. And to do it, you have to budget for it. One of the only reasons that I'm making it to MediaWest this year without having to really watch the pocketbook tightly is, I haven't done anything, I haven't gone on a vacation trip, I didn't even do much for this last Christmas, and so my quarter-fund kept growing.
[on the rift between book/media fans]:
There was always a core in the fandom. And people that you saw at every convention you went to that it was a specific type of convention. Because there was also a great split in that era between the media fans and the book fans. In some cases it actually got kind of ugly. I always felt rather hurt and upset by it because I like both. I was facing these people that seemed to think if you really like books, movies are nothing. And if you really like movies, what are you reading a book for? And I hated that attitude from either side. I could never understand why it was impossible for someone to like all these different types of things for different reasons. I like books for different reasons than I like certain films. They have some things in common, but I like them for different reasons. And that split in fandom used to irritate the hell out of me.
[fannish platforms, original fiction]:
the idea that fandom doesn't have to be just science fiction and fantasy, that you can blend all these other things into it, and have them still work somewhat the same way — It’s a beautiful thing, but there had to have been some adjustment to do it. The Midwest was known, as I have said, for some very excellent fanzines that not only did science fiction and fantasy — well, they did science fiction and fantasy but not only fan fiction. I wrote a lot of original fiction, for Shadowstar and for What You Fancy, and had very good response to them. So that worked really, really well. I was very happy to see, when I first started exploring fan fiction dot net, that they have a sister site that is for original fiction....And I'm glad that they've got that, because it means that, especially younger people that are just getting into this, are just beginning to write. It's a great way of learning how to write, of polishing your skills and getting responses to what you've written, that give you an idea of, "Well, this worked and that didn't." And I think those are very valuable things. So I'm glad to see the changes, but there are part of me that also regrets them.
[on fandom in general]:
: One of the greatest things about organized fandom is that as a social group it has accepted the widest possible range of people. Now, being white, I may not have seen circumstances where there was race involved in fandom that was in an unattractive way, so I can't say outright, and swearing it's absolute truth, that there's no racial prejudice. There could very well be, and I just haven't witnessed it. But in terms of social prejudices, the style of clothes you wear, the kind of work you do, the economic status that you're in, how you look, are you physically handicapped in any way? I have seen fandom accept everybody who comes to it. Like I said, there may be things that I have not experienced, but what I have seen, what I have witnessed, shows one of the absolute broadest acceptance standards of any social group around. I know one of the things I discovered when I was first getting into fandom was the large number of people who were like me going in. They had not had a social life before they had fandom. If they'd had friends, it was one or two real close friends they'd known since childhood. Otherwise, very much like me, where due to the way the clique system worked in my home town, I had friends in grade school, and I had the summer between sixth and seventh grade when the world changed, and I went to seventh grade, and suddenly I was nobody. I have not seen that kind of treatment given to a member of organized fandom. As I said, it could have happened and I just haven't witnessed it, but that was one of the most beautiful things about fandom. It could very well be that getting into organized fandom when I did, saved my life. It quite certainly saved my sanity and — oh, I can't think of a term for it — my sociability... that's a mixed-up word. Without having to pretend that I was like this. I could simply, y'know, as long as I was into something that fit into organized fandom, I could have gotten in if I'd had five legs. And that has always been in my mind the most beautiful thing about fandom, is its willingness, on the most part, to accept without a lot of judgment, and that, I think, is probably the most important thing about it.