Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Ruth Berman
|Interviews by Fans|
|Title:||Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Ruth Berman|
|Date(s):||August 9, 2017|
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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 and Mentioned
- the zines T-Negative, Despatch, The Cost of the Cheeseboard, Masiform D, Inside Star Trek, others
- Blake's 7 and Star Trek
- sequels to fan stories, unauthorized and otherwise
- creating zines
- the Dorothy-Myfanwy stories
- Harlan Ellison, Bjo Trimble
- Kraith stories and Jacqueline Lichtenberg
“Visit to a Weird Planet” by Jean Lorrah and Willard F. Hunt appeared in Devra Langsam’s and Sherna Comerford’s fanzine Spockanalia. I enjoyed it immensely, and was amusing myself with speculating about the half of the story they hadn’t written – what the actors were doing on the Enterprise while the characters were in Los Angeles – and after thinking about it awhile realized it was turning into a story I wanted to write to offer to Spockanalia (where it duly appeared an issue or two later). I didn’t think about whether I should ask Jean and Willard for permission – I assumed that Devra and Sherna would find out if it was all right with them. When Sondra Marsha and Myrna Culbreath, some years later, got the idea of doing an anthology of fan-written “Star Trek” fiction, my “Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited” was one of the ones they asked permission to reprint. (I think all of the other stories in the anthology were likewise reprints from various fanzines, not originally written for the anthology. I think the same was true of the second volume, too. Might have been an exception or two.)
An issue of Masiform-D (Devra’s successor to Spockanalia) had a story by – I forget her name , and because my issues of Masiform-D are fitted tightly into the shelf and difficult to pull out, I’d rather not pull them out to check. In her story,  a Terran and a Klingon have a romance that they have to abandon because of the political pressures against such a relationship. I felt that the characters might have struggled harder for their right to love whomever they loved, and wrote a sequel, but Devra told me that she thought the author would not like to have a sequel written changing the characters’ decision. It occurred to me that I could re-write the story, to make it a different couple in love, and not a sequel, so I did that, and Devra thought the story worked that way, as a stand-alone and not a direct sequel, and published it in Masiform-D.
With “The Other Side of the Coin” [sequel] to the “Cheeseboard” “Blake’s 7” story, Jean Airey had published the original story, written by her and Laurie Haldeman, so I wrote to her when I had the same experience of finding that my speculations about the other half of the story were turning into a story that I felt compelled to write down. I explained that I would understand if she preferred that it not be published at all, but I thought if she liked it she might like to be the one to publish it. She liked it, but said she would like to be a co-author on it, as there were some details she would like to change and places where she thought the action could be expanded. Also, as we started to work on the re-writing, she thought we should ask Laurie to get involved in the re-writing, too. This last [option] didn’t work well, as Laurie felt that the actor in the (after all) quite dark and dangerous world of “Blake’s 7” would be overwhelmed with fear and she wanted to put in scenes of his near despair. My feeling was that this just didn’t mesh with what they’d written in the original story – the comedy of the confusion of the situation – and with what I was trying to do in the simulquel, focusing on the comedy of the actor’s LACK of confusion about what he was seeing. It seemed to me that he would be much more likely to feel (and would be justified in feeling) that his knowledge about the world and its future gave him enough of an edge to cope. So, apologetically, I told Jean that I didn’t feel it would work to put the scenes Laurie was offering into the story. And she agreed to that. (The final draft did include some lines by Jean in which the characters point out that the dangers of the world in question were probably dangerous enough to put the actor at more risk there than he perhaps entirely realized. So those bits gave a slightly darker tinge to the story than I’d aimed at originally, but not so much darker that it kept the story from being, like their original story, primarily comic. And some of Laurie’s work was in the completed draft, too, so that she’s included as a “with” credit in the byline.)
Some years later, Beth Friedman wanted to write a story taking up the implied sequel to the original, in which Avon comes back to visit the actors’ world again. She wrote to Jean and to me, asking if it would be all right with us if she did that, and if we would want to take part in writing it. We both said yes, it would be fine with us if she wrote it, but that we didn’t feel like taking part in co-authoring on it.
I think there’ve been three other occasions when I felt compelled to write a sequel or simulquel to someone else’s story, In all three of those, I felt that the original author would not be happy with having her view of what was going on revised (not because the original author would be touchier than average, but because the changes I was making implied strong disagreement with what they’d done). One of the three (a sequel, rather than a re-writing of scenes in the original story) I did wind up showing to the original author, but was not surprised when she said she felt she didn’t want to publish it herself or see it published by someone else. The other two (re-writing scenes in the original stories) I didn’t even show to the original authors, but wrote out for my own satisfaction, without feeling that anyone besides myself needed to see them. I suspect that the habit of thinking about someone else’s story and finding that the thoughts are turning into scenes & dialogue demanding to be written as a separate story is related to the impulse to write stories in other people’s universes in the first place. It’s a sort of hybrid between fiction and criticism.
The “real person factor” – I don’t think that’s considered particularly edgy. It’s not commonplace, but I don’t know that anyone objects to it. (If the real people were portrayed as being as dysfunctional as the fictionally real actors in “Galaxy Quest,” for instance, I expect there would be objections to that, but I don’t think anyone has written a story on those lines.)
“Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited” wasn’t edited when it was reprinted in The New Voyages – at least, if there were changes they were so small that I didn’t notice them. The only change I noticed in “The Face on the Barroom Floor” (by me and Eleanor Arnason) was to put an accent mark over the i in the name Garcia. 
A highlight of meeting with Roddenberry – interviewing him about what he meant by the symbol of “idic” in order to write a short article about it (when he had decided he’d like to have replicas made to sell through Lincoln Enterprises, and wanted to use the “Inside Star Trek” newsletter to advertise it). No disappointments.
I didn’t interact with Susan Sackett – she started working for [Roddenberry] about the time I returned home to Minnesota from California. I stopped editing Inside Star Trek because I wanted to go home to Minnesota after “Star Trek” went off the air, and it would have been very difficult to edit it on a long-distance basis. The relationship between Lincoln Enterprises and Inside Star Trek was that the zine belonged to the business. I had a lot of freedom in deciding the contents. Mainly, Roddenberry wanted the zine to run interviews with the show’s cast and crew (and wanted to have it run an article about the Idic). I didn’t know there was a more recent incarnation(s) of Inside Star Trek produced in connection with the more recent serieses, but I’m not surprised that there would be, as it’s an inexpensive and effective way to keep fans interested in the shows.
Favorite elements of doing a zine – finding what I thought were good pieces of writing (and artwork) that I got to publish. I also enjoyed trying to think of ways I thought the writing might be improved and corresponding with the authors about the resulting suggestions. (Did the authors enjoy this process? – actually, yes, I think they did.)
Least favorites – turning down work I didn’t think was good enough. And getting copies of the issue addressed and mailed out was always a dreary chore (easier now, as mailing labels can be done on computer).
Fanwork I like creating most – same as with prowork, a tie between fiction and poetry. Editing is fun and writing non-fiction is fun, but not as much as writing a story or poem myself. Prowork is more fun, because it offers the possibility of wider publication and the absence of constraints imposed by working in someone else’s universe, and I’ve done less fan-writing in more recent years, but still do some. (The downside of prowriting is the possibility of not finding a publisher, or having the process of finding a publisher take so long, also the fact that you usually get less feedback/comment from readers.)
APAs active – FAPA, SAPS, the LASFS apa, were the main ones. Currently I’m active only in the “Once upon a time” apa, which is an apa to discuss children’s fantasy stories. I don’t think any contributors used gender-neutral names or initials. There were probably some pros and cons to being a female contributor, but I wasn’t aware of them at the time and don’t find them standing out as I look back.
Most fans in early media fandom used their real names. In sciencefiction fandom, there was a fad, especially among the members of LASFS (Los Angeles Scientifiction society) in the 50s and 60s to use pseudonyms to mark off their fannish lives from their nonfannish lives. One result was the odd situation of Ted Johnstone, who upon starting to write professionally used his real name, David McDaniel, as his pen-name, but continued to be known to most of his friends as Ted. (Earlier still, there was the example of William A.P. White, who looked at the number of William Whites on the library shelves, and decided he wanted a more memorable byline. So he became Anthony Boucher, and was “Tony” to most of his friends.)
You also asked about color in T-N. When I started it, I was producing it on a Ditto machine. With the Ditto process, it is fairly easy to use different colored masters to produce color work – but not so easy that I felt able to do it myself. (The b&w covers were done professionally, by photo-offset.) The reason color started showing up in T-N was that Anthony Tollin started subscribing, and enjoyed the Dorothy/Myfanwy stories, wanted to illustrate them, and had the artistic and technical skills to do it in color. The drawback to Ditto is that you get only some 50-100 copies before the master is worn out. When my subscription list got too large to handle on Ditto, I switched to Mimeo, which allows many more copies, but cannot match Ditto for placement of color detail and makes even the rough kind of color that can be done much more difficult. So once I switched to Mimeo, it was all b&w (and when I reprinted the early issues in Mimeo, the result was all b&w). Later, when I switched to paying a printer to print the issues by offset, color would have been possible, but prohibitively expensive. Nowadays, with color printing available on home computers, the cost for color work has come down considerably, but it’s still expensive enough in equipment and supplies to be too difficult for many. I don’t know of color artwork in ST-zines before T-N, but there may have been some. (I know of some early general sciencefiction fanzines that made use of color – even Mimeo’d examples!
Favorite ST-zine that I wrote for but didn’t edit – Devra Langsam & Sherna Comerford’s Spockanalia, and the successor zine Masiform-D. Spockanalia was probably the first ST-zine (depending on whether you count fan club newsletters as a separate category), and could be considered the best.
My favorite among my own zines – oh, well, they’re all my offspring. Can’t choose a favorite.
Influence of DIC – yes, I think it probably has had some influence in making people try to value people who disagree with them. (In some disagreements, valuing the opponents can get to be difficult!)
Popularity of the Dorothy-Myfanwy stories – well, Anthony Tollin was impressed by them, and so were most of the readers who commented about them in letters [to T-Negative]. So I’d assume that they were also popular with the readers who didn’t comment on them specifically. That one story’s characterization of Harlan Ellison as unpleasantly sharp-tempered – well, he is, some of the time. A lot of the time he isn’t, and on his good behavior he’s a lot of fun to be around, not to mention being a fine writer. I think most people would agree, in or out of ST fandom. Looking at a couple of websites, I see that some readers nowadays complain that the Dorothy/Myfanwy stories are basically just "Mary Sue" stories. (I don't think I was getting that complaint at the time -- well, the name hadn't been invented yet, so I couldn't have, but the basic complaint could have been made without the term, and I don't think it was.) Technically the group does have the characteristics of "Mary Sue" (the name is from the protagonist of "A Trekkie's Tale," a parody of the type by Paula Smith, from her ST fanzine, "Menagerie," in 1973) stories (the protagonist is a young, beautiful, genius-level woman who resembles the author, and wins the heart of one or another of the main characters, usually Spock, and usually very gooey in tone, representing as they do authorial wish-fulfillment). But I think this group was better than the label would suggest, for its narrative humor and use of interesting world-settings.
Did Bjo Trimble “Save Star Trek” – yes. She organized the letter-writing campaign that kept it on the air for long enough to be a show that could be offered as a syndicated property to re-run channels, and so kept it on the air long after the original show was canceled and had stopped production, meaning that it stayed alive in fans’ memories and went right on acquiring more and more new fans instead of getting forgotten. In terms of getting along with her – no, I don’t particularly get along with her. The reasons why aren’t all that clear to me.
My involvement with “H.M.S. Trek-a-Star” – none, originally. I was sent (bought or was given? – don’t remember) a copy of the script, and persuaded Minicon (local Twin Cities con) that we should put on a production of it, too. Which we did, shortly after.
Despatch – the Mark Lenard Fan Club was founded (and the Despatch, its newsletter, edited for its first years) by Maureen Bourns (Wilson), aided by Rosemary Ullyot & Alicia Austin. They happened to write to him to ask permission to start a fan club for him just when he heard that he was going to be a regular in the cast of a new show, “Here Come the Brides.” Left to himself, he did not feel that it meant much for a freelance actor to have a fan club, but as a regular on a series, he felt that a fan club could help win viewers to the show as a whole and to his role in it, and he gave them permission to start the club, staying in contact with them to give them cooperation, news, etc. About the time the show went off the air, Maureen (who had gotten engaged to be married) decided she wanted to focus on other things, but thought it would be a pity to see the fan club end, and asked if there was a volunteer to take over running it. I liked Lenard’s acting, and especially his acting on “Star Trek” a lot, and thought it would be fun to volunteer to take over the club, and use its “Despatch” as a place to reprint some of the outstanding fan-fiction about the Romulan Commander and Sarek that was coming out in various fanzines. Also, when I lived in Los Angeles and was working for Lincoln Enterprises, I had enjoyed getting three opportunities to meet Lenard, once when he attended a sciencefiction con in Berkeley that was attended by Maureen, who held a party there for his fans, once when Dorothy Jones and Astrid Anderson and I went to a production of “a Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which he played Oberon, and he joined us for conversation and coffee after the performance, and once when Maureen came to town and invited me to join her on a visit to the set of “Here Come the Brides.” So I volunteered to take over the fan-club, and did have a lot of fun reprinting assorted outstanding Lenard-role-based stories. (I didn’t have much contact with Lenard while doing that – HCtB had gone off the air then, and he didn’t have a series he felt he ought to be promoting if he could.) After three years, I’d reprinted the stories I especially wanted to reprint, and wanted to focus more on my “T-Negative” fanzine, so I turned the club over to Sharon Emily, and it ran several years more, first with her, and then with Gail Saville & Barbara Metzke.
Meeting Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath – yes, I corresponded with Sondra some, and met her and Myrna when Sondra invited us to visit her for a weekend. (Was this on the way home from all of us attending a sciencefiction convention in St. Louis? – I don’t remember for sure if that was the occasion.) They had an impact on ST fandom because they edited two volumes of fan-written ST stories published by a commercial publisher, something that hadn’t happened before (and I think hasn’t happened since). I read The Price of the Phoenix and remember enjoying it, but don’t have any clear memories of it.
I didn’t attend any of the ST cons. There’ve been a couple of ST cons held here in the Twin Cities, and I attended a couple of those, one run by fan Joan M. Verba and aimed at being for fans (there were no pro guests of honor) to discuss ST, and one a large professionally-run con that was mostly focused on giving fans an opportunity to hear some of the actors speak and to buy souvenirs. I enjoyed the small discussion con a lot, but felt the large professional one was not particularly interesting. There’s been an annual sf con in town here for some years, Marscon, that makes a practice of inviting a cast-or-crew member from ST each year to take part. Jeffrey Combs was the ST guest this year, and gave a fascinating speech on the different kinds of acting he’s done on ST and elsewhere (I was particularly struck by his description of needing to work out with the puppeteer operating his Andorian antennae when the antennae should move, how they should move, and what emotions the different movements should represent).
Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s Kraith stories – I published the first several of these in T-N and found them impressive. As Jacqueline went on, they were getting longer and required more background knowledge of all of them to be understood, and I didn’t think I could cope with continuing to publish them and still have room in T-N for other people’s stories, so I asked her to find another set-up for them, where they could be stand-alone publications and the impact of the series as a series would be clearer. I think it was at that point that Kraith fandom developed as a fandom, and I didn’t have much involvement in it after I’d stopped publishing the stories.
“Blake’s 7” – I wasn’t involved in the conventions or in discussions of what stories should run in the fanzines. Don’t really know the issues involved and don’t have opinions on them. Same-sex fiction with the characters in tv shows as the story characters – this is such a “fraught” topic and so complicated that I think I’ll pass on trying to discuss it.Best things about being a fan – being able to combine the pleasures of criticism and story-writing, and friendships that develop. I don’t think I regret any of my fanactivities. Advice to a new fan – enjoy it.
- issue #10
- Barbara Went
- "... And Comfort to the Enemy"
- Ruth later amends this: ” The character's name was Perez, with accent mark added to the first e, not Garcia.”
- Ruth later corrects the name from “Greg” to “George.”