Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Shoshanna

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Shoshanna
Interviewer: Franzeska Dickson
Interviewee: Shoshanna
Date(s): March 8, 2015
External Links: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Shoshanna
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

In 2015, Shoshanna was interviewed at Escapade as part of the Media Fandom Oral History Project.

Interview length: 1:10:57. 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.

Some Topics Discussed


I was in science fiction fandom from the beginning of the '80s, which is when I was in high school. And then I shifted into media fandom, pretty much; partly, a friend of mine was into Blake's 7, and hooked me on that, and partly directly into slash, because in college, I read Joanna Russ's essay, “Pornography By Women, For Women, With Love,” which was published in her collection Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Something, and Perverts. I forget the title. And that was, in that essay she discusses K/S zines, but it's written in, I don't know, the late '70s or thereabouts. Maybe the early '80s, 'cause this would have been the mid/late '80s by this time. And she says, in a footnote, these things really do exist, but I'm not going to tell you how to find them, because it's this very private subculture. And so I'm reading this going, “But I would be very interested in finding these.”

And then I was at a convention in, it would have been '86 or '87, a science fiction convention, walking through the dealers' room. And came to a screeching halt with smoke coming up from my heel, like from a Road Runner cartoon and everything, because the dealer at the table I was passing was selling Star Trek stationery. It was just 8x11 colored sheets of paper, that you wrote your letters on, back when you wrote letters on paper. And in the top left corner, where like the logo or business letterhead might be, the image was two interlocking circles. And in one circle was Spock in profile, and in the other was Kirk in profile, looking at each other. And the circles overlapped between their faces. And I came to a screeching halt and said, “That's K/S stationery!” and she said, “You're right!” [laughter] And she had zines under the table. Literally under the table in a box.

So I bought zines under the table. Well, I brought them out from under the table and bought them. And they would have been, probably those were a couple issues of Naked Times? I don't remember at this point. But in the back they had, you know, listings of other fanzines. And that was how I got into fanzine fandom. Because I brought them back to where I was living and was very excited.

And so around the same time I was getting into Blake's 7, gen and slash, and K/S, and it just, and that got me into conventions, and letter zines, and it just snowballed from there.
I was into Space: Above and Beyond because a friend of mine sat me down and showed me the good bits version, which is to say, she fast-forwarded through a good 70% of the series, [laughter] because that show was terrible. [laughter] But it had these little nuggets of potentiality in it, that the show runners were explicitly not interested in following. It had these really cool artificial people, and my understanding was that the creators were explicitly not interested in pursuing this. They wanted to do World War II in space. And I was like, “But, cool artificial people!” So I, the second novel I wrote, of two that I've ever written in fandom, was Space: Above and Beyond, where I took what they gave me and ran with it big time. And this is one of those, trying to write in a live show that was airing as I wrote it. So I plotted the whole thing; I literally outlined the entire plot, who my characters were, and what was going to happen. And that week the episode aired that we didn't have this word yet, but it totally jossed me. Totally. Like, I had set one of the characters up as, not just that I'd set the character up as a virgin, but I had made decisions about the way that they were raised with relation to sexuality and relationships and all these things. And then the next episode that airs establishes that he has been married and divorced... So I literally spent about a day, just tearing my hair out, and then said, “You know what? Fuck it. My version is better.” Only I didn't, it was, I had outlined the whole story before that aired, so it became a canon-divergent AU. And I wrote it the way I wanted to write it, and it's always, I've gotten very good feedback on that story over the years. I still like my version better as science fiction, but the show runners were not interested in doing science fiction. And my story absolutely, critically depended on the way I had conceived of these characters. It wasn't something I could retrofit.
I tend to be good as a facilitator in some ways. And I like volunteering and helping. So as soon as I started going to cons, I started volunteering for them. And I frequently found myself working on art shows. And also attending auctions, because auctions were a lot of fun and were very entertaining. And I gradually worked my way up to running art shows, and being an auctioneer, which I did for decades. I mean, I have auctioned at other cons, but I wasn't at the first Escapade. I've been to every Escapade since the second. And I believe that I ran the Art Show starting with the first Escapade I was at, Escapade 2. And so I ran that art show for, twenty-two years, I guess? Because this is the second year since I gave it up. Naked Bee has now done it for two years. And she's terrific. I am so pleased that she arrived in our corner of fandom and took this over, because she has done such wonderful things with it. But that was one of the things I was known for, and that means a whole lot of people know me because I get up in front of a room, and crack jokes, and make people spend money for an hour. And I loved doing it, so I'm glad that people liked me to do it, because I loved doing it.
[The con art show] has completely changed over the decades. Completely. And this is one of the reasons that it was really time for me to give it up. Because before there was the Internet, con art shows were almost the only way you could share this kind of thing. There were zines. Text is, words are much easier to share than pictures. So there were zines, but high quality art reproductions would make zines very expensive. Not “very,” but significantly more expensive. You know, you might have a color cover, and some inside illustrations, but color illustrations inside were – they made the zine more complicated and more expensive. I remember one with an actual foldout, a color foldout, which was amazing. But zines are, you know, heavy and pricey, and art doesn't reproduce well. Professionals fandom didn't enter zines until very very late in the game. It was all circuit stories distributed in photocopies. And the idea, there was a central circulating library. You would ask for some stories, and they would be sent to you, and you would photocopy them for yourself, and send back the originals. But you can't do that with art. Tenth-generation photocopies of text are generally still readable. Tenth-generation photocopies of art? Why bother?... You don't need perfect typography. So convention art shows were tremendously important as a place people could share art, as well as buy it. Just share it, as galleries. And then, as the Internet developed to a point where you could share not just words, but pictures, that still wasn't happening when everyone had 128-baud modems. But art became a thing that people did digitally, and didn't print out. Because it was so much easier to share online. And I am not an artist, so I really can't speak in detail to how these things developed among artists. I can say what it seemed like to me, but one of the reasons I am so glad that Naked Bee took over the art show is that she is an artist; she does wonderful art, and so she knows what she's talking about in a way that I never did. So the art show now has much more 3-D work, and craft work, than we ever did, because your basic head shot is now easily shareable on Tumblr, but you cannot easily share a scarf.
: Escapade was founded right around the time that slash was becoming a fandom in itself. That's why Escapade was founded – well, I don't know why Escapade was founded, I wasn't there. But looking at it in retrospect and from the outside, I think that was the moment when people could look around and say, “Slash is its own thing now. People are slash fans -” “-and so the culture can support a slash con.” Vividcon did the same thing with vids. It rode the same crest that it had begun, that people were fans of Highlander, or Sentinel, or whatever the show was, and might or might not enjoy vids in their fandom. And then vidding began to be an independent art form, and people began to be fans of vids. Or began to be vidders who might be working in this fandom or that fandom. And Vividcon was founded at the moment when we thought the culture had reached a point where it could support a vidding con.
Vividcon has an unusually high volunteer need because of the kind of con it is. It just, we need more people watching doors, because we need to be turning lights off and on, things like that. So Vividcon needs a significant portion of its membership to put in some time at the con as volunteers. And that means a lot of people, who all have their preferences for jobs they want to do, and not want to do, and that means, it's the world's largest Tetris game, trying to get everyone into the volunteer schedule, and still give everyone a job they actively want to do. Which I work very hard to do.
[Regarding Vividcon and warnings]: It's interesting to me how much the OTW has defined the terms of warnings now. The OTW/Archive of Our Own warnings have pretty much have become what people accept as the default. And I think sometimes people forget how much work it took to create them, like in the same way that the eight hour workday is not a law of nature. [laughter] Thank you, union movement! [laughter] ... You know, this isn't something I'm going to go into in detail, partly because I am not speaking for all of the convention. It, the question of warnings, and content notes, and however you want to define it, is something that Vividcon has thought about, and wrestled with, and done well, and sometimes done badly, its entire life. And as culture changes, we change to fit it better. And we do the best that we can, and we make the best call, we make the call that seems to us best and right and most workable and most useful at the time that we make it. Times change, and sometimes our decisions change, and it's always a work in progress, and I love Vividcon. I love working on Vividcon. I love being a part of Vividcon.
I used to go to MediaWest, but they finally pissed me off enough that I would not go back. MediaWest was a terrific, terrifically fun convention, for many of the years I was going, because many people I knew went, so I saw them all, and also this is where you could buy your own weight in zines. I mean, people would, I don’t remember if it was UPS or what shipment company would set up shop in the hotel, and people would ship all their clothes home, because they were lighter, and carry zines, because it was prohibitively expensive to ship all the zines home. But I remember I had a suitcase that had another tiny suitcase that would fold up inside it. Which was, you would fill that thing with zines. This was also the days when you could check bags for free on planes. But their discriminatory policies against what they considered slash vids were always outrageous to me. And MediaWest was one of the conventions where I volunteered in the art show for years, and would be a runner in the auction for years, and then one year I was running for Paula Smith, who was auctioning. And the MediaWest auction would run very late at night. And she got tired, and she pulled me up on stage to auction her last few pieces, which was one of my first auctioning experiences, I think. And after that, for a couple of years, I was MediaWest auctioneer in their art show, and that was a lot of fun.

And then one year, I think I had just bought my membership for the upcoming MediaWest, and then I found out, probably from Paula, that MediaWest actually comped its auctioneers' memberships. Now, I mean, I don't actually think that auctioning is a big enough job to warrant comping a membership. I don't get comped at Escapade, just for auctioning, those last couple years. But it's not my call; if they want to make that call, I'd be perfectly happy to accept.

So I wrote to the concom and said, you know, I'm auctioning. I honestly don't remember at this point if I had already paid for the upcoming year, or if I was just trying to say, I was about to write you a check for the upcoming year, but apparently I should be comped as an auctioneer, so could you do that, please. And I also said, I understand if the books are closed on last year, but I was an auctioneer last year, and I bought a membership. So if the books aren't closed on last year, it would be cool if you could refund me, and if they are closed, I get it.

And I got a letter back that said, well, we don't automatically comp auctioneers; we wait to find out if they fit in with the rest of the team. Yeah, and I had been an auctioneer for two years at this point, and had been working the auction for three-four years before that, and that was the last time. I shook the dust of MediaWest off my shoes. I found that really offensive. Really offensive. So I was done with MediaWest.

And also, the people I used to hang out with there weren't going any more. It wasn't a big loss to me, but I would have kept going for several more years, if they had not treated me really badly there.

That was offensive. You know, what that basically translated to, “You are not our personal friend, so, no.”

There was transition to the Internet. For a while, and again, that was around the time, because more and more people start participating, it starts, people become more aware that what they thought of as “fandom” was just their corner of fandom, and that there were enormous corners, and little tiny corners, of fandom, that had grown up in their own ways. And, like, you know, individual little ponds, and then the water level in all of them rose, until they could start meeting with each other.

So for a while, in what was probably mid-'90s, again, some of us who came out of that sort of MediaWest, Escapade, very zine-focused western-media-fandom sort of culture certainly felt that we were seeing a meeting of two cultures that were Internet fans, fans whose fannishness was based on the Internet, and what we would call zine fans with modems. Fans who had come out of that convention and zine culture who had now got online, but were bringing their original culture with them. So they were “zine fans with modems” not “Internet fans.”

And anytime you get different cultures meeting, and different assumptions, there were people who maintained that zines were better, because zines were edited, and so you were assured of some kind of quality, and there were people who maintained that zines were, first of all the idea that editing ensured quality was laughable, which it sometimes was, and that it was also gatekeeping, and that a great thing about the Internet was that everybody could write, and this was certainly true. I mean, I saw zines that had literally been OCR scanned and sent to the printer without being checked. Like, literally, pound signs where the scanner thought, couldn't read a “t.” I also saw zines that were scrupulously edited, where the editors worked with authors to make the story the best that it could be. But that also happens on the Internet. It was the Internet that used the term “beta reading.” In zines we called it editing. Now everyone says beta reading.
Someone at the OTW panel said that she had heard other people saying that they loved the Archive of Our Own, but didn't like the Organization for Transformative Works. They loved AO3 but not the OTW. And I said, “That's the fannish equivalent of, 'Get your government hands out of my Medicare.'” How does that even work?
As the ponds get really bigger, and as the culture changes, there's a lot more wide-ranging things, because there's just more. As the culture changes, and this is wonderful, you used to have to spend twenty-five pages just convincing the characters that they could be gay for each other, often, and convincing the readers that they could be gay for each other. And I use that phrase deliberately as a very dated phrase, all right? [laughter] And now, when non-heterosexual orientations are just a part of life, and so much more naturalized, and unremarkable. I mean, not to say that we now live in a queer paradise, by any means, but when K/S began, that's before Don't Ask, Don't Tell. When K/S began, you'd be kicked out of the military, kicked out or harassed out of the police. There was no image, in mainstream culture, of long-term stable gay relationships. It was work to make it okay. And so, I think authors and readers often felt - nothing I say is universal – but I think authors and readers often felt they had to work to motivate it a lot. And now you can just start with, well, let's suppose this character is gay, or bi, or whatever. What's that like for him? It doesn't have to be a big issue for that character. I mean, the individual relationship with whoever the person is being slashed with may be a big issue; that's the emotional arc of the story. But the, “Oh, my god, I'm gay,” just doesn't have to happen. I remember saying that, obviously no transition is momentary, but I was really thinking about this transition when X-Files was big. Because I remember saying, “If Mulder's biggest problem in being in a relationship with Krycek is that it's gay, he really needs to reexamine his priorities.” [laughter]
There's always been a, it has always cropped up distressingly often in slash, what I think is the author's perception that gets grafted on to the characters, that only penetrative sex is sex. And I have read one or two regrettable stories where the characters have been exchanging hand jobs and blow jobs for months, and then they're like, “Tonight, we will have SEX for the first time!” And I'm thinking, oh, shut up. [giggling]

And there are people to whom top and bottom roles are very important. I believe that some of that came out of Japanese fandom; it was more important there? I do not know. I have never been in Japanese fandom. But there are fans to whom that is quite important. I am not one of them, and the culture I came out of was not one of them.

It's a characterization point. You might say, “Well, I think Duncan McLeod is a total bottom,” and someone else could say, “Really? Why?” and then you could have a conversation about it. But the idea of, like, warning for who's on the bottom? I never saw that before the last ten years.
I've read a lot of Due South, and there are a lot of fascinatingly different ways you can characterize Benton Fraser was what I was specifically thinking of, but any character.

I will say that Sandy, of blessed memory, came up with this wonderful theory image that, canonical data points – like, a character did this, and that, and the other thing - we have these data points, and it's the job of a fanfiction writer to plot a best fit curve between them. But in the same way that scientists analyzing data sometimes say, “This data point is such a bizarre outlier that we are going to cut it from our data set. There's something else going on here, but it's not relevant to us.” You know, fandom will occasionally just focus on a subset of the data, and plot its best-fit characterization curve from there.

Historical fiction does exactly the same project, that we have a historical character that we know did x, y, and z, and we have to come up with the best fit explanation of why. So characterization is critical. It has to be plausible, and adult, and not make me throw it across the room because they are all being idiots.

What makes a good story? A challenge that the characters rise to. Or fail to rise to. But growth and change and development, climax and resolution. And in slash, most of that is about interpersonal tension, whether or not they're solving crime while they do it. Slash is about the relationship between them, and it's specifically about an erotically charged, if not explicitly erotic, relationship. And so that's where a lot of the power of the story is going to come from.
The first novel I wrote was a Professionals novel, and I heard through channels – I wasn't told this directly – but someone told me, that someone else said, that this other fan, who had been a fan for many years, more senior in fandom than me, said that she did not consider that novel slash. No, you're rolling your eyes, and I did not roll my eyes. I was fascinated. And, because, I mean, this is a story in which the characters have sex, and one of them, the point of view character, is tremendously conflicted about it. It's a novel about internalized homophobia. And so he discovers that his partner is bi, and flips out, and then there are some sexually charged moments between them that are, don't do this at home, kids. It was very unhealthy. He flips out, and then he, you know, has to get his head on straight, and reach a point where he is willing to admit that he is actually profoundly attracted to his partner, and wants to try to make a go of a relationship with him. So when I heard that someone with chops in fandom, with experience and smarts and reputation, to her this wasn't a slash novel – I was very curious. Like, it seems like a slash novel to me, why is that? And the answer I got, again, filtered through an intermediary was that it didn't create in her the kind of emotional reaction that slash should create. Because the point of view character has a one-night-stand with someone else, and in the ending – the ending is a happy ending in the sense that the two primary characters have decided to make it work. But there's not a happy ever after. There's no guarantee that they will. But my POV character has worked through a lot of his shit, and he's really committed to trying. And I think that for this other person slash meant more romance, more tight emotional bond? I mean, these characters had a tight emotional bond but it wasn't quite what she wanted. And so that was fascinating to me. I sometimes – you know, it is often not the act of a friend to go to your friend and say, “Hey, this person over here said something mean about your thing.” [laughter] I'm really glad that this person told me that this other comment had been made, because I was fascinated. It really revealed to me another way of thinking about these things that I'm really glad I got to hear.
[Regarding the story 'Folded Arms' and Open Minds]: What was incredibly fascinating to me was that, this was a one-off joke story, really, where the hinge of the whole story is that, it's a Professionals story where Murphy, who is a peripheral character in the Professionals, is on an undercover job. He has to trail a guy into a gay bar. Shock horror. And while he's in there, he sees Bodie and Doyle, like, off-duty, sharing drinks. And has this, “My god, my co-workers are faggots, what will I do,” but gets his head around that. And when they see him at work the next day, and he's like, “Were you there on a job?” Because in his mind, he like, wants to give them an excuse. Maybe they had a good reason for being there. And they say, “No, we were just there,” and he sort of screws to his version of a sticking point and says, “Well, you know, it's not for me, but if it gives ya – I'm glad you guys found each other. And I can understand. I'm there for ya. And my sister's gay -” really, you know, I pulled out the stops for this sort of thing. And Bodie and Doyle fall off their chairs laughing at him. And they're like, “You thought I would go for him? Are you insane?” And say to him, “You've got it all wrong. We're not in love with each other; we're just gay.” And that's the end of the story. Well, the thing is, when I wrote it, “We're not gay, we just love each other,” was an absolute set phrase. And I was deliberately subverting that paradigm. And twenty years later, when these people are discussing it on the Internet, several of the commenters specifically said, you know, “This story doesn't make sense unless, at the time it was written, there must have been some pre-existing phrase about 'we're not gay, we just love each other', so that the last line makes sense as an inversion of that.” I mean, some of them may have been, but a couple of people were explicitly saying this. And thirty years ago we could not have imagined a world in which that line wasn't known to slash fans.
[My advice for fans and acafans in the future]: In that seminal (what a word!) essay that Joanna Russ wrote, she said that, I don't remember her exact wording, but she basically wrote, that she didn't believe that people had any business analyzing pornography if they didn't personally get off on it. That, if you don't understand fundamentally for yourself, how something works, you shouldn't try to explain it. And I don't agree completely with that, but I do think that explaining from the outside never works for any subculture, or anything that, like, serves a function. If you don't understand why the function is desired, and how it works, then you're not going to be able to explain it.

And fandom has had, historically, way too much explanation from the outside, which often ends in pointing and mocking. And one of the great changes of the last 20-30 years is, people began explaining it from the inside. And now there are people, not just who are academics, and then decide to study fandom, and become fans in the course of that, or were always fans, but their academic interests were separate, until they decided to make them the same. Now there are people growing up in academic studies. Like, who were fans since they were nine.

Who got on the Internet when they were twelve, and have been writing and drawing and cosplaying and whatever since then. And are now in college, in a universe in which Fan Studies is an accepted field. Which it did not use to be. And that, I think, is a game changer. There are people for whom, they're not joining their separate worlds of my academia and my fannishness. These worlds have never been separate for them, and that's really cool.

It does mean that they always need to remember to be sensitive to people who do want that boundary maintained, because people who comfortably merge all those parts of their lives need to remember that some people really want to keep them separate. In the past, some people had really critical reasons for keeping them separate. You know, I know a woman who if she, someone once told her she was being a coward for using a pseudonym. If this woman had been discovered by her employers she would have lost her job, and if she had lost her job, she would have been deported. You know?

A lot of, that is less of an issue now that just being gay is no longer a fireable offense in most places, but not all. So, but people are still sometimes at tremendous risk, and people who are not at risk, who have never been at risk, need to remember – and even if it's not risk, even if it's just preference – you know, this isn't secret, it's just private. You know, I want people to remember that. And I want them to remember it about me, so if you recognize my voice, hush. [laughter] Just the don't tell anybody else part, you know? I want to be in control of who I reveal what to.