Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Susan R. Matthews

From Fanlore
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Interviews by Fans
Title: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Susan R. Matthews
Interviewer: Megan Genovese
Interviewee: Susan R. Matthews
Date(s): August 18, 2017
Medium: aural, transcript
Fandom(s): Star Wars, Blake's 7[
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

In 2017, Susan R. Matthews was interviewed by Megan Genovese as part of the Media Fandom Oral History Project.

Interview length: 1:25.

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


I was aware of Star Trek fandom, yes. There was a book by, I think, Bjo Trimble and Devra Langsam called Star Trek Lives!, if I recall correctly, that had a discussion in the text about the Star Trek fanzines with names and titles and so forth. At that time, some of that material was actually in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, so having read about fandom and fan lit in the Star Trek environment in that particular book, when I was at a bookstore and I saw Spockanalia by Devra Langsam, and I think, also, possibly somebody else—actually in the bookstore, on the shelf—I was just really excited. I bought them, took them home, and wrote to everybody that was listed as a reference in that publication.

...I recall writing fan lit for personal consumption at a relatively early age, and when I look back on that, uh, if it’s the first thing you ever wrote, it is likely to be a little bit rough, and if it’s something that you wrote when you were probably a late teenager, it is likely to be a little bit embarrassing from the perspective of advanced age.

... my perspective of early Star Wars fandom was kind of marginal in terms of the fandom as itself because I was pretty busy at my job, and because I had never even been to a science fiction convention at that time, and had no idea what science fiction fandom networks were like. So, I hadn’t been in science fiction fandom per se. My first contact with fandom was chasing down people who published fanzines in the Star Trek environment. The fanzines that I started getting and reading were kind of equally divided in the early days between people who figured that it was Star Trek and nothing but Star Trek and would never be anything but Star Trek and the people who say, “Hey! Star Wars! This is science fiction, too!” So, my experience of the early, early days of Star Wars fandom was kind of, sort of watching the activity creep into the fanzines as growing movement that demanded legitimacy for itself, and there were early conflicts in the female fandom community about whether or not that legitimacy was to be granted, but I think that within a few years, I would say, the idea that Star [Wars] fandom was its own thing and was of equal stature and value or whatever with Star Trek fandom. Kind of mainstream within the fannish community—the fan lit community, yeah. The female fan lit community. (laughs)

There was a lot of resistance over the fact that whether or not it was science fiction in the Star Trek tradition, I guess. Umm, Star Trek fandom, as it developed, the women who wrote Star Trek fan lit had a lot of barriers to overcome from the science fiction community as a whole, which was pretty, pretty much male dominated. So, first the women had to fight for Star Trek being a valid form of science fiction expression to start with, and then they had to fight for the idea that they could write Star Trek stories rather than what was the fan activity of the pulp science fiction magazines. There had always been a tradition of writing your own science fiction stories within the science fiction community, but women writing Star Trek stories, they were based off media, television programs, not off the printed word. That was a problem to start out with, and it was written from a different perspective that was more based on characterization and personal relationships, and it focused on the people that were involved in the science fiction story rather than being focused almost exclusively on the science fiction story itself to the exclusion of much effort placed into characterization.

...if there was a lot of attention paid to the philosophical underpinnings of whether one ought to write fan lit or not and whether it was an activity worthy of respect. If there was a lot of political in-fighting, if you will, about the literary benefits or the validity, again, of participating in fandom by writing fan lit, then, you know, it would have washed over me. I personally don’t think I encountered that kind of prejudice myself, again, because I wasn’t really involved inside fandom. I may have gotten a lot more experience in those issues had I been more plugged in to science fiction fandom per se at the time of which I discovered Star Wars. But I wasn’t. I got into science fiction fandom through Star Wars although I had read science fiction all of my life. I had never been involved in the community aspects of science fiction fandom until I found out, or became involved with convention-going and things of that nature through Star Wars, from my interest in Star Wars.

I was really involved in reading letters of comment, especially when I started to contribute to the fanzines. One was really, really interested in finding out what other people had to say in respect to one’s story, and it’s in that context that, while people were talking about one another’s stories--it was in that context that one began to see the development of the Church of Ford, for instance.

In terms of Star Wars, I’m going to say no. In terms of Star Wars, the energies that I plugged into Star Wars per se from the beginning, was that of the Rebel Alliance. I, at that time, needed some Rebel Alliance in my life because of personal issues, and I don’t believe that I ever had a lot of patience for the Imperial factions for a number of different reasons. One of them is personal and philosophical, and the other one had to do with my idea about who got to define their own universe. In terms of the fan lit that I wrote, in early days, I’d say it was 50/50 whether it was in a military context or not. A military context comes naturally to me because I am an Army brat, and I was on active duty at the time and then left active duty for reserve status in ’78. So, I’m going to say that probably a lot of my material had more in terms of military flavor than other people, maybe, but in terms of my personal political alliances within Star Wars, I was on the side of the rebels.

There was a certain amount of debate over [whether Han Solo was Force-sensitive]. I think that part of the debate was developed in and championed amongst or betwixt the various partisan groups. The Church of Ford people who wanted for Han to be all things, and he was naturally going to be a Jedi, and he was going to be a better Jedi than anybody else, and all the other Jedi, like Luke, for instance, were going to be just really impressed by his native, raw talent and that kind of stuff. As part of the fannish exaggeration of idealizing a character, and of course, another side of the argument was that—the other side of the argument, I think, as I remember it, kind of sort of came down to the position that one had to demonstrate a certain level of ethical quality required to be a Jedi, and that you would know from the beginning, and that Han couldn’t possibly be a Jedi because he hadn’t demonstrated any forcefulness and so on and so forth, and the elements within the fandom that felt that he was a reprehensible character and so on and so forth.

My first exposure to slash was Kirk/Spock slash, and I didn’t like it because it was, it was a perspective on the characters that I thought was not true to the characters. ... primitive slash was primitive, and from a military point of view, you cannot respect a commander who engages in sexual, or even romantically emotional relationships with a subordinate officer or troop in the direct line of command. It’s pretty dicey even if you are engaging in a sexual relationship with somebody who is not in your command and is maybe in an entirely military operation especially and so on and so forth. It’s funny, but probably the biggest taboo that was violated personally, for me, with Kirk/Spock slash specifically, was the command relationship. So, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it.

In the Star Wars context, when people started to introduce slash themes in the Star Wars context, I was at that point, under the impression, whether it’s true or not, that George Lucas had said no, and since George Lucas was the creative fount for Star Wars, in my perception, George had the right, in my opinion, to make those decisions about, not about whether or not he was going to have homosexuality in Star Wars, but about whether or not the relationship between those two characters was going to go in that direction or could go in that direction from George Lucas’ point of view.

So, in Star Wars, my primary objection to slash was that, in order to make slash work, the personality dynamic, the character dynamic, the relationship between the two men, had to change dramatically enough that those characters were no longer the characters that I understood them to be or enjoyed them. It just got too far outside the character dynamic between the two guys, and it was all there ever nwas that I ever saw was slash between the two men, Han and Luke. When they started pulling Obi-Wan into it, I was “ewwww that’s just weird!” because that violated what I perceived as generational barriers, as well as everything else.

I never became involved in any [Blake’s 7, Dracula, Man From U.N.C.L.E., Battlestar Galactica fandoms] because I liked or because I perceived same-sex sexual tension between the characters that I liked. All of those fandoms existed, in my perception, as being fundamentally focused in a heterosexual orientation for the main characters. I read a lot of “The Professionals” slash, and some of the “The Professionals” slash that I read was starting to get quite good, I thought, in that some of the “The Professionals” slash that I read was a lot more focused on the changes wrought in the two characters’ perceptions of themselves and issues of their sexuality than being focused on “insert tab A into slot B,” or B Subprime or whatever. In other words, some of the slash that I thought was not objectionable for me as a fanzine reader, or stuff that I could read and think, you know that was actually a pretty good story even if I don’t agree with the premises.

It was really at the point in slash where it was really developing more towards discussion of two people experiencing an unforeseen development in their lives and so on and so forth rather than being primarily focused on loving descriptions of sexual acts, which is, in my opinion, where a lot of slash still derives its energy. Now that’s a personal opinion. I know people who write slash, and I respect their writing. In some cases, I really like their writing, and just there is just no getting around the idea that the arc of our married lives, Maggie and I, has been that of two people who have been primarily focused as heterosexuals, who fell in love with each other without planning to. So, as a matter of fact, Maggie and I got—were the targets of a lot of scorn and derision on the part of people who really thought that slash was finest expression of Star Wars fandom because Maggie and I were married, and it was felt that we were attacked on the grounds that, being married to one another and still objecting to Han/Luke slash, for instance, was hypocritical.

A filk song, speaking personally, writing a filk song is way easier, by far the easiest thing to write of three forms [poems, prose, and filk]. One, you know, a story of some sort; two, a poem, and three, a filk. I think filks are easiest because one has an idea of what issue one wishes to address. When you’re writing a filk song, you already have your thought about the single point that you want to discuss, highlight, celebrate, and you probably also have an idea of a song that you really like that kind of carries the same emotional message, and then you already have meter and melody. So, in my personal process, I think writing a filk song is way easier than writing poem or writing a text narrative.

Second easiest, maybe, in my opinion, writing a poem. My poems have always been narratives, and they have almost always been first person narratives, and they’ve been metered and not rhymed. And that is kind of like a stream-of-consciousness thing, almost. I’m quite proud of at least one of them, but in terms of the amount of thought and energy and concentration that they require, I think that probably text narrative is the most difficult, for me.

I personally did a certain amount of cosplay, but it is on a level that is so primitive compared to people’s full costumes and so on and so forth that I would really be embarrassed to even discuss it in the same context. When I had first seen Star Wars, and I saw the way that people on Tatooine, people within the Rebellion and so forth, dressed, the way Han Solo dressed—all of those costume elements with the exception of Jedi robes, for instance, and the layered effect, the kimono-like effect of Ben Kenobi’s costume. A lot of that stuff was available in department stores, for instance. A cream-colored or a tan-colored cotton shirt with a mandarin collar? A lot of things that I could put on and feel like I was costumed as a Rebel Alliance person, or just off-the-shelf things, really.

I personally was primarily involved in the first three [movies] and not so much afterwards. There were definitely places where—in Empire Strikes Back, it was still possible for me to look at that and have the same feeling of the worlds of which I was happy to immerse myself and play and the energies that I had responded to so strongly in the first Star Wars movie. Umm, but in my perception, the story was changing, and I didn’t particularly care for the story that was there at the end of [Return of the] Jedi. So… but yes, watched ‘em, did a certain amount of fan lit after Empire. I think I’m not sure that I did any fan—I’m not sure I was even writing any Star Wars fan lit when Jedi came out. So, it’s the first movie which is now the sixth movie, or whichever movie it is. The original Star Wars movie remains the Star Wars movie for me because it was the total gestalt of that film that meant, that means, so much to me, and the story changed as it deepened, broadened and grew in complexity to something that was quite different, and that’s what stories do, and that’s the way it is.

I remember very clearly the first Blake’s 7 novel that I wrote and the circumstances under which I wrote it. It was just a year or two, maybe three, before Jedi, but at that time, was I was no longer active in Star Wars fan lit and was instead at play in the fields of Blake’s 7, in terms of fan-lit writing.

I do remember using the pseudonym Alicia Maria Susanna Fox, but only for particular purposes, and it was—by far, the majority of my fan lit was always written under my own name.... Yes, yes. It wasn’t a matter for us. We didn’t have to worry about family and work and things like that...

I really don’t think I used it very often, and in that case, it was not a question of trying to seriously pretend that we weren’t the same people, with more of a wink wink, nudge nudge. “Oh I would never write such a thing! No!”

And part of that was because I was told at a fairly early point that nobody was the least bit fooled, so that I couldn’t have fooled people if I had wanted to because my style was too idiosyncratic. But in—there were two reasons for people to use pseudonyms in fan lit, and the primary one was fear of exposure and the ridicule that people would experience, the negative impacts that it might have on your mundane job, for instance? But the other one, the other reason, and it’s by far the much [more] important reason that I used, is a pseudonym as a signal that “Okay, and now for something completely different.” And as an example drawn from my later career, I have a fantasy series that I’ve been working on, but it hasn’t found its market yet, although my agent says, you know, it’s pretty nearly there, but when we sell my fantasy series, it will not be published as “A Novel by Susan R. Matthews,” because people have been reading novels by Susan R. Matthews for 20 years, and they’re accustomed to expecting a certain kind of novel, and a fantasy novel, completely different. The energy completely different, and it’s fantasy, not science fiction, and for a lot of different reasons, if you picked up one of these fantasy novels, expecting something like a Jurisdiction novel, you would not be getting the experience that you expected, and so in that context, using a pseudonym is part of your signaling “Look, this is not the sort of thing you may be expecting from this author. This may be something frivolous or trivial or otherwise really, really different.

In my case, in Star Wars, it was “Okay, this is something totally frivolous and very, very different.”

I came into Blake’s 7 before the wars began, but I left Blake’s 7 as a direct consequence of and in the early days of the Blake’s 7 war. As a result, I really don’t have my hands on a lot of the details of the Blake’s 7 war and that’s okay.

There is a science fiction fandom term. It may be Star Trek fandom or it may be earlier than that called “gafiation,” g-a-f-i-a-t-i-o-n, “getting away from it all.” It has permutations like “getting away from it all for a while,” “getting away from it all forever,” and so on and so forth, and in the early days of the Blake’s 7 wars, as I understand them to have been developing, I felt very strongly that there was something that was going on that I wasn’t interested in tolerating, participating in, or having anything to do with, so I gafiated.

Umm, the other related term is “FOOF,” forced out of fandom? Depending on who you talk to, I may have been FOOF’d rather than gafiated, but I believe I gafiated.

As I was going pro, as they say, I was sort of on the—it was kind of on the cusp of where a person could admit having had roots in fan lit without being excoriated by both the mundane and the science fiction communities. There are horror stories in the past, the details of which I am not at liberty to share, about people whose mainstream science fiction, that was well-received and nominated for awards, for instance, was abruptly yanked from consideration after having been nominated because it was revealed that the author had had a history writing fan lit. There are several people that we know, friends of ours, who had gone mainstream or gone pro several years before I started that effort, who felt strongly, especially in discussion with their agents, that it would be a literary death for them to come out of the fandom closet, as it were. Out of the fan lit closet. But my entry into the professional market was made kind of on the cusp of that prejudice. There are still influential people in science fiction fandom who have expressed to me the conviction that fan lit is trash, and that nobody who ever wrote media fan lit could possibly hope to be an actual writer, but because of my long involvement with fan lit and the importance that it has in my life, and the fact that I believe that I learned how to write by writing fan lit, gained control of my voice, got better at what I was doing and all those things, I made a decision fairly early on that I was not going to repudiate my fan lit roots, and I hope and trust that I have held to that conviction.

Therefore, even at the point at which I had spent years filing off serial numbers, as it were, building a new universe and original characterizations and so on and so forth, even at that point, when I hit The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne fan lit, it was under my name, by gosh, because I am not ashamed of it. I’m not ashamed of it, and I no longer feel that there is a career or business reason to pretend that I never wrote fan lit.

I make all of these remarks without—these are personal convictions on my part, and I don’t mean them as any kind of a critique or criticism of anybody that ever felt like they needed to separate those two parts of their lives. I hope that comes through, yeah

If you do something for a long enough period of time, and you’re doing it because you are really energized by what you’re doing and you’re really loving what you’re doing, then you will get better at it over time. So, fan lit has always been a classroom for me, not in formal terms but anybody that took a copy of something from Star Wars fan lit by Susan R. Matthews and compared it to something from the Jules Verne stories by Susan R. Matthews would say—for instance, there was a story called “Walpurgisnacht,” and doesn’t see that that person Susan R. Matthews has really gotten a lot of good experience and grown as a writer through writing fan lit, you know, is not paying attention.

[My advice to a fan today]. Write. Keep writing. Don’t stop writing. That’s just kind of basic advice. I think that probably the most important thing a person, that I would like to say to aspiring fan writers is that if you are writing, you’re not an aspiring writer. You are a writer, and it’s up to the individual to decide why they’re writing and what they want to write about and how they want to write it, and there’s nobody in the world that has—if you were an aspiring fan lit writer, and we were sitting right here instead of on the phone, I would look at you, and I would say, among other things, the most important thing is that you are the only person in the universe with your voice, so go out and do it and do what you like and don’t let anybody tell you that it’s not good enough. You can tell yourself it’s not good enough, you know, I mean, and that’s how you grow. You take the story, you write the story, and then you look at the story in six months and you look at that and you tell yourself “that could have been better.” That’s not quite the same as saying that’s not good enough, because it was obviously the best you could do at that time. Don’t let anybody tell you, don’t let anybody ever tell to be ashamed of what you love.