Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with TM Alexander

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with TM Alexander
Interviewer: Franzeska Dickson
Interviewee: TM Alexander
Date(s): May 27, 2012
Medium: audio recording
External Links:
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In 2012, TM Alexander was interviewed at MediaWest as part of the Media Fandom Oral History Project.

This interview was conducted in 2012 and transcribed in 2013. It is fifty-three minutes long.

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

  • her start in fandom
  • attending her first MediaWest in 1983 when she was 16 years old
  • the ideas behind a number of her zines
  • the circuit and underground fanfic
  • Textual Poachers and fanfiction as modern folklore
  • tie-in novels
  • if you're at a con, fanzines are better than tuna sandwiches
  • origins of portmanteaus


[making zines, and making a friend]:
But the true art of making a fanzine, perfecting this, I learned from, her name was Paulie, and she had been doing fanzines since the seventies. She did zines like, "The Jelly Baby Chronicles," which was Doctor Who, based on Tom Baker's Doctor Who. She did some Starsky and Hutch zines, "Blond Blintz Bulletin" and "Dirtball Dispatch." And she had also done a lot of illustrations for zines, in fact, that's how I actually met her, was one of those zines my friend gave me, or a couple of them actually, had Paulie's artwork in it. And I didn't know if Paulie was a guy or a girl. And I really loved the art, and when I went to MediaWest*Con, and I saw this dealer's table with these zines on it and saw Paulie's work on the cover, I said, “I love this Paulie guy's artwork!" And this woman behind the table said, "Well, thank you," And I look at her and I see her badge and I went, like, "You're Paulie?"... And that kind of started, we started a friendship then... I had submitted some Starsky and Hutch art to another publisher a year before, and was horribly rejected, and was, "I'm never going to do this again." So I meet Paulie, and she's looking for submissions, of art and stories. And at that time I wasn't thinking my stories were going to be published, but I had my art. And she's like, "Well, would you like to illustrate? Do you have any art to show, can I look at your art?" And I had some drawings with me, and showed them to her, and she said, "How would you like to illustrate for my zine?" And I was like, "Wow, sure!" So she sent me a story, and it was my first time ever finding out how that aspect worked, you know. Shortly after - that was May of '86 – in September of '86, well, in July of '86, Paulie and I became "closer".
[making a zine in 1986]:
This was back in the day where you didn't have a collating machine, it was like you did it, you know, you laid out the pages, like ten or – you just like took one off the top of each and stacked them together. And then you put it together. That's how you did the old-fashioned collating. And I started to find out about how, she'd show— and this is how I started to learn about how to do fanzines, because I was put to work when I got there. And I was doing illustration, I was doing the printing aspect, I was doing the binding aspect. I was learning how to, like, format, because they were using Macintosh computers, and I came in on the Macintosh, you know, in the computer age of fanzines. Before, they did it all with a typewriter; if you made a mistake you had to like retype the whole page.... And they had to do it with, you know, like carbon sometimes, carbon paper or, you know, it was just a mess. And it was so time consuming. And I have respect for fanzine publishers who did it the old-fashioned way. But we had just gotten into the, you know, we had the MacIntosh with the dot-matrix printers, and how to when, because we didn't, you know, there weren't scanners at the time, what you would do was, you would resize the art on a photocopier, you'd like resize it, and you would drop it in, 'cause you would leave a space on the page. And you'd just drop it, you know, glue it onto the master and print from there. And if you had little mistakes you had to use whiteout and everything. And this is how I got started doing fanzines with her, was learning from her, because she had started back in the mimeo days.
[her kind of slash]:
So these people had circuit stories, and the circuit stories of Man from UNCLE slash, were, Illya and Napoleon, are, have a homosexual relationship. They were so violent – and, I mean, I've watched this show, and these two men took vacations together, according to the show's creators they lived in the same building. There were episodes where, because they were supposed to be expendable, if one was in trouble, the other one was freaked out for him. His boss had to remind him: "You know, he’s expendable, and so are you." And it's like, "Oh, whoa, ok, so stop being so concerned for each other." And I said, "These two men obviously care about each other. I do not understand why Napoleon would tie Illya up with barbed wire, and rape him with his gun, to show him how much he loved him. ...we decided we were going to show fandom what gay love was really about, you know, romantic love, could be about. It wasn't about what came below the belt. It was about what came from the heart and the spirit. And so we produced "Rose Tint My World", and it was the first romantic slash that, had ever been, you know, on Man from UNCLE. It really broke ground. And then suddenly other people started doing this too.
It's a real fandom. But actually, you know how it actually started was, I saw Lost Boys. The Lost Boys. Kiefer Sutherland vampire movie. And at the end of it I, he was in, you know, his character, David, is killed by being impaled on a pair of horns. And I'm like, well, "Horns aren't made of wood. He could have just been like, faking it, that he was dead. He's still alive." Because as they walked away from him, he could be still alive. So what I did was write a sequel called "Lost in the Shadows."... Here's the irony of "Lost in the Shadows." I wanted to give an original character. I was creating an original character to play off of his character, David. And I needed somebody, because I like the whole blond/brunet thing. Light and dark. Light and dark. And I was like, well, I need somebody to be my character Indigo. And there was, La Bamba had just come out. And I saw an ad for La Bamba and I said, "This Lou Diamond Phillips guy would look great next to Kiefer Sutherland." This was almost a year before Young Guns, which was the first time they were ever together. And I mean, wow, it just blew me away. Oh my god, you know, and they have, the two of, those two actors, they are like best buds. They are like the new Paul and David. You know, they're that tight in person....But, ah, so basically, "Lost in the Shadows" was in essence the first Kiefer/Lou zine, because I cast my original character, to better visualize him, with Lou Diamond Phillips. And all the illustrations that Paulie did for the zine, it's Lou Diamond Phillips.
[on fans today]:
I started doing fanzines, and how I developed it, and then became my own, and I turned out "Sex Files", which was a Mulder/Skinner slash zine. It was the only one of its kind at that time. It was an anthology zine. I did a Quantum Leap zine but I had to do it because of the whole, you know, Quantum Leap was still being filmed, so everyone had to have some wild pseudonym. [laughter] I think one of mine was N.E. Slashfan [laughter], Any Slashfan, and that was "Lover's Leap." That was a one-shot zine. But these were all zines that, you know, that we did. And then I was doing my own, and I think I did, the time that we were together, I think I did maybe twenty-five or thirty titles all by myself. You know, I either wrote them all, or you know, like, collections of stories, poetry and art, novels, other people's stuff, you know, in an anthology. Like, "Choirboys" was another one I did, was a 21 Jump Street slash zine. And, you know, just all these other things that I also did. I also did some original fic that I published, but these were all things I did on my own. I just kept getting better and better. And, you know, like, our computers got better, our printers got better, we were able to just drop art in, scan it and drop art in. Learning different formats, but that's how I got, but I haven't done it in years, but I'm feeling like I want to get back into it, because I believe that it needs to be continued. People on the Internet do not know who I am - ... because I never published my stuff on the Internet. A couple years ago, when Dark Night came out, I did write a couple of Batman/Joker fic that I put on Live Journal, you know, in this one Batman/Joker group. And people, that was the first time, the first thing I'd written, since 2003. So in five years it was the first thing I'd written. And people were just like, "Wow!" And they wrote, "Damn, you're good," and I said, well, I've been writing for years." "Really? Where's your stuff online? Where's your website?" And I'm like, my stuff isn't online, it's in fanzines. "What are fanzines?"
[print zine zines and online fiction]:
I won multiple fannish awards, you know, for my zines, for years. And these people didn't know who I was because I didn't have any fiction online. All my stuff was in a zine. So they wouldn't, because they, you know, it's like, what they are using is, these people who are coming in to fandom, they’re coming in through the Internet, where they're seeing fic all over the place. You can get it for free. And, you know, and they're reading it there, and then they are saying, "I like this person so much I would be willing to pay to have a book." And I'm of the old school that loves books. Paper to hold in your hand. Yes, I'm a conservationist, yes, I love trees and everything, but you can do recycled paper. But there is something about holding it in your hand. Yes, you can read it on a screen; it's convenient to carry around, like on a Kindle, and so on. But there's something almost psychological about holding the printed word in your hand. And these people, yes, too, here's another thing: the economy. People are very tight with their money. It's like,"Why pay $20 for a zine when you can -" But this is the only place you're going to get this... And if you like this writer and this artist enough, you will put the money out. And people do. They do. And they'll get that zine, and they'll either keep it, or they'll resell it, or they'll give it to somebody. And it'll spread around. But, you know, I still believe that fanzines are important, and that they need to stay. They need to be kept around. If we can develop them into, like some people, when they first came out, when you could burn your own cd's, people were putting zines on cd's. I never did that, but they would sell at the conventions, they'd sell disks that you could go home and read your, it was like the early versions of Kindle books. [laughter]...And the artwork, too; that's something you don't really see a lot. You don't see it online, it's like, all these people post their fic, but the artwork, you know, the illustrations that some artists put, like Suzan Lovett's work, you’re not going to see it online with fic, with fiction. You're going to see it in a zine. And she's just one of those brilliant artists that, you know, her art must be beheld to love, to appreciate. And not online. I'm not knocking online; I love the Internet. But I am old-school and I'm always going to be very supportive of fanzines in that respect. So, yeah, I'm just always gonna be that way for it.
[Star Wars, reading and writing]:
I started, I guess you could say I started with Star Wars fandom when I was, well, I saw The Empire Strikes Back. I'd seen Star Wars first back in the theater in '77, and it affected me. But then I'd always been a sci-fi fan, science fiction and fantasy. I'd read The Hobbit when I was in fifth grade, and I was reading all these books. I was at college-level, when I was in first grade I was reading at college level. I was a very strange kid. And a vivid imagination. So I get into Star Wars. And when Empire Strikes Back comes out, I was having a very difficult life with my father. So Luke's whole thing with his father, and Vader and his father and all that — oops, spoiler! I just said Vader was Luke's father! [laughter] Yes. I wrote, and I was twelve years old, and I had a spiral notebook. I'd just seen Empire, and I got a spiral notebook, and I started to write. And I wrote, it was a Mary-Sue...
[1984: the first slash zine she bought]:
And I was buying all these Star Trek fanzines. Well, there was one fanzine that had Kirk and Spock on the cover, and they were wearing medieval clothes. And, I don't even remember the title of it. But I had it in my hand. There was no illos in it, nothing that indicated what it was. And I'm walking with my friends, you know, and I'm flipping through this book, and the guy I was with, he looks over my shoulder and says, "Kirk did what to Spock's ass?" And I'm like, "What?" And I looked, and I was like, [choking gasping noise]. And suddenly I like clutched it to my chest and I said, "I'm going to the room."... An hour later I had read the whole thing and I'm like, "Wow." The earth tilted on its axis, you know, but, I never looked back. That was my foray into slash. I had just turned seventeen, nobody asked me my age [laughter], cause I always looked older, but nobody asked me my age. Nobody told me it was slash, there was nothing to indicate it was slash, but K/S was my first slash. Kirk/Spock. And oh, I never looked back.
[on finding her people]:
The first time I went to MediaWest*Con, the first time, I wept, because I felt like I'd come home. Because I was with my own. At home, everyone thought I was the weirdo because I was a girl, but I was into science fiction, which boys were into. I wasn't into makeup or hairstyles and everything. I tried. I tried, but I could never pull it off. [gagging noises] I just couldn't. I was into, I wanted to watch, I was always up about movies and TV, and books, and everybody in my family just thought I was a freak. I came here, and I was surrounded by people of all ages, all walks of life, from all over the world. And these people were, you know, professors and astrophysicists and there were psychologists and there were teachers and lawyers, college educated people. People with IQ's that are off the freakin' map. And I felt like, "Where have you been?" Oh my god. It was like the song "Cheers", where everybody knows your name, where it's a place that you can go. I felt like I was here. This is it.
[fandom as a community]:
I just think people need to keep fandom alive as much as possible, and I don't care if you're doing it online, or you're doing it in fanzines. But I think that people need to, that conventions need to, it's got to be more than Comic-Con, or Dragoncon, these big conventions. There's more out there, like MediaWest*Con. And there's no stars here, no celebrities, and it's a nice – but this is, if you want to be around fans, you come here. You come here. You get around other fans. I did conventions. I did a, it started out as a Sentinel convention, and then it blossomed into a media convention. We did it for six years. And there's nothing like the community of fans. When we get together, it's just, you know, we are all on the same vibration. We talk, and even you know, even if you are not into the same thing, you can actually communicate with another person because at least you understand their obsession.