Twenty-Seven Grilled Bards and One Reviewer: S.L. Bowers

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Twenty-Seven Grilled Bards and One Reviewer: S.L. Bowers
Interviewee: S.L. Bowers
Date(s): July 3, 1998
Medium: online
Fandom(s): Xena: Warrior Princess
External Links: full interview is here; reference link
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Twenty-Seven Grilled Bards and One Reviewer: S.L. Bowers is a 1998 Xena: Warrior Princess fan interview at Whoosh!.


For others in this series, see Whoosh! Interview Series.

Some Excerpts

My introduction to both Xena and the world of fan fiction happened in a sort of odd way. I knew the show existed and had even seen one of the episodes (I later learned it was TEN LITTLE WARLORDS), but generally dismissed the show. I had also heard about the infamous "kiss" and the rumblings about something that I came to know as "subtext." :-)

Anyway, in the Spring of 97 I finally bought a computer and became an enthusiastic traveler on the information highway. One bored Saturday afternoon I was surfing and stumbled across a site called "Dax's Obsession" which was filled with something called alternative fan fiction. I read a couple of stories... decided to tune into the show, and the rest is history.

As far as my personal entry into the world of fan fiction, I did it to re-discipline myself about my writing. I've always written fiction -- with varying degrees of success -- but because of my responsibilities as a commercial writer, I had drifted away from fiction and basically my "idea" well was pretty bone dry. Having ready-made characters and a framework seemed a good way to get my feet wet again. As I've spent more time playing in the fan fiction arena, I've found that all those ideas I thought were gone forever are returning.
I think one of the appeals of XWP as a show is that it appeals to so many facets of the audience. It's what makes XWP a truly interactive show. Subtext aside, the strong relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is to most people the defining element of the show. Seeing two women with such an unmistakable commitment to the well-being of each other is something that has rarely been seen either on television or film. [even Cagney and Lacey were more business partners than "friends"]. Female relationships have traditionally been explored in "women's fiction." Which is perhaps another reason why fan fiction is so popular. We [the women] as viewers are used to reading about such relationships ... Xena and Gabrielle lend themselves to such works.

The other genre elements of XWP certainly inform the reception of the show. Action is as much a defining element of the show as the relationship is. And I find the intersection of the two fascinating. How many fan fiction pieces have focused around or featured predominantly Gabrielle mastering her staff skills or Xena honing her sword technique? Gabrielle's continued growth brings elements of the teacher-pupil relationship to the show, but also serves as a leveling technique (how many people think Gabrielle could whip up on Xena with that staff?) as well as a bonding technique for the two women.

One of my favorite scenes this season was in OAAA [ONE AGAINST AN ARMY] when Gabrielle was trying to master the flip with a little tiny Xena dolly as her stunt model. Watching the two defend and protect each other is both touching as a symbol of their commitment and inspiring because of their ability to do it both physically and mentally. I think that's one reason so many people were upset by Season 3... for two years we had these two women protecting, not harming, each other-- and when the show (rightly, in my opinion) decided to explore some of the darker elements of this kind of symbiotic relationship, that threw a lot of people. They hadn't considered that if someone is that much a part of you, she is the one who has the most power in the world to hurt you.

That's one of the continuing themes of my fiction. As these women -- or their Uber counterparts -- continue to become more and more involved, they become more vulnerable to one another. And invariably they will hurt one another at some time. It's unrealistic to believe otherwise. But where's there's love/commitment (whatever form that may take) there's hope for forgiveness and a relationship that will be renewed/restored and stronger than before.

Do I consider my work a "Romance?" That's hard to say. Perhaps. To some extent, it follows the conventions of that particular genre-- but it's really not about sex or consummation. (Although some who read my love scenes may disagree. *g*) For me, my writing is about love and fear. It's about digging so deeply into someone and accepting them for what they are, screwed up psyche and all. And, perhaps more importantly, it's about learning to let someone that far into you-- which to me, is a far more complicated proposition.
Frankly, I'm floored by the way people have responded to this story. Lucifer is an idea that I've been living with for almost a year-- it was one of the first ideas I had way back when-- back when I first started writing "Chiaroscuro." That was summer of 97. I didn't start writing it until January of 98. From the first it was a very tactile writing experience for me. I could really taste/smell/see the atmosphere I wanted to evoke with the story. Jude was so distinct in my mind, as was Liz. Rather than taking particulars from the Xena "bible" I took the archetypes that X&G represented and placed them in a modern setting and then let the story unfold from there. That way I wasn't hemmed in by the framework, but could rather explore the issues that I wanted to.

Honestly, I really didn't think that it would resonate with a lot of people. It's very violent, very sexual, and there are some really dark moments for the characters. Jude is a woman who responds to emotional pain with physical violence. Add her falling in love, and you've got a volatile combination. I wasn't sure that the readers-- who have already been put through the wringer because of Season 3-- would embrace that in this piece of fiction. But at the same time, I was very confident in my writing. I could hear the characters' voices very distinctly, and the scenes really came together for me.

The really funny thing was... I guess people really started picking it up and responding to it around the time part 2 (chapters 4-6) was posted. At the time, I was writing chapter 10, going, "How the hell am I going to get them out of this?" I hadn't firmed up the ending, and was having a hard time figuring out how all the pieces were going to fall together. I remember I came home from the movies or something, checked my email and had dozens of messages from people telling me they were really enjoying the story and wanted to know what happened next. While it was incredibly gratifying to my ego and tremendously exciting that my work was connecting with the readers, I remember sitting at my desk, breaking out into a cold sweat and going, "Oh god, now they're paying attention. I better not f*** up." *g* I'm incredibly grateful to all the people who kept encouraging me and took the time not just to read my work (which, given LR's length, was a long time) but to drop me a note saying so. As a writer, it does mean a lot to know that what I'm dropping into the "void" of the Web is being received and enjoyed.

My experience with Lucifer has taught me two things. One: I need to trust my instincts more. Everything I thought people were going to have a problem with, they embraced. Two: Never -- repeat never -- post anything until it's finished. *g*
I think Uber fiction is entering its third generation or stage of development. The first Ubers were Mel/Janice stories-- which, in a way, aren't "uber" because they're real characters from XWP. But the way that M&J have been developed is waaaay beyond anything that the series' writers envisioned. And I think that's where M&J become Uber. In giving them not just continuing adventures, but back stories, personal quirks and even pets, fan fiction writers have given M&J a completely different existence.

For me, second generation Uber stories are stories that incorporate completely original X&G -- ie, not M&J -- "descendants" or "reincarnations" while interweaving a parallel X&G story. X&G usually communicate with their Uber counterparts through dreams or scrolls or visions. Somebody emailed me near the end of LR and asked me when X&G were going to give their "blessing" to my characters, and I stopped and realized that that has been a traditional element of the Uber stories. I also see second generation stories as more closely adhering to the "framework" of the X&G story. You know, rescue, redemption, dead brother, etc.

I think third generation Uber stories are stories that evoke X&G without necessarily depicting them. These stories play more with the archetypes that X&G represent. More and more stories are coming to do that. I think it represents a growing maturity and sophistication on the part of both the writers and the readers. We're breaking XWP down to its most elemental parts, taking those parts that resonate the most with us, and reassembling them in a completely new fashion. It means we're thinking more-- both about what pleases us as readers and about what we want to say as writers. Rather than being an eternal cycle of "first time" stories (which at its most base, Uber could be considered), Uber fiction is evolving into one of the most creative facets of the fan fiction community.