Working Stiffs Interview with Leyla Harrison

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Working Stiffs Interview with Leyla Harrison
Interviewer: Nicola Simpson
Interviewee: Leyla Harrison
Date(s): August 2000
Medium: online
Fandom(s): X-Files
External Links: part one; part two; part one reference link; part two reference link
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Working Stiffs Interview with Leyla Harrison was conducted in 2000.

It was posted to the website Working Stiffs.

Other Interviews in the Series

Some Excerpts

My first story was written before I even knew that there was an online XF community! I thought I was the only one who was sitting there dreaming up stories for Mulder and Scully that existed outside the boundaries of an episode. I didn't have a computer back then so I wrote the first twenty-five pages out in longhand and then started over and did the whole thing on my typewriter. I don't think I had any ideas of what I was going to do with the story once it was done, but I was very focused on getting it done. I wrote that first story (which, looking back, is *terrible* <g>) and then about six months later, discovered the Internet at a friend's house. It took me another six months to actually get a computer and get online, and then I finally wrote my first fanfic for public consumption.

There was backlash on the story from the beginning -- I posted the first part of a Scully rape story called Fragile. This was very early in the XF fanfic days, and I believe, looking back, that it was one of the first Scully rape stories that was posted (with the exception of Sound of Windchimes). The first chapter was posted late one evening, and within an hour I received my first feedback -- from an anonymous mailer service with a very nasty note attached, asking me, "Who do you think you are for writing such a horrible, disgusting thing about Scully? How dare you? (and a few expletives that I won't repeat here <g>)". I was horrified and actually a little scared. I couldn't reply since it was an anonymous mailer service, so I posted a message to the newsgroup saying how I really did not appreciate the note, or the person who hid behind it. I also wrote that I was just trying to write a story, to explore something new. I then promptly logged off and didn't log back on for three weeks. <g> I also abandoned the story.

When I did finally have the nerve to get back online, I found my inbox and the newsgroup filled with discussions about how I had the support of the community, that I should ignore the nasty E-mailer and keep writing. I was incredibly encouraged, and so I decided to continue the story. I did, I posted it, and that's how it all got started.

In watching The X-Files, one of the things I was immediately drawn to was the characterization of Scully. There weren't as many strong female "role model" characters on television at the time, as there are now – I think there are so many more out there now on various shows. But I admired Gillian Anderson because she played a strong female, and I admired that and definitely responded to that. One of the main reasons I wanted to write Fragile, I think, was the fact that I needed to dispel a notion -- the fact that rape can happen to any woman, not just the "weak" ones.

So, I thought to myself -- how would someone like Scully deal with the horror of rape? How would she be able to rally her emotional strength to deal with that kind of trauma? The answer, I learned quite quickly as I wrote, was that she would do what every woman does who is raped -- she would be affected by it in a variety of ways, both physically, emotionally, and sexually (since she was in the middle of a budding relationship with Mulder when it happened).

After the enormous amount of support I received after I went back online, I received, among the "I really liked your writing" feedback, letters from women who had been raped themselves. Letters from friends of rape victims. The courage that those letters showed to me was astounding and I was incredibly moved. I realized that there were a lot of women out there reading fanfic who had been touched by rape, and I ended up doing the bulk of the story for them. Sounds kind of odd since I didn't know any of them personally, and still don't, but it felt like I would have let these brave women down if I had just let it slide, or if I had Scully get "cured" from her ordeal by falling into Mulder's bed.

I didn't think about the impact that Fragile would have on the fanfic community until there was a little skirmish some months later about another rape story written by Little Jo (Shame). The basis of the plot was that Krycek rapes Scully in her home, and she has an orgasm (not from pleasure but simply because of the body's natural response); by the time Mulder comes to find her she has worked her way free and blown Krycek's head off. There were a lot of posts on atxc about how inappropriate and "wrong" it was for the author to have allowed Scully to have an orgasm, how that degraded her, etc.

I wrote to the author and we talked about "rapefic" and I posted a few angry replies to the newsgroup. I remember explaining at one point that the body often has no control over its physical responses and that the story was therefore not in any way degrading. I remember the topic died down a lot after that -- a few people wrote me later and told me that they were really glad I had mentioned that -- they "believed" me based on the fact that I had written Fragile. I found the whole thing kind of odd.

I've never liked the fact that rape is used as a plot device for romance, and yet it started to become very common in XF fic. I don't see too many changes in that -- I think most rape stories I have read still have Scully being violated and then falling into Mulder's arms for comfort. The way many of the stories are written, it leads to the assumption on the part of the reader that what we are reading is supposed to be a turn-on -- but then again, this is the world at large we are talking about here, and there's not much we can do to change people's views.
[the line between "forced seduction" and "rapefic"] Yes, I do think that it has been blurred -- I know I've written fics with powerful (although never forced) seduction. It's always been consensual. I know that as I'm writing these stories, that for example when Mulder pushes Scully against a wall, if she really wanted him to stop, she would stop him. The difference I find in my own stories, anyhow, is that the attraction between these two is undeniable, and in many cases they are too hard-headed to accept it and/or act on it. I also know in my heart that the Mulder we see on the show would *never* rape Scully, no matter what, and therefore I have a hard time imagining any fanfic in which he does that. Those are the most disturbing to me, I think -- the Mulder raping Scully ones -- not just because it's so out of character, although that is a big part of it, but also because the writer obviously sees something violent between our heroes, which I don't think has ever and would never exist.

Back then feedback was different than it is now -- by this I mean that there weren't as many people in the XF online community and so there was never a deluge of feedback. But I worked on the ideas for my stories carefully, wanting to choose what I thought at the time would be interesting and different topics. An example of this is a (IMHO, truly awful) early story I wrote about Scully being shot and losing the ability to speak due to the fact that an area of the brain, the Broca Area, was damaged. I had read about it and thought it would be interesting to use in a story.

The feedback I got for those early stories affected me more in the output of my writing, though, than the style of content. I had been writing for many years before I started writing fanfic, but it was always on my own and for my own personal enjoyment. I really liked the idea of sharing my writing with so many people and getting a response back. It took me out of the box I had been in when I had been writing for myself.

I think that people have become very critical. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing, though. I'll try to explain. There's been a lot of criticism, IMHO, towards newer authors are treated in the community -- and especially newer or younger authors who are not perfect when it comes to spelling, punctuation, and grammar. At the same time, the frustration many people feel about this is what has led to there being a Beta Readers Circle, which I think is something everyone can benefit from.

I was on the creative newsgroup for ER this morning and saw a post that said, and I will quote: "I was wondering if you would mind if I posted an XF story here. It's for a challenge and I really need some feedback on it and the people at the XF Creative Board are rather cold to new authors. My stories mostly get ignored over there...anyways, tell me what you think."

I was really saddened by this -- that an author trying to post an XF story would have to turn to another show's creative newsgroup to try to get her story posted and responded to. Especially since I fear she's going to be flamed for her post.

With the growth of the community, I think there have been a lot of people who have appointed themselves as "leaders" and then let that go to their heads (I will *not* mention an example here, although I will say it refers to the squabble that went on with Gossamer about a year ago, I think it was). This is also disappointing. When I started writing XF fanfic, I felt that the group was a family -- an extended family. Large and sprawling. Which was wonderful. As the community grew, I've seen cliques spring up and I don't think that's always helpful or positive for new writers coming into the fold. And there have been a lot of new writers coming into the fold over the last few years as XF became more and more mainstream and less cult.