Working Stiffs Interview with Narida Law

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Working Stiffs Interview with Narida Law
Interviewer: Nicola Simpson
Interviewee: Narida Law
Date(s): interview conducted October 10-November 1, 2000, posted January 2001
Medium: online
Fandom(s): X-Files
External Links: part one; part two; part three; part one reference link; part two reference link; part three reference link
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Working Stiffs Interview with Narida Law was conducted in 2000.

It was posted to the website Working Stiffs.

Other Interviews in the Series

Some Excerpts

It would be foolish and inaccurate to suggest that those of us who affectionately refer to our work as "smut" believe that our stories -- or the stories labeled "smut" that we take delight in reading -- do not encompass character exploration or love. As I have already said, it is as an affectionate way for me to describe something I enjoy reading and writing...

Explicit sex solely for the purpose of explicit sex could possibly be called porn. However, it's my opinion that X-Files fan fiction writers would be hard pressed to come up with something in that category, simply because Mulder and Scully are such pervasive and well-loved characters that as readers, we automatically supply their history and experiences and emotion FOR them. Hence, when reading about sexual activity between them, it's hard just to see it as sex and nothing more. Or maybe that's only how I am. Sorry to thwart you, porn writers. :-)

My approach to explicit sex is that if a writer isn't going to try to make it "hot," (at the very least, by his/her own standards ... we are, of course, always our own harshest critic) then there's no reason for it to be explicit. Now, that doesn't mean that I think if the sex isn't graphic, the lovemaking moment(s) has to be reduced to a vague one-liner -- especially not if the physical union is critical to the growth of the characters or represents some cataclysmic point in their relationship. A good example that comes to mind is a story I reread recently -- Morgan's "The Last Gift." When Mulder and Scully make love near the end of the tale, it's a renewal for the characters, a spiritual cleansing and affirmation of life and love. It would have been a travesty to get that over with in one or two lines. The act was described in metaphors and in emotion, and that was what was appropriate for the "feel" of the story. It was drawn out, but not explicit.

So why is MSR so popular? The same reason why romances are popular. People enjoy reading them. The reasons for why THAT is, I can only venture theories, the most obvious one being that MSR is satisfying a need not being met on the show. Perhaps people want to see more UST (which, as we know, can be a form of MSR), but 22 episodes a year aren't enough. Or perhaps people want to see Mulder and Scully overtly expressing their love, in a "safe" medium that doesn't affect canon at all. That's certainly true for me. I started out as someone who firmly believed that Mulder and Scully were interested in one another, and probably in love with each other, but shouldn't consummate that love/lust/whatever it was until the show itself was going to end.

I ridiculed the kiss in FTF, ranting about cheesy marketing ploys and what not. I encountered fanfic on the Internet and ran away screaming. Oh wait, that only happened after I saw the term "fan fiction" and discovered that it was actual prose, instead of scripts of fan-penned episodes, as I had first assumed. Then one day, I was so bored at work and so desperate for something to occupy my time that I caved and started reading. I started enjoying it, but I could only read case files and M/S UST -- anything that resembled canon was good, though a little more overt MSR didn't bother me (I did believe they were in love, after all).

Gradually, I began reading MSR (I probably ran out of other options, since other fic appealed to me even less) -- first, I read those that were encapsulated within the events of an actual episode; then those that occurred within case files; then eventually, just plain MSR for the sake of MSR. It's funny, but it took me a long time to appreciate MSR, so it can be likened to an acquired taste, and yet it's given the least credit for artistic merit. That can perhaps be "blamed" on the fact that as MSR has the greatest fan draw, its fiction is so pervasive and abundant that it naturally produces many more stories (and many more "duds") than other pairings. But I also think that that means that writers who write the MSR well, who can make it fresh and new for their audience, accomplish that much more. I know I certainly respect and appreciate the writers who can do that for me when I read a story of theirs.

[sexism and the genre]: ... as for whether we can attribute that to the negative stereotype that fanfic is unfortunately tarred with, that's a tricky question that I think has layers of possibility.

At first blush, I want to say that the fact that the fanfic community — at least, of the XF persuasion -- comprises mostly female members has nothing to do with its less-than-stellar reputation to those who don't participate in it. I, at least, don't immediately think, "that's a woman thing" when I think of fan fiction. Surely there must be other ficdoms in which men play a large role, or in which men play a majority role.

Still, the fact remains that the XF fan fiction community is composed primarily of women, and many stories have elements of romance. As we've already covered, that seems to be a target for derision, so I have to think that XF fan fiction perhaps =does= suffer from its "association" with the female gender. Women are typically more interested in romance than men, and that's conveyed in fan fiction, and perhaps even in the types of fandoms that we pursue. As has been pointed out in articles I've read on the subject, fandoms consisting of mostly male members, such as sports, do not have to put up with the level of scorn that fanfic seems inundated with.

Then again, fans of television, comprising men and women equally, generally aren't regarded with a high level of esteem, so a subculture of that same interest -- which even television enthusiasts don't all understand — can hardly be expected to garner more respect.

There's Canon!Mulder and Fanfic!Mulder and Canon!Scully and Fanfic!Scully -- and this dual "personality" exists for all the characters, imho. But in my opinion, Canon!Character can only exist on the show. Fanfic can come very close, but in the strictest sense, it's impossible to claim that any fanfic has true canon characterization, which changes constantly -- perhaps not in colorful, overt ways, but subtly, with every new episode.

I'm a canon purist in that I try to internalize the characters the way they're portrayed on the show -- I don't take my notions of what I think the characters should be like and make canon fit into them, which it seems a lot of people do. There are lots of examples, but most recently, people were up in arms by the idea that Scully could have been so "immoral" or "weak" as to have had a relationship with an older, married man at one point in her life.

Instead of railing about how this is "not in character," which is futile because once an episode airs, it is "in character," whether we like it or not. We participate in a world that is created by other people, who may not -- and most likely don't -- have the same agenda that we do. That's the price we pay, and we enter into it willingly.

Fanfic is a fun, entertaining way to play with the characters a bit, and allows us to put them into situations we'd never see them in on the show. Some of my favorite stories fall into this category. I don't feel that fan fiction needs to try to conform to strict show standards all the time, because I think it's perfectly allowable to use this medium to just let off a little steam, stretch out a few creative muscles.

[Not adhering to canon isn't] not laziness, exactly. Especially not for the writers who aren't looking to reproduce canon. It's not exactly a creative process to take characters that someone else created and spin stories around them. The hardest part about writing original stories is in building characters, making them real, getting the audience to care about them. That part's already done in fanfic -- at least, for the primary heroes.

Sticking strictly to canon is both easy and hard. It's easy because there's a template to follow; there are lots and lots of examples. You're hardly flying blind. Then again, mimicking another's work isn't an easy task — we all have our own individual writing styles, and conforming to one that isn't yours is hard. Not to mention that it's not straight reproduction; there is still a ton of creativity involved.

Fanfic is a creative outlet, and most of us write differently from the writers on the show -- that doesn't make us lazy if we don't write exactly like them in our fanfic. For many of us, that isn't the point. The point is going where the show CAN'T or won't go. We have a lot more freedom; we can write things -- like blatant romance -- that the show cannot or will not. We also have the freedom of knowing that we can write something just for fun and it won't affect canon characterization in any way. And because we don't have guidance in this area, no example to follow, we have to use our creative juices and our knowledge of the characters to give satisfactory answers to hypothetical questions.

Well, being that I don't have the benefit of being a pioneer in this community, my speculations have no root in history or tradition; it's all just wild guessing. <g> I don't even know for sure that part of what I consider fanfic convention isn't in fact rooted in canon.

Scully being called the "ice queen", for example, stems from her perceived cold and reserved nature, rather than from canon. It's interesting that her character has developed in this way, because in S1, this cool, authoritative behavior was not so blatant, and one could make a good argument that her experience with the X-Files caused her personality to undergo this change. In S1, we see her trying to be professional and mature, but her inexperience is pretty obvious. We see her fire in "Beyond the Sea" as well as in "Ice"; we see her half-smiles at her partner's lame jokes and cuckoo tendencies. S1 Scully is far from being an "ice queen," and given that she's has never been referred to as such on the show, it seems that it's a fanfic nickname based on her more recent "iron woman" demeanor.... As for Chinese takeout, certain kinds of shampoo, perfume, bath oils, Armani suits, etc., those details, I suspect, are cultivated in a writer's imagination or in his/her own personal experiences. In fanfic, we often venture into places the show doesn't and can't go -- due to time and dramatic constrictions. We can't gloss over "lull" times as easily. We have both the luxury and the curse to fill in the blanks. When Mulder and Scully aren't actively investigating a case, what do they do? What happens when they're on a case and they retire for the night? They have to eat at some point; how/where does this happen? Mulder's suits seem much too perfectly tailored ... where does he buy his suits? If they are designer suits, how can he afford them? When/how does he get them cleaned? If we are to see the characters as "real" people that we can empathize with and relate to, we have to think that they go through the same mundane tasks, the same odds and ends that we each have to face everyday.

Another fanfic convention is that Mulder is a psychologist -- which can perhaps be blamed on poor writing/planning/erroneous thinking. As he himself states in "Terms of Endearment," he is NOT a psychologist. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology; that does not make him a psychologist. Scully refers to him as an "Oxford-educated psychologist" in the pilot episode, but as we subsequently learn, she is mistaken. (Oh, the joys of "take back" in the world of XF!)... There are also traits that we accept as part of the characters' personalities, despite only witnessing them a few times or less. Because The X-Files is a dramatic television series in which plot is driven by the cases the two heroes investigate and not on the heroes themselves (though over the years, that line has become rather faded), focus cannot be made on the characters' personality traits. We only get glimpses. So even though Mulder's penchant for porn is in actuality only referred to a few times in over more than 120 episodes, it's a personality "given." We see Scully drawing a bath a few times, and we assume that this is her preferred way to bathe. We see Mulder's fish tank empty a few times and we figure that he can't keep them swimming to save his life, and as far as I know, neither of the canon characters have ever remarked on it -- yet Fanfic!Mulder and Fanfic!Scully quite often discuss it freely.

Beta is a critical must-have. I can't tell you how many times I've been nervous about something I'd written or have been just plain lazy and wanted to skip beta (almost every time <g>). Hearing "this sucks" from people you know is alternately the best and most mortifying experience ever. But every time, the part of me that knows better will get someone to look at the story. Then, once it's out that you have a story that's being beta read by so-and-so, other people demand to know why they haven't been asked for their beta services, and eventually the story just gets passed around to anyone who cares to critique it. :-)

I have never, ever regretted submitting something for beta. Without fail, my beta readers have made every story I've written, better. They can't perform miracles, of course; they can only work with the story they've got, but as the person who has to put my name on my stories, I bless each and every one of them.

I only have my own experiences to draw from, and they are by no means exhaustive. There's really nothing that can be done about getting people to enjoy stories -- that alone is dependent on the story's merit. But there are ways to get a story read, thereby increasing the chances that it will be liked by more people.

"Marketing" yourself in the fanfic world is different from how we normally think of PR. It's not blatant; it's not focused on your stories. It's not even "marketing," per se, because there is no bigger turn off than someone trying to promote his/her work the way consumer products are typically promoted. Instead, things like a good story title or becoming involved in the fanfic community are the best ways to get people familiar with you.

And why is familiarity important? Well, people are a lot more willing to read something by a writer whose name they recognize (and can then make educated guesses about writing style/content) than one they do not. Give someone feedback. Beta read for someone. Participate in discussions. Answer the feedback you receive. Write author's notes. Things like that make impressions on people, and it's up to you what kind of impression you make. And even if it's not your primary intention, those things will let people "get to know you" a little better.

I previously shared that I didn't post my first story -- a friend did it for me. I had no idea how to go about such a thing (I wasn't even on a mailing list; I'd done my reading by surfing through archives, recommendation pages, personal Web sites, and recs from friends), and didn't think it was a big deal if I just had someone else post any stories I might have. In retrospect, I think the fact that my story was posted by an established, well-respected writer really helped get my story read. Even though he clearly stated that he wasn't the author, when the story arrived in people's mailboxes, it was Brandon's name listed as the sender -- which got people to click on it who otherwise wouldn't have, I'm sure, being that it would have been from an unknown writer. Also, the fact that he posted it for me bespoke of the fact that he "approved" of the story in some way (true or not, that is the impression such actions give), and again, a "thumbs up" from an established, respected writer goes a long way in getting someone else to try your work. So this was an inadvertent marketing strategy on my part. <g>

However, a few people hadn't heeded Brandon's note at the top of the story stating that he wasn't the author, and sent him feedback, which, of course, he passed to me. Then, there was the nice XAPEN (now Phoenix) Friday Feedback messages that he had to pass along, since I wasn't on that or any other mailing list at the time. Considering these things, I bit the bullet and learned how to post a story. As anyone who has ever posted a story knows, this is an easy and simple process, so my reticence was unjustified. :-)

In a "marketing" way, this is one of the easiest things you can do. Posting your own stories gets your name out there, and people can associate your stories with your name.

By the time I came on to the scene, mailing lists and archives abounded and it was no longer necessary to go to the newsgroup for the purposes of either reading or posting stories. And since that was really my primary interest, I've never felt a particular necessity to frequent the newsgroup. The friends I have met through email and AIM fill my life quite satisfactorily, and I don't lack for companionship or people to debate with. If friends come across responses to my stories, or general comments directed to me from the newsgroup, they forward it on. When there is something of particular interest, either a discussion topic or a comment, they may mention, "Hey, this is the latest hot topic at the newsgroup," and we may discuss it amongst ourselves. I've found that this is more than enough to keep me occupied. :-)

I've never felt the urge to air my views in public, though I'm not hesitant to give my opinions when directly asked (like in feedback and in interviews of this sort). There's certainly no good or bad way to participate in the community; it's all about what you're looking to get out of it and fulfilling that need by whatever means are available.