Gaaked from everyone on my Flist, it seems.
1. What's the favorite story you've ever written and why?
My favorite story I've ever written was actually a two-part feature spread for The Sentinel-Enterprise in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. I was a young reporter at the time responsible for writing about Townsend and Ashby on the Massachsuetts-New Hampshire state line (this was before I got promoted to city reporter for Fitchburg). Anyway, on the 50th anniversary of the start of World War II, I was assigned a story to "localize" the anniversary by interviewing locals.
Boring story, right? Wrong!
In the middle of hitting up a local breakfast joint to get quotes, someone told me that the Townsend town clerk at that time, Marilyn C. MacEachern, was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. Me and the photographer were like, "No way!"
We trudge over to town hall find out if it was true from the lady herself and lo and behold, it was! She was 13 and living on base with her family on the very day of the attack. So, we asked if we could take her picture and ask a few questions. Four hours later we were still sitting there mesmerized while she talked...
Anyway, I have the story tucked in one of my many scrap books.
Some stories are just too good to be forgotten and a first-person account about the attack on Pearl Harbor, the days of fear that followed, the wondering whether her father was even still alive (he was on one of the few ships that escaped), and the evacuation to San Francisco definitely is one of them.
This is one of those stories that prove that no matter what you think up in your head, RL will always top it in the most surprising ways.
2. What're questions you're most frequently asked?
"Where the hell you learn how to write?" is generally the most common one. The other one is, "Where did you get that idea for this story?" The answers to both questions tend to really disappoint people because the answers are: 1) I learned to write through lots and lots of practice and 2) I usually get my ideas from the news or nonfiction books. Like I said: nothing tops RL if you want to write about the wonderfully weird.
3. What're your thoughts on betas?
I think betas are a good idea, although I usually don't use them for fanfic. I don't use them on Living History (it sometimes shows) and most longer stories. Shorter stories where I doubt myself, I'll put out a call to my FList and ask people to look over a section or two. It isn't because I think I'm hot shit and never make mistakes (just ask the copy editors where I work!), but a lot of it comes down to time and because I'm impatient.
4. How important is canon?
If you want to write fanfic? It's vital. I can't tell you how many times I've read fanfic and wondered whether the author had ever seen the show because these all sound like original characters that just happen to have the same name as the canon character they're supposed to represent. Even with an AU, you should know your canon (IMHO) so people can see where the divergence happened and why. It's no fun if your readers are lost and are trying to figure out who everyone is. Half the fun of fanfic is trying out new ideas in an established universe with established characters. If you can meld the two together and have people say, "Cool! I recognize everyone in here! And what an interesting original idea!" it's a very high complement.
The other reason why canon is important is because of the readers. Once shows go off the air, it's surprising how many new fans come to a show through finding fanfic on the 'Net. That tends to influence how they see characters and the show itself once they get their hands on the source material (easier these days thanks to DVD). The distortions in fanon can lead to some very interesting discussions. I remember in one forum I belonged to someone announced that Xander (the character I tend to work with) was "the biggest slut in Sunnydale willing to sleep with anything that walked." After several of us pointed out that canonically speaking, Xander had slept with exactly two people and one of them was during the course of a long-term relationship, we got the poster to finally admit that it was because everything she knew about Xander as a character came from fanfic and she had only just started watching the source series that season (it was season 6).
So canon? Mucho important. I can't stress it enough.
5. What're your fanfic pet peeves?
This applies to professional writings (books, movies, television), too:
1) Bad grammar.
2) Diarrhea of the keyboard (aka unncessary wordiness).
3) Obvious use of a thesaurus (just call it a damn eye! enough with the freakin' chocolate orbs already!)
4) Consistently bad spelling, i.e. quite instead of quiet; waste instead of waist; constant confusion between too, to, and two.
5) Writing things in "dialect." You're not Mark Twain (and even he didn't do it that much), so stop it.
6) Over-complicated sentences. Make it simple and easy to understand. I don't want to re-read the same paragraph three times to figure out what you said. Also, keep your paragraphs on the short side. If you've got a paragraph that takes up half a page, it's too fucking long. Break it up.
7) Long soliloquies in the middle of a conversation involving two or more people. People do not "converse" like that. There will be interruptions, people will ask questions, people will physically move around. If you've got someone making a speech, it brings the whole story to a halt as it is. Break it up.
8) Deus ex machina. Seriously pisses me off.
9) Plot twists from out of the blue that do not grow organically from the story or the characters. A good way to do it? See Babylon 5. A bad way to do it? See the final five episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
10) Comes from the above two points: Keep the plot simple. If you can't summarize your plot in one or two sentences it's too complicated. Everything you write should spring from your simple plot. Characters can be complicated, sitations can be complicated. The plot? Should never, ever be complicated. And for the record, there's a difference between a complex plot and a complicated plot. Les Miserables, for example, has a complex plot in that a lot happens to the characters between the covers and that various characters have their own "story arcs," but the plot of the book itself is very basic in that all we're doing is following Jean Valjean and his "family" and foes through the years.
11) This is fanfic specific: Get the characters' names and physical descriptions right! It's "Buffy," not "Elizabeth." It's "Xander," not "Zander." Xander does not have brown eyes, he has hazel eyes and as of the end of S7, he only has one. Giles does not have brown eyes, he has blue eyes. Buffy does not have blue eyes, she has green eyes.
12) This is also fanfic specific: Character bashing. If you don't like a character, don't write them. Don't use them at all. Send them out of town on a bus if you have to. But don't bash characters because you want to make your favorite look good by comparison. Trashing characters you don't like does not help your case at all.
13) Another fanfic specific one: Canonizing your favorite character. A good character is not a saint. A good character has some deep flaws. A good character is not one that's perfect. We have words for perfect characters: "Mary Sue."
Ummm, yeah. Pretty long list there.
6. What's your favorite (ie: 1) story you've ever read and why?
Man, that's so hard. I pretty much love everything Nathaniel Hawthorne ever wrote, especially The Celestial Railroad and Other Tales, a collection of his short stories. I also read Moby Dick at least once every other year. Small Gods by Terry Pratchett cannot be loved enough. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke hits me in ways I can't describe. Good Omens (I have a first edition hardcover) by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen still remains one of the most hopeful books I've ever read. The entire Sandman series by Neil Gaimen is also a favorite.
As you can see, I can't pick just one.
7. What quote applies most to you and why?
“…I give you your faults.”
“My faults!” Meg cried.
“But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!”
“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “However, I think you’ll find they’ll come in very handy…”
--A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
When I read that when I was 8, I thought it was the coolest thing I ever read. What a wonderful way to tell people that they shouldn't beat themselves up and that sometimes what we perceive to be a fault is actually a gift if we learn to use it properly. It's just like how sometimes bad things turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you. I know this quote has affected me in ways I can't even begin to describe. I also know that's how I tend to approach writing characters as well.
8. Do you outline/brainstorm?
I do have outlines that are flexible, but like I said, I tend to boil all my plots down into one or two sentences, so if a story element does not fit in that simple plot, it gets thrown out before I ever write one word of it. Even then, I've been known to ditch elements at the last minute because I don't think they fit the finished product because of the way the story and characters evolved.
9. Computer or pen and paper?
Computer all the way baby. You'll pry a keyboard out of my cold dead hands.
10. What's your muse's name and favorite temptation to be creative?
No muse, just an overactive imagination mixed with a huge helping of real life. I've been extraordinarily lucky in that in the course of RL life work I've met people from across the spectrum: from convicted criminals (including a murderer, believe it or not) to people who were veritable saints. People who hailed from around the world. People of various religious belief (fundamentalist Christian to athiest, pagan to Wiccan, Hindu to Jewish). I've heard so many stories from so many people that I know that anything fictional I write, no matter how well I write it, will never top the RL stories and the RL life characters that have crossed my path.
It helps that I've spent half my life writing professionally and in various environments, from the go-go daily deadlines of newspapers to the more laidback deadlines of freelance and magazine writing. The fact is, when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I think about is what I'm going to write that day, whether it's for a fanfiction story or a technical medical piece on pharamceuticals. I don't think I've had a "day off" from writing in four years, truth to tell.
The secret is, I'd do this shit for free (and when I comes to fanfic, I am). And someone out there is willing to pay me for writing? Most days I feel like I'm taking candy from a baby.