Thoughts on Carrie

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I have a strange relationship with death. We are long-distance enemies. Hateful pen pals. Despite having never been to a funeral, I worry about it more than is rational. Not my own mortality, that is, but that of the people around me.

The unknown of the experience of losing someone has built it up into my greatest fear. It can keep me up at night for no reason at all.

I’m not great at making friends so the ones I do have are obliged to outlive me. I’ve decided that no one’s allowed to die now. Not anyone I love. I’ve had a small taste of that and I didn’t much take to it.

When I say a small taste, I mean someone I love did die, but it was someone I didn’t know personally. Or directly, in person, having met. I missed that opportunity only two weeks ago. Nevertheless, I felt I knew her personally.

It feels personal.

The books she wrote and the words she spoke were so open that it seems impossible that I could know such intimate details of her life and not truly know her. She was so open. Not open in that friendly, arms-outstretched way that some people can be, but open in a way that went deeper, and darker. Carrie didn’t shy away from things that could make you uncomfortable. She didn’t dilute herself to put you at ease. She was just joyfully, heartbreakingly Carrie all the time.

Her final book, for instance, was the publication of a 40-year-old diary. If it’s edited, those edits are limited. It follows the pattern that Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic and Postcards from the Edge have laid out before it: an equation of startling honesty and self-deprecating humour. No one will ever prove so persistently that light can be drawn from even the darkest places.

As the media reported on news of her ill health on the 23rd, the phrasing – “massive heart attack” – felt so coarse. The word “massive” seemed the worst of it. It was as though those news sources sought to minimise hope amongst a group taught to hope against all odds. I couldn’t help myself.

A quote of hers kept in my mind:

 “You know the bad thing about being a survivor… You keep having to get yourself into difficult situations in order to show off your gift.”

Show off that gift just one more time for us, I kept thinking.

If anyone was going to survive 2016, surely it would be Carrie. Indomitable Carrie. She’d bounce back and joke about being described as “stable”, because that’s how she was. She drew light from even the darkest places. She’d probably write a book about it with a Star Wars pun for a title, and spend her recovery on Twitter, liking tweets that feature weird pictures of herself, Mark and Harrison while privately DMing fans words of comfort.

On Christmas Day, I unwrapped The Princess Diarist. I was given cards with Leia’s image emblazoned on them (“Tis the season to be rebels!”), and even a Han and Leia mouse mat that my mum had sweetly made up on Vistaprint. There was a lot of Carrie, in the most bittersweet of ways. She’s all over the gifts my best friends are yet to unwrap. With our shared love for our princess and our general, we’d made it through this shitty year together.

Perhaps it’s weird I got all the way to December before feeling like this.

Death has been everywhere this year, death and bad things. So many famous people died, it’s a small miracle that I, the perpetual fangirl, didn’t already feel buried in this strange and illegitimate grief. I felt sad every time, naturally, but also detached – by necessity. Sad things are happening at an ever more alarming rate but we hide out from those things, we separate ourselves, we try to keep our heads up and push on.

I’ve had my heart broken a few times and a few ways in 2016 but through it all, I took comfort in my newfound world of Star Wars. Now, to end the year on this new heartbreak feels especially cruel given that Carrie and her galaxy far, far away had been a comfort for most of it.

I miss her. I miss her all the time. I miss her in moments that she’d never have been in anyway. Isn’t that bizarre?

How strange an experience it is to lose a personal hero.

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Harry Potter: Text vs. Author

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Despite the fact that the Harry Potter book series wrapped up back in ’07, the headline dominating my Twitter feed this morning was JK Rowling’s admission that Ron and Hermione were a mistake. It should have been Harry and Hermione happily ever after, apparently.

But how much does it matter?

My issue with this rather late confession is less with the plot idea (although was it not a positive thing that the relationship between Harry and Hermione celebrated male/female friendship?), but the idea that, as author, Rowling has the commanding voice over all readings of the books. If Harry and Hermione were meant to be, the fans would have read that in the text. And many did.

Telling the whole world that canon events were a mistake just leaves you feeling uneasy. I always felt that the epilogue was a mistake, firstly for being overly saccharine but also for removing the option to imagine various other directions for the characters. It’s an author’s final attempt to retain control of her world. I feel the same way about The West Wing‘s flash-forward (re: CJ). I hate the airtight conclusions, not allowing the reader’s imagination the freedom that is more than earned after seven long books. But now to tell them that the ending was actually a mistake? It makes you imagine that while the characters had those resolutions, they were never happy in them. As an invested reader, it’s hard to accept that it turns out that the epilogue wasn’t saccharine but instead was kind of tragic.

This is not the first time Rowling has thrown out a headline-making revelation about the world of Potter. While the news of Dumbledore’s homosexuality didn’t contradict canon events, it always felt rather hollow considering the lack of explicit evidence in the text. I have no issue with Dumbledore being gay, but I find it an odd move for Rowling to throw it out into the world as though proof of representation. I’m not invalidating authorial intent entirely, but I feel that the control and intent of the author begins and ends in the text they create. They can do anything within their story, and then once it has been put out into the world, people should be allowed to read whatever they want into those words. I am not into the idea of authors deciding, years later, that my reading of a novel is invalid.

It’s sad, too, because one of the most enjoyable aspects of Harry Potter is its exclusion of a love triangle. The main trio are bonded by friendship. It was refreshing that the lead female character wasn’t the hero’s prize. Rowling’s revelation tarnishes this, and also removes the focus from Hermione’s brilliance, her intelligence and her compassion. Whether you ship H/Hr or R/Hr, we can all agree on that, right?

Sidenote: I really feel like if JK Rowling should take issue with anything in her own book series, it should be the pretence that Snape turned out to be a standup bloke. Dude terrorised 11 year old son of woman who rejected him in high school. He also bullied Hermione about her teeth (which she later has permanently changed because of the insecurity) and inexplicably punishes her for being brilliant. But yes, it absolutely makes sense that older Harry would give his son the middle name of Severus. Wha-what?

Life on Mars

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Fans, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.

THE VERONICA MARS MOVIE IS A GO. In a remarkable display of loyalty, fans of the short-lived TV series came together and reached a target of $2m towards a follow-up film within a matter of hours. It’s impressive stuff considering the show’s relatively underwhelming ratings (2.5 million av.), but proves that you should never underestimate a small but devoted viewership.

I’ve actually never seen Veronica Mars. That doesn’t stop me being utterly thrilled about the success of the Kickstarter campaign. This is a potentially monumental step in the evolution of media production. The reaction on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook during the short duration of the project has been encouraging from all corners. For any fan whose show has ever fallen victim to the premature network cancellation, this is a joyous occasion. Networks no longer hold all the cards. Hope for all! In fact, Zachary Levi’s already tweeted some excitement-inducing tweets for Chuck fans.

I hope that the success of this particular Kickstarter will see to many more in the future. The idea that fans can be so in control of what’s in the cinema and on their TVs seems like a natural extension of the online media. I’m still reeling from the recently-blogged-about cancellation of The Hour, which prompted a fan-fuelled campaign of its own, so it’s rather good timing to hear of the big Kickstarter success story.

Before now, it has been the Chuck supporters who have been the poster fandom for this kind of activity. So incredibly vocal in their support of the show, fans helped the series through many near death experiences – eventually getting it to five seasons. As mentioned, it seems like Zachary Levi might not be done, and after today I wouldn’t bet against him. Arrested Development is another notable fan-driven success, with new episodes coming to Netflix in the near future. Never underestimate the power of the fans, especially not with casts and writers who are just as enthusiastic. And no one can say Kristen Bell didn’t want it enough, that’s for sure.

One small step for fans, a giant leap for fankind.

So it begs the question: what shows would you like to see return or be adapted for film?

What the fic?!

Fan fiction. This is a topic I’m likely to return to from time to time. It’s something that gets a bad rap, in my opinion. In fact, this struck me during one of my adaptation lectures, for which my lecturer had picked some excerpts for her slides. Now, when I say these were bad, I’m not kidding. But it’s like picking a bad Twilight quote and suggesting that it represents literature. Fan fiction comes in all shapes and sizes. Not all of it is good. Probably not even most of it is good. But in my experience, some of it is magnificent. And it serves a very valid purpose.

Part of the reason I’m uncomfortable with the misconceptions about fan fiction is because I write it, and I know better (yes, that’s the sound of me getting on my high horse). I’ve been writing fan fiction since I was fourteen years old. You may think I’m being defensive and you may well assume that mine is as bad as the very worst. I will accept that I may not be the best; I may even be the worst. One thing I know for certain, though, is that I’m a damn sight better at writing than I was when I started. In my mind, that’s what it comes down to. You are in a situation where there’s a receptive audience; there are people to please. You write and write, and that process comes with natural improvement.

You build upon universes created by other writers. Some of them are the best in the world, of their time, within their genre. There are worlds like those of Harry Potter, Doctor Who and, in my humble opinion, The West Wing that introduce minor characters that deserved a back-story and leave subplots open-ended and tease all the shoulda-beens that never were. There is nothing wrong with wanting to explore all of that. My experience of reading fan fiction has only served to enrich my experience of the source material. Sometimes you come across fan fiction that is better than the canon material. I can’t adequately express the delight I take in being able to give someone that kind of feedback. Even if it isn’t “better”, how many film adaptations are regarded as “better” than the book? They simply serve a different purpose, provide for a different audience or expand the material for the same audience.

What fan fiction does that creative writing more generally doesn’t do is come with a pre-existing audience. It creates an immediacy to the process, removing the involvement of editors, publishers etc. This means that the writer themselves has to serve as all of the above. It teaches the individual to become an editor, to develop the skills of proofreading. In this respect, the learning curve is steeper. It also allows the writer total control over what they are putting out into the world. While this can be done with any online writing, fan fiction also comes with communities that are readily interested in reading the work. Your market, so to speak, is there waiting for you.

The platforms upon which fan fiction is shared vary. There are general fan fiction websites; currently the largest of these is Fanfiction.net (FFN), with in excess of 600,000 stories for Harry Potter alone. There are fandom-specific websites that are often home to other relevant media for a fandom, a modest example is More Than That which exists entirely for fans of The Office’s Jim and Pam (with over 750 active members). Finally, there is the personal blog format, utilising sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr to post fan fiction amidst other blog material. Use of all these outlets is increasing all the time.

Fan fiction is not new, though. Fanfiction.net was launched in 1998, LiveJournal in 1999. Shows like The West Wing, a series that ran from 1999 until 2006, are not exempt from the world of fan fiction, proving that not only has this format endured, it is far from exclusive to worlds of science fiction or fantasy. In fact, The West Wing fan fiction is a mix of old and new with the main resource for older fan fictions, National Library, hosting over 6,000 different stories. These fandom-specific websites often include guidelines and challenges that, despite the bad press, may be used to stimulate ideas. This speaks to the two-way dialogue that occurs in this setting between the writers and readers.

Given how much the experience of fan fiction has enriched my writing process, the disparaging remarks made against fan fiction communities elude me. Writing fan fiction involves a process of deconstruction to the source material. It forces the writer to analyse the importance of character development, distinguishing each character as an individual, pace, perspectives and narration, the layers between page and screen and so much more. It’s often unconsciously done, but the best works are those that successfully and subtly explore those elements. It allows one to understand the same importance in one’s own creative writing. You begin to look for ways to create unique character traits and distinctive voices on the page. You begin to contemplate what narrative voice will be most effective for different contexts. You begin to explore how chronology can affect storytelling. It’s simply another way to learn from the pros.

While you’re writing fan fiction, you’re learning about what is good and bad about the characters you love. In the process, you’re learning about what is good and bad about the characters you create. It allows you a wealth of insight into the creative process, simultaneous to the experience of receiving feedback. Constructive feedback can hugely shape the way a person writes, while vague but encouraging feedback can simply inspire you to write more (and thus improve!). Most of the time, it’s done within a community. It allows you to learn from your peers, which only adds to the motivation. You want to entertain these people, and they want to be entertained. It’s enormously rewarding in this respect. Unlike in the classroom, the reader is willing and motivated entirely by personal interest.

Ultimately, it was my fellow fans that taught me how to write. I promise this: no teacher ever read my work as attentively as some of my readers. For a girl who gets by on mustered faux confidence, the encouragement has been energising. As one of my lecturers frequently stresses, it’s important to identify who the reader is. This experience provides that first-hand. You have a direct discourse with those readers. Once you accept the importance of readership and feedback to a writer, how can you possibly deny the value of fan fiction?

I’d be really interested to read what you think about this, whether a reader of fan fiction or not, so please feel free to leave comments below.