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Television: Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

If you need something lighthearted to keep you from falling apart right now, this is the show for you.

Based, as I understand it, on a Japanese comic strip, this is the story of Sakura Chiyo, a high schooler with a crush on the oblivious Nozaki Umetarou. (Note: I’m putting the characters’ names in Japanese order of surname first, given name last.) When Sakura declares herself a “fan” of Nozaki-kun, he mistakes her as a fan of the shoujo manga he writes and illustrates. Soon Sakura finds herself roped into helping with said manga.

The story is rounded out by a fun ensemble of zany characters, each of which plays some role in Nozaki’s work. For someone who writes a popular romance manga, he’s utterly clueless about real-life relationships (be they friendships or romances), which leads to a lot of amusing scenarios.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun)

I can’t remember the last time I watched anything that made me laugh out loud as much as this show. Sadly, it’s only 12 episodes. Though originally created in 2014, Netflix recently imported it. I don’t know if the wider exposure might lead to more episodes in the future, but one can hope. The comics have been collected into volumes as well, so those have made it onto my wish list!

In short, highly recommended as a cute pick-me-up.

The Shakespeare Thing

If you follow me on Twitter, you know my handle is @sh8kspeare. Why? Well…

Shakespeare has had an influence on my life from early days. My best friend’s mother introduced me to his work; she even made me a lovely sign with Ophelia’s quote from Hamlet IV.v: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” That sign remains on my bookshelf to this day, 30+ years later.

So I read the stories as a child, and I saw that one episode of Moonlighting… But like many Americans, I did not come face-to-face with the actual works until high school. Interestingly enough, I had no trouble with the language. It felt second nature to me, possibly because I must have heard it, or something like it, before then. We did Romeo & Juliet my freshman year of high school, and our class rewrote it into a Mafia context (well before Baz Luhrmann, I might add). I was Lord Capulet, wearing my dad’s Hawaiian shirt and with my hair in a ponytail. We filmed the play, and for the rest of my high school days, freshman would come to me and say, “You’re Lord Capulet!”

We acted out some Julius Caesar, and I was Cassius. I was the Third Witch in MacBeth. And I got to do some of both Hamlet and Ophelia when we read Hamlet. I also got to be Viola in Twelfth Night. None of this as true performance, mind; all semi-acted in English classrooms (excepting that Romeo & Juliet, which we performed and recorded in a library study room). Still, I found it exhilarating. Despite having many friends in drama, I was too shy to sign up for drama classes, so this was as close as I was going to get.

Until Winedale.

My final spring at the University of Texas at Austin, a couple of my friends recommended I sign up for Shakespeare Through Performance. Even though they’d both taken this class, they did not warn me what it truly was.

I didn’t need another English credit, I just needed something to fill out my schedule so I could get my financial aid (I had to have a full course load to qualify), so I went for it. And ended up as part of the Shakespeare at Winedale program. To this day, it remains one of the best experiences of my life, and I only wish I still lived close enough to be involved.

Each spring, Doc Ayers would choose a play and the students would learn and perform it. Not on campus, however, but at “The Barn.” Winedale is out in the middle of nowhere and consists of a house/dormitory and a miniature Globe Theatre (as well as other buildings). On weekends, we would go live together at this house and practice and rehearse. There were many late nights sitting out on the porch and singing. We got by on very little sleep. It was amazing.

On top of everything, I was fortunate enough to be in the class that was putting on my favorite play: Hamlet. But not the standard Hamlet. We were going to do the First Quarto (Q1). In that version, Polonius is called Corambis, which was my part*.

The thing about Winedale is that it is such an experience that it can’t be articulated. It has to be lived to be understood. You form bonds there that are for life. You take away with you something that cannot be obtained in any other way or circumstance. It is truly life changing.

Shakespeare at Winedale, Spring 1998 (Hamlet, Q1)

In fact, I was able to use that experience later on when asked to teach Shakespeare at a summer camp in Massachusetts. The camp was called College for Kids, and it was for ages 9-14. Each summer I chose a different play. The kids and I would read and discuss it. Then I would give them the choice to either learn and perform the original or rewrite it. Hamlet was my first year. Subsequent years were Romeo & Juliet, MacBeth, and Taming of the Shrew. I’ll never forget the camp director telling me, “I’m getting calls from parents. They keep saying, ‘I don’t know what that teacher is doing, but my kid won’t shut up about Shakespeare’ and ‘I wish they’d taught it like this when I was in school.'” I count that as success! And I owe that to having experienced Shakespeare in a marvelous way at Winedale.

The other thing about teaching Shakespeare—it was an unexpected side effect—was how it opened the door to other discussions. When I was teaching Romeo & Juliet, a student tentatively raised his hand and said, “My friend’s brother committed suicide…” Another student, sensing an opportunity said, “I went to camp with a girl who would cut herself. I don’t get why she did that.” Whew. Big topics. But Shakespeare had given them an opening to talk about something they otherwise might not have felt comfortable bringing up. So we discussed it. And when I taught Taming of the Shrew, a girl asked, “Why is this considered funny?” So we talked about that, too—about gendered comedy, but also about forms of abuse in relationships. And, yeah, I did show them that episode of Moonlighting.

It wasn’t all seriousness. My MacBeth students turned the play into a comedy about Banquo [Banquet] frozen dinners. My Hamlet students created a dark comedy called Denmark High. We had a great time.

When I left Massachusetts, I came to a town where the local Shakespeare group met with me to ask about how I taught Shakespeare. Eventually they created a program that goes into the second-grade classrooms as well as a summer camp. And all of this is rooted in my time at Winedale.

Shakespeare has colored my life. I’ve seen a number of shows at the actual (well, reconstructed) Globe in London. I edited some versions of the plays while working in publishing. I have outlines for YA novels that stem from Shakespeare as well. There probably isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think or say a line from one of the Bard’s plays. Then again, so many words and phrases come from Shakespeare that many people don’t realize they’re quoting him. Did you know he made up the word “manager”? Go ahead and find more words created by Shakespeare here. You might be surprised.

I won’t say Shakespeare is for everyone. I will say the themes in his works, the drama—those are universal. Which is why his works endure both in their original form and via a multitude of adaptations. I recall telling my Hamlet students on that first day: “Imagine you’re away at college. You find out your dad has died, so you have to go home. Then you find out your mom married your uncle.” The look on their faces was priceless. “Ew!” a few of them said. Then I added that final layer: “AND… your dad was king, and you were the prince. But now your uncle is king?” That’s soap opera-level sudsy right there. Those kids were all in.

Many people find Shakespeare stuffy or simply incomprehensible. But he was the Spielberg or Nolan or [insert big-name director here] of his time, producing blockbusters designed to draw a crowd. We revere him now as a literary genius, but he was really just trying to tell stories that would sell. The fact that they not only sold but endured? It’s only what every author and creator can wish for.


*I was Corambis the first night. On the second night, I was supposed to play the murderer in the play within a play, but our Hamlet skipped two pages of script and the play never happened. So I was only seen onstage as a servant later that night.

Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler) Series I & II

So let’s be 100% clear from the start. I have not read any of the manga. I have only watched the first two series. The first is from 2008-2009, the second from 2010. I hope to find and watch Book of Circus, Book of Murder, and Book of the Atlantic. And of course I’d really love to read the manga. But, long story short, all I have to go on right now is what I’ve seen in these first two series.

The titular character in Kuroshitsuji (known in English as Black Butler) is Sebastian Michaelis, a demon working as a butler in Victorian England to the 13-year-old Earl Ciel Phantomhive. (Well, Ciel is 12 at the start of the series, but whatever.) Sebastian and Ciel have a contract: Sebastian will help Ciel discover and get revenge upon whoever murdered Ciel’s parents, and when the revenge has been taken, Sebastian will devour Ciel’s soul.

Seems like a fair trade.

In the meantime, Ciel carries on the family tradition of serving as Queen Victoria’s “guard dog.” He investigates crimes in London’s seedy underbelly.

The real draw here is the relationship between Sebastian and Ciel, which treads a very fine line—exactly the kind of line that makes fangirls swoon. And I’ll gladly admit I am one. But I’ll also admit that, while the first series had what I’d consider a satisfying ending, the second was a mess. IMHO, of course.

Spoilers follow, so if you don’t want to know details, click away now.

At the end of the first series, revenge has seemingly been achieved and Sebastian is prepared to devour Ciel’s soul as per their contract. Cool.

But since they needed an excuse to continue the story, the second series tells us that a spider (that turns out to be a demon) stole Ciel’s soul just before Sebastian could devour it. So Sebastian goes to retrieve it and reanimates Ciel. Uh… okay, I guess? And Ciel doesn’t remember anything, so… And this is just me trying to work out exactly what the issues were, so I may have misunderstood… It seems like Sebastian is back to square one because as far as Ciel knows there has been no revenge taken? So Sebastian must redirect Ciel’s anger by giving him a new vengeance target. And that target ends up being Alois Trancy, another young earl who has made a deal with a demon named Claude. Like, what are the chances, right? Unless demons really like to play butler? I don’t know what kinds of fetishes demons have, so… maybe?

I’ll skip the intricacies because the leaps in logic were astounding, but at the end of it all, both Claude and Sebastian were after Ciel’s soul. But Ciel’s body was being inhabited by Alois’ soul at the same time. And Alois was jealous that Everybody Loves Ciel. So he played a final trick in not allowing either demon to have Ciel’s soul. In fact, he (with the help of yet another demon named Hannah) made Ciel into a demon. So… bottom line… Sebastian ended up not getting the nummy soul he’d worked so hard for and instead ended up in an eternal contract with Ciel that will never, ever pay off. I think?

And this really irritated me.

If asked to articulate why, though, I struggle. Is it because I believe patience and hard work should pay off, even for demons? Is it because I fell in fangirl love with Sebastian and don’t like seeing him get the wrong end of a raw deal? If he’d seemed happier and more satisfied with the situation, I think I would have felt differently. But his demeanor by the end of the second series was just as irked as I felt. Which in a way ruined the “happily ever after” I wanted for Sebastian and Ciel. Yes, I want them to be together, and now they can be—forever! But at the same time, Sebastian doesn’t seem too pleased with the circumstances. And I want their together forever to be a happy one.

Perhaps it’s about distribution of power. Sebastian was always the servant, but he was also the one with supernatural abilities. Ciel was his master, but Ciel also heavily relied on Sebastian and almost could not function without him. This made for a good balance. If Ciel is now a demon, however, and still master of Sebastian, the relationship has become seriously unequal. And that holds a lot less interest for me. In fact, it’s rather frustrating. It’s like I’m embittered on Sebastian’s behalf.

Keep in mind that I’m only basing all this on these two series of anime. Nothing more. I read somewhere that Black Butler II is completely unrelated to the manga. So maybe if I read the manga I’ll be more satisfied? Or if I watch the rest of the anime? I’ll let you know if/when I do and whether that changes my overall feeling. For now, I’m trying to hold on to what I loved about the characters and show and get over the things that soured me toward the end.

Jobs: The Dolls’ House

Any time I talk about places I’ve worked, my kids are like, “You need to write about all these things!” I suppose it’s never all that interesting to the person who has lived it, but today I’ll post about one of the many jobs I’ve had in my life: a clerk at a doll shop.

That is, I suppose I was a clerk. I was never given a title, per se. But I was one of three people who worked in this shop—a converted old house with requisite creaky floors. I was also the youngest, being 19 at the time and in my first year as an undergrad. My co-worker was attending the same university but was, I believe, a sophomore or junior. The store manager was an older woman who wanted to be a poet and seemed embittered by her lot in life.

The shop was owned by a woman who designed dolls and figurines as well as drew art prints, all of Victorian-era children. Each had a name: Brooke, Rebecca, David, James, etc. The girls wore frills and bows and bonnets; the boys wore sailor suits and short pants. They were charming, for those who like that sort of thing, which I did. But they were also very much of their time—not Victorian, that is, but 80s and 90s—and while the artist enjoyed a certain amount of popularity for a time, one never hears about her or her work anymore.

In any case, I took two buses to get to this store. While there, I often had to cut mattes for framing prints. Besides framing art done by the shop owner, we had one customer who would bring us scads of Thomas Kinkade prints to matte and frame. Other than that, I would wander the shop, straightening things and making sure none of the prints were being faded by sunlight.

Every other Saturday, I had to work in the shop alone. We had a radio up on top of one of the tall display cabinets; I had to stand on a bar-height chair to reach it. Some Saturdays I would never see a soul, so I always made sure to bring a book or notebook. Too bad food delivery services weren’t yet common; I always had to pack myself a lunch to store in the shop’s ancient refrigerator.

My favorite would be if and when we’d get a thunderstorm. The house would grow steadily darker and the rumble would shake it. Then rain would lash the windows. There was a sunroom where we put sale items, and that was the best place to be when it rained. The only down side was that the radio would go all to static in a storm.

One Saturday a man came into the store to buy a few things. He said something about a discount. It turned out he was related to the artist; he was her nephew or something. Well, he said he was, anyway. I guess I had no way of knowing, though I checked with a friend later (someone who worked directly for the artist, which was how I’d gotten the job) and it turned out to be legit. Whew.

The bitter manager got in trouble once for treating me badly at a doll show after other employees complained and the artist saw the manager berating me. Sadly, that may also have been what precipitated the shop closing a year later. So I only worked there for that one year. I didn’t mind not having to take two buses to get to work anymore, but there was a modicum of panic over finding new work. As it turned out, though, after the doll shop I ended up in the best job I’ve ever had (short of being a writer). But that’s another story for another post… Or probably several posts…

Movies: Palm Springs

This… was part Groundhog Day, part Hangover, and pretty much all stupid. So if you like that kind of thing…

Andy Samberg stars as Nyles, a man who has been living the same day repeatedly for longer than he can remember. That day includes the wedding of his girlfriend’s bf Tala, an event Nyles isn’t terribly interested in, maybe because (as BNL says) it’s all be done before, or maybe he wouldn’t have been keen even if it was the first and only time. Hard to tell.

When Tala’s older sister Sarah (Cristin Milioti) gets stuck in the time loop with him, however, Nyles must show her the ropes of existing within it. Then they hang out and goof around. Then they fall in love. Then she learns quantum physics to try and extricate them.

That’s… that’s pretty much the story. There are minor subplots, but they hold little to no weight.

The screenplay is bland and leans heavily on sex “humor.” That is, I assume it’s meant to be funny, but it was mostly trite. The characters lacked depth as well. We have the man-child, stuck in life both literally and figuratively; the ditzy, vain, cheating girlfriend, complete with trashy name Misty*, who declares that no one ever breaks up with her; and a would-be Janeane Garofalo character in the form of Sarah—disillusioned, no longer putting in an effort and wishing people wouldn’t expect things of her. There are odd attempts at something nearing philosophy (i.e., “meaning of life” stuff), but it falls flat amid the pedantic path of the plot itself, which fails to do more than skim over anything that might actually be interesting in favor of hitting all the color-by-number story beats.

Bottom line: aside from one or two cute moments, this movie doesn’t hold much for viewers who want anything more than empty calories. Despite the quantum physics, which is glossed at best, the loop doesn’t ever really get explained. For anyone watching this movie, brain rot sets in from the get-go. Samberg and Milioti, who have genuine chemistry, deserve a better script.

*Apologies to anyone actually named Misty; this is more about the connotations carried by certain names in pop culture than real people who carry the names themselves.

Speaking of, who names one child Sarah and another Tala? Like, those are two very different kinds of names, I feel? Whenever I meet people with multiple children, I feel like there’s a cohesiveness to the kids’ names. Parents think about these things, how the names will sound together, whether they “fit.” This is a minor point, I know but, as a writer, stuff like this really bothers me.

Books: Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry

Richard Lloyd Parry is a foreign news correspondent in Tokyo, and this book is comprised of numerous interviews with survivors of the March 11, 2011 tsunami that hit the Tohoku region of Japan. I only heard about this book from a YouTuber of all things (Chris Broad of the Abroad in Japan channel). But I have a dear friend who taught in Sendai and knew people in the affected area, so I already had some interest in better understanding just what happened there. After all, today’s news cycles are spectacularly brief, so we often only get the “highlights” and headlines. This book goes a bit deeper into the impact the tsunami had, focusing especially on the tragedy at Okawa Elementary School.

Parry (Lloyd Parry? I don’t know which is his last name, but my library shelves him under P, so I’m going with Parry) first goes over his experience of March 11, 2011 while in Tokyo. They felt the earthquake there, too, but the tsunami was a non-issue. Soon enough, Parry describes the part of Miyagi Prefecture that was hit… In fact, he goes to some great lengths to give readers a mental picture. I was reading on my Kindle, and there were a few maps and photographs, but they weren’t as clear as might have been in a printed copy of the book. So I really don’t know if I’m picturing the geography all that well, despite all the words used. The book isn’t that long, so maybe he was padding his word count? In any case, what one really needs to know is that there is the ocean, and also the Kitakami River, and some hills. And that this tsunami came not just up out of the ocean, but also up the river and partly up the hills—farther than any tsunami in living memory. So a certain amount of complacency resulted in more deaths than necessary, particularly at Okawa.

Parry interviews a number of parents who lost some or all of their children. There are a lot of names in this book, so it can be tricky to keep track of who is who. Parry interviews a man who nearly died in the tsunami, and one who had been possessed by the ghost of a tsunami victim. He also talks to religious leaders who, in the aftermath, did their best to help in ways both practical and spiritual. It’s all interesting, if a bit of a mishmash.

There is also a good bit of time spent on the lawsuit against [what amounts to] the school board for negligence. Seventy-four children died at Okawa Elementary, and ten teachers. The emergency handbook did not have clear instructions on what to do in case of a tsunami, and none of the adults seemed to believe a tsunami could even reach the school, even after local bureaucrats drove by with loudspeakers and announced the oncoming wave. Poor planning and poor decision making were on full display, it seems. Some of the parents who lost children eventually filed suit and… Well, you can read the results online or read the book.

As for Okawa itself, it still stands as a memorial.

The “ghosts” thing was tangential; I might have liked a few more examples of people having encountered supernatural phenomena, but this simply isn’t that kind of book, so it would maybe have seemed weird. Even the bits that are there don’t feel entirely homogenous to the rest of the book.

As someone who has, all my life, had a very visceral fear of drowning—not sure why, if it’s a past-life thing or what—it was a bit difficult for me to read this. But I’m glad I did. It really did mostly engross me, barring some diversions into explaining the culture, the bureaucracy, etc. At least these spurs were not too long-winded. I know they were for context, but I also think anyone reading this probably already has an interest in Japan and knows a bit about the culture going in without needing lengthy explanations. I could be wrong.

This book does not go into the nuclear meltdown or fallout caused by the tsunami. So if you’re looking for that, look elsewhere.

And this one is more tightly written than People Who Eat Darkness, another nonfiction book by Parry that I read earlier this year. That one did have much more exhaustive passages about the culture and the legal system, but Ghosts of the Tsunami manages to avoid that. On the whole, as I said, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone who has interest in the subject.

Art/Artist

I have a degree in cultural media studies. What that means is my university didn’t have a screenwriting degree track, so I had to do “cultural studies” and then focus on screenwriting since that’s what I really wanted to do. But what that also means is that I learned fascinating ways to look at media, “read” it, dissect it, discuss it. These are things I love to do. Not to argue for or against any point of view, mind, but simply to talk about a book or movie or television show from this or that angle. All points of view, if they can be supported by solid example, are valid.

Except not everyone believes that last bit.

Death of the Author

This phrase is used specifically in literary theory, but it can be applied to any media. It’s the idea that, once a text leaves the creator’s control and goes out into the world to be read, the author’s intentions are… I won’t say worthless, but they are not the only valid lens through which to read said text. I subscribe to this belief. As an author, if someone reads a book of mine and says, “This is really about xyz, and here’s why I think that!” and can back it up with concrete reasoning, I’m all for it. Maybe I as the author consciously embedded that theme or maybe not, but I’m always glad to hear that someone took the time to think about something I wrote. Therefore, whenever I hear an author or filmmaker get angry about an interpretation of their work, it puts me off a bit. If the perception is unflattering—if, for example, someone is saying a work is racist or homophobic—I can, to a degree, understand a creator getting his or her back up about such a claim. Particularly in today’s culture of things being construed as either all good or all bad and there being nothing in between. That’s problematic. Cultural studies is about being open to many points of view, but at the same time we don’t “cancel” something based on one viewpoint. To simply discard a work because there is something about it that could be understood as “bad” is… Well, it’s the creation of an ideological echo chamber. It’s the same as saying, “I will not look at anything that I don’t agree with. AND I don’t think anyone else should be allowed to look at it either.” This perspective close-minded and militant, and no one learns anything from it.

That said, there are times when some media should not be given the benefit of that doubt. When a text is overtly harmful to one or more groups of people—that is, it incites hate against that group—that’s just plain hate speech and does not deserve tolerance. Cancel that shit.

The difficulty sometimes comes in knowing whether something really is hate speech. That’s when, if an author or creator is still living, people often turn to them for clarification.

Separating the Art from the Artist

In a world with so much more access to creators thanks to Twitter and other social media, we know more than ever before about the those who write and make our favorite books and movies. That’s not always a good thing.

On the whole, I agree with the argument that a work of art should speak for itself. This goes along with the idea of the death of the author; if a creator wanted to get a point across, he or she must wait to see if they did a good enough job. If many people read a book and come away with the idea (or feeling) the author intended, the author wrote well. If most of the readers miss the point, the author needs to do better next time. In short, a work should not require the author’s input after the fact to make itself clear. It should, in the absence of the author, be the voice of whatever the author wants to say.

But, like with text messages and email, sometimes tone is misconstrued. Authors need to be prepared for that possibility, too.

YET. Now that readers and audiences are used to hearing directly from authors and other celebrities via social media, it becomes increasingly impossible to separate the art from the artist. One might consciously parse a text and not take into account anything about the creator. But a reader or viewer cannot stop knowing what they know. If I read a book, and I know that the author is homophobic, even if I try to take the text on its own merit, I cannot help knowing about the homophobia underlying its construction. I may try to enjoy the book, but chances are I’m not going to be able to.

Which is why so many people, once they learn something about an author (e.g., J. K. Rowling) or filmmaker (e.g., Woody Allen) can no longer bring themselves to read or watch their works. They can no longer enjoy them because in the backs of their minds, they know something about these creators that colors their consumption of that media. It’s like someone has poured poison all over what would otherwise have been a tasty meal. Never mind conscientious objectors not wanting to support and/or give money to certain points of view or lifestyles (for creators still alive and making a profit off their works).

In short, ignorance is bliss when it comes to consuming media.

At the same time, we all want to be educated about the media we consume.

Is there a solution?

Honestly, I don’t know. Because this is such a personal issue—because each person has his or her own levels of tolerance for things like this—there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Some may decide to stay away from Twitter and other social media, as though reading info from or about favorite creators is the same as reading spoilers. These people really do just want to enjoy the work separate from the creator(s). Other people may hear things about a book, movie, author, filmmaker and decide to do his or her own sleuthing to decide how deep the rot goes. They must answer this question for themselves: Can the tree be saved? And some may have very strict personal standards that does not allow them to engage with media and/or creators that have problematic interpretations or stances. This is their right and their decision. They may choose to spread the word about what they know, but they must leave it to others to likewise decide for themselves whether or not to continue reading or watching works from questionable sources.

This is, of course, simply my take on this topic.

tl;dr 1. There are many different ways to interpret media and no one “right” way. Even if the creator says there is only one way, that creator cannot stop people from coming up with alternate views. 2. A piece of art (book, movie, etc.) should stand on its own and not require additional, outside input from the creator to explain it. Otherwise, it’s not a very good piece of art. 3. Once a reader or viewer knows something about a creator, that piece of information cannot be unknown and will necessarily color the consumer’s understanding and enjoyment of the media. 4. It’s up to each reader or viewer to decide what they will and will not tolerate from a creator. Those who have opted to “disinherit” a creator should not bully others into doing the same. 5. UNLESS that creator is using his or her power and/or privilege to engage in flat-out hate speech that harms a person or group of persons already at risk. In which case, that should not be tolerated.

A final note that there is a difference between being bullied for one’s opinion and being pushed back on when you’re actively harming others. Anecdotally, someone I know was surprised when her gay friends disowned her after she voted for He Who Shall Not Be Named. “What happened agreeing to disagree?” she asked. I told her that she had not simply “disagreed” with her gay friends—she had taken actual action against them. There is a difference. And it matters.

Fan Fiction

I was making up stories about my favorite book, television, and film characters long before I ever thought about writing them down. Writers have a tendency to fall in love with characters and stories, and many hone their skills by practicing on others’ characters before playing with their own.

There is a somewhat mean-spirited saying in the writing world about “playing in someone else’s sandbox.” Not all creators feel this way; some are flattered that other writers want to play along. (I, for one, am delighted when I see fanfic or fan art of my work.) But there has long been a stigma regarding fan fiction that I think is finally fading. This idea that fanfic authors have no original ideas, or are somehow incapable of being “real” writers (whatever counts as “real”… which is another topic altogether).

I didn’t know fan fiction was a thing until I was in college. I mean, I wrote stories based on my favorite show, etc., but I had no idea there was an entire community of people who did this. Keep in mind that the Internet wasn’t a whole big thing yet at the time, so my revelation came in the guise of a class regarding fan psychology, in which we read Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers. That text blew my mind. Not long after, I found fanzines and began submitting my work.

Not all of it, of course. The first piece of fanfic I can recall writing—like, literally writing down—was something called “Mac’s Night Out.” It was MacGyver and Murdoc getting drunk, I think? I probably still have a copy of it somewhere, but it never got published in a zine.

Also never published was my series The Bay Chronicles. That series is an utter disaster that only exists in a handful of printed copies since the disks that contained it can no longer be accessed (nor does anyone still use Microsoft Works). I will say that I’m retyping this series [on unlinked pages], if only to have it in electronic form. But I promise you, it’s not worth reading. It makes almost no sense at all, is a total mishmash of… Gah, everything I liked at the time plus some original stuff I was working on… It’s dreadful in a million ways, and even as I retype it, which of course requires me to re-read it, I see what a child I was at the time I wrote it and hate myself a bit.

That aside, I did have a moderately good run as a fanfic author back when zines were still a thing. I used to be invited to cons as a guest fanfic author, which was always flattering, and then also very funny because organizers would be so surprised at how young I was when I turned up. Sometimes I was too young to go into the “adult” rooms at the cons!

I’ve slowly been reposting those old zine stories on Archive of Our Own (AO3) under the name zmethos. (Short for “Zeistmeister Methos,” a nickname from my college days, which is, again, another story.) My best and longest work, though, came in the post-zine era: the Sherlock series known as A Game of Hearts, which consists of seven stories based on BBC’s Sherlock. They were all written after the first series and before the second, so reading them now is like reading an alternative timeline for the show. My other favorite fic that I’ve written is the Highlander story “Setting Love Free.”

I used to want to hide my fanfic. I used to think that, if I wanted to be taken seriously as an author or screenwriter, I couldn’t be associated with that stuff. But as I’ve mentioned, times seem to be changing. More and more people acknowledge fanfic writing as a valid way of starting out. I think I have more fans of my fics than I do of my original work anyway. I hope that won’t always be true, but it makes me happy to know people like something I’ve written, even if it’s fan fiction.

P.S. This one was mine. “The Bane” was actually my undergraduate screenwriting thesis, which I wrote based on the fic that had already been published in Texas Extra: Special Langlinais Edition. The comments on the Fanlore page came from my old author Web site. The story version is up at AO3 now.