Outside the Box

The uber genre of Xena fan fiction perhaps traces its inception to the X:WP episode 'The Xena Scrolls' in which we were introduced to Melinda [Xena's descendant] and Janice [Gabrielle's descendant]. It didn't take long before bards were expanding upon these variations of the hero/sidekick archetype of Xena and Gabrielle. While the progression to other time periods occurred naturally, the main characters still continued to closely parallel the original archetype. The stoic, warrior-like, lonely and haunted past characteristics of Xena are complimented by the warm-hearted, outgoing, gentle, trusting characteristics of Gabrielle.

There are many stories in which the uber-X is employed in the military, law enforcement, criminal activity, secretive agencies or in positions of authority [business executive], all commensurate with the warrior archetype, whether in her reformed or warlord state. The only exception is a medical liaison to her healer attributes. In contrast, the uber-G is often portrayed as a writer, journalist, photographer, artist, teacher or in some other humanitarian role. On occasion you get to see the 'warrior with a heart' uber-G.

I thought it would be interesting to examine the ever-evolving artistic expression that uber characters offer bards. Joining us today are:

Barbara Davies [Summer's Circus/Reunion, Pendragon Cove, Breakout99, Beneath the Surface],

L. J. Maas [Tumbleweed Fever, None So Blind, Meridio's Daughter]

Penumbra [Kink series],

D. J. Redhawk [Warlord Metal, Tiopa Ki Lakota],

Maggie Ryan [The Deal],

Karen Surtees & Nann Dunne [ True Colours, Many Roads to Travel] and

Wolfdragon [Daredevil series, Northern Peace and Perils]

Sidenote: The authors participating, are a mixture of American and British. You may see variances in spelling.

EM: In your opinion, what is the X & G archetype for most stories and for your stories?

Wolfdragon: The images I get from some of the X characters in stories are [of a] very moody and violent person. She's got a dark past that causes her to have trouble [living] in the present; [she] always thinks back. She often uses her strength to get her point across. The G's character is either seen as a very stable person with a normal past, with very few troubles in her life, or as a troubled young woman needing help and protection.

Nann: With X&G in Ancient Greece, Xena's almost god-like physical abilities play a huge part in both their lives. Although Gab relies on Xena's physical strengths, it is Xena's strength of character (reformed), bolstered by Gab's belief in her, that I see as the linchpin of their relationship.

Barbara: I like the tall, dark, and brooding and small, blonde, and cheerful combination, and the way the characters complement one another ÷ so I keep using that.

Maggie: I started reading fanfiction, thought it was interesting, liked some of it, didn't like others. The uber stuff was very interesting and I think a lot of people write uber because the characters have already been created to some extent and they want other people to look at what they've written.

Penumbra: Hmm ÷ when compared to most renditions of X&G fanfic, I would say the main difference, to paint a caricature, is that both of these women have genuine self-esteem. No jealousy drivel, nothing of the heartache stuff that tends to propel reams of stories ÷ yeah, sure, they're two mushballs and all that, but they have faith in one another. Xena didn't hedge with getting Gabrielle, neither had bouts of sucky self-esteem.

L. J.: I would like to think my characters push past that archetype to include nuances that we all wish Xena & Gabrielle had, or, that we wish the writers would stress more.

[However] 'Tumbleweed Fever' was my first novel and because of that, I think Sarah and Devlin stayed closer to the characters that we see on television; tall dark gunslinger, small blonde widow. However I chose to take the dark warrior and already put her on the path to goodness. She, unlike what we think about Xena, would have stayed on the righteous path, even without Sarah, but she would have lived an unfulfilled life ÷ never knowing love & friendship.

With Sarah, I expanded the notion of the Bard as a girl with spunk.

Karen: [Exactly.] We didn't just want the strong-saves-the-day Xena or the reliable faithful Gabrielle; we wanted a true working partnership from the beginning of their interaction. I think it is the dynamic of the friendship that really stands out in [our] story, not just the main characters, but the minor ones as well.

Nann: In our stories, TJ's physical strength is impaired and she is forced to rely somewhat on others for her well-being. TJ demonstrates enormous strength of character in coping with her disability, but I see Mare as the one whose character pulls them together.

Barbara: I think my characters are tamer than the X and G archetypes, primarily because of the world in which they live. I try to make my characters have realistic problems which aren't to do with gods or violent situations and to react to them in a feasible (and, where possible non-violent) way.

EM: So ÷ how would you describe your characters?

Barbara: Well up until 'Beneath the Surface', I would have said ÷ they are all English.

Redhawk: I purposely created a complete role reversal with the characters in 'Warlord Metal' -- the angst-ridden woman with the deep, dark past was none other than the Uber-G. The sweet, accepting and loving younger woman was Uber-X.

As for 'Tiopa Ki Lakota', neither character had an ominous history. Uber-X came from an adoring family. I wanted to portray a Xena archetype that was healthy and normal. Everyone knows why Xena turned out the way she did, and that Gabrielle 'saved' her from herself. What would happen should the two meet without the warrior's dark nature having gotten the better of her?

Wolfdragon: I must say that both sets of characters I have created are very different from one another. Kristina [Daredevil series] is successful in business and she's an excellent stuntwoman. Her professional life is a success. The only dark part she has is her love life. She has a temper and can be violent too, but she never killed anyone, so she doesn't have [that] hanging over her like it does Xena. Kris [also has] a loving family to help her through the hard times.

Nicole, on the other hand, is the one with a tortured past. [A] victim of abuse at the hands of her father, she gets a glimpse of a happy life with Kris until things get out of hand. Anger and betrayal are new emotions that are added to her life experience. She doesn't have the naïve look on life that the [Gabrielle] archetype has, but like Gabrielle, Nicole is a dreamer and wants to travel the world.

L.J.: As with all my uber "Gabrielle" characters, I like giving them more credit than the writers ever gave the TV Bard. She doesn't sit back and she doesn't want to be taken care of. [Take] Torrey, in 'None So Blind' and Casey in 'Meridio's Daughter'; I can't tell you the furor it caused when I had Torrey sleep with a call girl. People thought the uber Xena character would do that, but not the uber Gabrielle.

Casey is probably pulled away the furthest from the Gabrielle model. She lives her life and plays the same games as the hard people around her. She is strong and gutsy; lives with a lot of emotional turmoil, but is not a woman who is willing to be a sidekick.

Maggie: [Well,] Kaz is much more an emotional infant than Xena. Chris is more the student of human nature. The roles have been somewhat reversed. Also, Kaz is more of a [professional] support vehicle for Chris.

Life is tough for shy people; I know this from experience. Kaz would believe that she was capable in her work, almost arrogant, but would be unsure in any phase of her life that strayed from the job she was trying to accomplish. Chris would be one of those people who can talk to anyone. From the beginning she was invasive. D'you know the movie 'Out of Africa', where Robert Redford as Denis Finch-Hatton says "You've ruined being alone for me." That's what Chris has done to Kaz ÷ made her dissatisfied with the status quo.

L.J.: When it comes to uber Xena, I think Taylor in 'None So Blind' pulls away the farthest. She is the hopeless romantic; the one who can't bring herself to sleep with another woman because her heart belongs to Torrey. She can be physically intimidating, but the one phrase she uses in the book says it all, "I cry too much to be butch."

Penumbra: I would say that Uber-G [Della in Kink series] isn't a storyteller, unless you count police reports and Uber-X [Ghis] isn't much of a hothead -- she's very cool and mellow in real life. [Ghis performs as other personas] most probably as art. Fetishism requires a certain amount of natural exhibitionism ÷ so I would [say] that the performances cater to the need or joy of being on display in the active sense, not as a trophy. She loves to have people drool after her. Della is newer to the scene and thus would most probably see her love of BDSM as a private matter ÷ something she wishes to do in her bedroom or perhaps in the near privacy of a dungeon, but not on stage ÷ she's a bit more introspective than Ghis.

Karen: I think I can say for Nann [co-author] and myself that we know from experience that relationships take a lot of work and that having TJ and Mare have to work to get over their own insecurities and prejudices makes their relationship that much stronger. In many ways we wanted to show the trust, that Nann and I share as friends, in the portrayal of our characters.

Wolfdragon: Alex [Northern Peace and Perils] is closer to most X types. Once a productive member of the society, she gets into revenge mode when a loved one is killed. Most stories have the Uber-X go on a rampage because the cause is the death of her brother; [here it is] her lover who gets killed.

Michelle is a more balanced character, even [though] her parents died a long time ago and the only member of her family is her brother whom she rarely sees. She's very independent and doesn't hold a grudge against what happened to her. She takes what life hands her and deals with it.

Alex is sorry about what she's done; especially since she joined the war effort for the wrong reasons. Her shame gets worse when she finds out that the people she killed were innocents. Michelle is a bit of a dreamer [who] would love to travel and see the world. She's loyal in her duties as [a] relay operator and wants to continue to offer help and shelter to the ones who need it [like Alex].

EM: Was there a society issue, moral dilemma or personality characteristic that compelled you to create your characters and plot?

Wolfdragon: There are no real social issues that prompted me to write the stories I did. My main objective is to teach things; have people read about places they've never been to before, learn a little about history and give more information about things people know exist, but never really thought about.

[In the Daredevil series], I had my characters visit Montreal, see the Mayan ruins in Mexico, and enjoy the beauty of the city Innsbruck in Austria, but my main objective was to teach people about the job of being a stuntperson. People are thrilled to see action films, but how many of us stop to think about who really performed the impossible scenes we see on the screen?

Barbara: What I crave is originality, so in each of mine I have tried to do something fresh, whether it's in the characters' occupations, the setting, the viewpoint etc. It's about keeping 'myself' interested as much as my readers.

'Breakout 99' was inspired by a flier for a real Breakout competition held locally involving teams of three. Xena, Gab and Joxer are/were always on the road together and I had wondered how that could occur in a modern setting. It was also a challenge for me, since I hadn't done an uber-Joxer before. I must say the research for this once [the route] was a bit tedious.

'Pendragon Cove' was inspired by a newspaper article about a Cornish music seminar. I did research on Cornwall and on violins. I don't play the violin, so I extrapolated from my experience of learning to play the piano and got a violin expert from Lunacy's list to check the end result. The expert also recommended some famous violinists whose work Claudia could refer to.

Maggie: To be honest I wrote [The Deal] as a lark. I set it up in a world that I was very familiar with -- TV News at a medium market affiliate level. The people I work with are very monofocused. A lot of them have little or no personal life outside the station, but they're very creative, sharp and witty. A lot of the characters have traits and foibles I've noticed in reporters and anchors. Newsgathering is a group effort, but the ones who are the most visible are the reporters and anchors. The reporters and the line producers rely on the News Director to keep them on an even keel, redirect their efforts and help them [become] better at their jobs.

I thought the Xena character would run the newsroom, command loyalty and respect, [while] the Gabrielle character would be the big personality storyteller with phenomenally bad luck. Chris is based upon a reporter/photog that I work with who are both incredibly accident-prone. I did plan the twist that Kaz would be totally inexperienced and Chris would be the one with the clue.

[As for golf] it is a solitary sport. You fail alone, or succeed alone. It is the one thing she [Kaz] has which totally hinges on her own performance. It's a bigger stretch for her to be involved in a team producing a newscast than to be a competitive golfer.

Karen: Actually, the original story [True Colours] started out as a challenge from me to Nann [co-author]. We were debating over ubers and Nann had reservations about whether she could write one. I was toying around with something that would have been similar to uber-Xena character in 'Perfect Pitch [J. C. Wilder]. But as we discussed the premise, my views changed; I wanted to write a story that was challenging and that hadn't been done yet.

In many stories the uber-X or G is injured and recovers ÷ I wanted to explore what would happen if they didn't. Would the relationship between them really be that much different? How would the Uber-X deal with having to rely on others to help when under normal circumstances she would never have to? In the Uber-G's case I didn't want an immediate friendship; in the TV show, Gabrielle is quick to trust and forgive ÷ I wanted to explore the opposite of that. As we wrote the story, I found that no matter what the relationship started out as, in the end it would be the underlying friendship that is apparent. In the TV show that would see them through the difficulties we presented them with.

EM: Did anyone have moral or societal issues?

L.J. : [With 'None So Blind'] I wanted to write a story that stresses something all my stories do; that when friendship comes before love, you have the makings of something wonderful. Of course, the alcohol and drug issues I wanted to deal with because my father was an alcoholic. I grew up in that atmosphere and I wanted to know what could have happened, even trying to be a good parent. Would your own past come out in the way you raised your child? [Also], just because things go wrong with kids, it doesn't always mean they have bad parents. I'm not saying it's always that way, but there are instances when good people have kids that end up down the wrong path, and it can be from things that parents never thought would affect their children that way.

Penumbra: I guess the societal issue was twofold: 1) I wanted a happy uber couple, and 2) I wanted BDSM-positive fiction. The latter is the one that people grasp on; the fact that BDSM sex ain't about abuse or stern mistresses spanking their wailing subjects. It's a multi-varied art form, it's great fun, and very much sex positive.

A minor reason of why I wanted to write the Kink series was that the stories out there tend to be U.S.-centric and London is my absolute favourite city and it has a fetish/BDSM underground scene par excellence -- the ideal place to set a story.

Redhawk: I'd have to say with 'Warlord Metal' there was a definitely a moral issue. The hard and fast life of a rock and roll musician hitting the big time was where my mind was; followed by the desire to reverse the standard character roles. Additionally, I'd recently acquired an album by Sevendust. One song, 'Face', was about the a rape and my mind wandered onto what kind of person would write the lyrics; followed by what kind of WOMAN would write the lyrics ÷ and so the character of Jordan was born.

Nann: I think the title 'True Colours', expresses our basic intent; to show that people shouldn't be judged so quickly by circumstances that point to glaring flaws that, on further investigation, may or may not be true. Getting to know the true character of an individual -- who they are, not what they are -- results in a fairer method of judging their worth.

EM: Did any of you have plot ideas that just wouldn't go away?

L.J.: 'Tumbleweed Fever' was my first novel, so I wrote about where I live ÷ Oklahoma. I [wanted] to show the old west as being hard and not quite as glamorous as the "B" westerns. I also wanted to show the Native American aspect in all of this. My great-great grandmother was a Choctaw Indian and I grew up with all kinds of cool stories that my mother used to tell. I wanted to infuse a little of my own heritage into the story, and to show that before European man "civilized" the Choctaw, they did believe that all people were blessed. It wasn't until they went to our [European] schools and were taught they had to become like us to get along, that they took such staunch views against homosexuality.

[In truth], I envisioned this one romantic kiss in my head. The kind where the people involved lose all track of time and the world around them. Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I also wanted there to be rumbling thunder and a light rain, and it turned out to be a 4 page kiss! I simply wrote the rest of the story around that.

Wolfdragon: I love history and with 'Northern Peace and Perils', the objective was to teach a little about that era. I loved to read about the Civil War and the Wild West. I took the opportunity to teach a little about life in 1865 Quebec.

Redhawk: With 'Tiopa Ki Lakota', a fan of mine wrote and asked about it, noting a previous story's inspiration as 'The Last of the Mohicans' soundtrack. It was she who mentioned other bards using the western genre and putting uber-X as the mean, ol' outlaw to be feared and jeered. She [also] said that it would make far more sense to have her be Native American and it would flow so well. After tons of research on the Lakota lifestyle [and] incorporating their known history into the mix, I came up with a realistic timeline and story.

Barbara: [Hmm÷] When I was a child, circuses had animals and they were the primary reason I went. As an adult, I went to a circus without animals so my perception was very different. It was a very visceral thing ÷ seeing all these healthy, handsome, athletic men and women doing death-defying stunts with confidence bordering on arrogance. A troupe of very tanned Argentineans was the most impressive. They strutted around the ring like they were Greek gods/goddesses, and when they finished their stunts (drumming, whip cracking, juggling with bolas and flaming ropes) with loud shouts of Hola!, they struck poses and invited applause as though it was their right. Now this is as far from English sensibility as it is possible to get. Anyway, the exhilaration, the physicality, the strength, the confidence ÷ it reminded me very much of Xena, especially those moments when she laughs in battle! I suddenly realised that no one had used a circus setting, so I had to do research on circus life and jargon ÷ it was fun!

'Beneath the Surface' was sparked by a newspaper article ÷ an interview with Linda Greenlaw (the only female swordfishing captain] piqued by interest. I bought her book about a typical fishing trip (and another one the article mentioned: 'The Perfect Storm') and read it avidly. There was so much technical information it was a bit hard to digest and understand. Then I was faced with the problem of conveying it to the reader without getting bogged down in info-dumps. I decided to write this entirely from one POV (Cordie's), which meant seeing less of the Uber-G character than usual.

L.J.: I did want to write more than a romance and I wanted it to be somewhere exotic. When I started creating the characters [Meridio's Daughter], these two strong-willed women took shape in my head. I wrote a story where blood isn't always the thickest. When it comes to money, and we see it every day, a man will sacrifice his own child for his own selfish desires. Past memories come into play here too. We hear so much about them, true and false ones, and we don't ever really know what we're remembering is a dream or imagined, unless we get that confirmation from the other person in the memory.

EM: Do you see a pivotal point [scene] in your story that goes to the crux of the relationship between your characters?

Karen: In 'True Colours' there are two scenes that I think represent what we were aiming for in the friendship. The first is when Mare finds TJ on the floor in the kitchen and recognizes the fact that TJ needs her independence, but also need a helping hand. I think that scene sets the basis for the whole relationship; the need for support but not smothering.

The other scene is the one after Mare's fall from the horse back at the ranch. In that scene Mare tells TJ that she did all that she possibly could. I think in that scene that TJ finally realises that the fact she has no use of her legs doesn't mean that she can't protect the ones she loves ÷ that her disability changes who she was, but doesn't detract from who she is.

Wolfdragon: For Kris and Nicole [Daredevil series], I would have to say that it was two different scenes ÷ the first one being in 'Lost Paradise', when Kris left to keep any harm from coming to Nicole. The true meaning of love, to see the other person happy and healthy.

The second would be in 'Daredevil Hearts' ÷ where Nicole forgets the anger and pain she's been living with for the past twelve years and chooses to believe Kris [about] what happened to them [That's] hard to do when the event is only a couple of years old, but nearly impossible to do when it's been more than a decade ÷ a real leap of faith for her.

Redhawk: The pivotal point in 'Warlord Metal' is when we find Sonny and Jordan in the recording studio's conference room with their lawyers. It's here that uber-G's evil past is revealed, and the innocent uber-X has to deal with the horror her love has lived with every day for years.

'Tiopa Ki Lakota' isn't so easy. I don't think there is ONE. The characters (and the reader) go through such a roller coaster of emotion spanning several years. There are several points; Kathleen does realize her pregnancy won't banish her, Anpo mistakenly leaving her love behind, and their last kiss.

Penumbra: At this point I'd pick the end of 'The Kink's the Thing' where Ghis and Della are having dinner in New Haven.

"I got my three wishes," Ghis said succinctly, breaking the eye contact and smiling faintly, fiddling with the napkin. A thought occurred to her and she met the misty green eyes again, a bit warily. "That is, if you don't mind me intruding into your--"

Her speech was brought to a halt by two fingers that came to rest on her mouth, silencing her mid-sentence. Della hushed, letting her fingers trace the smooth, taut flesh of Ghis' lips.

"Shhh. Of course I don't mind. I want to be with you." The lips under her touch trembled and then curved into a hesitant smile before silently kissing the fingers.

No further words were needed.

That's the epitome of it ÷ no convoluted, heart-searching discussions, no analysing of the relationship -- it just is as it is. Simplicity above all else.

Nann: Looking at both books, two scenes stand out in my mind. The first intimate encounter between TJ and Mare, where TJ finds that Mare is not only accepting of her disabilities, but even eager to make love with her. And [in Many Roads to Travel] the [barn] fire, which makes them both more fully aware of the depths of their love and that life gives no guarantees that they will have each other forever.

Barbara: There are two points that are common to my first time ubers and which I got from the TV series. The first is where the Uber-G realises that uber-X is not as bad as she (or everyone else) thought.

The second is where Uber-G, unasked, decides to help uber-X with her problem. This act of love and generosity is the one which changes their relationship.

Maggie: I'm fond of the scene where Chris is drunk and Laura explains why she has to produce results. They pay her to, and it's as simple and complicated as that. She might have deep feelings for Chris, but at that point in time, all she is really capable of dealing with her, is on a work-related level.

L. J.: In 'Tumbleweed Fever', it's when Devlin decides to put on the shirt Sarah gives her, in the barn. From Devlin's point of view, she doesn't meet women who aren't afraid of her, and is being kind to her, [both] firsts. Mostly she can't explain why she is letting herself be ordered around by this small woman. From Sarah's eyes, there is only the emotional pull. It's unknown right now because she's not even aware she could have feelings like this for another woman. She wants to be kind, that's in her nature, but she won't beg or plead with the woman. She states her case and leaves the barn ÷ very no nonsense.

[As for] 'None So Blind', [it's] when Torrey calls and asks for Taylor's help after they've been apart for so many years. It shows that no matter what ÷ their friendship is more important than anything ÷ for both women, JT is more important than anything they might suffer. For Torrey, it means swallowing her fierce pride, admitting that she has a problem with her daughter, and suffering the possibility that the woman she loves could be in a relationship with someone ÷ humiliation and devastation. Taylor [in] saying yes and agreeing to help, means that others may learn of her secret, the love she's kept so well hidden for her best friend. There is no question [that] friendship and love take precedence over all else.

[Finally in] 'Meridio's Daughter', the scene where Tessa takes Casey to her old house in the hills with plans of a heartless seduction. She loses it when Casey admits her love, and shouts at the woman not to say that.

"Don't you understand Casey," Tessa said with utter defeat, "÷ women like you don't love women like me. I don't deserve to be loved, not at all and especially not by someone as good as you."

This is indicative of their whole relationship. A woman who has an incredible capacity for love and another who isn't even sure what it is, only that she isn't worthy of it.

The gist of all my stories is the characters. I try to create three-dimensional beings that the reader can care about. I want these people to become real to them by the end of their journey. If the reader feels sad or happy, or both, then I've done my job.

EM: First, let me thank you bards. I know I've been utterly fascinated by your comments. Second, I appreciate you taking the time to share your writing perspective with myself and your readers. I know that I've come away with some additional insight into not only the characters, but also the writing process. I do encourage readers to respond to the bards; as you can see, a lot of thought and effort go into their writing.

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