Don't Mess With Mother Nature

While the fan-fiction Xenaverse is predominantly inhabited by females, there are males who have taken up the challenge of writing about not only the classic Xena and Gabrielle characters, but also have even ventured into extrapolating them into uber characterizations. There works are not limited to strictly action/adventure; instead they willing tackle romance and emotional/spiritual issues and quite successfully. Naturally the question arises; do gender differences impact the writing? And even more importantly, should they? Some writers have taken androgynous pen names and others are willing to openly announce their gender. Regardless of their choice, they add another perspective to two dynamic characters that have caught the imagination of many novice writers. Join our participants and me in exploring their thoughts on writing in general and on writing about beloved female characters.

Joining us today are:

Richard Kloosterboer [Mother of Peace, Conflict of Interest, Ascension, No Place Like Home, Xena in Time Warp, Walking On, Awakening ]

Mark Annetts  [Gabrielle & Xena (Deceased), The Coward, Sea Moon, A Good Day to Die, A Bad Dinar, Family, Warrior...Conqueror...Queen...Bard, You're A Wonderful Wife ]

Bracer [As Long As the Earth Endures, Two Souls, One Nation, Straight Through the Heart]

Alan Plessinger [Kindred Scrolls, The Widow Aphrodite, Truly Tragic Ending, I Can't Go On Like This, Najara Again, Why Do You Submit?, Pain, After the Crucifixion, How Gabrielle Survived, Only Today Remains, Thoughts By A Lonely Campfire, Before the Sacrifice... etc.]

* Stories in Progress

EM: What kind of style do you use for your stories [i.e. drama, action/adventure, romance, light comedy] and why?

Bracer: Um, sort of all of the above. Obviously, what first attracted me to the series was the mix of action, adventure, and comedy, so I tend to emulate that... although I admit I prefer a more dry, witty brand of comedy than the broad slapstick the series often fell into.

I'm really a shameless romantic at heart though, which was what attracted me to Xena fan fiction. I'd read a number of gay & lesbian novels before. While many of them were well written and entertaining, generally speaking most 'mainstream' G&L books tend to also have various political axes to grind that, being straight, I don't really connect with and find just get in the way of telling a good story. Xena [fan] fiction authors, on the other hand, usually care about the story and characters first, and the fact it's two women who are falling in love is for the most part incidental. I find that very appealing.

[Grins] Whoa, kinda got off topic there huh? To be a bit more straightforward, I usually concentrate on drama, with lots of action and romance, spiced with as many laughs as I can manage and are appropriate.

Mark: I guess I started out with plain old action/adventure. The first story I wrote was several years ago, Glad To See Me, and looking back it's not only pretty bad, but it's obvious I didn't really have a clue about the true nature of X&G's connection. It was written way before I picked up on the whole subtext thing.

I didn't write another story for over a year, when up popped a fairly angst ridden story with true love between the gals called A Good Day To Die, based on the 4th season [episode] 'A Good Day'. Though also written some time ago now, I think it still holds up pretty well today.

Alan: [For me], romance, first and always. It is the impossible, infuriating love that can do anything, transcend any limits, overcome any odds and be more powerful than any god, any thing, any being, more powerful even than death itself. The timeless love beyond all understanding, the love that can bring meaning to life, can call a woman back from beyond the grave, can give strength to tenderness and tenderness to strength, this love so inexplicable but so necessary to complete two souls together into one eternal and defiant union. It is and will always be a romance. The love, the relationship is what affects you and touches you and makes you cry. My favorite email responses have always been readers I've made cry, especially since I get a little weepy myself writing some of these tales.

Richard: My style tends to jump a lot within a story. It usually tends to be dramatic/action/adventure/romance and something extra all rolled into one. All my stories are like that. Tragedies are the difficult ones it means you have to literally kill one of the lead characters. In one of my stories I killed off all three main characters in one go and that was only 'part 2' of a sequel. The fun part was getting them back, but that depends on the plot setting. I fell into the trap of telling the same story five different ways it is possible.

Mark: Lately, I seem to have slipped in quite a bit of comedy into my stories. Not that they're comedies, as such, more the repartee between the two leading ladies, be that X&G or an uber pair, which adds the humour. Though, having said that, my Gabrielle and Xena (deceased) did have a fair bit of situation comedy in it. I deliberately set out to lighten the mood a little, post FIN [Friends in Need TV episode]

Basically they're still action/adventures I guess, but there's probably now a more overt romantic element than before. My last one, Sea Moon is set in the future and I tried hard to make it seem that same sex couples weren't even given a second thought by the rest of the population in that setting. Hopefully that is what the future will bring us.

I think it's now pretty well accepted, especially after Lucy's comments particularly, that X&G were an item, so I write with that as a given these days. And the same for any ubers I write, too. Though, I have to say; I have deliberately steered away from anything sexually graphic in my stories. It's not that I'm a prude about such things, it's more I don't see the need for it in my stories. If I wanted to write a sex story I wouldn't feel the need to put X&G into it.

EM: Okay that leads me into another question. What viewpoint as a male can you bring to a Xenaverse story and does it matter?

Mark: Hmmm, as it's one of those great imponderables, it's almost impossible to answer that question, I think. I can only relate it to how I feel and see the world. As I very much doubt I could actually tell you exactly what it's like to be another male, let alone female, then all I can do is tell it how I see it. If others can relate to that, and get something from what I'm saying, then so much the better.

Do I think I could write a convincing first person narrative from a female protagonist's point of view? Probably. Though I guess there would always be those that, simply because I don't hide my gender behind an androgynous pseudonym, would say I wasn't being authentic in some fashion. What can I say? I think it more than possible to fool most of the people, most of the time.

Alan: I don't think males can bring anything extra to Xena [fan fiction]. At least, I've not seen any evidence of it. Most of my favorite bards have been female. If anything, we lack certain things, like the anatomical knowledge. Although that's fine with me, because I tend to not concentrate on sex, not because I'm a prude but because it's not my main interest.

I think it always helps a [fan fiction] writer to be head over heels in love with the yummy Gabrielle, and maybe a hetero male has an advantage. Although DJWP has always been my favorite, and some of her loving and adorable descriptions of Gabrielle in "A Bard Day's Night" have just made me melt.

Bracer: In my experience, I don't think it matters at all. Here's the thing, I initially chose the pseudonym 'Bracer' because it was vaguely Xena related, was kinda catchy, and I admit, since it started with a 'B' it would land near the top of any alphabetical listing of authors [chuckles]. I wrote a couple of stories, doing them exactly the way I wanted to, just listening to the characters and setting things down the way it made sense to me, and posted them.

It wasn't until I started getting feedback that it dawned on me how androgynous 'Bracer' was -- most of the people who wrote to me just assumed I was a woman! I hadn't intended to 'write like a girl' ... I swear! but for a while I thought I must have without meaning to. However, having been surprised myself after meeting Rooks, who's also a guy, I decided that's probably pretty common -- if you're a good writer, and actually listen to what the characters are telling you, everything will follow from that. In fact, and other bards may disagree, I'm not even sure it would work if I actively tried to bring a 'male viewpoint' to a Xena story; the Xenaverse, both the show and fan fiction, is pretty female centered and I like it that way! [laughs]

Richard: As a male I have no viewpoint. The Xenaverse is predominantly female so you have to have oodles of respect for women and above all listen to what they want and what they like. Most of the women I've talked to online are happily partnered with their husbands and wives respectively.

Because of the common perception of X&G one can explore the characters in depth. It is still a matter of preference and opinions spread far and wide. That women like my stories I'm flattered and... surprised... puzzled.

Alan: One thing I've noticed; despite having a female hero, the show is willing to look past the men bad/women good dichotomy, maybe because most of the [TV] writers are men. Some female [fan fiction] writers are still clinging to that stereotype. I remember one what-if story that featured Perdicus married to Gabrielle, and Perdicus was a wife-beater. That made me mad, because there was nothing from his brief time on the show to indicate that he might turn out that way. The implication was that every male is a potential wife-beater. I hope that I'm inspired by the example of Gabrielle and her beautiful soul to look beyond stereotypes, and not be guided by prejudice or revenge fantasies.

Mark: I think ultimately it comes down to how good a writer you are; how good at capturing the reader's imagination that really counts, rather than first hand experience and knowledge. After all, I've never been to Jupiter, but I didn't find particularly difficult to write about.

Which, I suppose, is a rather long-winded way of saying, no, I don't think a male or female perspective really matters in writing an interesting story. Just do your research and get on with it, I reckon.

EM: What kind of characteristics [male/female] do you see in your characters and how do they compare with the TV X&G?

Alan: I'm not going to fall into the trap of considering any particular good or bad characteristics to be strictly male or female. I find that most [fan fiction] writers have a different view of Gabrielle from the version on the TV show. I think that Gabby inspired them as she was originally presented in Season One, but they imagined her developing in a more positive way than she's developed on the show. In other words, they don't make her a screw-up. That's certainly true of me. I hate the way she's always shown screwing up on the show.

Lot of [fan fiction] writers can't even bring themselves to let Xena actually have to rescue Gabrielle. I have no problem with a rescue, because it's what Xena does, and Gabrielle doesn't really have to do anything physical in order to be a great character. I go back to A Bard Day's Night, in which Gabrielle does hardly anything physical, yet she's pretty much the star of the show, doing things so cute and lovable you can't help but imagine ROC performing as you read.

And Gabrielle will always be adorable in my [fan fictions]. She's the reason I started watching the show, and she's the reason I started writing [fan fiction]. Also, I always try to keep Xena's hard edge. Many [fan fictions] have her as just a big softy, but I believe you have to keep the hard edge always there, and her softer side is hidden deep within her and can only be brought out by Gabrielle. She can only trust Gabrielle with that side of her, because she can trust that Gabrielle won't try to take advantage, or mock her, or see her tenderness as a weakness.

Bracer: Actually that was one of the difficult things for me to deal with. I realized a few chapters into ALAEE that I was basically writing Xena as 'the man', especially in X&G's relationship, and that this was a seriously wrong way to go about it.

Remember what I said about listening to the characters? Well, that took me a while to get the hang of... I think I spent about a month to going back and revising things. [smiles] To me, one of the amazing things about the show was that, both in the writing and, especially, in Lucy's performance, although Xena is obviously very tough and every inch a warrior, she's also very much a woman at the same time. Again, other bards may feel differently, but I find it's a damn difficult line to walk, all the more so because you very much want to avoid giving Xena stereotypically 'feminine' behaviors and traits. [Mutters to self] "she's not a shoe hog, y'know?"

Richard: [I feel that] Lucy tried to portray Xena as a tomboy and pretended to be like a man. I believe I could use the same technique in writing but in reverse. There is not much difference between writing and acting with both you pretend to be that character you to act out the personification of that character, because that character cannot be yourself. So you need to know yourself first and compare yourself to the character you want to portray. That's one small step.

For 6 years and in some countries there were a few breaks we've enjoyed watching a ton of emotions expressed in the most extraordinary circumstances. Lucy and Renee showed us the faces. We the writers have to describe the facial expressions and the soul in the eyes. A situation leads up to a consequence... whatever that consequence is depends on if you want your character to survive... or not!

Mark: Well, it's pretty obvious that Xena especially was conceived as having some traits more conventionally related to males. The ability to fight and win through sheer brute force when required, for example. I wanted my Xenas and ubers to be blessed with remarkable skills, but not necessarily have them due to any possible Olympian blood running through their veins.

I think in creative writing [that] you are at liberty to stretch reality and truth a little bit to make things interesting. I've always liked strong female action heroes, be they Sarah Connor from T2, or even Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. So Xena is tailor-made for stories that interest me. Probably why I liked X:WP the show much more than Hercules:TLJ in the first place.

I also love that she's a deeply flawed individual, but that she's trying to redeem herself. Not sure I've managed to get that element yet.

Gabs is a fascinating character. A woman on a path, taking her from domestic compliance to full-blooded warriorhood, with the heart of a poet and the courage of a lioness. I'm not sure I've ever managed to catch that aspect in my stories, either, sad to say.

Bracer: Fortunately, the show has also established that as tough as Xena is on the outside, she can also be rather emotionally vulnerable on the inside, and while emotional vulnerability is not an exclusively feminine trait, it is an in to her 'softer side', for want of a better term. In fact, when I got around to One Nation... another story I started but quickly ran out of steam while writing -- sorry [grins sheepishly], I quite deliberately allowed her to be a lot freer with her emotions -- around Gabrielle anyway. I think I give Xena a lot more doubts and fears than she usually did on the show, but for the most part these are also internal struggles, which are difficult to get across in a purely visual medium, especially given the action oriented nature of the series. In prose however, these are your meat and potatoes... or, being a vegetarian, my lentils and rice [grins].

With Gabrielle, I usually try to make her a lot more consistent and self-possessed than she was for most of the series -- episodes like [the episode] 'King of Assassins' really ticked me off. But really, I don't think of that specifically in terms of gender. To me, that's just who Gabrielle is. I actually find it much easier to write Gabrielle -- I just sort of 'get' her, if you know what I mean.

EM: Do you find it difficult to write romance for female pairs?

Richard: Not at all one is always dominant and the other always has to surrender. With the Lesbians it can change around just as easily as with male/female relationships. The romance depends on how far you want the main-text to go; I usually draw the line at hardcore main... not my style. Mine is sub-text skimming the surface. The 'touchy-feely' bits are there... but largely superficial. My characters have moments of tenderness but it always gets interrupted.

Mark: I just think of them as a couple and don't think about their gender if I can avoid it, depending on the dictates of the story. As I said before, I don't tend to stray too far into their personal sexual lives anyway. It feels like I'm invading their privacy.

Not that I'm saying others shouldn't write what they please. It's just that for me, it's not an aspect of their lives I'm terribly interested in. So much so, that I skip past those parts when I'm reading other people's stories.

Bracer: I find it's much easier writing a romance between two women than I do for a heterosexual couple. I don't know why, exactly, but I think it's mostly to do with how relatively unique such couples are in fiction. I mean, male/female couples are a dime a dozen, in any medium you'd care to name, and it's difficult to find a new/interesting/different approach to take -- it's been done, y'know?

Also, most of the lesbian couples I've known in real life, and I know quite a few of them, just kind of give off this quietly romantic vibe that I find very appealing and well worth exploring. Granted, I kind of have to do that from the outside looking in. But frankly, I'm so in touch with my own feminine side that sometimes I have to spend an entire day watching football and downloading porn just to remind myself that I am, in fact, a guy... and I hate football [chuckles].

It would, I'm sure, be much more difficult for me to write a lesbian romance set in the present day. Being straight and male I have no direct experience with issues like coming out, dealing with homophobia, or fending off unwanted attention from men (either the "you just need a real man" type or the "Uh, can I join in?" type, take your pick). I know I'd feel a little awkward even trying to touch on such things -- I just don't feel that I've earned the right to, if you know what I mean. Fortunately though, in a Xena story those sorts of things don't have to come up unless you deliberately want them to, so I get a free pass and can just get to the romantic part.

Alan: [To me] Xena and Gabrielle are two such different women. That is the inspirational part of their relationship, the fact that they're so different and they're able to bring out the best in each other. Xena is able to inspire courage in Gabrielle, and Gabrielle is able to bring out the tenderness in Xena.

I found it more difficult to deal with the events at the beginning of [the episode] 'The Bitter Suite'. Can you imagine a movie trying to create sympathy for a male wife-beater? Gabrielle is an amazing woman, to be able to forgive Xena for what she did. I find it difficult to accept, but I guess if you travel in the company of a wild animal, you have to expect it to attack sometimes.

And I still can't believe that there are fans who think Gabrielle deserved it. I think Xena blamed her for something, which wasn't her fault. And even if it was Gabrielle's fault, Xena has done a lot that she needs to be forgiven for, and how can you be forgiven if you don't know how to forgive?

I often bring up the Gabdrag in [fan fictions], since they've almost never mentioned it on the show. I wrote a [fan fiction] called Pain, with the following passage:

"I want to feel the pain, Gabrielle. It keeps me angry. It makes me strong. I want to keep it with me as a reminder of how much I hate the woman I was."

"I wish you could love the woman you are now, Xena. At least as much as I do."

"Maybe I will, if I can ever figure out how you can love a rotten person like me."

She trembled as she said it. She meant what she was saying, and it killed me to hear the agony and the self-loathing in her voice. I could nearly hear tears. Maybe she did need the pain to make her strong and keep her going, but not this much. No one as good as her deserved to feel this way. No one.

"Tell me one rotten thing you've done in the past week. Tell me one thing you've done that hasn't made me fall in love with you all over again. You can't, can you?"

"I let Talmadeus live."

"Yes, you did. Just like Hercules let you live, and I thank the gods for it every day. And maybe one day there will be a young woman who's very glad you let Talmadeus live, a woman who will help him live a good life."

"Do you really believe that?"

"No. But all sorts of things have happened that I never believed would come true. I met a warrior, once. A most amazing woman who had many skills, a woman who thought she didn't need anyone, not a sidekick, not even a friend. But she let me travel with her and be a part of her life, and she trusted me and let me see sides of her that no one else was allowed to see. She taught me and she shared her courage with me, until I was doing things that were so brave I amazed myself, and it was all due to her. She let me into her heart. And I've never left."

Xena moved her lips close to my ear, and she whispered.

"I tried to kill a woman, once. I blamed her for something that was none of her fault. I dragged her to the edge of a cliff and tried to throw her off. And she forgave me, and she stayed with me because she knew that I loved her and I'd be lost without her. She was willing to sacrifice her own life to keep me alive. I know you can't believe that anyone could be so amazing, so brave and loving and forgiving, but it's true. No one could learn to be like that. It comes from the soul, and her beautiful, forgiving soul is an example I try to live up to every day of my life. I love her so much, and I will never, ever hurt her again. I'd kill myself first."

I pulled away from her. I sat up and looked at her.

I appreciated what she said to me, and I wanted to show it. I smiled at her. I opened my heart and I let all the love I had pour out of me in that smile. I loved her so much, and I would've given the world just to see her smile back.

But she couldn't smile. She looked away. The pain was still there, sitting heavily on her heart. But the frightened, tortured look was beginning to leave her eyes. She was feeling better.

EM: Wow ... you guys have been great. I want to thank you for taking on a difficult subject with such honesty and insight. I hope the readers have come to appreciate the diversity of writing that can be found in the Xenaverse and take the time to let some of these gentlemen know that their efforts are appreciated.