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Why we picked her:
We knew we had to grab Maygra for something. The only question was what. She lurks in a wide variety of fandoms, and has been writing Highlander since the show was still on the air, which makes her kind of an old-schooler these days. She's also a great writer, more successful than she'll admit and one of the best fandom debaters/bloggers I know. (Is "blogger" a word? Let's go with it.) She's been writing for as long as she can remember (her first novel, at 14, had "elves and unicorns and handsome princes and a poor little peasant girl who got a better lot in life -- and she had an attitude"). Her first fandom-related venture was a Space 1999 novella focusing on the Alan Carter/Paul Morrow friendship. In addition to Highlander, she's written TPM, Touched by an Angel (a HL crossover), Sentinel, anime, Vampire: the Masquerade and "Anne Rice prototype characters," as well as dabbling in Stargate and Rurouni Kenshin (anime). She reads even more fandoms. Her main site, Maygra's Musings, no longer requires a password, so go to it. She's also a co-conspirator of wordsmiths.net and most of her original stuff can be found here.
I know everyone hates this question, but how do you get inspired? What would you recommend for people who have trouble finding story ideas?
Emotions inspire me. Dominant or passive. What people use when and why. Heightened focus on personal interactions -- which television as a media in a 44 minute format gives us. Everything is crystallized, intense, must be brought to a head and resolved in one or two or three episodes, or at least sustained at a level that keeps the viewer interested over a span. Characters with only partially revealed pasts, which I think is why Highlander caught my attention...I mean this is what we would be if our lives were longer. I get inspired by the idea of people, of experiences being magnified and amplified. Even outside of fan fiction, I like that whole idea of being able to focus on one or two characters, on situations that aren't about getting the siding cleaned or the laundry done, or making the paycheck stretch to cover another emergency visit to the vet or the doctor. Give me something bigger than my own life and I'm happy. I don't actually want this much drama in my own life, but it helps to keep my own life in perspective. Inspiration, for me, is always about "What if..." even if it is my own life. "What if I actually won a million dollars in the lottery? What if I actually lived somewhere where I could walk to work? Would I find myself fascinated by the goings on in the shops and businesses I pass? Would I get interested in the boyfriend/girlfriend woes of my local barrista?" I never seem to have to look very hard for inspiration -- but motivation is another thing. All I have to do to *get* inspired is start playing, "What if..." and the rest seems to come naturally. What if an Immortal suddenly wasn't? I mean, the entire TPM fandom is practically based on the idea of "What if Qui-Gon hadn't died?" I also get inspired by twisting canon around as much as I can without breaking it. Pretty much the same way I treat the characters. Melodrama, ah, melodrama! I get inspired by other stories, by pictures (God love the graphic artists among fen!! Thou art wondrous fair!), by conversations, and always, always, by rewatching eps.
Music inspires me as well. Lyrics, melodies -- they tend to promote moods, present moods. Moods inspire me. Heh. Duncan's moodiness inspires me. Obi-Wan's too. Strong visuals have the same effect: sunsets, ocean fronts, abandoned old buildings that still have grace and style. I find I'm more inspired by darker emotions and moods than lighter ones --- but they don't necessarily inspire dark pieces.
For other folks, inspiration is such catch all for a lot of excuses, it seems. "My muse has left me!" Well, not if you haven't checked out of your own brain it hasn't. Watch the eps, if you can. Read fan fiction -- but read it looking for ideas, not escapism. Lurk on the discussion boards...and when all else fails, write anyway...Conversations over coffee, describe Methos' new apartment, take Daniel car shopping with Jack. Pull a first person POV from a minor character and describe your favorite BSO through their eyes. Write. Write more. Write anything and don't let yourself talk yourself out of it. Inspiration isn't a stagnant thing -- it's vibrant, moving, fleeting, and has no timetable.
When you're reading, are there any aspects that can make or break a fic for you? What impresses you and what turns you off?
I'm really not that discerning a reader. I mean, sure, there are
things that once I hit them, immediately make me click the back
button -- and sometimes they can change from day to day. There
are days when iffy characterizations don't bother me if the
*story* is good. Other days, the first non-sequiter out of
Daniel's mouth or some modern twist of phrase that Duncan
wouldn't be caught dead saying makes me run screeching for the
hills. I have a lot of kinks and anti-kinks. I squick at
domestic discipline and most (not all) smarm. I used to squick
at BDSM sceneing, but I'm getting over it
The other thing is gratuitous violence...which sounds truly weird when you consider how often and how much I use violence in my own work, and it's difficult to describe what I mean about gratuitous -- save that it is unmotivated, it's violence for the sake of violence, which as a writer and a human being I know can be cathartic. Brutality is a fact of life, and more often fiction, but if all you want to show me is the depths of brutality a character is capable of going to -- let it have some reason or rationale. On the other hand, give me a sadist who is a true sadist for the sake of it, and I'll buy that. Sometimes violence is it's own end and I can go there too -- but I have a problem, I think when people write violence for the sole purpose of showing how very dark their own darkness is, there's something there I don't necessarily want to see. (And I'll waffle here because it's a strictly subjective frame of reference.)
Then I'll waffle some more and state that I'm okay with people writing the things that squick me -- I'm just not reading them.
What impresses me is emotional content. There are an awful lot of excellent writers out there who tell a hell of a story, but in a lot of cases, the emotional content of the characters is lacking. Or the emotional content of the story -- hmmm. I need to empathize, on some level, and if I can't then I'm gone from the story, so give me an...inspiration...if you like, to hold onto, and I'll probably hold on long after the story is done. Turn a phrase just the right way to make my breath catch and I'll peel grapes for you.
Romantic love. Not cooey, gooey, aw, honey, baby, but that kind of deep abiding love that we all want. Okay, that I want. I adore idealized love, the kind that can't possibly really exist. Or only once in a century. That kind, without making it a fairy tale with sugary icing. That kind of love is painful and often comes to a bad end...and it's hard as hell to write and make it believable. (Seriously, if you didn't get sucked in by Romeo and Juliet, stupid as the rationale and circumstances were, you'll have no idea what I'm talking about.)
New directions impress me. Sucking me into a characterization that I wouldn't otherwise see and making me not only buy it, but *like* it, that's impressive. And rare. I'm not so set in my own ideas of characterization that I can't be swayed, but if you write a character and make me think I had it wrong all along, I'm impressed.
Brevity is impressive. I'm a wordy writer. I love words, I love painting visuals, but when I stumble on a writer who can make me see and feel using a whole lot fewer words than I would to achieve the same effect, I'm impressed.
I'm pretty easily impressed. But I swear, for every ten stories posted, I'm lucky if I find one that really rocks my world. Most of the rest are enjoyable, well crafted, good stories...but I don't hoard them on my hard drive or crack open the printer for them.
What do you struggle with when you sit down to write, and how do you overcome it?
Apathy. And I'm not sure I do. I tend to think that's why I have more WIP's than finished works. I bore easily. I have a narrow range of interest -- I tend to start something and get to the point where it's really not going anywhere and I go find something else to do. Like reread stuff I like. Overcoming it is the same prescription as finding inspiration. I write. I start something entirely new. I write the same scene from three different POV's. I have a nasty habit or reworking the same story -- or rather the same set of circumstances and emotional content -- in different ways. I think that's the appeal of first time stories for a lot of people -- not so much the first time, but how they got there and what happens after. I like taking a story and pushing it three steps to the left or right and doing it again -- kind of like tuning a guitar. Somewhere between the first notes and the last ones is the true pitch of an idea. I rarely get bored with that concept -- but the readers might.
Do you ever get "blocked?" How do you deal with it? Any idea what causes it?
Erg. I have this thing -- I don't believe in writer's block although I know dozens of people who suffer from it. I do believe in story block -- I think an idea can get stale before it's finished, or turn sour and sometimes it's best just to tank it --- or at least step away from it. Move onto something else. Writers write. If there's a block, a stoppage, usually I find that it's because of something that has nothing to do with the actual discipline of getting words on paper. I think there would be less occurrence of it if writer's admit they get bored with their ideas and need another one. If you aren't writing fiction, then write a journal, write an essay, write a really long involved email. Writing, or being a writer isn't necessarily bout writing fiction or non-fiction or whatever -- it's about putting thoughts on paper (or pixels on a screen). Your interests can change before you finish something and suddenly what you are working on comes to a dead stop.
So, maybe I should be talking about myself. I have never not been able to write *something*. It may be crap, I may not want to write and know I should be but to say I'm blocked seems to be...well, a crock of doo-doo. I'm bored, I'm distracted, I'm tired, I'm mad at my fandom or someone, or my checkbook is scaring me and maybe I should be looking for a second job.
What I'm doing here, is writing. If I post to a list, I'm writing. I'm just not writing a story...that's not a block, it's a different way to say, "I don't want to do that right now", or maybe ever again. When I run out of things to say, I might be willing to call it writer's block.
And getting over it...no less than a page a day. It can be a page of I don't want to write, I don't want to write...until, usually, the reason why comes out instead of the story. That can be pretty revealing of whatever the real problem is.
What are some common mistakes that you see new writers make in your fandom?
Listening to anyone -- and sometimes everyone -- who pays them attention. You have to have an ego of steel not to be swayed. Relying too much on other people's opinions. My primary fandom is, by and large, full of incredibly opinionated people, who tend to be older than your average fan, or so it seems. And it's polarized along a dozen fronts depending on what part of the fandom you are identifying with. Duncansluts, Methos babes, Richie flag wavers, Connor Crusaders, Cassandra Champions, Ramirez's Raiders: we've got more niches than Westminster Abbey.
I do think that a fairly common mistake some new writers make, especially in the slash pairing dominated by Duncan/Methos, is not bothering to see the episodes prior to Methos' arrival. You have to understand the Highlander to get into the rest of it because otherwise, Duncan does come out as he gets stereotyped: Judgemental, rigid, or an idiot. He is none of those things all the time, and no more often than most of us. And seriously, where is the appeal to Methos if Duncan isn't a whole person? Duncan is 400 years old -- not 40. Give the man some credit for remaining a decent human being. The same is true of the reverse. Duncan is basically a decent, intelligent, compassionate, passionate man. He respects both strength and vulnerability but pushing Methos too far toward one or the other seems to be less about what makes them click together, that what about one or the other clicks for the writer.
It's poor characterization that I see most commonly. HL fans get myopic, I think. They see their favorite character and every other character suffers in comparison. The show is called Highlander for a reason. (Which isn't to say there aren't wonderful stories that exclude him entirely -- I'm just not reading them.) I do think that those writers who are only interested in the D/M pairing can get it right if they do recall that there is a reason these two men are attracted to each other both textually and sub-textually.
There is a very good book called "Audition" whose author escapes me at the moment -- and it's about acting but there's a lesson there for writers too. In it, he posits that you have to find the love in a character. Even a totally vicious psychopath has it. Finding the love isn't the same as needing to love the character. It means finding what they love, what they want, understand that much and you've got it. Or at least you have a better shot at convincing me that's what they want.
How do you select what to read and what to feedback? Do you mainly read stories written by your friends or do you branch out a bit?
I at least glance at everything that comes into my inbox. When I go link hopping I skim a lot. I rely heavily on recs and, yes, the works of my friends. But I read in fandoms I've never heard of before because a writer I like writes there. Or just recommends something there.
I used to be so much better at feedback. Now, most things I would have LOC'd, I rec instead. I tell a dozen people. Sometimes I write to an author but I'm wary of anything but praise unless I know the writer really well, which isn't actually as cowardly as it seems. The truth is, if I find myself critiquing a story in my head -- I usually stop reading. I approach fiction differently if I'm reading than when I'm writing. I want to be sucked in. If I am, chances are I'm not going to notice the bad stuff.
When I write feedback, it's usually because my world got rocked. (See impressed, above.) I like hack writing. Hack as in people who can turn out consistently good stories. Even in real life I tend to read the same books over and over. I wear out hardbacks. So, if you slay me with your fiction, chances are I will send you the mortuary bill along with hearty thanks. If you write me and ask me what I thought -- I will tell you. Honestly. So, don't ask unless you are ready for the good and the bad.
I should write more feedback. I really should.
What common mistakes do you see in your fandom in terms of characterization?
Back to the new writer section -- except it isn't just new writers. Duncan is not a cardboard cut-out with HERO stamped on it. Methos is not all knowing, responsibility shirking, or a saint. Joe Dawson is not a drone. Amanda is not a --- well, okay she is a bit of a slut and totally comfortable using feminine wiles and sexy as shit -- but she has a brain and a heart too. Richie isn't a twit *all* the time because Duncan wouldn't put up with him if he were and he is not sex in Nike's. He is a new Immortal (or was) with the hormones and life experience of a typical 19-20 year old. There's six seasons of development there. Between the principals and guests, thousands of years of experience...you can take aspects of each and explore in a focused attempt to isolate but don't forget who and what you're dealing with. I mean, really, they are *aliens*.
What advice would you give someone who is just entering the fandom?
Realize that the show is over, some people in the fandom have been with it since the first movie and they all have opinions. There's attitude attached to all of that and you have to be able to cut through the faction crap to get back to the idea that they are all in it because they love the characters and concepts *passionately*. Some people think of HL as unfriendly, but I've never found them to be -- just opinionated.
How would you summarize the state of writing in your fandom? Are you generally impressed with the fic you see, or does it make you want to bang your head against the wall?
There are some seriously good writers in HL, even now. There isn't as much coming down the pike where I play and I tend to stay away from the gen/het side of it for anything other than reading. To summarize it all, I'd say, HL writers are good, possibly even a cut above other fandoms I read in, in that they really do, for the most part, snag at least enough of the characterizations I saw on screen to make the characters distinctive and recognizable. The slash side runs about 50/50 I'd say, which amazes me at times, but then again, I probably only catch about a tenth of what is being written. I do think the fandom peaked a year or so ago for the truly prolific outpouring of excellent stories. It comes slower but I'd swear the quality hasn't really gone down much and we still seem to be attracting good writers, which is cool.
Did I mention the rose-colored glasses I wear?
Any other pet peeves/advice/general thoughts?
Ooh, temptation appears given where this tome is supposed to be posted -- I could lose my get into CABS free pass. (G)
Writing and good writing are two different animals. Knowing your audience is crucial to both. If you are writing for yourself, and I, by and large, do, then write what you want, how you want and post at your own risk, knowing people are going to be tripping over the land mines you may set intentionally or unintentionally. If however, you want the approval of your peers, of your genre of choice be it mass market publication or fan fiction accolades, then you damn well better check your market first. If *you* are your market, and you post because you know that there are people who share your view (mostly because you see them writing what you want to read -- always a good indicator) then gird up and get your own house in order. Cries of big ole meanies are as untrue as they are cliched. But if you are going to post to lists or groups that you know have standards and you aren't willing to put in the effort to meet those standards...well, big ole meanies still won't cut it.
I know writer insecurity is a vocational hazard. It can be paralyzing and frightening and induce panic attacks. Posting does one thing -- it throws your work, your vision, out there for anyone to read that has access and some of them may not like it. Some may. You need to get that settled in your head before you post -- not work it out afterward.
I'm not a student of human psychology, or of social interaction, and fan fiction is apparently a fascinating study of both. Perspective is everything -- and I'm not talking about character perspective. What people think of your work is only as important as you let it be. They can't drive you from fandom, they can't make you feel inadequate, they aren't the arbiters of your feelings. Those belong to you. Feedback is feedback -- it has no inherent value -- you assign that. I assign that. I honestly believe that.
Fandom is only as stimulating or aggravating as you let it be. Personally, the former is what I want, the latter is what makes me sit back and work on that perspective thing again. It all matters terribly, but at the same time -- it matters not at all. On a personal level, the only thing that matters is what you give to it and what you get back. If what you get back isn't working, then move on. Take a break. The fandoms will be here when you get your sense of perspective back, find joy. Learn. Grow. Fandom ain't new. It ain't going nowhere. But you should be...always.
Sheesh. I think that was a rant.