The summer before “Serenity” came out, I starting to work on a book about fandom. I wanted to try and explain to all those people who mock conventions and online forums and geeks and freaks exactly what being a part of a fan community is all about. I did some interviews with various Browncoat movers and shakers but ultimately I let it go because, being pleasantly antisocial both on- and offline, I was the wrong person to write it.
Which is good because Allyson Beatrice’s book would have blown mine away. She’s the perfect person to write it because she doesn’t try to analyze the socioeconomic impact of talent-consumer interaction or the changing trends in the networks’ use of end-user-friendly viral marketing. She just wrote a book about herself and her friends.
It’s called “Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby?” and if you’ve ever made a friend online you will not be able to read this book without smiling. Allyson is not just a fan, she’s a fan who can mobilize other fans. She started the Posting Board Parties for Angel, led the postcard campaign and wrote the famous Variety ad for “Firefly,” and offered support for countless numbers of people she never actually met. And in 17 essays she captures the feel, the love, the responsibilities and affections and fun and manic behavior and cheerful obsession of fandom. She talks about organizing cons, mail-in campaigns, parties, and last-minute weddings. You’ll find out how to handle trolls, deal with sock puppets, and argue with uppity showrunners. You’ll see the transcript of the night a group of people on a forum abruptly decided to raise money to bring a much-loved, never-met friend over from Israel and the speed with which the thought became the deed will look awfully familiar. You’ll laugh and get sniffly and most of all, you’ll recognize the people she’s talking about because you are the people she’s talking about. Sometimes literally, especially if you’ve ever hung around The Bronze or Whedonesque…
Q: You wrote a freaking book! How cool is that?
I’m having a hard time letting it sink in. I’ve always had this romantic view of writers, all smart and mysterious behind their typewriters. And then an idiot like me gets published. Standards have gone down the toilet, obviously.
I’m so pathetic that I went to Barnes & Noble the day after they shelved it so I could stare at the endcap display and try to burn it into my brain, just in case I never sell another book. I was on the same display with Woody Allen, Gabe Kaplan, and The Big Book of Jewish Humor. I’m on the Jewcap. My people are a funny people, apparently.
Q: So, why get so obsessed over a TV show, anyway?
People like to get lost in a good story, they always have. There’s a sort of ying and yang element to good storytelling of both escapism from one’s own life, and engaging in another life, even if it’s a fictional one. It’s the same with film, books, any medium of storytelling. Television shows are mostly serialized, so you’re getting a story in chapters, over a long period of time. There’s the anticipation of waiting for the next chapter that I think makes it appear more obsessive. It’s just like people waiting for the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings movie. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. The anticipation leads to speculation, and speculation leads to obsessing. The medium itself is prone to obsession.
Television gets a bad rap for some odd reason I don’t understand. Whether I’m reading a book, watching a film, or watching television, I’m still making the same assgroove on my couch and experiencing a story in the same way.
Q: Why do you think people get looked down upon for being an active fan of a TV show and not, as you noted, for being an active fan of a sports team?
In the book, I’m specifically discussing scifi television, and not, say, “Rescue Me” or “Friday Night Lights” or even “Dexter.” Those shows also feature lots of people talking and having feelings and such, but they take place in the “real” world. And I think that’s where the disconnect is. Like there’s something wrong with being able to suspend so much disbelief as to get all torn up by a story about a morose vampire. There’s a different level of imagination going on. That said, I’m an active fan of the Red Sox, and going to a game brings the same sort of emotions. Every game is a story, with drama, suspense, heartache, and joy. Sports writers are more eloquent on this matter than I. I didn’t really answer your question, but I used lots of words so that should count for something.
Q: Reading the book, I get the feeling that you could have gone on for eight or nine more books. How did you decide which stories to put in?
Well, there are lots more stories, but some are more private anecdotes that I just like to keep for myself. Some stories would hurt people’s feelings, and I’m not out to do that. With this book, my main concern was explaining one of the actual positive uses of the Internet; enabling relationships to bloom between people who wouldn’t otherwise know each other, because geography isn’t a factor. I pulled together the stories I felt would strike that particular chord.
Then some things are just anecdotes. Right around the time “Serenity” was released, I was in the grocery store and I overheard a group of fans by the dairy case talking about the series. They walked past me and one guy was passionately defending his theory by throwing down about something Tim Minear said on the DVD commentary. I called Tim and said, “Dude, some guy in front of the Oscar Meyer lunch meat is PISSED at you.”
It’s a cute anecdote, but it’s not really a whole essay, and there wasn’t anywhere I could hammer it in without it reading awkward.
Q: I remember reading the “Firefly” essay a few years back. Initially you didn’t like the show, but you praised some of the later episodes. Now that we’ve seen all the shows and the movie, have you changed your opinion of the early episodes?
No. I’m not a big fan of “Firefly,” and “Serenity” made my eyes roll out of my head and down the theatre steps. I liked “Out of Gas,” “Objects in Space,” and “War Stories.” I know, it’s some kind of blasphemy to say that in some quarters. I didn’t love the show, but I loved the people who made the show. When it was dying, I wanted to save it because Tim loved it so much, and I focused on its good qualities. I think of it as Tim’s ugly child. I felt bad for the poor noodle and wished it a happy life, but I just couldn’t look at it for very long.
Q: Has online fandom changed any since you’ve been here?
It’s bigger, of course, so it makes it seem crazier. There’s always been a crazy contingency, but as computers and internet connections got cheaper and more common, a lot more crazy people had access to let their crazy hang out for all to see. The existence of Fandom_Wank, the community that exists to celebrate the craziest of crazy fans didn’t exist back then, so we thought our drama was all VERY SERIOUS and not wank at all. When I read through their threads, I’m laughing just as hard at my own fannish behavior. I remember behaving like an ass. I still do. Fandom hasn’t changed since paper ‘zines. It’s just gone global.
Q: Most new shows work hard to try and generate fan buzz, with varying degrees of success. Do you think targeted cult status is effective, or is that something that just happens?
Targeted cult status doesn’t work for the same reason that little kids run screaming from clowns and large adults in Winnie the Pooh or Santa Claus costumes. It’s obviously phony, and more than a little creepy. Cult status is achieved through authenticity. Trying to force people to sit on your crappy show’s lap for a Polaroid usually ends in tears and piss-soaked pants. If I knew how cult status could be synthesized and bottled, I’d be a rich woman.
Q: Has last year’s Flanvention II meltdown (which later became the fan-salvaged Browncoat Backup Bash) had any effect on how fan events are handled?
I’m unsure. I only know how I handle events. I’ve thrown some great ones and some stinkers. But I’m very egalitarian about fan parties. They should be affordable. I don’t pay actors to attend. I like fans to feel like they’ve stumbled in on a wrap party, and that the show is part of the process, it should feel like an honor for both the fans and the cast and crew. Plus I feel like it’s a bizarre thing to have to pay to shake someone’s hand and tell them I love their work. One thing that didn’t make it into the book was that when we threw the LOST party a few years back, JJ Abrams and Brian Burk refused to let us pay for the bar. We had underestimated it, and it was going to come out of our pockets. While we were chewing our nails about our future credit card bills, word traveled and I heard JJ’s wife say, “No, they’re not. JJ will pay it.” And he and Brian Burk argued over who got the honor of the bar bill. Meanwhile, Greg Grunberg was borrowing a fan’s cell phone to call the fan’s mom and say hello. That’s as it should be. A partnership of sorts. It’s that authenticity I was talking about earlier. I have a distaste for the con/party combo. Pick one idea and do it well. Don’t spend more than you can afford to lose. I hope that’s the lesson that comes out of it for any future planners.
Q: What shows are you watching now?
I’m anxiously waiting for Dexter’s return. That’s about it. My neighbors and I just fixed up the garden in back of our building, so I do a lot of my writing outside, where there’s no television. Randomly, I wish someone would make a series out of Max Brook’s “World War Z.” Do you know anyone who could get on that? Zombies never get a series. It’s so unfair.
Q: How many distinct fandoms are you actively participating in these days?
I’m not really active in any current fandom. I read Warren Ellis’ chunk of the Internet a lot, but I don’t really actively participate. I think I’ll be tethered to the BtVS/Angel fandoms for the rest of my life, but I’m okay with that. We don’t talk about the shows much anymore, but the board I participate in daily started out as a Buffy thread at Salon.com. It’s more like something we shared in common, once. The conversations evolved into who we are rather than what we watch.
Q: You’ve visited the sets of “Firefly,” “The Inside,” and “Drive.” Are you carrying a curse? And could you visit “According to Jim” next?
My first stop is “John from Cincinnati.” Oh David Milch. WHY?
Q: Have you ever seen a show go down that you weren’t a fan of, and thought, “Yeah, I coulda saved it…”
No. I’ve never saved a show, so there’s no reason for me to get my ego on.
Q: If I wanted to save a show today, what would I need to do? What should I avoid?
Trying to save a show.
Q: You mentioned that sending studios iconic items (like sending blue gloves to FOX) is useless and potentially damaging. What did you think about the apparently successful Nuts for Jericho campaign?
I think if you scratched the surface, you’d find that “Jericho” wasn’t saved by nuts any more than “Roswell” was saved by Tabasco. It’s a business, and it’s lovely PR to say that there were just SO MANY fans watching they weren’t aware of, and so of course they had to order more episodes and then they purchased the biggest goose in the window for Tiny Tim. Or, I’m cynical and nuts really did save “Jericho.” God bless us, every one.
Q: If the book is successful, will there be more?
Yes. I’m working on the next book, now. It’s not unlike a television series where if the numbers are good, you get renewed.
Q: Does Joss know your name now?
No. But he once sent me a handwritten thank you card for a gift I organized when his son was born. We sent him a basket of children’s books and donated a chunk of money to a charity that gives books to kids who can’t otherwise afford them. He loved it, and was especially grateful for the charity donation. Plus, in all fairness, he frequently forgot his Whedonesque password, and it was his wife’s name (since changed)(the password, not the wife).==========================
“Will the Vampire People Please Leave the Lobby?” is scheduled to be released August 1, but you can get it at your local Barnes & Noble or at barnesandnoble.com right now, and you really should. Or if you prefer you can preorder it at Amazon. Paperback, 272 pages. Allyson is a lot of fun to read, even if she does have odd tastes. “Tim’s ugly child,” indeed. Mutter, mutter mutter…