Recently, I became a moderator of Elysian Fields, a fan fiction archive that focuses on the relationship between Buffy and Spike (aka Spuffy) and has around 25,000 members at the time of writing this. Not long after that, the mod team were asked if we wanted to be interviewed as part of an article for Polygon. A few of us said yes and that article is now live, which can be read here.
I hadn’t wanted to do the interview via Zoom but instead wrote to the author of the article, Katie. Below is what I said in full.
I’ve been very public about writing and enjoying fan fiction, to help counteract the taboo some people feel about it. As with many other taboos, I never really ‘got’ why people felt shame about it. But that’s perhaps off-topic.What draws me to fanfic, in general, is satisfaction. Either I’ve seen a really great movie or read a great book and want more, or I’ve been left frustrated by something and feel the need to fix it somehow. I’m a massive control freak, so fixing things that others wouldn’t consider broken is kind of my jam haha. Outside of fan fiction, I write novels and poetry and short stories set in my own worlds, so words are very much how I relate to everything.In 2019/2020 I did an English Literature course that required me to read A Streetcar Named Desire, and the ending left me so upset I went home and wrote an epilogue that offered a grain of hope for at least a couple of the characters. I’ve done that in a few different fandoms, but for the most part, my heart is with Buffy. As to why, I’ll need to give a little background.I was fourteen when the show ended in 2003––such a pivotal and transformative time in a lot of people’s lives. I was navigating what it meant to be a teenager in the modern age while living with parents who considered so much of society evil, from the music on the radio to the shows on TV. That included Buffy––and even tamer things, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the first Harry Potter films. I wasn’t allowed to watch any of it. But, given the effects of a, frankly, negligent and emotionally abusive upbringing, I did not have a whole lot of other options for what to do with myself. I didn’t really have friends. I didn’t go out. I was terribly depressed, sometimes even suicidal.My brother would sometimes watch Buffy (the rules never seemed to apply to him), and so sometimes I was able to catch it, too. And it grabbed me. I became obsessed. Here was a show that dealt with real-life traumas (death and heartbreak and betrayal), albeit via the medium of puns and a fresh twist on vampire lore.The character of Spike drew me in most of all. The complexity of his character––how he could be furious and honest and seductive all at the same time. And he cried! It was revolutionary to me to see a man, no less one seen as ‘cool’, to show his feelings. Being able to feel things alongside him and the other characters helped me process things in my own life. It was a lifeline, getting me through some of the hardest years I’ve had so far.And I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think that’s why people stuck with the show, and why it’s still finding fans even now. I don’t have the hard statistics for how the number of fics and members of the community have changed over time, but I feel confident in saying we’ve stayed strong, and our archive in particular is still growing.With regards to Seeing Red, I have a lot of feelings, and some of them contradictory. On the one hand, I think the topic was an important one to tackle and, as I was saying about taboos, earlier, not left in a place of silent shame. However, I find ‘the bathroom scene’ incredibly hard to watch, and I don’t think the show handled it well at all. We never got to see Buffy and Spike properly address it on screen, and that’s a huge disservice to both the characters and the fans. I feel like the showrunners actively hurt a lot of people with where they look the arc of Spuffy’s sexual relationship, not because it got dark, but because they left it mostly unresolved in that dark place.I don’t mind reading or writing difficult topics. A lot of the time that’s exactly what needs to be done, and leaning into the raw, difficult aspects of a situation makes the writing stronger. But you can’t half-ass it. The resolution doesn’t need to be all sunshine and rainbows, but it does need to feel resolved. To go through this huge thing as a character and an audience and then almost never talk about it again is bad writing at the very least.And that’s where the fans have stepped in and written their own endings. Their own resolutions. The beauty of fan fiction is that it gives those most invested in the narrative the power to control it. I’ve read dozens of stories that either change things before Seeing Red, so the bathroom scene never happens, or ones that go through the motions of having the characters fully deal with the aftermath. I’ve written both myself, and I’m not done exploring the topic. It’s that important. It means that much to me. The show saved my life, and it almost feels like, in some small way, I can return the favor.It is my firm belief that fan fiction is not plagiarism or in a moral grey area, because it only ever adds to the source material. Say you write fanfic in some circles and you’ll be laughed at, but those same circles will fall over themselves for the latest ‘retelling’ of a classic work. The double standard would be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating.I think a big part of it is actually that fan fiction is popular with women, and looked down upon (either consciously or subconsciously) for that reason. I could rant about it all day, but I’ll spare you.Let me know if you want anything clarified or expanded upon.