Hi, my name is Marie and I am a ficaholic.
Fanfiction is fast-acting and highly addictive, and I’m a daily user. I prefer high quality stuff, but I’ll read almost anything: the good, the bad and the grammatically incorrect. Of course, there are limits. It has to be about Dark Shadows (original series), I prefer for the story to include Willie at least somewhere, and the characters’ names must be spelled properly. There is no one in DS named Barnabus, Quenten or Willy.
|Me and my boyfriend, Dennis, circa 1978.|
Why, you may ask. My stories can never be published for profit, because I don’t own these characters. Is it because they’re read by a lot of people? Yes, partly. Dark Shadows doesn’t get anywhere near the traffic of a Harry Potter or Twilight fanfic, but the numbers are respectable. Fanfiction.net, at the time of this writing, has 361 stories based on the original series, placing it somewhere between Beverly Hills 90210 and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. That’s not taking into account fics based on the 2012 Tim Burton film (movies are a separate category), which, if combined, would undoubtedly boost the score.
At one point I tried compiling reader statistics of my fanfics from the various sites where they’re posted, and counted more than 3,500 visitors from 32 countries. I’m okay with that.
Is it for the applause? Hell, yes. Some writers don’t give a shit, but most do, and I’m a sucker for any kind of feedback: emails, comments, kudos or reviews—even the negative ones. In fact, I love it when readers get involved, ranting that Julia must (or must not) be paired with Barnabas, or that Jason is a dick, or they want to punch out Harry Johnson. They find secret meaning where none was intended and significance in seemingly random events. On more than one occasion, I have altered a story or added a chapter based on their conjecture.
But, and I think other authors will agree, the #1 reason we write is simply that we love Dark Shadows and will not let it end. So, it lives on in prequels, sequels, parallel time and alternate universe.
DS fanfiction has been around for about 40 years. Dealers’ tables were lined with it at the convention I attended around 1978, not that I noticed. I don’t remember much from that festival, but I probably spent most of my time stalking John Karlen and Dennis Patrick.
I feel like both an old-timer and new kid on the block, because I watched the show when it originally aired, but wrote my first fanfiction last September. However, I had a predisposition to this addiction from an early age. It happened like this ... (music cue in and your screen goes all wavy).
It’s 1967, and I am 10 years old. Wandering the neighborhood, I discover my teenage cousin and her friends huddled on the front porch, all staring wide-eyed through the window at the television set in the living room.
“Watchin’ a soap opera.” Oh. I hate boring soap operas and start to leave. “It’s about a vampire and he’s gonna kill this girl.” Oh! I love horror movies and join them, squeezing in amongst the bigger kids to take a look.
On the screen is a distraught young man sitting by a fountain, agonizing over whether or not to warn the young woman of her impending doom. At that moment I forgot all about my undying devotion to Davy Jones of the Monkees, and Willie Loomis became my drug of choice. Five shots are fired off camera and we all jump, grabbing each other with a communal scream that was heard several blocks away.
Around the time of Victoria Winters’ witchcraft trial, I was kicked out of girl scouts for missing too many meetings. That came as a relief because after-school activities were interfering with my soap opera.
It is 1977; I am 20 years old and a theatre major at a university that looked down its academic nose at my love of musical comedy. I submitted a proposal to write and direct an original piece (well, not completely original) for the black box theatre, a venue reserved for undergraduates.
Dark Shadows was in late-night reruns in tandem with Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and the combo was very popular on campus, so that was to be my source material. The result was a musical parody titled The Late Shows, and Act I was Dank Shadows (or the Flight of the Fledermaus). It had cheap jokes, Mad Magazine-style song lyrics and featured characters like Barnacle Coffins and Victorian Spinsters. It was a hit with not only DS fans but with the frustrated actors who wanted to sing and dance.
That was my first taste of blood and made me the shameless attention whore I am today.
|No, it’s not real. It would be cool if it were.|
It is 2011, and I am — older. While browsing through Netflix, I came across old episodes of Dark Shadows. Hey, cool, I used to love that show, and there was bad boy Willie, my favorite.
When I had watched every available episode, I started over and watched them again. Soon I was supplementing my addiction on the Internet and discovered that I was not alone. There was a DS community, alive and kicking, with enough websites, forums, photos, stories and videos to keep me from ever cleaning my house again.
Well, forget about the stories. Fanfiction was artistic drivel and a ridiculous waste of time. My older daughter’s obsession with fanfic, anime and manga caused her to flunk all her classes, lose her scholarship and get kicked out of college after the first year. So my genius kid was now working in a grocery store because she couldn’t stop reading comic books (excuse me, graphic novels) and watching Japanese cartoons. As a result, I was not kindly disposed towards fanfiction.
Yet, her devotion to those genres did not wane, and she tried to suck me into the black hole of fandom by telling me about other kinds of fan-authored publications, like Dark Shadows, for instance. Then Demon Spawn (an affectionate nickname) introduced me to a site called Willie Loomis Saves Collinsport, authored by SaraMonster. It is a temple to John Karlen and, among its resources, is a listing of Williefic by some of the old masters. I clicked on one — just out of curiosity.
It was a story about Willie at a hardware store picking out paint chips for the Old House. What the fuck? I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. Sometime later, though, I went back to read the entire piece, just to vindicate my aspersions.
Of course, I was right; the story was trivial nonsense, and so was the next one and the one after that. Then came the others, a series of transparent setups for Willie to be smacked, tortured, beaten and spanked. They should have their own category titled Fifty Shades of Bruise.
|According to this, you find me irresistible.|
Just when I thought it couldn’t get more ludicrous, I discovered slash, a style of fanfiction which features a homoerotic pairing. According to Wikipedia, this concept, in modern times, traces its roots to Kirk/Spock stories from the original Star Trek series.
Now Willie engaged in rambunctious sheet tumbles with Jason McGuire or agonized over his unrequited love for Barnabas, tempting the vampire by sunbathing naked on a beach rock (can you sunbathe at night?). Locked in a passionate embrace, Willie has an uncontrollable physical response when the master feasts upon his yielding neck. I made myself read every one of these stories, because one must be sufficiently educated on a subject in order to criticize it.
So you see, I initially scoffed at fanfiction, but later came to understand its appeal. However, my favorite character, in my humble opinion, was still a drag. I didn’t much care for the angsty, emo, depressing, woobie Willie: sweet guy, downtrodden underdog and poster child for domestic abuse. I wanted to see bad boy Loomis, the guy from my favorite fan video, Little Willie, by SaraMonster aka TheVampireSara.
And so it happened one night, during a bout of insomnia, a vignette started to formulate in my head. I have always enjoyed prequels like Peter and the Starcatchers, Wicked and Susan Kay’s The Phantom. It’s cool to be able to manipulate details of a plot to cleverly coordinate with canon (and preferably with ample amounts of alliteration). With the seed planted by Sara’s video, I gave birth to Little Willie, my first fanfiction.
|You and me did WHAT?|
But Willie and I did not come to the same end so, at some point, our tales had to take different paths. His circumstances must be such as to create the greedy, mean, little shit who would one day break into a coffin. Thus began Willie’s series of misfortunes, exacerbated by poor judgment and a rotten temper. And, occasionally, he does get abused (hey, it’s what the readers want).
My antihero is both a soft-hearted kid and a selfish, impulsive delinquent. I approached the development of his personality like an actor researching a role, using the same process that creates a believable performance to mold a three-dimensional character. This was true for (sometime) antagonists Jason McGuire and Barnabas, as well. It would have been easy to paint them as bad guys, but not as interesting. I happen to know they feel perfectly justified as to what motivates them to act as they do—however misguided that may be.
In reference to a later story, one reader remarked:
“I think your Willie is stupid, brash, childish, rude, and a likeable dude—in other words, he’s perfect.”The thing I like best about my Willie is that he’s so imperfect. There are no Mary Sues in my saga. In fact, I don’t think anyone’s even nice, although Vicky is usually at least polite.
My daughter has since gone on to a successful career in banking and, in her spare time, studies Japanese and acts as my fanfic consultant and beta reader. Like a good kid, she walked her technology-challenged parent through the confusing process of posting Little Willie at its first home on Fanfiction.net.
Since that time, I discovered other sites to share stories, such as LiveJournal, Yahoo forums, Fanlore.org and Archive of Our Own, to name a few, but I regret posting my series under so many different pseudonyms. The first was DramaLady, which is what my students call me. When registering at the next site, that name was already taken, so I became Mad Margaret, my favorite character in Ruddigore by Gilbert & Sullivan. She’s a Jenny Collins/bat shit crazy woman who lives in a haunted graveyard, so it seemed appropriate.
At the next stop, that moniker was also unavailable so I thought of Elizabeth Bathory, the charismatic lesbian vampire in Daughters of Darkness. Nope. Liz Bathory? Uh-uh. I had to settle for Lizzie_Bathory. When I joined Tumblr, ALL those names were gone, and I became That Bathory Woman. Just to complicate matters, I go by Loui56 on the Yahoo forums and just plain Lou here at CHS; Louise is my middle name.
How did Little Willie grow up to be a six-part series? Like an alcoholic, I don’t know how to have just one. In addition, I was encouraged to continue by Mary Overstreet, famous fanfiction author and co-editor of the KarlenZines, who wrote me long e-mails full of constructive criticism and advice. But the sequel to my prequel, Globetrotters, presented a boatload of problems; I went from writing about things I knew to foreign situations about which I was completely ignorant, so the research began.
Moving on to the third story, The Maine Event, was much easier, because after the first two, I was feeling pretty buzzed. I had finally entered the series’ storyline, from Willie’s arrival in Collinsport to the cliffhanger ending in the secret room of the mausoleum. That necessitated a fourth story, Changes, where we finally meet our favorite bloodsucker. The six chapters cover the six days from the vampire’s entrance to B&W’s arrival at the Old House. I liked the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern approach, playing out scenes that happened offstage in the series and mixing them with my versions of the real ones. I was mindful not to regurgitate verbatim storyline or the original dialogue. It’s been done elsewhere but, frankly, I don’t see the point.
The fifth story was This Old House, and the length leaped from six to 19 chapters, but it covered a lot of material: the whole Maggie kidnapping thing, Jason’s exit, and the evolution of Barnabas and Willie, as individuals and in terms of their relationship. Reception in the early days was slight and polite, but readership with #5 really took off. I don’t know if it was because the vampire came into play (it’s always about you, isn’t it, Barnabas?) or if I was getting better as a writer. As with the previous installments, it nodded, winked and paid homage to the original series while steering its own course.
I had every intention of ending the saga there, I really did, but only a few days later I found myself again at the keyboard, powerless over my addiction. One more chapter, I told myself, just an epilogue — a cute little bit about Christmas. Oops, I ended in a cliffhanger and started plotting my next story.
Interlude introduced Dr. Hoffman to the Old House residents. All my female characters are strong, but she was the queen bee. In the synopsis I described the trio as fanfiction’s premiere dysfunctional family, with Julia as the Jewish mother whose weapons are sedatives and hypnosis instead of chicken soup and brisket. The plot departed from canon big time, creating a comedic, completely AU (alternate universe) story. For me, it’s the most fun piece in the series, and it has an ending. A definite ending.
Some actors don’t know when to get off the stage, and it was time ring down the curtain. So, to feed my habit, I returned to the first story and started to revise because, along with the characters, my writing had also evolved, and the early stuff looked like crap.
Little Willie (Redux) went from four to nine chapters, like a director’s cut with deleted scenes. The nice part was I now had a following, and folks were interested in my earlier works, even if it meant that they were reading the series out of order. I am currently writing Globetrotters (Redux). It doesn’t score the kind of numbers claimed by This Old House and Interlude but, what the hell, I’m having fun with my adjusted timeline, interjecting bits of history into the plot. There are things I know zoom over the heads of my younger readers, but not all. The chapter about Rocky Horror, which I described as “Willie meets rock ‘n roll transvestite aliens from outer space,” was very popular.
During the past year I have been privileged to meet (via internet) and friend a lot of wonderful readers and talented fanfic writers. In future articles I hope to share some of their stories—if they’re still speaking to me after I trashed their work just now.
If you like to read and/or write Dark Shadows fanfic, and would care to talk about it on this blog, email me at dsfanfic (at) gmail.com. Or you can find me lying in the gutter, guzzling fanfiction out of my Kindle in a paper bag.
The Willie Loomis Saga
I: Little Willie (redux)
II: Globetrotters (redux)
III: The Maine Event
V: This Old House
Marie Maginity has a BA in Theatre and works as a professional actor, director and drama teacher. She has had many “straight” jobs, including bartender, gas station jockey, graphic artist, website designer, facepainter and film projectionist. Once, she bullshitted her way into a newspaper job as a reporter and, over the next eight years, became a copy editor, feature writer and assistant editor. She lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with one husband, two daughters and two cats