Monday, August 26, 2013

COLLINSPORT SHIPPING: Magnificent Obsession

You may be wondering why every article I write is about Williefic and, I promise to expand my horizons soon, but in honor of my trip to interview John Karlen this week, here is the profile of another Willie writer, Mina225, the popular author of The Beginning, Restoration, and Return to Collinwood.

Just because I know almost nothing about fanfiction outside my little Willie Loomis World Series, doesn’t stop me from pretending that I do. Actually I have read other people’s Willie works, specifically the Sylvia Bond stories, Christina Pilz and Mary Overstreet. They were all well written but somewhat similar in tone, and inspired me to branch out and invent my own DS fiction personas just over a year ago.

After carefully plotting out stories 1, 2 and 3, I was doing research for #4, Changes, which was based on the brilliant notion of exploring what happened to Willie during the time he went missing. It is also the introduction of Barnabas, the big bad vampire.

Then reality reared its ugly head. Not only was my idea unoriginal, having been the subject of several other authors over the years, but another writer had recently beaten me to the punch. Some upstart named Mina225 was midway through a story at titled The Beginning, all about — you guessed it: The missing days.

My next mission was to plot the downfall of Mina225. Part of me did not want to read her fic under any circumstances, lest I be influenced by the piece and accidentally “borrow” her ideas. Another part of me could not resist seeing how another author handled the same subject matter. Perhaps, if our style and approach were different enough, there may be room for both of us on the Internet.

And so it was. Very different. Where I abuse alliteration and take a humorous approach, Mina leads her readers down dark passages of horrific imagery and page-turning suspense. Not page-turning — I meant to say down-scrolling.

I plowed through her first few chapters, trying to overlook her blatant disregard for commas. Finally, I sent the writer a personal message, explaining how much I enjoyed the story but that her lack of punctuation was driving me to Wyndcliffe.

Fortunately, she was not offended. From that point, Mina and I became friends and have enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial correspondence. We discuss our plot devices and offer assistance when one of us writes herself into a corner. She has taught me to go beyond character development and dialogue and actually tell a story, preferably one with a climax. I have taught her to use quotation marks, but she may be doing that just to humor me.

A short while ago, I asked Mina if she would consent to be interviewed for this column and threw a boatload of questions at her about her background and writing. I noticed that her answers have a lot more commas.

Tell me about yourself and what do you do when you’re not writing fanfiction?

I am 39 years old and grew up in a town right between Chicago and Milwaukee. I have been married for 15 years, have a daughter who is 11, and a year ago had no idea that fanfiction existed.

My educational background is pretty nerdy. I think I declared a different major every semester of my college career. Music, Art, Theater, Biology, Astronomy, Business, Nursing (that was a horrible disaster), but after five years of bouncing around, I needed to get out of school and start paying bills. I looked at what I had the most credits in and wound up a software engineer. I should have just started there. I took my first computer apart when I was 8 or 9 and the classes always came easy to me, so I used them as filler to keep my GPA up.

I’ve done a million different jobs related to that field, but today I am self employed as an independent consultant.  My job can be extremely demanding and stressful, and I spend my days traveling to different corporations.

I get bored pretty quickly, so consulting is perfect.  Different people and different places all the time, I like the change in atmosphere.  It also allows me to work from home a bit too, which is an added bonus, and one I am thankful to have.

Why do you write horror stories?

As a young girl, 6 or 7 maybe, I remember the other kids watching Saturday morning cartoons, and eating cereal in front of the TV, but not me. My dad would get up with me, and we watched old horror movies, the classics, and ate sardine crackers and cannibal sandwiches, and I LOVED it. 

I grew up with a great love of the Universal Studios monster movies and all kinds of pulp fiction. What really grabbed me was the artistry of the period, and as a pre-teen that love turned into art. While other kids were busy drawing pictures of rainbows and flowers, I was learning to play classical violin (including the theme to
PSYCHO) and drawing monsters, werewolves, wizards, ghouls—trying to emulate the covers of the pulp magazines. My mother thought perhaps I was in need of therapy.

Now, almost 40, that passion has not gone away. Over the past decade my job has taken me all over the world as an IT consultant, and I have been blessed to have had the privilege to work with people, and within their cultures, as opposed to only seeing the world on a tour bus. It has also allowed me to watch many of my favorite classics in other languages, and watch some international stuff that is really spectacular in this genre. In Singapore, I was lucky enough to find a movie channel playing JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, which scared the pants off of me. The Belgium film DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS was another great film. I watched it in a hotel in Brussels, while eating room service and drinking wine, little did I know that John Karlen would fuel a future obsession.

I can’t get into the thrasher SAW, HOSTEL movies. It’s just too easy to cut someone open and say, “look, it’s scary.” Instead I prefer FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN — I probably own every old horror movie ever made, If we are at dinner with a paper table cloth and a crayon, an image will emerge that will have my friends questioning what goes on in my brain. I admit that I kept my sketch book hidden for a long time.

I discovered DARK SHADOWS after the Johnny Depp movie was announced. That was the first I had ever heard of the soap opera (I, too, wonder how on earth I never heard of it before) and I was immediately intrigued. I began watching Netflix constantly. About 10 episodes in, I became fascinated with Willie’s character. I found that I couldn’t stop watching, and felt that somehow I must break this obsession, so I Googled something silly like “how to break a soap opera obsession” and stumbled on an answer that said: “embrace your obsession…and write about it”. 

And that led you to begin writing fanfiction?

I started to fish around and soon realized there was an entire world of writers out there creating alternate lives for their favorite characters. I read a few Willie stories, none of them had me over the moon, and none of them attempted to fill the giant gap where he goes missing, so I figured I would give it a try. I had always wanted to write, illustrations weren’t enough, and I wrote my first story: The Beginning. A new obsession was born.

I went on to write a second story, Restoration, curious to see if I could develop something new. Would anyone read it if I introduce an original character? Turns out they did, and I am now into my third story. 

I have since grown to love some other Willie stories out there too, I went down a Willie fanfic rabbit hole on the Internet and I love the many different versions that people have for his character. After finishing my second story, I found the Sylvia Bond stories, and they are wonderful. Another favorite of mine are the Mad Margaret stories. I have read just about all of them that I can find, and I prefer the ones with original story line that lean less on slash or Willie and Barnabas as a pairing.

How has your writing developed over the course of three stories?

I am not the best writer in the world; I abuse commas and grammar more than Barnabas abuses Willie, but I’d like to think I am getting better. When this last story is all done, Return to Collinwood, I am going to leave the DS world as a writer for a while and attempt something completely original.
Are you a closet writer, as many fanfic authors are?

This fanfiction world was a dirty little secret of mine for a long time. I wasn’t embarrassed of my obsession with John Karlen, or Dark Shadows. Everyone who knows me knows of my love of the genre, and my best friend thinks it is hilarious that I am in love with the guy from Cagney and Lacey.

No, it was the fear of the people close to me reading something that I wrote and hating it, or finding it boring and talentless. When you write, you expose yourself in a way that you normally wouldn’t, and that was unnerving, still is. Most of my good friends know, but do not read (I don’t think), and if they do, they keep it to themselves. My co-workers do not know of this hobby.

My husband wants me to kill off all my DS characters and start writing my own stuff, but I somehow think that a sudden alien abduction of my characters, and their disappearance into space, would leave my readers sending me a lot of hate mail. The readers have been wonderful and loyal and I owe it to them to finish up my last story with a bang versus having my characters eating spaghetti in some crappy restaurant only to have the screen suddenly go black. (Yes, that was a Soprano’s reference, which I have never once watched, but am very aware of the letdown at the end.)

If you kill off Willie Loomis, you will get hate mail. Just sayin’.

When I started writing The Beginning, I never intended to take it this far. It was the means to end an obsessive relationship with Dark Shadows. I was watching the original series and I completely fell in love with Willie (and John Karlen). I love how John Karlen made him so vulnerable and I instantly wanted to see more of him. I think I have seen everything John has ever been in.

How is it we have never discussed this before?

When I was watching the series I found I was only truly interested in Willie’s story line. I would fish out what episodes he was in and then order them on Netflix. All the while I had hoped that something would develop with Willie and Maggie, but I actually wound up disliking her in the end and I wasn’t too thrilled with the storyline for Willie either. I wanted to see Willie as the focus and see him get some love, and the more I watched the show, the more irritated I became with Willie getting the shaft all the time, and Maggie just started to annoy me.

So I decided to write the second story to create an OC (original character) and Abigail was born. I wanted her to be a little imperfect and bull headed, and strong in ways that Willie wasn’t, most of all I wanted her to be believable. My other enjoyment with an OC is the freedom to completely do anything I want. I’m not boxed into a character that already existed. It was fun to create her and bring her to life.

When I finished Restoration, I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters. I was, (and still am), deeply attached to them. So I added the epilogue and started on Return to Collinwood. I put an outline together and started writing. I publish each chapter as I write them, using the outline as a guide, and admittedly this has painted me into a corner at times. I think the overall story could have been better if I would have written it all out as a complete piece of work.

I am still amazed that you can post chapters to an incomplete story. That would scare the crap out of me. But then, it’s kind of like improvisational acting. The piece always seems like it was planned to end exactly as it does. 

There have been many occurrences where an idea pops into my head and I can’t use it because I have made it impossible based on something I wrote in a previous chapter.

About a quarter of the way through, I was drinking wine and chatting with a friend. He mentioned this crazy story about a mysterious “dog suicide” bridge in Scotland. The next thing I knew I was almost a bottle of wine down and my outline was thrown out the window. The new storyline took a left turn as the “Thin Bridge” was created. I have been flying by the seat of my pants ever since, and it has taken longer to get each chapter out. 

Where do you get your ideas?

Coming up with ideas for the story is done almost completely in my car, or on a plane, or based on some random conversation that I have. I get an idea and I run the story though my head and one out of every 100 ideas sticks and I write it down. Eventually I find some quiet time and piece all the fragments together into a new chapter. Many times I have an idea that, after thinking it through for my Willie stories, just won’t fit. But they are things I want to keep for a different story, so I have a laundry list of random ideas that will one day wind up in something that I write.

Research has definitely slowed down my writing. In Return, I have characters in the late 1700s, and I want make sure I do the time period
justice. I do most of my research online and I am sure that there are aspects that aren’t quite right.

You have a large fan following. Do you enjoy getting reviews and comments?

I have quite a few regular readers from all over the world, or so the stats tell me, and my first and second stories pick up a few new readers every now and again. There is definitely a steady group of core readers who will leave comments. I get private messaged with everything from personal notes to constructive criticism, and I really enjoy the feedback. I absolutely love to get reviews. I check often and I get excited when my phone pings me for new email and I see the little FanFiction tag.

Reviews are really the only way, as a writer, I know if I’m still entertaining the readers, or if I have lost everyone completely. When it goes quiet I start to question the story. Because I am writing and publishing each chapter as I go, the readers’ feedback can play a lot into the next chapter, and they really have an influence on where I take the story. It is almost interactive in a way.

What are your plans after Return to Collinwood is finished?

Looking back at my first story, I cringe inside at some of my writing. I plan to go back and re-do The Beginning so that it is more consistent in style with the others. Because I originally did it as a one-shot it loses the continuity to the other stories. I also plan to go back into Restoration and rewrite portions of that. No major story line changes, just fix some of the awkwardness that is in there. I think my writing has gotten better throughout the series, and I attribute much of that to the readers who are brave enough to reach out and point out areas of improvement. I don’t get upset with criticism, although if it were something like “I hate your stories” or “your imagination blows,” that would sting a bit.

I have really gotten a lot out of writing these stories on a personal level. As a kid, I was always making up tall tales and drawing my characters on just about any surface that I could. My love of the old movies and stories hasn’t waned, but somewhere along the way that desire to be the creator of images and stories got lost.

Writing fanfic has helped me find that kid again and I have been lucky enough to rediscover this passion. It has influenced my daughter too! She has been writing her own stories now and illustrating them, and we often work on our stories together.

What started out as a way to overcome an obsession has actually turned into an entirely new one. I am still in love with Willie and John Karlen, and my obsession has turned into a passion that I will continue to do. I will keep writing after Return is complete. I enjoy it far too much to stop. I have started some original stuff, but I admit that I have another idea for Willie and Abigail, too. I guess I’ll need to wait and see how the current story ends first.


Marie Maginity is the author of the six-part Willie Loomis World Series, and writes under the names Mad Margaret and Lizzie Bathory. She 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.

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