|snarry_reader (snarry_reader) wrote,|
@ 2005-01-06 07:42:00
Interview with Luthien
As a writer, and as one of the creators of the Severus Snape Fuh Q Fest, luthien can rightly be called one of the founders of the Snape/Harry ship. I am thrilled she agreed to be interviewed for the snarry_reader.
Aubrem: Hello Luthien, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. I also want to thank you for giving me idea of doing author interviews. I remember devouring the interviews at your website when I first entered the fandom. I was so very curious about my favorite authors.
I tend to think chronologically, so I always begin these interviews by asking about fannish background. What is your fannish history and when did you begin writing?
Luthien: Thanks for asking me. I’m glad you enjoyed the interviews on my site. They were fun to do, before I ran out of energy. *g* I always intended to expand the interview page on my site and invite other people to contribute interviews, but I never got around to it, so it’s good to see someone else take the initiative.
I’ve been a pretty fannish person since I was a kid, but I didn’t find organised fandom until much later. I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since I was ten. And I loved the original Star Wars, which came out at about that time and was closely followed by the original Battlestar Galactica, also a favourite. Later on, there were various favourite shows with a big fannish following, such as Star Trek: the Next Generation, but I still just a fan and not a Fan, if you know what I mean. Over the years, I knew a few people who were into fandom – one friend in particular, who used to go to conventions and all the rest of it, but I never got involved. All that changed in 1998, when I saw an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess that made me want to find out more about a particular actor in that show. After the episode finished, I got on-line and went looking for websites with information about this actor. I found an entire webring devoted to him, including an archive of adult fiction featuring his character. I read a few stories, and happened to read a slash story that just made everything click for me and… well, I joined the ML that the archive belonged to and that was that.
About six months later, I read a story that I really loved and which made me realise that fanfic could be just as well-written as profic. That was when I decided to try writing something of my own, to see where I could go with these characters. And so I did. That first story was long and plotty, and I was working full-time and commuting a long distance each day at the time, so I mainly just wrote on the weekends. I started posting that first story about six months after I started work on it, and eventually completed it a few months later. It was quite an experience for me, because I hadn’t really ever written any fiction at all before that, apart from some creative writing at school. I’d studied literature at university, but in the ten years since then I’d been working in a history-related profession and, while the business writing I’d done in that time had been quite extensive, it was a long way from the lit essays I’d done at uni – and even further away from writing any sort of fiction.
Around the beginning of 2001, I left Xena fandom and spent much of the year drifting around the edge of other fandoms, including Buffy, Angel, Hornblower, Battlestar Galactica (I’d clearly picked up on the phenomenally slashy subtext of this show when I was twelve without realising it *g*) and a bunch of others. I was mainly lurking and reading, but I kept trying to write and not getting very far. After a good few months of this, I began to think that I wasn’t going to write again. I was pretty severely blocked, to put it bluntly. Towards the end of the year, I heard about the forthcoming Harry Potter movie, and decided I really ought to read the books before the movie came out. A RL friend had been at me to read them for a couple of years, and I’d even bought the first two HP books about a year before and left them on the bookshelf, unread.
So, I read the first two HP books. And then I jumped in the car and sped off to the nearest bookshop to get books 3 and 4. While I was still reading book 4, I went looking for HP slash fandom. I knew the fandom was there, because I’d seen references to it made by other slash fans, but I really wasn’t sure about whether I wanted to get involved in a book-based fandom. So I found a few archives and MLs, and tried reading a few different pairings, but didn’t find anything that really appealed. After the first week or so, I thought I might forget about HP fandom and move on somewhere else. However, I thought I’d try out a little more Snape/Lupin first, so I was digging my way through the message archives of the snapeslash ML in search of Snape/Lupin when I stumbled upon the first four stories of Telanu’s Tea series. I loved those stories and decided to hang around for a while in hope of more. I also read Jaykay’s ‘Too Wise to Woo Peaceably’, but there really wasn’t any other Snape/Harry fic that I could find. When Telanu issued a challenge and asked particularly for Snape/Harry if anyone could possibly bring themselves to write it, I decided to have a try. It was only a challenge response, so it wasn’t as though it had to be a perfect story or anything, so there was no need to tie myself in knots over it. I sat down to write, and about a day later I had ‘Aftermath’.
It was about then that I realised that not only had I started writing again, I also had a new primary fandom. Since then, I’ve played in other fandoms a little, and written several stories in one particular fandom, but HP is still my primary fandom.
Aubrem: So you've been there almost from the beginning, when there was very little SnapeHarry about. Now it's a very large part of the fandom, don't you think? How has the ship changed in your opinion? Has there been an evolution to Snape/Harry fanfic?
Luthien: Well, it’s a large part of Snape slash. I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to say that it’s a very large part of the fandom. HP is such a *very* large fandom that it’s easy to stay in your own little corner of it and not even be aware of other parts of the fandom – which, in turn, are probably largely oblivious to the existence of your part of the fandom! *g* Snape/Harry is certainly the most popular Snape slash pairing these days, though. It’s been interesting to watch it develop from being a very rare pairing that was regarded as a bit strange to the sort of pairing that has a large number of OTPers devoted to it. I’ve seen fans of other Snape ships complain that Snape/Harry stories tend to get a lot more feedback, and suggest that people only write Snape/Harry for the feedback rather than because they like the pairing and want to explore it through fic. That just bemuses me when I think back to how very far from a popular pairing Snape/Harry was when I first started reading and writing it.
There has been an evolution to Snape/Harry, as there is with most things to do with fandom. Fanfic is not just written in the context of the canon, it’s also written in the context of the fanfic that’s come before it. With a pairing like Snape/Harry, the early stories do shape the way in which other writers interpret it – even if it’s just that later writers react against some of the ideas central to the earlier stories. Eventually, you reach the point where newer fans find the early stories *after* reading lots of more recent stuff, and they really don’t quite get just why some of those early stories had such an impact. It really is a case of having to be there at the time.
I think, early on, there was a bit of a squick factor for a lot of people with regard to Snape/Harry. HP slash fandom is a lot more “anything goes” now than it was then – or at least it seems that way to me. I remember, when I first got involved in HP fandom, being surprised at how easily squicked a reasonable number of Snape slash fans seemed to be. I’m not talking about being squicked by kinks – though that was certainly there too – but simply by pairings. One of our aims when planning the first wave of the Severus Snape Fuh-q Fest was to think of as many “challenging” pairings as we could and throw them out there for people to write, to try to shake people up a bit. I think the boom in Snape/Harry coincided with the first wave of the Fest, and the Fest gave writers an opportunity to try out new and different things – such as Snape/Harry - and also, in turn, exposed a lot of readers to the pairing. There were a lot of new people coming into the fandom at around that time, perhaps because of the first movie but certainly just drifting in from other directions as well. cybele and josan both wrote their first HP stories as part of the Fest, and a number of minx’s early stories were written for the Fest, too, just to give a few examples.
After that, I just watched the pairing get bigger and bigger. I stopped reading HP fic for about a year in the middle there somewhere, so I don’t have a clear idea of the whole evolution of the pairing. Now that I’m reading the pairing again – and attempting to write it again - I think perceptions of the characters have settled a bit. I’ve seen this happen with other characters and pairings elsewhere, too. While, on the one hand, you have a lot of variations on the main theme of how fans of a pairing see the characters that form that pairing, you also do still have that core shared understanding of who these characters are and how they should behave in relation to each other. As a writer, there is a lot more flexibility with interpretation of characters when you’re writing a rare pairing as opposed to a popular and established one. People approach reading a popular pairing armed with a lot more preconceptions about “right” and “wrong” characterisation and about the vibe of the pairing in general. I felt a lot freer to play with the characters early on, since there was no real established idea of the pairing either to conform with or deviate from. That sort of thing isn’t ever going to stop me from writing what I want to write, but I can’t help but be aware that it is there.
Aubrem: What is it that attracts you to Snape/Harry?
Luthien: That’s a hard question to answer. [I’ve just mentioned it to my partner, who replied: “Physical attributes?” accompanied by a miming gesture that I won’t even attempt to describe! *g*]
I do know that right from the beginning it was a pairing that ‘spoke’ to me very strongly and pretty much demanded that I write it. It was like the reaction I had to the very first pairing I wrote – there was a real imperative to explore the pairing through writing. That sort of extreme reaction only happens to me very rarely. Usually, I can make a calmer and more detached decision to write a pairing.
I like Snape/Harry despite Harry’s youth rather than because of it. Initially, I was very surprised to be so taken with Snape/Harry since I’d never been interested in slashing such a young character before. I’m a long way past adolescence myself, and I’m *really* not interested in exploring teen angst in general at this point in my life. Certain writers can make a school-age Harry work for me, but I’m really not interested in exploring their relationship in my own writing until Harry is at least a little more grown up. I think, also, that because Telanu’s Tea series was the first Snape/Harry I read, I really felt that she’d said all the important things that I might have wanted to say about Snape/Harry set during Harry’s schooldays, so I preferred to look at the pairing in different situations and settings.
Thinking it over, I suppose one of the key things about Snape/Harry for me is Snape himself. In every fandom I get involved in, I always have a favourite character, usually a secondary character rather than a main character, and usually one that comes complete with internal conflicts and/or certain ambiguous aspects to his nature or personal history. Unsurprisingly, Snape is my favourite character in HP and I love exploring him in fic.
Another thing I keep returning to in fic is the theme of the struggle for communication. Canon Snape and Harry are so incredibly blind about who the other is in reality – or perhaps who the other is in his entirety. They’re going to struggle and struggle and struggle in any situation that forces them to try to understand where the other is coming from and what truly makes him tick. This is not a theme that suits the classic buddy slash pairing, and I’m rarely one to get into that type pairing, though I can certainly understand the attraction of this sort of slash vibe for others. The fact that Snape/Harry is so completely NOT a buddy pairing is something that really appeals to me and also suits the sorts of themes and emotions that I like to explore in fic. And I also just like the strength of feeling that they elicit in each other. Whatever else they are to each other, Snape and Harry are never going to have neutral feelings about each other, they’re never going to be indifferent to each other. They’re either going to try to kill each other or else fall into bed together – or maybe both. I enjoy that sort of thing. *g*
Aubrem: Yes, Snape is central for many of us. The Severus Snape Fuh Q Fest was my introduction to slash and fandom (and a rather shocking introduction at that). I think it remains an incredible collection of stories - and so many of them! How did you get the idea for it? Was it a lot of work? Do we have much chance of seeing another wave?
Luthien: Well, firstly, it wasn’t my idea. *g* Tboy had seen a whole bunch of fuh-q fests work well when she was in Trek fandom, where the concept originated, and one day she asked on the snapeslash ML if there would be interest in a fest devoted to Snape. After that, she asked for someone to do the archive for the fest, and that’s when I got involved.
Yes, it was a hell of a lot of work, for both Tboy and myself. At the beginning of each wave, in particular, when people were signing up, being assigned challenges and hitting us with loads of questions, Tboy was insanely busy - the success of the fest is a testament to her fearsome organisational skills, as much as anything. As the stories started to come in, I was the one who became steadily busier and busier until we reached submission deadline day, when I would get hit with dozens of stories all at once. If not for my friend Nym coming to my rescue and helping me with a lot of the story-coding partway through, I think I would have gone under and not resurfaced in a hurry. Other people helped out with archiving at various times, and there were a number of people involved in the initial planning - and of course Mac did the beautiful graphics for the site. I’m very grateful to all of those people who lent a hand and enabled all the wheels of the Fest to keep turning as smoothly as possible.
I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for another wave. I wasn’t kidding about the amount of work involved. By the end of the third wave, the fest was taking up all my fannish time and energy. I certainly didn’t have time to write my own fic for most of the time that the fest was active, and I missed writing. Also, the archive’s not exactly small as it is. *g*
However, regardless of the amount of my time it consumed, I had a hell of a lot of fun with the Fest for the most part. I met a lot of terrific people in the course of it, and of course we ended up with an archive of almost six hundred stories, many, many of which surprised and delighted me with their inventive interpretations of the Fest challenges. As far as I am aware, the Severus Snape Fuh-q Fest was the first fuh-q fest outside Trek fandom, and I’m very proud of what we accomplished with it.
As many people would be aware, the Fest site is down at the moment. It has to be moved to a new home, and we also need to do a few technical things to it as well before it reappears. Once my Real Life settles down a bit and I have time and energy to do what needs doing, it *will* be back – most likely in the next month or so.
To end by returning to the beginning of your question, I am sitting here, grinning at the thought of the Fest being someone’s first exposure to fandom and slash fiction. I’m glad you got over the initial shock and persevered with it. *g*
Aubrem: Well, I can't begin to tell you how much we all appreciate yours and Tboy's hard work. I'm especially happy to hear that the Fest site will be going back up soon. Besides the fest, you are well known for some amazing Snape/Harry stories including one of my all-time favorites: 'Disarmed'. The exquisite pain of that story turns me inside-out. A number of your stories are painful, 'The Rain Keeps Falling' in particular. I wonder if writing extreme angst is even more difficult than reading it?
Luthien: Well, I can’t speak for other writers, but in my own case the answer to that is “no”. As a reader, I’ve had my heart torn out by angsty stories at times, and I’ve certainly never experienced a similar reaction as a writer. This isn’t to say that I’m unaffected by strong emotions when I write them. I am, and writing an emotionally intense scene often leaves me feeling drained. However, I don’t react to it as a reader does because I have the idea of the story as a whole in my head as I’m writing. It’s not unfolding before me with no knowledge of what is to come, as is the case for a reader, and that makes a huge difference. Also, most of my stories, with one particular exception, have happy endings, so that’s in the back of my mind as I’m writing the angsty bits. I approach writing angst with the idea that the characters will properly appreciate the happy ending after going through what I’m going to put them through. “They have to suffer so they can be happy,” as I once explained to a friend. *g*
'Disarmed' is a good example of that sort of angsty story. I always knew where Snape and Harry were going to end up, but I was far more interested in the journey than the destination in that story. My aim was to show Snape from the inside as he slowly broke, and therefore the first-person, present tense narrative of the story is vitally important to what I was trying to achieve with 'Disarmed'. The key bit of the whole story, to me, is when Dumbledore tells him that Harry’s still alive. Snape’s spent the whole story arming himself to deal with being told that Harry is dead. He is completely unprepared for – and therefore vulnerable to – the revelation that Harry is alive.
'The Rain Keeps Falling' is unlike my other angsty stories for several reasons, so I’d better talk about it separately. Unlike most of the others, it doesn’t have a happy ending, because Snape dies, and that was something that I really resisted for a long time. The idea for the story was kicking around in my head for at least a year before I wrote it, and in that time I kept trying to put different characters in the role of the person close to Harry who has died. But deep down I always knew that Snape had to die in that one, and in the end I reached my peace with the idea. It just hit me one night that it had to be written, so the next morning I got up and wrote 'The Rain Keeps Falling'. Once I started writing, the whole story had a massive feeling of inevitability about it for me. It emerged almost completely whole and was finished by the evening of the same day. I didn’t really analyse or think over what I was writing as I was writing it, because it was as though there was no alternative - it had to be what it had to be. And I mean that to the extent that I barely changed a word of it in editing. That feeling of inevitability – arrived at after more than a year of fighting it - cushioned me a lot from the pain of the story. It was a somewhat different experience for readers, of course…
Aubrem: You said earlier that you are working on a new Snape/Harry story. Can you tell us anything about it?
Luthien: It’s both a new and an old story. I first started work on this story over three years ago, and then the Fest got in the way of it and I never properly returned to it until around the end of last year. It was originally meant to be quite a light story. It was intended to prove that I could write fluff. Because of that, and because a friend of mine is fond of stories featuring wet men, I decide to incorporate a fair few gratuitous bathing scenes into it. I was also wanting to write a non-humorous story in which Snape and Harry were in an established relationship and basically fairly happy together, just for a change. Somehow or other, in the course of working out the plot, a certain amount of angst occurred. However, this is – mostly – angst that is external to the relationship between Harry and Snape, though it does have an effect on them, as is only to be expected.
All of this is why the story has the working title of “the fluffy bathsmut angst story”. I’ve tried various other titles on it over time, and none of them have quite fitted properly, so I’m hoping I think of a better title for it by the time it’s finished.
I’ve written a chunk at the beginning of the story, and a long, Snape pov scene from close to the end, and I still have to write the middle. I think I have to say, after having written this much of it, that I’m clearly a failure as a fluff writer. I often share bits of stories with friends as I write, and certain bits of this story have made more than one person cry. Oops. (I promise that neither Snape nor Harry dies in this story, though. Truly!)
The story is set over the weekend of the tenth anniversary of Harry’s defeat of Voldemort, and being set that far in the future means that it’s more than usually vulnerable to the advent of new canon. I was very lucky that its premise wasn’t destroyed by the arrival of OotP a year or so after I started writing my story. Instead, elements from OotP actually enhanced certain aspects of my story. I’d very much like to finish writing it before HBP comes out, as I can’t imagine that any single story could be so fortunate as to survive two huge installments of canon unscathed.
I posted a few snippets from the story in my greatest journal back in January during the Great LJ Blackout, but I’m unlikely to post any more until the entire story is done.
Aubrem: I've been looking forward to this story for a very long time. I'm happy to hear we might see it before HBP comes out. : ) If you don't get the story finished on time and it is posted as AU will that bother you very much? I've noticed that some writers are more married to canon than others. After OotP some Sirius writers seemed to pretty much drop out of fandom rather than write AU.
Luthien: That sort of thing depends on the story for me. I’d really like to get this story finished and posted before HBP comes out for a couple of specific reasons. One is that if in book 6 JKR kills off one of the characters that I need to be alive ten years after the end of book 7, it’s going to lessen the impact of some aspects of my story. Another reason, and one that I’m especially conscious of, is that the canon relationship between Harry and Snape develops and changes with each new installment of canon. I was working on ‘The Key to the Kingdom’, the follow-up to 'Disarmed', all through the first half of 2003, and ended up finishing and posting it a few weeks after OotP came out. It wasn’t too badly affected by OotP in the sense that all the characters I needed for my story were still alive after OotP, but of course Key didn’t address either the increased hostility between Harry and Snape or the whole issue of Occlumency. I did think over how to deal with that, and ended up deciding that I could address the canon hostility between Harry and Snape in the context of Occlumency and Legilimency by writing a prequel showing how they came to be together. That story is partially written and should make sense of that universe in the context of OotP – but I think I’ll wait until HBP comes out before I try to do anything more with it. *g*
I did have another story which was much more seriously affected by OotP than ‘The Key to the Kingdom’ was, and it’s still stopped in its tracks, two years later. Well, actually it’s three stories – stories three, four and five in the ‘Aftermath’ sequence. Ginny, who was the pov character in ‘Aftermath’, played an important part in Lost’ (the incomplete and aptly named third story in that series.) She’d never got over her crush on Harry and that was a pivotal aspect of how she related to him in that universe. Then OotP came out, and she was suddenly *so* over him in canon. Similarly, while Sirius wasn’t more than a passing mention in ‘Aftermath’, he was going to play a major role in the fifth story in the series. Then OotP came out and suddenly there was no more Sirius. Add to all that that OotP had also altered my perception of the Snape/Harry dynamic, and I was left scratching my head, trying to work out how to reconcile my plans for the storyline with my changed ideas of the characters and the canon universe post-OotP. And that’s the point at which I’ve been stuck with that series for the past two years. I still come back to it every now and then, trying to work out what to do with it, though that’s mainly for myself since so much time has passed since I last posted any of it. There are one or two people who still remember ‘Lost’, though, and ask after it every now and then, and it would be nice if one day I could tell them that I’d worked out how to sort it out so that the rest of it could be written.
All of which is a long way of saying that I don’t think it’s so much that I’m married to canon, in the sense that I refuse to disregard it, but more that I find it very difficult to disregard it, even when I’d like to. The ways in which I view the characters and the canon universe are irrevocably altered by each new installment of canon, and it’s as hard for me to revert back to an earlier perception of the canon as it is to properly digest new canon and take all the additions and changes on board.
Aubrem: Oh, interesting. This is the sort of conundrum that a non-writer like me doesn't fully appreciate until someone gives examples. Thank you. Now I'd like to ask you, what fanfiction do you like to read? Do you have favorite authors or stories? Do you have favorite pairings outside of Snape/Harry?
Luthien: While I don’t tend to write huge numbers of pairings, I’ll read just about anything in HP, including het and gen as well as slash, so long as it’s well-written, though I prefer stories in which Snape is at least a major supporting player. I love stories that can take a well-worn idea and make it feel fresh, or stories that take an original – but convincing - spin on canon. I’m also a total sucker for any story that can present a strong emotion and make it feel real. And, more than anything, I love stories which explore my favourite characters in detailed and subtle ways. I’m in this for the characters more than anything else.
“Never say never” is something I’ve learnt to keep in mind when reading fanfic. It’s no use saying “I’d never read/enjoy/be convinced by X,” because all it takes is for the right writer to come along and convince me that X can work. In quantity, I’m reading a lot less than I used to, though more than I was a year or so ago when I was still recovering from HP fandom burnout. A lot of what I read now is determined by accident rather than design, as I don’t usually seek out fanfic these days: it finds me, either through a story post on my flist, or through a rec, or through a chat window when various friends share snippets of whatever they’re working on at the moment.
Favourite pairings to read? Not really. I’m not an OTP sort of person, except in fandoms where there’s really only one main pairing, and even then I’m up for any good story featuring an unexpected pairing. Sometimes, I like the idea of a pairing more than a lot of the fanfic written for it; sometimes I’m not terribly interested in a pairing, but the fanfic makes me enjoy reading that pairing more than I expect to.
As for favourite authors and stories, well, favourite authors include Telanu, Nym, kai, ellen fremedon, calligraphy, beth H, minx…. and the list goes on. It’s probably easiest just to look at my recs page to get an idea of what I like reading and why I like it.
Aubrem: Thank you for this interview Luthien, I enjoyed it very much!
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Luthien is an information management professional who lives in a cat-filled house in a small town surrounded by national park. Her hobbies include embroidery and collecting antique porcelain, and she could easily be mistaken for a respectable pillar of the community if not for the gay porn. Like kai and Telanu, who were not unconnected with her journey down the path of exotic beverage appreciation, she also enjoys drinking unusual teas, especially white tea.