|snarry_reader (snarry_reader) wrote,|
@ 2005-01-05 08:32:00
Interview with Telanu
The fourth author in our Author Interview Series needs very little introduction. Telanu's stories are amongst the best-loved in the fandom. Her famous Tea Series, including the novel "A Wizard Song" and the latest installment, "Possession," can be found at her site: The Rag and Bone Shop. Be sure to also check out the hilarious "Coffee Series" and one of my favorite ficlets of all time, "A Modest Proposal." In fact, if you haven't already, be sure to read everything on her page! Telanu can be found on Insane Journal as somniesperus.
Aubrem: Hi Telanu. : ) I always start these interviews with a question about fannish background. Can you tell us about other fandoms you've been involved in and how and why you came to be involved in the Harry Potter slash?
Telanu: I started out in Star Wars: TPM slash fandom, as a writer. I’d read some Star Trek: Voyager Paris/Chakotay slash before, and when I saw the otherwise-terrible Episode I, I guess the slash idea just clicked for me. It was the way Qui-Gon touched Obi-Wan’s face, I think. Mmmm. Sorry, where was I?
Oh, right. Anyway, I read a lot of stories in that fandom before I thought to write my own. When I did, I got a moderately good response, which was cool—I’d always written for myself, before, and had been really neurotic about letting anybody but my best friend see my stories. Now I was showing them to an enormous fandom! I guess I’m glad that I had no idea *how* big the fandom was at the time, or I probably would have freaked out. (I also got into Sherlock Holmes and New Teen Titans, both of which had considerably smaller fandoms.)
To make a long story short, I began to lose interest in TPM after a while. Someone on the Master-Apprentice ML (the old one, before Yahoo Groups deleted it) asked if I’d consider writing Harry Potter slash instead. By this time, I’d read the first three HP books. I wasn’t feeling an urge to write in the fandom yet, but I did ask if anybody knew of any Harry/Snape fics. At the time there were, like, two. I hadn’t expected that, for some reason, because in TPM you could get pretty much any kind of fic you wanted. I guess I’d been spoiled. But the two fics whetted my appetite, and for the next week or so I mulled over a baby plot idea I had in my head, about Dumbledore talking to Snape about Snape’s disturbing attraction to a far-too-young Harry. Eventually I wrote it. You probably know the rest. *G*
Aubrem: And what is it about Snape and Harry that made you want to slash them?
Telanu: And that’s a very good question. When I thought about it, I realized I’d always done “buddyfic” before—slashing characters who were friends before I made them lovers. I’d never written about two enemies falling into love, or bed, or whatever. So honestly, I’m not sure what made me take that direction, except that I thought Snape and Harry had so much chemistry. They were always really into each other, although not in a nice way; always watching each other, thinking/obsessing about each other. I realized quickly, as I was writing them, that I was more *interested* in them than I’d been in any of my other favorite pairings. They were a bigger challenge to write, because it was so hard to make a relationship between them even a tiny bit plausible. I enjoyed that challenge, although I often found (and find) it frustrating, as well.
And, to be perfectly honest, I have a bit of a kink for teacher/student. I’m not really a fan of chan, it has to be said, but all the same, I find that teacher/student power dynamic titillating, and trying to find ways to circumvent that imbalance of authority is fun. I’m almost always more interested in S/H stories in which Harry’s a student, as opposed to the ones where he’s grown up and away from Hogwarts.
Plus, of course, Snape and Harry are both complex and intelligently-rendered characters. They’re definitely my favorite characters in the series. How could I go wrong, trying to put them together?
Aubrem: The power dynamic is what fascinates me as well. Clearly, teacher/student is a large component of that in Snape/Harry but it seems to me that there are other components as well - most notably in your Tea Series, Snape's inability to control himself or refuse Harry. Can you tell us a little more about your take on their power dynamic? It seems to me to be a very complex thing.
Telanu: I’ll do my best. *G* This has been on my mind in the past couple of days, largely because of the kerfuffle over chan in Australia, which is affecting several of my friends. How DO you deal with the power issue, especially when one half of the pairing is underaged or still in school?
The Tea series is only one answer—in fact, it’s only one of my answers (insofar as it’s an answer at all). Was that confusing enough? I’ll try to clarify. It all depends on what you’re trying to do with your story. If you’re into writing BDSM, for example, or into exploring darkfic, it probably wouldn’t be in your best interests to put Snape and Harry on an equal footing, because you’ll be trying to explore a different aspect of that sort of relationship. For myself, I was trying to see what it would take to get Snape and Harry into something that could have the potential (but never the certainty) to turn into a long-term relationship with all those tricky things like trust and respect. For me, it was crucial to get Snape and Harry into some kind of power-balance before that could happen.*
I couldn’t see my version of Harry consenting to be subordinate to Snape in any way, mostly because he hates doing that in the canon, and I was interested in trying to stick to canon. (I leave it up to you to decide whether that worked.) I don’t think Harry would manage to stay subordinate at ALL if they were personally involved; in fact, in my stories, he saw it as a chance to get more on an equal footing with Snape than if they were just teacher and student. He’s not aware of everything that’s going on in Snape’s head, but he’s picked up pretty well on the fact that Snape’s interested in keeping their “thing” going, just like Harry is. So Harry lays down a few ground rules and refuses to take any of Snape’s shit. He’s inexperienced, but he has a little native cunning, for sure. *g* And Snape goes along with it, not because he’s in any way fair-minded or non-manipulative, but because he wants Harry and will do what it takes to keep him. As you mentioned, he frequently has a hard time controlling himself, and he’d definitely abuse his power if Harry let him (viz. the way he attacked Cho and the Weasleys), but Harry doesn’t let him.
That’s mostly an emotional sort of power. As far as practical power goes, they both know that Harry can get Snape sacked if he wants, while pretty much getting off scot-free himself. I personally can’t picture Harry doing this, but it’s there, nevertheless.
After “Possession,” of course, some of this has changed. In the first five stories, Snape wasn’t just Harry’s teacher; he was also a more powerful wizard. That isn’t true anymore, and Harry’s undergoing some pretty radical transformations. As he is now, he could grind Snape into magical dust (not that Snape knows this yet). This is definitely going to affect the future course of their relationship, but I’m not going to say more than that for now.
*I can’t emphasize enough, of course, that this is just my personal take on things. Everyone has a different way of approaching the power dynamic, and I’m not trying to say any of those are “wrong,” or anything like that. This is just how it worked out for me.
Aubrem: Do you consider the Tea Series chan? I know different people have different age cutoffs for chan. If I recall correctly, the first kiss happened when Harry was 15 and everything else when he was 16. I recall a bit of discussion at HP_Fictalk on livejournal in which we were trying to decide whether A Wizard Song is a straightforward romance, in which Snape and Harry's age difference is just one more obstacle to true love, or whether there is in fact some moral indictment of Snape for having sex with a 16 year old.
Telanu: So: is the Tea series chan?
We could run around endlessly debating the terms of that question. What’s the difference between chan and shota, how young is really too young, does it depend on the country you’re in, etc., etc. And also, of course, the idea that chan is always in the eye of the beholder: what one person considers chan another might not.
The evidence against the Tea series is pretty damning, I’ll grant you that. After all, in the first story, Harry’s only thirteen (though he does not actually appear in the fic) and Snape admits to being interested in him in some vague way—I never clarified, until “Possession,” whether that was an overtly sexual attraction or not (it was not). I felt it was better to leave things vague, because it would be more in line with the weird, irrational obsession canon Snape seems to have with canon Harry. So that’s that. However, by the time Harry is fifteen in the second fic, Snape obviously *is* interested in him sexually, and that doesn’t seem much better, does it? And then they have sex when Harry’s sixteen, which is legal, but does that make it okay?
This is where I get back to your other question: what was my intent? Is the age difference between Snape and Harry merely another obstacle to overcome on the way to True Love (or whatever), or am I making a commentary on the rightness/wrongness of these kinds of relationships?
Honestly, I’m not sure how to answer that. I’d like to say that it’s obvious that I don’t condone teacher-student relationships in RL, or think sex between an adult and a child is okay, but based on comments I’ve read in other places it doesn’t seem obvious at all, to some people. What I was trying to say, in these specific stories, is the whole situation is complicated, and it’s cheating to try and wriggle out of it. Snape and Harry care for each other deeply, that much is obvious (I hope), but in order to be together they do a lot of bad stuff. Break the rules. Lie. Threaten people. Act in ways not dictated by their own moral codes. Get possessed by malevolent primeval forces. I’m not trying to hide any of that, because I think that’s what would really happen, in this case. (Okay, maybe not the primeval forces bit, but you know what I meant.) So that’s my sole commentary on it. It’s up to you, the reader, to decide whether or not their feelings justify their actions. If you think they do, that’s fine, and if you think they don’t, that’s fine too. If you think the Tea series is about the Power of True Love, or is a Cautionary Tale, or is Kiddie Porn, or is really all about the Fleur/McGonagall, any of that is absolutely, totally fine. I will write and post the story. You may interpret it however you wish. My intent as an author might not be commensurate with your interpretation, but I’m okay with that.
Now you want me to admit what my intent *was,* don’t you? I will say that I never intended it to be seen as kiddie porn (as I said earlier, I find most chan disturbing and I tend to avoid it), but if other people want to see it that way, then I have no control over that. This isn’t meant to be a cop-out. It’s just the truth.
What I *do* have a problem with is when people whose interpretation differs from my intent write to me and say things like, “You shouldn’t have written X, because it should have happened like Y!” And sadly, I’ve gotten plenty of that too. *G*
Aubrem: Ah, feedback. : ) Is feedback important to you or do you mostly write for yourself?
Telanu: My ideas about feedback have changed since posting A Wizard Song in summer 2003. I used to live for feedback. But since then, during that long hiatus I took, I've started writing mainly for myself and a few friends. I don't mean that to sound clique-ish at all, and I'm sorry if it does, but the basic thing is, I've realized I have to care more about what's best for the story, and my own writing, than what people think of it. For example, "Possession" was luthien's birthday gift. I thought a lot of people wouldn't like it (and even now I'm sure there are a lot of people who didn't), but I just didn't care, whereas the thought would have devastated me re: AWS. luthien liked it, and I liked it, and that was all that mattered.
So: yeah, feedback good. It puts a smile on my face, and I try hard to reply to all of it. But it's not going to kill me not to get it, either.
Aubrem: Everyone I know loved "Possession," including myself! I don't know if I've matured as a reader but I can remember being panicked after "A Wizard Song" and writing to you, begging for assurance of a happy ending for Snape and Harry. The future didn't look good for them, and after "Possession" it doesn't look any better - and yet now I feel I can accept wherever you take the story. The first story in the series centered around Snape, then the series increasingly became about both Snape and Harry, culminating in "A Wizard Song," and now, with "Possession" it has become increasingly about Harry. Can you give us some clues regarding the next story?
Telanu: I’m glad that you liked “Possession,” in spite of its weirdness, and I’m also glad that you’re less resigned to a happy ending. This isn’t, I hasten to emphasize, because the ending to the Tea series will necessarily be *un*happy, but that in my experience it’s always best just to be open-minded to whatever the author might do. It’s a lot less stressful (though of course it doesn’t preclude my being disappointed if the story I’m waiting for turns out to be crap!). The truth is, I’m pretty sure I know how the Tea series is going to end, but I’m not 100% *totally* sure. Stuff can happen while you write, you know? Snape and Harry don’t always do what I’m expecting or wanting them to.
But, having said that, the final story (I haven’t decided on the title yet) is definitely going to have certain elements in it. It’s going to feature Ron and Hermione POV, for one thing, because it’s time to get them involved in what’s going on here. They’re going to find out what’s happening, and we’ll see if their friendship with Harry can survive that discovery. We’ll also see, of course, the full consequences of Harry being possessed by the Furies and what that does to him. Snape’s going to play a more active part in this fic, too; so far he’s played a fairly passive role in the series, getting rescued (and later seduced) by Harry, etc. In other words, Snape’s been reacting to events rather than making them happen. That’s going to change in the final story. A lot of stuff is going to fall apart too. I hope that the story will feel “natural” and not forced—but I also hope it won’t be predictable, either. I don’t want people to be able to instantly guess what’s coming next.
Aubrem: People are always interested in author's writing processes. Can you tell us how you tackle a story and the steps you go through?
Telanu: As to my writing process, I realized early on that I don’t really have one. Seriously, I don’t. I wish I did. But my approach to writing is very non-methodical. For big projects like AWS, I will say that I use an outline, but that the outline is subject to change more often than not. I think it’s there just to make me feel better!
I guess what I usually do is I start with an idea and see where it takes me. For example, last year I wrote in the Pet Shop of Horrors fandom under another pseudonym, and I wrote this novel-length fic (though it’s only about half the length of AWS). I started off thinking it was going to be very short. Oops. But once I realized that it was going to take me a long time to tell this story, I sat down and figured out what I wanted to happen in each chapter, and then, if that didn’t work as I went, tossed my original ideas and went with something that did. And I wound up being pretty happy with the story, so that approach works for me. Much the same thing happened with the Tea series. I had no idea it would grow as it did. So I’m constantly having to re-evaluate everything I write as I go. I think most writers do that, probably. If you’re so married to an idea that you stick with it, even though it doesn’t fit the plot or (more importantly in fanfic) the characters, then your story’s going to suffer as a result. You can be true to your core themes and ideas without rigidly sticking to a plot outline that loses vitality.
I guess that’s the only constant in my process: trying to be flexible. I’m sorry I can’t describe it more clearly than that!
Aubrem: It sounds like good advice to me. I interviewed kaiz a little while back and she described her writing process as "raw," meaning that she writes the parts she's inspired by, jumping around the story, back and forth. Other writers I've talked to start at the beginning and work their way through methodically. Out of curiousity, which do you do?
Telanu: I’ve never been a successful RAW (Random Access Writer). I need to work in a sequence. It usually does no good for me to write different scenes and then fill in the blanks; it means I just write the most interesting stuff first, and then lose my motivation to finish the rest. So I do tend to write from points A to B to C.
Aubrem: Being just a reader and not a writer, this is all new to me and quite fascinating. : ) Do you get a chance to read much? Do you have favorite authors? Or particular stories?
Telanu: I read a lot. I have to: I’m a graduate student in English! I used to read a lot more fanfic than I do now, though. Sometimes I can’t even make time for a new story by one of my favorite fanfic authors, which is frustrating. And now that the semester’s over, I still don’t see that changing too much, as I have a miles-long summer reading list I’m trying to get through.
So this isn’t going to be so much about my favorite fanfics—sorry. I do have certain favorite books that have influenced me in various ways, not all of them obvious. For example, I just finished re-reading Kipling’s Kim: the plot and the writing style don’t exactly thrill me, nor the take on imperialism, but the relationship between Kim and the Tibetan lama is one of the most beautiful and touching in literature, I think. I get different things out of different books (if that’s not a “duh” statement I don’t know what is), and I’m often surprised by what I end up taking away from a work and using in my own writing. I’d say that the writing of “Noise” was heavily influenced by my recent reading of Mrs Dalloway. Make of that what you will. *G* Sometimes I feel that’s downright sacrilegious, and other times it seems only natural to me to use what I read, even if I “only use it in fanfic.”
I’m currently trying to read a lot of non-Western literature (I’m especially devouring South African literature these days, and I always welcome recommendations). I enjoy magical realism tremendously, with writers like Rushdie and Coetzee high on my “favorites” list. I want to use global literature to inform my own writing, both recreational and academic, and also to catch the interest of my students, many of whom have never read anything outside the standard high-school canon. I also love poetry and drama. But I’ve got so much left to read, and the list is growing all the time!! I often feel like the most illiterate, poorly-read English teacher on the planet. See why I don’t have as much time for fic as I used to?
But no matter what you like to read the best, *read it,* if you want to write. I’ve said it many times and I still absolutely believe it to be true: you cannot be a good writer without being a good reader. It’s just not possible.
Aubrem: Ah, but will you make time to read "The Half Blood Prince?" In fact that's my final question, are you looking forward to HBP?
Telanu: I’m very much looking forward to HPB! I admit that Book 5 changed the way I thought about several of the characters—Snape being the most pertinent example. I tried to incorporate some of my new ideas about his character into “Possession,” but some of them I just couldn’t change at that point (I have to admit, post-OOTP Snape didn’t scream “rich kid” at all to me). And it took me a long time to take those new ideas on board and actually do something with them, but once I did, I was satisfied with the result. I don’t know if Book 6 will leave me reeling for a similarly long period of time, but if it does, hey, I’ll deal with it.
I’ve got to say that the more I think about it, the less I like OOTP. I have several gripes with it, not the least of which is that it needed an editor in the worst way. But I did love certain parts of it (read: Occlumency, and Fred and George’s daring escape), and I haven’t given up hope for HPB by a long shot. That reminds me, I need to reserve my copy with the local bookstore…
Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview!
Aubrem: Thank you and good luck with the next story!
* * *
Telanu is a graduate student in English literature. She wastes an awful lot of time surfing the Net when she could be reading, writing, doing good works, and all that sort of thing. She enjoys talking long walks (no, seriously, she does) and, like kai, she loves all different kinds of tea