April 9, 2010

Hannah's Interview with Minisinoo about 'Finding Himself'

Update: Minisinoo is unfortunately shutting down her site. Now this doesn't mean her fics are being deleted, they can still be found in various places around the web (all links here have been changed accordingly). Plus we have links to .pdf versions, here and here (with manips included ;) )

Right. So I told you before that one of my very favourite fanfics was Finding Himself by Minisinoo. And it was also Sue’s very first foray into HP fanfic. After my first blog post, a couple of weeks ago, Sue told me to go interview Minisinoo for SYTYCW.
I was like … ok, sure. Inside I was more like OMG! Partly because I am a wuss when it comes to contacting people, but mainly because to me Minisinoo is one of the best fanfic writers out there, for any fandom. It felt a little intimidating, I have to say!
But I kinda knew we were gonna get some great answers. Minisinoo is wordy! Which I personally love.
So lets give a more proper review for Finding Himself.
Here’s her summary:
"You see people change, in the maze. Oh, find the cup if you can.
But be very wary; you could just lose yourselves along the way.
(Dumbledore, before the Third Task)
Summary: 'The boy who almost died' has to figure out what it means that he didn't. Harry's tumultuous fifth year at Hogwarts is Cedric's seventh and final. Bound together by a shared trauma survived, both boys fall under Ministry suspicion and fire, and both undergo a 'deconstruction' of sorts in the face of that crisis. Who is Cedric Diggory? He must find himself amid rumors of war, the awkwardness of falling in love, and a crippling personal tragedy. (parallel canon) COMPLETE

It starts off as Harry and Cedric are in the maze and grab the portkey Triwizard cup. So far the same as canon. Once they get to the graveyard, this is where it changes a little. Through a complicated sequence of events Cedric survives. However, not without consequences. He is crippled from the waist down.
The rest of Finding Himself charts Cedric’s struggle with his handicap while dealing with Umbridge, and the other events that occur during OotP. It is parallel canon meaning it follows OotP as closely as possible considering the major change at the start.
There are so many things right with this fic. It’s long. It’s extremely well thought out. It pads out Cedric’s admittedly 2-D character from the books (that’s not really a criticism, just saying he was a plot device really) into a character that I love, and I know Sue definitely does! Above all, it is well written.
Another thing, is that it has a slightly unconventional pairing. There is no Ron/Hermione as such. It is Cedric/Hermione. And it totally works. Cedric is an intellectual, enjoys conversation and is open-minded. He can nearly always see both sides of the argument. Cedric, above all, is loyal, a trait of the Hufflepuff house. This story also paints Hufflepuff in a more flattering light than most fics. Everyone sees Hufflepuff as the cop-out, the house that can be pushed over easily. No one really wants to be a ‘Puff, do they? Well, if this doesn’t at least make you consider Hufflepuff as a house who can stand up with the others, I don’t know what will!
Hermione, who as we saw in canon, can be quite closed-minded (i.e. S.P.E.W.), even though her heart is clearly in the right place. Also Hermione is a Gryffindor. This story shows how she is one. She is sometimes reckless, does before she thinks. Minisinoo shows why Hermione was not put in Ravenclaw over Gryffindor.
In FH, Cedric and Hermione help each other. Hermione shows Cedric he is still as valuable in his wheelchair as he was standing on two feet. Cedric shows Hermione that not everything is black and white.
Also Cedric’s mother is a great character. She is completely original, having never been named in canon, but she is perfect.
And is nothing else, there is liberal use of the Pretty throughout ;)
Ok, I’m going to let Minisinoo answer some questions. There are some more questions that I didn’t ask her because she had already answered them in another one. So I am just going to link to it: http://www.thequidditchpitch.org/viewpage.php?page=interview_minisinoo

General writing stuff. How do you go about writing a story? Is it planned out? Must you have complete silence, only blue M&M’s to eat, while writing?I virtually always plot out a story before beginning, in large part because I’m a novelist. For a short story – which I don’t write many of – the idea often comes “of a piece,” so there’s no plotting necessary. Short stories are really “idea fiction,” and while they do have a plot, it tends to be far less complicated.
A novel, however, is a journey on which an author takes his/her readers, so it becomes critical to have a map. Without that map, a whole host of problems can ensue from poor pacing (the story drags), to failure to adequately foreshadow things, to writing one’s self into a corner, to getting lost somewhere in the middle. How thorough one is in plotting it out varies, however. I work with plot arcs rather than detailed outlines (except for action or fight scenes, where I may plot things more carefully or even enact moves to be certain what I’m writing is physically possible). Also, we must remember we’re “god” in our little world, so if a plot direction isn’t working or it takes a sudden left-hand turn well … that’s okay. Having a plot arc or outline doesn’t straightjacket the author. It simply provides direction.
As for other necessities … very few, actually. It’s necessary to learn to write under a variety of conditions. I do prefer to write on one particular keyboard -- whichever my hands have gotten used to -- but that’s more a function of my typing speed. I’m a touch-typist, so typing on an unfamiliar keyboard can result in hitting a lot of wrong keys, which becomes quickly frustrating. Having music in the background is nice, but about the only thing that I find really distracting is a lot of talking or interruptions. Although even there, it varies. If I’m writing draft, I need more concentration in order to let the story flow than if I’m editing draft. Mostly, if the story is ‘hot,’ I don’t like to be interrupted and have been known to still be writing when the sun comes up.

How long have you been writing?
Since I was 11 (sixth grade). I’m 45 now. So 34 years.

Which RL authors inspire you? Do any fan fiction authors (in any fandom) inspire you? Any rec’s?
I tend to read different (master) authors to learn different things. Dame Iris Murdoch, for instance, is a master of writing conversation, including conversation between several people at once without either losing the reader or employing too many dialogue tags. John Irving really gets people and their complicated motivations. So do Toni Morrison, Annie Proulx, and Anne Tyler. Elizabeth Hand does moody, gothic horror like no one else, and her place descriptions practically leap off the page and assault you. John Crowley is uncanny at writing vivid, vivid prose with very little in the way of adjectives or adverbs (he just finds the best verbs and nouns). So rather than look just to one author, I look to several, each for different things.

Why is fan fiction, of any fandom, so popular?
It’s folk art. I think human beings have a fundamental drive to create, just like we have a fundamental drive to play. The problem is that our modern society has become highly specialized, and many creative things have been locked into the realm of the professional -- at least once we pass school-age. We encourage kids to imagine, create, and play, but we stop allowing ourselves to do that somewhere between childhood and adulthood. With the exception of a few “acceptable” crafts (knitting, sewing, amateur carpentry, etc.), we choke our creativity. Even “garage bands” get a bit of a knowing smile -- although most successful professional bands started as garage bands, essentially.
The need to create doesn’t go away as we age. Writing fanfiction is only one of several ways people can create, and interact with the things they love, in a non-professional way.
Additionally, human beings are meaning-seeking, meaning-making creatures, and one way of making meaning is through the telling of stories. So putting together the need to create with the impulse to tell stories, is it any wonder that fanfic has exploded in the era of the internet where people can find others who share a particular passion? Much of the real issue around fanfic is control of intellectual property and protection of profits. Accusations that fanfic is “derivative” and “not creative” are employed to ghettoize it as lesser art … or not art at all, but intellectual thievery, as I’ve heard some creators call it.
This is silly, frankly. There are many ways to be creative, and the woman (or man) who knits a sweater pattern created by someone else, but then uses her/(his) own flair to add stripes is still being creative. Likewise, so is the fanfic author who borrows another’s characters and world, then tells a unique story of her/his own imagining.
The next most common slam against fanfic is the claim that it’s simply bad (as in poorly written). Well, yes, a lot is. Most authors are new to writing and writing is craft as much as art, which means we must learn the skill. Some never learn it very well, but as long as they’re having fun and being responsible, I see no reason to tell them to stop regardless of whether I want to read their work. I refer to Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” Fanfiction is no exception.
I think there’s been a tendency by those outside the world of fandom to fixate on the stranger examples. Is there weirdness/kinkiness in fandom? Absolutely. But we find that in anything, and the media often looks for something titillating to elicit a reaction from readers. Fanfiction authors are easy scapegoats, yet the need to make fun of other people typically arises from a sense of personal deficiency, IME. In order to have “cool” kids, there must be “uncool” kids. This is a juvenile impulse.
A lot of journalists, pro authors, and others who poke fun at fanfic don’t understand it because they cling to these notions of if as kinky, derivative, and uncreative. But modern authors who regard fanfic as derivative had best be careful because some of history’s literary giants were writing what was closer to fanfic than modern original fiction – Homer, Euripides, Shakespeare … A number of the stories they told were not original in any modern sense.
Does anyone really want to call Homer “derivative” and “uncreative”? Some folks need a history lesson (says the historian). ;)

I was so excited to see you were writing for Twilight, as I have read your Harry Potter stuff for years. What brought you to this new fandom? What inspired you to start writing for this fandom, as opposed to just reading in it?
Irritation. Which is also what made me leave it. At the risk of eliciting howls of outrage among Twilight fans, I have deep, fundamental disagreements with the way Meyer presents love and relationships in Twilight. I am, yes, a romantic … but I’m a romantic iconoclast. I think it possible to write relationships that are both realistic and romantic. For instance, I adore love stories, but I can’t read genre Romance. I have a very visceral negative reaction to it. When I write love stories, I tend to write them as part of a larger tapestry of both relationships and events. Finding Himself is a good example. Yes, it’s a love story (of Cedric and Hermione), but it’s also a coming-of-age story for both of them, and about political machinations at Hogwarts. The love story doesn’t exist in isolation; it emerges as part of and is interwoven with these other events. I also tried to write it in a realistic fashion – to show why Cedric and Hermione work as a couple, including where they sometimes rub each other up the wrong way, why they fight … and how they resolve it. The characters are flawed, and I intend them to be – because we are too. I think it’s much more hopeful to show real people with normal flaws struggling to live with and learn from those flaws.
I never found Bella and Edward compelling as I never really “got” why they worked as a couple, aside from the fact Bella thought Edward was beautiful/hot, and he wanted to eat her/was fascinated by the fact he couldn’t read her mind. That’s not a good basis for a relationship. The rest was being told, “Oh, these two are soul mates.” I don’t believe in “soul mates” – at least not soul mates found. Soul mates are made across time and shared experience. I thought that – maybe – towards the end of Eclipse Bella and Edward were moving in that direction, having finally seen each other’s faults, but then Breaking Dawn blew any hope for real character and relationship development out of the water. I’m just not impressed by Meyer’s characterizations. Her basic idea might be cool, but I didn’t like her overall execution. And yes, I know she’s a beginning author, but that’s my honest reaction to the books. I found the ideasmore compelling than the books themselves.
Then again, that can sometimes be more fruitful for fanfic since, if the author is too good, readers may not feel there’s much room for their own stories. My experience of fandoms is that it’s the more flawed worlds that generate larger proportions of fanfic. That’s by no means an absolute,* but I do think it’s a trend. Many fans write stories to tell something the original source didn’t tell (for whatever reason). So the more tightly plotted and well-written the original, the less “space” it may leave for stories.

Part of why I’ve not written more in Twilight is that I tend to see fanfic as a compliment to the original author. I’ve stopped writing in fandoms before (Ultimate X-Men) when I found that what I was doing was more “corrective” than “creative bow.” Yes, I may sometimes offer a corrective of some sort (the handling of natives in X-Men, for instance), but I’m usually writing an alternative, not a corrective. Yet because I can’t buy into a lot of the way Meyer presented love in Twilight, I don’t feel I can continue to write fiction in that fandom because I find myself wanting to FIX her view, not compliment her view, and that’s not my own personal reason for writing. YMMV. (Your mileage may vary.)
*I wanted to clarify that it takes more than flawed source material to generate fanfic. The original world has to have “space” for those stories in terms of an intriguing world or a large cast of characters that invites the reader to live in that world for a while beyond just the original stories told about it. So large, creative universes like the world of Harry Potter, Star Trek, or The Lord of the Rings … all these have “space” for creative endeavors.

What’s your opinion of the books including BD? The film(s)?
As noted, I think they’re deeply flawed in a lot of ways. Meyer’s characters tend to be two-dimensional, she backs away from wrestling with their flaws, she has (to my mind) somewhat simplistic ideas about love and relationships, and she really needs to work on her plotting. So yeah … not terribly complimentary, I’m afraid. That said, the basic ideas are interesting and she’s obviously touched on something that compels people or the stories wouldn’t sell like hotcakes. To fail to recognize that the stories are popular because they have a mass appeal is being willfully dismissive. It’s the execution that gives me problems.
I expect that as she writes more, she’ll mature as a writer. I only hope that being so successful right out of the gate won’t give her a false sense of perfection. Most writers wrestle more at the beginning, and as a result, learn to take critique and hone their craft. However popular her ideas, Meyer still has a lot to learn on the technical side of things. But let me add – the books are getting people to read. That’s a plus.
Also, I think the films actually solve a lot of the problems I had with the books when it came to plotting pitfalls, and even the Bella character. So cheesy FX and some bad lines aside, this is a case where the films improved on the books, IMO.

Who is your favourite character in the books? Which character do you see yourself as, or relate to the most?


Team Edward or Team Jacob?
Neither. I find Edward the more interesting character, but I’m bored by Bella. I’ve found some very interesting Bellas in fanfiction, but the way she’s characterized in the books annoys me, to be honest. That makes it hard to be a fan of pairings that involve her. I read more Edward/Bella, but I find myself more interested in the FAMILY dynamics than the E/B or J/B romances.
You have written several stories for Twilight now. Where did you get the ideas for them?
The first was the classic “expand-on” story (This is My Beloved Son) in which I wanted to answer why Carlisle, after hundreds of years alone, chose to turn Edward. “Amputated at the Neck” is less a story than an extended monologue. In the past, I’ve written empath-telepath contrasts (in X-Men), so I wanted to look at how being an empath affects Jasper, and how Jasper might see the Edward-Bella relationship as well as Edward’s “blind side” as a telepath. “Beauty” was written for the LGBT fest, so the basic situation was given to me. Cowboys & Indians … I have NO idea where that came from. It just insisted on being written. Jasper interests me, and I wanted to give some insight into a female native character as a female native author. Meyer’s handling of Leah (and the natives generally) grated, so I wanted to put a native spin on things. “The Star Quilt” was requested as “the rest of the story” (how did Alice react to events in C&I?) done for the Support Stacy auction – so again, the basic idea was given to me.
In Beauty, Shining in Company with the Celestial Forms, you have hints of slash. How is slash received in the Twilight fandom, compared to the HP fandom, seeing as the relationships are so clearly defined?
Well, Beauty occurs before Bella ever enters the picture, so it doesn’t really contradict or interfere with that relationship. I’ve written about making slash believable in, “The Actual, the Implied, and the Imagined: degrees of suspension-of-disbelief in slash.” Making slash believable requires, first, adequately addressing the character as presented in canon. But it also means that readers (and writers, obviously) have to recognize that when it comes to our sexuality, people tend to be reticent, and we may be less straight (or less gay!) than we realize. Human emotions don’t fit neatly into boxes and human sexuality isn’t either/or, but a sliding scale. That’s a lot of what that story is about. Edward isn’t really “gay,” but he loves his childhood friend Teddy (who is gay) and wonders if ... It’s about learning to understand love versus desire, and to see that while they can exist separately, they can also exist together … and sometimes it’s not clear where one ends and the other begins.
So Beauty is more about gay themes than some traditional slash (which can just be about two hot male bodies doing interesting things in bed). But there’s a frustrating tendency among readers (and some writers) to assume that ALL slash is gay porn. That’s silly, just like it’s silly to assume all fanfic is badly written, kinky porn for women. There’s plenty of slash out there that isn’t even rated R, never mind NC-17, and which deals with same-sex relationships, not sex. (Beauty has nothing beyond a couple brief kisses, for instance.)
Good fiction – of any kind – is about human struggle. Sometimes labels can be helpful in allowing us to find stories we’re interested in (and stories we aren’t), but when the labels become too rigid or shallow, they impede rather than assist. Whether or not a reader will like any given slash story will have more to do with the style of the writing, the nature of the plotline, and the characterization … not with the internal plumbing of the participants.
In short, assumptions about slash need to be drop-kicked. I’d advise readers who might have previously steered clear of slash to find out if any of their favorite gen or het authors have also authored a slash story and give it a try. As long as they don’t have a moral objection to homosexuality, they might be surprised (and even if they do have one, they still might be surprised).
That said, I’m well aware that slash is something of the red-headed step-child of Twilight fandom. I think there are three reasons for this. First -- and primarily -- it’s because the canon relationships are all heterosexual and the bulk of Twilight fandom tends to write canon pairings. Second, far, far more readers and writers are new to fandom generally and have peculiar (ime, often wrong) ideas about slash itself (see above). And last, I’ve found a slightly higher percentage of readers and writers in Twilight (compared to other fandoms) who are religiously and/or politically conservative and see homosexuality itself as sinful or morally wrong. So I think it’s really a combination of ALL these things that make slash less common. (And I should say that while there is a higher percentage of religiously or politically conservative fans in Twilight, perhaps due to Meyer’s own religious beliefs, IME most are not. So while it’s a factor, I think it’s a tertiary one.)

Who do you envision as your main characters? Who would you like to play them?
In Twilight? Jasper, I suppose. And I don’t have any other actor in mind than the one cast.

Have you had any Twilight/Rob-related dreams?
No, I’m afraid not. I tend to separate actors and characters. Rob is a cutie, but he’s young enough to be my son, and it’s not reallyRob who interests me, per se. It’s Cedric, and to a lesser degree, Edward. I think Rob might be a fun person to talk to about books, but I don’t fantasize about HIM. Perhaps it’s a function of having been a writer of original fiction for a long time before doing any fanfic, but as noted, it’s characters who interest me, not their actors. With my own original characters, I may also have physical models who embody them (usually do), but they’re just “a face.” It’s the character I write about, not the face.

Any pet peeves in Twilight fan fiction? Any grating clichés?
A lot of grating clichés! LOL! But that’s true of any fiction anywhere, to be honest. I want authors to push the envelope a little. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself as an author. Most of all, get in there and really wrestle with emotional conflict and character flaws; don’t have everything work out neatly all the time. The result will be better stories.
That said, one thing that bugs, bugs, bugs me in any writing (fan or pro) -- the use of trauma as a short-cut to cranking up emotional investment. In fandom, this is sometimes called “hurt-comfort” fiction, in which a romantic relationship “fixes” a character’s trauma. Put more crudely, it’s “fuck her/him all better” fiction.
It doesn’t work like that in real life. I used to be a counselor, and I’ve written before about responsibility and compassion in fiction writing when addressing traumatic events. Using abuse, rape, disability, assault, natural disaster, addiction, or other similar things in fiction without doing 1) adequate research and 2) wrestling with the ugly (not romantic) realities winds up FETISHIZING things that real human beings struggle with daily. Don’t do that. It’s disrespectful and unkind. Remember, someone reading the story may have lived through whatever’s being written about. Authors need to be certain they write what they know – or research like hell. I’ve written about highly traumatic events myself (Special: the genesis of Cyclops [deals with prostitution and the foster system], Climb the Wind [deals with rape of a male in war]), so I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m saying know what you’re doing before leaping in.
On to Harry Potter. What drew you to Harry Potter? What caused you to want to write fan fiction for it?
It’s a great world! How many kids who feel isolated/alienated dream of finding out they’re a wizard! (Or an alien, or an elf, or a godling, or a secret prince/princess … ) Beyond that, however, it’s just a funny, charming little world but with an intriguing dark side. I was given the first book for my son, which I read aloud to him (his was too young to read at the time). He LOVED Harry (and Ron) and the films, and really hooked mom into it too.
Why do you think Harry Potter continues to have a thriving fan fiction community, several years after the last book was released?
Because it’s got a much larger world than just the story of Harry, Ron and Hermione. The world-building may not be perfect, but there isa world there in which readers can play. It’s a world with history, and a future. So like Star Trek, Star Wars, Farscape, The Lord of the Rings, Darkover, etc., the world extends beyond just the central protagonists and their stories. That invites readers to stay for a while, giving them a place to play. For that matter, you could point to real life examples of this. Why did the ancient Greeks (then Romans) tell so many different (sometimes mutually contradictory!) stories about their gods, heroes, and monsters? Because it’s a great constitutive (created) world, and so yielded tons of stories across hundreds of years. For that matter, Greek myths still excite and interest kids (and adults) … look at the popularity of The Lightning Thief!
So that’s the real secret, I think, to why some source material yields a large, active fandom. The source pulls in readers and makes them want to live there for a while.
You write fan fiction for several different pairings. Do you have one particular pairing you like best? Were you happy with the epilogue in that respect (or in any respect)?
No, I fixate on characters more than pairings. So I’m fascinated by Cedric (as well as a few others).
Any pet peeves in the Harry Potter fandom?
Eh, in general the “pairing wars,” and the tendency for a few writers and readers to vilify the character who presents a challenge to his/her favored pairing. We see this a lot with Ron in Harry-Hermione, or Cho in Cedric-anybody, and with Ginny in about any other pairing for Harry, etc., etc. It’s immature characterization, frankly. Twilight fandom -- or ANY fandom -- can suffer from the same. Jean Grey got it a lot in X-Men with either Wolverine-Rogue or Scott-anybody else. I think Jacob Black gets it in Twilight, or Tanya. It’s quite possible to write Bella/Edward without making Jacob or Tanya into The Bad Guy/Gal -- it just requires authors to think more deeply.
Write real characters, not straw wo/men. I can’t stand character bashing. It’s shoddy writing.
Why should readers read your stories? Is there anything they should know going in?
Let me answer the second first. I’m a character novelist, so my main focus is on character development, but I do enjoy writing a tightly fitted plot and a little action. So I try to blend both, but I write plots around characters rather than develop characters to fit plots. I tend to research things carefully and bring a degree of realism (to the best of my ability) to stories, even when writing about mutants, aliens, vampires, and wizards. Also, I try to write clean prose, well-edited, etc. Basically, I don’t treat writing fanfic any different from writing professional fiction. I work just as hard on it.
Now, why should readers read my stories? No reason. I’m actually uncomfortable with trying to sell myself or convince readers they ought to read me. What we choose to read tends to be personal. I’m never offended if someone doesn’t read my stories because it’s just not their thing. That’s fine. I myself pass on a lot of stories for the same reason! So I’d say that if people like the story summaries or the characters involved, give it a try. I am told I have a talent for making characters that aren’t universally liked or popular more attractive and understandable (Cyclops and Jean Grey in X-men, Cedric in HP, and Leah in Twilight). But really, I think it’s up to readers. I will promise a well-edited, well-considered story.
The most I can say is that my readers seem to be pretty loyal to the point of following me from one fandom to another, and reading stories (even long stories) in fandoms they weren’t previously a part of, so perhaps that’s the fairest recommendation I can give.
So there we are. We asked Minisinoo another question but she said it was 6 pages long... so most likely that will be made in to a completely separate post :) I did warn you about her been wordy...
I hope that has convinced you to maybe check out some of her stuff, even if you start with her Twilight stuff ;)
If you want to start off easy, she has one-shots for HP and for Twilight. And if you do jump in at the deep end, and read FH, it even has a sequel: Dulce et Decorum est. It is a WIP at the moment, but spans what is Harry’s sixth year and Cedric’s first year in the real world of work (eek!).
Now if any of you DO read HP fic, and have rec’s, tell me! Or any type of story you would like to try. I can have a look and try to find it for you. Seriously, go wild. If you can think of it, there will most likely be a story for it.
Also, tell me if you did like FH :) I love discussing this stuff!


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