From the Dallas Voice - 9/24/99
Fantastic fan fiction
Author Melissa Good brings Xena out of the closet
By Tammye Nash, Staff Reporter
Melissa Good started writing fan fiction based on the syndicated television series Xena: Warrior Princess more than two years ago. It all began after she watched, by accident, a second-season episode of the show entitled "The Quest," she says.
Intrigued by the concept of an action-adventure program starring two women leads who can kick butt with the best of the guys and who share a special bond, Good searched the Internet and discovered the on-line Xenaverse: a veritable treasure trove of fan-based webpages about the show, many of which included fan-penned stories featuring the series' two heroines.
Understandably, lesbians make up a big percentage of the show's fan base. While the extent of their physical relationship remains ambiguous on the program, fan fiction writers often bring the characters out of the closet, turning the show's subtext into main text in their fiction.
Good's stories fall into that "alternate" category, depicting two women who share a bond that has both physical and spiritual aspects.
Good explains that although she does documentation writing for Electronic Data Systems, where she works as one of the "head nerds" in technical support services, "that's not nearly as creative as fiction writing." Still, she thought she'd try her hand at her Xena & Gabrielle tale. The result was A Warrior By Any Other Name, the first of 13 - so far - Xena fan fiction stories.
"I just sat down and wrote it out," Good says, "and I haven't stopped writing yet." For that, her many fans are grateful. Her work has become so popular, in fact, that the first of her three über-Xena books (stories that take the prototype of the show's two characters and put them in different times and places) was published in traditional book form earlier this year by Justice House Publishing.
Now a company called Ladyhawke Productions is in the process of bringing Tropical Storm to the silver screen, based on a script Good adapted from her novel.
She even has her own fan club, an online circle of readers who call themselves the Merpups. They log on religiously to check for the latest story updates. They have their own webpage, called Merpups' Den, and often organize their own gatherings at Xena fan conventions.
No one, Good says, was more surprised by the popularity and success of her stories than she.
"I had no idea the whole fan thing was going on," she said. "I was just writing the story, posting the updates as I went along. Then the guy hosting my website told me he had to stop hosting it. It was getting too many hits, and he couldn't handle the traffic."
So Good bought a domain of her own and set up a new webpage, <merwolf.com>. At the urging of some friends, she included a message board where readers could exchange comments about her work.
"I put the message board up on a Sunday night. Monday afternoon, I checked just to see if anybody had used it, and there were already a thousand messages there," she recalls.
Before long, her website was booted off the original server because visitors to the webpage were generating about 10 to 12 gigabytes in traffic each month. She ended up having to take down the message board altogether. But the pups came through with their own shrine to their idol.
Despite the fame and adulation, Good says she isn't about to quit her day job for the "glamorous" life of a writer.
"It's a lot of fun. It's been a real blast," she says. "But I'm not about to try and do this for a living. If you talk to anyone [in the publishing industry] they'll tell you that unless you are extremely popular, like Stephen King or Anne Rice, you can't support yourself as a writer."
Justice House will soon publish the two sequels to Tropical Storm. The second book is Hurricane Watch, which already is complete and available through Merwolf. The third, Eye of the Storm, is in progress, with updates posted regularly.
It remains to be seen if the sequels will sell as well as Good's first book. But considering the quality of Good's writing and the loyalty of her fans, prospects look good.
Either way, Good says she's content. She writes because she loves it. And because she sees her writing as a way to make a difference.
"It's not blatant, but Xena was one of the first television shows to ever show such a strong bond between two women," Good says. "And fan fiction [portraying the two as lovers] kind of introduced the whole idea [of same-sex love] to a lot of people who maybe hadn't really thought of it before. I think fan fiction has made a lot of people more comfortable with the idea. And if it does that, then it's worth all the time and effort we put into it."
Good says an informal poll of the Merpup mailing list indicates that fans of her work are about evenly divided between lesbians, straight women and men.
"That was kind of a surprise," she says. Good adds that she often gets email from non-gays who tell her that until they started reading her fiction, they thought of homosexuality as something abnormal and morally wrong.
Her stories, they say, have helped them see that gays and lesbians are "really just people, like anybody else. I think that's great. The dollar value of all this - what I might make from it or how much I spend to keep the webpage up - that doesn't matter. What matters is that maybe I am helping to change the way people look at other people."
Tropical Storm, by Melissa Good. (Justice House Publishing, 1999) 471 pp. $16.99 paper.
Fiction on the Internet runs the gamut from really, really bad to very well written. Melissa Good's Tropical Storm definitely falls into the latter category.
Good first published the story, a piece of über fan fiction based, loosely, on the two lead characters from the syndicated television series Xena: Warrior Princess, on her website, <merwolf.com>.
The story of Dar Roberts, a successful, driven computer services company vice president, and Kerry Stuart, daughter of a conservative U.S. senator
determined to make it on her own. The two meet when Dar's company buys out the smaller company where Kerry works, throwing the women into immediate conflict since Dar is under orders to bring the new acquisition into the fold as cheaply as possible, and Kerry is fighting desperately to save her job and the jobs of her co-workers.
Added to the mix, of course, is an immediate attraction both physical and spiritual between the two.
Good has wisely chosen to put her characters in settings she knows well. Tropical Storm is based in Miami where Good lives, and both her lead characters work for a company not all that dissimilar to Good's own employer, Electronic Data Systems.
Good's own knowledge of the city and the business lend the story an air of authenticity that would likely be missing otherwise. Sometimes, however, she does tend to get a little too technical in her descriptions for those of us who are not "computer nerds."
Tropical Storm is not perfect, occasionally falling into the same traps that afflict most traditional romances. Dar and Kerry are both just a little too rich and a little too beautiful. The bad guys are a little too uniformly bad. And even the most idealistic among us these days are a little cynical about the idea of love at first sight leading to happy ever after.
But even traditional romances can be entertaining, if they are well written, and this one definitely is.
- Tammye Nash
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