If you're reading this, you may have volunteered to write me a story for The Exchange At Fic Corner. I know most authors worry at this point, because they're afraid they'll write something that the recipient doesn't like to read.
You won't have that problem with me!
I read fic of all varieties: gen, het, slash, femslash, crossovers, OCs, plotty, PWP, dark, funny, character studies, worldbuilding, romances, deathfic, poetry, drabbles, epics, weird avant garde stuff... You name it, I read it, so don't be afraid to write it!
If you're stuck for ideas, I have some prompts below for my requested fandoms, but don't feel obliged to use them if you have an idea already. Don't even feel obliged to read them - long letter is long!
In which I talk about Swallows and Amazons, (mostly stolen from my 08 Yuletide letter)
Okay, so what is it that you like about these books?
The way they're a mix of the real, the imaginary and the educational. My least favourite Swallows and Amazons book is probably Peter Duck because it strayed from that formula and became a straight 'children having impossible adventures' story. Whereas Winter Holiday was great because of the way it melded the real life events (Nancy's mumps) the imaginary landscape (the trek to the pole) and the educational (it teaches you morse code and about some of the historical polar explorers that the children base their game on.) If you could write me a story that had a similar mixture in it, that'd be pretty awesome.
Who are your favourite characters?
I'm particularly drawn to Nancy, because she's a badass, to Susan, because the whole thing would fall apart without her and to Titty for her creativity and good humour. That said, I love all the nominated characters.
How do you feel about future/past fic?
I like fics where the current kids have grown up and the next generation of kids are exploring the lake... or the previous generation. That bit in Swallowdale where the kids found the note Mrs Blackett had left there when she was their age totally got to me and I'd love to receive a story that contained a moment like that. Basically I'm fascinated by the idea that the games they're playing are timeless and part of something bigger.
(Since I first wrote the above paragraph for my 2008 Yuletide requests, Stap has written a story that really hit the spot for me and - being a thoroughly greedy person where fanfic is concerned - I'd love to receive a new story along similar lines for my very own. However if you're interested in exploring the same theme while taking a new direction, it occurs to me that you could write something quite Neil Gaiman-esque about childhood, fantasy, ritual and magic that began from that same idea of generation after generation of children independently imagining these same things.)
Hey, while we're overthinking things, I heard you had some opinions on feminism in the Swallows and Amazons series...?
Ha! My opinions, let me show you them. In fact, let me repost them verbatim...
For my money, the classic children's stories most compatible with feminism, (particularly Choice Feminism) are Swallows and Amazons. They're written circa WWI, but look at the message they send little girls...
Hey kids, you can be Nancy Blackett! She's awesome! She's fearless! She's a born leader! She's fast and strong with awesome technical and navigational skills. She's canonically better than John at all sorts of "boy stuff" and it's never treated like that's anything remarkable! She's like George from The Famous Five but without all the internalised misogyny and self-loathing!
Hey kids, you could also be Susan Walker! She's awesome! She's level headed! She's nurturing! She cooks! She cleans! She's practical in a household-y way! She's canonically better than John at all sorts of "girl stuff" and that role isn't undervalued. It's explicitly stated in the text that John looks up to her, that Susan's skills are integral to the group and that without her, none of the adventures could have happened.
Hey kids, you could be Titty Walker! Yes, she has an embarrassing name, but she's still awesome! She's nurturing and she's fearless. She's happy to be a leader or a follower depending on the situation. She's cheerful and well-read and far too imaginative to stay in any role for long, much less a rigidly defined gender role! Wouldn't you like to be her?
But hey kids, maybe you feel more like Peggy Blackett? Maybe you're not quite as sensible as Susan, not quite a born leader like Nancy? Maybe you try to walk a middle ground, but can't find a balance like Titty? Maybe you feel like you're never going to be quite good enough no matter what role you choose? Those feelings are normal, but don't worry because a day will come when Nancy has mumps and John and the others will look at you all "Now what do we do, Peggy?" at which point your inner-awesome will suddenly explode like a frickin' volcano and leave bits of Peggy-Blackett-Is-Amazing all over the carpet.
Right, so on a more practical level, give me some examples of stories might you enjoy...
A fic where they build a tree house and play at Swiss Family Robinson. An epistolary fic written between the different groups during the school term. A fic from the POV of Mrs Walker. *cough*aNarniaCrossover*cough*
Thanks. I thought so too!
In which I talk about Narnia, (mostly stolen from my 09 Narnia Exchange letter
Okay, let's talk about Narnia then. How'd you get into this fandom?
One of my earliest memories is of Narnia, specifically of being told I wasn't old enough to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe yet. I'm not sure exactly how young I was at the time, but by the age of five or six I was already bastardising lines from The Horse and his Boy for creative writing assignments at school, so that first memory is probably from when I was three or four.
(I started reading independently very early, but often had no emotional ability to deal with the content. As a result, stuff like Maugrim, the tombs outside Tashbaan, the wer-wolf and The Island Where Dreams Come True scared the ever-loving shit out of me as a child. This may explain my penchant for darkfic and horror stories in this fandom as an adult.)
Which characters do you like/dislike?
I... like everyone?
Sorry. That is probably not massively helpful, but there really isn't a character I actively dislike.
As a child, my favourite was Jill. I was a bit of a tomboy and while I loved Narnia in a general sense, I found the rigid gender roles and chivalry pretty stifling. I loved Jill for being braver than Eustace and for never letting her gender be a factor, except when it suited her. (Like flirting at Harfang or disobeying orders in The Last Battle.) She gets patronised more than anybody, but is ultimately very good at getting her own way.
I find Peter the least relatable character in the stories. He doesn't seem as fully realised as the others, possibly because we never see him make any really big mistakes. That's easily fixable in fanfic though.
So are you a books person or a movies person?
I saw the movies in theatres and enjoyed them, but I don't own them and I don't have the encyclopaedic knowledge of them that I do of the books.
My other real investment in this fandom is the stage musical of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I spent three months working on a production of this show and believe me there is nothing that will give you plot bunnies so fast as watching a two and a half hour Narnia musical, twice a day, six days a week, for three months!
So, this musical... it differs from the book?
There are actually a few Narnia musicals. The one I'm familiar with is the one that was written for the RSC. The action and dialogue is all pretty faithful to the source material, but the songs tend to expand on the canon to the point where they are basically mini-fanfics. (I, personally, thought this was awesome, but YMMV.)
So is there anything from the musical I could incorporate when writing bookfic?
I'm glad you asked, yes!
"Hot sunny day, must have been August / Sitting on towels on the beach / Father produced a mysterious box / Mother said only one piece each..."
In the musical, Edmund has a very specific reason for wanting Turkish Delight. One of his earliest and best memories is of an idyllic holiday where he ate Turkish Delight for the first time. As a result he associates it strongly with family, togetherness and happiness. He meets the witch at a time when he is separated from his parents and bickering with his siblings. When it turns out that the witch is able to provide him with Turkish Delight and all its associated sense-memories of feeling happy, protected and included, well... at that point, who even needs magic to gain his trust?
I would really love a fic which is all about the interplay between memory and sensory experience. Has the witch's Turkish Delight permanently ruined Edmund's memories of that one perfect day on the beach? Has he found a way for the different memories to co-exist? Maybe the fic isn't even about Turkish Delight, but about yearning for Narnian foods which aren't available in the real world or something else entirely, so long as it is nicely evocative of sense-memories.
When Alice came home from Wonderland / Did her family laugh and jeer? / When Crusoe sailed home from his island / Did they say 'You imagined it, dear.'
After being informed by the others that Narnia is a figment of her imagination, Lucy spends some time in Professor Kirke's library looking for answers. (In the musical, this only lasts for, like, half a verse, before she starts singing about other stuff, but I think there is way more milage to be wrung out of Lucy comparing herself to Alice Liddell, Robinson Crusoe, Dorothy Gale and co.)
Wrong will be right / When Aslan comes in sight / At the sound of his roar / Sorrows will be no more / When he bares his teeth / Winter meets its death / And we will have / Spring again / When he shakes his mane / Spring again
By setting the various prophecies to music, the show really cemented for me the link between Narnian history and song. (Which ought to be obvious, really. We know from The Magician's Nephew that this is a country that was literally sung into life!)
The instrumental version of the Aslan prophecy gets used elsewhere in the play: to precede his entrance, to foreshadow good things and as an indication that a specific character is one of the good guys. That last one is the part that gave me plot bunnies. I love the idea that members of the Narnian resistance are identifying each other during the Witch's reign by whistling the Aslan prophecy. I can haz fic about The Power Of Music featuring subversive humming, plz?
I am not into the musicals. Do you have any ordinary prompts for me?
Heck yes. help yourself to any of these...
In the trenches of World War One, Diggory Kirke thinks back to Charn and muses on dying Worlds.
Imagine you'd risked your life to smuggle Anne Frank away from the Nazis. At huge personal risk, you'd got her safely to Switzerland. You'd even managed to do so without being implicated. Then a week later she shows up on your doorstep again; she's invited herself around for tea. You can't shout at her, because she's just a kid and she doesn't realise how much danger she's putting both of you in, but all you can think about is how the hell you're going to get out of this situation... Poor fucking Tumnus.
For an hour every night, Rillian is tied to a chair and left alone with the Lady of the Green Kirtle. That means that during his ten years of captivity, he has spent five and a half months in the witch's company while in his right mind. What did they talk about? What happened? (Weird, psychosexual power plays, y/y?)
What is south of Calormene anyway?
The Narnians must have been working against the witch before Aslan and the Pevensies showed up. What did they do? What were their plans? Was there a sleeper cell inside the castle? Maybe one of the reindeer who pulled her sledge was a talking reindeer working undercover? Vive la resistance!
There is a Stephen Fry quote where he talks about the enduring power of the crucifixtion story where he says something like "Any god could incarnate and then die. This god apparently paid us the supreme compliment of actually suffering!"
You can probably see where I'm going with this. I'd like an Aslan POV story focusing on the fear, doubt and suffering of his mortal self and giving him an eloi lema sabachthani moment.
After all, if a sacrifice does't hurt, it's not really a sacrifice, is it?
Narnians come in all shapes and sizes, from Reepicheep to Rumblebuffin. Hell, 90% of the population doesn't even have opposable thumbs, and yet... it all seems to work. Considering that in our world, even getting decent wheelchair access is like pulling teeth, I am deeply impressed by the way Narnians have their shit together and would love to read about the mechanics of how it all works. I mean, does Narnia have the world's most comprehensive DDA, or what?
I would enjoy something about how weird it is for the Pevensies to go through puberty twice. (I know, I know. It's a tired old trope and lots of other authors have tackled this already, but I don't care, because I continue to find it absolutely fascinating. I am generally very interested in the degree to which our physical selves define who we are. This also explains my love of bodyswap fanfic - another hoary old trope that I can't get enough of.)
I want a conversation between Polly and Diggory as adults. Because after telling Peter and Susan that Lucy wasn't going mad, the obvious thing for Professor Kirke to do would be to talk to Lucy, but he doesn't. Why? Who or what talks him out of it? The obvious candidate is Polly and I'd love to know why they decided to keep their own childhood visit to Narnia a secret after all.
Narnia celebrates Christmas, but doesn't worship Christ. The only logical explanation for this is that the Narnian celebration of Christmas dates back to Frank and Helen who imported it from our world. I'd love a fic where the two of them try to decide which of the traditions and norms from our world should be jettisoned and which should be incorporated into their new lives in Narnia.
How did Jadis take control in the first place? At the end of The Magician's Nephew there were humans ruling Narnia, an apple tree protecting it, Aslan was taking a personal interest and Jadis had fled to the far North. At the start of The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe Aslan hasn't been seen for two generations, all the humans have been extinct for even longer, the tree isn't protecting anything and Jadis has staged a coup. What happened to Frank and Helen's descendants? What happened to the tree? How did Narnia become so isolated from other countries, like Calormene, that Narnians genuinely believed that humans had never really exited. (After all, there's a book in Tumnus's study called 'Is Man A Myth?')
I really love Age of Sail stories. I'm a big fan of the Master & Commander series in particular. So if you're in the mood to write a crossover and can work out a way to shoehorn Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin into the story of the pirates who founded Telmar, that would pretty much rock my world. Alternately, a crossover with Swallows and Amazons. Bonus points if the two Susans are BFFs.
At the end of Prince Caspian, Aslan has a private talk with Peter and Susan. Peter mentions this to the others, only to say that everything is very different from what he'd thought and that Edmund and Lucy will understand on their last visit. Sure enough, at the end of Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy that they won't be coming back to Narnia and that the way to Aslan's country is by worshipping Aslan in their own world, where they know him by another name and that he has been appearing as a lion in order to prepare them for meeting him in the other world. Bearing this in mind, I would really love to see a Susan redemption fic, (because I hate the character assassination she got in The Last Battle) where her Narnia-denial isn't to do with becoming silly and materialistic, but to do with Aslan's injunction to live fully in her own world. Where that fact that her brothers and sister continue to talk about God in terms of Narnia, even after God has personally told them that he doesn't want them to do that, is a form of childish, disobedient denial.
A boarding school story where Jill and Eustace find other uses for some of the skills they learned in Narnia.
In which I talk about Ramona. (Fresh for 2013! Not stolen from any previous letter!)
How come you don't have a pre-existing letter for this fandom?
I basically didn't realise I wanted it until I was browsing the fandom list for this challenge and suddenly went "Holy crap! I could ask for Ramona fic! I should do that!"
Tell me about your engagement with this fandom...
I read all the Ramona books except for the first and last ones as a child in a version that had been
I watched the Canadian TV show as a kid, but haven't seen the recent movie.
What makes this fandom special?
Obviously, Cleary's writing. She's incredibly good at making irrational kid decisions seem sensible and defensible. On a more personal level, though Ramona was one of the few fandoms I was exposed to as a kid where the characters had money worries similar to those of my own family. In most of the stuff I read and watched growing up, the characters were either utterly destitute (usually prior to happening upon immense wealth in the standard fairytale tradition) or they were wealthy enough that a lack of money never interfered with the progression of the characters lives or the plot of the story. Struggling members of the working class who remained struggling members of the working class, never seemed to feature in fiction..
Basically the only places I saw families like mine were on Roseanne and in the Ramona books. For that reason the stories hold a special place in my heart.
It's unusual for you to request specific characters. Why have you specified Mr and Mrs Quimby?
Don't feel like you can't include the other characters. I love everybody and am totally fine with ensemble stories about the whole Quimby family and their neighbours. It's just that we get to read stories in canon from Beezus's perspective and Ramona's perspective, so I'd be interested in hearing something from the perspective of a different family member. For that reason, most of my prompts are going to be about Bob and Dory, but if you want to write a story from the POV of Picky Picky, go right ahead. :)
Okay, so let's start with Mrs Quimby. Is there anything in particular you were looking for?
Yes. Could I please have a story where Dorothy Quimby is a time lord?
Of course you... Wait. What?
Well, not even a time lord necessarily, It doesn't have to be a Doctor Who crossover. I just think it'd be really cool to read a story that addressed the timeline shennanigans.
What timeline shennangians?
The series has a floating timeline. The first book with Ramona in it came out in 1950. The most recent in 1999. Some aspects of the books are timeless, others - like the kids unironically saying jeepers or the gelatin salad or two dollars being a lot of money - help to date the series as taking place at various times right across the second half of the twentieth century.
During this period, Ramona and everybody else ages by only five years.
You can deal with this problem by handwaving it or you can deal with it by writing awesome sci-fi where Klickitat Street is in the centre of a bizarre time-dilation phenomenon.
But why Mrs Quimby?
Because there are a half dozen points in the series where characters make reference to current cultural stuff or where Beezus calls Dory old fashioned and Dory's response is always this sort of wry, self-aware amusement. Like the whole neighbourhood is stuck in this weird time phenomenon, but she's the only one who is actually aware of what's happening.
I hadn't noticed that before, but I think maybe I can work with it. Hey didn't you write a Just William fanfic about floating timelines?
Yeah. William Brown Is A Fan Of Theremins it was written in a big ol' rush, so it's not my best work, but it does give you a sense of how fascinating I find floating timelines in general. I love it when they lampshade the fact that Bart Simpson's been ten years old for twenty six years and I always chuckle to myself when reading the more recent PD James mysteries. (Adam Dalgliesh has a cellphone now! That shit is crazy!)
Okay, what about Bob?
Could you please write me a story that finally tells me just how good of an artist he really is? Or at least just how good of an artist he thinks he is, deep down.
Well, Bob had Beezus at 22 and that's given in the books as the reason he dropped out of college. He used to draw cartoons for his high school newspaper and it's strongly implied that he would have gone on to seriously study art and maybe been a real talent if he hadn't had to support a family instead.
Yeah. That's what I got from the text.
Right, but was he actually forced to give up his art for Beezus or was he using it as an excuse because deep down he didn't think he was good enough?
I... don't know. What makes you think that might have been it?
Not a lot, really. It's just that he went back to college to train as an art teacher part way through the series and then not long afterwards there was that chapter where he's trying to draw his foot and becoming really discouraged that it's not good enough. (Even Ramona criticises it!) After he graduates, Bob tries for a while to find work as an art teacher, but ultimately goes back to working in the supermarket - ostensibly because Dory has fallen pregnant with Roberta.
I just really want a fic that answers my questions about Bob's inner motivations. Is he a man who secretly resents his family for making him give up his artistic dreams? Is he a man who has made sacrifices for his family, but is ultimately happy with his choices? Or is he a guy using his kids as an excuse for his own failures because deep down he knows that the art skills by which he used to define himself aren't really good enough for anything beyond cartoons in a high school paper or drawing on butcher paper with his kid?
I really want a story about this. There's not enough in canon to call it one way or another and I need to know.
What other mysteries from canon would you like explained?
I'm glad you asked! Can we just take a moment to collectively ask what happened to Howie Kemp's sister?
You mean Willa Jean?
No. Howie's older sister.
Wait. Howie had an older sister?
Yes. During the Halloween chapter of Ramona The Pest, Mrs Kemp explains Howie's costume by saying "I promised him a pirate costume, but his older sister was sick and while I was taking her temperature Willa Jean crawled into a cupboard and managed to dump a whole quart of salad oil all over the kitchen floor."
So the author changed her mind mid-series. So what?
Oh my god, it's like you don't know me at all! AD's third law of fandom thermodynamics states that for every continuity error in a given canon there must be a fanfic giving a plausible, in-universe explanation for the discrepancy. OTHERWISE WE WOULD HAVE CHAOS!
Um... I guess maybe Howie's sister could have died of her illness?
Exactly. I don't mind how continuity errors are resolved, so long as the fandom eventually gets them all resolved.
Okay. Are there any other discrepancies you'd like me to take a look at?
Yes. In the Henry Huggins books and in Beezus & Ramona, the Quimby house is only rented. Dory and Beezus both say so. Yet in Ramona The Brave, the Quimbys appear to own their own home and build an extension on it out of their own pocket. (They're still paying off the cost of the alterations a couple of books later.) Did they end up buying the rental? did they cut some kind of deal with the landlord? What gives?
Good question. Hey are there any particular canon events that you'd enjoy retold from Mr and Mrs Quimby's pov?
The bit where Dory first starts working in the doctor's office and goes through a hypochondriac phase. Ramona and Beezus's smoking campaign. A meeting of Mrs Quimby's book club. Any of the part-heard conversations in bed that the girls eavesdrop on using the furnace pipes.
Do you have any headcanon you'd like me to be aware of?
Beezus and Roberta were accidents, but Ramona was planned.
Mr Quimby gave up his job at PGE to work for the van and storage company because PGE has, like, twenty thousand employees and he preferred the workplace environment at a smaller company. Once the little company got taken over and made him redundant he felt really guilty about this decision.
Mr Quimby publicly praises his grandmother so much because he secretly feels guilty that he didn't like her better when she was still around.
Beezus grows up to be part of Portland hipster scene. Ramona grows up to be kind of joyfully nerdy. Both sisters are kind of baffled by each others choices, but Beezus tries not to be too embarrassed by the teenaged Ramona's geekiness and Ramona tries not to remind Beezus too often that it's more fun to be genuinely enthusiastic about things than to act cool and only like stuff ironically.
The above headcanon is just for reference and you should feel free to ignore it entirely.
Okay, i think that's given me enough to work with
Excellent. I look forward to your story!