25 September 2011

Why I Love Fan Mail

A long time ago in a small apartment far, far away (okay, in Toronto) I sat and watched the first episode of this quirky odd television show. It grabbed me because of the characters, the paranormal angle and the relationship between the main characters.

That show was the X-Files.

It might seem odd to newer television viewers to say that this was a milestone show, which broke all the rules and then some, but it did. It pushed the concept of paranormal phenomena out into the public eye like no other, not since Kolchak: The Night Stalker brought vampires and werewolves into the family living room and grabbed you by the throat, demanding you sit and think.

And it had two darned great characters. Mulder and Scully soon fell into our lingo and still exist today where you can talk about them and everyone knows instantly who and what you're referring to.

But I don't want to talk only about Moose and Squirrel. I want to talk about how the X-Files changed lives.

Specifically, mine.

I was working at a hospital at that time as a security guard, wrestling drunks in the emergency room in the wee hours of the morning and coming home to the apartment I shared with my mother and a second-hand Mac.

And the internet. And user groups where I found fans who loved the X-Files as much as I did, if not more.

And fan fiction.

Now I can see you laughing, you younglings, at the idea of newsgroups and people posting their fan fiction through a long complicated process of cutting and pasting into messages posted up in public for anyone to see, battling not only the horrors of a dial-up modem but the follies of newsgroups where you could lose a post at any time for any reason.

I loved to read the stories but, as many a fan fiction author has, that I could do better.

So I did.

It's been said that an author needs to write a million words of crap before he/she hones their craft to the point of being publishable. I'm not ashamed to say that I'm sure most of that first million in my case was spent on XF fan fiction.

I bashed out thousands of words in short stories, in novels, in serials that went on from season to season, filling in the gaps between episodes and during those long summer months between seasons. I wrote when I was at work, between dealing with loud obnoxious drunks who never lost a fight (or so they said) and a social life that only existed online due to my work situation.

I got plenty of fan mail, I'm rather proud to say. Someone sent me a copy of the Rolling Stone issue from Australia where Mulder and Scully are on the cover, naked and in each other arms. I loved getting fan mail and still love to get feedback on those older stories along with my original fiction.

But the real X-File happened one day in 1993 when I opened up a specific email. It was from a nice American boy down in Pennsylvania and detailed how he enjoyed my writing, specifically my Dragon series with my original character, Jackie St. George.

A bit of a backtrack here – I used an original character to be a Greek chorus for the audience in some of my stories, voicing what we the fans thought about the relationship between Mulder and Scully and how we wanted them to get together. She was Canadian, a CSIS agent and owner of a berserker curse. Not quite a Mary Sue by definition but darned close. (I will confess that I did apply to CSIS and came *this* close to being accepted. Talk about your life turns…)

Anyway this fan loved St. George and urged me to write more. I didn't need much encouragement and kept on writing. He kept on writing emails and eventually we moved up to phone calls. I think it's fair to say that we alone kept Bell Canada afloat for many months.

Finally he gets the courage up to come to Canada and see me. By then we'd both realized this relationship was moving far beyond the "I love your work!" phase and into the "I love you!" area.

I won't bore you with the details but I moved from Canada to the United States in 2000 and married my Wookie, the man who first found me through X-Files fan fiction. We've been very happily married for over a decade and I don't see that changing anytime soon. I write all day and he reads it before I send it off to publishers. He loves to see my books on the shelves and brags to his friends about marrying two women, myself and St. George.

I've never loved a show as much as I've loved the X-Files, though many have come close. We're both enjoying "Haven" on the Syfy channel and watch "Fringe", laughing at all the XF references. But I think our first true love of the X-Files will never be replaced.

I love to tell people this story because it not only illustrates what I call Twu Luv but also the importance of answering fan mail. If I had deleted that email without reading it or never responded… well, I'd probably still be wrestling drunks on the midnight shift.

Now I wrestle with story ideas and other things at night.


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