Camilla Sandman (misscam) wrote in featuredwhovian,
Camilla Sandman

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Featured Whovian: Tara LJC O'Shea

For the next two weeks, taraljc will be your featured author and answer whatever questions you may have. Don't be shy - feel free to ask even the silly ones. Questions can go in the comments for the next two weeks.

If you've gone late-night hunting for good Doctor Who fanfiction, chances are you've probably sooner or later come across taraljc, and stayed. Winner of several Mauve and Dangerous awards (including best author and best romance), she also runs the Better With Two website, tinkers about very sucessfully with fanart and hopes Gallifrey stays boom forever. Let's find out why.

Tell us ten facts about yourself.

I can't touch type.

My father once kidnapped Terrance Stamp (it's okay, though. He let him go eventually).

I've danced with Don Francks (Rainbow Sun's father).

I'm deathly afraid of heights, and as a result, have real trouble crossing bridges.

I do not know how to drive a car.

I usually wear silver rings on my left thumb, and have since my teens.

I was a calendar pin-up girl. Miss January, in fact.

I drink whiskey neat, with water on the side.

Boba Fett taught me to play pool.

There are two girl cousins in my family both named Tara O'Shea--I'm Tara
Lynn, and she's Tara Mary.

What seduced you to the show in the first place?

I started watching Doctor Who when I was about 15 years old, I think in the middle of the Tom Baker reign as the Doctor. I didn't fall madly in love with it, however, until "Castrovalva." I remember wanting to pat the Doctor on the head and feed him cups of tea. So I am guilty of falling for wobbly confused post-regenerative state Doctors from the get-go. I think what has always captured my imagination is the whimsy with which the series addresses serious topics--war, compassion, adventure, justice--all the sort of things that would fuel a teenager's imagination, but in a way that was uniquely British. It was an excellent counterpoint to the takes-itself-oh-so-seriously Trek franchise. But while I loved it, I'd never been inspired to create derivative works, or even to read fan fiction or tie-in novels... All that came with the new series, for me. But I'd seen the leaked copy of "Rose" and was so charmed by the new series--I felt it had captured everything I'd loved about the old series, but was solidly 21st century in its format and story structure, complete with a modern audience's demand for well-drawn characters and compelling drama. But when I saw "The End of the World" I went from a fan to an obsessed fan in .03 seconds flat. I admit, what hooked me was two things--the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, and the destruction of Gallifrey. I still think that "Gallifrey go BOOM" may have been the smartest thing RTD could ever have done, in re-launching the series. So much of the time, the Doctor as a character is a cipher, who the audience sees only through the eyes of the other characters. He is not a character that the viewers can always connect with emotionally because he's a super-smart, super-clever, super-everything alien who is so far advanced from us that there is built-in distance between both the Doctor and the other characters, but as a result, the Doctor and the audience. But everyone can understand loss, regardless of how different the Doctor may be from us, we can empathise with him, and root for him to regain his equilibrium. I like that the traits I identify as "The Doctor"--his curiosity, his limitless compassion, his sense of adventure, his passionate thirst for justice rather than slavish worship of the letter of the law, as well as his less attractive qualities such as his arrogance, his pride, his temper--have remained constant from the original series to the new one. But we also see a different side to the Doctor than we have in the past. He's vulnerable in a way that the audience can immediately hook into. In the old series, you rarely got to see the Doctor actually evolve as a character, outside of the obvious (and somewhat superficial) changes in personality from incarnation to incarnation. The Doctor wasn't there for the viewer to identify with--that is what the companions were always for. But I think that storytelling today demands a level of sophistication that requires more. I'm not saying you need to identify with the Doctor--but you do need to care about him as a person, rather than just admiring him as a role model. Because if you don't care about him, then you don't have the same dramatic tension when you are watching his adventures. It adds depth to the standard escapist fare. The current series gives the audience the opportunity to emotionally connect with the Doctor in ways they haven't before. And the clever thing about it is that it allows the audience to relate to him, makes him accessible, without reducing the character to a human scale, and therefore diminishing what makes him special. Instead, it keeps all of the mystery and majesty--but without distancing him from the viewer.

And we get to see a very complex relationship develop between him and Rose (and to a lesser degree, Jack) that is explored in a depth we haven't seen with very many previous companions. I know the press is always going on about how Rose is unlike any companion before, and I'm not entirely sure that's true in the degree to which it's constantly quoted. But what IS true is that the Ninth Doctor is different from any incarnation we've seen before, and as a result, the relationships he forms with his companions are different than on the original series. So that was a HUGE draw for me, because I tend as a viewer to want plots that are driven by characters, rather than characters that are moved around by the plots like pawns on a chessboard. Each episode having such a strong arc of character development really engaged me as a viewer, and definitely sparked my creative impulses as a fannish author and artist.

What made you start writing Doctor Who fanfic?

Prior to the 2005 series, I'd never written Doctor Who fanfic before--though oddly enough, my becoming a fan coincided with my starting to trib 'zines in another UK fandom, "Robin of Sherwood." Honestly, if you'd asked me if I ever thought I would, I'd have laughed my head off. Becasue while I'd loved the seires, I had never been fannish about it in that way.

However, after "End of the World," I found myself coming up with chunks of Rose & the Doctor dialogue on my walk home from work, half of which ended up forming the bulk of my first story (Woolly Jumpers, Choices, and Lemonade).

After that, I was pretty much lost. My brain never really stopped bombarding me with possibilities that I wanted to explore--the only thing limiting me was my ability to translate those ideas into finished fiction. Unfortunately, my personal life has got a bit upside down in the last few months, which means almost all of my writing has been on hold, and I've let a lot of people in ficathons and challenges down because I haven't been able to get myself pulled together enough to write. I still have probably at any given time some 5 stories in progress (some of which have never got beyond the plotting stage, some of which probably only need a week of work to finish--I've just been having a bit of a writing dry spell this winter). I did a lot of writing in the first half of the series because there were more gaps to fill in, and the second half of the series felt much more tightly plotted--even with the enormous gap between "The Doctor Dances" and "Boom Town" which continues to scream to be filled in. While I can see why the series had to take a shortcut, in terms of Jack being on a trial basis to suddenly the three of them gelling immediately and operating smoothing and flawlessly as a team, as a viewer, it's frustrating to have missed watching those relationships form. It's much more fun than having them presented as a fait accompli. That said, it wouldn't have been the same, had Jack still not been as integral part of the TARDIS team in the final adventure, so I understand why RTD did it. But there is such a different group dynamic in Moffat's script, that I want desperately to see how we got from There to Here, in terms of characterisation.

Do you think writing for Doctor Who has added anything to your writing style or made you try things you wouldn't otherwise have?

Well, outside of a tiny handful of slightly racy Firefly stories a few years back, I tend not to write erotica, so I certainly did experiment in that area (though only with the one story). But otherwise, I think most of my experimentation has come in the forms of ficathons. I've never been in a fandom before with that kind of fanfic challenge, and so taking part in some of the ficathons the new series spawned definitely gave me the opportunity to try things I might not have, otherwise. Probably the most experimental was Snow White Lies which was both an attempt to create a story that is meant to be "heard" more than "seen", and playing with structure. Each section has a very specific lie, and each line of Nancy's bedtime story to Jamie was written to hopefully relate to the section of the timeline that followed it. So in a lot of ways, it was a story that worked on 3 levels for me as a writer, and I hope it worked as a cohesive whole for the reader.

Also, Doctor Who is a different kind of universe than I usually write in. Sure, Firefly is SF, but really it's a western with some SF trappings. Star Trek: Voyager is a quasi-military universe where aliens are on a par with foreign nationals, and all the Fed ships are flying Hyatts. Jake 2.0 is only barely SF, while Max Headroom is SF as social allegory. But the closest match I can think of for the FEEL of the Who universe is much closer FarScape (which I adored watching, but have never written and never really read, either). So I definitely stretched in that way, in that I was thinking of a universe where giant psychic carnivorous plants were not just plausible, but canon.

BBC volunteers to make an episode out of just one of your stories. Which would you like it to be?

The only story structured anything like an episode is probably Ivory and Horn. Which I figure you're not likely to see, but considering it was written very early on, I think it holds up pretty well and visually it would be a lot of fun. Plus I got to have Rose jump the Doctor, and him see her with her clothes off, and no-one actually seemed to notice, which was fun.

However, in terms of what would work as a mini-episode or maybe just a tag to "Boom Town", I'd love to actually see what the actors would have done with Times Like These. It would be very domestic, and as such, wouldn't really feel quite like actual Doctor Who, what with no monsters or such, but I really loved playing with the group dynamic, and Jack's role in the now TARDIS Trio.

Tell us a bit about the process of writing a fanfic for you.

It's murderous in terms of being a complete and total time-sink. Seriously. I think I'm utterly insane for loving writing the way I do, but it's like breathing. I can't stop.

Usually what happens is, I get an idea along the lines of an image or an exchange of dialogue. Or, in one case, the thought of "I wonder if they have bike messengers in the future?" turned into a novella that STILL has yet to be finished involving wedding crashing, clones, a booby-trapped bride, and probably a lot of hiding in bedroom closets. So I have an idea, and I tend to sit down at either a computer or with a notebook (I recently discovered Staples carries little half-sheet sized spiral notebooks, which I have now bought 20 of, because the ones I used to buy that fit into my bag have been discontinued) and immediately write down what I have. This tends to consist of dialogue exchanges with no context or tags, and for anything with a complex plot or likely to be over 5000 words, a rough outline.

I then start writing. It's perfectly alright if I deviate from my outline--outlines are mostly there to remind me what the shape of the story should be, and to map out plot points so I can figure out pacing issues. My main goal is to give the reader exactly the information they need exactly when they need it, and no more or less. I tend to script scenes first, then go back and put in all the tags and description. Often times, the dialogue ends up taking me in different directions, and I'll go through a lot of different versions of conversations, as I pare it down to as close to exactly what's necessary as I can (I tend to be very very wordy). This is usually difficult, as I love dialogue, and tend to let my characters chatter on more than they ought to. I also move bits around, to try and get things as tight as possible--and try to make sure that things actually build to climaxes, rather than meandering all at the same level so you never feel like you're getting anywhere.

Then I start fleshing out all the missing bits, until I have a first draft. Which to me is 50% of the work. The next part is suckering my friends into beta reading for me. This generally means I'm looking for 4 things:

1. Britpicking (as I haven't lived overseas in years, and all my slang is 15 years out of date)

2. Notes on pacing and story structure--were there sections that seemed to go nowhere? Were there plot points that didn't come across? Did I leave something out that ought to go back in? Do certain sections need to be fleshed out to work? Or are the joins and seems and strings and nuts and bolts too apparent? Is there a section that serves no real purpose and needs to be cut because it drags the momentum down? Does everything happen in the story because it feels inevitable? Etc.

3. Line editing, because I can't touch type, and like all authors, when I edit I tend to think I've read what I meant to say, instead of actually seeing what letters I've put in what order. Also, I have a thing about commas and em dashes.

4. Overall characterisation. Do these people act the way the people we know and love from the TV series would, if they were in the exact same circumstances? This is obviously subjective. But my goal as a writer of derivative work is always to try and write something that fits as closely with the source as possible. I want to believe you could slip one of my stories in and not get jarred. Granted, writing for a living series, obviously this isn't always possible. The finale of the first series made much of my stories dealing with the Time War and Gallifrey's destruction pretty much canon-fodder. But I want the character stuff to ring as true as possible.

Then as I get notes back, I take them and use them to try and look at the story from a new angle--and rip it apart and put it back together again stronger, faster, and better. I don't always follow every note I'm given. And I probably make choices that make some people crazy. But what good betas do is give me the opportunity to see the story I've been slaving over from the POV of someone who is hearing it for the first time as they read it, instead of chewing it over in their mind for however long, and has no expectations or preconceived notions about what it's supposed to be--only exactly what it is, and their ideas on what it could be. And from there, I can see if I succeeded or failed in what I was trying to do, and where possible, adjust course so that I get that much closer to actually telling the story I set out to tell.

Then I tend to have another round of editing--mostly line edits to weed out all the NEW typos now that I've eradicated some of the old ones--and then I try and let go of the story long enough to post it. And then I spend 5 days picking at it after its' been posted, as I find new mistakes, and new places where I can tweak. Do I go through this every single time? Not always. Some of the shorter stories have gone out with minimal prep time and betaing. But anything that by its structure and scope needs time to develop, I tend to try and give it that time. And I love the work, even when it's hard. Probably because it's hard. I wouldn't get nearly the satisfaction, if I wasn't putting as much time and effort into it. For me, that's the joy of writing and what drives me more than anything else. I just love the challenge of trying to capture the tone and feel of a series and nail the characters, while still writing something new.

What do you think you as a writer add to a fic that makes it distinctly yours?

Oh, God. Probably the dialogue. Though I was surprised when I sat down and re-read my Whofic thus far to note I actually have a few stories with no dialogue or minimal dialogue. But I am a complete sucker for words, and sometimes I can hear them so clearly as I write, in the characters voices. And so my goal is usually to have the readers hear them just as clearly.

What's your most embarrassing moment in Doctor Who fandom?

Probably when I realised I'd posted a story with the wrong title (because I'd misquoted the dialogue) first time around, and had to chase it down all over creation to fix it. It's probably still wrong at Silverlake.

Which character comes easiest for you to write and why do you think that is?

Rose, because so much of the series is from her POV. I love the Doctor to tiny bits, but I have a terrible time trying to get into his head. Whereas I like exploring his character through her eyes--sort of giving you the idea of the shape of something by showing you its shadow on the wall, if that makes sense. And I like playing with Rose's expectations. Because she continually forgets that the Doctor is an alien, and is constantly being startled by his alienness, which I think is a

fantastic device for showing some of humanity's best qualities filtered through someone who is decidedly NOT human. I know it sounds corny, but fiction is the distorted mirror we hold up to reality to see truth.

And which character drives you to get out the alcohol and bash your head against the keyboard when trying to write?

I actually have a hard time with Jack. Mainly because of that gulf between the Jack we meet in "The Empty Child" and the Jack we get re-introduced to in "Boom Town." Not so much what he'd say or how he'd act--but more where the story would fit in continuity. I just don't quite know how to bridge the gap logically yet, and so I haven't been able to manage to finish a lot of stuff with Jack in it. Because I can't quite get the timeline straight in my head.

What's the best Doctor Who fic you haven't yet written?

Well, the Intergalactic Bike Messenger Story still mocks me, sitting all unfinished and waiting. But oddly, the story I really wish I'd got further on involved a pre-"Empty Child" Time Agent Jack, and a newly-regenerated Susan, set just after the wave caused by the destruction of Gallifrey ripped through the timeline and re-wrote massive chunks of it and completely wiped out Susan's family with David Campbell and stranded her in the revised timeline with no TARDIS to use

to find her grandfather and find out what had happened. As much as I think the Blinovich Limitation Effect is utter rubbish, I think it could have been awfully useful (in a Mawdryn Undead sort of way) at explaining Jack's 2 year memory gap. Maybe once I've got the box set with all the Susan episodes, and Torchwood gives us some more backstory on Jack, I'll finally sit down and see if I can make it work...

Where's a good place to find your writing for the unaware?

All my fic is here.

This space is yours. What would you like to say?

Just that this has been such a neat way tog et to know fellow writers, and see how our processes differ, and to thank you guys for giving us the opportunity to talk story!

Finally, we'll know to take away your keyboard the day you write...?

Songfic. I learned that lesson long ago, and still cringe when I think of it.
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