E.A. Week

Q: What inspired you to write Xena fanfic in the first place?
EA: The same thing that inspires me in almost any fandom-- a desire to explore the characters, their situations, and their relationships with each other. My first XWP fanfic was "April Fools," which ended up being this huge 440-page crossed-universe novella. The seed idea came from reading some commentary on the Chakram mailing list, and from individual correspondence with other fans. The idea took root and grew like the plant in the Little Shop of Horrors.

Q: I understand you've written fanfic before XWP. Tell us about some of that.
EA: I wrote my first fanfics in college. I'd started watching the British TV series Dr. Who, and began spinning my own story ideas. I've only done three or four pieces in this universe, though. I also started watching another British series, Robin of Sherwood, in college. For such a short-lived series, it has an amazing fan base. I met a lot of friends through this fandom, and many of them are just incredibly literate. When I started writing stories based on this show, I had one of my new friends edit my writing. She was absolutely invaluable. I contributed to a number of 'zines over a period of about three years.

I started watching the X-Files in the fall of 1995, and I've written one novella based on that show, but I need to get the thing edited so I can post it to a web site. April Fools was actually my second XF fanfic, but it was the first one to get published. I'm working on a third right now. I love the show to pieces, but I find that I need a very particular inspiration to write a story based on it-- maybe because they do such a good job with the actual series, I almost feel like I don't have anything to add, sometimes!

My newest show, one I would love to create some fanfic for, is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I really love Oz, the teenage werewolf. I'd like to do some stories about him.

Q: When you embark on a story, what do you feel is the most important element?
EA: The plot. I always try to take meticulous care with the plot. I'm a big fan of detective fiction, and I tend to structure my stories like mysteries-- I toss out clues in the beginning, and slowly reveal their meaning as the story unfolds. There needs to be a central conflict of some sort, some event around which the whole story turns. I think it's important to not reveal too much too soon-- keep the readers guessing, make them want to keep scrolling down or turning pages. All details should be tied up at the end, to create a seamless finished product.

The second thing is character. As the events of the plot unfold, I try to keep the characters' reactions as true to the series as possible. In XF fanfic, for example, in the face of an apparently supernatural event, Scully is always going to be skeptical and look for a rational explanation. But I also try to have the characters grow and change as a result of the things they experience in the story. And of course, I delve into their relationships with each other, and how the events of the story impact those relationships.

The third thing is background-- I try to weave in some historical or mythological detail, but not so much that the reader gets bogged down trying to remember a lot of obscure references. In my present-day stories, I try to set most of them in and around Massachusetts, because that's where I've lived all my life, and I can throw in a lot of local color.

Last, but by no means least, is style. I try to write in a very crisp, direct style, taking into account thing like point of view. I try to avoid overabundant descriptions, especially of the characters-- the readers know what the characters look like; why waste time waxing poetic over someone's physical attributes? I realize that a big draw of any series is its attractive cast, but I dislike reading stories where a character's hair or eyes is mentioned in virtually every paragraph.

My pet obsession is verbs-- too many writers rely on "to be" and its various conjugations-- "it was," "they were" "he was," and so forth. Whenever possible, I try to use what I call 'real' verbs. When I see a story that starts out "It was a beautiful day in the forest, and Xena and Gabrielle were walking along with Argo--" I just turn away and start reading something else.

Q: Some have argued that fanfic should stay close to canon, and others that it should explore avenues not open to the show. Which point-of-view do you agree with (or both?)
EA:A little of each. Of course, a big draw of fanfic is being able to explore something that's not possible, given constraints of time and budget, not to mention things like copyright and network censorship! You can't do crossed-universe stories on TV, unless they're two series created by the same person and shown on the same network.

In fanfic, a writer can also go places where the staff doesn't seem interested in going. A lot of my own writing has been inspired by simply wanting to develop a character I feel is overlooked or ignored.

However, I do feel it is important to stick to the 'feel' of the series and the characters. If writers start going too far down unfamiliar roads, their stories begin to bear less and less resemblence to the source material. Sooner or later, the stories are really the writers' own creation, with the physical bodies of the original characters, but not their personalities.

In any show that runs long enough, all writers develop an affinity for a particular point in the series, and I think that's where they tend to mentally 'place' the characters. For me with XWP, it's second season. I don't care for the directions the staff have taken in the third and fourth seasons. I don't pretend the events of those episodes haven't occured, but I don't emphasize them strongly. For example in "Consequences," I mention Solon's death, but I don't dwell on the circumstances surrounding it.

With any ongoing series, it is impossible to keep fan stories completely canonical unless you set them between specific episodes that have already taken place. I have a disclaimer in the introduction to "April Fools," that says the story is apocryphal. It breaks with canon at the end of the '96-'97 season. It's funny to read it now and realize that many of the characters I included are now dead.

So I guess I would describe my approach as adhering to the canon when possible, with selective emphasis on the aspects of each series I find most appealing.

Q: Obviously you like both characters played by Kevin Smith, Ares and Iphicles. What drew you to Ares, and what have you added to the character in writing him? (and the same question for Iphicles).
EA: Ares was a big reason-- maybe *the* reason I got hooked on Hercules and Xena. Kevin Smith is a wonderful actor and incredibly good-looking, and I find he brings this amazing charisma to almost any role he plays.

Ares is the first villainous character I've ever liked enough to really write about. In his first couple of seasons on both shows, he was very multi-faceted and interesting-- I especially liked the idea presented in "Ten Little Warlords," that Ares holds some kind of cosmic balance between violence and peace, and that without him, people begin behaving very irrationally. I think I most like the way he was presented in HTLJ's arc about the Golden Hind-- he's devious and manipulative, he plays mortals like pieces on a chessboard, he's alternately affectionate and cruel with Serena, and despite his general coldness, he almost cries when she leaves him. One thing I really love about those stories is that despite all his godly power, he's still not immune to being annoyed by Strife. I was intrigued by all his layers-- take for example the scene where Zeus confronts him-- it's such a short scene, but you can just feel the hatred and animosity between them. For a writer, this is a very deep vein to be mined.

In my own writing, I've taken this aspect of him, opened it, and expanded it. A number of my stories have deleved into his relationships with the other gods, and three of my short stories have centered around his children. I had a lot of fun with "April Fools," because he runs a whole gamut of emotions, from incredibly passionate about Xena, to completely heartless and destructive-- I had a scene that shows him as responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing.

I really dislike the way he's been turned into a clown villain on Xena, and even on Hercules. I think this is a result of the character being 'dumbed down' for Young Hercules. Again, I just don't emphasize this recent development in my own writing-- I stick with the earlier version.

Iphicles is a similar character, but not nearly as nasty-- like Ares, he has a lot of resentment about Hercules, and a sense that he can't quite measure up to his demi-god brother. I like the way he's been portrayed on the series-- he's not perfect, especially when he lets his worse impulses get the better of him. I think his biggest weakness is self-pity. When he can get past that, he will do the right thing, as the viewer sees in both "What's in a Name?" and "War Wounds," his two best episodes.

A number of readers have commented on the romance I cooked up for him and Xena in "Consequences." I got a number of letters saying, "What a wonderful idea! How did you ever think of that?" Mostly it's just that I wanted to see Xena paired with a character played by Smith, and since Ares isn't really an option (certainly not since third season), Iphicles is my next choice. "War Wounds" showed that he has a disagreeable streak, and I wrote "Consequences" as a sequel of sorts, which shows him dealing with the guilt he feels over this unsavory thing he's done-- he unjustly imprisoned a lot of war veterans who'd done nothing. But part of his reason for doing so was displaced grief at the death of his wife. In the episode, Hercules tells him, "you wanted someone to blame." I saw parallels between that and Xena's warlord career-- much of her own destructiveness was fueled by the encounter with Caesar. I thought that if she ever met Iphicles, she'd be able to help him deal with his guilt over what he'd done. This was part of the inspiration for "Consequences."

Generally, I think that Iphicles has been sadly overlooked by the writers, but this may partly be a result of Smith being tied up doing so much work as Ares. I'd really like to see Iphicles used a lot more-- his position as King of Corinth certainly opens up a wealth of opportunities. Ideally, he could be used in the episodes where Hercules is absent.

Q: In your most recent story, you flesh out Joxer's family quite a bit. Tell us a little about the creative process behind that.
EA: Again, this was fueled by a frustration that the writers haven't done enough with the character. He's always used as the butt of idiotic jokes. Even this late in the fourth season, we don't even know the name of the village where he grew up, or really anything about him at all. He almost never grows or changes. Once in a while, we get these fleeting glimpses of maturity-- such as in "A Family Affair"-- but three or four episodes later, he's back to Moron Central.

So I took the surface of his character, and tried to think of ideas why he behaves as he does-- why, for example, does he have his heart so set on being a warrior or a hero, when he's so unsuited to the task? What was his family like? How did they shape his character? He'd said that his father was a warrior, and that his mother wanted him to learn music. At the end of "King of Assassins," we learn his father is in prison. Given this, and Jett's choice of career, I assumed Joxer must have had a pretty miserable childhood, if this is what his family is like. And given his weird combination of over-inflated ego and barrel-bottom self-esteem, it seemed even more likely to me that he'd had no positive role models as a child.

So I fleshed out his mother and father, and even gave Jett a little more depth and color. This is all in a new story at Tom's page, "Blood Loyalty." I put Joxer in a situation where he's forced to choose between protecting his family, and fighting for the 'greater good,' so to speak. In the course of this conflict, he grows up a bit.

My take on Joxer is that he's incredibly innocent-- at the beginning of "For Him the Bell Tolls" he's in the woods, literally 'playing Xena,' the way a little kid would. I think this almost delusional world he's built around himself is a protective buffer against cruel reality. In "Blood Loyalty," this buffer is stripped away, and he's really forced to confront himself-- and to start building up a new self-image, and a new life.

Q: I've heard many fanfic readers (and writers) try to cast 'original' characters in fanfic. Do you do the same, and if so, could you give us some examples?
EA: Sure, I do. So far, the favorite 'original' character I've created is Harmonia, the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite. I put her in a story called "Of Harmony and Strife," which is included in a 'zine called The Daily Muse, due out this summer. She's not original in the sense that I made her up-- she's a figure from mythology-- but she hasn't been included in either HTLJ or XWP, so I decided to base her on Alicia Silverstone's character in the movie "Clueless." I figured that Aphrodite would've raised her, so she's pretty much an air-headed valley girl.

The gist of the story is that Aphrodite needs Ares to babysit Harmonia for the weekend, and he agrees to do this if Aphrodite will put a love spell on Xena for him. He has no idea what to do with the kid, so he foists her off on Strife. Of course, the two of them get into all sorts of trouble together. I had a lot of fun with Harmonia.

I created a lot of new characters for "Blood Loyalty"-- Joxer's father, for example. I created an actor named Stavros, who I based on David Bowie, another actor based on Kenneth Branagh, and an architect based on Sting. The architect's wife is based on Susan Sarandon. I love doing that sort of thing, because it gives me a physical form and a voice to work with.

Q: I've had the pleasure of reading your story, "April Fools," which isn't available on the web (due to size, I believe). Being your only semi-uber story, how did you approach that story as opposed to the way you'd approach a normal Xena story?
EA: Hoo boy! First things first-- "April Fools" is 440 pages long, which seemed way too long to me to include on a web site. Now I realize there are in fact stories much longer posted on web sites, but I don't want anyone going blind trying to read it! Maybe it's just an old-fashioned love of 'zines in me, but I wanted that story in a paperbound copy, so that people could hold it in their hands and enjoy it at a leisurely pace.

Also, I was completely unaware when I wrote the story, of the 'uber' subgenre in XWP fanfic. I didn't even know what it meant. The seed idea came from a correspondence with another fan-- I posed the question of what might possibly induce Xena to have an affair with Ares? It seemed to me there was an undercurrent of lust running between the two of them, despite their rivalry. Obviously, Ares represents all Xena's worst impulses, but to me it's intriguing to have those impulses wrapped up in such a beautiful, seductive package-- to me, that makes him much harder to resist, moreso than if he was this ugly gnome.

I was also very intrigued by the situation in the "Xena Scrolls"-- how did Ares get down into that tomb? So I envisioned this really horrible situation-- Gabrielle gets brutally murdered in a war between Callisto and Velasca. In retaliation, Xena tortures Callisto to death, and in this process, she just snaps, and goes back to her Destroyer mode. Ares turns up and asks her again to join him, and this time, there's nothing to stop her. Ultimately, she comes back to her senses, and gets Hercules to help her imprison Ares.

Then I thought of a larger framework for this story-- what if, in the present day, Mulder and Scully came across the Xena Scrolls as part of an investigation? How would they react to these seemingly fantastic stories? So I spun out a second story, one about a serial killer striking the Boston area. Mulder and Scully investigate, and end up at the Museum of Fine Arts, where all the people they meet are descendants of the HTLJ and XWP characters.

The 'Xena' character is Lydia Pappas, a great-niece of Mel Pappas from XS. In addition to owning three of the scrolls, she's been having weird dreams about Xena, and when she gets herself hypnotized, she starts speaking in an ancient dialect. Because she's a linguist, she's able to translate her regressions. She tells Mulder about this experience, and he realizes that the events that took place in the past, in the life of Xena, are somehow connected to the murders in the present. The whole story goes back and forth between the past and the present, until the final chapter, when everything comes together.

It took me nearly a year to write all this, because I kept thinking of new things to add in. I wouldn't say my approach to this story really differed from anything else I've written, except that it's ten times longer! Because it was a crossover, however, I did have to be careful to be faithful to all three shows, and all the characters. Keeping all the details straight was tricky.

Q: Hercules and Xena have a rich tapestry of supporting characters. You make good use of many of them. Who are among your favorites to write, and why?
EA: We've already discussed Ares, Iphicles, and Joxer, but Another favorite character of mine is Autolycus. "Consequences" was really a development story for him-- I liked the bits of development he had last season, most especially on HTLJ. I wanted to write a story where one of his robberies backfires, with quite tragic results. The events force him to be honest, to be heroic, and to face the fact that something he'd done had resulted in a loss of life for a number of other characters. But he comes through, and proves that at his core, he's a decent person. I had a lot of letters of comment on this story, and several of the writers told me how much they enjoyed my depiction of Autolycus.

I also enjoy Aphrodite a lot, and I love writing about her and Ares-- their bitchy, squabbling relationship. I've used Cupid in a couple of stories, and had fun there. I also like Jason tremendously, and I included him in both "April Fools" and "Consequences," as a sort of retired warrior-king figure, a mentor to the younger characters. I was so pleased to see him take over the Academy on HTLJ recently. That's a terrific occupation for him.

Another favorite character is Cecrops. I used him in "April Fools" also, and one of my favorite scenes is when he sneaks on board Xena's ship and tries to convince her to leave Ares. The dialogue just flowed out of my fingertips. The scene came out so well that I used it at Lessa's Smithsonian Page, as an excerpt to 'plug' the novella.

I also enjoy Alcmene, and wish they hadn't killed her off last year. She's such a Mom! Again, she's included a lot in "April Fools," and in "Motherland," which is a missing chapter of sorts that I wrote when "April" was already finished. That one will be in either By the Sword of Ares 4 or 5, a 'zine published by Unicorn Press.

I like Strife, and I've had fun with him-- I made him much more nasty than he is on the series in "April," and I used him for comedy in "Harmony and Strife." He's another character I wish they hadn't killed off.

I've included a lot of other characters in my stories, but those are among my favorites.

Q: Writers draw inspiration from various sources, not only from the show itself. What are some of your other sources of inspiration for your stories?
EA: Mythology is one. Three of my short stories deal with various children of Ares. I've already mentioned "Harmony and Strife." "Justice" is based on the myth of his daughter Alcippe, who was raped by Halirrhothious, a son of Posideon. In myth, Ares murders Halirrhothious in retribution for the rape, and is forced to stand trial by the other gods for it. I kept to the same idea, except that Alcippe is an Amazon, and Xena and Gabrielle are the only witnesses to the attack. Xena is forced to testify on Ares' behalf-- she doesn't like it, but she does it because she has to admit-- grudgingly-- that Ares was justified in his actions.

The third story is "Into Darkness," a Hercules story based on the myth of Kyknos. Kyknos was a son of Ares who tried to build a temple to his father made of human skulls. In the myth, Hercules kills Kyknos. Ares fights with Hercules, but Zeus separates them. I kept to this idea, except that I make Kyknos this horribly deformed monster-- his deformities are caused by the incestuous unions Ares has been having with his own daughters, in a Frankenstein- like effort to create a son more powerful than Hercules. So it's a very adult piece; it deals with some fairly unpleasant topics. I incorporated a number of other characters, too, including Iphicles, and it was fun to have both of Smith's characters in the same story.

As I said above, I'm a huge mystery buff, and most of my reading is in that genre. Lately I've been devouring the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters-- the historical detail in those books is really marvelous, and has helped me a *lot* with my Herk and Xena writing. A large chunk of "Consequences" was inspired by her novel "The Virgin in the Ice," which is my favoritie in the series. And a lot of the topics she deals with, such as family loyalty, loyalty to a king or other leader, love and hate, betrayal and treachery, guilt and redemption, war and peace, are all themes that come up again and again in HTLJ and XWP. So Peters has been a huge influence.

The rest of my inspirations have come from the series themselves, or from the characters.

When I'm gearing up and getting ready to write, I find it very useful to exercise a lot-- maybe I just need the oxygen in my brain! April Fools was fueled in large part by a blizzard we had on April Fools Day in 1997. While I was shoveling 2.5 feet of snow out of my driveway, I kept my mind occupied thinking about my favorite TV shows, and all my little seed ideas began taking root at that point. Whenever I feel stymied or have writer's block, I exercise. Listening to music helps a lot, too.

Q: Hercules appears in several of your stories, and you seem to have a knack for capturing him. Do you prefer writing the Big Guy or Xena? And what are the special pitfalls to watch out for in writing each character?
EA: I enjoy writing both of them pretty much equally, but for very different reasons. Herk may be easier to capture for me, just because the writing on that show has been so amazingly good over the past two years. The character is very consistent, and he's so committed to what he believes in-- peace, justice, self-determination for all beings-- that whenever I write a scene with him, the dialogue and actions just flow.

I find myself really digging into some of the awkwardness he feels-- he's physically huge, and sometimes seems very uncomfortable in his own skin. He has tense relationships with the other gods sometimes, and also with Iphicles. And there's a part of him, I think, that really craves a family, part of him that would love to settle down on a farm with a wife and have a bunch of kids, but because of his heritage, and the animostity of the gods, he can never really get there. There's a poignancy in that.

Xena's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. In addition to the quest for redemption which started her series, she has to fight a lot of her own bad impulses. I really wanted to see her moving from a very personal journey to a quest for a more universal justice. But that idea seems to have been largely dropped on the series. I have found her generally easy to write if I stick to the vision we see of her in the first two seasons. But beyond "The Deliverer," she starts turning into someone I barely recognize.

I think one pitfall to avoid with both characters is the urge to descend into melodrama. Both characters are fairly stoic and don't show a lot of overt emotion. In a sense, that's what Iolaus and Gabrielle are there for-- they're more open, spontaneous, and emotional.

Another thing I avoid is having Xena perform super- human stunts. I don't care for that in the least.

A lot of pieces I've seen have page after page of these gushing, emotional scenes with either Herk and Iolaus, or Xena and Gabrielle. I avoid that like the plague. A little bit of rapping around the campfire is fine-- go beyond that, and you veer into soap opera territory.

Q: Plug time: are there any fanfic authors out there in the Xenaverse that you enjoy reading?
EA:I don't have huge amounts of time to read fanfic-- my web access is through work, and my time on-line is limited. So I tend to stick to shorter stories, and I tend to stick with stories about Ares and other characters that interest me most. I read one short story about Ares being punished by the gods for his collaboration with Dahak that was excellent. I've skimmed over some stuff by Marina Frants, and her stories are really good-- she gets inside Ares beautifully.

I have more time to read stories that are in 'zines. Sophia Shultz is a terrific writer, as well as a damn fine artist.

Finally, I've read things that people have asked me to edit. I've edited for a woman named Suzanne Klerks, and for another writer named Jael. I've also done editing for Ed Baker, and his stuff is terrific. He has a Xena-Buffy crossover in the works that is without question one of the best fanfics I've ever read-- really, really impressive story.

Q: Hypothetical question: RJ Stewart and Steve Sears quit the show and you are hired to replace them. What changes would you make in the show, and what would you leave the same?
EA: Wow! First of all, I would get the focus of the stories off the Xena-Gabrielle relationship. Of late, the staff has focused on that to the exclusion of pretty much everything else in the show. I'd expand the vision of the stories, and include a lot more characters, and more historical, political, and mythological elements in the backdrop. One case in point is the recent arc of India episodes, where the political and social issues of that country were never addressed.

I would create some new villains-- competent villains, not morons-- characters based on some template other than the Callisto model. And I would not allow any of those villains more than two or three episodes at the most-- they would either be killed, imprisoned, or reformed by the end of their run. And NO resurrections. Villains unfortunately lose their teeth when they come back again and again and again. All the major baddies on XWP-- Ares, Callisto, Caesar-- have been dumbed down and turned into morons in order for Xena to defeat them.

I'd develop and expand the other characters-- really give them some life. I'd do some background stories for people like Autolycus, Joxer, even Salmoneus. I'd separate Xena and Gabrielle at least four times per season, and have stories with their families and towns, with the Amazons, and with other characters. I'd get Gabrielle off this ridiculous pacifist/ spiritual quest kick of hers, and restore her to the bard and fighter she used to be.

I'd get Xena down off her arrogant, obnoxious high horse, and restore some of the warmth and humanity she had. I'd incorporate some long-range questions in her life, like what does she plan to do when she's too old to fight (assuming she lives that long)? To me that is so much more relevant than having her worry about messing up her karma so she won't get reincarnated as the Mother of Peace. What a ridiculous idea.

And I would tone down the superhuman stunts, and return her to the highly competent *mortal* she was at the outset. I would establish beyond question that she is NOT the daughter of Ares.

I'd completely do away with the idiotic, 'moron comedies,' and the episodes derived from insipid material like "Footloose." I would fashion dramatic arcs that cover several episodes but not the entire season, and make sure that details didn't get dropped between episodes. I would really try to tighten up the continuity, and see to it that characters develop in a way that is consistent and plausible. I'd make the comedies smart again, and limit them to maybe five episodes per season. The rest would be dramas, with some 'adventure' pieces in there as well. And I'd see to it that the humor and drama were more blended. And I'd eliminate the tired melodrama.

If you look at HTLJ over the past two seasons, especially season five, you see that they did a lot of these things I mention above, and the show has improved exponentially from its first three seasons. It hasn't been perfect, and a handful of episodes have been really disappointing. But the plots have been very solid, and the characterizations excellent. These qualities also fueled XWP's early success, and I feel as though the staff has completely abandoned them.

Q: In "April Fools", you have Xena become pregnant with Ares' child. Lucy has come out and said they will incorporate her pregnancy into the show. Any thoughts?
EA: Had I been in such a situation, where I knew the star was trying to have a child, I would have incorporated it into the storyline, as they have chosen to. Of course, this would mean developing another male love interest for Xena, and that would take time. Given Solon's fate, it would be really interesting to see what she decides to do with another child-- try to raise it herself, or give it up for fostering? Would she give up her warrior life to raise the kid? This could be a wonderfully complex story arc.

Q: What else do you have coming up that we can look forward to, either in Xena fanfic or in other areas?
EA: I have a few story ideas on the back burner-- there's a couple of Hercules stories, and perhaps more stories following from "Consequences" and "Blood Loyalty." I'll probably keep writing Ares fanfic so I can get contributors' copies of "By the Sword of Ares." I'm editing my newest XF fanfic, and thinking of some Buffy stories as well. I don't have a lot of time to write, but with some discipline, I've surprised myself with the volume of material I've produced.

E.A. Week's printed works:

"April Fools" (excerpt from novella), "True Love" [By the Sword of Ares 2], "Motherland" (forthcoming; By the Sword of Ares 4 or 5), and "Of Harmony and Strife," and "The Olympics of 1996 BC" in The Daily Muse.

For all of the above, jump to Unicorn Press website or e-mail UnicrnPrs@aol.com.

E.A. Week's online works:


Blood Loyalty

Into Darkness

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