Alternative Fan Fiction Links Readers and Writers as Hypertextual Co-Authors



If Xenites interacting with Xenites in community displaces TPTB from the center of the Xenaverse, creating fan fiction takes the displacement one step further. For people whose main activity in the Xenaverse centers on community, fantasy themes of connection, dialogue and interaction assume primacy, with the strength of the community at times leading to social movements and activist projects, such as organizing charity auctions and fund-raising events, getting the American Library Association to publish a Gabrielle "READ" poster, or even forcefully lobbying TPTB to take the character of Joxer off the show. These activities can be quite empowering for the Xenaverse community. However some HCNBs become distracted by something even more intoxicating, and most of their online activity eventually comes to center around it. Fantasy theme actions of reading and writing fan fiction, particularly alternative fan fiction which depicts a romantic relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, moves HCNBs beyond direct interactivity and into productivity, usurping the creative production role of TPTB. Fans may not be allowed inside the boundaries of power and control of the show created by the production company, but instead they have created their own polysemous textual "production company." While fan fiction production is somewhat dependent on the fantasy theme characters created by TPTB, fan fiction writers, of whom there are more than 400 publishing more than 1,500 vignettes, parodies, poems, filksongs (popular songs with new lyrics), stories, and novels at public web sites, rewrite the narratives of the Xenaverse as they see fit, often creating alternate storylines and universes.


Readers are essential co-authors in this activity, constructing hypertextual connections in the interstices between stories and on the web pages which connect them, offering instant electronic feedback to the author which is very often incorporated into the story and, through the reader's role as interpreter, making meaning from the texts and integrating that meaning rhetorically back into the dialogic online ethos of the culture. Also we should note that most writers, called "bards" in the Xenaverse after the bard Gabrielle, are fan fiction readers themselves. Fantasy theme characters of bards and their readers are new additions to my analysis in this sector on fan fiction. Many bards admit to trying their first story on a whim, thinking, "Hey, I wonder if I can do that." Fan fiction writers come from all occupations as well, leading one to wonder how many talented writers are hidden in jobs which don't begin to tap into their creativity. The hit rates, as high as 1,500 to 2,000 hits a day, at fan fiction sites testify to the enormous audience for noncommercial Xenaverse fan fiction, an audience that ought to give literary and commercial print publishers pause. Because anyone can try her hand at writing a fan fiction story, there is no great divide between the bards and their readers. Readers are writers and writers are readers, on many different levels. Textual production is the primary activity in all sectors of the Xenaverse, and the energy expended is creating vast megabytes of text. Most importantly, the gatekeeping activities, deciding which stories are archived at which sites, are minimal. Many bards choose to self-publish their stories and those of their friends. Comprehensive index sites keep track of the broadly dispersed collection of materials.








These stories as a collaborative form of rhetoric together create an interface metaphor, a rich virtual landscape that makes the Xenaverse more than a bland meeting place in cyberspace, that makes it an imaginative universe where numerous warriors, bards, and citizens of the Amazon Nation enact archetypes and live out stories sometimes more intensely wrought even than the television program (in the same way that people say the book is usually better than the movie, because the book provides information in greater detail). Television and movies learn to speak with a seductive visual shorthand, while prose takes the time to explore motivations for actions more fully. These stories are hypertextually and rhetorically connected, weaving a more indirect form of dialogism than is found on the discussion forums that dominate fandom culture and the Xenaverse community. They create their own cliche's, reusing familiar patterns in order to make the archetypes more real and personal than classical mythological archetypes are. If Athena and Artemis were real warrior women in stories embodying the Greek sense of archetype, Xena and Gabrielle fulfill similar roles for Xenites in the present day, as distinctive role models, flawed personalities of flesh and bone who become larger than life. In that respect, the Web sites which call themselves "temples" and "shrines" take on altogether new significance.









Several features of online fan fiction echo observations made by Camille Bacon-Smith about the interconnections between women and their stories in the non-Internet-based Star Trek fan fiction. Because of their connection to science fiction and fantasy, the Xenaverse writers put some of the same kinds of spin on their stories as found by Bacon-Smith, Constance Penley, Joanna Russ, and others writing about Trek fan fiction. The bards extend each other's storylines or "universes," writing stories for parallel universes, putting strong emphasis on the emotional catharsis of the "hurt/comfort" genre as a segue to romantic consummation, and so on.



In many of these stories the pattern of the television program is followed generally: the character themes of Xena and Gabrielle are on a continuing journey across the fantasy theme setting of a darkly anarchic landscape, Xena seeking redemption from her dark past as a mass murderer, Gabrielle struggling to hold on to her pacifist goal of helping people and making the world a better place. They face a considerable challenge either from without (evil warlords) or from within (inner conflicts often about the intensity of their growing relationship). Solutions are arrived at through a unique mixture of wit and cleverness coupled with several knock-down, drag-out battles. In fan fiction the violence is often darker than on TV, and rape and its aftermath can sometimes lead to the most horrific stories. Because of this, in fan fiction the stories don't automatically end when the battle is won. There is usually considerable emotional processing before a return to the journey. And given the erotic or sexually explicit content of much of the alternative fan fiction, the catharsis at the end is usually meant to be the best part, the consummation, with the heros' reward a well earned bed and extended, prolific sex as only a worldly warrior princess and her passionate bard can have.










We really can't begin talking about the fantasy theme activities of reading and writing alternative fan fiction without considering some of the major social institutions which have sprung up around this giant fan fiction story-writing machine. In my data sector I discussed some of the difficulties with the interfaces at large fan fiction archive web sites such as the one at Tom's Xena Page, MaryD's The Bard's Corner, and Jane's Alternative Fan Fiction. These sites archive many, many stories and represent some of the best bards in the Xenaverse, although not exclusively, as some bards place their work at several sites, including their own, and promising new archive sites are still going up, such as The Pink Rabbit Consortium.


However most readers rely almost exclusively on exhaustively cross-referenced fan fiction index sites with fast-loading, easy-to-use interfaces and a short sentence describing what the story is about when looking for specific bards or specific stories. These very popular fan fiction indexes often maintain a "What's New" page with daily updates. I know many Xenites with a regular fan fiction reading habit who hit their favorite "What's New" page every day. The mother of all fan fiction indexes was created by the low profile, mysterious web personality "xenos," who created and kept up xenos's "Xena: Warrior Princess Fan Fiction Index." For the longest time no one knew anything about xenos, not even what gender she was (she later outed herself as a woman, an executive-level professional with sophisticated database skills). Then the time came during Season 3 when xenos decided to take the popular fan fiction index down, and fan fiction readers went into a panic. Because xenos's site filled the need so completely, no one else had tried to create a similar comprehensive site. xenos eventually selected "xenabat and bardeyes" to take over her site at a different location, keeping the structures and links archives intact while continuing to expand and improve the site. The scare set others in motion as well, and Shadowfen's Xena Warrior Princess Fan Fiction Index provides many similar indexing functions and an up-to-date "What's New" page as well. These are two sites no Xenaverse fan fiction reader can be without.









No doubt a similar panic would ensue if one of the most prominent Xenaverse fan fiction institutions were to disappear tomorrow. Lunacy's Fan Fiction Reviews are published to a web site and posted almost every day to every major public listserv in the Xenaverse. If there are gatekeepers in the Xenaverse, Lunacy is one, although she decries such a role. Simply put, Lunacy knows more about fan fiction in the Xenaverse than anyone. Lunacy's Fan Fiction Reviews cover many of the stories posted at the "What's New" sites, with one exception, what is commonly known (and thus is an operative chained out fantasy theme) as the "Lunacy Factor." A romantic at heart (and Lunacy is one of the strongly supportive straight people in the Xenaverse who believes in the lesbian subtext between Xena and Gabrielle), Lunacy does not like to review stories where Xena and Gabrielle get together with anyone but each other. The rule is loosely enforced, and if a story is good enough Lunacy will review it anyway. However bards sometimes joke about the "Lunacy Factor," especially those who would like to allow Xena and Gabrielle to branch out and take other lovers. One of the most coveted honors for a fan fiction story to receive in the Xenaverse is a "HIGHLY RECOMMENDED" from Lunacy. A typical daily posting from Lunacy looks like this:


[Previous report was for 9/3/97]

Hey guys,

Two new stories and three updates tonight :)


NUANCES by Hobbes

>Sweet little vignette set during a quiet night by the campfire as Gabrielle observes the Warrior Princess care for her horse.


BLIND HOPE by Stormwolff

This VERY sensual offering by a promising new bard features the missing scenes we never saw in the episode BLIND [FAITH] ;-) Starting just as Xena is saving the bard from a fiery death, the story follows them during the next several hours as emotions long held hidden are revealed and two souls finally come together. VERY nice!


The conclusion of this story is now available. The adventures of Lady Evangeline "Lina" St. Claire and Rhiannon Moore continue in this FANTASTIC sequel to Bardwynna's first uber-Xena story XENA BY GASLIGHT (reviewed 7/30/97). This time the intrepid private investigator and her secretary are faced with a mystery strangely connected to Lina's own past - a mystery involving the disappearance of two people, the gruesome murder of an old friend, the growing strength of a secretive cult and clues horrid enough to scare even the bravest of hearts. In this second part to the story, things come to a head both in Lina's investigation and in her personal life as Rhiannon demands a change in their relationship and the investigator finds herself facing a terrifying evil. Extremely well-written, this story reflects Bardwynna's impressive historical and literary knowledge and her incredible attention to detail. Sections of this tale made me feel like I was being treated to a Victorian fashion show! :) In Lina and Rhiannon she has created characters which although based on the warrior and her bard, are in themselves unique and enchanting. Once again featuring the great Sherlock Holmes and his trusty friend Dr. Watson in supporting roles, the story is in effect a XWP/Sherlock Holmes crossover which in parts reads very much like those great mysteries featuring the legendary English sleuth. Exceptional folks. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

SURFACING by Paul Seely & Jennifer Garza

>Chapter 5 of this story is now available. A very well-written, original new uber-Xena tale that will have you spell-bound from chapter one. Set in the present day, it revolves around the mysterious activities of a secret agent going by the name of Diana Starret. On assignment from the shadowy, top-secret organization who once recruited her when she had little choice in the matter, Diana's mission is to keep a dangerous criminal from landing in prison until the full extent of his operation has been revealed. It is this assignment that leads her to a fateful meeting with a young lawyer named Charlotte Browning. The two women are inexplicably drawn to one another and soon find themselves haunted by the same dream - about a leather-clad warrior drowning in blood and the strawberry blonde trying to save her. In this latest chapter, Diana and Charlotte plan a life together. As yet unfinished, this intriguing new offering is NOT TO BE MISSED!!


Chapters 19-21 of this story are now available. OUTSTANDING folks but be warned - do not even THINK of reading this at work!...unless you work at home >:) It is a somewhat different warlord/slave story guaranteed to get that pulse ;-) With Xena in warlord mode once again, a determined Gabrielle enlists the aid of friends to help her get back to the warrior's side the only way it is possible for her to do so - as Xena's personal slave. It is a decision that could bring them closer than ever before but which will also bring challenges and risks neither may be quite ready for. These latest chapters are deceptively subtle featuring a friendly dinner between Xena and the other warlords at which the risk-taking escalates. The tale is a psychological exploration not only of the characters of Xena and Gabrielle but also of their relationship and of the nature of power itself. Note: this story contains light S&M. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!

For those of you reading this post who are not familiar with the term alternative (alt.), it refers to ADULT stories that add a romantic element to the relationship between Xena and Gabby, depicting them as more than just friends.

Happy reading!

>Lunacy 8-)


Reports and individual reviews archived at MaryD's XWP INFORMATION PAGE:

Reports posted regularly on the Xena NetForum:





























I deliberately selected this review as a sample because it contains several stories that have since become quite famous in the Xenaverse, one in the "Warlord/Slave" genre and two for the "Uber" genre. This fan fiction review reveals a great deal about the fantasy theme rhetoric of the activities of reading and writing in the Xenaverse. First, notice under the story "Warlord Daze" what is for Xenites a familiar warning on certain sexually explicit stories in the Xenaverse: "OUTSTANDING folks but be warned - do not even THINK of reading this at work!...unless you work at home >:)" This note speaks to the fact that many fan fiction readers ARE reading at work, whether on their lunch breaks or stealing time from their employers (once again I have to note, the number of talented people in the Xenaverse who are under-utilized by their current employers is substantial. The Xenaverse appears to be dipping into an untapped resource.) These kinds of warnings are echoed throughout the discussion groups as well, both on the dangers of reading particularly steamy stories at work, or on the dangers of accidentally spitting out coffee or soda while reading some of the particularly funny parodies such as the "Coming Out" series or "The Bitter Treat" written by Joanna.



The second thing to note about the above fan fiction review is the number of stories which are being released in serialized form, with multiple chapters ("Warlord Daze" has become something like a never-ending story, with chapters coming out in the 70s at the time of this writing). This also reveals something important about the fantasy theme action of reading and writing in the Xenaverse as it relates to hypertext. At the beginning of this node I called this gigantic fan fiction "text" that creates the imaginative landscape of the Xenaverse a "hypertext." I need to qualify this statement. In my introductory sector I discuss some of the prevailing theories of hypertext, from Ted Nelson's "docuverse" to some of the more nonlinear and experimental forms of hypertext. One thing we do not see in the Xenaverse "hyperfiction" are some of the grander experiments in nonlinearity such as we find advocated by high hypertext theory. Stories do not co-mingle; they do not link to each other internally, nor do I expect them to start doing so any time in the future. Readers remain highly resistant to that kind of interruptive reading; they want the author to sustain some kind of clear narrative line. And the bards online, even as they use anonymous "handles," still want credit for their stories, still want to be able to say "I made this." In a distinctive contrast to the findings of Camille Bacon-Smith among the Trek fanwriters, I found a modernist emphasis on authorship and copyright in the Xenaverse. Xenaverse bards receive personal gratification as their handle's ethos develops online.


Despite cases of individual story authorship, most online bards also play into a mythology that somehow all stories in the Xenaverse were supposedly authored by "Gabrielle," a female "Homer" of sorts. The invocations of orality from the fantasy theme character of "bard" give the stories of the Xenaverse an origin and an author who speaks with many voices, like the collective that is "Homer." Presumably, in the imaginative Xenaverse setting, these 1,500 plus stories online were all once "Xena Scrolls" written by Gabrielle. One strong fantasy theme in the Xenaverse, both on television and online, is that these "Xena Scrolls" were found in an archeological site in Macedonia by Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas, 1940s descendants of Xena and Gabrielle (who happen to look just like them). Many scholars find online discourse to have features of both oral and print cultures, claiming online discourse creates a hybrid between the two, with features of orality as described by Ong and others, and features of print as described by McLuhan, Lanham, Bolter, and others. Bolter discusses how electronic writing brings elements of orality to alphabetic text production in Writing Space,

The contrast between oral and written texts is important for an understanding of electronic writing, because in some ways the new medium more closely resembles oral discourse than it does conventional printing or handwriting. . . .Like oral poetry and storytelling, electronic writing is highly associative writing, in which the pattern of associations among verbal elements is as much a part of the text as the elements themselves. Just as the ancient Homeric audience built up associations around the characters of Greek mythology, electronic readers rely on an interplay between the structures that the author has created and their own associative structures. The electronic reader plays in the writing space of the machine the same role that the Homeric listener played as he or she sat before the poet." (58-9)

It is easy to see the creative products of these bards as such a hybrid, situated on the borderlands between oral and print cultures. Their stories follow familiar patterns, and readers' expectations strongly affect those patterns. Even in the fantasy theme setting of the Xenaverse, Gabrielle is situated on those same borderlands, for she is a bard who tells stories orally, yet she also writes them down in her scrolls, which will later be discovered at the mock "archeological site."





Bibliographic entry for J.D. Bolter's _Writing Space_.


Xenaverse bards do create many of the same features Camille Bacon-Smith found among the women Star Trek fanwriters, writing parallel tales such as "Blind Faith" above which explores what might have happened behind the scenes of a Xena episode, or writing what happened before or after an established story in the Xenaverse, or re-visioning an existing story from another character's point of view. The stories weave their nonlinear elements without the interruptive intrusions of confusing internal links. Interestingly, many of the prominent advocates of experimental hyperfiction are men. Perhaps the Xenaverse can teach us what a predominantly women's hypertext would look like. In the Xenaverse some stories are vignettes. Some are short story length. However many readers who have been involved with Xenaverse fan fiction for some time learn to avoid the shorter pieces by unknown writers. The quality tends to be more uneven at that length, the stories less satisfying. For many fan fiction writers, the short piece is their first story, their entry-level work. Also there are suspicions that some of the shorter erotic pieces may be written by men posing as women, which can at times give the story a different feel.






On the other hand, the serialized novel (like "Surfacing" by Paul Seely and Jennifer Garza above) or the story series (as in "Xena by Gaslight" by Bardwynna above) presents an interesting take on hypertext from the point of view of the reader. A novel sustains a linear line longer than a short story or vignette, which opens to branching or expansion more quickly. From that perspective, novels are less hypertextual than short stories--the lexias, the chunks of text, are longer; there are fewer points of entry. That is a view of the novel from the mechanics of hypertext. Yet Bakhtin saw novels as highly dialogic, as a model of "dialogic heteroglossia," sustaining multiple points of view and storylines, with the power to undermine the monologism imposed from high culture. Xenaverse novels are not as complex and multifaceted as Dostoevsky's, however, although they do represent some of the finest and most inspired writing in the Xenaverse. They also do not seem to be complexly plotted, as the struggles that Xena and Gabrielle go through are usually character-driven rather than plot-driven. Many bards have posted that their favorite episodes of the television show are the ones that are character-driven as well. Readers also seem to like stories that go deep into Xena or Gabrielle's psyche, although most stories are written from omniscent third person perspective. First person stories are less successful, perhaps because they are harder to write well, or because it is jarring for the reader, who is not privy to either Xena or Gabrielle's "I-voice" while watching the television program.





It is the serializing of the novels, however, that I found to be the hardest thing to get used to. I would rather wait until the story was finished before I read it. But eventually I was also forced into the reading habits of following several different serialized novels at the same time. Even bards who would prefer not to write stories this way have been somewhat coerced into doing it because everyone else was. By breaking up a novel into parts released over time, a unique hypertextual condition is imposed upon the readers and the writers in the Xenaverse. Novels now have smaller lexias, and more points of entry into the story. Because of the fantasy theme actions of reading and writing as chained out in the Xenaverse, life follows a pattern. Bards dribble out chunks of larger stories which readers hungrily gobble up as their nightly bedtime stories. Occasionally a bard will dump a particularly brutal cliffhanger on the unsuspecting audience and readers will howl online and threaten to do torturous things to the offending writer, leaving those not currently engaged in that particular story to wonder what the devil was going on. Readers must struggle to keep the different ongoing novels straight in their minds, although sometimes they get mixed up anyway. Others just stick to the current Missy Good novel and let the others pass by. This mixing up of ongoing stories, with the picaresque journeys of Xena and Gabrielle enacting a model, is where the greatest hypertextualizing in the Xenaverse takes place.


How does this kind of hypertext fit with dialogized heteroglossia as defined by Bakhtin? We can see in this dissertation my own attempt to increase the dialogic possibilities of interactions between frames and windows as one kind of hypertextual dialogism. Hypertext can bring both sides of Bakhtin's internal and external dialogism to light, and the navigational structures of the Xenaverse may be seen as a good example of this. Nonlinear navigation within a single source resembles internal dialogue, the reader's interactive dialogue with the parts of the text over time, technically a dialogue with the text's author. When we move into nonlinear navigation through many texts intertextually playing off against each other, such as linking from one unfinished hypertext novel to another unfinished hypertext novel (while discussing them intensely in forums with fellow readers and bards), it most resembles external dialogue, the heteroglossic language of the streets.This is especially true because these are transgressive stories from the margins, stories too lesbian and too explicitly sexual to be part of the mainstream. Bakhtin could just have well have been talking about the Xenaverse when he wrote,

At the time when poetry was accomplishing the task of cultural, national and political centralization of the verbal-ideological world in the higher official socio-ideological levels, on the lower levels, on the stages of local fairs and at buffoon spectacles, the heteroglossia of the clown sounded forth, ridiculing all 'languages' and dialects; there developed the literature of the fabliaux and Schwaenke of street songs, folksayings, anecdotes, where there was no language-center at all, where there was to be found a lively play with the 'languages of poets, scholars, monks, knights and others, where all 'languages' were masks and where no language could claim to be an authentic, incontestable face.

Heteroglossia, as organized in these low genres, was not merely heteroglossia vis-a´-vis the accepted literary language (in all its various generic expressions), that is, vis-a´-vis the linguistic center of the verbal-ideological life of the nations and the epoch, but was a heteroglossia consciously opposed to this literary language. It was parodic, and aimed sharply and polemically against the official languages of its given time. It was heteroglossia that had been dialogized." (272-273)









The Xenaverse is like the carnival, the mad play with forms outside of an economic model of production. There is no language center in the Xenaverse, unless it is the huge collections of links at the fan fiction indexes. They allow readers to click seamlessly from story to story, following Xena and Gabrielle's unending adventures but who are really much more interested in how their characters develop, how they find each other, how their lives intertwine in an idealistic romance even as they roam the squalid underbelly of a dark society, staying in rough inns, passing through country festivals, camping in the woods. The Xenaverse bards are the maskers, playing with story forms, bringing back the serialized novels with its echoes from the nineteenth century for a subversive purpose, to cast two women as heros and to give them space for a lifebond, a romantic, erotic love. As Camille Bacon-Smith wrote of the Star Trek women fanwriters,

>"While universes act as devices by which like-minded fans can identify each other and form social groups, the structure of the corpus represents the complex worldview of community members. Linear narrative cannot convey a story with any illusion of reality for women who perceive their lives as part of an ongoing multifaceted and simultaneous web that connects them to each other." (66)









In this node then we see how the fantasy theme actions of reading and writing, of a community of bards producing an endless series of tales for eager and interactive readers, enact a kind of heteroglossic carnival of hypertextual links and dialogic conversations. The imaginative landscape in the fantasy theme setting of the Xenaverse takes on specific and concrete form in the stories of these bards, a form that is mirrored by the structure of the online culture itself, as Camille Bacon-Smith writes,

"The fanwriters know their work fits into a structure that includes both the source products and all the fiction that has grown up around them. That structure recapitulates within the body of literature and the blueprint for the structure of the community, and in turn creates that blueprint" (56).





This is what I mean about the Xenaverse bards creating a figurative interface metaphor for the entire Xenaverse. While graphical chat rooms like the "Xena Palace" situate themselves in a landscape of bastardized Ancient Greece, the figurative language of the fan fiction bards gives that landscape richness and detail. Given the reading patterns of fan fiction addicts (of which there are many), the nightly bedtime story or novel installment transports them into the faux-ancient landscape while in cyberspace. Fantasy theme characters of readers and bards join with the fantasy theme characters of Xena and Gabrielle as they travel on episodic adventures in cyberspace. Like Xena and Gabrielle, they carry their close friends, their community, with them as they travel over the cyberwaves.



On the path of Xena's Sword we move into a discussion of recurrent fantasy themes within the stories themselves, and the path of Xena's Breastplate looks to how certain themes come to transcend the stories and perhaps initiate the beginnings of a heroic lesbian archetype. The round Chakram connects to the Navigational Map.




The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: The Xenaverse in Cyberspace

Copyright © 1998-2021 Christine Boese, All Rights Reserved
Unless otherwise noted, all photos, sounds, and video clips are the property
of MCA/Universal Studios, and appear here for fair educational use only.