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The Sentinel's first season episodes Switchman and Night Train were among the ones which hooked Agnes Mage on the show and inspired her to begin writing fan fiction. This author is well-known for the thought-provoking metaphors and philosophical meanderings she intersperses within her stories. Her portrayal of Jim and Blair particularly appeals to the many readers who enjoy emphasis on familial aspects of their friendship. Agnes Mage's Cascade Library listing currently includes six stories. Her stories are located at Wolfpup's Den.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Aggie!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What else do you enjoy doing besides writing TS fan fiction?
Growing up in Detroit, I had a childhood very much like most city kids. Ball playing in the alleys, picking up bottles and cashing in the deposits for candy and pop, and long summer days sitting on the porch or under a tree devouring books. I love reading, cooking, playing computer games, watching movies, riding my dad's electric bicycle, and spending time with my cat, Sadie. I have a degree in English Literature, which is quite useless, but I still don't regret it. It has given me a fine magic for recognizing talent in would-be writers. I have always read voraciously and through my childhood and teens I read sometimes as many as seven books a week. I think I was the only child in the neighborhood whose mother yelled out to her, "Put that book down and go play." LOL
Right now I'm having fun setting up web pages for other writers who are friends of mine. I work as an administrative assistant for the controller for a large real estate developer. Secretly I have always wanted to write a horror novel and Stephen King is somewhat my idol. Well, I still might do that one…I know the dark side.
How did you become a Sentinel fan?
I read about an upcoming new program and set my VCR as it sounded interesting. Let's face it, there is very little "good" programming on these days. I remember the first episode; I was taping it because there was some celestial happening occurring. I'm a nut job for looking at night skies and seeing falling stars and thinking of friends around the world under the same stars. Still trying desperately to see an Aurora Borealis. LOL! I ran outside during the commercials and would hurry up, see the stars and run back in. I was hooked on the very first episode. The show was talking to me personally. It was like it was tailored for my needs.
What is your favorite episode and why?
My favorite episode is probably the first one, Switchman, as my life was paralleling Jim's to a tee at that point, which I'll answer in another question. I loved the mood swings, the surliness born of fear and anxiety, the helplessness of this very capable man. The polarity of characterization probably attracted me most to this episode and the show. I'll take characterization over plot and high drama any day, and this show offered it in delightful extremes.
My next favorite episode is probably Night Train. There was something very vulnerable and almost sad about Blair Sandburg in that episode. I think it had a lot to do with the joshing he took from Jim on the whole assignment, the eagerness with which he went off into the night on a mission he didn't understand. The usual surliness of Jim, only heightened by the cold and sneezing, made Blair a very vulnerable waif to me. The secret password thing, Blair's attraction to the lawyer, and the Swiss army knife, showed a naivety that truly endeared him to me. I don't know...I just really liked that episode, and I think the fact that Jim called him "Junior." There was such delineation with their ages in this story...very big brother, little brother tag-along type setting.
How did you start writing Sentinel fan fiction? Specifically, what was your first story, when did you write it, and what was it like to post your first story?
I started Stealing Memories in July of 1997. I had this strange nagging obsession with why Blair never wore a watch. Silly, I know, but things like that drive me crazy. So I started daydreaming on my drives into work about what possible reasons someone might have for not wearing a watch. Remembering my own Cinderella watch when I was five-years-old, remembering how my parents instilled in me time consciousness, I thought maybe Blair had something happen in his youth. So I decided what would it be like if he always wanted a watch, one handed down from his dad, realizing the special significance of fathers passing such items down to their progeny. Since he didn't know his father, what if he fantasized about having one and stole someone else's watch.
It was fantastic to post, but I never would have if it hadn't been for my best friends, Santana1 (Denise and Monica). I had no e-mail (only at work) and no Internet connection. So they were kind enough to read my story and encourage me to post it. They took all e-mails and forwarded them to me at work. They were the best things to come out of my whole Sentinel experience. It was fun and exciting to post my first story, but I admit once you write you are absolutely hooked…addicted. LOL
If you could see any of your stories made into a real episode, which one would you choose?
Actually, Homespun Logic, although I know it wasn't a big hit with anyone. It took me two weeks to write on Christmas vacation and it was the nicest time I've ever spent in my own mind. It was just fun to write and that is one episode that would be fun to see on the screen. Coming from a Polish family with womenfolk who love to cook and make you eat LOL I guess it was a tribute in many ways to my mom, grandmother and the great-grandmother I truly wish I had known. Aunt Eddie was an embodiment of all their cussedness and homespun logic.
Which story are you most proud of?
Probably Stealing Memories, but only because it was my first step into writing. I know how unsure I was of myself, how naïve and oh, my!…the errors and mistakes. It was one story that I actually put myself into heart and soul. I became Jim and Blair and I remember days when I physically re-enacted the terrace scene, wanting to know how uncomfortable Blair was, how emotionally insecure he felt, going through every feeling myself, personally. It was very intense for me, very much like giving birth. LOL I think I spent more time on Stealing Memories, working through the dialogue, the scenes, the plot, than on any other story I've written since.
Which character do you most enjoy writing? Which character is the easiest for you to write? Who is your least favorite?
I think I enjoy writing Jim the most. He and I are a lot alike. Plus he's so moody and sometimes it's fun peeling back his many skins. He reacts to things and then you can just see how sorry he is that he did, yet he can't seem to back out gracefully.
Blair is probably the easiest one for me to write. I see him as being very young, but he has an old soul. He's passionate, too, and I can understand passion, the breath of life.
My least favorite character to write is Joel, but remember that's to write. He also happens to be one of my favorite characters and I only wish they had expanded him more in the series. I see him as an equal to Simon, but a man with a totally different approach to things. I think sometimes writers see Joel as being easy-going and just a peon, but he was Simon's match always…the only man I think who could take Simon on. There is always an inference in the show that Joel and Simon are close, the kind of buddies who depend on each other, and worked their way up through the political ranks side by side.
What genre(s) do you enjoy writing the most?
I've never done a missing scene and I never did figure out smarm. I think I write human drama, the emotional intensities of situations and human interaction. I love to analyze conflict. People are so different, so unique, that to watch them work out their differences, make mistakes and still persevere, still hold firm to the bond that they share, that is magic to me.
Who are your beta readers and what do you appreciate most about them?
I have no betas. I had a bad experience with my first beta for Stealing Memories. She was on Guide Posts lists of betas, I sent her the story and her idea of betaing was telling someone NOT to post. I swore I would never use another beta. I have had friends help me and offer opinion, but I let my heart speak freely. Many times I have been told that I should use a beta, but that one hurtful experience was enough to put me off to the idea.
You frequently separate your scenes with little interludes that are almost poetic in nature. What's the story behind your "Aggieisms"?
I am a big fan of Dean Koontz and he always quotes from the Book of Counted Sorrows before his chapters. He admits there is no such book but they are the preludes to his thoughts. So before I start every chapter, I write the "Aggieism," as my good friend, Iris Wilde, calls them. I let my mind just relax and I usually make them one-shot deals..no editing except for grammar and spelling. Often times they come out as rhyming, but that is not my intention. I let my heart speak of the things it needs to say. I allow a free-flow of my emotions as I enter this portion of my story. Then I write the chapter and I am more surprised than anyone that the saying had any relevance at all to the drama. They should really be called "accidents" or "lucky Aggie guesses."
The fact, too, that I had written essays and poetry all my life, never fiction, probably helps. It's like a security blanket with the type of writing I'm most comfortable.
The allegory of Glassfish was thought-provoking. What was your inspiration?
It was a dreary day in March when my brother, sister-in-law, and my friend and I went to Belle Isle in Detroit for a Sunday outing. The aquarium there has some exotic and beautiful fish. There were these clear, translucent fish swimming in a dark tank. I was mesmerized. Leslie, my friend, kept pulling me away, but I would brush his arm off and eventually drift back to that one tank. It was like a dream. Well I researched them and found out that people dye them, which hurts them in the end and lessens their life span. I thought how sad that was. I had read things about Garett being uncomfortable sometimes in public and I thought what price people pay for fame, how you are never everything to everyone. How people try to change people to make them fit their ideal of what they should be. So I came home saying I'm going to write a story called Glassfish. I have a habit of always coming up with a name for my stories before I write the first word. I never do outlines, I never plan my stories, only a basic theme, and I just sit back and let the story tell itself. I love trees and I wanted to say something about conservation, so it all just worked its way in. Stories write themselves, if you let them.
All my stories are based on my own personal experiences. The suicide attempt in For Wild Things, actually happened to me. Still the only time I've ever seen fireflies; and who knows when I'll see them again.
If you go through the day with your eyes open and your heart free, inspiration peeks out at you in the strangest places.
In Lost in the Clouds, Blair's life is endangered while he and a friend research a setting for fan fiction. Do you research your stories?
That sanitarium is in Detroit. My friend, Leslie, and I drove by it during the bleak winter months and I was so in awe of it. Stephen King would love writing about a place like that. It was all dark and dreary and the leafless trees looked like villains guarding some horrific memories from that asylum. Finally I said I'm going to use that in a story. So I guess in a way I do research, to a point. I am not fanatical about it. I know this is fiction, it's for fun, and I surely don't get paid. LOL But I do like to know my subject matter, have the feeling and mood of my settings. So, yes, to some extent I do research. For Glassfish I researched the giant trees in America and discovered the Sentinels of Calaverras Big Trees. Research can be fun.
What are your thoughts about Blair as a shaman?
StarPlaza, an excellent writer, and I wrote The Seeker Unaware. We tried to explore Blair's inability to accept this new view of himself. How he got caught up in the word, not the essence of it. I think that sensitive people such as Blair are very viscerally focused. For a scientist this is unusual, but you see it in Blair all the time. His ability to reach people, empathize with them, and follow his instincts. There is irony here when you consider that Jim is physically sensitive, Blair is viscerally so, and you actually have a very strong combination. I think Blair was a shaman long before he met Jim, working some forms of magic on people all around him. The fact that shamans connect the spiritual and physical world makes him a likely candidate. As an anthropologist his job was to connect physical artifacts with the cultural, spiritual and intellectual pursuits of historic man. It was destiny in his very nature for Incacha to pass on the role to him.
What are your feelings about The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg and Blair as a cop?
I really think the writers copped out on this episode. Blair would never have been this careless, not with the secret he prized, not the secret that could shatter Jim's life. I think he should have published his thesis. There were many years of hard work behind it. Published it and taken the ridicule for not presenting the man behind it. I think he still would have gotten his doctorate, but not the standing he was due. But he would have kept his relationship with Jim. Presenting Naomi in so transparent a light was a shallow trade off.
I do not see Blair as a cop. That would be like me being an accountant because I'm good with numbers. I hate them, I abhor them, but I can do math and algebra and I score high on tests. I would be about as good an accountant as Blair would be a cop. The heart is not in it. Please don't tell my boss this, as I do accounting projects all the time. LOL
Most of your stories show a Blair that is in emotional pain and turmoil. What did you see in Blair that inspired you to write of his emotional situation in such a manner?
First off, I do not see Blair as weak. I've raged for years that romantics are really realists who see the pain in life, acknowledge it, and write in the clouds to soften the blows. Blair is a hero the magnitude and equivalence of Samson, Prometheus and Don Quixote. But such ventures, such force of purpose and righteous need, must surely take their toll on one's emotions. I see him strangled sometimes by the world he has found himself tossed into, not floundering, but emotionally disrupted and challenged. Blair never quits, he fights to understand and work around the turmoil.
Again, I think Night Train set my feelings for Blair. He is so totally out of things in that episode, yet he perseveres and succeeds. He's the Reluctant Hero in that one.
Animals frequently appear in your stories. Are they an important part of your life?
Yes, most definitely, yes. I am an animal rights supporter and I have loved animals all my life. I have a bond to them that I do not often see with my fellow human beings. When I studied literature, it was the Natty Bumpo stories by James Fenimore Cooper that touched me deeply…natural man, who loves the wilds and understands wild things, yet is still a man and in need of human company. I think the very fact that the Panther and Wolf are symbols of Jim and Blair is a focal point of the parallel universes of civilization and nature. I find myself often in the eyes of squirrels, the strength of the trees, and the power of the winds. The fact that the writers brought in the spirit guide, the fact that most Indian legends bear witness to the spirits in nature, allows for Jim and Blair to always be much closer to nature. When Jim wears that headband and runs through the jungle with the bow and arrows…I mean, he's Natty Bumpo all over again….the man is in his element.
Your stories seem to carry messages for people. Are these lessons an important part of your writing?
I would surely hope so. When I got on the Internet I made myself a promise: never hurt anyone. When I started writing, I made another promise, to teach lessons of the heart. I get no other reward, but when I have someone tell me that this inspired them, or this Aggieism spoke to them, or that they learned some lesson from my story, then I feel sated, refreshed, and pleased. In another genre I am writing a story about suicide and depression. I have received some wonderful feedback about how I understand, how I have the feelings and stages down pat, how someone is out there who knows what other people are going through. That is the joy of writing…the reaching out and touching hearts.
Your presentation of Jim and Blair has been described as "familial." Do you interpret their relationship as one of family?
Yes, I see most relationships in terms of ersatz family structures. I think one of my "Aggieisms" deals with family being more than blood relations and that we all have family no matter who we are. We just need to recognize it. Simon is like an older brother to Jim, Jim is like an older brother to Blair, or even a father-figure. I think both men fill a need in the other for that family structure that they missed when they were younger.
Most of us form these bonds when we develop relationships. There are very few relationships, in my opinion, of two equals, leveling off as one. One figure usually becomes dominant in any relationship.
How do you deal with writer's block?
I stop writing for two weeks. Just don't do it..don't try to do it. I find that the heart speaks when it's ready. I do not like writing from my mind, only my soul and heart. They are very eager to speak and when they are ignored, they come back loud and strong. LOL It always works for me. Plus I find writing on my lunch hour at work to be the most productive time. I have no idea why, but I just escape in my mind for that hour and I do my writing then.
What is the hardest part about writing for you?
Stopping. LOL Truly, that's why my stories are always long. I can't do pwp or missing scenes…it's humanly impossible for me. LOL
What is the most satisfying part of writing for you?
Touching someone, somewhere. That one letter from someone who says, "Hey, man, you understand." But escapism is another added bonus. When real life gets to be too hard sometimes, running away into my mind and living the lives of Jim and Blair is a nice little vacation.
What are your feelings on story feedback?
I think every writer needs it. I think it is part of the reason we write, to be appreciated and accepted and understood. I surely enjoy it.
Do you have any advice for new TS fan fiction writers?
Write…write from your heart, the stories you need to tell. Don't write like Kris Williams or Iris Wilde or Tate or Shiloh or Donna Gentry or Robyn or Becky or Shelly or D.L. Witherspoon, any of the greats, write like yourself. Every style has a reader and you know the stories you need to voice..do it. In time you fall into your own niche, you find the home where you are most comfortable. But above it all, do it for fun for there is so little in life that gives us such satisfaction and connects us to other people.
What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever read?
Kris Williams. I admit it. I ate her stuff up like cotton candy, and overdosed. LOL I had no Internet connection, but my sister-in-law got it. Every night I would drive up to their house and bury myself in front of the computer, downloading stories. My wonderful sister-in-law would bring me pizza, cake, snacks and more coffee and I was oblivious. My brother wanted to charge me rent. I would take my disks home and read until the wee hours of the morning…overdosing on fan fiction. It was a good time for me…a happy time…a time I wish I could go back to.
Are there particular kinds of Sentinel fanfic stories that you especially enjoy reading?
Yes, I like stories where Jim is very brotherly towards Blair, very authoritative. Sorry, but he's a cop and ex-military. It's just the way I see him. I think it's part of the charm of their relationship, the yin and the yang, the push and the pull. Both work so nicely off of each other. I see magic when they are of an opposite mindset.
What is it about The Sentinel that inspires you to write?
The friendship, as this is true I think for most people. We've all dreamed of friendships like that and some of us have found them. The nice thing is that some of us have found them while in the Sentinel Fan Fiction realm. It is nice to explore the various elements of drama and hurt and comfort while connecting with these very strong, singular individuals.
What do you believe are The Sentinel's greatest strengths, and greatest weaknesses, as a series?
It's greatest strength is that it is a buddy show. Shows with male bonding are always popular. However, the Sentinel went further, since it was able to reach out and have so many people identify with it. I think all the readers either identifies with Jim or Blair. I never was able to identify with Napoleon Solo or Illya Kuryakin, Starsky or Hutch, but I think there is a little of all of us in Jim and Blair. That's just my opinion.
The only weakness in the show was the writers' and the station's inability to perceive the need for affection, hugs, and physical displays of comfort and compassion. The touching in the first season, when Jim so easily patted Blair's cheeks, was a major loss in the remaining episodes. It's sad where touch implies love, yet love is an embarrassment.
Do you find yourself identifying more with Jim or Blair?
Jim. Though viscerally I am more like Blair, sensitive and intuitive, I am much more like Jim in how I react to the world. I take up arms, rant and rage, and need to be pulled back in line more often than not. In January of the year the Sentinel started, I began peri-menopause. My body was going through all kinds of changes and I was scared. I had a three-month bout of insomnia where I watched Sentinel tapes over and over again through the night. Seeing Jim going through the adjustment with his senses really helped me. The show was an easy lesson on accepting physical changes and adapting.
If you were given the opportunity to write an episode of The Sentinel, what story would you like to tell?
I would love to have explored Jim's 18 months in Peru. What happened to him and his men, how he was taken in by the natives, and how he met and bonded with Incacha. There is so much to this, so many questions that come up time and again. The fact that Jim honestly loved the guy speaks volumes to me.
I also feel that Richard Burgi did a great job with the scene when Incacha died. He truly showed his talents as an actor…he actually scared me in that scene, so sure I was that he was going to crack.
What three specific things would you like to see on The Sentinel that we haven't seen yet? How about general changes?
I would like to see Blair get official status as Jim's partner, but not as a cop. Now that he jeopardized his doctorate, I would like to see him on the payroll, more subject to department regulations, training, etc.
Another thing that I feel needed to be explored and would have added to the depth of the show was more interest in who Blair's father was. I think with his inquisitive mind he would most certainly try to find out.
And third, I would have liked to have seen them go off on a camping trip. I've read so many stories about it, I would have loved one whole hour with Simon, Jim, Blair, Joel, Brown, and Rafe on a camping trip…just pure male bonding.
Generally, I would have liked to have seen Daryl come live with Simon. I think Blair and Daryl could have gotten into some great scrapes together.
What one story do you think people will always remember you for?
Stealing Memories, because it's powerful in where it takes the characters, places some people choose not to go.
Can you tell us what stories you have in the works right now?
In Michigan in the late 70's there were four children murdered in Oakland County during snow storms. I remember well the furor and fright. I have a story inside me, Recollections of Snow, that I have been considering writing. Here is where my take on the story would seed itself to the winds of imagination.
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this interview. I'm not of the intellectual bent of some of the writers you have interviewed and my offerings are perhaps childishly inept, but to be so asked and invited has warmed me dearly. In a realm where I oftentimes found happiness, escape, and free flight, I can now say I have found acceptance and peace. Thank you again.
Last updated 8/14/00 clc