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A fourth season episode and the online fan fiction were the things which prompted Autumn Skies to join the fanfic authors of The Sentinel. She has since become a popular author known for her skill with smarm and hurt/comfort stories, which serve well as comfort food on almost any day. Autumn's Cascade Library listing currently lists 21 stories and she is still actively writing. Her stories are located at her website, Autumn Skies' Fanfic.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Autumn!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm well into my fourth decade and a Southern California native just like my husband and our cat. I started out in the graphic design field as a production artist (back in the days of T-squares and rubber cement) and met my husband while working in advertising. Up until a few years ago, I headed up the art studio for an ad agency. Although we're no longer in that field, we still work together.
As for our cat, she is living proof you should be careful of what you wish for. One evening, while hubby was working late on a project, I said, "Wouldn't it be nice if you had a cat to keep you company?" Lo and behold, the very next morning, we heard something crying outside and found a kitten hiding under our car in the driveway. She immediately marched over demanding food and attention. Taking advantage of our befuddled state, she quickly moved in, lock, stock and litterbox.
What else do you enjoy doing besides writing TS fan fiction?
I'm fortunate in that my husband and I share quite a few interests. We like to go to art museums, galleries, the library, chamber music concerts, ballet and the local comic book convention. I also do art projects in my spare time, like designing and making Christmas cards to send to family and friends.
Over the past few years, I've taken up tai chi chuan, a wonderful combination of exercise and meditation. I love the names of the hundred-plus moves which range from Parting the Wild Horse's Mane to Repulse the Monkey. My overall goal though, is to age as well as our instructor. At eighty years old, she can still kick butt. Literally.
How did you become a Sentinel fan?
To be perfectly honest, it didn't make much of an impression on me when it first came out. I recall seeing a little bit of the pilot, but got distracted and switched channels to something else. It wasn't until much later I happened to stumble across some TS fanfic. I immediately got hooked on the writing and decided to find out what it was about the show that inspired such wonderful stories. I finally began watching TS in earnest during its fourth season.
What is your favorite episode and why?
I'm afraid I can't narrow it down to just one. Off the top of my head, I'd name Cypher, Spare Parts, The Real Deal, The Rig and Switchman/Siege.
The first episode to catch my eye was The Real Deal. It had some funny, endearing moments, little tributes to those detective and spy shows of the sixties and seventies, plus great camaraderie between the actors. Robert Vaughn was a hoot. I love that breakfast scene where he tries to make pancakes for the guys as Jim grouses, "What are we? The three little bears, Vince?"
I hadn't seen much of the first season at that point, so I was looking forward to Cypher, having read so many stories based on that particular episode. I wasn't disappointed. It had all the right elements: a cunning serial killer, Blair in peril but using his wits to stay alive as well as Jim in hunt mode. I also thought that little clash in the lab between Jim and his ex-wife was rather telling. Carolyn is all for preserving evidence and following protocol while Jim is willing to do whatever is necessary, including bending the rules so he can find his missing partner.
In Spare Parts, I liked seeing Blair handle something Jim couldn't: a big rig. I thought that was very cool and funny, in light of Jim assuring Simon, "It's a piece of cake." Riiight. Seeing Naomi also brought up a lot of intriguing questions as well. What were Blair's early years like? What was it like for him to grow up without a father? What about Naomi's parents? And how can she afford to travel so much?
The Rig was a great overall action yarn for both guys and Switchman and Siege were of course pivotal, in establishing the tone of the show and introducing the characters we've come to know and love.
How did you start writing Sentinel fan fiction?
I had always kept the notion of writing stories on the back burner, that is until I started reading TS fanfic. The friendship theme between Jim and Blair appealed to me so much, I began to fiddle around with a few ideas. However it took me several months and dozens of tries to come up with a story I felt confident enough to post.
Specifically, what was your first story, when did you write it, and what was it like to post your first story?
The first story I posted was Christmas Cookies. While doing some baking over the holidays, I began to mull over Jim's estranged relationship with Steven. It seemed a perfect time to try and get the two brothers together, courtesy of little push from Blair and his cookies. The story came together fairly quickly, but I was very nervous about posting it. My very first LoC (which I still have saved) was from Becky. I remember being both relieved and immensely grateful for her positive response. That and the other comments I received encouraged me to keep writing.
If you could see any of your stories made into a real episode, which one would you choose?
I don't really see my stories falling into that category. TV requires more dramatic, overt action like car chases and fight scenes. Mine tend to be on the introspective side, not to mention short. Come to think of it though, Sojourner might make for an interesting premise. It needs to be expanded considerably, but I can picture Blair moving from town to town, meeting and helping different people along the way. Meanwhile, Jim is not far behind, dogging his tracks. It could be the Sandburg version of "The Fugitive."
Which story are you most proud of?
Probably Sojourner, which started out as a writing experiment. I wanted to see if I could make the main character recognizable to the reader, without mentioning his name once. Since this story also has a melancholy theme and is told through the view of an OMC, I wasn't sure how well it would go over, if at all. It took me a while to gather up enough nerve to post it, but I'm glad I did. The reactions to it have been both surprising and heartening.
Which character do you most enjoy writing?
Actually, I enjoy them all: Jim, Blair and Simon.
Which character is the easiest for you to write? Who is your least favorite?
Blair and Simon are the easiest for me to write. Getting into Jim's head takes a little more effort. I haven't delved into the other characters as much, but I'd like to give Joel, Naomi and Daryl a try at some point in time. I don't have a least favorite. Yet.
What genre(s) do you enjoy writing the most?
In the beginning, I imagined myself writing case stories, as I figured I'd be terrible at smarm. As it turns out, the opposite is true. I also wasn't sure I could tackle hurt/comfort or missing scenes either, but I find them enjoyable to write as well. Humor, however, is definitely one area best left to others.
Who are your beta readers and what do you appreciate most about them?
Well, I didn't have one for the longest time. Aubrey Robin was kind enough to beta a story for me right after Christmas Cookies, but due to some horrendous timing (hubby and I got hit with a major family medical crisis) it never got posted. (Sorry, Aubrey!) By the time the crisis subsided, I felt so emotionally drained, I left the story on the hard drive and stopped writing altogether for about four months.
I still continued to read TS fic though, on and off. One day, I came across an essay by Kathryn Andersen. In it, she explained the role of a beta and said a lot of things that made sense to me. I wrote to her and she responded by saying that in her experience, when the time was right, betas had on occasion, found her. She said the same might happen to me. Her words turned out to be prophetic.
Gradually, I began to write again. After I posted Sojourner, Kathleen (Dolimir) wrote me a wonderful note and mentioned that she also betas. Once I finished Cold Season, I asked her to take a look at it and she's been betaing for me ever since. <g> Her insights into the characters and the episodes are invaluable, plus she can instantly grasp the main gist of a story, articulate what's not working and give specific suggestions on how to fix it. She's enthusiastic, flexible and supportive and I just love her sense of humor.
Many of your stories are written from first-person point of view. What is it that appeals to you about this?
I like it for its directness and immediacy and because I enjoy getting a glimpse into the way someone thinks and feels. I felt more comfortable with it in the beginning because of some of the journal writing I've done over the years. I have no qualms though, about using third-person.
Simon is a frequently used character in your stories. What is your take on his character?
One of my favorite photos is the downshot of the three actors, Bruce, Richard and Garett sitting around the Cascade PD logo. To me, that triumvirate says it all. Yes, the show is about Jim and his sentinel abilities, but Simon is also an integral part of it. He's Jim's superior and friend, and also a semi-father figure to Blair. Without his support, Jim and Blair couldn't continue as a team.
Maternal Instinct is a story that includes Jim's mother having special senses, as well as a meeting between Jim and Blair when they were children. What inspired you to write this story? What do you think Jim's mother was like?
As sketchy as Naomi's background is, we certainly know much more about her than Grace Ellison. Grace is a mystery. There are no definitive answers as to why she left her family, so one can try to fill in the gaps in a number of ways. In my AU, she's still married to William, but feeling more and more dissatisfied by the emotional void in her marriage. She's been raised to be a good wife and mother, but can't help but feel restless in that role, plus she's plagued by a series of ongoing medical problems, caused by her latent sentinel abilities. When she runs across Blair (as a toddler) and then Naomi, she gets a closer look at an altogether different life style.
The idea for the story came as I stopped by my favorite little store in the local mall, which carries the sort of things Naomi would appreciate. As I browsed, I wondered what Jim's mother would make of all the new age type items, like incense and books on feng shui. I then started imagining what it would like if the two women ever bumped into each other. They'd be as different as Jim and Blair, yet share a common bond of motherhood.
Sojourner is the first in a post-TSbyBS trilogy. What prompted you to write from the point of view of a bookseller, and was it difficult to write about Jim and Blair from the point of view of an outside character?
I'd once read somewhere that loss of career affects men to a much greater degree than women, because most men identify themselves through their work. Considering the years of effort Blair had put into his studies and the university, giving it all up had to be extraordinarily painful. Coupled with the pressures of starting over at the police academy, it seemed natural to me he would want to leave Cascade behind for a while.
I used the viewpoint of a bookseller, Nick Briosi, to reinforce Blair's distance from everything he had once held dear -- his career, his friends, his reputation and home. But no matter how far Blair travels, or what he does, he still retains an inner essence that can't be blighted by the events of TSbyBS. His intelligence, curiosity and desire to help still shine through.
Even though he has turned his back on his old life and Jim, I couldn't see Jim turning his back on Blair. In my view, Jim continues to search for his guide, friend and partner because he's come to realize a simple fact. He's not whole without Blair. The two of them are strongest together, rather than apart.
In the story Meddlesome, Jim and Blair are given opportunities but end up not telling each other about them. What was it about their characters that helped you decide how they would deal with this situation?
This is a post-Sentinel Too story, and although things are outwardly back to normal at work and at the loft, inwardly, Jim and Blair are still trying to regain the footing they lost prior to Alex Barnes' appearance. Being tested by two different job offers only strengthens their resolve to keep their friendship on track. Since they're already committed to moving forward with their lives, they don't feel the need to bring up the job offers to one another.
How do you deal with writer's block?
In my case, I find that I need to get away from the computer every now and then. Taking short trips or seeing a movie helps recharge my creative batteries as well as doing more physical activities, like gardening and walking or going sketching with my husband.
What is the hardest part about writing for you?
It's two things. One is coming up with an idea that sparks me enough to want to sit down and write and the other is just finishing. I often find myself getting discouraged about midway through a story. By then the whole thing seems pretty sucky. However, once I push myself past that little wall, I know I can make it to the end.
What is the most satisfying part of writing for you?
Typing the words, "The End" is very satisfying. It means I've actually finished putting an idea down on paper and expressed it in a way that works, at least, for me. It's like coming up with a design solution that solves a problem, communicates an idea clearly and looks aesthetically pleasing as well. I feel like I've hit a creative bull's eye.
What are your feelings on story feedback?
I think writers, like plants, thrive better with attention. This is not to say that writers should write strictly for feedback, but they can wilt and eventually disappear for lack of encouragement. To those who do take the time to send notes and comments, thank you! It really does make a difference.
Do you have any advice for new TS fan fiction writers?
This is going to sound like a compilation of what everyone else before me has said, but basically, write what you like. Don't worry if it's been done before. There may be a finite number of plots or ideas, but there are an infinite number of ways to tell it. Write the best story you can and at the very least, take the time to spell check your piece. Too many typos can be annoying and I get very irritated with myself whenever I find them in my stories. If you can find the right beta to work with, that's even better.
Lastly, whenever I need a jump-start, I thumb through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing. They're both helpful and inspiring.
What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever read?
It was an X-Files story, but I don't recall the title.
What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever wrote?
Never written any until I started watching The Sentinel.
What was the first piece of Sentinel fan fiction you ever read?
It was a story by Brenda Antrim. On the gen side, it was either Martha's Ordeal or Lois Balzer's Promises in the Dark. I read them around the same time and both stories blew me away.
Are there particular kinds of Sentinel fanfic stories that you especially enjoy reading?
I pretty much like them all -- drama, angst, case stories and smarm. I'm particularly fond of AUs.
What is it about The Sentinel that inspires you to write?
It's the personal chemistry between the characters and the way they manage to hang on to their friendship despite its ups and downs. They display the kind of tenacity and faith I wish we could see more of in real life.
What do you believe are The Sentinel's greatest strengths and weaknesses as a series?
The actors, along with the basic premise of the show are its greatest strengths. The greatest weaknesses? Lack of support from the network would be my biggest peeve. Given more time and budget, the writing could have been strengthened and many of the initial themes like Jim's time in Peru and the mystical aspects of the sentinel-guide relationship could have been explored more in depth.
Do you find yourself identifying more with Jim or Blair?
I'm not an academic like Blair, nor do I have a military background like Jim. Aside from the fact I'm not a willowy redhead, I'd say I'm most like Naomi. I grew up around the same time period she did, and we probably share many of the same new age interests as well. In fact, she strikes me as a classic Aquarian with a Leo rising. <g> Speaking as a fellow air sign, we'd probably get along well together.
You have a knack for writing understated warm fuzzies. Do you have any pointers for writers on how to achieve warmth without going overboard?
Thank you! I figure the adage, "less is more" is good rule of thumb for modern architecture and smarm. Actually, I've never analyzed how I go about doing it. It just comes out that way. It's probably tied into my own taste level, which tends toward understatement.
What one story do you think people will always remember you for?
I'd be happy if any story of mine was considered memorable. If I were to base it on the LoCs I've received though, it would come down to Sojourner and Weatherproof. They're tied, strangely enough.
Can you tell us what stories you have in the works right now?
I'm thinking about a couple of prequels. One to Switchman, in which Jim looks for a place to live, after his discharge from the army, and one to Sojourner. Hopefully, I'll also post that story Aubrey beta'd for me all those months ago.
Last updated 2/24/02 clc