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(April 26, 1999)
Over two years ago in 1997, Cindy Combs wrote her first Sentinel fan fiction story. Since then, she's solved one of the great TS mysteries -- the identity of Blair's father -- and made fans believe it, plus created an AU series where the arch-enemies are.... roaches? No small feat for any TS author. Okay, so it sounds a little weird if you haven't read her stories. But readers eagerly flock to Wolfpup's Den when Cindy puts out a new story. You know an author has a special talent with words when a storyline as bizarre as Cindy's Roachia series has you just as excited (for some people, more excited) as a regular case story. In the words of one fan, "I've learned that if [Cindy] were to write Jim and Blair as giant blue giraffes hunting down vigilante penguins in the Arctic, I'd probably love it." Other readers use words like "believable" and "heart-warming" to describe her writing.
Cindy's Cascade Library story listing can be grouped into two categories -- her TS/MacGyver crossvers and her Roachia series. Although she hasn't written as many stories as other authors, Cindy is certainly as beloved as any of the best Sentinel fan fiction authors. Thanks for letting us in on some of your secrets, Cindy!
Tell us a little about yourself.
You realize I always hate that question because I never know what to say! Well, I'm a research meteorologist. Specifically, I use satellite data to study clouds and climate, which involves a lot of programming and data processing. Outside of work, I'm a single woman in her mid-thirties, with a house, a dog, and a great circle of friends. I still have strong family roots back in Michigan where I grew up, though I've lived in Colorado for over ten years now and love it here.
What else do you enjoy doing besides writing TS fan fiction?
I love reading, especially mysteries, science fiction/fantasy, and Tom Clancy. From my father I have love for the outdoors and an appreciation for hiking and camping. I like to garden, though it is a lot harder in Colorado than in Michigan. All my friends love my cooking. However, probably the strangest hobby is weather-watching, a disease common among us meteorologists! I've never gone storm-chasing yet, but I love watching the storms rolling off the foothills.
How did you become a Sentinel fan?
An older friend had told me about this program on before Voyager that was really good. I wasn't overly enthusiastic, since the teasers for the show looked really dumb. But since Bruce A. Young was on it and Fran had tried Highlander on my say so, I figured I'd give The Sentinel a shot. The first episode I saw was The Rig and I was instantly hooked.
What is your favorite episode and why?
That's a difficult choice! It's a toss up between Blind Man's Bluff, which highlighted the growing friendship between Jim and Blair so well, and Survival, which highlights Simon as well as Jim and Blair. That scene of Simon and Blair interacting in the mine tunnel was just great.
How did you start writing Sentinel fan fiction?
Well, I've always liked to write stories since I was a kid, but with first grad school and then work, I had gotten away from it. It wasn't until I was playing around with the internet for the first time that I discovered not only the Highlander newsgroup, but that people actually wrote something called 'fan fiction'. It was very similiar to what I'd do in my head when watching TV, but never thought to write down. After a while, I started one Highlander fanfic just for fun, but never finished it.
Then in early 1997, I started reading the TS fanfiction. At the time I was also struggling to write a journal article for work. Trust me, if you want something to put you to sleep, the dry, passive voice, scientific writing style with paragraph-length sentences will do it. Simply to keep my sanity, I decided to try writing a TS fanfiction story. That was The Maze.
What was it like to post your first story?
Very scary. I was really worried that people would hate it and tell me so. The only one I showed it to was FKaffka, whom I was corresponding with at the time. She pushed, prodded, and then finally scolded me for selfishly keeping the story to myself. It took me a month to get up the nerve to see if Wolfpup would mind posting it for me.
If you could see any of your stories made into a real episode, which one would you choose? Which story are you most proud of?
Hmm... For an episode, probably Control, since that one was outdoorsy and really delved into Jim's senses. As for which story I'm most proud of, probably Before Dawn. That one combined the SF elements I love, the mystery of who BT was, and a variety of rich characters to weave into the story.
Which character do you most enjoy writing?
You know, that's kinda like asking a mother which child she loves more! I love Blair's intelligence and strong spirit. I have a soft spot for Sam, since I had to do a lot of my own additions to his character. Yet Jim is such a blend of strength, compassion and hidden vunerablities, plus the whole sentinel bit. They are so rich in depth and potential, I love writing them all.
Which character is the easiest for you to write?
That's an easy one: MacGyver. There are seven seasons worth of background on him, so I probably know him the best. There is also a lot of my own personality in MacGyver.
What genre(s) do you enjoy writing the most?
Well, I obviously like writing crossovers. But if the crossover is the only reason for the story, it isn't much of a story. Thus I try to write old-fashioned adventures, where the characters find themselves in trouble and need to find a way out of it. It is even more fun when I can add other elements like mystery, drama, and even science fiction into the mix.
Who are your beta readers and what do you appreciate most about them?
I am lucky to have a large group of people I can call on to beta. FKaffka is wonderful in giving me encouragement and support, especially when I was first starting. Zadra is great at making sure I stay true to the characters and for working out details and ideas. Laura Picken is really good at spotting plot holes and making me rethink things. Sealie is great at pointing out confusing sections and for discussing the more SF elements. She is also about the only person I know who truly understands how to conjugate the verbs 'to lie' and 'to lay'. Then there's Wolfpup, who picks out all the little errors I miss. The circle has recently widened to include Shallan, who can also spot the small stuff, and Lori, whose experience with her boys was greatly appreciated in my last story. I just love these gals - I'd be lost without them!
Your MacGyver series is a favorite of many readers. What inspired you to write that series?
One of the first things that struck me about TS was how Blair used creative thinking to get Jim and himself out of trouble, very much like my old favorite MacGyver would do. As I continued to watch the series, I spotted more similarities. By the time Blair cut a hole in the elevator floor in Dead Drop, I was beginning to wonder if they were related. Then when I found out that Blair didn't know who his father was, well, that pretty much clinched it.
What kinds of different things are you able to do with Jim and Blair in this series?
Whenever I bring in a character, I make sure that character will enhance the story with his or her contribution and not be a distraction. Since Mac has so many skills and outside contacts (Phoenix, DXS, internationally) there is a richer pool to pull stories from. He also provides another layer of support and protection to the sentinel team. Due to his growing relationship to both Blair and Jim, he can step in and help when the two are separated, like in Control or Ares Bugle. In addition, since MacGyver and Sam draw trouble as easily as Blair does, there are two more avenues to pull Blair and Jim into an adventure without picking on poor Blair all the time.
Tell us your take on the connection/similarities/differences between Blair and MacGyver.
I see Mac as a mentor to Blair. While Jim has Simon to discuss sentinel business on a cop level, Blair really has no one on the academic side to discuss things and bounce ideas off of. As a scientist myself, I know how important that feedback can be. MacGyver, with his vast experience of putting theory into practice, fills this need for Blair. With the new father/son relationship, there is again that emotional support that can only help make Blair stronger.
For similiarities between Blair and Mac, well, how much time do you have? They are both intelligent, into health food, capable of thinking up things on the fly, don't like guns, scared of heights, and carry a Swiss army knife. They both love to travel, exploring different cultures and ideas. They have a very deep compassion for their fellow man and are willing to risk their lives for others. Friends are of the utmost importance to them. They both care about the environment. The list just goes on. In many ways, I see Blair as how Mac might have been before Viet Nam and all his world trotting experiences.
On the other hand, there are differences. Blair is a talkative ball of enthusiasic energy. MacGyver is more quiet and very laid back. Blair leaps into situations with both feet, while Mac is very cautious and will put on the brakes if he doesn't like a situation. Blair also doesn't have the ingrained fear of guns that Mac has. While Blair doesn't neccessarily like them, he will use or at least bluff with one if the situation calls for it.
What inspired you to write the Roachia series?
Weeelll, I was working on Heirs to a Nightmare when the little question of 'What would have happened if Mac had been able to raise Sam and Blair?' popped into my head. From there, the plot bunnies started multiplying and mutating. Since I was stuck on Heirs, I finally decided I'd better write the silly things down to get them out of my head. I wrote about twenty pages, then made the mistake of showing it to Zadra and FKaffka. They both loved it and wanted me to write more. Then at the con, I showed it to Cassie. She also wanted more. So after I finished Heirs, I decided to see where the bunnies would lead me.
What made you choose roaches for bad guys?
My main objective was to have scary aliens who were not 'humanoids', like so many of the Star Trek aliens. In bouncing ideas back and forth with Zadra, I finally settled on the insect/reptilian cross that communicate with scents. Then remembering my college roommate's fear of roaches in our apartment's kitchen (I had to chase them down and kill them while she screamed), I thought 'Roaches' from 'Roachia' would be appropriate for the scary level I wanted.
Where do you see yourself going with this series?
If I reveal all my secrets, where is the fun in that? ~big grin~ I will say that there are several more plot bunnies and new characters just begging to be written down. I do plan to show more of the Roaches social structure and what's happening with Jeff MacGregor and Frank Colton in the next one, tenatively called, 'Under the Cover of Darkness'. I am just starting to write that one now. I also have ideas for future stories, including another sentinel/guide pair, a confrontation with an old nemesis from Blair's academic past, a romance for Rafe, a piloting job for the medic Tom Paris, and lots of plans for the future of the human colony. There may be as many stories in this series as there are in my TS/MacGyver series.
What is your favorite aspect of this series?
My favorite aspect of this series is the SF elements. Creating a new world with alien life yet keeping the characters and the Sentinel premise in place opens a lot of new situations and adventures for the guys. Plus, I have always loved Andre Norton's books, and this is my feeble attempt at that type of story.
And how did you manage to pull in so many characters from different TV shows into this series? Which "guest star appearance" was your favorite?
Pulling in characters from other shows comes naturally for me. They either make an appearence, or they don't come to mind. The Sentinel and MacGyver characters were already a given for the Roachia series. So, when I need a caring and wise psychiatrist, up pops Andrew from Touched by a Angel. When I need some friendly faces to travel Claria Island with Blair, up pops the Halliwell sisters from Charmed. I need a group of scientists, hey, there's the whole Nash Bridges crew with nothing else going on, let's invite them. I've had a lot of fun bringing the various personalities together. I'm not sure I can say which was my favorite, outside of the obvious Mac and Sam. The Nash Bridges characters, especially Harvey, were a lot of fun. Both Andrew and Sheree (My blend of Amanda from Diagnosis Murder and a former roommate) were comfortable additions.
What do you do when your muse takes a vacation?
Moan and wail and gnash my teeth ~grin~. No, really, I've discovered that the best way to get out of a writer's block is to either a) write down whatever off-the-wall plot bunny is preventing me from focusing on a particular story and clear it out of my brain, b) toss the characters together and see what comes out of the dialog, or c) watch my tapes of the various shows. It was the MacGyver tape that Zadra risked her mother's wrath and mailed to me that kicked me out of the block I was having on Heirs to a Nightmare. I also have most of the TS eps on tape. Either will usually put my mind back on track.
I will admit I haven't run into the problem on not having a story idea to work on. In fact, I have a running list of at least 12 possible stories, just waiting their turn to be written down. Even while watching other shows, a plot bunny will pop up with an idea for another TS crossover story.
Do you have any advice for new TS fan fiction writers?
Write stories that you yourself would like to read. Also, find someone to beta your story. There are always little errors and plot holes that will slip past your attention that someone else with catch. But don't let someone else forced you off your vision for a story by saying you shouldn't do such and such or write only such and such. The story is YOUR creative mind child, so stay true to it.
What is the hardest part about writing for you?
Looking for the little errors like spelling, grammar, etc. Also, I have a tougher time writing action scenes than anything else. Talking is fine, but I have no experience with physically fighting.
What is the most satisfying part of writing for you?
Bringing out the essences of each character and have that character interact with the others. It is so fun to be in the groove and 'hear' each character's voice in my mind. Though it can be shocking when a character develops a mind of their own!
What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever read?
The Witness, by Michele Lynn Martin. It was on the Highlander newsgroup, and is a cross between Highlander, Forever Knight, X-files, Quantum Leap, and Starman. I was fascinated that someone could pull all those characters into a credible story.
What was the first piece of Sentinel fan fiction you ever read?
I'm not sure. I think it was either Tapu's Spirit Wind, or Kris Williams' Avalanche.
What is it about The Sentinel that inspires you to write?
The friendship between three complex characters (Jim, Blair, and Simon), and the whole concept of a Sentinel with strengths and weaknesses. I like how both Jim and Blair have personal strengths and faults, keeping them from falling into the stereotypical 'hero' catagory. Each character has also shown a lot of personal growth over the three seasons + of the show, which is exciting since they are not static. Not only has Jim slowly loosened up and is learning to trust, but I see the signs of Blair maturing as well. All in all, there is a lot of rich potential there.
What do you believe are The Sentinel's greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses as a series?
One strength is the acting abilities and great chemistry between RB, GM, and BAY. You can believe that they are good friends by their actions, even when it isn't in the dialogue. The whole Sentinel premise is also filled with potential. Plus, I really like that we see the same faces at Major Crimes (Taggart, Brown, Rafe, Serena). I would say the weakness is that they don't delve more into the spirit world background of the show.
Do you find yourself identifying more with Jim or Blair?
Definitely Jim. I'm about the same age as Jim, like my privacy, and often find myself agreeing with his viewpoint. I also like his straight-forward manner. While it might not be delivered tactfully, you always know where Jim stands.
If you were given the opportunity to write an episode of The Sentinel, what story would you like to tell? What things would you like to see on The Sentinel that we haven't seen yet?
Hmm, if given the opportunity, I'd love to write an adventure where Jim uses his senses in a new way, and where Blair is instrumental in helping him. Things I would like to see on TS would be to see Blair's role in the sentinel/partner scheme beefed up more. I'd also like to see an episode that covers what happened to Jim's mother. Finally, I'd like to have Cassie come back just long enough for Megan to show her how a real police woman operates. ~grin~
What one story do you think people will always remember you for?
Judging from the email, Before Dawn.
Can you tell us what stories you have in the works right now?
Well, I am still debating on whether to work on the Before Dawn sequel, or a TS/MacGyver/Stargate story I have in mind. I have written tiny bits of each to see where the plot bunnies will start hopping next. Then I've promised the sequel to In the Genes, where the guys help the history professor search for the missing loot.
Last updated 4/26/99 clc