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Cindy Combs
(June 15, 2009)

Cindy has shared the fruits of her imagination with us for much of the TS fandom's history. It has been ten years since her last interview with the Cascade Library (read it here) and certainly past time for us to interrupt her scientific endeavors for an update. New and old fans continue to enjoy her love affair with science fiction, cross-over tales and her many 'new' TS 'shows' written for Black Panther Productions (a Cascade Virtual Tales endeavor). (archivist's note: author email found at author's page.)

Hi Cindy,

Thanks for checking in again with the next generation of fans who continue to enjoy your fiction here at CL.

I. Who are you?

Would you tell us where you live?

I live on the Colorado Front Range, near the first set of foothills (called 'The Hogback') to the Rockies. However, I grew up in Michigan.

What work, volunteer or paid, do you do? Do you have any pro-fic writing experience or aspirations?

I am a satellite meteorologist, working in research. Currently, I'm working on a project to produce regional cloud climatologies for the Eureka NWS office to help with their marine status forecasts.

I'd love to do fiction writing as a career, but need to feed my dog and myself and keep a roof over our heads (my dog hates getting wet). I have written tech reports and journal papers for work, but it's not as satisfying. Most days I love my work as a meteorologist, but admit there are some days I wish I could chuck it for writing.

II. Writing in the TS fandom:

What do you think the readership finds most interesting in gen TS fiction?

I can't speak for others, but for me it's summed up by Blair's line, 'It's about friendship' - a strong friendship where the other person is there for you to the point they're practically family. I also enjoy stories that are plot-driven and full of adventure. Since TS is a detective/action show, those elements are usually found in the gen TS fiction.

What do you appreciate most when you read TS fiction? Who are your favorite gen TS authors and why?

As I mentioned before, I like stories with good plots and hopefully some action tossed in. I also like stories where the characters are in character. It's what drew me into the fandom; if I don't recognized the characters I love in the story, it's not going to keep my attention.

The TS fandom is blessed in that there are a lot of good writers in it. I almost hate to single out people, because I know I'm leaving lots of people out. My all-time favorite is probably Ysone (Donna Gentry). I love the writing of my friends Shallan, Sealie, and Lori Wright. I always enjoy DL Witherspoon's stories. There are a few people who are no longer writing (like Kris Williams and Tapu) that drew me into the fandom. And there are a lot of others that I'm missing.

You've made 'cross-over' stories a staple of your writing repertoire. How did you go about choosing specific characters from other shows as being compatible with the TS characters?

Weeelllll, it's not so much a matter of specifically choosing a crossover character. Usually it's a situation or a particular character that helps me grow my main four (and now five) characters. For instance, Weardian and Witans was how I explained where I was taking Blair after the diss disaster, and having the Stargate and Sentinel worlds collide provided a good backdrop. Other times, it's just a matter of needing to fill out characters in a story, and someone (or a group of someones) pops into my mind. A lot of the characters in the Roachia series came in that way. And sometimes they just get pushy and invite themselves to the party.

But usually it's a matter of simply where the story is going. I don't wake up and decide 'I'm going to do a crossover'. It's a story first, then if it's a crossover, so be it. Let's just say my mind is a very strange place.

In seeking a father for Blair, how did you go about selecting MacGyver? What other characters had you considered for that role?

Talk about the major party crasher! 'The Maze', the first fanfic I ever posted, was supposed to be just TS characters, because I was told most people don't like crossovers. But MacGyver kept popping in. At one point, I had two versions of the story, one with MacGyver and one without. Finally decided that the version with him was a lot better than the version without him. That's about the time I realized I couldn't let anyone else tell me what I should or shouldn't write.

In the back of my mind, I always thought Mac was Blair's father because they were very similar. Yet I was trying not to go that direction, considering it a bit too much like a soap opera. Apparently, I wasn't doing too good a job, because after 'The Maze', I had several people ask about Mac being Blair's father. So I sat down with Zadra (another writer/friend I met through TS) and we worked out the timeline to see if it was possible. It was. And Mac was being very pushy again (I swear some characters have minds of their own). So MacGyver became Blair's father.

As for other characters as Blair's father - there were no other contenders.

III. About being a writer...?

Why do you write?

When I am in the zone, I have to write. It's just there. I always have stories running in my head, so it's nice to share them.

What do you think/hope readers most appreciate in your stories?

I hope that for a short time, they can sit back and enjoy the adventure. I hope they can feel the warmth of family and friendship. And I hope it encourages them to read my other stories, or some of the other great writers out there.

How do you decide whether to write in a first person POV or third person as a narrator?

I've never done well with first person – leaves too many people out.

Have you ever had a writing coach?

Not per se. I've had people encourage me to write. I took a 'Writing for Children and Teens' class, where the teachers and the others in the class gave me a lot of encouragement. My various betas have been great with suggestions and telling me if something doesn't work. But for someone to teach me how to write... it's more natural than anything else.

Do you work with a beta? Why or why not? What is your process for determining when your story is ready for posting?

Yes, I work with several betas. When I'm writing fast to get things down on paper, mistakes are made. When I read back over my work, I often see what I think I wrote, and not what I actually wrote. So it's important to me to have at least two people look over a story, to weed out those nasty grammar errors, wrong words, or the missing 'd' at the end of verbs. They are also good to point out continuity or plot issues, and help me brainstorm if I get stuck. I'd be lost without them, especially Shallan and Sealie.

Basically, the story is ready to post when I'm sick of looking at it.

You've taken on writing partners for some of your stories. What are the pros and cons in co-writing for those considering giving that a try?

When it works, it's great. There were times where Zadra would leave blank spots because she didn't know what to write there, and I would fill them, and visa versa. There are places in 'Sandburg Squared' where I can't remember whether she wrote it or I did. It helps if your writing complements each other (Zadra is great with bad guys, humorous side bits and the development of Obie Sandburg; I'm good with action and Blair/Jim interaction).

However, you've got to agree on where the boat is sailing, or you're just treading water. Our 'Sandburg Cubed' got derailed quickly because it turned out that she and I had totally different views of a minor character, so everything we wrote contradicted other. For the seasonal 'arc' stories for Cascade Virtual Tales, the writers involved all decided on where the arc was going, the course it would take to get there, and what part of that journey each writer was responsible for. That way each person could write her own story, and have it fit with the others.

What genres of TS fiction are you most comfortable writing, choosing from canon, AU, case and action, drama, humor, horror, slice of life, hurt/comfort? Why?

To be honest, I don't think I stick to just one; I believe a good story combines various elements. For instance, if I read a story that only covers the h/c piece without the case and action that led up to it, it feels like something is missing. If it's just an AU without something like drama or action to go with it, it's a pretty boring AU. Romance that's just about love and a relationship isn't nearly as much fun without some mystery and adventure tossed in. And humor makes everything flow easier. I guess I'm just not one of those people who are easily tossed into a category.

I have to admit, I do draw the line at horror. With rare exceptions, I don't get into it, and definitely no good at writing it. I leave that genre to Sealie, whose TS/Poltergeist: The Legacy stories are excellent. She has recently written a TS/Supernatural story that's terrific. While I enjoy the show, I could never write a Supernatural story, though the Dean/Sam dynamic is very similar to the Blair/Sam dynamic I do write.

If you were to write a completely new AU for these characters, what would it demand of them?

<trying to keep a serious face> I think Roachia answers that question…

I do have another AU in the Stargate world that is starting US colonies on other planets (no TS in it as yet), and I have toyed with a plague killing off much of mankind, but that the sentinel/guide lineages have some immunity to it. That falls into the 'percolating but no time to develop it' carrot patch.

I am about two-thirds through a story set in Shallan's Chaos AU, using characters from Stargate: Atlantis and set them in Texas with a hurricane coming (which I started with Shallan's permission and support months before Ike). However, Jim and Blair probably won't make an appearance in it yet; I need to establish the Texas partnership first.

Which among your own works is your favorite and why?

That's a tough one. Each story is like a child of my creativity; it's hard to chose one. Each has something I love about it. I do have a soft spot for 'Before Dawn', with young Blair's journey from a war zone to find his father. For the first part of the story, his father is more of a goal that keeps young Blair going than the flesh and blood person he finally meets. Then Mac, in his own way, is broken in a place that makes it easier for him to welcome Blair into his heart and home. And I loved writing little Sam.

Which of your stories are you less positive about, why? Have you had the urge to revise any of your stories? Which ones?

Hmm. That's just as tough a question. Perhaps 'Check and Checkmate', from the first season of Cascade Virtual Tales. I was a bit rushed to get it out, especially being neck deep in keeping everything running at CVT. I always felt like I could have amped up the suspense more on that one, perhaps not made the target so obvious.

However, while I've wished I had the time to go back and correct some spelling errors in some of the first stories, I've never had the desire to revise one. Once it's posted, I feel it's 'published', and focus my energy on new stories. While I believe that I've grown as a writer since I started, each story is to the best of my ability at that point in time.

Is there a genre you would like to write as a way of stretching your wings as a fanfic author? Is there a type of story or specific plot that you wish you could write, but feel is beyond you? Do you think more time and/or practice in writing would allow you to tackle your dream project?

I don't tend to think of things that way. I think it, I let it percolate in my head, and perhaps let it combine with other ideas. When the time is right, I write it. I always have tons of plot bunnies, both fanfic and original fic, that I would love to write. I do a lot of research for aspects I don't know; you should have heard me try to explain to my mother why I was bringing books about stalking on a family camping trip.

The only thing I need more of is time and energy. With a fulltime career and a house to take care of on my own, both are in short supply. That and a vicious writer's block is why I haven't written a lot lately.

Do you create OCs and how do you use them? Do you find creating an OC challenging?

I like having worlds that are populated, so that means I either bring in crossover characters or develop them on my own. I even try to set up minor characters with a name and a hint of personality. Of course, some require a little more work if they are going to be around for any length of time.

For instance, I created Commissioner Mathews (with approval from the CVT board) to make Blair's entry into the police force reasonable. There is no way it could happen without letting someone higher up the food chain than Simon know about the sentinel deal. So I tried to form the start of a character who was a good guy, but also had his own reasons for wanting to have a sentinel on his force. Thankfully, he was accepted by many of the other CVT writers, who helped develop him into a great support character.

Of course, some OCs are more challenging than others. Ian is an evolving mix of my friend's middle son and bits Lori W. has told me about her boys. Cory Buchanan took two years of thinking, brainstorming, and research into martial arts before I wrote him. As Sam's sentinel, he was going to be important to 'Follow the Tiger' and in the sequential stories. I wanted him to be able to stand on his own with the four other more established characters (Jim, Blair, Sam and Mac). How successful I was is up to the readers to decide.

However, with the exceptions of Cory and maybe Ian in a few years, I never intend for an OC to be a main character. I had a few emails upset about Amanda Chambers. For Jim's own personal development, I could see him getting married. On the series he said he liked being married. That said, there are no plans for Amanda to be anything other than a supporting character.

How do you feel about feedback and concrit from your readers?

I love hearing from the readers, and I have no problem reading constructive feedback. If the feedback is reasonable and makes sense, I'll incorporate it. If it doesn't, it probably won't affect my writing. However, I do have a problem with flames or unfair criticism. Not so much for myself; my skin has gotten tough over the years, and I am quite capable of defending my position if given the chance. I don't like seeing it aimed at younger/more inexperienced writers who aren't as tough. Writing comes from your soul and placing it out in public takes a lot of guts. It's not fair if someone throws rocks simply because they see glass.

You've demonstrated just how much richer our favorite TV lore can become when we add our own personal visions of the characters in fan fiction. You are also forthright about how hard that task can become if we forget its purpose is to provide us all with a pleasureable and creative outlet. Thanks, Cindy!

Last updated 6/15/09 igr