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In a fandom with many wonderful authors, K. Ryn stands out as a writer skilled at delivering very long, very satisfying drama stories of Jim and Blair. A mother of two children and something of a renaissance woman <g>, K. Ryn was introduced to The Sentinel by one of the show's male fans -- her husband. She posted her first Sentinel fanfic, The Gift, in the fall of 1997, and is currently writing her eleventh Sentinel story for the web, False Mirrors. Her stories Who Shall Guard the Guardians Themselves (325K) and Smoke and Mirrors (370K) are two of the largest pieces of Sentinel fan fiction on the web, and her story-in-progress, False Mirrors, has already exceeded 270K. Not that her readers complain! K. Ryn's commitment to detail in all aspects of her writing makes her stories a favorite of many, although as one fan advised, you may have to pack a lunch before you sit down to read one of her longer stories! In addition to her web-published pieces, she has three more Sentinel fanfic stories (Judgments, Dark Sentinel, and Ellison's Shadow) published in the Sentry Post fanzines by Linda (LHGraphics).
All of K. Ryn's web-published stories can be found at her website, K. Ryn's Tales of The Sentinel. Details on her stories can be found at K. Ryn's Cascade Library story listing. You can get information on the Sentry Post fanzines containing K. Ryn's zine stories at Linda's website, GraphicsOne Fanzines.
Fortunately for her readers, K. Ryn's interview below is worthy of the length and detail she's famous for in her stories. She also holds the honor of having the most nominations so far for a featured author interview here at the Library. Thank you, K. Ryn, for taking the time to chat with us!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Professionally, I've spent over 20 years in the advertising industry as a graphic designer, art director, creative director and copywriter. The ad business is kind of like the 'Sandburg Zone' where the normal rules of space, time and perception are constantly broken, warped or simply abandoned. Writing fan fiction is much more rewarding on a personal level than writing ads for car dealerships, however. Now if I could only get the mortgage company to agree to accept a story as opposed to cash every month, I'd be in heaven.
Although I have experience as a writer, I'm constantly striving to perfect my skills and improve. I try to experiment with something new--plot, structure, characterization, point of view--within each story. I'm not always successful with my attempts, but I always learn something from the effort.
From a personal standpoint, I'm married--19 years--and have two children--a daughter who is nine and a son who is 4. My husband and kids keep me sane in the midst of the chaos of balancing all the demands of real life, even though they are often the source of much of the frenzied activity in our household.
I tend to be a listener instead of a talker, although if you get me started on something I feel strongly about, it may take hours to shut me up. I have my very own, portable soap-box. I'm also somewhat of a perfectionist--harder on myself than on others, thankfully.
What else do you enjoy doing besides writing TS fan fiction?
I love to read. I'll devour nearly anything that I can get my hands on, fiction or non-fiction. I'm not trustworthy in a bookstore if I have cash or plastic. I can always justify the expense of a book or a magazine. Before turning to writing to keep me sane, I used to do a lot of painting--abstract watercolors, mostly. I also have my own spinning wheel, a Louet, and used to spin my own yarn for weaving. The wheel has been in storage since my kids arrived on the scene, although now that my son's old enough to keep his fingers out of the drive band, I'm itching to get it out again and to trade finger-paints for brushes once again. Spring and summer you'll find me digging in my flower beds, cursing the weeds and whispering encouragement to the perennials.
How did you become a Sentinel fan?
It's actually my husband's fault. He was the first Sentinel fan in our household. He's a night owl--gets his second wind at 10:00 pm. We don't have a UPN station in our market, but the ABC affiliate used to broadcast the show at 11:30 pm on Saturday nights. With two small kidlets, I was usually dead by then and ready for bed. But being the good partner that I was, I'd snuggle up next to him on the couch while he watched his favorite show. I admit I did a lot of nodding off into dreamland before the opening credits ran. One night I woke up in the midst of an episode--just in time to catch our favorite anthropologist shooting up the precinct garage in Blind Man's Bluff. I was wide awake from that point on, berating myself for not having caught the whole thing. Believe me, the VCR was primed and ready from that point forward. I got hooked on the show almost immediately, enjoying both the concept and the relationship between the characters.
I found the on-line fandom shortly after that. I'm still planting a tree a year to make up for the small forest I decimated when I started printing out the fanfic I found already posted. I inhaled what was out there and started writing to some of the authors to let them know I had enjoyed their efforts. That correspondence paved the way for some lovely friendships. I think, realistically, that it was the people I met on-line which drew me into the fandom. I attended my first con--MediaWest--last year and got to meet some of them in person. I now have several 'adopted' sisters who I dearly love and wouldn't trade for the world.
What is your favorite episode and why?
There have been so many good episodes--or memorable scenes in even marginal episodes--that it's hard to choose just one. I admit to more than just a passing fascination with the whole mystical aspect of the show--love that panther--so if forced into a corner, I'd probably have to say Warriors. While the plot has some weak spots, the acting is superb and there's lots of conflict generating some nice juicy angst for the 'boys'.
Warriors raised significant questions about the basis for Jim and Blair's partnership. If Jim's no longer a Sentinel, does he still need Blair around? In what capacity? I thought it was great timing that in the midst of the uncertainty, Simon makes Blair an official part of the investigation. Simon's actions are based on Blair's academic expertise instead of the sentinel/guide connection, inferring that the police captain sees the grad student as more than just Jim's shadow or backup in the Sentinel thing. We get the scene in the truck with Blair trying to get a straight answer out of Jim about where they stand. I know a lot of people are dissatisfied that Jim doesn't come right out and profess his feelings, but I see Jim's verbal reticence as very in character, particularly at that point of the episode.
Incacha's arrival gives us some tantalizing clues about Jim's time in Peru--which had been missing in the series to that point. Jim's relationship to the Shaman and his respect for the Chopec way of life is wonderfully drawn in dialogue, facial expressions and body language both in the first loft scene and in the scene when Incacha dies. Jim's got conflict on the personal level, the Sentinel level and the cop level which he has to find a way to resolve throughout the episode. Blair finds himself on the outside looking in after Jim makes the decision NOT to be a sentinel any longer, questioning his own reason for being there. I loved the fact that there is a serious role reversal in terms of control as we reach the climax of the ep. Ultimately Blair is the one to take charge and get Jim to realize what he has to do. In other episodes he does this by verbal persuasion, but in "Warriors" he is physically 'in' Jim's face, not backing down in the least when Jim looses it after Incacha dies. When the ep ends, there's a strengthening of the relationship between the main characters on several levels and an unspoken commitment to the future.
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?
After reading everything I could get my hands on, I started to dream up my own story ideas. My first completed and posted Sentinel story was The Gift. It's more of a character piece and was written as a submission for the 'Jim and Blair in the Woods' challenge at Guide Posts. At that point I had only seen a few second season episodes. I actually started Death Song first, but set that piece aside for later development, ultimately finishing that story after I had a better handle on the characters and the whole Sentinel/Guide relationship.
Writing The Gift was easy. Sending it to someone to beta was traumatic.
Don't get me wrong. I was pleased with the story and I'm thick-skinned enough to take criticism without feeling as though it's a personal attack. Listening to, and learning from your reader's comments--both positive and negative--are the ways I believe you grow and mature as a writer. However, there was already a great body of good fanfic out there for the show and I was a bit nervous about how my story was going to measure up. Plus, I take my story telling very personally. I had written missing scenes and stories for my favorite shows for years, but they were entirely private efforts--no one had seen them except me.
Exposing those efforts to a host of readers was difficult to say the least. I think I had The Gift written for several weeks before I worked up the courage to send it off to a beta reader. Sweaty palmed, I waited for feedback. When I received a positive response, I think I nearly fell off my chair in relief, although I remember being mortified--newbie that I was, I had tried to send the whole 36k file in one email and of course, the whole thing didn't go through on the first shot. After cleaning up what were 'duh' mistakes--those you don't see yourself, but certainly 'should' have--I took a deep breath and posted the story to Guide Posts. The feedback was delightful--I was grinning for days. Wired followed in short order--and believe me, I was still incredibly nervous when I pushed the 'send' button. Fortunately, the fandom at large is incredibly generous with their praise and insightful in their LOCs. Encouraged by the feedback and by the wonderful people I was 'meeting' on-line--and as a tongue and cheek zinger to several other authors who were then posting in serial to the Senfic list--I began posting Who Shall Guard the Guardians Themselves in a serial format.
The response just blew me away. Between the encouragement--and the threats of what would happen if I didn't get in gear and finish the **** thing, <g>--I was hooked, and the rest, is, as they say, is history.
I still get a few butterflies when I post anything new, even though I typically have one or two beta readers reviewing my stories before they go out. I tend to beat the story to death, tweaking and rewriting before it even reaches my betas. That approach makes me less prolific than some other authors in the fandom, but I'm much more satisfied on a personal level when I do send off a story or a section of a serial.
If you could see any of your stories made into a real episode, which one would you choose?
The story which would most easily translate into an episode is probably Calling the Beasts, although it would take a fairly good sized special effects and props budget to pull it off the way I see it in my head. <g> It's written along the lines of an episode with the 'time frame' for the story roughly one hour, and incorporates most of the secondary characters on the show. It's pretty 'visual' --there isn't a great deal of introspection on the part of the main characters so not much would be lost converting from the written word to the screen. It has a good action plot, lots of sensory aspects and a dose of the shamanistic angle.
Which story are you most proud of?
Tough question. Of my net published stories, I think it's a tie between Wired and Who Shall Guard the Guardians Themselves. I was extremely pleased with the way the alternate reality segments of Wired worked on paper, especially the visual descriptions of the environments. The story gave me a chance to work in a different approach to 'guiding', with Blair realizing that he needed to lead by staying put. The transition from AU to real world in the wrap up worked well too, with 'real' explanations to what the reader had seen in the front end. The hockey stick in all its various forms was probably the best 'prop' I've ever come up with.
Guardians holds a special place in my heart. Not only is it a good action/drama piece, but the secondary plot line with Blair's coming to terms with Incacha's bequest was a story I really wanted to tell. The Muse really took me by the hand--many sections of that story seemed to write themselves. It was also my first 'long' story and it was the first time I had ever posted anything in serial form, which turned out to be a satisfying challenge for me as a writer. There is one section in the story--the bus scene, for those who have read it--which I'm particularly proud of. The conversation between Jim and Blair takes place on two different levels--the one they want the rest of the search party to hear and the one that only Jim can hear because of his enhanced hearing. Writing that dialogue was a challenge to make the scene work and I'm still pleased with the final result.
Of my zine published fiction, Dark Sentinel (in Sentry Post 4) is the story I'm most proud to have written. It's probably the most complex piece I've ever attempted--although the serial I'm working on now, "False Mirrors" may end up surpassing it in some ways. Dark Sentinel combines several plot themes--action/adventure, rescue, quest, pursuit, escape, transformation. It was a challenge to interweave them all successfully, and to deal with the resolution of the story and issues without taking the 'easy' way out. The 'A' plot is Jim trying to find Blair. I tried to make the police work portion very believable with Jim ultimately finding Blair not because of some psychic link, but by solid investigation skills. The 'B' plot deals with the Sentinel/Guide relationship, meshing show canon with mysticism and an aspect of sentinel 'history' which I invented.
I'm particularly proud of the way the characters are portrayed, too. Jim is not 'perfect' in this story. He has moments of doubt, which he struggles to overcome, and he's faced with the realization that he's in many ways not so different from the 'dark' sentinel who is his adversary. Blair finds himself in a dangerous situation which his own desires and instincts compound. He's controlled by the second sentinel, yet he is never totally helpless and draws upon his own emotional and physical reserves--and strength of character--to fight back and return to Jim's side. The story tends to be darker in tone, than some of the other pieces I've written. I've been told that it is 'disturbing'--which is a delightful response to me as a writer. If I can make the reader stop and think--figuratively pull them into the 'reality' I've created--then I've done my job as an author.
Which character do you most enjoy writing?
Writing Jim well is the most difficult and the most rewarding/enjoyable--when I get it right. My biggest problem in writing Jim is that I tend to put too many words in his mouth. I have to constantly go back and edit his dialogue to find the right balance.
The character of Jim Ellison--ex-ranger, covert ops, cop, sentinel, human being--is SO complex. You really need to study his character for a long time to see past the surface; to understand why he reacts to things, events, issues, the way he does. He's all body language and non-verbal expression. He doesn't apologize with words, but with actions. Based on the canon we have, he's a man who has always been on 'point', faced with the necessity of having to make sometimes split second decisions. In most of the situations he has faced in his life, there either hasn't been anyone to ask an opinion of, or the time to do it. He's trained to think and react. It's no wonder he doesn't get along with the mayor, the feds, or the bureaucrats who indulge in the committee mindset.
When you look closely, you find Jim is a study in contradictions. He's an intensely private man, yet he shares very personal things with Blair--not easily, of course, but that's what makes it so believable when he finally does reveal some personal or emotional tid-bit. He's a loner who suddenly finds himself with a shadow to explain--it's understandable that he'd downplay Blair's importance with jokes and teasing to the world at large, while at the same time finding excuse after excuse to keep the anthropologist at his side. He's a man striving to balance a personal and genetic code of honor with responsibilities and duties which often conflict. He has instincts that demand he protect and defend which he has to balance with the rules of modern society and law. He's hard as nails on the surface with the bad guys, jello when it comes to the innocent. He's a man who is intensely loyal and who trusts sparingly--extending trust and being dependent on someone else makes him vulnerable and I think that is why we see him overreact when he feels he's been betrayed. Jim is extremely protective of himself, concealing his own emotions and reactions behind a stoic facade, yet he puts his life on the line for the 'tribe'--and of course, his Guide.
Blair is easier to write, yet in many ways as much of a challenge. I don't see him as a pushover or weakling. Indeed, in many ways I think of him as stronger than Jim. Not physically, certainly, although he's proven he can hold his own in even that arena. To retain your own identity in the face of a dominant personality like Jim's is no mean feat, yet Blair has held his own from the beginning of their relationship. He pushes for what he feels/knows is right when saner men would back off. On the surface he appears to be the partner who always 'gives in', yet if you examine what is really happening, you'll find he's actually making a tactical retreat--choosing the time and place for his battles carefully.
Blair is a perfect foil to Jim as a friend, partner, guide and confidant. He's open with his emotions which encourages Jim to be more so. It's obvious that he respects Jim even when he doesn't agree with him--a sign of true friendship. He appears on the surface to be Jim's opposite, yet in many respects they are very much alike. I wrote a short story dealing with that idea--"Testing the differences"--which probably explains my take on their similarities better than anything I could express here.
What genre(s) do you enjoy writing the most?
I lean toward drama/case stories with some humor, smarm and angst tossed in for good measure. I love a good 'nasty' villain, and I've been accused of having a twisted mind when it comes to plots. (A lovely compliment!) I haven't written any 'missing scenes' in this fandom, although I have discs full of them from other shows that I've been enamored with in the past. I've never written a crossover. I like to read them if they make some logical sense, but my stories tend to be so involved as it is, that bringing another universe of characters and background into them would make them absolute monsters. I would love to write a good 'comedy' piece, but so far I haven't come up with the right angle. I'm in awe of those who can pull off the pacing and dialogue of that genre successfully.
Who are your beta readers and what do you appreciate most about them?
I have several people who beta for me, each one looking for slightly different things. They all spur me on when I get stuck on a plot point and are quick to haul my ass back to the keyboard when I've been away for too long. There are three who consistently make me look good:
Chris Mistele--who has been my most effusive supporter from the beginning and turned into one of my dearest friends--is my sounding board. She and I have spent hours on the phone, on-line and in person hashing out my stories. If there's a hole to find, Chris finds it.
Carolyn (screen name Crideon) drags her fine-toothed comb through the tangles and saves you from my grammatical errors and my propensity to misuse 'its' and 'it's'. She's also quick to point out the inconsistencies and like Chris has a knack for helping me rework the awkward spots.
Linda (LHGraphics) wields a mean whip. She's my editor and recently did me the great honor of publishing a zine of just my stories, confident, despite my trepidation, that someone would actually buy the thing. Linda keeps me on the straight and narrow where canon is concerned.
They are all incredibly supportive and I swear they took flattery lessons somewhere along the line, they're so smooth and convincing. But they're tough, which is probably what I appreciate about them the most. They argue their points when I'm not convincing and they're not afraid to offer ideas or direction. Each of them have contributed in one way or another to making my stories a better read. I'm immensely grateful for their patience.
You've written many wonderful, long drama stories. Do you find it difficult to write such long pieces? How do you find the time?
Long. Yep, that's the word for them. Monster comes to mind, too. I CAN write short. (I can hear my beta readers laughing hysterically even as I admit that. <G> If I think a story is going to stay under 300k, they just nod and remind me that's what I said the last time. The last short piece I sent to Chris--under 40k--floored her. She wrote back telling me that she couldn't believe she'd gotten the whole file.)
What I do for a living has had an obvious impact on the way I think and approach my personal attempts at writing. I'm used to thinking visually, so when I write, I tend to craft a story by 'drawing' pictures with words. I'm big on detail, which is probably why most of my pieces are so long. I like complicated issues and I like telling a complete story. Most of my pieces have multiple plot lines and a generous cast of characters. Real life conflicts and issues aren't resolved easily and people--like characters--are not 'perfect'. I think a story is more successful when a writer recognizes that fact and avoids the 'pat' or simple answer or character portrayal. I enjoy teasing the reader, making them think a story is going one way and then reversing or twisting the direction to deliver them to the place I was headed all along. Endurance--which IS a short piece--is a good example of that.
I don't usually set out to write a novel, but by the time I get all the details in and the loose ends 'tied up', that's typically what happens. Long can be unwieldy, so I start by writing a pretty detailed outline, breaking the tale into rough scenes in an attempt to get a 'big picture' to work with. I fiddle with the outline as I write, adding, deleting or combining scenes as necessary as the story progresses. The outline keeps me on track and it also allows me to add notes as reminders to follow up when I get to a specific part. I also write in sections of dialogue or descriptions when the mood or the Muse strikes, even if I'm not 'at' that stage of the story. When I first started writing, I often wrote out of sequence, drafting a scene midway through the story before the beginning. I still do that on occasion, especially if I get stuck with the section I'm supposed to be working on.
The novella length story can be frustrating to write. I can 'see' the end, but getting to it takes a lot of time and effort. Months, usually. It also demands a great deal of attention--making sure the details are all covered, that I've been consistent in the writing style from start to finish. I have to go back to earlier sections I've written and reread them to make sure I haven't strayed too far from the path or the structure I've established.
I sometimes wonder if my long stories are TOO long--that the reading time required makes them hard for a reader to keep track of what's going on. I can't remember which story it was, maybe "Smoke and Mirrors", but someone posted a recommendation for it suggesting that the reader pack a lunch before attempting to plow through it. I've had people write me that they've lost sleep because they started one of my monsters late at night and read until the birds started chirping. As an author that's high praise, but it makes me feel a bit guilty for their starting their day short on sleep. <g>
Because the stories get pretty complicated, I've come to the conclusion that they may not be as successful as a serial read, but that doesn't mean that I won't do a serial format (like the current False Mirrors) at least once every couple of years. <g> It's good discipline for me and as I said before, I do like playing a bit with the reader. It's fun when people write to prompt me for the next installment.
Finding the time to write is the biggest challenge, but that's true on short stories as well. Real life tends to intrude at the most inconvenient times, demanding that I take a break from the story and go tend to some more mundane task--like earning a living. I try to accomplish something when I sit down at the computer, no matter how little time I have to spend. Sometimes all I have time to do is polish an existing section, and sometimes I can get several pages written. Usually I plan to write for a few hours after my kids get settled for bed and the distractions of the world at large are at a minimum.
Several of the stories you've written deal quite a lot with Blair's growing shamanistic abilities. Can you tell us a little how you decided what direction to take this part of your writing?
Basically, Pet Fly left the door open with Warriors and I just walked through. I was intrigued by not just the mystical aspects of shamanism which seemed so well suited to Blair's character, but the 'non' mystical as well. A Shaman is a teacher, a physical and spiritual healer, a story teller, a man of knowledge. All of those concepts fit what had already been developed as canon for Blair's character, so it seemed a natural creative angle to pursue.
I've tried to incorporate the shamanism into the stories in a logical sense and not take the mysticism too far into the realm of the impossible. Incacha's spirit taking over for a few scenes in Guardians was the farthest I've pushed it, and so far no one's objected to that detour. The dream/vision sequences in Out of Harm's Way could be explained logically as a result of illness and poison-based delirium--in fact Jim tries to convince Blair of that at one point, even though the Sentinel 'knows' that there was something more going on. Blair's vision of the wall of flames in Smoke and Mirrors turns out to be a premonition and ultimately leads him to Jim's location, but he doesn't recognize it as such at the time. In fact he questions whether what he's 'seeing/feeling' is real, imagined, or stress induced. He has to undertake a journey of self-discovery which has little to do with him as a shaman before he understands what the vision means.
In Calling the Beasts, Blair again questions whether what he thought he was seeing--the children's spirit animals--and what he heard in the dark when the bad guys got their 'due', was real, or if he was imaging it. He turns to Jim in the end for confirmation, which was a fun twist because it's usually the other way around--Jim looking to Blair for interpretation of the spiritual world.
Giving Blair some access to the shaman's world also makes it easier for him to interpret that universe for Jim and makes for greater angst when the Sentinel doesn't take advantage of his partner's ability.
In Calling the Beasts, you had Blair naming spirit guides for the children he was with, which then began to play a major role in the rest of the story. Did something particular inspire this story?
I had wanted to write a story which at least in part focused on Blair as a teacher, but I didn't want to set it on the Rainier campus. The idea of having Blair working with a group of children made sense--I think he'd be delightful in that role--so it was a matter of figuring out the setting and generating the tale to go with the characters. It made logical sense--to me, at any rate--that Blair might get volunteered by the anthropology department at the university if a museum contacted them looking for someone to handle a children's seminar.
Of course, given Blair's background, coming up with what he was going to teach them was easy. Ever had to entertain a group of eight-year-olds and keep their interest? Believe me, whatever you do has to be unusual and giving each of the kids a spirit rattle and a power animal of their own as a means of piquing their interests in what could be 'dry' academics was the solution. I did some digging and came up with some great sites on the 'net which gave me descriptions of power animals--fascinating stuff, by the way. I wrote the children's characters and descriptions to match up with the animals I'd chosen, meshed in some interesting background I'd gotten from several books on Shamanism and that part pretty much flowed on its own. Overall, I was really pleased at the kids' characterizations. I dislike it when children are portrayed as either stupid--or worse, as nothing more than wall paper--and I really worked hard to make those children unique and 'real'.
Once I had the setting, I had to figure out what drama had to go on within it. I had done a bunch of research on pre-Colombian art that I'd been eager to work into a story and I decided that a special exhibit of valuable artifacts would be just the thing to attract a thief. Of course, he had to be a nasty thief, and a smart one in order to be a suitable adversary for Jim and Blair.
Setting, characters and adversary birthed the rest of the story and allowed the main characters to shine in the face of adversity and danger. Blair got to be incredibly creative and drew upon his natural abilities and resources--coming up with the story he tells the children as a cover for getting them out of the museum safely. Jim's charging to the rescue, facing the conflict of wanting his partner out of the line of fire, yet realizing that there are more innocents involved in the mess than just his friend allowed me to write in some good angst. I got to work in another role reversal too--which I dearly love to do--with Blair in the driver's seat inside the museum and Jim being put in the role of observer as he listens in on the open phone line.
The spirit animals taking 'revenge' was the Muse taking over. I freely admit that and thank her for that contribution and for her guidance in drafting the story-within-the-story element.
Do your stories fall in any particular order? Are they in the same "universe"?
With the exception of False Mirrors, which picks up on a concept which was introduced in Out of Harm's Way, the stories I've written to date are all standalones and could be read in any order. They all relate to some season of the show, although I have only written one short piece which appears in a zine of Linda's that deals with issues and the time period post S2. I try to stick close to canon facts, taking realistic liberties when I introduce new 'background' which is my own invention.
In one of your earlier stories, Wired, you wrote a very intriguing sort of alternate reality with Blair saving Jim, trying to bring him back to the real world again. How did you come up with the idea to write what you did?
Wired was definitely a result of my skewed view of reality impinging on the real world. <g> It was a submission for the 'Jim and Blair in the woods' challenge--with a bizarre twist. When I was twelve, I saw the results of a devastating forest fire first hand--the memories of the charred ruins still give me shivers today. So, instead of normal green forest, the visual images which sprang to mind when I contemplated the challenge story were the smoking ruins I had seen. The photographic negative images of the first scene and the glass sharded forest section were just too good to pass up when they popped into my head. I actually wrote the ending of the story first, grounding the whole framework in reality before writing the AU sections. Quite frankly, it's a story which really wrote itself once I knew how it was all going to come out. I wish every idea I had presented itself so tidily.
You've written a number of stories for fanzines, one of which being Dark Sentinel in Sentry Post 4, a very riveting, intensely dramatic novella. Where did you come up with the ideas for this story? Did it occur to you before word came out about S2 and its own "dark sentinel"?
Hmmm...Since Dark Sentinel is a zine story and not net fic, I have to be careful how I answer those questions in order to not spoil the suspense for those who haven't read it yet. But since you posed the question in such flattering terms, I'll make a stab at it. <g>
On the surface, Dark Sentinel is a rescue story. Blair disappears and Jim has to find him. Running parallel to the 'A' plot line which is sinister enough in it's own right is another which is significantly 'darker' and which is truly the main story of the piece, full of conflict and angst and some painful realizations for both Jim and Blair. In short, there's another sentinel who is determined to have Blair as his companion and has discovered the means to achieve his goal. The main theme deals with not only the sentinel/guide relationship, but delves into the aspects of Jim and Blair's friendship and their partnership.
The entire story really grew out of a desire to explore in more depth several things I'd been thinking about for a long time. As I mentioned before, I find Jim's character to be incredibly complex. In my opinion, there's a whole 'primal' side to the sentinel genetic inheritance which he constantly battles to keep in check--instincts he overrides because of training and his own moral code. I kept wondering what it would be like to pit Jim as a sentinel against an adversary with the same genetic predisposition's and skills, but who had a different sense of purpose and societal obligation. I envisioned a villain who isn't classically 'evil' or 'bad', but simply one with a distinctly different world view. I kept gnawing on the questions of, 'If push came to shove, if one had what the other required--a Guide in this case--how different would the two sentinels actually be?'
In addition, I had been chewing over the distinct differences--to me--between Blair's role as Jim's Guide and Shaman. I couldn't get past the idea that they were not one in the same thing--that they overlapped, but that each role was unique in some respect.
I ended up going out on a limb and inventing some ancient sentinel/guide/shaman history in order to make the story work, which, I willingly admit made me very nervous, even though I knew it was well thought out. I was treading on sacred ground by doing so, and I hoped that I hadn't crossed the line somewhere.
The outline for Dark Sentinel and indeed the first half of the story was written months before I heard about the plans for the third season finale. I almost shelved the story then, thinking that perhaps it would be viewed as a copy-cat effort. Fortunately, Chris and Linda encouraged me to keep going with it. I was careful not to let too much of what I did see in the cliffhanger seep into my story--in fact they are wildly different pieces, but I was extremely conscious of not wanting to duplicate what had already been done. Truthfully, I like my 'dark' sentinel much better than Alex Barnes, but that's a whole other issue.
Your entertaining story Endurance is a bit different than your other case-based pieces. What is your take on Blair's dual life of a student and police observer?
The short answer is that Blair puts in an incredible number of hours and an extraordinary amount of effort at a job which pays him nothing--but gives him immense satisfaction and a sense of purpose.
Now here's the long answer:
I suppose since the series finale, some might consider the student or academic aspects of Blair's life to be over. I tend to disagree. I see Blair as the perpetual student--and not in the negative light that concept often brings to mind. I've been told that as a grad student ABD, he wouldn't have needed to take classes of his own, yet I can easily envision him at least auditing classes that would interest him on a personal level, or ones which might increase his understanding of the world at large. He has a quick mind--you don't satisfy that kind of intelligence with short snippets of news out of USA Today and CNN.
I think Blair will always be seeking knowledge, from whatever resource he can find, always striving to find answers to the questions of "life, the universe, and everything"--to borrow shamelessly from Douglas Adams. IMHO, he's always going to be a student of humanity, peering beneath the surface turmoils of society in search of truth and understanding.
Being an police observer didn't alter that outlook and I don't think becoming a 'real' cop would either.
As to pre-TSbyBS? A grad student's life is hectic--they're at the bottom of the academic food chain in many respects--and as authors I think we've all stretched the point a bit to show Blair as perhaps more harried than he actually might have been. However, trying to balance a somewhat regimented schedule of classes and office hours against Jim's erratic schedule would be enough to exhaust even the Energizer Bunny.
Blair is often portrayed as untidy which to some equates to disorganized. I disagree with that perception. Blair's a busy guy. Between his own responsibilities at the university and those at the station--not to mention the overtime he puts in to keep Jim on an even keel on the home front--he doesn't have 'time' or energy to waste filing everything neatly, so he leaves random bits and pieces of life in his wake as he shifts from one role to the other. He does it so smoothly you'd think he was a master juggler instead of an anthropologist.
Yet clutter does not necessarily mean disorganized, my own work space being a perfect example. I have piles of stuff, all strategically placed within reach, hardly ever filed. Why? Because I'm always working on several projects at the same time. When it reaches a point where even I can't find anything, I stop, regroup and reorganize. Like Blair, I carry also a ton of info around in my head, ready to retrieve on demand. (That space in my skull is also filled with an eclectic assortment of things like my old high school locker combination--never know when you might need that number--and the complete lyrics to old tv theme songs, but I digress....)
Canon doesn't place Blair at Jim's side as constantly as we fanfic authors do, either. In the show he has his own life going full tilt, filled with office hours, teaching, personal interests--and you can lay money on this one--dates. That man is not sitting home on Saturday night. (Sorry slash fans.)
When he is at Jim's side it isn't because Ellison has demanded it, but rather because it is where Blair wants to be and knows he needs to be. He admits to enjoying riding the roller coaster of activity inherent in Jim's world in the truck scene in Warriors. I think he's extremely conscious of the demands of trying to find a place in both worlds, yet he's more than willing to put in the effort required, because the rewards are so great.
In Who Shall Guard the Guardians Themselves, you effectively use the character of Incacha and address Blair's role as a shaman. How do you see Incacha's character affecting Blair's view of his spiritual role in Jim's life?
I don't think Blair feels threatened by the relationship which Jim and Incacha shared in Peru while Ellison was stranded there, or by Incacha's guiding presence in S2p2. I can't see Blair allowing jealousy of any kind to taint his connection to Jim--especially a spiritual connection. I just don't read Blair's character as that insecure. He's too smart for that, both in his head and in his heart.
Incacha's actions always ensured Jim's safety, a point which Blair is certainly not going to overlook. In Peru after the helicopter crash, Incacha apparently acted as a temporary guide to Jim as the Sentinel's gifts re-surfaced--which guaranteed that Jim survived the jungle to return to the states where he meets Blair and their partnership begins. In S2p2, Incacha's ethereal presence not only saved his (Blair's) life, but ultimately led Jim to the truth about the 'eye of god' and helped save the Sentinel's life in the temple.
I do think Blair is somewhat in awe of Incacha's Shaman status however, and perhaps a bit uncertain-- understandably--about how he's going to honor the legacy which the Chopec medicine man's has passed on to him. I think he would pump Jim for information on Incacha, and not just on the spiritual aspects of the medicine man's life. Blair would want to know what kind of man Incacha was--what motivated him as a person, how he dealt with his responsibilities to his tribe, what gave him joy, how he dealt with his sorrows.
Once he understood the man, I think Blair would find it very easy to embrace the spiritual aspects of the Chopec beliefs. Particularly if it would help Jim in any way. Blair's got the background for it, both as an anthropologist and because he was raised by free-thinking Naomi. Would Blair jump at the chance to have a face to face with his own spirit guide? You bet. Would he turn down a heart to heart with Incacha's spirit? No way--although whether even Blair could get more than a sentence full of cryptic answers out on the astral plane is a tough call. I get the impression the spirits are pretty close mouthed. <g>
Realistically, even before Incacha passed on the Way of the Shaman, Blair was already looking out for Jim's welfare--both physical and emotional. As Jim's friend and confidant, he soothed the detective's troubled soul countless times. As Jim's Guide, he had already pushed Jim toward accepting the mystical side of the Sentinel legacy--Flight. With official status as a Shaman, Blair's desire to protect what he sees as Jim's unique spirit would be even stronger.
At the present time, how do you see the episode The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg affecting your future writing?
I haven't quite decided how to deal with some of the ramifications of the final episode, but I'm not as opposed to Blair becoming a cop as some fans apparently are. I truly don't think going to the academy and qualifying on the firing range is going to change him into some gun-toting jackbooted hardass. It doesn't fit his character. He's too much his own man to make that kind of paradigm shift at the drop of the hat. He is always going to use his best weapon--his verbal skills--first, and his next choice would be a something no one would suspect could be turned into a weapon--a fire hose, a wooden framing strip from a mirror, and, of course anything that can be propelled like a baseball.
Knowing how to use a gun--and you can't convince me that after 4 seasons as Ellison's partner he hasn't gotten a little practical advice from Jim by now--and using one are entirely different issues. Many cops never fire their weapons except on the target range. Granted, Jim is not an ordinary cop, and Cascade IS the most dangerous city in America, so that throws off the statistics a bit, but still...<g>
In all truth, outside of 'packing' a gun--and even if he qualifies, how much do you want to bet he has a tendency to leave it in the glove compartment of the truck as often as he actually carries it ? (Whoa, there's a story idea for you)--there isn't much in a cop's life that he hasn't experienced since day one of the Ellison/Sandburg partnership. He also has the innate and learned skills to be a very good police officer.
Blair is clever. And he's resourceful. Blair's taken advantage of that illusion of harmlessness which he projects in the past in order to get out of some nasty scrapes. The bad guys and good guys alike are always underestimating him.
He's a great observer and has an amazing ability to analyze random evidence and generate a reasonable conclusion--a critical skill for a cop. We saw that talent exposed in the very first episode. One of my all time favorite scenes to illustrate that point is the one from Switchman, right after Blair tosses the nest down to Jim when they're investigating the ruins of the sawmill looking for clues. Jim's fixated on that strand of blue thread and
Blair comes up with this great extrapolation of it being critical evidence--apparently out of thin air. The look on Jim's face is priceless--it's truly the first time he's actually looked past the ripped jeans and earrings and realized that this 'hippie kid' has an amazing analytical brain hiding under that mass of long hair. Blair just shrugs it off with a fast explanation about how his approach as an anthropologist and Jim's as a cop aren't that different. Same methodology, different time frames. In one quick, knowledgeable observation, Blair leveled the mental playing field between them, engendering at least a grudging respect from Jim.
He's also been able to play the tough guy. Take a good look at Blair's expression when he's facing down Kincaid in Siege, claiming to be 'Lieutenant' Sandburg. He's lying through his teeth--we know that, but Kincaid doesn't see it. Do you really think that Blair couldn't pull that off with anyone who starts to give him a hard time at the academy?
(In fact, I could envision a great "Academy" story, with Jim kind of mother henning Blair--worried about how his unconventional partner is being treated by the 'powers that be' at the academy--and Blair waving off his concerns by demonstrating the different 'faces' he puts on to deal with different instructors. He might assume his 'Face Down Garrett Kincaid' expression for one guy, his 'puppy dog eyes' expression for one of the female instructors, etc.)
All of the above rationalizations/speculations are not intended to denigrate the enormity of the choice which was thrust upon both Jim and Blair when the dissertation came out in the open i the finale. Nor, is it intended to downplay the difficulties which lie ahead of both men as a result of Blair's admission of fraud. I think there is ample fodder for fanfic in those areas alone.
Given the drama which was acted out in TSbyBS, I think you'd have to admit that the 'partnership' is the strongest it has ever been--and in some ways if Blair does become a cop, it becomes more equal, at least where their conventional roles are concerned. Blair becoming a cop does not negate his role as the Sentinel's companion, either--it actually gives him better access and a legitimate reason for being at Jim's side.
No matter what the final decision is on Blair's career status, the important thing to me is that when the dust settled on the season finale, Jim Ellison was still the Sentinel and Blair Sandburg was still his Guide and Shaman--and it is that particular relationship which will be the one I'll have no trouble writing about.
What do you do when your muse takes a vacation?
Please don't mention the word vacation to my Muse. So far she hasn't realized she's overworked. <g>
Like any writer, I sometimes come up against a concept or a scene which simply will not resolve itself the way I had initially envisioned it. I've learned that beating my head against that brick wall is entirely wasted effort. If it's a plot that is not going where I want it to go, I shelve the story for a while and work on something else. If it's a particular scene that's making me crazy, I'll often skip ahead to another section and come back to the problem zone later.
I've found that lack of focus is typically what creates problems for me. When I'm too tired or have too much on my mind, the worst thing I can do is try to be creative. When I find myself uninspired or stuck, I back off and do something else--read, garden, play with the kidlets--and let the problem rattle around unattended in the back of my mind. You'd be amazed at how much gets 'mentally' written while I'm pulling weeds or sitting on the park bench while my son scales the jungle gym. <g>
I also send off an awkward section or story to one of my beta readers, explaining to the best of my ability why the thing is making me pull out my hair in frustration. They ALWAYS come through for me, thankfully.
Do you have any advice for new TS fan fiction writers?
Okay, soap-box time.
There's some basic writing advice that's applicable for everyone. As a writer, you're telling a story. Tell a good one. Don't get lazy and short-change the reader by taking the easy way out or make the resolution to a dilemma so far fetched that you trash a perfectly good plot line.
And plot is a big issue with me. I think we all like missing scenes because they fill in the big pot-holes that the show writers didn't fix either because of budget or time constraints. Plot is important. It leads the reader from A to Z, hopefully taking them on a dazzling sightseeing tour before they reach the end.
Write a good opening scene--in the professional world of publishing, if you don't sell an editor or publisher on your concept within the first few paragraphs, your story ends up on the reject pile.
Do the research. There's a wealth of information on nearly any topic you might want to investigate on the net. Take the time to research your topic. If you're writing a story about drugs, get the names right and get specific. It's much more convincing and draws the reader further into the action.
Stay consistent. If your hero is shot in the right arm in one scene, the bullet wound has to be in the same arm in the next scene, or I get confused and lose the pace of the story trying to figure out what happened.
Writing is a craft. You have to work at it to improve. Learn the tricks of the trade and use them. Study other people's stories. Try to figure out why a particular story worked for you--and why in some cases it didn't. Use what you learn from those observations in your own work. From a purely mechanical standpoint, you need to learn some basic rules. Poor grammar and typos are a reflection on your abilities as a writer and the reason you should always seek out a beta reader before you post. I'm not saying an extraneous comma or misappropriate word usage makes me stop reading a story, but it does impede the flow of the work--especially for me since I'm trained to look for that kind of thing. Believe me, I make my own share of 'goofs', and I cringe every time I find one in something I've posted or published.
Pay attention to your characters--they are the pivot point for your story. Whether you're writing Jim and Blair or an original character, their words and actions have to be believable. If you write against character--which can be highly entertaining and effective--you'd better have a good explanation as to why you're doing so.
If you're going to write in the TS universe, you'd better have a good handle on Jim's sensory abilities. He is not a superman. He cannot see through walls. On the other hand, he doesn't go into a zone-out at the drop of a hat either.
And remember, TS is a buddy show. No matter what case the boys are solving, it's the chemistry between the characters of Jim and Blair which makes the show a delight to watch and in my opinion that feeling needs to be present in the fanfic. If you don't get their interaction 'right'--and there's a fandom full of opinions as to what's 'right', I know--your story becomes just another exercise in typing.
What is the hardest part about writing for you?
Finally, an easy question. Finding the time.
What is the most satisfying part of writing for you?
When a story--when it's FINALLY finished--really works, then I'm immensely satisfied. If I can read it and 'see' the images that I've been carrying around in my head come alive and leap off the page, if the emotions I wanted to evoke are intense enough to be real, then I'm satisfied that I've told a good story.
What was the first piece of Sentinel fan fiction you ever read?
I think it was one of Tate's Lifeline pieces. After devouring everything she had posted, I moved to the top of the Guide Posts archive and worked my way through. It was an extremely satisfying multi-course meal.
Are there particular kinds of Sentinel fanfic stories that you especially enjoy reading?
I'm such an addict, I'll read almost anything, although because of the nature of my own style I tend to prefer longer pieces that I can get my teeth into. Those are typically the stories that have a more inventive plot line as well. I love a good comedy--Stuck by Becky is one of my all time favorites. An inventive AU can easily keep me up way past bedtime. Crossovers probably fall at the bottom of the list.
What is it about The Sentinel that inspires you to write?
The premise of the show and the varying levels of interaction/relationship of the main characters creates so many possibilities for story ideas. Pet Fly did a fantastic job in grounding the whole concept in what could almost be fact. There is something so noble about the idea of the Sentinel as Watchman for the tribe, that I find it hard to resist the temptation to craft an adventure for Jim and Blair myself. That Jim is not perfect and needs support--sidekick and watcher of his own--injects a vulnerability that makes the whole concept so much more believable and workable.
Who is your favorite Sentinel character to write? Who is your least favorite?
It's really a toss up between Jim and Blair for my favorite. Depending on the story line, one usually tends to whisper in my ear more than the other. Least favorite is Incacha, because I don't trust myself not to go overboard on the mystical end of things when I'm dealing with him.
What do you believe are The Sentinel's greatest strengths, and greatest weaknesses, as a series?
Greatest strength is probably characterization; overall concept is a close second. It's when an episode doesn't portray the characters accurately, or when the story idea seems to be 'recycled' or incomplete that the show suffers. I think the weaknesses stem from the lack of a full time writing staff and not enough time in one episode to do the complex subject matter justice. I can think of several eps which undoubtedly would have been better if they had been two-parters.
Do you find yourself identifying more with Jim or Blair?
I guess I'd have to say I identify more with Blair. Like that character, I tend to pick my battles pretty carefully, but once I'm committed to something, I'm hard to shake off course.
If you were given the opportunity to write an episode of The Sentinel, what story would you like to tell?
Where's my advance? Just joking. I'd leap at the chance. What story would I tell? Probably one that's been rattling its way around in my head for a while--and yes, I'm going to get to it sooner or later, I promise.
Season finale and Blair's departure from the university notwithstanding, I'd love to see an episode which dealt with a group of protesters taking over a part of the Rainier campus. They are demonstrating against biotech research--specifically cloning--and the group has been targeting campuses across the country, becoming more violent and fanatical as their 'cease and desist' demands are ignored. There would be a lot of conflict to play with within the story. Prior to the protesters hitting town, you'd have Blair sympathizing with the group's goals and arguing first amendment rights for lawful assembly and free speech with Jim who would be in full cop mode, concerned primarily with keeping the peace. That would put them slightly at odds, although Blair would probably back off, admitting that he disapproves of the protesters inclination toward violence.
You'd have Blair as scientist understanding the desire to pick apart the genetic code and learn how things 'work', countered by his protective instincts as Guide to a sentinel who would be a hot research subject in his own right--if anything would give Jim nightmares, it's got to be the thought of being stuck in some lab as a guinea pig, which would naturally make him a bit 'surly' about both sides of the debate. Of course when the protesters do take over the campus, Blair's stuck right in the middle of the action and finds himself trying to persuade the group to give up before things get ugly, while Jim's trying to get all the hostages out in one piece.
I'm sure I could work in a few explosions and a demolished vehicle or two, if that would attract the male 18-34 demo that UPN always claimed to want.
What one story do you think people will always remember you for?
I still have a lot of people who reference Who Shall Guard the Guardians Themselves, when they write about newer stories, so I'd have to say that one.
Can you tell us what stories you have in the works right now?
That's always a dangerous question for an author to answer. <g> I'm committed to finishing False Mirrors, which is the serial I'm currently posting to the Senfic list and which the Library is generously archiving in parts, before I go on to anything else--thank you for that. False Mirrors is about two thirds of the way done at this point, for those who are waiting on the end.
I've promised Linda one zine story for a late fall publication date--she may get the campus protest one, I'm not sure yet. Chris helped me out on the beginning phases of a story which has Simon trying to find Blair. The only clues Simon has are the delirious ramblings of an injured sentinel who has tucked his Guide away for safekeeping. I don't have a title for that one yet.
Then there are the two companion stories which go along with Guardians--a prequel and a sequel which I have always intended to write, but have gotten sidetracked from repeatedly. Robyn has promised me technical advice (medical) on a story entitled Stone Heart, which is a tale about an investigation into the death of a prominent Cascade politician's wife--at first glance it appears to have been an accident, but Jim and Blair ultimately prove it was murder.
There's also an old story which has been completely outlined for some time, gathering dust on my hard drive, tentatively titled Companions, which deals with a counterfeiting ring that is using street kids as their distribution network--and brutally killing off their employees once the kids have made their deliveries.
Every so often, a reader will pose a new situation or challenge which will lead me to another story. False Mirrors is actually a response to Carolyn's challenge that I write a Jim nightmare piece. I truly value the comments which people send me, and try to respond to them in some fashion--usually later than sooner, I'm sorry to say.
And then of course, there are all the possibilities which the series finale dropped in our lap. I haven't yet decided how to deal with Blair as a cop, but there was some lively discussion at MediaWest--wave to Beth!--which generated a full crop of ideas. I can envision writing in the fandom for some time to come and wearing out several keyboards in the process.
Thanks K. Ryn!
Last updated 6/7/99 clc