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A true multi-fandom author and one of the pioneers of Sentinel crossover stories, Laura Picken began writing Sentinel fanfic sometime during the show's second season. Like many other fans, she became hooked on the show after discovering the online fan fiction. Long before The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg showed, she wrote Blinded by the Light, a notable and well-written story in which Jim's sentinel abilities are revealed to the public and Jim and Blair must deal with the consequences. Laura's Cascade Library listing currently includes 15 stories, eight of which are crossovers with other favorite TV shows including the X-Files, Walker, Texas Ranger, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Touched by an Angel, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Quantum Leap, and La Femme Nikita.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Laura!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What else do you enjoy doing besides writing Sentinel fan fiction?
I'm a part-time student (five classes away from my bachelor's degree in psychology), full-time web designer/programmer, heavily involved in my church (including sound engineering for services), I'm getting married June 24, 2000 :-), and I'm involved in two other fandoms: Touched by an Angel (for whom I run their fanfic mailing list) and Charmed (although not as much anymore). I also like to cook, particularly baking (I've done wedding cakes for several of my friends), write other (original) fiction, go to the gym, take karate (I'm almost halfway to my black belt), and in my spare time, watch TV. So if you're wondering why I haven't completed a new TS story in a while, you now know why. :-)
How did you become a Sentinel fan?
Through the fan fiction. The first episode I ever saw was the last half of Flight (1st ep 2nd season). Was too weird for me (then again, I didn't know the back story). Then I was surfing the net for fan fiction several years ago and stumbled across Guide Posts (back in its really early days when Daenea used to run it). I was hooked from then on in.
What is your favorite episode and why?
Switchman and Siege. The way Jim and Blair's relationship started always fascinates me, Switchman had, by far, the best use of Jim's senses, and I loved the way that the last scene in Siege showed that Jim and Simon had more than just a boss/employee relationship.
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?
My first story was Blair Sandburg, PhD. I wrote it when I realized that Blair could never publish his diss without ruining his (and Jim's) life. Wrote it about -- three, maybe four years ago now? Jeez, it feels like forever? I can't remember back past last week sometimes...
If you could see any of your stories made into a real episode, which one would you choose?
Blinded by the Light, hands down. There was a lot about TS by BS that I didn't particularly care for, particularly the way it portrayed Naomi as a complete airhead who seemed to do everything without thinking it through. I liked the version I wrote better *g*.
Which story are you most proud of?
Oddly enough, it's not a Sentinel fic. There's a Touched by an Angel/X-Files/Piercing the Darkness crossover on my website called Divine Intervention. It's about 120 pages long and took me three years to write. It was the first piece of fan fiction I ever started, and I'm proud as heck that I actually went back and finished the darn thing. :-)
Which character do you most enjoy writing?
Simon. He never got enough screen time, IMHO *g*
Which character is the easiest for you to write?
Jim and Blair both. At this point, I feel like I could live in Jim's head (Blair's would need too much cleaning)
Who is your least favorite?
Well, let's just say there's a reason I killed off Cassie in To Protect and Serve...;-)
Who are your beta readers and what do you appreciate most about them?
My primary beta reader is Cindy Combs. She'll read anything of mine, even when it's not her 'normal cup of tea'. I love that.
You were one of the first Sentinel fanfic authors to write crossovers, and you've written quite a few since then with shows such as X-Files, Walker, Texas Ranger, Touched By An Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Quinn, Quantum Leap, and Le Femma Nikita. What do you enjoy most about writing crossovers, and what are the unique challenges of crossovers?
I think that the unique and inherent challenges of crossovers are the main reason that I enjoy writing them. The two challenges I find with crossovers are: 1) You have to find a believeable connection between the two shows. Making Mulder be Blair's second cousin doesn't really work for me. If your connection can make sense in the universe of *both* shows, it does half the work for you. 2) The interaction of the characters. Although the overall tone of your story will (inevitably) lean towards one universe or the other (mostly depending on the setting of the story), it's crucial in a crossover to keep the characters from all shows in character. That was a big one for me with Sentinel, Watcher, Warrior, Guide -- Jim, Simon and Blair are above all else, survivors. So SWWG had to balance the dark tone of La Femme Nikita with that ray of hope that always shines through TS. That was tough for me.
Do you have any advice for other authors who would like to write crossovers?
When you do a crossover, know every show in the crossover well. If you don't, fans of one or both of the shows will (politely) eat you for breakfast. Every time I've done a TS crossover with a show I wasn't that familiar with I've gotten criticism from a fan of the crossed-over show...and they were always right.
One of your first stories, Blair Sandburg, Ph.D, forms the basis for many of your other stories and involves Blair getting his doctorate. Did you feel it was important for Blair to achieve this goal?
Absolutely. He'd worked toward it all his life. When you have that much time, money and energy invested in something, you don't give it away easily. That was one of the many weaknesses I saw in TS by BS. It would have made a lot more sense to see Blair petition for a change in his thesis when he realized that he couldn't complete his diss without jeopardizing Jim. They had four years on the show -- it could have been done anytime after Survival, easy.
What inspired your original character, Sharon, who appears in many of your stories?
Sharon has been a character that I get a lot of flack for. Let me state this clearly, once and for all: Sharon is NOT a Mary Sue character. Her relationship with Blair made sense to me not because I wanted to put myself in a romantic relationship with Blair (I don't), but because Blair, as Jim once put it, would "jump a table leg". Sharon is a character I'm developing for an original novel I'm writing. I use her in fan fiction for practice. I put her in different situations and see how she'd react. That way, when I write her into the novel, I know her better.
Blinded By the Light is a story in which Jim's senses get revealed to the public, and was written long before The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg. What were the similarities and differences between your story and the episode?
In Blinded, Jim's abilities are revealed in a way that, I think, makes more sense in the context of the show: he reveals his abilities to the commissioner in order to allow Blair to remain on the force, and that trust in 'the system', eventually, forces Jim into the open. I think the biggest difference between the story and the ep, though, is in the show's treatment of Naomi. The inherent assumption in the show is that Naomi is a meddling airhead whose relationship with her son is at best distant. I think she deserves better than that -- I think she had far more respect for Blair and (Blair for her) than that.
The Chronicles of Melrea is a fantasy/adventure AU involving the Sentinel characters. What inspired this story?
I will freely admit that that story is a take-off on two different AUs: Zadra's Sentry and the Thief (the one incomplete story whose lack of completion I truly mourn) and The Magician trilogy, an X-Files AU classic. It's a diversion for me in that it takes characters I know well (Jim and Blair) and takes them into a new, original world (Melrea). Again, it's a step toward writing more original work for me in that not only do I have to develop strong original characters, but a strong original setting as well.
Revelations involves a deathbed confession by Jim's father. Was it difficult to decide how Jim and Blair would react to the new knowledge that they were related?
Not as hard as writing Jim's relationship with his father. Jim and Blair have always been brothers at heart, at least to me anyway. Jim's father, though, has always been an unknown, complex element. He's estranged from his son, and yet still loves him. How would you resolve that when you're facing your imminent death?
Jim is given an unusual assignment in Stage Fright. What inspired this story?
When Truth, Justice and the American Way was posted, I asked people to send me ideas for Jim and Blair's first case under Commissioner McPherson's new rules. Yvonne McCool was the first one to get back to me, with two simple mental pictures: Jim, Blair and Simon singing and Jim in a tux. We started bouncing ideas back and forth, and thus, the idea was born.
What do you do when your muse takes a vacation?
I read other people's fan fiction, particularly D.L. Witherspoon. My muse and her muse must be related somehow. *g*
What is the hardest part about writing for you?
Getting the time to do it.
What is the most satisfying part of writing for you?
Purebread escapism. It helps me to get away from the pressures of the real world for a while--kinda like watching TS.
What are your feelings on story feedback?
(turns toward reading audience) Folks, fanfic writers aren't doing it for the money (there isn't any). They're doing it for one of two reasons: 1) The muse is driving them crazy and the voices in their head won't stop until the writer writes down what they're trying to say, or 2) FEEDBACK!!!!!! It truly is the only way a fanfic writer can know if anyone's reading their stories and if their stories are any good or not. So after you read a story, please, please send the writer a little not saying what you liked about the story AND what you didn't. Include ideas for them to use for future stories if you want. Who knows, you might get a story back in return. Isn't that right, Dawn? ;-)
Do you have any advice for new TS fan fiction writers?
Read the work of your fellow TS writers and get a great beta reader. TS fan fiction is some of the best, most intelligently written fan fiction on the 'Net today, when it's done right. When it's done wrong, it becomes a badly written mess -- a mix of smarm and and violence that becomes difficult to read at best. If you maintain the balance that the show had while at the same time following the lead of your predecessors, your stuff will be remembered for a long, long time. Take it from Grandma Picken. :-)
What do you see as the unique challenges of writing fan fiction?
Staying true to the characters and the feel of the established universe you're writing in while at the same time unleashing your own creativity.
How do you cope with the often widespread view that writing in an established universe--be that a television series, graphic novel series, fan fiction, or other shared worlds and collaborations--is easier than creating original characters and settings?
It is. I think fan fiction is a great training ground for writers, because you have a strong measure to compare yourself against: the show itself. Dawson's Creek fan fiction, for example, is almost universally ridiculed because, with only a couple of exceptions, the vast majority of writers don't even come close to the intelligent writing that the show succeeds with every week. TS fan fiction, however, tends to get stuck in a closet when they talk about fan fiction. Why? Because in many cases, the writing in fan fiction is better than the writing for the show ever was.
What do you think the future of fanfic will hold, in both online and 'zine fandom?
I think it will become harder and harder to write fan fiction for active shows. Our society is fast becoming lawyer-driven, and I think some well-meaning schmuck is going to send their fan fiction in to a show, the show will make an episode close to the story that person wrote, and that person will sue the network. At that point, any fan fiction site with stuff for an active show on it will be shut down due to copyright violations, regardless of the author's original intentions. The internet is becoming way too popular for fan fiction to hide in the closet for much longer.
What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever read?
The first one that I can remember is a wonderful X-Files AU story called The Magician by Jennifer Lyons and Suzanne Bickerstaffe. If anyone has read The Chronicles of Melrea or has even the slightest interest in The X-Files, *go read that story*. Jenni and Suzanne are two members of a very small group of fanfic authors who I routinely beg to keep on writing. (The other two members of the group? Cindy Combs and D.L. Witherspoon -- *g*)
What was the first piece of Sentinel fan fiction you ever read?
That I can remember? Cindy's first MacGyver X-over. Awesome stuff.
Are there particular kinds of Sentinel fanfic stories that you especially enjoy reading?
Crossovers mostly, although I will read absolutely anything D.L. Witherspoon writes. I'm a junkie for the Family series and the Supernatural series, in particular.
What is it about The Sentinel that inspires you to write?
The idea of having heightened senses and how that would affect a person's life.
What do you believe are The Sentinel's greatest strengths, and greatest weaknesses, as a series?
While I think the characters and the original premise of the show were fantastic, the show relied far too heavily on action. That's why the fan fiction succeeds where the show failed -- the fan fiction is more character driven and, in the best cases, takes the anthropology area of the show's premise and runs with it.
Do you find yourself identifying more with Jim or Blair?
Blair -- although I wish I were more like Jim. I'm horribly scatterbrained and undisciplined.
If you were given the opportunity to write an episode of The Sentinel, what story would you like to tell?
I'd re-write TS by BS.
What one story do you think people will always remember you for?
My guess? I will go down in TS history as the crossover lady...the story I'll end up being most remembered for will be either Blessed Protector or (if I'm lucky) Blinded by the Light.
Can you tell us what stories you have in the works right now?
Nothing right now. RL has taken over with a vengeance, so I'm in semi-retirement. When I do get back to fan fiction, I have a Charmed trilogy to complete, and then after that's done, I'll catch up on my incomplete TS stuff.
Last updated 2/28/00 clc