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No stranger to fan fiction, Merry discovered The Sentinel via a crossover story with the show Highlander. In no time, this enthusiastic author and fan became involved in the fandom in almost every way possible. In a matter of three years, her roles have included actively participating in online discussion groups, archiving stories as The Dark OverElf at Guide Posts, and assisting the Support Our Sentinel organization with fan and media communication. Of course, Merry's readers would attest that her wonderful and entertaining Sentinel stories are one of her most important contributions. Merry's Cascade Library listing currently includes seven stories, soon to be joined by her eighth recently finished (and long-awaited) work-in-progress, The Heart Hath Its Reasons. Her stories are located at Hargrove Vault. Merry also maintains her own Sentinel web page, Any Road.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Merry!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
That's kind of a broad question. <g> I'm 28, I live in Texas, I do tech support to finance my many fannish addictions. I've only been a fan for about 3 years -- it feels like a lot longer -- but I've been making up for lost time. I have this entire wall totally dedicated to tapes -- it's kind of scary, actually. I try not to think about it.
I have a perfect cat named Darwin who runs my life. I acquired him before I knew about The Sentinel - so no, he's not named after Blair. <g> He is, quite frankly, the best cat currently in the business.
What else do you enjoy doing besides writing TS fan fiction?
I like watching TS episodes. And Stargate episodes. And Homicide episodes. And Sports Night episodes, and Buffy episodes, and West Wing episodes. And, and, and. But mostly, I like talking about fiction with my friends, and that includes all kinds of things -- fannish shows, sure, but also books, movies, fan fiction...
I enjoy fandom as a whole -- the community, the freedom of it, and the values I tend to think of as a baseline for all fans. That's a gross generalization, of course, but to me fandom is about celebrating friendship. It's the friendships that draw me to various fandoms, and that's what I write about, that's why I watch. In that spirit, one of the things I enjoy most about fandom is the ability to give back some of what I get from it.
How did you become a Sentinel fan?
I read a crossover by Sarah on the slash archive. Highlander/Sentinel. She did a great job of describing the loft, and that's actually why I asked someone to lend me tapes -- I wanted to see what it looked like. I guess that makes me a loft-babe.
What is your favorite episode and why?
I don't think I could narrow it down to just one. The show is a progression -- both characters change so much over the course of the series that there's something important in almost every episode. My knee-jerk response would be Rogue, because I love it when the good guys have to work with the bad guys to save the day. And because Lee Brackett totally rocks. <g> So for *fun* episodes, that would be my pick.
But the episode that ripped my heart out was Night Shift. There was just *so much* in there. There was fear and angst and frank discussion of Jim and Blair's friendship and humor and forgiveness... it hit every single soft spot I have. I loved The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg for many of the same reasons, but Night Shift gets top honors.
How did you start writing Sentinel fan fiction?
I turned on my computer and... Okay, seriously. I'd just finished two *long* stories in Highlander, and frankly I didn't care if I ever saw Duncan or Methos again. Gloria Ainsworth was kind enough to send me tapes, and I was stunned by what I saw. Where was Jim's heavy brow ridge? Where was his stupidity? Where were Blair's glorious raven locks and his ethereal fragility? I'd expected Blair to have this high, breathy voice. <grin> I was very pleasantly surprised by the voice he *does* have, which melts me right down to my toes.
I wanted to write a friendship between two strong, adult men that could be sweet and funny and gentle and tense and real. That they could yell at each other and still care about each other, rely on each other and still be independent.
What was your first story, when did you write it, and what was it like to post your first story?
I think Leaving was my first Sentinel gen story, and I wrote it as soon as I'd seen all the episodes that had been aired up to that point. The summer between second and third season, specifically. Posting it was weird -- I'd been posting Highlander fiction for a while, but that was different. Highlander was a smaller fandom and I knew most of the people in it. When I posted Leaving, it was edited by Highlander friends who were just being supportive of what they saw as a minor episode of lunacy on my part. <g> I was worried about any number of things. Did I get their voices right? Was it too short? Was it boring? I'm always deeply afraid my fiction is boring. I wasn't sure if there should be a hug in there or not -- was a hug going overboard? If I'd known then what I know now. <g> I was playing at the shallow end of the smarm pool.
If you could see any of your stories made into a real episode, which one would you choose?
That would be Heart, hands down. Though I'm not really sure I'd want it to be canon... Actually, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want it to be canon. Heart goes a lot deeper into the Sentinel/Guide mysticism thing than the episodes ever have, and I kind of like the episodes to skirt around the edges. Filling in the blanks, that's the fans' job.
Which story are you most proud of?
Metaphysics, I think. It was a little different from my usual writing style, and a lot of people didn't like it, but it said something about Jim and Blair that I'd been trying to say for quite a while. I didn't write for a long time after I finished and posted Metaphysics, because I just felt like I'd said what I'd come to say. I felt *done*. Thank God for more episodes. <g>
Which character do you most enjoy writing? Which character is the easiest for you to write? Who is your least favorite?
Blair is easiest for me to write, because I've been in a lot of the places Blair has. I was college-girl for a long time, majored in anthropology, got my M.A. Blair's voice and his attitudes are usually right there at my fingertips. Jim's a tougher piece of work, but a lot of fun to write because he's such a snarky guy. They both are. Fun to write *and* snarky, that is.
Least favorite? The bagel girl. She's always seemed *very* suspicious to me.
What genre(s) do you enjoy writing the most?
Drama, case stories, humor. Smarm isn't a word I throw around lightly, because I don't write what most people think of as smarm these days. Whatever I write, my primary focus is on the relationship between Jim and Blair -- and that relationship is built out of drama, case stories, and humor. I really feel like these are two guys who love each other, and I enjoy writing any kind of story that might showcase that.
Who are your beta readers and what do you appreciate most about them?
They are Legion. <g> Nita was the first person who ever beta read for me, in HL as well as in TS. Then there's Kareila, Seah, Tanya, Laura Ammon, Sandy Hereld, Lucy Gillam, Rachael Sabotini, Katharine Scarritt, Renae, Cynthia, Margie Gillis, Beth Hilleman, Emily Brunson, Jo Duffy, Katrina, Nancy, Jenn, Maygra, Tiffany, Ell, Kat Allison...
As sure as I list people, I'm going to leave somebody out. I usually just grab whoever's handy when I'm ready to let the story be seen. I have two or three people shred my stories for me before I send them out, and I'm very lucky in that I have friends who are very good at it and don't let me get away with anything. They have input on every part of the story, and every story is better for it. I can't even comprehend trying to write a story without them. In that sense, writing is very much a partnership for me. There's no way in the world I could do it alone.
Mainly I appreciate their strength, intelligence, skill, and unending capacity for courage in the face of my incessant whining.
The story Leaving is set after Flight and deals with getting Blair doors for his room. Did you feel this event was an important milestone in Jim and Blair's relationship?
Not really. I think I did at the time, but in relation to everything else I tend to think Blair just wanted to be able to change clothes without an audience. <grin> Still, at that point we were kind of hurting for important milestones in canon, and the doors worked.
I do think there was a point in the early part of the series where Jim and Blair crossed a line - from coworkers who liked each other, to real *friends* who needed each other. And I think the doors make a great symbol for that in fan fiction.
You wrote two epilogues to Sentinel Too. What issues did you feel needed the most resolving, and how did that affect the way you wrote your epilogues?
Actually, I wrote three. <g> Whistling in the Dark doesn't actually blip on most radars, though. Hard to take seriously a story where one of the main characters is squishy.
Hm. Okay, I suppose, technically, I wrote four. Kind of scary, now that I think about it.
Things Fall Apart resolved the most important issue for me: Get Blair breathing again. And it was kind of a schmaltz-fest, but I felt like that was warranted given Jim's reactions at the end of the episode.
Metaphysics was the sequel to that, and resolved the second most important issue for me: Get Blair back home where he belongs. I have an absolutely irrational need for Blair to be living at the loft, and I wasn't going to be able to go forward in fiction or in the series until I was sure that would happen. Maybe if Blair hadn't been living there to start with it never would have crossed my mind, but if he'd stayed away after Sentinel Too -- that would've been a distinct milestone all on its own, and one I didn't want to see.
Faith Shines Equal was a Sentinel, Too part 2 epilogue, and my friend Francesca accused me of being unforgivably preachy in that one. She's probably right. I wrote it during the height of the recriminations on one of my discussion lists, when Jim and Blair were both being reviled by different "factions" for their many flaws and praised by other "factions" for their perfect virtue. I've always been a little puzzled by that reaction from other fans, because I figure -- if the guys are okay with each other, who am I to blame either of them for things that go wrong? At the end of S2P2, Blair and Jim both seemed good with each other, and I wanted to say something about the bond I see between them -- a friendship that can encompass screw-ups, anger, fear... and survive all of it stronger than before.
Got a little carried away there, didn't I? <grin> But you asked.
What inspired your two hilarious Domesticity stories, and how did you choose the main "object" in each story?
I'd just moved in with a new housemate when I wrote the first Domesticity story, and we were in that weird, awkward, getting-to-know-you phase. Jennifer could be a blast, and she could be really sweet, but we were completely different people. She was a party-girl and I spent most of my time studying in the Anth grad office. She went out on Friday nights and I stayed in and wrote fan fiction.
It made me think about what that must've been like for Jim and Blair, total strangers forced into such close quarters and not just living together, but working together and *depending* on each other. Willing to like each other, but maybe not quite sure how to go about it. I found a lot of love and humor in the possibilities for them, and just kind of riffed on it.
The toothbrush bit in House Rules just ... happened. I started writing, looked up when I was halfway done with the story and there it was. I had extreme trauma over writing a story that was not only first-person, present-tense, not only first-season, but also centered around Blair's dental insecurities.
I tried really hard to write Domesticity II from Jim's PoV. I tried for *months*. But I couldn't come up with a title and I didn't feel like I was getting the emotional tone right. Finally I ended up scrapping about ten pages of work and starting over from scratch in Blair's PoV and the story wrote itself in about a day. It still bugs me that I couldn't write it from Jim's side. Maybe the next one.
The donuts were a combination of having watched Blind Man's Bluff the night before, and me getting really silly about the title. I'd just recently been forbidden by my beta readers to call a slash story (Water on Stone) by my title of choice (Vampire Waffle Dreams). I wasn't budging on The Infinite Circularity of Donuts.
In The Stepford Guide, Blair begins to act very accommodating toward Jim. Was it easy to write Jim's reaction to this?
Yeah, pretty easy. I had a lot of fun with that. It's not one of my favorite stories, but something about the idea of a perfect Blair freaking Jim out just worked for me. It was also fun writing Blair's part. Blair Sandburg and "compliant" aren't things that just naturally fall together in one's mind.
The Heart Hath Its Reasons is a story in progress which deals with Blair's shamanistic role. In your opinion, how does this role affect Blair's character and his relationship with Jim? Do you have an idea on how long this story will be and are you planning to post the rest of the story soon?
I started writing Heart before Warriors, at the beginning of the summer after 2nd season. I worked on Heart and Leaving concurrently for a while. I spent most of the *end* of that summer worrying incessantly about the rumors that the third season premiere was going to deal with Blair's role as Jim's spiritual guide. "Freaked out" would be a good description. I was really into the story and I didn't want it to become suddenly and irrevocably contradictory to canon. It's an AU, definitely, but in my mind there's a difference between adding to canon and defying it completely. I was thrilled when I saw Warriors, and learned that I could just change a few lines, add something here, polish something there, and still keep the story on track.
In the series, I don't think the shaman thing affected Jim and Blair that much. It certainly set the fandom roaring, though. <g> I like the idea of Blair in a shaman's role a lot, but I'm also glad the series didn't beat us over the head with it. It was more like it gave a different name to something we already knew was going on.
In the story, Blair's role just gets a little more sharply defined. He's not happy with it, and Jim's not thrilled about it either. If I had to sum up Heart in one sentence I'd say it was about two guys in the grip of utter cluelessness trying to solve a mystery and deal with one another's weirdnesses while doing exactly the wrong thing about 95% of the time.
Heart is... no longer in progress. I finished it at the end of January. I'd hoped to have it ready to post by the beginning of March, but obviously I missed that deadline. Right now I'm just working on a rewrite -- evening things out, polishing it up. In a week or so I'll send it off to the beta readers and hopefully, a week or so after that, I can post it. I'm scared to death about it. <g>
You were very involved in the renewal campaign for The Sentinel when it was not renewed for a 4th season. What are your best memories from this campaign? Where do you see the fandom going from here?
I wouldn't say I was *very* involved... mainly I was a cheerleader and talked to a *lot* of reporters. The hard stuff was handled by Kaz and Urs, who were absolutely unstoppable. They were the ones slaving away over a hot website, dealing with the flood of email, and squeezing information out of rocks for the benefit of the fans.
The campaign was definitely an experience. I feel really good about what we as a fandom accomplished, but I also felt like I learned a little *too* much from the process -- about fans and fandom as well as about the nuts and bolts of the TV business. I know Kaz and Urs fielded a lot of bitterness from fans over the course of that "hiatus" as well as a lot of stonewalling from execs, and I was glad to remain on the outskirts of the worst of it.
When we got word that there were going to be 8 more episodes, I was thrilled and relieved and exhausted. I was glad to step down along with Kaz and Urs and pass things off to a new SOS committee. I'm not quite sure at this point what can be accomplished, or even what *should* be accomplished. On the one hand, I'd love to see Jim and Blair on screen again in new episodes, but on the other hand - I really feel like TSbyBS was a good place to end things. I'm satisfied with the way those 8 episodes played out.
With the show no longer in production, there are bound to be changes in the fandom. They started when we saw the writing on the wall after third season. The mailing lists started to splinter, and I think that's a process that's going to continue. About a dozen different specialty archives have sprung up, and again, I think that's not something we're going to see the end of any time soon. In a way I think it's an expression of dissatisfaction, or maybe just boredom - people trying to get closer and closer to what they really want out of fiction and discussion, trying to mainline it instead of cull it from a larger list. What we all really want, I think, is for things not to have changed -- for Jim and Blair to still be on once a week in an all-new episode of The Sentinel. In the absence of that, I think fans are kind of scrambling to get close to whatever it was they liked most about the show. I think things will settle, eventually, and those who can't find what they're looking for will drift away. I'm hoping that will result in a smaller, cozier, more forgiving fandom than we've been in the past.
And there's my dissertation on the Future of TS Fandom.
Compared to the other fandoms you've been involved in, how is the TS fandom different and similar?
TS is more willing to disregard canon -- its importance and, occasionally, its *existence* -- than any other fandom I've played in. I've never seen so many good writers so reluctant to bother with the episodes. It's kind of frustrating at times, because it makes it hard to find the kind of fiction I'm looking for -- but if that's what it takes to make someone happy, so that *they* can enjoy fandom, who am I to interfere?
TS fandom is also more of a *force* than any other fandom I've been in, or even heard of. I've never seen so many people pull together, and work so well together, as we did during the initial SOS campaign. We're organized and we work hard and we give *back* to the fandom -- we're less consumers than participants, and that's something I've always loved about us. <g>
What do you do when your muse takes a vacation?
I go back to the source. The absence of a "muse" more often than not, in my experience, is a metaphor for the absence of connection to the source material. If I can reconnect to who Jim and Blair are, I can hook back in to their voices and motivations and emotions. When I get blocked - I watch episodes.
What is the hardest part about writing for you?
Getting started. It's like exercising. I don't necessarily want to do it, but I know it feels good while I am doing it and I know I'll feel better once I'm done. Still, it's a struggle to apply the seat of my pants to a chair and actually *write* something. There are usually about fifteen different things I'd rather be doing than writing -- right up until I actually start putting the words on the page.
What is the most satisfying part of writing for you?
Getting it right, and getting it finished. When I feel like I've said what I came to say - there's no feeling on earth like that.
What are your feelings on story feedback?
There should be more of it. And people should forgive me for not always answering it, I feel *very* strongly about that. <grin> Every letter I get makes me feel like I've done a good thing, and I keep them to read over and over when I start to feel like my writing-mechanism is hopelessly damaged. Which is fairly often - my insecurities, like my beta readers, are Legion.
Do you have any advice for new TS fan fiction writers?
Watch the show. Watch the show. And when you think you know the guys -- watch the show some more. The show is *good*. And when you're done even if you're not happy with everything you know, at least you got to look at Richard and Garrett for a while.
What was the first piece of fan fiction you ever wrote?
A funny little Highlander piece reconciling the movies and the series. Sort of. Last Call.
Are there particular kinds of Sentinel fanfic stories that you especially enjoy reading?
I get a thrill out of missing scenes. I'm not sure why. I think part of it is learning how other writers are thinking about the episodes, what they're getting out of it.
I love anything that builds the guys' natural low-key humor into it. And anything that captures their utter snarkiness. =)
What is it about The Sentinel that inspires you to write?
The fact that these guys just purely *like* each other. They're friends and they're out to save the city and I just think that's deeply cool. There are *so* many shows on TV that are all about people being mean to each other and slamming each other and just basically being amusing at the expense of others -- TS is a breath of fresh air.
What do you believe are The Sentinel's greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses as a series?
Strength - the actors, the emotional depth they brought to the characters, what they did with the scripts - I think TS had this fantastic collaboration of talent between the cast and the writers that made Jim and Blair and Simon *live*. The only place they fall down is the actual *plotting*. The characterization, contradictory as it may seem at times, really works for me. These people have *relationships* down pat.
Do you find yourself identifying more with Jim or Blair?
Honestly, that's not a question I tend to ask myself. They're them, I'm me. I guess since I'm an anthropologist most people would expect me to identify with Blair - but trust me: If anybody ever took a shot at me on the job, I'd scream like a wet cat and call my union.
If you were given the opportunity to write an episode of The Sentinel, what story would you like to tell?
I'd bring Lee Brackett back for Round 2. What a fantastic bad guy...
What one story do you think people will always remember you for?
I would guess Heart. It's certainly been *in progress* long enough. <g>
Can you tell us what stories you have in the works right now?
Lots of different things. I've got a one story that's meant to be pure episodic case drama, dealing peripherally with Blair's dissatisfaction with a "having is not always as good as wanting" reaction to his sudden detective-ship. I've got one murder-mystery springing directly from the events of TSbyBS and picking up on some of the threads in that episode I'd like to see fleshed out. There's the third Domesticity story, a funny riff on Jim having the flu, another murder mystery involving a trip to sunny California and some Jim/Stephen angst...
And then on the entirely silly side, I'm also working sporadically on a Sentinel/Call of Cthulhu crossover.
On the slash side of things I have a zine story in the works that's about 50 pages and counting and currently ruining my life. But in a *fun* way. <g>
Writing is never a problem. Finishing...
Finishing is a challenge.
Last updated 3/19/00 clc