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StarWatcher

StarWatcher is prominent in the genre of fan-fiction known as 'Slice of Life', through her wide variety of feel-good stories highlighting friendship themes (see her page here, at CL). However, many may not be as familiar with her case/action stories. There are even a couple of AU's in which a much younger sentinel meets his future guide, and one where a soldier protects a grad student. With forty-plus stories behind her, StarWatcher has also been a long-time observer of TS fandom and provides an award-winning listing of resources to help guide fans through a vast network of participants. (archivist's note: author email found at author's page.)

I. Who are you?

Do you use a pen name? If so, why, and how did you decide on the one you use? Do you have more than one pen name?

I write as StarWatcher, and use it by preference. If that name is already in use on a list or a site (there's another one out there who's not me), I use StarWatcher307 (for Jim's loft address). When I needed an internet ID, I was pretty clueless -- had been watching the Highlander forum (my first entry into net fandom) for about three days, and realized I needed a 'screen name'. I didn't intend to write, but 'everybody else' had a net-ID; I think I believed it was a 'rule' for interacting on the internet. (I was *very* new.) Anyway, I live outside city limits, so see a lot of stars if I go out after dark. I don't know much about them, but I do like to look up and contemplate the majesty of the universe. And, I was watching 'stars' such as Adrian Paul and Peter Wingfield on TV. Shortly thereafter, I was watching new stars -- Richard Burgi, Garett Maggart, and Bruce A Young. Somehow, 'StarWatcher' just seemed appropriate.

Would you tell us where you live?

I live on the 'high plains' of southeast New Mexico -- lots of open land, flat, dry, dusty, and usually hot. The two closest towns are small -- populations of 30,000 and 10,000; 'big city' shopping is two hours away. (Around here, we measure distance in time it takes to get there.) It's very isolated in terms of fandom; if it wasn't for the internet, I wouldn't know any other fans, or have learned about fan fiction, or anything.

Would you tell us a little about your life?

I'm the eldest of five children, two years between each, so I grew up with considerable responsibility for my younger siblings, and fairly independent. Money was tight, and I learned to 'make do' with substitutes and/or fix things myself from watching my parents. I think that shows in my stories -- most of the characters can do whatever they turn their hand to; it may not be done elegantly, or 'properly', but it gets done!

Now I'm a speech therapist in the local public school; mid-50's, single, with no children. I own two horses on five acres, and I feed a lot of the local wildlife -- birds, feral cats, skunks. I'm a middlin'-fair handyman, and do a lot of the upkeep around the place myself -- fences, water pipes, etc. -- when I can tear myself away from the internet. I take lots of pictures of whatever will hold still -- animals, flowers, sunsets -- but not people very often; it seems a bit intrusive. Give me a camera and put me outdoors, and I can entertain myself for many hours.

II. When and how did you become a TS fan?

I was reading a favorite author in the Highlander fandom, and one of her series was a crossover with The Sentinel. At the same time, the Sci-Fi channel was in its first round (I think) of syndicated showings. I tuned in to learn more about these 'new guys' -- Jim and Blair -- and fell in love.

When did you first see or hear about The Sentinel?

See above. I think it was maybe... 2000? 2001? I hadn't seen TS earlier because I was limited to antenna and didn't get UPN. The SciFi channel was one of the perks of investing in a small rooftop satellite dish. I bought the dish and service to watch Highlander, and was seduced by The Sentinel.

Why did you decide to write fan fiction about these characters? Had you read other authors and stories that introduced you to the series and/or fan fiction?

I was introduced to fanfic in the HL fandom. After an initial distrust when I first heard about fanfic -- how could non-professionals write anything good? -- I was blown away by the variety of stories and quality of writing. I've always preferred reading about characters I already 'know', so was delighted to find 'continuing adventures' of Duncan, Methos, et al. So, yes, I'd read many authors who introduced me to the concept of fanfiction, but it never occurred to me that I might try to write.

When I crossed into TS fandom, I read a lot of fanfic, but couldn't find the kind of discussion forum I knew from HL. But I *ached* to discuss these characters -- and the shows I was seeing -- with other people. All I could find were Yahoo mailing lists. I chose Sentinel Angst because I recognized Dawn C's name as an author I liked, though the expectation for dues made me flinch. I was so sure I couldn't write that I planned to unsub when my first dues were needed. But, lo and behold, an idea occurred to me. And then another, and then another. Now, working on fic #43, I'm still amazed when an idea hits me and I can develop it into a story.

(Oddly enough, my 'Best Friend Forever' had been urging me for years to write my own fanfic. I occasionally printed some good ones and shared them with her and, while she enjoyed the stories, she was absolutely sure I could write as well or better. I thought she might be just a wee bit prejudiced, and kept protesting that, no, I couldn't possibly write. She feels totally vindicated, now.)

Many fanfic authors tell us they've been writing fanfiction since childhood, before they knew what it was, or that other people did the same thing. That wasn't me; I'd never written (except for a few school exercises) before TS, and never felt an urge to do so. But now, as another fan once expressed it, 'Jim and Blair sing to me'. I have no interest in developing my own characters, or writing in other fandoms. As well as I 'know' other characters -- I currently read in three other fandoms, and dabble in several more -- they don't 'speak' to me; it's Jim and Blair all the way.

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

I've thought about this a lot. On the surface, TS is a 'buddy show', and there are many examples of the genre, from Star Trek and I Spy through Miami Vice and Due South; why does one resonate with a viewer more than the others? In the case of TS, I think it's the deep connection between Jim and Blair, despite their apparent DIS-similarities. No matter the surface tensions or temporary irritations with each other, underneath is a rock-solid certainty that each will be there for the other, regardless of circumstances or consequences. (Well, except for a few canon 'blips', which fanfiction can so beautifully fix.) I think we all wish we had such a deep connection with some special person but, since it's extremely rare, we live it vicariously through Jim and Blair.

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

My favorite thing is to see Jim and Blair solving problems together -- personal or professional -- and coming out the other side with the friendship and connection firmly in place. And I want a happy ending, or at least one that's open to lead to a happy ending. Fortunately, TS has a huge number of excellent writers who provide those types of stories. I've spent many a happy hour with such talent as D.L. Witherspoon, LKY, DawnC, JET, Jael Lyn, Arianna, Dasha, Emerald, Kikkimax, Jess Riley, Rimilod, Shedoc, Tapu, Trishbsc... There really is no end to the list, because new talent (that I don't always have time to read right away) keeps appearing.

It has been ten years since the television show has gone off the air. What are your impressions of the current state of the fandom?

Still going strong, but at a lower flame. Kind of like, when you fall in love, everything's fireworks. Then, after you've been married a few years, everything's slower-paced, like sitting together in front of the fire in the fireplace. Not as many new stories hit the archives as when TS was fresh and exciting, but there's still a steady stream, and new fans dipping their toes into the water. It can be a little more difficult for new fans to connect with others if they want to discuss the show but, once they find a list or the right LJ or someone to point them in the right direction, they'll find others who are happy to keep discussing the ins and outs, ups and downs, of our favorite TV guys.

You are certainly a contributor to the long running nature of TS fandom. How did you select the resources to post on your LJ (here)? What do you think a new fan needs in order to begin participating in the community?

I am? I don't feel that I do anything 'special'; keeping on with the fandom is as natural as eating or sleeping. As for posting to LJ -- I use a lot of emphasis (italics) in my writing, and I want it to be represented on the page, but the Cascade Librarians simply don't have time to code all the stories they receive. When I realized that LiveJournal would allow me to control the presentation of my story -- and fix any typos that I discover later -- I grabbed the opportunity. In my mind, my stories are a gift to fandom, and I want them to remain even if I'm no longer around. To that end, another fan (younger, and more net-savvy than I) has agreed to be 'Keeper of StarWatcher's Words'. If necessary, she'll 'harvest' my stories from one site, and put them on another for safekeeping. I'll keep making announcements here at Cascade Library; it's an invaluable resource for gen readers.

I'm pretty laissez-faire, in mundane life as in fandom; I don't think a fan 'needs' to do anything to participate except have an interest, which she can express as the spirit moves her. She can write, draw, offer opinions in discussions, make music-vids, ask questions for others to discuss, read, send feedback, whatever. Even if she 'just' reads, the numbers counters on the reading sites go higher, proving that there is still an interest in the fandom.

III. About being a writer...?

Why do you write?

Usually, it's because I need dues. Truthfully, that's why I stay subbed to Sentinel Angst list; the dues requirement is frequently the goad I need to start a new story. Once I'm writing, I thoroughly enjoy the process. I'm a 'seat-of-the-pants' writer; I seldom know what will happen next until my fingers are poised over the keyboard. So writing is an adventure and a voyage of discovery, and totally engrossing while I'm creating. But, once a story is finished, I don't have much of a drive to start a new one -- there's schoolwork, and housework, and yard-work, and horse-work, and the internet as a distraction, and, and, and... It's always too easy to justify waiting to start the next story for a few more days. Writing is fun, and it's thrilling to watch a new story grow from my imagination, but I tend to forget that between stories. If it wasn't for needing dues, I wouldn't have half the number of stories written.

What was the first story you wrote, and how did it feel to first place it into the public eye? Do you write in other fandoms besides TS?

My first story was "Glorified Calisthenics", which was half muse-driven; I wrote it in just three extended writing sessions, and was completely surprised that it was coming together for me. I didn't know anyone well enough to ask them to beta, so I was nervous about posting. But I reassured myself that Sentinel Angst was a private list, so it wouldn't be so bad if the story wasn't up to par; 'not too many' people would see. (I conveniently ignored the actual number of list-members.) But the story was received so enthusiastically -- SentinelAngst is a very supportive list to new writers -- that a few weeks later I submitted it to Cascade Library.

I read fanfic for other shows -- Stargate Atlantis, Due South, Stargate SG-1, Starskey and Hutch -- mostly by specific authors. I like these characters, and I've actually felt the urge to write a little 'team' SGA. But every time I contemplate actually writing, the muse remains stubbornly silent. Jim's and Blair's voices are the only ones I hear in my head; I guess they're stuck with me, and vice-versa.

What do you think/hope readers most appreciate in your stories? Your 'Letter' series won an LMFA despite being unusual in the fact that the characters are apart for much of the series.

I think (hope!) they appreciate that I try to make both Jim and Blair 'real' -- one man's behavior is not downgraded or improved to make 'points' off the other. On the other hand, I admit that I have rose-colored glasses firmly in place when I write The Sentinel; both men are a little more caring and connected than canon showed us. But as long as I do it equally to both guys, I guess my readers don't mind!

As for the 'Letter' series -- I was blown away by fandom's reaction. People *kept* nominating it until it won! (It didn't win until the third year, if I remember correctly.) Perhaps the key to its popularity is that, even though Jim and Blair were physically apart, they were still very much invested in each other.

I also think there's a lot of low-level resentment in fandom, against the way Jim treated Blair in TSbyBS; there have been so *many* 'fixes' written for the holes left, and for the disconnect between Jim and Blair. In my particular fix, Blair confronted the mixed messages he'd been getting from Jim and dealt with them, and he and Jim both learned something about themselves and each other. Blair realized that his position was different from but equal to Jim's, and Jim recognized that and accepted it. I think that really resonates with the readers, maybe because they subconsciously fear that an unequal relationship will eventually fall apart, and we all want to see the guys stay together as partners and friends.

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

I learned to write from voracious reading as a child. Since those books were usually third-person narrator, most of my stories follow the same pattern. I try to 'narrate' from one person's POV at a time -- the 'narrator' as focused on Jim or Blair -- but it's tricky; the other person's POV can sneak in if I'm not careful. Jim and Blair are so closely connected that sometimes it's hard to let one have the spotlight without the other pushing in. I use a scene break to switch if I can't tell the story from one POV, and there are usually quite a few; each man wants his POV noticed. I'm not super-comfortable writing in first-person; in most cases, it seems too intimate for the type of story I'm telling. I have only three first-person stories, and they insisted on being told that way.

You say the story 'insisted'. Aren't you, as the writer, in control?

Usually in control of the details, but not always in control of the ideas. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes the muse jumps in and pulls me in directions I never considered. "Letter to Blair" was totally muse-driven; I swear I heard Jim's voice speaking to me, and I had trouble typing fast enough to keep up with him. "Moving Forward" was going to be a short story -- Blair would get Jim's letter, email him with the decision to come home, and Jim would drive down to pick up Blair at the ranch. But, when Blair read Jim's letter, he got angry -- and I had written five or six paragraphs very quickly before I even realized what I was doing. I almost deleted them; that wasn't at all how I'd intended the story to go. But I decided to let it play out from there and see what happened. Similarly, the wolf in "One Bright Summer" was going to be only a walk-on; Blair would see her once or twice, no big deal. The muse decided the relationship between the wolf and Blair was much more important and involved, and led to the whole rescue scenario.

Sometimes it's actually spooky -- an internal drive insisting, "Write this scene. Write it *now*! Write it *this way*!" Those are the times when I don't write linearly, as I usually do; one particular part of the story wants to be written IMMEDIATELY. Once that's finished satisfactorily, I have to fill in the large gap in the storyline and work up to that part. The wolf's rescue in "One Bright Summer", Blair's 'purification ceremony' in "Moving Forward", and Blair's meeting with Amelia in "Misty Solitudes" were all written before I'd actually reached that point in the story. Fortunately, my muse is usually more restrained; she simply nudges gently, and allows me to wait until the weekend when I can make or steal time for writing.

Have you ever had a writing coach?

Not as such, though I turn to Arianna and Jess Riley if I'm stuck or need advice; having someone who'll give you 'the straight poop' is invaluable. I think it helps that I did start writing so late; I'd seen enough meta -- starting in the HL forum, and continuing in various Yahoo groups -- about the qualities of good and bad writing to know what to strive for, and what to avoid. I also think my preferred 'slice-of-life' style doesn't need much coaching; if the story doesn't have a deep, involved plot, there's not a lot to get tangled up and need fixing.

You are extremely active in beta work for many authors. Do you, yourself, work with a beta? Why or why not? What is your process for determining when your story is ready for posting?

It depends on length of story and time constraints. If it's one of my longer stories, I'll definitely ask Arianna and Jess for their input before I post; usually they point out something I've glossed over, or left unclear. If it's a shorter story, and/or I'm already a week past my dues date for Sentinel Angst, I'll post first and check with them later. I figure the shorter stories simply don't have enough 'plot' to develop 'holes'. I self-beta as I write (can't turn it off) and, if I don't send it to beta, I read/check it rigorously before I post. And then my BFF likes me to read my new stories aloud to her, which is an excellent exercise for noting dropped words, awkward phrasing, wandering POV, or shaky conclusions. If I read to her before posting, I know my story's as clean as I can make it. If I read to her after posting, and find something I missed in my own read-through... that's the nice thing about posting where I control the presentation; I can always go back and fix it. Just last week I found 'twenty-fours' instead of 'twenty-four hours' in a story that's been up for a *year*! But it's fixed now.

We all know that canon oriented 'Day in the Life' stories are a major theme in your stories. How comfortable are you in other genres of TS fiction including AU, case and action, drama, humor, horror, smarm, and hurt/comfort?

I write mostly 'slice of life' because that's just how I see the guys -- 'there' for each other, with a rock-solid friendship that may be temporarily shaken, but never broken. Of course, that friendship can shine through in any of the genres, and bits of angst, humor, or h/c might creep in to help flesh out my story; those are also parts of life. But I don't seek out specific genres to write, and have difficulty drawing the lines. Some people have called "One Bright Summer" an AU, for instance, but to me it's just part of the 'backstory' of Jim and Blair. Since the lines are vague for me, it's hard to say, "Oh, I'm going to write a big h/c piece." But I can add h/c when the story needs that emotional involvement, or humor, or angst. I won't say I'll 'never' write a particular genre; who knows what the muse might lead me to write next? Even though I'm not doing it now, I can contemplate writing anything -- except horror. I can't even read it easily; I can't imagine trying to write a horror story.

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

*IS* there a completely new AU that hasn't already been written? I think one of the best things about the sentinel idea -- a person who has heightened senses, who uses them to 'protect the tribe', who needs a companion/backup for improved control -- is that it's applicable to any time of the past or future. If such a thing were real, there would have been sentinels in ancient Greece and Rome, among the indigenous peoples across the world, in the days of King Arthur, in the Old West, on other planets and in other galaxies... I can't think of a time or place where sentinels couldn't logically be part of the world. My AU would demand that the rock-solid friendship and life-connection continue; everything else is negotiable.

Which among your own works is your favorite and why?

That's a toughie, and tends to vary with my mood. But I do prefer my longer stories, with a stronger nod toward "One Bright Summer" or "The Misty Solitudes" or "Windsong", each for a different reason. I like 'Summer' because I still get a kick out of child!Blair. I swing toward 'Solitudes' because it was an idea I'd contemplated for a number of years and I really feel I made it work, and tied it together well with the poem that instigated it. And 'Windsong' for the same reason and, hey! it was *my* poem!

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

That's even tougher. Sometimes when I think about my earliest stories, or some of the very short ones, I feel kind of embarrassed. But when I look at them, they're adequate stories, with nothing major that's technically wrong, so I don't know why I have that reaction. The subconscious is a strange creature; maybe mine has fallen prey to the expectation that early stories must, by definition, be of poor quality. Anyway, I've had no real urge to revise... mostly because they're so short, there's nothing TO revise! If I'm reposting, I may change an awkward wording, or substitute a synonym for an overused word, but there are no changes to the storyline.

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

I used to wish I could write 'really long' stories; now that some of them fit that definition, I realize that at least the shorter stories were finished more quickly! And I used to wish I could write a solid case-driven story; now that I've approached that with "All that Glitters", I've discovered how *hard* that is. (I think it's a generalized writer's quirk; many of us tend to see 'some other kind' of story as better than what we're writing now.) But much of my discontent may have been because, for the longest time, I felt I wasn't writing 'real' stories; they didn't fit into any of the recognized genres. When someone coined the designation 'Day in the Life', it was as if my stories became legitimate; 'Day in the Life' wasn't even a category in the first LMFAs. Now that I have a recognized 'niche', a lot of my writing frustration has disappeared; I enjoy focusing on the solid friendship between Jim and Blair. Lately, I've printed out some of my stories for non-fandom friends who have expressed an interest. I'll look it over and find myself drawn in and captured. It's almost as if the story belongs to someone else; I'll think, "Damn! That's pretty good!"

If I thought I could, I'd really like to write a long, involved crossover series, like Arianna's "SG-22" series, or Cindy Combs' "MacGyver" series, preferably with Stargate Atlantis. More practice and/or time might help (I can retire in eight years), but I think mostly it's having the guts to tackle it -- and I don't. Yet. (Never say 'never'.)

You showcased two interesting OCs in your story, "All that Glitters". Why did you decide to create them as a central part of a story? Do you find creating an OC challenging?

I offered a story for Moonridge, and the winning bidder wanted to see more of Blair at the University, in the early days when the relationship between Jim and Blair was new. Working at the university, Blair needed someone to interact with; students were the natural choice. My deep, dark secret is that they're not completely original; they're me (shy, but practical and capable) and my BFF (outgoing and enthusiastic, but handicapped), if we'd known each other back then. I tried very hard to make them realistic, although I didn't intend them to carry so much of the story. On the other hand, we can tell a lot about a person by watching how he interacts with others; Blair treating Desiree as capable of making her own choices -- to participate in the dig -- and trying to encourage the shy Summer, and taking her seriously when she reported her misgivings about her boyfriend, gives insights into his personality. (I hope!) But also, we needed to see the girls' lives, and how they intersected with the bad guys on one end, and Jim and Blair on the other, to pull it all together for Jim and Blair to solve the case. As in so much of my writing, the happenings mostly grew from the needs of the story.

I focus so much on Jim and Blair that I don't use a lot of OCs; a quick count shows just under one-third of my stories so far. Most of them are created just to move the story along, and it can indeed be a bit challenging. I need to let readers know what kind of person this is, and make them 'human' without being either too 'good' (sweet, smart, capable, understanding) or too 'bad' (stupid, bumbling, irritating, unpleasant) to be believable. It's a kind of balancing act, always with the underlying fear that people will see the character as a 'Mary Sue'. And then, just when I think I have a handle on the OC, they'll demand more of the story (such as Wolfie in "One Bright Summer"), or to have their say. I had no idea that Amelia Featherstone in "Misty Solitudes" was a guide waiting for her sentinel until she told me.

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

I'm always thrilled to get any kind of feedback. I know how busy people's lives are; the fact that they enjoyed my story well enough to take time to send a note is a major ego-boost. I save each piece of feedback in a document next to the story document, in case I ever feel the need for extra validation.

I welcome concrit -- I'm always interested in improving my writing -- but I don't get much. Again, I think there isn't a lot of scope for it in my short, slice-of-life stories. If someone does make a suggestion, I'll consider it seriously, and I've made a few after-posting changes based on observations that pointed out what I'd overlooked. But if I think the integrity of the story would be changed, I leave it as is. For good or bad, it's my vision I'm presenting to the world, and I need to be true to myself, and to the characters as I see them.

What advice would you offer to new writers?

"And this above all: to thine own self be true." Uh, wait, that was somebody else, wasn't it? But, really -- if you're writing, that's the main thing. Let your psyche tell you what method / genre / style / etc. works for you. If you're comfortable, the rest will come. You can ask questions, read writing meta, get advice from friends and other fans, find a good beta, but if you're not comfortable, I don't believe it'll pull together. And don't overlook the internet -- the greatest research tool, ever, right at our fingertips. It's given me everything from names for exotic flavors of coffee to the knowledge that a native American 'Sun Dance' was not intended to bring the sun. On the other hand, if the information isn't available, don't be afraid to use your imagination to build on the facts you have. This is *fiction*, after all; your goal is to entertain, not to produce a scholarly text. Most of all, have fun with it; life is too short to force yourself into something that doesn't move you.

Your story themes certainly remind us to celebrate the 'everyday' experiences as well as the adventurous ones presented in TS fan-fic. Thanks, StarWatcher!


Last updated 5/24/09 igr