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Two muses, many stories
Talk about inspired! When it comes to sheer numbers of stories, TAE (Tonie Eaton) is by far the most prolific writer of The Sentinel general fan fiction on the web. TAE's Cascade Library story listing is the longest one at this site, and at the time of this interview lists 80 separate pieces of fiction. This author's first Sentinel story, Black and Blue Monday, was published at Wolfpup's Den in January 1998. Since then, she has become a favorite author of many readers. Her stories are now located at her own website, TAE's Serendipity Station.
TAE's writing reflects the time and care she's dedicated to developing several original characters who augment those of Jim, Blair, and Simon. Additionally, she has developed the minor character of Joel Taggert into one of depth -- a person with a family and background. TAE has also written several crossovers with the show Due South, drawing parallels between the characters of Fraser and Jim Ellison.
Read on to find out what TAE has to say when we ask her how she manages to write so many stories! :-)
Thank you, TAE, for taking time to chat with us!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I'm one of those infamous Government employees. I currently work for the US Air Force (as a civilian) at a base in California that will be closing by 1 July 2001. I've accepted the offer to follow my job to Hill AFB, in Ogden, Utah. That's going to be quite a change from the city with the second largest number of trees (on earth, Paris, France is number one) to a high-desert environment. And it's a *Loooooong* way from the ocean. Sigh. (I'll miss body surfing. I may take up sailing again, though.)
Anyway, I'm a baby-boomer, the youngest of four. My parents were old enough to be my grandparents, and my paternal grandfather was born in 1865, and his wife was born in 1862 (He died when my father was 2, and I barely remember her, only that she was *very* old, and cranky). Anyway, because of this, my upbringing was very different from my contemporaries. I was raised to say 'sir' and 'ma'am'; to never call anyone by their first name unless invited (if I'm introduced by first names, that's enough); and tend to be rather formal amongst strangers. Not so, however, with friends. I have a rather dry, ironic sense of humor; fairly quiet, but when I play a practical joke, it's remembered.
What else do you enjoy doing besides writing TS fan fiction?
My other interests include horses (I own three) and riding. My vacation is my annual (well, last year was cancelled because of El Nino) Wagon Train (which this year will be two, because most of the various trains are gathering at Camanche Lake for a trek to the Port of Stockton to meet a tall ship for the Sesquicentennial of the gold rush). I also do ceramics, draw a little, read voraciously, and love to fly my pocket kite. I also am owned by a parrot, a cat and a shepherd/husky/wolf mix.
How did you become a Sentinel fan?
I first got on the net in August 1997. I was surfing one day and found a Quantum Leap site. I then discoverd fan fiction. Then I found a Due South site. Then I discovered slash (:-0). Then I found a crossover with The Sentinel. Then I found The Sentinel fan fiction. Like so many others, one of the first authors I read was Kris Williams. Can we say 'hooked'? Then I found Wolfpup's Den and Guide Posts. I kept missing actually seeing the show (I don't watch a lot of TV, well, broadcast TV, anyway). I finally managed to watch an episode [His Brother's Keeper]... I was so embarrassed that I had to leave the room several times. Having horses and riding, I tend to be, well, rather critical, shall we say, when it comes to horseback scenes on film. I've learned to not mind when a horse changes color, markings, size, breed, etc (well, not much. When I went with another horsey friend to see The Horse Whisperer, I said that they had at least four horses playing the one needing help, but that there may have been five...there were five). But I hate it when they combine that with bad special effects and obvious continuity glitches (when Jim rides the horse, the saddle changes from a racing saddle with short stirrups to an all purpose English saddle with long stirrups). They didn't even bother to teach the actor (RB) how to pretend to be riding a horse for the blue screen.<shudder> Despite this, the story was good, and it was obvious that the guys (all the guys) really like each other off-screen, because of how well it came across on-screen. The next week, they showed Warriors and I was hooked for good.
What is your favorite Sentinel episode and why?
I'm not going to choose, because I still haven't seen them all. I guess I would probably say Siege, but only because of Joel. ;)
How did you start writing Sentinel fan fiction?
Well, I had read everything at Guide Posts. Including some very immature stuff (MarySues) that left me cringing. Here I need to apologise to a lot of good writers out there. I can't stare at the computer for the amount of time it takes to read a story, so I generally print out the longer ones (over 20K) and read them in bed at night. I frequently read a really great story, but won't ever get around to sending an LoC, because by the time I'm back on the computer, I've forgotten. So, to everyone who has ever written a fic, thank you. Anyway, like so many before me, I decided that I could write a better story than the MarySue I had just read.
Black and Blue Monday only took me about two hours to write, but about three weeks to finally realize that I could refine and rewrite it until the second coming and still not finish it. So, taking my courage in both fists, I emailed Wolfpup and asked if she had room for another writer. She said 'yes'. Of course, at the time, neither of us expected that I would turn out to be quite so prolific. I'm approaching 80 stories at the moment. I asked her what she'd give me for the 100 story mark, she has to think about it. Of course, all those stories have wreaked havoc with her pages. I keep crowding them out and even crashed it once.
When did you write your first story?
January, 1998. I had started a TS/Due South crossover in August 1997, right after I had discovered fanfic. However, it didn't get finished for quite a long time.
What was it like to post your first story?
I was terrified. I had very little experience (OK, NO experience) with writing (well, not since high school, which isn't the same thing) any kind of fiction. When I got my first LoC, it was such a nice one, that I heaved a big sigh of relief and immediately wrote another story, and then another, and then yet another... It's true, what they say about if you give a writer encouragement that they write more.
If you could see any of your stories made into a real episode, which one would you choose?
Oh, wow. There are several, actually. Hmmm. Only one, eh... OK, Hero du Jour - Blair. I think that one would make a really good episode. Start it with the news conference and do it in flashback. Lots of angst, lots of scary stuff/danger. Blair gets to be the hero, the rest of the guys get to look big and strong. Jim in kevlar... oh, yeah.
Which character do you most enjoy writing?
Gee, that's an easy one. Joel Taggart. ;) There isn't a lot about him in canon, so I just took my fovorite real-life policeman, who happened to have been the head of LAPD's bomb squad, and wrote him. Even to the point of taking some of his real cases and fictionalizing them.
What genre(s) do you enjoy writing the most?
I like taking real cases and fictionalizing them. I also like to do smarm (rather obvious, eh), or what I call 'fluff'. I really like to do character studies. I try to keep it light, with a lot of humor, and I've done quite a few crossovers. I generally like it all, whatever the muses bash, I guess. I'm not really in control, most of the time.
Who are your beta readers and what do you appreciate most about them?
I seldom use a beta. I have had Daydreamer beta once (who did a great job), and I'm currently writing a story with a collaborator, actually. Danawheels is helping me write my latest Hero du Jour, one in which Mable (Joel's wife in my universe) enters a 10K race for charity and all the hassles resulting from it.
You have a number of original characters in your stories. Who is your favorite, and how do they affect your writing?
Well, I'd be lying if I didn't say Mable. I know that there are some folks out there who hate all original characters, but canon has so few opportunities for any 'real' female characters and the guys are all 'guys' (Megan's still too new and not used all that much). I decided to take a minor character and give him a family. Joel was perfect. She's based on a couple of real people, my grandmother and my foster mother. The first was the consummate lady, upper-class all the way, the second was one of the world's greatest nurturers. That became Mable. I've used her as sort of a 'den mother' to the guys. Allowing them to break down a little, to get some mothering, I suppose. She's strong and capable and provides (in my opinion) some counterpoint to the macho-heavy atmosphere. And no, she's nothing like me. She's simply an older lady who has seen a lot and learned to deal with it. She and her husband have raised their family and have managed to stay together for thirty years. Something rare anywhere in real life, and even more rare in the world of the policeman.
What's your take on Jim's relationships with his family (father and brother)?
It's strained, to say the least. My intrepretation from canon is that all he ever really wanted was to have his father tell him he loved him, that he did good. Only to have been always told that he needed to be a man, to grow up, to be responsible, to not be a freak, to conform. William used his sons as weapons against each other. Jim remembers his childhood with hurt and bitterness, which he still holds against his father and brother. In His Brother's Keeper, he was so ready to believe that his brother was a bad guy, but at the same time, he wanted to protect him -- very difficult. The look in his eyes when he figured out that Steven *wasn't* the bad guy -- priceless. I wish they had handled the reeconciliation a little better, though. And that they had Steven back for an episode or two. In Remembrance, the look on Jim's face when he was going through the scrapbooks...the realization that his father *did* love him, enough to keep scrapbooks on him, everything ever published...if only he had ever said anything... Oh, yeah. Lots of angst and tons of material there.
Your Hero du Jour series is a favorite of many readers. What inspired you to write it?
Oddly enough, it was the local news. Every evening, they used to end the news with a 'happy' story. Usually just a little fluff to end on a bright note. Added to that the Reader's Digest's 'Heros for Today' articles. foomp. Hero du Jour.
How about your Team Building series?
I believe it was suggested by a reader who gave me the challenge.
You've developed the character of Joel Taggert in depth in quite a few stories. What draws you to his character and what's your take on him?
As I said earlier, my favorite retired cop was the head of LAPD's bomb squad. He was also one of my college professors. I just took the real person and wrote him as Joel, *improving* and combining facets to make him the way I see him. Oddly enough, I've since discovered that much of what I decided was Joel also fits Ken Earl, the actor who portrays him. Talk about a thrill!
You have a few Due South/Sentinel crossovers. What prompted you to choose Due South?
Well, I was a Due South fan, first. When I first got on the net, I quickly discovered that there was going to be a new season of the show. One of the things I noticed was that David Marciano had other commitments which precluded his return. I was disappointed, to say the least. However, several folks on the list were saying 'I don't care how good he is, I'm going to hate the new guy' without ever even having seen him act. One of the precepts of my upbringing was to root for the underdog. When I heard about the way people snubbed Callum Keith Rennie at the convention in Toronto, I decided that he'd have to be really, really bad for me to dislike him. I needn't have worried. He was wonderful. Took a little getting used to, but I found his character to be very compelling. It was a natural to cross the two series. Particularly since Due South canon shows Fraser to have at least three enhanced senses (hearing, smell, and taste), so it wasn't too much of a stretch to make him another sentinel.
Blair has become a detective in the police force in some of your stories. Is this something you'd like to see on the show, and how would you like to see it done?
Even before the Rally announced spoilers for The Sentinel, by Blair Sandburg, I thought it to be almost inevitable. He has spent three years as an unpaid cop, tagging along and backing up his partner. There have been actual instances of this sort of thing happening (although not in a very long time). It only seems fair to grant him the pay and the shield -- he's already doing the work.
For them to do it on the show, I'd like it to be offered and accepted as being the right thing to do. I'd also like to see him get that PhD, even if it's based on his 'alternate' thesis. I do NOT want him to lose his academic credentials and be given the badge as a sop to ease their consciences for losing everything he's worked so hard for. I like fairness in my fiction, not reality.
Okay, now for the big question -- *how* do you manage to write so prolifically? <g>
Oh, boy. Well... I don't dream, usually (I know, that's a sure sign of psychosis). Before I started writing, I'd wake up between two-thirty and three and spend an hour to an hour and a half unable to get back to sleep. Once I started writing, I'd use that time to plot stories. I generally tend to work on only one story at a time, except when I'm working on a long one, then I'll possibly write several shorter ones during the 'simmering' for the longer one. I'm currently working on three, actively, with one on tape that I need to put to disk (a new thing, Tonya asked for some background on one of the things I mentioned in a story, and I went to bed, couldn't sleep and simply recorded it). I have ideas for a couple more, providing I don't forget them while working on the others.
I generally begin with a single scene or conversation. From that I build the rest of the story. I have two muses, Sweetness and Light, and Dark and Gloomy. I give control over to them when I write. It's amazing how my typing speed and accuracy has improved since I started writing. When 'in the zone' of writing, I can type close to 100 words per minute, to the point where my fingers actually keep up with the muses. It seems to come from the muses to the fingers, bypassing the rest of me. When I finish a story, I have to read it myself, as I can't remember what I wrote. I can't even remember which story is which, for a lot of them. When I'm proofreading them, I try to 'hear' the dialogue, often reading it out loud to decide if it's correct. I also 'see' the action, the movements of the characters (One of the things about being ambidextrous is that both halves of the brain communicate, allowing the left brain [audio] and the right brain [visual] to work together). While the story unfolds, I try to watch it as though it's an episode, but then I do that with every story I read.
I guess I don't really know why or how I'm so prolific. It simply pours forth. <shrug>
What do you do when your muse takes a vacation?
Well, I slow down ;) I've been museless much of the time since S2 part one aired last May. It's been really lonely since Christmas. However, I've learned to be disciplined enough to go ahead and work on a story even without the muses. At first, the muses bashed with a hundred ideas at once. I decided early on that I needed to finish one story before starting another, or I'd never finish anything. When I'm totally museless, I'll ask for story ideas and challenges from the people who send me LoCs. You may notice in my preface notes in several stories that I acknowledge the ideas others give me. There are a couple of nice people who have sent me several requests. I come from a family of storytellers. My father was a great teller of tales, tall and otherwise. If given an incident or even just a sentence, I can spin a yarn from it. It's a God-given gift, which I am grateful for. Just think, I seldom get bored, I can always tell myself a story to cheer me up, make me laugh, whatever. It's a wonderful thing.
Do you have any advice for new TS fan fiction writers?
Proofread, spellcheck. If you're not sure, ask someone. There are a lot of writers out there who are more than willing to assist you if you get stuck. If you have trouble with grammar, find a good book on the subject. Work at it. Learn the difference between there, their, and they're; peak, peek, and pique; two, too, and to; lead, led, and lead; and the myriad of other words with homonyms. Use the dictionary. Look it up. Write what you know. Remember to treat the characters like real people. If you do, they'll come out sounding real, not like some cardboard cutout, all stilted and stiff. Write dialogue the way you speak. Use contractions, very few people say 'do not do that', they say 'don't do that'. If you aren't sure, read it out loud; read it into a tape recorder and play it back. Ignore how odd your voice sounds, listen to the words. Do they flow? Does it sound like anything anyone might actually say? If not, change it. Ask for help, the worst thing that can happen is that they'll say 'no'. Don't get discouraged if you don't get a lot of LoCs. I'm ever so grateful for Wolfpup having put those counters on each story. That tells me, without getting any feedback, that *someone* is reading it. Well, actually, *lots* of someones are reading it. ;)
Don't take yourself too seriously. Life is serious enough; just remember, no one gets out of here alive... Have fun. Don't let others negativity get you down. Pick your battles based on what is important, not on whether you can win them or not. (Gee, am I getting pedantic here, or what?) :)
What is the hardest part about writing for you?
Wow. I guess the hardest part is keeping it fresh. I've seen a few writers who have come up with a formula, where each story is basically a rewrite of the previous one. I've noticed that I will reuse a particular phrase in several stories, but I try hard not to. My muses are many and varied (hmm... Maybe a name for a third muse?), so I've been able (so far) to avoid repeating myself.
What is the most satisfying part of writing for you?
Hmmm. I like watching the story unfold, I love it when the muses bash so fast that my fingers can't keep up. I like the friends I've made through my stories...I think, though, that my favorite thing is the people who have written to me who have since become writers, themselves. Yeah, that's the best part, that I have encouraged others.
What is it about The Sentinel and Jim/Blair/Simon that inspires you to write?
I spent eight years hanging out with guys from LAPD, one of them was a retired lieutenant, one the Sergeant in charge of the bomb squad (since retired). I also hung out with a bunch of vets just back from 'Nam. I started out watching the vets play pinochle (one of my favorite games) and ended up being a player, one whom they forgot was a civilian. I heard war stories of which the horror was passed off as humor, just so they could cope. I observed men who had been through hell and returned, survivors. I got to watch cops at play. I saw the way they would joke and laugh at bad things, just as a coping mechanism. I also saw how much they cared. The deep, powerful feelings they felt for each other, closer than family; replacing family, in many cases. I saw this show and found the same relationships in it. Whenever I can take a real incident and turn it into a story, I do it in partial honor of those men and what they taught me.
What do you believe are The Sentinel's greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses as a series?
Strengths, the relationships, the word-play. It's very realistic in the emotions it evokes. That's what attracted me to begin with; unfortunately, TPTB don't understand it and want to change it. Its greatest strength is also its biggest weakness.
Do you find yourself identifying more with Jim or Blair?
Oh, boy. Both. No, really. I identify with Jim in the emotional department, not repressed, exactly, but reserved. I identify with Blair in the wits department. I come from a long line of punny people. When I'm tired, or down, everything becomes a straight line and I have a comeback. Probably a bit more of Jim than Blair, though. Although I'm worse than Blair when it comes to being housebroken.
If you were given the opportunity to write an episode of The Sentinel, what story would you like to tell?
Wow. I'd want it to be full of danger and angst, with a lot (an awful lot) of rediculous, incredible humor. One of those 'you won't believe the day I had' sort of things. With Murphy in full control.
What three specific things would you like to see on The Sentinel that we haven't seen yet? How about general changes?
I'd like to see a real case, from start to finish. One where genuine police/detective work is involved. I'd also like to see an episode where we see Blair beseiged by jealous uniformed officers, done realistically. I'd also like to see more reconciliation between Jim and his family. General changes? More of Joel, Rafe, and Brown. More police work, the kind that looks real, not 'Hollywoodish'.
Can you tell us what stories you have in the works right now?
Yep. There's the one I'm working with Danawheels, Mable entering a 10K race, only they tell her she needs a keeper (Well, they insist on her having an attendant, but you know what they really mean). I'm also doing the back-story on Mable's accident for a zine; then there's the one (the slow one) that Nickerbits and Wolfpup asked for, and adventure story, Jim, Blair, and Simon on a fishing trip; one for another zine (I got this invitation, and...well, you know); the back story Wolfpup asked for about why Jim left Vice (that's the one on tape), and ... Oh, darn. I've forgotten the two I haven't started yet....grrrrr. Oh, well. It'll be something.
Last updated 3/28/99 clc