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After reading the book Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, I had the great privilege of talking with Dr. Lynn Zubernis, one of its authors and a fangirl herself. In Part 1 of the interview, Lynn explained why people join fandoms, why they are ashamed of their fannish pursuits and the tremendous benefits of being in a fandom.  Part 2 of the interview gives us the behind-the-scenes scoop on what the stars of Supernatural think of the book and their fans. Lynn also shares with us how writing the book affected her personally.

[Note: the quotes referenced in this interview include the creative talent behind Supernatural, including Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins, Jim Beaver and Richard Speight, Jr.; its showrunners Eric Kripke, Sera Gamble and Jeremy Carver; plus Danneel Harris, Jensen’s wife.]

The Reciprocal Relationship between Supernatural’s Creators and their Fans

“Part of the show is to love the process of getting driven nuts...If [the fans] are happy and content every episode, that means you’re not doing your job.” - Eric Kripke (Page 175)

You defined the reciprocal relationship as the creators’ willingness to “give the fans what they want” (Page 60).  From an ethical standpoint, do the creators have a responsibility to fans to not toy with their emotions needlessly, or to worry about how long they put us through a roller-coaster of emotion?

I don’t think so.  I don’t think they do.  I think their only responsibility is to write the show in the way they want to creatively write the show.  I don’t think they have obligations to us, as much as I wish they did. I think fans always have the option of walking away and not watching.  I am making that sound easy and it isn’t easy because this is so important, so I understand absolutely why people get so upset. I am right there with everyone else, but I don’t think it is their responsibility. 

“One of the reasons the show was so popular was because Eric Kripke seemed like such a fan himself. That adds to why fans are so passionate about the show. Because the person behind it thinks like them.” – Rae Hanson (Page 173)

Have you had any chance to talk to Sera Gamble or Jeremy Carver about this reciprocal relationship? Have they expressed any thoughts about it?

I have never talked to Jeremy Carver.  I talked to Sera a few times around the time the book came out. I did go back and forth with Eric Kripke a few times [too]. I teased him, “Your show is making me freaking crazy!” We haven’t had in-depth conversations about it, but I think he still feels the same way. I have had more conversations with the current writers so I know that they do care what the fans think and what the fans feel.  It’s not that they don’t. I don’t think they can let that drive their storytelling [though] because there is too much mutual exclusivity. If you try to write to please one section of fandom, you’re going to alienate another section of fandom. You can’t possibly please everyone. If they get caught up in trying to write what the fans want, they are just going to ruin their own creative vision.  That is just going to mess everything up, but they care.  They worry about it.  They ask  “What do people think of this? What is going on with that?” I don’t think they knock it out of the park every time but I think they really do try. They seem to be a really good bunch of people. Some of them are fanboys and fangirls themselves, so they get how invested people are.

“…this new group of creative talent actively seeks and nurtures a reciprocal relationship with fans…” (Page 61)

They have made themselves so accessible with Twitter, even in just the last couple years. They are struggling with that accessibility…and they are trying to figure it out.

Yes, and all that happened after Fangasm was written.  So when we were talking about the reciprocal relationship, Twitter was just barely in existence. Who knew it was going to get even more reciprocal and even more complicated.  Everybody is trying to figure it out because Twitter took off so quickly, nobody had a chance to theorize about it and think it through before it was just happening.  It was like a boulder going down a hillside picking up speed. It just kept on going.

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No turning back now! In Part 1, Lynn told the story of how she tried to hide her fangirl self from Chad (Lindberg). Now they celebrate the reciprocal relationship between the Supernatural cast and their fans.
“The Supernatural crew members are friendly and welcoming and grateful for fans’ support…The cast are similarly welcoming.” (Page 94)

You mentioned your access to the creative team.  Jared, Jim and Misha have told you that they’ve read your book cover to cover, yet you reveal some very personal feelings about Jared, Jensen and Danneel in the book. Jared and Jensen know everything about you now …

…much more than I ever thought they would!

…but you still have professional interactions with them – you still interview them! Are you embarrassed at all about the intimate knowledge they have about how you feel about them… especially Jensen?

A lot less than I thought I would be.  A lot less than I feared I would be. I have had conversations with Jared about the book. He’s read not just Fangasm but Fandom at the Crossroads too (the academic book). We’ve had almost scholarly discussions about the books, so I know what he took from them. I feel very, very comfortable talking with Jared about it and I know how he feels about the books.  Same with Jim Beaver. I
know he read them from a kind of pseudo-academic standpoint and I know how much he liked them.  Same with Misha.  He read them the same way.  Jensen and Danneel are a little bit different.  So much of the book is about Jensen.  Clearly, at the time we were writing it, we never in a million years thought we would be giving a copy of the book to him.  I was very, very happy when Jensen told me that Danneel loved the book so much that she literally read it in two nights.  She was feeding the baby [with one hand] and reading the book with the other hand because she enjoyed it so much.  That was important to me because I love Danneel.  I absolutely love her.  I think she is awesome.  I think she comes off as one of the heroes of the book because of the interesting circumstances surrounding the interview that we did with her.  She was an early encourager for us doing the book so we have a real soft spot for her.  I’m absolutely thrilled that she loves the book so much.  Jensen and I have an agreement that he’s not really going to read it in detail. We have laughed together about it! [Lynn reenacts their conversation:]
Jensen: “You don’t really want me to read it, right?”
Lynn:    “You know what, I really don’t”
Jensen: “So we have an understanding?
Lynn:    “Yup!” 
He skimmed Fandom at the Crossroads and I was comfortable with that, but Fangasm…I think he’s got good boundaries and I think I’ve got good boundaries so that’s helpful. Even if he did read it at this point with everybody else having read it, I would be fine.

Did their reactions surprise you?  What were you expecting when you published such a personal memoir?

Yes, their reaction did surprise me.  I really didn’t know what to expect and usually when I don’t know what to expect, I expect the worst.  You should have seen me! About the time that Fangasm came out, I went to dinner with them and a mutual friend. It was a completely, off the record, casual, out for fun dinner. During that dinner the other person that we were with happened to have read the manuscript for Fangasm and said, “Oh, what do you think of Lynn’s new book?” Jared and Jensen just spun around and looked at me and said “Why have we not read it?  The book is about us.  Why would you give it to other people and not to us?”  In truth, I was terrified to give it to them.  I didn’t want to, but I had no choice after that. They were like, “Where is it? Bring it! We want it. We want it.”  I don’t know what I really was afraid of.  Maybe I was still afraid that I had developed a professional relationship with them.  I felt like they respected us. I felt (especially after they read the academic book) that they saw us as academics and respected us as academics. So I didn’t know what reading Fangasm would do to that, but it didn’t do anything. That is to their credit! I really think they wanted to understand fandom which is why they really enjoyed reading our books. Jared especially has said so many times how grateful he is that we wrote the books. He said he has learned so much from them.  That just makes my day.

The Supernatural Family
 “A lot of shows get following and numbers but the interactiveness of this show, that connection is huge, and it’s head and shoulders beyond others.” - Richard Speight, Jr.  (Page 194)

At the Las Vegas convention, Jensen said “We are now looking at Supernatural as our legacy”.  That is a very different viewpoint from what I have heard them talk about before.

Yes, and they talked about that it was a different viewpoint. I think there was a time when they were wondering if they wanted to go on, wondering if they could go on. Then it really turned the corner for them.  Jared has said the book helped them change their perspectives a little.  When we were out to dinner (this was at the beginning of season nine so they had just been filming for a couple months), one of the people at dinner said “You guys are starting season nine! How do you feel about starting season nine?  Are you burned out?  How are you feeling?”  They were so excited they talked over each other to say “No, No!  We are so up for this!  We are so excited about this.”  [When asked] “How do you stay so excited after nine seasons?”  Jared said, “It is because of the fans!  Because of the books, we know how important this is to the fans and to so many people, and we are so honored to be a part of that - we realize what a big deal this is and how important it is.”  I would like to think that our book played a tiny little piece in helping them see it in a different way.

That is amazing. That would be so wonderful to hear!

I started to cry! You don’t want to cry in front of Jared and Jensen but oh well.  Only a little. Tearing up really. Not like tears rolling down my face or anything.

“At Supernatural conventions, I see the most interaction between the fans, meeting and introducing themselves to each other …I’d say of all the groups I’ve worked with, the Supernatural fans are probably the most down to earth, grounded and intelligent…Jared and Jensen do seem to remember the fans more than any other show.” - Chris Schmelke (Page 170)

Have you been in other fandoms? Is Supernatural really that different from other fandoms?

I don’t know.  I haven’t been in other fandoms.  I have been a fan of other things but I have not been in a fandom community and immersed in a fandom the way I have been in Supernatural, so I don’t know.  Certainly other fandoms have many of the same dynamics so it’s not completely different but Supernatural does seem to be something special.  People call it “lightning in a bottle”.  I think being on the forefront of developing that reciprocal relationship between the cast and the fans, and the producers and the fans, really changed things. It pulled us all together and made us feel like family.  The fans feel like family. The cast and crew, because they have done conventions for nine years, feel like family.  The crew has been the same crew for all this time so they feel like family.  So a lot of things came together that I think have kept the fandom and the creative side more closely bonded for a longer period of time than you usually see. So it is family on both sides.  Everyone uses that word and means it. I don’t know that there are that many other stars of a show that would be so invested in their relationship with the fans that they would read people’s academic books about the show’s fans.  That is a huge credit to Jared, Jensen and Misha. I think that says something so important about them and the way they engage with their fans and the way they appreciate their fans.

“Being acknowledged by the stars of your favorite show – maybe even hugged or graced with a few words or a smile-confers a validation. It’s the feeling that we’re all in this together, fans and producers, consumers and creators.” (Page 153)

I had ten seconds with Richard Speight, Jr. at a convention.  I stopped him in the hall and thanked him for something he had done to help other performers.

Oh, it’s so true and I think that meant a lot to him because it is so important to him to be able to do that.  Now that he is the emcee for the conventions, he works [really hard].  He does it because he really cares.  He wants everyone to succeed.  He wants the fans to be happy. He wants the guests to be happy.  He really cares!  That’s what it comes down to.  So many of them really care.  That doesn’t always happen.  I have been around show business in other ways and that doesn’t always happen.

Personal Cost of Fangasm

“As we moved back and forth between our identities as fans and as researchers, we began to occupy a strange middle ground, which carried with it both the thrill of being an insider and the risk of alienating the community of fans that we valued being a part of.” (Page 167)

I have to believe that people recognize you, or at least your Twitter account now.  Has being a “Big Name Fan” changed how you interact with the fandom? 

It’s so funny.  As soon as you said that, I still had that knee jerk reaction of “No! No I’m not. Oh My God, don’t call me that!” That is still scary for me.  It is important to me (because the community of fandom is so important to me) to still be seen as a legitimate fangirl.  Being a BNF always carries with it the risk of “Who do you think you are?  Why are you setting yourself apart?”  Even when I’m tweeting a convention or writing a blog post, I’m always aware of that.  I mean fandom can be the most supportive place in the world.  I am a fan and I don’t like to be jealous or envious of other fans.  It’s hard to watch somebody doing something that is really, really important to you; something you wish you could do.  I still feel that way. I still have that twinge of “Oh, they are so lucky.  I wish that could be me!”  So, I am always very aware of trying to walk that line. I think that remains a tough one for me.

Maybe that’s another barrier that you are pushing through now …

 ….I think it’s the last barrier.

Your book, “outs” you as a true fan.  The fact that you’re live tweeting the conventions, writing reviews on the blog, getting access to interviews - people know that you have access - but you are talking about it in a way that says “I am doing it for you.” So maybe one of the positive effects of [the book] could be taking away the stigma of being a fan that has access.

Yeah, you know, I hadn’t even thought of that.  That is a new thought.  Maybe.  I am not inviting it but I am sort of surprised that we haven’t had more backlash.  There was some, especially after Fandom at the Crossroads came out. There were some ugly accusations of how we were getting access… that were definitely not true! But there were a couple of ugly things that were said.  After Fangasm, nothing.  I mean maybe there is negative stuff out there and I’m just missing it…and that’s OK! Please don’t anyone send it to me!  I’d rather miss it.
“At this point, we were so immersed in the “legitimate” endeavor of writing a book on fandom that we were in danger of losing what had brought us to fandom in the first place…”(Page 182)

You also talked about how you were losing out on some of the pure fun of being a fan once you started having [fandom] responsibilities. You are now actually part of the infrastructure of the fandom.  Are you finding that it is taking away some of the fun? How do you balance that?

A little bit.  I think I have found a balance.  Of course, sometimes I wish that I could just go to a convention, not tweet and not take pictures, not blog, not do interviews.  Just be a fan and soak it up and squee. I could do that if I wanted.  Sometimes I think about that but I think I get some satisfaction too. One of my motivations from the very beginning and one of the things I love about fandom is that fandom always shared.  I was just so taken by this community of people, women who mostly share the things that they make -their hard work and creativity, their writing, their art, their blogging, whatever it is - for nothing. No expectations of any money or anything.  Just for the enjoyment of other fans. I feel like that dynamic is so rare in life and so precious that it is important to me to do it. So if I am lucky enough to be somewhere, it is important to me to share it with the rest of fandom.  I am so grateful when people do that for me.  When the Rome convention goes on, I am tied to my computer for days on end. I’m just so appreciative of everybody who is telling me what is going on and posting pictures and tweeting.  I want to do that when I’m at a convention too.  That said, it is a lot of work.  I am like physically and mentally depleted at the end of a convention because I try hard to capture the whole thing, and to tweet it and to blog and [take] pictures.  So it is a lot of work.  But it is the kind of hard work that feels satisfying to me because I feel it is an important dynamic in fandom.

Have you noticed any real difference in your recognition or popularity since you started live tweeting?

Yeah, definitely. It has been maybe a year or maybe a year and a half [that we have been live Tweeting].  It hasn’t been that long.  I was sort of late to get on the Twitter bandwagon.  We probably have more followers on Twitter than people who follow the blog or Facebook or Tumblr.  Twitter is where we have the biggest inroads into the community.  The thing that is different for us is that for a long time we really didn’t want people to know what we looked like.  Kathy and I are both very shy.  We don’t like our picture taken.  We are professors, we are writers.  We didn’t want to be out there in front of things. We were very anonymous at conventions because nobody knew what we looked like.  We would walk into conversations where people would be talking about our blog or our Twitter or our book or something and they would have no idea they were talking to us.  But now with the book signings, most people do know who we are.  That is a little tough for me. I didn’t want to give up my anonymity at the conventions. If I was crying over something that someone said or if I was emotional or if I was screaming or whatever my fangirl-self wanted to do, I wanted to be able to do it without feeling like somebody would say, “That’s that Fangasm girl up there.  They’re going crazy up there…” but I have gotten comfortable with it. If the Fangasm girl wants to go crazy up there, well, so be it. 

People have just been so wonderful.  One of the best things that happened was at a convention. A woman who was maybe in her forties or fifties walked up to me. She had the book in her hand.  Behind her was a young teenager. They both looked super, super nervous. The woman said “Are you the one who wrote the book? I just wanted to tell you that you have made such a difference to my daughter.  My daughter was more nervous to meet you than she was to meet Jared and Jensen.  Your book really changed her life.  She shared it with me and I read it and now we understand each other in a way we never could have before. I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this book.”  She starts to cry. The girl starts to cry. I start to cry.  We are all crying! It is one of my favorite moments ever! It was just wonderful, and I thought if putting myself out there and having the guts to meet people face to face gives me this kind of experience than I am going to keep doing it. There have been a bunch of those nice experiences now, which has been wonderful.

This is absolutely your most personal publication. How did the experience of writing this book affect you personally?

Writing the book was one large exercise in narrative therapy.  When I do narrative therapy with clients, I am helping them literally rewrite their own story and make sense of their life story in a different way - a less shame filled a way, a more coherent way.  Writing Fangasm was that process for me.  I went back over things that I was struggling with, that I was ashamed of, that I needed validation around, and I made sense of them. I got a sense of mastery over them, so in the time between now and the end of writing the book, it felt like I had sort of “narrative therapied” my way to a different place and a better place.  So it was entirely a positive experience.  You know some of the things that happened in the book were negative things. There was a real personal cost to what happened.  There was a relationship lost. There was a friendship lost. There were struggles and strife with children.  It was not all roses, so working through those things and putting some meaning to them was also a journey for me.

The Books

Looking back, is there anything you wish you would have left out, or anything you would have added into the book, maybe something you now feel was a little too personal or a little too embarrassing?

You would think that there would be some things that I would be too embarrassed about and wish I didn’t put in, but I think I’m pretty much OK with it.  The things that were, that are, embarrassing I feel had to be in there or it wouldn’t have accomplished what I wanted it to accomplish.  I really had to be willing to embarrass myself in order for other people who read it to be like “OK. She did this, she felt this way.  I don’t feel bad about how I am feeling.”  It had to be there.  As far as what I wish we had put in – the book ends in 2009, and yet it didn’t get published until 2013.  I wish we had gone back before the final edit and added a few chapters, especially to follow our journey with Misha a little bit more.  I really, really wish that we had done that.  A couple of reviews have said, “Oh, we just got to meet Misha! The last chapter has a fair amount of Misha, but we want more Misha!”  I wish it had gone on a little longer. And luckily, there’s a lot of Misha in the last chapters. And he has the last word in the book.

Do you think you’ll write a sequel?

I don’t know.  People have said that many times.  Who knows?  Maybe. In the new book that’s coming out, there is more Misha so to some extent…  but it’s not a memoir.  There is a chapter written by Misha. 

Since you brought that up, do you want to talk about that book?

Sure. The new book that is coming out in about a month is called Fan Phenomena: Supernatural.  We were invited to be part of a collection by Intellect Books (I think it is about 20 volumes) about the biggest fan phenomena of all time - the shows, the books, the films, the music - that have changed the world [because] they have been so impactful. When the series came out, we already knew the publisher because we edit the Journal of Fandom Studies which is published by Intellect.  So we immediately said “How about Supernatural?”  At first they said, “No, No.  Supernatural is still on the air.  It hasn’t established itself as a phenomenon.”  So I went to work and wrote a manifesto about why I thought it had already established itself as a phenomenon. I deluged the poor publisher with my manifesto.  Luckily they came back and said “Huh, you’re right.”  So we got to do that book. [Based on the strong] reciprocal relationship in Supernatural, we wanted it to have the voices of all the different constituencies, so we wanted it to be an edited collection.  We wrote the introduction. Then there are chapters written by fans, chapters written by academics, and chapters written by the cast and crew of the show. Misha wrote a chapter.  Richard Speight, Jr. wrote a chapter.  Serge, the cinematographer, has a chapter.  There are chapters by a vidder [videographer].  So we have all the various voices in one volume about Supernatural.  We are really excited about that!  I love that all three of our books about Supernatural are very different.  There is the academic book, which is Fandom at the Crossroads.  There is the fun, adventure fangirl story which is Fangasm.  Then there is the collection of viewpoints on the show from all perspectives which is Fan Phenomena.  We are excited!

Are there any other projects that you are working on that you would like fans to know about?

The next project that I am going to be working on is a book about celebrity and fame. That book will have some input from Supernatural folks. I got interested in it because of our conversations with Jared, Jensen, Misha and Jim Beaver. It was interesting because we were talking to Jared and Jensen fairly early on when they were still coming to terms with, “Well, are we celebrities?  What does it mean?  What is this idea of fame?  What do we want from it? What do we not?”  Jim Beaver had an interesting perspective because he is someone who at the time was on the fringes of fame and also just such a brilliant, brilliant, thoughtful man. He really had some fabulous insights into what celebrity and fame were all about.  Then came along Misha who stepped into something that he just never anticipated and it took off like a rocket with him. So they had such unique insights into the idea of celebrity and fame. So I am excited about that book.

“This show isn’t about killing demons. It’s about relationship – an intricate, emotional framework upon which you can hang anything.” – Richard Speight, Jr. (Page 196)
"The big thing that has drawn fans to the world of Supernatural is that each has turned it into their world. It’s no longer about guys on the road or hunting demons, it’s connected to some part of them they might not even know exists….I don’t think any movie or show is that good, to be so committed to it, unless it’s sparked something in you.” – Jared Padalecki (Page 214, 215)
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Lynn's Happy Ending: After missing him time after time, Lynn finally caught up with Jensen!

I cannot express the gratitude I feel for Lynn taking an hour of her time to share the lessons she has learned about being a passionate fangirl. Every person who has ever struggled with their love for this show, its actors and the family they found in Supernatural understands just a little bit more about themselves because of the work that she and Kathy persevered to see through to the end. Thanks, girlfriend.

Lynn and I would love to hear your thoughts on how being in the Supernatural Family has changed you and if the messages of the book (and interview) of being unashamed and celebrating who you are have helped you. Are there any other questions you wish you could ask Lynn? Add your thoughts below!
Carry on Always,

Copyright, 2014

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