"Ring Toss" interview
with Nemo Blank
1. "Ring Toss" is one of the longest fanfics in existence. How much time did it take you to write it?
Ring Toss actually went pretty fast. I doubt if it took longer than a month, a few hours every weekend. I had just switched to a Dvorak keyboard and typing was so much easier it just seemed effortless.
2. You seem quite fond of Sandi/Upchuck as a couple (it was featured in several other of your works, such as "Season of Goodwill" and "Restrain Jane Lane"). Why such a pairing? More generally, how did you come to the various pairings in the story (Li/Conroy, Andrea/Kevin, Brittany/Trent...)?
I like Upchuck. He has been played as a caricature just like Kevin and the J's, but has demonstrated flashes of real complexity, more so than any of the other male characters. The show hinted at a life full of odd activities. He isn't stupid or violent, but his inner ten-year-old is alive, well and firmly in charge. As Frederick the Great said, "Audacity, audacity, always audacity." Upchuck's got it in spades.
Sandi is interesting too. She is the hard-shelled sort that really needs someone to control. Sandi uses her charisma and her controlling nature to gather girls around her to contain her loneliness, but they are also a barrier to getting what she really wants, so she gets very frustrated with them. She will either have her heart broken multiple times by predators that can locate the chinks in her armor and scam their way into her bed, or she will find someone to impact her hard enough to split the shell. Upchuck is the only one in the cast that has the requisite flamboyance.
I don't think the paring really works though. If I was rewriting it, I would pair him up with Stacy and do a whole thing on him trying to keep her from invading every last aspect of his life. It would be fun to see him as the pursuee.
I had always thought that Li would like Conroy. They are crazy in the same direction. Conroy would find it difficult to keep women around in his line of work, just like Li never keeps men around in hers. They were a natural match.
Brittany is very direct and simple in her drives. See it, grab it, hold on tight pretty much sums up her strategy. Trent was impressed with her asset and is a go-along kind of guy, as evidenced by Monique coming by and picking him up for a quick shag whenever she's in the mood. Sure, that's fun, but there is nothing there to keep him from being grabbed by the hair and dragged off by Brittany.
Andrea/Kevin was an experiment. I wanted to show some people with real issues getting together. Kevin really needs a girl that won't let him be mentally lazy. He needs a Sandi, but she's too mean. Andrea is soft behind her outer walls and would probably become devoted enough to help the poor goof learn to think.
3. When did you write the story, and what was going on in Daria fandom when you wrote it?
Hmmm. I guess the show was winding down and a lot of folks were turned off by the whole Tom-Daria thing. I can't remember, really. I started writing Ranma 1/2 fics after that and kind of forgot about it.
4. How was your story received at first? Has reaction to it changed over time, and if so, how?
Don't know. I never look at feedback much. I go back and read the story a few months later with a fresh perspective and all I see are mistakes and parts that should never have been written. It makes me cringe with embarrassment. Good thing I don't put my right name on them.
5. How did you come up with Brittany's martial-arts ability and drug use?
Brittany was able to waste everyone in that episode with the paint ball guns. She loved the whole combat thing and had a huge natural talent for it. I guess that I got to thinking about Brittany's competitive physicality and wondering how she would take to judo or other martial arts. She's a natural athlete and loves competition. As a well-off daycare kid, karate school would be a good place for her parent to dump her for the day.
As for the drugs, I knew a girl a lot like Brittany in high school. She was in high school. I had quit going by then. Her name was Crystal, she was a half-head taller than me and had long black hair down to her ankles. She worked out with her brother's weight set and popped pills like candy. She had a prescription for some kind of downers and she could be dangerous when she was out.
6. Your description of Tom turns him into a powerful figure with many good qualities. Can you comment on how you developed Tom Sloane in your story, and how you view the "Tom Is Evil" issue in fandom?
There is no reason for Tom to be evil. He was raised by caring parents who made sure that he got what he needed and had the leisure time to be there for him. There was nothing in his background to warp his personality. He is a nice well-educated boy that has good manners and is fairly intelligent. The only thing driving him is curiosity and the thirst for adventure. The world is his oyster. Why should he make use of negative emotions?
I think that people were pissed by the changes in the show and tried to come up with reasons to undo the plot and make everything like it was before Tom showed up.
I showed Tom being tempered by adversity. Some people shatter, but when the heat is just right the blows make the metal stronger.
7. Do you have any thoughts about Tom's family and the power they wield? How did you come up with the other Sloan family members and their dynamics?
Tom's family is pretty conventional. They are rich and quite influential. Helen and Jake certainly knew who they were. There are a lot of Sloans out there, living well but not too ostentatiously. They have mastered the art of being rich.
Rich families are just like small kingdoms. I worked in a yacht club for a while and met a lot of them. If the family is lucky enough to have a good king, they all prosper. He casts out the bad ones and provides the internal discipline that checks their arrogance and keeps them from turning into Puling Vanderpoops. They sail along until a weak king takes over and then entropy drags the clan back into the gutter.
I got Thornton from a composite of all of the spoiled princelings that I had met. They are boundless in their arrogance, pitiless, seeing poverty as deserved, quick to misappropriate other people's money, brusingly insular and totally unable to conceive of their own weakness and faults. They are the flip side of Tom, separated only by the slimmest of margins.
They are also the perfect marks and are quickly skinned by the lucky scammer that spots them. The inbuilt prejudices that they have, like all bias, are nothing more than convenient handles to grab them by when running them through the juicer.
Tom would be fortunate indeed to land Daria. She would keep his head from swelling and zealously guard the family integrity.
As for the rest, they were composites. Else and Tom seemed to have the normal sibling rivalry and Kay was a very typical rich woman, trying to place the Morgendorffers on the social scale. Her world is social, and she sees herself as above the working folks. She doesn't have contempt for them, she just doesn't really see them as part of her world.
8. Jane winds up with no one at the story's end, but she's a major player all along. Talk about how you view her role in the story and what kind of person you see her as.
Jane is too busy with her own life to put effort into a relationship. She knew that she had a good thing in Tom and it irked her that she had to spend so much time feeding the relationship. He was hers to do with as she wanted, but it was just too much work. To gain Tom she would have to give up a little bit of Jane. Jane couldn't do it. I think that Daria could, if she had a pressing reason. Jane needs someone totally wild to sweep her off of her feet like Tarzan swinging by on a vine. As to Jane's role in the story, she's the facilitator. She is the tie that binds various people together.
9. The change in Stacy's status from sunbathing on the roof is one of the best moments in all Daria fanfic. How did you come up with it? Did you think that you might get a bad reaction from that scene?
Stacy is the female version of the cowardly lion. She doesn't understand that she has the power to beguile the minds of men if she chooses to use it. All women have that power to some extent, but Stacy has never understood her ability. Quinn is her best teacher in this matter. As to how I came up with it . . . who knows? The scary voices in my head finally said something interesting.
10. Were you the first one (that you know of) to have DeMartino go out with Defoe?
Well, I don't recall anyone else but it's pretty obvious. I mean, there just aren't that many characters. That scene in the series where Barch beats DeMartino up in his office implies that those two have a history beyond their professional relationship. Assault rarely occurs between mere colleagues. If he's dumb enough to fish in those waters, where else would his attention turn? The only one left is Defoe.
11. You put Jake through a character rehab in your tale. Please talk about how you view Jake as a character and what you did with him in the story to make him three-dimensional.
Jake is the classic abused child. He rails against his father, but in the series he never really tries to understand what actually happened to make his father such a bastard. His mind just shakes apart whenever he contemplates the situation. This is a form of battle fatigue, post-traumatic stress that keeps him locked into a vicious cycle of building stress and cathartic release.
Fortunately he manages to release it without harming anyone else. If Jake had a son, the boy would probably hate his guts. His father was probably very much the same type of man.
Helen keeps Jake together and functioning at the level that he manages. If she got too busy to keep him on track, he might well implode. Such an implosion would be good though, if he survived it. To rebuild, you first have to tear down the unstable structure.
12. "Ring Toss" is one of the few Daria fanfics that attempts to actually pay more than lip service to almost the entire slate of characters in the show; for example, Kevin's parents, Andrea, Ms. Li, the three J's, and many other 'second-tier' characters get serious screen time. Was it your intention to write such a wide-reaching fic, or did it just grow organically out of an initial set of ideas? If the latter is true, what were the original ideas?
I try to let each character that's up take over the story for a bit. For instance:
Nick saw Tom hitchhiking and picked him up.
Nick fiddled with the radio, scowling. Shelly was being a bitch about support payments again and he needed to make some fast cash.
A car on the divider caught his attention and blah blah blah.
13. You created a potentially intriguing villain in Thornton Sloane - yet, surprisingly, you chose not to draw out his role in the fic in an attempt to "take over the company". Why did you decide to limit Thornton's role, and did you ever have any ideas for expanding him?
Thornton has nothing to expand. He's not so much a villain as a dangerous idiot. He's not smart enough to be a real threat. He isn't really able to make things happen on his own. He needs flunkeys and the only flunkeys that he could get would be the type that would take him for his gold fillings. Sure, a real shark could play Thornton and take everything, but then Tom wouldn't have a ghost of a chance against a guy like that. The true Villain would have framed him for cocaine possession or something, right away.
14. Were the events of the Daria/Jane/Tom arc on the program instrumental in your choosing to cast Tom as a good person?
I vaguely remember wondering why everyone was so down on Tom. I think it was more in reaction to all of the Tom bashing on the boards. I don't see Tom as either good or bad on the show. He's raw material, a guy who has never had to hardscrabble enough to decide what depths he will and won't sink to. He has good manners and no earthly reason to be a bad guy.
Actually Trent has bathed in the waters of iniquity. He knows the power of temptation, so he is probably more conventionally 'good' than Tom.
In my opinion, innocence is not the same as a state of grace. The protected man that announces himself a pacifist is something of a fraud. Only a man that has swum through an ocean of blood and then hung up his guns can truly call himself a pacifist. The other has simply not yet been tempted sufficiently.
15. Do you agree with the opinion that the way you reconciled Daria and Tom is a viable way that the producers of the show could have done the same, if they had so chose?
After "Depth Takes A Holiday", I would hesitate to say that anything was or wasn't viable. I doubt if it would have worked though, unless it was the last show. The Daria show would have turned into the Daria And Tom show.
They did the right thing to have Daria split up with him. If she went to Bromwell, she would be deprived of her own experiences. She would find herself turned into a part of his life instead of the whole of her own. He and his circle would inevitably try to mould her into Kay Sloan.
What if she went there with him and met a guy she liked better? What if he met a girl that he liked better, some one more suited to being a Sloan. It would taint Daria's whole college career and deprive her of the freedom to forge herself into the individual that she wants to be.
16. You have a very nice development, in the latter parts of "Ring Toss", in the relationship between Daria and Quinn - and this is something that you've used in several of your other fics ("Crossover", for example.) What brought you to put that spin on the sisters and their relationship?
I never thought that they had a truly bad relationship. When Quinn said that she was an only child in the first episode, it really hurt Daria's feelings. It cut her to the quick, so much so that she physically reacted with a flinch and a grimace. If they had always been at loggerheads then Daria wouldn't have cared in the least what Quinn said, did or thought. That was an example of Quinn being a thoughtless and insecure child. Time cures that.
Quinn never hesitates to call Daria when she's got real problems. Her trust in Daria is absolute and has never wavered.
17. If Thornton Sloane is the unfulfilled villain of the piece and Upchuck is the redeemed soul, then there could be an argument that the depiction of Brittany is one of the most negative ones in all of Daria fan fiction. She's a drug user (this comes because she actively seeks out drugs from Trent), she manipulates Jane and Trent to get what she wants, she is hideously vicious towards Kevin (he's a poor idiot - just because a dog pees on a fire hydrant, he's not committing vandalism, he just doesn't know any better), and she gets herself pregnant (and I doubt that, with the relationship she's had with Kevin, she didn't use everything in the universe to keep that from happening with him). What do you think about the opinion that Brittany is the only true villain of "Ring Toss"?
Brittany is an abused child. Look at her father and brother. How could she not be with a family like that? She had turned out very well for the place that she came from. She has a moral code. Look at the time that she made Kevin own up to shoplifting.
I just went with the flow and added the drug thing. They probably have her brother on Ritalin and whatever else will calm him down. Think of wild young Brittany, with doctors on opposite sides of the country as she shuttles between stupid and lazy parental units. If she played it right she would have had double prescriptions and all the drugs that she could stand.
I don't think that drug users are particularly evil. They are addicted and need a kind of help that few are willing to give. Everyone manipulates, and Trent wasn't the victim of the piece. Jane has no say on whom he chooses to sleep with.
True, Brittany beat up on Kevin, but then women can be unpredictable, kind of like nitroglycerin. My thought is that you have to put up with their moods to have the pleasure of their company. I have had women do things to me that I would go to prison for doing to them.
Any man knows that there are times to walk small and smile a lot, ready for instant flight. Anything you say is wrong.
In short, women are naturally the most hideous villains imaginable, every one.
18. Tell us about the thought behind Jake's reactions to Tom and Daria eloping - and especially about Jake blowing off steam at the bar with General Buck. How did that come about?
Men hate to see a guy with their daughters. He would have hated anyone that showed up and eloped with Daria. The whole thing would be a nasty shock that would manifest itself as rage against the shocker. Jake's post-traumatic stress disorder would manifest that rage against any suitable target. This time, though, the rage was truly murderous.
Buck likes Tom and Daria. He is a leader of men and understood Jake at a glance. He nobly set himself up as the target because he wanted to make some friends and because he didn't think that Jake could take him. Jake really impressed him. They took each other's measure and now they are the best of pals.
Jake isn't primed to snap and wring Tom's neck like a chicken's anymore. His rage has been appeased. Besides, Buck really, really likes to fight.
19. This one is me being dumb. Explain why Kay and Jake were so against Tom and Daria becoming closer.
Kay Sloan is upset for exactly the same reasons as Jake. No doting mother ever truly thinks that the conniving bitch that her darling son has been trapped by is good enough for him. Not unless she arranges it all or has plenty of time to get used to the idea.
20. What characters and/or stereotypical interpretations did you purposely keep out of your fic, and why?
I think that I pretty much got them all.
21. A common theme in several of your fics is Daria receiving a makeover of some sort, either in appearance or personality. What is it about this idea that fascinates you?
I misread Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth. I was going for the transformative journey and totally missed the point. I still make the hero(ine) change, but not like that. The change has to be internal and consistent, making the external change nothing very remarkable.
Ah well, that's why I'm still playing in the fan fiction sandbox.
22. Do you have any other comments about how you write, what goes through your head when you do, how the story builds, everything?
It's almost like catching a wave. If I try and outline the story first, it dies stillborn. There is a creative bit rattling around in my head that does not like to follow any rules.
I often get inspired and write short bits that I might use later. Then when I need a subplot in some story I pull it out and expand it to fit.
I try to avoid throw away characters. If I can find some minor characters and continually weave them and their subplots through the main plot, it multiplies the range of motivations that I can choose from to carry on the action.