"The Winters of Those Gone Before" interview
with Brother Grimace
1. What parts of "Winters" were the most difficult to write? What parts were the easiest, flowed most freely?
The sex scenes were the most difficult to write. It's hard to type with one hand.
Sorry. Cheap shot. The most difficult parts of 'Winters' to write were (a.) Helen's drifting into fantasy, (b.) the sequence with Helen and Quinn in the main house at the resort, after dinner, and (c.) Helen and Daria's last conversation. Writing those was not a laugh-fest; that's when you have to detach yourself, only go into the characters when you have to, and when you do, you have to look at that situation through their eyes and values, not your own. For this fic, that wasn't easy to do, and it sometimes surprised me. The ending of the scene in Quinn's room the morning after Jane snapped at Daria was totally unplanned and unexpected, and it put an entirely new spin on how Quinn developed in the fic. I especially had trouble with Helen's daydream at the stoplight. I had more trouble with that than I did with the 'bedroom discovery' scene.
I also had a rough time with the scene of Mack talking to Jane. With Mack and Jane, I had to show that Jane could feel secure enough to basically 'come out' to him, and that Mack isn't the 'do-no-wrong' type he's usually shown as, because he really screws up there! I also wondered if Jane's poem might be considered over the top...
Easy to write? Some of the more canonic conversations and moments; the scene when Daria arrives at Casa Lane immediately comes to mind - especially the Mystik Spiral moments. Those scenes just flowed out like water. I also had a lot of fun writing the Helen/DeMartino conversations. I'd say the parts that were the easiest to write were the 'morning after' scenes for the Morgendorffers and Jane. I just went, 'What's the prevailing emotion they're feeling as they awaken?' and went from there.
2. How has reaction to your story matched your expectations?
Absolutely and completely different than what I expected. In relation to my other works, 'Winters' was ignored. I assume everyone either considered it either just Daria femmeslash taken to a ridiculous extreme, or as the most obvious example of flame bait in 'Daria' history. It's actually funny... every now and then, someone makes an allusion to 'Winters' on the 'Daria' boards a la 'That-Fic-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named', but aside for a few posts when it first went up, that's it. From what I understand and read, almost everyone in the fandom's heard of it, but most heard the initial comments and reviews, and decided not to read it.
3. What moved you to write the story in the first place?
It began when CINCGREEN retired. Reading his retirement essay, and coming across this part:
...But the third identity is the most bizarre of them all. I decided to do two things one sunny afternoon: to try my hand at writing erotica, and, at the same time, see how many people I could REALLY piss off if I set my mind to it. This led to my most infamous work at all, probably more infamous than anything I ever wrote as CINCGREEN....
"Night of the Storm". By LyinTamer. I wrote that, and no b******t.
(You can pick Brother Grimace up off the carpet at any time.)
Oh, he called that one right! The most famous piece of flame-bait ever posted in Daria fandom, and I went for the hook like a hungry catfish. That was to come back to haunt me later.
Anyway, at the beginning of 2004, I moved with my parents to a new home. (I've been playing servant for them since I left work because of my legs.) Anyway, 2004 was not repeat not a good year for me; in order to find any escape possibly, I started reading almost anything I could get my paws on (hello, the world of Harry Potter!), and I started going back to older Dariafic. Eventually, I came across 'Night Of The Storm', and started looking at it with a critical eye, rather than the idiotic, knee-jerk reaction I had when I first read it.
(P.S. CINCGREEN - if you're reading this, two things. One - I'm sorry for being an absolutely pretentious, mouthy, and completely asinine jerk who should have stepped back and counted before he started typing, and two - thank you. Thank you for not teaching me a lesson that I deserved, and yet still putting the fear of God in me in your farewell essay. I now have some small idea of what it feels like when you hear the sound of the Sheriff uncocking his Colt Peacemaker just behind you...
Jeez. I was launching nukes at Fortress CINCGREEN. How dumb can you get?)
Back on target. After reading it several times, I started noticing several things, and from that, as well as CINCGREEN's essay, a thought came into my head: What would this be like if someone wrote this in a serious vein, as a serious story and not as flame-bait? That thought ending up coalescing into another thought I'd had in the back of my head - that being for several years, I've wanted to do a Helen-centric story. To me, Helen Morgendorffer is the most interesting character in the show, and I wanted to do something where I could really get into her head. My first attempt at that was in 'It's All About Respect', and while that was interesting, that's not what I was looking to do in exploring her. One of the most interesting facets of Helen, to me, is her marriage to Jake - why are they still together, except, perhaps the fact that it's easier for Helen to stay with him while she hammers away at the glass ceiling (because she'll occasionally need to have someone to drag to social events, company dinners, the bedroom, etc.) That REALLY started me thinking, because one of the drifting pieces of backstory for Helen (in fan fiction) is that she's had more than a few Sapphic experiences during her time in university, and someone (I don't recall who) did several pieces with a Quinn/Jane relationship where it came out that Helen had a serious relationship with a woman named Erica while at Middleton. Again - why are they together? Maybe, it's because Helen knew that her sexuality would (remember, this is twenty-five or so years ago) cripple her legal career. Maybe she also believed (in my opinion) that she could still be happy, letting go of those feelings, by immersing herself into the 'superwoman complex'. Also, that Jake could be someone that she could learn to love, and who wouldn't get in the way of what she was doing by actually trying to assert himself as an actual, functional person with his own hopes, dreams - and the drive to actually attempt to achieve them...
I've also wanted to do a Helen/Stacy shipper for the longest time. Unlike her and Jake, who don't form a more perfect union, Helen and Stacy seem (to me) to have character traits that would compliment each other (It came from a long night of brainstorming on other fic ideas), and I'd actually come up with an idea: 'Moonflower.' It was going to be a 'La Jette'-influenced piece with Stacy, several years older and a grad student, ends up traveling back into the past and landing in what was Helen's freshman year at Middleton. (For continuity purposes, I had Helen a year ahead of Jake in school.) It would take place over a single week - the week before the Fourth of July, in the summer before Helen's second year - and paraphrasing the words of Sarah Connor, in the short time that Stacy and Helen would have had together, they loved a lifetime's worth. Try as I might, I wasn't able to get 'Moonflower' off the ground. The flashpoint that started me on the path to 'Winters' was, again, going over 'NOTS' and noticing (yeah, me stupid) that Helen's not really a part of the fic - I mean, we don't see her talk to the girls, we don't see her anger, or grief or anything that she feels toward Jake and what he's done/what's happened to him. I started to think...
Lastly, I've always wanted to do a Daria/Jane shipper. I've always felt that there was more to the relationship than just friendship (going back through the episodes carefully, at least from Daria's side) - but that it didn't have to be about just sex. I thought that yes, the physical part would eventually come into play (in fanfic, not on the actual show!); more importantly, it's about the connection between two people. Way back in 1986, I read an Ann Landers column during the Thanksgiving break, and all I remember is the first line of one letter: 'Dear Ann: I'm not going to tell you if the relationship I'm in is interracial, interfaith or homosexual. We're all in the same lousy boat.' I remember thinking to myself all the way back to school on the train, 'That's it. If I can distill it down to just that - about two people who care about each other and want to be together - then it doesn't matter what kind or relationship I have the characters in.' The story that came from that ride back was titled '97 Minutes', dealt with the last moments of a lesbian relationship, and was the first decent thing I'd ever written. That's what I wanted to do with Daria and Jane - take it past the sex and the physical, down to 'Do you care about me? Do you want to be with me? Yes? Then shut up and come be with me!' Of course, for Daria - being Daria - it's never going to be that easy, because she's said it herself - she's too intelligent and too sensitive for this world. She's not just going to go and leap into a relationship - deep down, she doesn't think that she's deserving of happiness - and THAT'S a Daria trait I've ran with since I've started writing fics!
That's how it came about. I wanted to do a Helen-centric fic that also explored Helen's relationship with Jake over the years and her (perceived) sexual leanings; I wanted to do a serious continuation of 'Night Of The Storm', but from Helen's point-of-view, and I wanted to do a Daria/Jane shipper.
4. In a curious way, the story is a romance with entwined elements of redemption and damnation. Does this match your own evaluation of the tale? How do you look at the story, in the bigger picture?
I answer some of this in question #3. As for the elements of redemption and damnation, that was what I wanted to go for. Helen is broken before 'Winters' - she was shattered by the events of 'NOTS' - but 'Winters' is about her discovering just how shattered her life and her soul is, and how she has to go through the sharp pieces to put it all back together, through the strength of her own mind, her own force of will, and the courage to look at herself and be honest about who and what she is. With Daria, her salvation is the easiest and the most difficult - because it's a matter of faith. All she has to do - all she's ever had to do - is just accept love. All she has to do is say, 'yes, I want you in my life', all she has to do is reach out, all Daria has to do is believe that someone can love her -yes, her, all of her! - and she's on the road back into the light. The problem there is, she feels that she's so wrong inside that it's not about someone wanting or accepting her, it's that she feels that she'll corrupt and ruin anyone who even tries. For the same reasons, Quinn is damned from the beginning. She feels empty; she feels damaged, but instead of reaching out and getting help, you get the feeling that she deliberately manipulated things to drag Daria, Helen, and anyone else she can, down into the abyss. The problem for Quinn comes when she has her moment of epiphany and realizes that Helen and Daria both have reasons to live; not just exist, but live. She doesn't, and she doesn't have anyone who'll fight to pull her back from the darkness and give her a reason to believe that she's more than her sins... and at the end, she gives herself over to the void because in her mind, it's her last act of love. She won't be there to pollute their lives anymore.
5. What purpose do the most shocking parts of the story serve in the storytelling?
I'll assume that you mean the graphic sexual imagery and the exploration of the, ah... complications... in Helen's life, in the wake of Jake's incapacitation and death. I mean, seeing Daria seemingly toss away everything and everyone she believed in and that meant something to her - including her friendship with Jane - and being applauded for it by almost everyone around her because she then put on a mask of what's assumed as 'normalcy' and 'popularity' in response to a great tragedy in her life is not only shocking, it could be considered her version of hell.
Oh, wait - in my very first fanfic, that WAS Daria's interpretation of Hell!
Back to being not a jerk. First, it had to be there - there was no getting around that. As a continuation to 'Night Of The Storm', the physical relationship between Daria and Quinn had to be seen; the final scene in 'NOTS' clearly insinuates that it does continue. Also, in terms of the thematic elements that I was using in 'Winters', I needed to show that physical intimacy as a direct opposite to the Daria/Jane relationship. (Actually, I really screwed that up by changing the setting of one major scene. More on that later.)
Another reason why I used those elements - because if you're going to have your characters climb out of the muck, then you have to show the muck. Granted, some people will say, 'Oh, but it wasn't necessary to show that!' Fine. That's one opinion. First and foremost, you have to remain true to the source material. 'NOTS' was a fan fiction that incorporated erotica (or pornography; the differentiation is something to examined another time), and in order to be true to that source, there had to be a physical relationship depicted in a graphic fashion, and it also had to be shown that the relationship had progressed somewhat.
Each event is there to serve as a turning point in the story. For example, Helen's discovery at the beginning of 'Winters' serves two purposes. One - it's the literal 'push over the cliff' that she's been hanging onto since Jake's mental collapse in 'NOTS', the moment where she finds that everything in her world - everything that means anything to her - is shattered and unrecognizable. From that point on, it's being dropped into the wilderness, and trying to claw her way out. Two - it's there for the readers. The way I wrote Helen's discovery of the girls was specifically designed to throw the biggest shock I could imagine into the reader; that way, it's now 'Okay... we've had the sex - now, can we get on with the story?' I put it up front to get it out of the way.
Finally, the more graphic elements actually represent the progression of character or relationship traits in the fic. Long story short - the more physically intimate any two characters are, the weaker their emotional connection has become.
6. If you could write the story over again, is there any part of it you would change?
Going back over a point from earlier, I would put back a scene I'd written - the original scene between Daria and Jane in Daria's cabin. I did a disservice by putting Daria and Jane in the tub, even though I never intended to have sex between them (for those who haven't read 'Winters'... no, they didn't). There should never have been any indication of physicality implied. In fact, I'm sending an edited version of Part Four to the Sh33p's Fluff, where I put the original back. One of my beta readers suggested that I should do it that way - in the tub - and I listened, even though I wasn't comfortable with it. Lesson learned the hard way, folks - if it doesn't feel right, don't do it or use it.
Something else that I'd like to change, but I can't, is that I'd like to put back a scene with Trent at the retreat. It was a decent scene where Trent, alone in his cabin during the storm, comes to terms with the fact that Jane and Daria care for one another, and that he's going to have to accept that he's not the most important thing in his sister's life. He's still in her heart, no doubt, but someone else is now first. Problem was, there was no place for it where it didn't derail the flow of the story.
I'd also make it clearer, sooner, that Quinn was not going to make it through 'Winters' intact, as well as have a clearer understanding of why. Helen made it through because she had maturity and the means to be honest with herself, and Daria had Jane to be her strength, but throughout the fic, Quinn was all alone.
Finally, I would love to put a subplot back in; Sandi, insanely jealous because of the publicity (and popularity boost) Quinn gets because of what happened with Jake, develops a VERY nasty plan to humiliate and destroy her. She was to go to Mr. O'Neill (and the majority of his part is still there) and tell him that Quinn was having relations with both Jake and Helen. The upswing of that was that Mr. O'Neill and Sandi would have been found dead at the bottom of the quarry in O'Neill's car, with the indication that they were making out and somebody hit something they shouldn't have; DeMartino has his suspicions, and they are confirmed when Miss Barch appears at his home and needs to talk. O'Neill told her everything, including his plan to inform Ms. Li, the administration, the police, and everyone else that 'could help them all...' She killed them because Sandi 'had to go', and because O'Neill would have destroyed three women by thinking he was helping them - the way men have always done, sooner or later... DeMartino listens, and then, having nothing to say, offers coffee, and they drink together in silence. I had it all plotted out, but (again) the beta readers slapped me in the face with the baseball bat of common sense and pointed out that it diluted the main story.
7. What was the most insightful thing you recall a reader saying about your story?
If you get a chance, go to the SFMB and read Sleepless' postings on 'Winters'. 99%, right on the money. That's another thing I wish I could go back and do with the story - if I could, I'd have used Sleepless as a beta reader. My other betas were beyond great - for their own protection, they shall remain nameless - but Sleepless, if you're reading this and you want a beta gig, drop me an e-mail. Your comments will always be welcome.
8. How do you see Helen as a character in this story? What are her core values, as you see them, and what moved you to write her up as she appears?
Helen begins her journey in 'Winters' as a hyped-up version of the woman we know, determined to clean up Jake's mess, and take care of everything else - but as we see in the opening, mentally - she's in free-fall. Seeing what she saw exploded any illusion that life at Schloss Morgendorffer could ever go back to normal... and from there, the walls start imploding.
Her core values? First, she cares deeply for her family, and she has some measure of shame that she wants them all to fit some specific mold in her mind that she never told them about or why, but still pushes them towards being like that... Daria, in particular, who she wanted to show off as a 'model child' in order to prove (to herself, at least) that everything she's done has been worth it, even though she knows that she hasn't been the best parent in the world. Next, Helen is strong and courageous - not as much as I'd have thought; after all, she doesn't face some obviously major problems right off - but when the time comes, she faces her fear, and she's strong enough to not surrender to the fear and the darkness inside herself. Finally - she's honest. She's honest enough to examine what's going on, and to admit that she and her daughters have a world of problems that they can't possibly solve themselves.
As for why I wrote her this way - I wanted to completely blow her apart, put her in a world of unending stress... and then see just how she was going to manage to put it back together. Spielberg once said that Act One of every film is about the main character losing control of his life, and Acts Two and Three are about him trying to regain control of his life. I sort of buy into that...
9. What do readers say to you about the story itself?
That's actually funny - in general, I haven't received much direct response about 'Winters' at all! I mean, there was a bit of a flurry on the SFMB and I received a couple of e-mails, but overall, I had far more response to some of my earlier fics than to 'Winters!' I guess what someone posted was true - 'Daria' fandom has greatly matured over the years. Of course, people could have also pegged it as a piece of flame bait, and decided to simply ignore it...
10. What other fanfics influenced you in the writing of this story, besides the original "Night of the Storm"?
Shipperfics. Invisigoth Gypsy's continuum was a huge influence, without a doubt, as well as Diane Lane's stuff - especially 'I Saw You Standing There', and the 'Undone' trilogy. There's also a great 'Star Trek: Voyager' fic writer named Tenderware, who's done some beautiful Janeway/Seven works, and I was a fan of hers while she was active in their fandom. (If you ever get a chance, read 'Sustenance') In the case of the Daria/Jane angle, I was looking at the way other writers took their characters down the road to them realizing that yes, they wanted to be together - screw the rest of the world. For the most part, I wasn't looking at Daria erotica or porn, because that's not what the story was about. It had to be there, yes, without doubt, but this wasn't about Daria and Quinn being together. If there's one misconception that I'd like to smash about 'Winters', it's that this fic was about 'Daria and Quinn in bed'. No. It's about Helen's reality collapsing all about her, how what happens with Daria and Quinn becomes a major part of that collapse, and how (and why) she and Daria escape the chaos.
11. How was Jane's character developed, as you envisioned her?
Jane's character was loosely based on myself, in a twisted little thing I had some years ago, when I actually believed that one of those cute, nice-smelling things that walk all around - WOMEN. Yeah, they're called 'women'... back when I actually believed that one of them would actually like me. Jane's attitude is 'I care for you - I care so much for you and yes, maybe I do love you - but you're really pissing me off, and I don't really like you right now... no, I HATE you right now - how could you do this?' I knew that I wanted Daria and Jane together at the end of 'Winters', but after everything Daria's done, Jane's horribly angry.
I also wanted to stay somewhat in canon (pauses to let the laughter stop) with Jane, by having her take the initiative in their relationship - if you watch the show, most of the things that happen with them together - including their meeting for the first time - are initiated by Jane. In 'Winters', we see Jane take the initiative three times, presenting herself to Daria in a bold fashion that each time says 'I'm here for you. No matter what you've done, I'm here for you, and nothing and no one is going to stop me.'
Unless, of course, Daria did something totally horrible - then, she'd have to go to Jane - which also happens. In a nutshell, Jane's basically the Jane of shipperfic; adventurous, curious, a bit more feminine than she lets on, and totally devoted to anyone she lets into her heart.
12. Your fics have been referred to as 'Daria mental-torture fics' - and it does seem that in your works, Daria does take more than the occasional emotional pounding. Is this on purpose - and if so, why?
First, I want to say that I'm sort of honored, especially with the company I'm keeping - in terms of turning the screws on OH. Has anyone else's works been singled with their own unique sub-grouping in fanfic? Damn, I guess I do deserve that scarlet lightsaber!
Seriously, though - this answer won't be so wordy. (Yeah, right.) Yes, I guess it is true. Why? I subscribe to - for lack of a better phrasing - the military's style of training. Break them down, and then build them back up as a member of your group. Problem is, when you have someone who's really smart or a dedicated 'individual' - in the Greek system in college, those types who want you to know that they aren't going to be members of the system are known as 'GDI's (or 'God-Dammed Individuals') - they can see through the system, but they won't get involved, or they just won't go along. That's when you have to come up with something special... Daria, in the service, would be one of those types. She would be a pain - and they'd break her down hard, because she would make smart-ass remarks and generally bring down unit morale. I guess that's what I do in my fics - break OH down hard, and then, try to build her back up, and not necessarily as a joiner. In 'IAAR', I have a scene that describes one reason I torment Daria like I do:
Kyle popped the top on another can of root beer; he noticed that Daria was still seated. "Is this going to be a civilized talk, Miss Morgendorffer, or should I get my body armor out?"
"You don't like me."
"I don't know you," he lied. "Tell me, why should I like you?"
Daria sat quietly, and Kyle came around to the front of his desk. "There's only one thing I know about you, Miss Morgendorffer. You don't seem to care about anything or anyone."
Kyle sat down on the front of his desk. "What would you fight for, Miss Morgendorffer? What do you care enough about that's worth taking a real stand, and not just doing because you're being stubborn and want to piss off your folks or whomever you want angry?"
Daria looked away from him. "What would you die for? Why should anyone believe you? Why should anyone place their life or the lives of those they care for in your hands? Why should anyone trust you?"
He looked at Daria for a long moment. "Think your answer over. Two to five pages, due in three days."
For someone who has so much to say about everyone and everything, Daria's never really stood for anything - unless you ask other characters like Andrea, who see her as a character assassin of the first order. In 'TSWCOT', I said that one of the things that I liked about 'Daria' was that, just like Ally McBeal, sometimes, I just can't stand her - and one of the biggest gripes I had (notice the past tense, folks!) was - shields to full -
What the hell do YOU have to be sarcastic and cynical about? You're highly intelligent and have a good grasp of how the world really works, you have a financially secure and reasonably stable family... okay, well, they'd worry about you if you didn't come home and go looking - HEY! Your dad went out in a HURRICANE looking for you! You are not ugly or even plain (remember 'Quinn the Brain?'), you have cool friends and if you were honest about it, you'd go ahead and admit that you're popular and a trendsetter around your school! You've got young people who listen to you and admire you, you've influenced people and they've looked up to you as an example, you're recognized as a worthwhile person even by those who think you're weird or different, and let's see - how many 'real catch' kind of guys have had their eye on you? Girl, you hooked a trust fund baby!
You? Sarcastic? Cynical? A 'misery chick'? SHUT THE FUCK UP!
I'll give you a reason to be miserable...
I've gotten past that stage in my writing Dariafic - in fact, I'm not sure that I'll finish 'IAAR'. I'm just not that angry at the character anymore.
13. You must have known the reaction that Daria fandom would have towards 'The Winters Of Those Gone Before'. Why, then, did you write it?
Actually, I didn't know that I'd get the reaction I did when I released it. I was expecting WORSE. One of my beta readers said that when this was released, there would be long, drawn-out discussions on who would get to shoot me, where they would shoot me, and what they would be shooting me with... the words 'vilified' and 'noose' also came out at various points. Just kidding. No one ever said 'noose'.
I wrote it because it was something I had to do. Yes, I know how it sounds. Still, when you get an idea and it's trying to get out, you have to let it go where it wants. I was also in a really bad place during 2004. Writing a fic like this took me out of the places I was in.
14. What purpose, if any, do you see in erotica besides as an aid to masturbation?
To quote Cat from 'Red Dwarf', 'You need more?' Okay, hoisting myself from the gutter, there actually is purpose in erotica, as opposed to pornography, which is there solely for the purpose of stimulating the user. One - erotica is a legitimate artistic exercise. There is nothing wrong with examining human sexuality and the human form for the simple aesthetic pleasure that it brings outside of the physical stimulation it may foster. (There's an incredible black-and-white nude in the February 1992 'Playboy' that, had I the means to do so, I would have an original print made and mounted. It's a fabulous work, outside of the fact that it's a partial nude. Two - by examining a culture's erotica, one can develop a sense of what the mores of that culture were at a specific point in history. What did the men and women of good culture and breeding in Great Britain of the late 1800's find provocative, and how does that differ from the 'Page 3 girls' of the present day? Three - by examining the manner in which erotica is made and presented, we get to understand the artistic, and perhaps even the political, mindset and methods of those time-periods from whence it came.
One more. Erotica is that material which you can display or peruse in public (more or less), and get disapproving expressions, but no one will protest or try to do bad things to you. There's a famous shoeshine shop here in Peoria; one of the magazines available for gentlemen to read is 'Playboy'. If 'Hustler' was placed out for public reading, there'd be protesters within the hour outside the ship, and the story would go national before dinner.
Of course, these are just my opinions. Your experiences in reality may vary.
Well, I guess that's all. Thank you for your questions.