One of my favorite things is talking to writers about process and writing, and talking to fans about what got them into fandom, so to finally get to chat with Tiltedsyllogism about all of these things was a treat.
I first met Syllogism in 2015, at the Sherlock Seattle convention. I remember we took a break from the panels and the crowds and went to a restaurant nearby, and as we crossed the street she told me about this Sherlock fusion she had finished writing, a realistic retelling of The Little Mermaid set in Victorian times. I thought it sounded like the coolest thing and when I read it, my initial assumptions were confirmed. All Our Gifts At Once, or, the Young Sea-man was so much more than just cool, it was lush and melancholy, romantic and tragic, and in the end still hopeful.
From the very opening, All Our Gifts at Once sweeps you back into the era and into the world. The language she uses to build evokes the tone and mood of a fairy tale, even as there is no mistake this she is weaving a world without magic. And as I read a chapter a night, so as to stretch out the story as long as I could, I found myself looking forward to slipping back into that world each night, to pick up where I left off and follow beside John Watson down this inevitable path.
The next time we met up, at 221B con, we talked about the new Victorian fusion she was gearing up to write, a Sherlock take on Kipling’s Jungle Book. Again, coolest thing… By the time this interview goes live she will have, or be almost finished, with Of One Blood: John’s Adventures in the Jungle and I’m excited to dive in and get lost in this new world.
I feel in some ways original fiction is shorthand for, “I’m going to use genre conventions instead of the conventions of a very specific textual canon.”
Can you tell me about your fandom handle tiltedsyllogism, what’s the story behind the name?
Actually this is going to be very disappointing story. It was clearly conceived by somebody who never planned to interact with anyone else socially. I’d been reading a lot of Emily Dickinson and she has that line, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” I’d been reading a lot of Sherlock Season one fanfic, in which Sherlock is this perfectly logical creature except he’s not, either because he discovers love or because there’s been a sort of implicit failure in his logical capacities all along. That was the version I preferred, not the one who’s transmuted by the discovery, but the one who’s been slightly skewed all along.
So I think the originally I wanted “slantedsyllogism.” I liked the way it sounded and it seemed like a good way to represent Sherlock’s way of understanding his own place in the world. The first thing I thought I should do if I wanted to join the fandom was to get a LiveJournal, but it was too many characters. I didn’t have the juice to think of something that different, so that’s the story. It’s not a very good handle, I would totally change it. I like syllogism actually.
Were you involved in fandom before Sherlock? What’s your fannish history?
I was in the OBSSE (Order of the Blessed Saint Scully the Enigmatic) for a while, and then I hung out on the West Wing boards at Television Without Pity. In all these cases they were primarily meta-communities or focused around shared enthusiasm. I also did a lot of filking. But I didn’t write fanfiction and I didn’t really read it, although I think a lot of people in those communities did.
Then there was Battlestar Galactica, which I loved more than anything I have ever loved or probably will love again. Everyone in my graduate program was totally obsessed with it, as were a couple of other friends that I had locally who were sort of fannish in temperament. So I didn’t have to go anywhere. There were times when I wanted to read Battlestar fanfiction because I just wanted more canon, but I stopped really quickly because I realized how delicate was this sense that these fictional characters and their reality was real. I mean, you get into fanfiction and you realize that that’s a mode of engagement, and when you shift into “fic” mode where you’re thinking you can create new realities or backstories, and that’s different. I really wanted to preserve the sense that they didn’t belong to me. It’s like a different notion of canon, and I really wanted to preserve that.
And then there was Sherlock. We watched the first season with a friend and then when the second season came out my wife got it for me and we watched it and then stayed awake in bed being like, “But why? How? We have to know!” So we were there. We also hung out with some friends later that summer who weren’t grad students. They were smart and interesting and educated people, but also didn’t hate themselves in the way that we hated ourselves! They didn’t hate their lives! And so we were like, what can we learn here? And so I asked one of those friends, “What do you do to keep yourself happy?” And she said, “Well I read a lot of fanfiction.” And I thought, well I can do that.
So I deliberately started reading fanfiction for the therapeutic value. It was like a very direct choice and it was Sherlock because I’d been watching Sherlock, and also because it was such an intertextual show. It’s very clear about all the different layers of adaptation that are going on in it. It’s so reflexive. I didn’t feel like I was going to suffer “canon damage” the way that I might have done with something like Battlestar. So I started reading it, but I was going to write it. I didn’t have any ideas. It didn’t even feel like a possibility. Then after about six months I was like, well may be I have some ideas, but I’m not going to. Then I floated it by my wife and was like, “What would you think if I took our relationship in this direction? If we become a couple in which somebody was writing fanfiction?” And she was like, “I support you.”
I had written fiction very very seriously starting in elementary school. All through high school I won a lot of local contests and everyone was like, “Oh this is what you’re going to do with your life.” Then I had kind of a panic attack about how lots of people wanted to be writers and did I have anything to say that was important? I didn’t know that I did. Many people wanted to do this and what made me think that wanting to do it meant that I was good enough to succeed? And so I sort of had this crisis and quit. I could never get back into it. I tried half-a-dozen times and I could never make myself finish anything.
Once I realized that I was actually interested in writing fanfiction I thought, well even if I don’t have a lot of readers, I’ll have some. That’s a reason to finish. I don’t know anyone else who got into it quite this way. But that’s how I did it. I started reading fic with this very deliberate therapeutic strategy and then I started writing it pretty deliberately because I thought this was a part of my life that was missing and here was a way to start having it again.
Were you actively participating in the Sherlock fandom when you started writing for it?
I read a lot of fanfic before I ever thought about writing any. I started hanging out in the Antidiogenes writer’s chatroom within a month or two of starting to write. I read for about six months in before I even started commenting on anyone’s fic, that’s how committed I was to not being a part of the fandom. I was just a lurker and then I started commenting, building in that very small way a relationship with a few writers. Most of them didn’t experience it as relationship building because they were, for the most part, people who had a lot of readers. I stalked a handful of people’s tumblrs and one of them was coloredink. At one point she posted something like, “I’m taking prompts in this chat room,” and I was like, “I’m gonna go to that chat room.”
Other than that I was like, I’m not going to have a relationship with anybody, and then I was like, well I’m gonna meet this one author. Within a week of that, I went to Antidiogenes. I hadn’t been in a chat room since 2000, so it’s really surprising in some ways that I’m in the Sherlock fandom.
It’s been this steady case of drifting, like well I’ll do this, well I won’t do that. Then, ok I’ll do this thing after all, but, well, I’m not going to do that… then six months later I’m doing that thing. I’ve founded a LiveJournal community, I’ve got a tumblr, I’ve gone to two cons now. There’s nowhere else to go.
It’s a slippery slope.
I am here. I am in.