Stories that I love, fall into one of two categories. The first is all about the words. The prose jumps out at me and I linger over beautiful sentences and how they echo long after I finish the story, still evoking emotion and pulling me back in again. The second is when all of the words fall away, and the page becomes a movie screen and the action unfolds, bright and vivid and alive. Both of those experiences are rare, but when they do happen I take notice and seek out everything by that writer I can find. For me Speranza’s stories do both. For me they feel more like fanvideos than fanfiction, and wow what epic TV series they are, but often her words also break through the screen, and make me pause and turn them over again to try to figure out how she works her magic and loads up these emotional bombs that land and make my head spin or break my heart.
Speranza’s “4 Minute Window” series was the first set of fic that took the place of canon material for me. I’d been pretty happy with the Captain America series so far, I loved The First Avenger and went full on Stucky after The Winter Soldier, but before I saw Civil War, I read “4 Minute Window,” and for me, Speranza’s version of what happened next just seemed right. Her stories gave me the emotional closure that I wanted and the answer to the epic question of “What’s going to happen to Steve and Bucky?” When I finally saw Civil War, although I really liked it, I just logged it as a Marvel Studios AU and slotted “4 Minute Window” back into place. My Captain America arc is First Avenger, Winter Soldier, 4 Minute Window, and I’m much happier with it.
At the time of this interview back in June, Speranza was still turning over the problem that was the Wakandan post credit scene at the end of Civil War, and for me she solved it in her latest story “The Way Out Is The Way Down.” I suggest if you’re in any way unsatisfied with the way Civil War ended, this may be the solution for you.
I do think that in fact fandom compensates a lot for the fact that major media is really good at plotting, but they’re just not as good at catharsis of any kind. If you want catharsis, you come to us.
Curious: The first thing I always like to ask folks about when I talk to them is how they came up with their fandom handle. I’ve seen you as Speranza on AO3 and Cesperanza on Tumblr. Can I ask you where your handle came about?
Speranza: Ha, it’s actually an Oscar Wilde reference; Lady Jane Francesca ‘Speranza’ Wilde was Oscar Wilde’s mother. She’s like a wealth of cool names – but Speranza was her literary pseud, so I took it for mine. She also claimed to be related to Dante – a total lie, but you have to love her for trying. Cesperanza is just the variant I came up with when Speranza was taken on social media.
Curious: On AO3 you have stories across 24 fandoms. It seems like you’ve written in every fandom.
Speranza: No, I haven’t actually! You know I always used to joke that I’m the person who goes into a fandom and builds like the post office and the town hall and a subway. I go in and I live there for ten years and build infrastructure. I’m not on the cutting edge … But when I leave a town, it is built, my friend!
Curious: I noticed that with your prolific work in due South.
Speranza: Yeah. I was there for five years. In fannish time that’s like dinosaurs. It’s a long time in fannish time – If I get in, I’m in.
Curious: Yeah, I went to Bitchin’ Party, which still has a lot of due South fans and they still speak your name with reverence.
Speranza: Ah, good to know! The Canadians still know me! I mean, not actual Canadians, but the Canada fandom. It’s a great fandom, yeah?
Curious: How long how you’ve been in fandom would you say?
Speranza: Oh my God! I’ve been in fandom since … I’m embarrassed to say how long I’ve been in fandom. I think that my life in fandom starts about 1980. I came into fandom in the middle of the original Star Wars as a kid. I started on Star Wars fanfiction, this is how old I am. I am super cute, okay? Just telling you, but I’m kinda getting old now. I was a kid and I came into fandom between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, when we didn’t know that Luke was Leia’s sister. That’s how long I have been in fandom, despite my super cuteness. I mean, I was really a child and in fact, living through Harry Potter was like living through Star Wars all over again, where both Star Wars and Harry Potter brought in huge numbers of mundanes into fandom. Half of whom stayed and joined fandom broadly speaking and half of whom were fannish but only about Star Wars or Harry Potter.
Harry Potter was really special. Half the people who came into fandom in these enormous cultural moments – Star Wars from ’77 to ’83 and what Harry Potter was in the nineties into the 2000s – half of them came and just converted to fandom. They became fannish and they moved into other fandoms. The other half think it’s cool if you have a Darth Vader helmet on your wall but if you say: “Yeah, and I’ve been writing fan fiction for 20 years,” they go: “Oh, you’re weird.”
Curious: It’s such a double standard.
Speranza: I was a Trekkie even before Star Wars. See, the early eighties, this is where I sound really old, the early eighties were a great time to be a fan because you had Empire and you had Blade Runner, and you had the first and second Indiana Jones and you had Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan,. E. T.
Literally the early eighties into the mid-eighties was the science-fiction boom. That was when fandom was on paper, and so many conventions and all of that. Then I disappeared for a couple of years while I went to college and graduate school. When I came back, in the early nineties, the internet had happened, it was like all of the same people I knew in the 80s had gone online. In fact, I got online because I had a university account in the 90s. I was like: “Oh my God, I know all you people.” Not literally, but I knew exactly what fandom was because I had been in it in the analog version. I came in to fandom and I was like: “Wow, this is fanfic, this is people doing fandom, but they’re doing it online.” I got into all my fandoms right away in the 90s and never left again.
Curious: Do you go to cons or meetups, or mainly interact online?
Speranza: I do all of that, but sure, online. Everybody’s fandom is online now. That’s the mode du jour.
Curious: Very true.
Speranza: Even so, the older I get, the more I like to be with other fans. I like to be with fans in real life. I live in New York so I go to meetups, I hang out with fans. My life is a fannish life.
Curious: How do you feel that it’s changed since you started out in fandom?
Speranza: It’s really just a matter of access. Before, if you wanted to be in fandom, it was harder. I remember asking my parents to write a check for the Star Wars fan club, because they needed a check back then.
You had to go to mom and dad and say: “Would you write me this seven-dollar check so I can be in the Star Wars fan club?” Anyway, if you wanted to be fannish, you needed to have a grown-up. If you wanted to go to a convention, you needed to get on a plane. I remember going to my first convention as an adult, it was when I got a car to be able to drive to a hotel and go to a convention.
What’s great about the internet and social media, especially social media where you don’t even have to know how to code, you can just put in a username and a password and find people. The access has exploded, in terms of who can play, and because more people can play, and more people can play from their homes, you no longer need a flight, you no longer need a checkbook. You see this great “youngening,” but that’s great. The kids are so talented today, I always joke when I write to young fic writers: “If I could write like you when I was 14, I would run the whole world.”
Curious: You said you had a fannish life. What do you get out of fandom?
Speranza: You name it! It’s an art world for me, it’s a place where you make things all the time. It’s very funny, dudes actually live this life all the time where they have friends and they do things together and they build cars or they’re in a band. They’re with their friends but they’re also making stuff. I have to say, in fandom, to be with women who are engaged with making stuff and on some level engage in the problem of making stuff or reading … Even making the reading of a thing, interpreting is a creative act. “What does the end of Civil War mean?” “What does this show tell us?” “What is meta?” All of that stuff, to be making things with other women is the most exciting thing in the world.
Curious: I totally agree, I’m right there with you.
Speranza: Yeah, I think there are other creative people who knit. I think knitters have a similar world, I think sculptors have a similar world, or getting together and making music with people. I don’t think we’re the only game in town, there are other ways to do it but for me fandom has been the place where I get together with people creatively. I value it immensely.
Curious: When I talk to a lot of my friends, some of whom are original fiction writers, they always ask me: “Well, why do you write fan fiction? Why don’t you write original fiction?” My answer is always, “Well, right now I really enjoy writing fan fiction, it’s just what I want to do.” So, what about you? Why do you write fan fiction?
Speranza: I do it because it’s fun. Most people can’t imagine writing as something fun–because I think they think writing is difficult somehow, unlike gardening or knitting or singing or painting or any number of the things that people do for fun. They go: “Sure, you’re doing that for fun,” but to say you’re writing for fun – most people think that writing is work in a particular kind of way. I think actually with women there’s also always a resistance to having fun. There’s is a sense that women’s labor always has to be productive. “Well, you’re writing, but why aren’t you writing for money?” The answer is: “Because it’s fun!”” Writing for money is great, but then it’s a job, right?
It’s like somebody knits you a sweater, you say: “Oh, that’s great, why aren’t you running a knitwear company?” The answer is that truly that would be a very interesting thing to do, and women should run knitwear companies, but I am actually just knitting this for fun. You know what I mean?
Sometimes there’s a weird resistance. Sometimes even in fandom there’s almost a sense that you have to be doing something useful. I feel like quite the hedonist, I think that we can learn all sorts of skills, but it’s okay just to do it because it’s super fun. I think for women to say that it’s really fun is still actually a subversive act.
Curious: Yeah, I agree. I have friend who struggles with that, they feel angst when they write fan fiction because they feel like they should be doing something else, something more productive or maybe monetizable…But, I’m like: “Well, you’re still creating art. You may not be selling it, but you’re creating it and sharing it, and others are into it, that has to be a good thing, no?”
Speranza: Yes, I think there is a kind of angst about it, like: “Well, have you done something productive?” Women are so productive already and there so few outlets for pleasure. I don’t know why everything hats to be literally capitalized. I just want to be clear, I’m not against actualizing capitalizing fan fiction skills, I think it’s actually great. I think fandom is a terrific source of learning. We all play. Play teaches, you know? When you play parent you learn how to parent. Play is preparation for life, right? We should play, because that’s great. You learn skills and I’m totally in favor of fan girls learning skills, but you don’t have to. You’re not obliged to be useful, you can have fun.