I always pick pleasure before artistic integrity. Pleasure is much more important than artistic integrity. Tell your readers: “Pleasure is much more important than artistic integrity.”
Curious: I wanted to ask you about your use of POV in your stories. Yours feels very fluid, you move around through the multiple characters and find the right person at the right time. When you’re writing a story do you know whose point of view you want to write from going in? Or do you will discover that along the way?
Speranza: I do think about point of view a lot. I don’t have a rule, except that you want to be in the most interesting point of view. Often, that’s not where the action is actually happening, because then you know too much. I did a story in due South called “Eight Sessions,” which was actually one of the ones I’m proud of. I put a note on it being like: “Oh my God, this story was so hard.” People really liked the story, but it was hellish to write. It was a story where the characters, both of them, had a secret that they shared. It was hell, because they had to not think of the thing that should be most foremost in their minds. It was quite tricky, I was dealing with characters who had a secret where I needed to keep the secret. The question was: How do people not think about a thing? How can you not think about something, that you otherwise, should be the forefront of your mind? How do you write about a mind not telling you something? It was brutal.
Natasha’s been really useful, I try actually not to be in the head where the stuff is really happening. It’s interesting to be in the next head over, problem solving. I think about that a lot. I’m not a fan of the fannish trope of just doing the same scene in everybody’s POV, unless there’s really a rational reason to do it. I think that there is something to be said for a bit of mystery and letting the character actively figure out the puzzle of it. Some of it is just cheating, too. You have to think about who knows what and when you want the reader to know what the character knows.
In “4 Minute Window,” Natasha is trying to figure out what’s going on and Steve presumably knows much earlier, but you don’t want to let the reader know that Steve knows and yet Steve knows but has to not think overtly what he knows. He’s thinking like: “Oh, Bucky’s coming to get me, yay,” – and then the story is over, right?
Curious: Yeah the tension is gone.
Speranza: It’s quite a trick releasing information and how you let that information come out. Natasha was crucial in that story for any number of reasons. One, because of my villain problem. In “4 Minute Window,” the question was: will Steve and Bucky escape? The answer is: “yeah, probably.” Unless they’re up against Natasha, then it’s questionable. You don’t want to bet against Natasha, man. We love Natasha. We know she’s super competent. If anybody is gonna take Bucky down it’s Natasha. We also don’t want to see her lose. It’s one of those cases that even if they win, they lose because you don’t want Natasha to lose. You always want to have good stakes on both sides. If you have Steve and Bucky versus a giant robot, Steve and Bucky are gonna win. With Natasha, they might not win, because my money is seriously on Natasha. People were really afraid of Natasha in “4 Minute Window,” which is great. People were like: “Oh, my God, she’s gonna get them!”
Curious: I was worried too.
Speranza: She’s Natasha! She’s awesome. Also she was the one who figured out the puzzle. All of the puzzle solving had to be in her point of view. Because if you’re in Bucky’s head, Bucky knows what his plan is. POV can really be used to create good puzzles. You just have to find the head that doesn’t know stuff.
Curious: Do you have a particular character that you enjoy writing the most?
Speranza: No, but I will say Tony steals every scene he is in. I wrote in The West Wing, Toby was a character who I would have said was not my favorite. I was a Josh/Donna shipper, but if Toby showed up, he owned it. It’s the same thing with Tony Stark. He’s a snarky bastard and he delights me and he always says something I don’t expect him to say. I would say I don’t write Tony that much, but I love him every time he shows up.
Curious: I wanted to ask you about your “Scenes from a Marriage: A Month of Sundays” story. You talked before about having an in depth beta process that can go multiple rounds, but with this story you wrote and posted a chapter every day. What was that process like?
Speranza: Very different, tight-ropy. In fact, I don’t know that I would stake my reputation on it or anything. That was literally giving myself something fun to look forward to every day, while I was reading a lot of bad student prose. No, that’s not how I would work at all. Those are just snippets and in fact, I don’t want to say … I’m really happy people enjoyed it. I enjoyed writing it. It was nice to open this little window and check in, but it didn’t have the rigor that I would probably do for a more major story.
At that point the universe was well established. At that point I just wanted to go there and visit. Oh, what are they doing today? It was literally like popping in. It didn’t have to have that rigor. In “4 Minute Window,” sometimes I just wanna go and see what they’re doing, stick my face in. In my original idea for “4 Minute Window” they were supposed to just disappear.
Curious: Oh! Really?
Speranza: The whole thing was set up for them to disappear. I set it up like they’d run away. I showed my hand in the little Thanksgiving snippet (“The Second Time As Farce,”) I wrote before I was fully finished, and the whole idea of that was: “Captain America and his friend have just vanished and become legendary!” You can see how well I stuck to that, which is to say not at all.
If I were being a pro fiction writer about it, I probably would have stuck to my original concept, but I am not! I’m a fan writer. As a fan writer I just believe in massive amounts of pleasure. When I wrote the Thanksgiving snippet, the idea of that was Natasha sees them at the parade and thinks: “they’re gone, nobody’s seen Captain America for five years.” But when I got to the end of the actual story I was like: oh wow, I have this perfect scenario for this domestic fic and for Bucky!Cap,” and I was helpless.
I always pick pleasure before artistic integrity. Pleasure is much more important than artistic integrity. Tell your readers: “Pleasure is much more important than artistic integrity.” I just gave it up. I was like: “Well, yeah, this is super fun.”
Curious: I’m glad you decided to stay with them and continue the story. I loved watching how they evolved, now that they’ve gotten “out.”
Speranza: Right?! In some way, some part of me is: “Yeah, the story is really over at the end of the first one and then there are these sort of sequels,” but then it became interesting to go: “Oh, what are they doing over there? What’s going on?” By the end of the series, flirting with the idea of if they would ever let Steve alone? I continued it because I wanted to peek in on them.
Curious: You can just close “4 Minute Window” and be like, that’s it, that’s the end of the story.
Speranza: You can stop right there or you could also keep going. I don’t really write serialized anymore, but every so often I set up a universe and I’m like: “I want to go back and see what’s happening.” It takes a lot of work to set up these big AUs. Having done it, you’re like: “oh, what are you doing in there?”
Curious: Exactly, yeah. You’ve laid the foundation, why not continue to play? “4 Minute Window” isn’t over yet, is it?
Speranza: I don’t think so, I don’t know. I always write like it could stop. I don’t even consider that a work in progress, but I might write another sequel. They’re all sequels. I can imagine that story going on. Right now, I’m trying to fix Civil War. My plate is full of the Civil War thing.
Curious: Yeah, you were eight stories deep in the “4 Minute Window” AU when Civil War finally dropped. What did you think about it in relation to your story?
Speranza: I like trying to fit with canon as much as I can. But “4 Minute Window” is its own thing now. Obviously they met and they came back together in a different way than what happened in Civil War. People said afterward, “If they had only left the tag off Civil War, they could have just escaped and gone into your story.” Obviously, when you have new canon then it changes things. “4 Minute Window” was so established that I don’t think I’m gonna try tremendously hard to hook Civil War into it. Civil War is the new canon and I do like new canon. I want to try to think about what happens after. I think that Wakanda tag was hard. I think it’s workable, I’m writing a bunch of things, partly just to show myself the ways in which you can make that work. It was good, but it is a little challenging.
Curious: Yeah, it was very surprising, that ending in Wakanda. I wasn’t expecting that turn with Bucky…
Speranza: Yeah, the problem is that it’s a bottleneck. It’s not even that the event is bad or badly characterized. The problem is that it’s a bottleneck because it– I keep joking, if people pop Bucky in the microwave for three minutes, you can do anything. It’s dinner, but you have to defrost it. On the other hand it means that every story has to start with Bucky’s defrosting and that’s kind of dumb. Narratively, it’s dull. What we really need to do, and I think fandom is working on it, I hear the typewriters metaphorically clacking, we need to find a way that you can just get over that really quick. Because otherwise you feel like you have always tell the same story. If they had left the tag off, literally, you could do anything. It’s open ended. You could be like: “They ran way from Siberia and, triple dot.”
Curious: Yeah, you could take them anywhere.
Speranza: Anywhere in the world. Now, it’s like you have this bottleneck of this Wakanda and the cryofreeze to get through. I do resent it a little bit. I’m also gonna drop something that’s just open ended. I’ll do one that gets over it, and I’ll do on that’s epilogue non-compliant. We also have the right to be like: “Yeah, let’s just forget that. Let’s just go.”
Curious: I totally agree with that.
Speranza: Fandom is a magical thing. It’s not necessary about quality. Quality is important but it’s not like we write about the good stuff, we write about stuff that tickles our imagination in particular ways. I think actually Civil War was quite good, but it was less immediately provocative of fic than Winter Soldier.
Curious: Winter Soldier made me want more immediately.
Speranza: Did you like Civil War?
Curious: I did like it. I enjoyed it. It had a blast when I saw it. This is embarrassing, but I loved Winter Soldier and I liked Civil War. But after I read “4 Minute Window,” I thought it was a much more satisfying emotional arc for all of the characters, so for me, when I think of the Captain America trilogy, I just replace Civil War with your story and I’m much more satisfied. But I do love the Russos and I like what they were trying to do. I think I just wish it had been a standalone Cap story, and more Steve/Bucky focused instead of Avengers 2.5.
Speranza: I know people are working on the Big Bang, which is good. It does feel like Civil War gave us all this great, huge, new canon. Then it fed us back into this bottleneck with that tag. I just think it would have been a different movie if they ended it without the tag.