To write, there always needs to be a little bit where I’m like: “Well, that’s good, but it would be better if they did something different.”
Curious: Where do you think you’ll go next with your writing?
Speranza: I don’t know. I feel like I’ve gotta play with Civil War. I think I’m gonna be banging on the tires of Civil War for a while. I think it’s a puzzle to be unsolved or solved. I’m applying my brain to the problem and I think that the solution … because there’s not one solution… is kind of multiplicity. Actually in fact, I have a sequel to The Fifties in progress, too, but I’m much more interested in trying to unpick the puzzle of Civil War. I think it’s more important for the fandom.
Fanfic can do that. I love fanfic, I love other people’s fanfic. When we started this conversation I was saying I was a third-wave writer. One of the reasons I am is that I love other people’s fics. I love borrowing from it, I like the collective tapestry of it. I don’t actually think you have to solve every problem by yourself, we can collectively solve them, and many of our solutions are better than what canon comes up with. I feel like I’m in the group project of trying to make Civil War work for us.
Curious: Yeah, it’s an interesting challenge. I’m glad that fandom is there to take up the charge.
Speranza: I think comic’s fandom is just serialized, Where it’s like: “Well, you just wait for the the next thing.” They don’t think like fic writers in that way. That’s different than what fandom wants to do with a text. From their point of view, I get what they were doing, I do think that tag was setting up a redemption arc. I don’t think it was unthinking. I think the Russos are quite smart but they don’t think like fan writers, they think like serialized comic books, where they cram as much as they can into a thing. I think it’s fandom job to make it be meaningful.
Curious: I agree. It seemed like they were just setting it up for Bucky’s possible introduction into the Black Panther story. Which will be interesting.
Speranza: It’s a tricky thing, you establish this guy who’s killed all these people. Presumably in a movie in a year or something you’re gonna really want to root for him. I think the moral logic of the cinema dictates that you need to feel that he was sorry for what he did. I think that this is a way of them to say, by also putting him all in white, “This is a guy who is sorry, so we can forgive him for having killed a bunch of people,” which he did. Not on purpose, but you know. I think that’s just their way of setting him up to play in some future version of the verse.
I think we as fans are much more concerned about things making psychological sense and emotional sense. To me, there’s a lot to be done to explain what are the implications of a choice like that? It’s actually much more complicated. But, I think the dudes are just like: “Then he goes in the ground and he comes out.” But for a fan writer, you’re like: “Okay, well, no.”
Curious: Yeah, there’s so much more to that.
Speranza: If this were on stage, there’d be ten thousand psychological beats. You don’t just go: “I’m gonna commit a kind of ritual suicide and when I come out I’ll be totally morally cleansed.” That’s not a two-line description for a fan writer who cares about people. There’s all this work to do to actually to explicate that.
Curious: I’m looking forward to seeing what does the fandom does versus what the canon will be down the line. It will be interesting to compare.
Speranza: Yeah, I’m excited about that. Let me ask you, in your kind of work here as a fandom meta artist extraordinaire, do you feel obliged to keep up with everything? Do you have your favorites? How do you engage?
Curious: I was a Sherlock person for a very, very long time. Sherlock was the fandom that I fell into first, and wrote for and participated in, and went to meetups for, and grew a large circle friends around as part of that fandom. It’s faded a bit over the years and now I’m poking around on the outside of the MCU and Captain America fandom. I’ve been reading a lot and discovering all of the brilliant writers there. Like yourself, I’m ultimately a huge fan of fandom in general and a fan of people who create things in this space. I still love to write fic, but these days I’m more of a fan of fandom in many ways. You know?
Speranza: I do! Did you like Abominable Bride?
Curious: I did. I thought it was good and a little crazy. I joined the Sherlock fandom at the start of Season 2 for the whole Reichenbach Fall experience, which was a beautiful time to come into the fandom with that huge post Reichenbach explosion of creativity. A million stories were created to answer the big mystery.
Speranza: That was a case in where the separation was really generative. And for Winter Soldier the separation was really generative. The end of Stargate Atlantis was a disaster. At the end of SGA they brought Atlantis back to earth. It’s a bottleneck and every time you wanted to write a story, you had to pick up the city, you had to move this city back to another galaxy. It was just boring, it was a fandom killer.
Curious: I think some people felt that with Sherlock’s Season 3, not that it was boring but it was divisive. So much so that it shattered the fandom in some ways. I’m still really looking forward to Season 4, but I don’t know…
Speranza: Sherlock Season 3 in a certain way was very fan-ficky, it was heavily plotted and in many ways, very fan-ficky, but it was not our kind of fan fic.
Speranza: Everything they did was super fan-ficky. Abominable Bride is super fan-ficky. You get that sense of a mind at play, but it’s a little bit like not our mode. In both cases actually, you can compare it in some ways to Civil War because it was also really crowded with incident. Somehow the speed bumping of the emotional beats was a little brutalizing.
Curious: It really was. I don’t know if it was the Russos having to deal with so many people and trying to give everyone an arc that everything felt a little emotionally thin. Winter Soldier felt very intimate in a lot of ways compared to Civil War. How are they gonna have to tackle maybe double or triple the amount of characters in Infinity Wars? I don’t know what it’s gonna be like.
Speranza: Well, think about Ultron. If you’re talking about Civil War, it was a work of genius. I really did feel everybody had more of an arc than they had in Ultron. Easily!
Speranza: Or they were better characterized. But the speed was kind of breathtaking. But I thought it was actually even worse in Sherlock Season 3. Because if you’re in it for John and Sherlock … I don’t even mean like Johnlock in some kind of classic way, but if you’re in it for their relationship, you’re like: Wow you guys are being super brusque toward each other. You’re not acting the way I would want friends to act.
Speranza: In Civil War, I think the fact that the pace was so breakneck, if anything I feel they were telegraphing quite heavily that they cared about each other quite a lot. By the end of Civil War I felt like they were saying that even Tony and Steve were in a pretty good place, I felt that there was a lot of affection between them around that letter and the gift phone. I think the Russos really tried to telegraph that these characters all still like each other. Natasha really cares about Steve, Steve really cares about Tony, Tony really cares about Steve; he’s not taking Ross’s call there at the end. There was a lot of caring, but just part of it was that the pace of the events was so fast.
Curious: You wonder if they had to partially resolve everything so that when they kick off Infinity Wars they don’t have to spend a lot of time apologizing and healing.
Speranza: I’m pretty sure Steve is gonna come running over some hill. I think something’s gonna happen, and somebody’s gonna yell: “Oh my God, we need help!” Then Steve and his people are gonna come running over a hill and that’s it, that’s gonna be your emotional resolution.
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. The big classical emotions like joy, victory, sorrow, pity, I feel like the mass media does not know how to do them. Television is evolved to sell stuff, it’s all about serialization. What it’s really good at is getting you to come back. It’s really good at the cliffhanger, it’s really good at “tune in next Tuesday”, it’s really good at “come back for the next film.” So what it’s really good at is creating dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction sells, that’s how you sell soap flakes, you sell soap flakes because you create a soap opera that brings you back and back and back and back to sell stuff. What we actually have–in fact, I laugh every time I hear people going: “Oh! Piracy!” They’ve actually created an almost feral demand in people for this stuff. As they have developed the art of serialization to such a frenzied pitch that people will beg, borrow or steal the next episode because the thing has been engineered by experts to bring you back. That part of it, they’re super good at. What they’re shit at is resolution.
Curious: I agree, I think that was the most painful thing about Sherlock Season 3, Episode 1. We were all so back and so ready to see how they would resolve this giant two-year emotional cliffhanger and for me they never really did. It felt like they just laughed it off, there was never any real closure.
Speranza: They did their job! They brought you back!
Curious: They certainly did!
Speranza: They created a frenzy and they brought you back. The minute they brought you back, the advertisers win. Their job is done, they’ve done their job. Their job is never to satisfy you. I think the crucial mistake is they think if they satisfy you, you’ll go away. This is the same baloney that makes you say couples can never get together, because if you’re satisfied, then you’re done. The answer is actually, let’s do it again. I could do it again, I could ride the ride again. You don’t even have to break them apart. We could do something different next week and have other drama. I’ll come back.
In fandom you read a story and it’s totally satisfying and you go: “Ah! That was great!” You leave your feedback and you open another one, right? You don’t go: Oh, yeah, they’re happy now, I’m done. I’ve read my one Steve/Bucky story–you’ll read ninety of them. A thousand of them.
I think you’re right, everybody wanted catharsis in Season 3 of Sherlock … It was so dramatic, you wanted some catharsis, you wanted some resolution. But it’s not their business, they don’t give it to you.
Curious: That’s why we will always need fandom.
Speranza: That’s why I prefer our people.
Curious: I totally agree. One more question for you, if you don’t mind, and it’s another one I always like to ask, what are you reading or watching now that is inspiring you?
Speranza: That’s a hard one. I did just see Jessica Jones, belatedly … Which I was really actually super impressed by, I don’t know if I would write it, but I enjoyed it about a thousand percent more than I thought I was going to. I didn’t think I wanted to see it because people said it was about rape. I thought, “I don’t want to see a show about rape.” Because I find that most things that claim to be against rape, are actually selling rape in that they are nothing but nonstop women, screaming, orgasm faces, which is actually visually selling me rape. But actually, there’s not a single woman screaming in all of Jessica Jones and I appreciated that more than I can say.
I don’t care if it’s Civil War or Batman vs. Superman. Superheroes movies that say that they are questioning superheroes are not questioning superheroes. They’re superhero movies, they’re in favor of superheroes. In the same way that things that are “questioning” rape are almost never questioning rape. They’re totally selling rape to you. Special Victims Unit or whatever. You know what I mean? That’s what the thing is about and it is expecting you on some level to visually enjoy seeing this so you would watch it.
Jessica Jones I thought for the first time really separated rape from sex. It was about rape as a forcing of the will. I was so incredibly impressed with this… Tennant was so good at being creepy and you really got a sense that he was a really bad guy like he was.
I have to say I thought it was just so smart. It really was paradigm shifting. The weird thing is I was so satisfied with it that I don’t know if I’d write it. I do have a “fix it” mentality.
Curious: I was wondering about that. If you’re satisfied with the canon then do you feel the need to write about it.
Speranza: No, then, I’ll go: “Yay!”
Curious: Well done canon!
Speranza: Well done, Jessica Jones! Well done, The Wire! Well done, Orphan Black! When I enjoyed it I go: “That’s great,” I liked Orphan Black a lot, I haven’t written it. I liked The Wire a lot. I liked Buffy, I’m just very satisfied with Buffy. In Buffy, I was like: “Yeah, tell me what happens; that’s good!”
To write, there always needs to be a little bit where I’m like: “Well, that’s good, but it would be better if they did something different.” What’s generative is something different than what’s good.
You can find Speranza’s many many awesome awesome fanworks on Archive of Our Own. If you’re not sure where to begin, try the Speranza Sampler which is a handpicked collection of her favorite works across numerous fandoms.