The Lady from Shanghai

The Fandoms That Made You

The other day I was catching up on email when I came across Gail Carriger's monthly newsletter. I'm always interested in what she has to say (and what she's been wearing recently), so I clicked on a link called Gail Carriger's Origin Story. In this article, she outlines the five fandoms that made her the person she is now. Turns out that she was influenced by this article from The Nerdy Girlie. I immediately messaged my sister, and we started to hash out the five fandoms that made us who we were. This is what I came up with (in no particular order).

1. Victoriana. 

I'm in the middle of writing a trilogy of Victorian historical romances right now. The manuscript I used to get my agent was set in 1881 London. I don't think it's very surprising that Victoriana has been one of the biggest influences on my life both as an author and a consumer.

It started when I was in high school. I read pretty much every 19th century novel I could get my hands on. Besides Jane Austen and Fanny Burney (who really is late 18th century but I consider her a strong precursor to Austen), most of my reading centered around the Victorians. Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Trollope are still favorites when someone asks who my favorite authors are.

And then I went to college. Declaring a history major very early on gave me the freedom to run wild in the Victorian era. I wound up focusing my study on Victorian female sexuality (through a post-structuralist lens... super pretentious, I  know).* From clothing to calling and courtship practices to prostitution, all of it was fair game. I loved reading about social history and getting my hands on primary source material. I became best friends with my college's temperamental microfiche machines.

I'm not a scholar any longer, but I still read widely about the Victorians.** When you study history, so much of how you look at the world is influenced by the work you do. I can strongly say that my ideas about and appreciation of feminism was strongly influenced by my study. And also my writing which leads me to...

2. Romance novels. I've written before about the first romance novel I ever read. It was cracktastic, and I loved it. I fell into reading as many romance novels as I could, and then graduated from sweet Kensington Zebra Historicals to more explicit books (many of them had kilted highlanders on their covers).

I read romance novels all through high school and college without really finding anyone who felt the same way about these books. I loved falling into the narratives and swimming around in the characters' messy emotions. From Regency to contemporary, I read everything I could get my hands on. I'm still doing that now because my love of those books has only grown as I've started to write my own.

3. The X-Files. My first fandom. I was babysitting my sister when I was in seventh grade and flipping around the channels trying to find something to watch. It was the top of the hour, and I landed on Fox. Since there was a cute guy on the TV, I stayed on the show and proceeded to lose my mind over the course of the hour. I had stumbled upon the a re-airing of season one, episode one of the X-Files. After the episode was done, another came on. I binged watched before binge watching was a thing.

I watched episodes new and old loyally until the show got unredeemably bad. However, in those few years, I was hooked. Everything was X-Files. I clipped out episode recaps, got the now-defunct fanzine, read the novelizations. I read fanfic (my first!). While most girls were head over heels for Devon Sawa (and would soon discover the wonder that was Titanic-era Leo), I had it bad for Fox Mulder. I know there are geek girls out there who feel me on this one.

4. Doctor Who. In 2007 I was studying abroad in the north of England, and I had a lot of downtime on my hands. British universities require far less class time and fewer (if any) regular assignments from students. Compared to the work I did at my college back in the US, I had loads of unstructured time--and that was after doing the recommended reading for my various classes. So what does a 21-year-old with a bad habit of waking up early no matter how late she stayed out at the clubs the night before do? Consume as much British TV through streaming websites as possible.

I found Doctor Who out of necessity. I'd blown through Black Books, The Mighty Boosh, and Spaced not to mention seen all of the movies at the local movie theater I had a pass to. I'd heard of Doctor Who, but I always assumed it was a children's show that my mother watched when she was growing up. However, I decided to give it a try and proceeded to binge watch five episodes of the Christopher Eccleston reboot that night. I became obsessed.

In 2007, very few people were watching Doctor Who in the US because the availability was extremely limited.^ I tried describing the series to my sister who started watching along with so at least I had her to talk to, however it wasn't until 2008 that the show exploded in popularity thanks to BBC America's airings. Suddenly we were all fans of the Doctor, and that was just fine with me.

My love of Doctor Who has not kept up with the show's schedule. I have major problems with Stephen Moffat and his portrayals of women on this show. I suspect I'm also suffering from overexposure as I have no desire to watch through the last Matt Smith season and into the Peter Capaldi years despite a deep love for Malcolm Tucker. But despite all of that, Doctor Who will always exert a strong cultural influence on the things I love.

5. Film noir. I'd grown up reading mysteries with content well outside of my age range. My seventh grade English teacher actually pulled my parents aside to ask if they knew I was reading The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler and L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy (likely due to prostitution story lines in both novels and a certain incident with a garbage disposal in the latter). I remember my mother blinking and then saying yes. If I could understand the content of the book, I could read it.

Perhaps it's no surprise then that I gleefully dove into film noir later that year. I'd been watching classic movies for years, but this genre was eye opening to me. Double Indemnity, The Lady from Shanghai, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, The Big Easy, The Sweet Smell of Success, Sunset Boulevard -- I loved it all. And then I found Laura.

I'm going to get on my soapbox here and say not enough people in this world have seen this movie. Otto Preminger directs Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in this 1944 masterpiece. It ticks all my boxes: a grouchy New York City detective, a career woman more suited to movies in 2014 than 1944, Clifton Webb as his most acerbic, great clothes, a haunting score, a romance, a young Vincent Price, and Judith Anderson being her usual flinty, badass self. This movie wormed its way into my brain and planted itself there. Just... trust me on this one and watch it.

Time to tell me about the five fandoms that made you. Leave a comment or write a blog post of your own!

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*I could nerd out very, very hard right now but I'll save you all of that squee. Also, hopefully by now you've figured out that this is where my propensity for footnotes comes from.

**And fight the urge about every six months to go back and get a PhD or at least a masters in History.

^Read: mostly viewed through highly illegal means.