Whoosh! Issue 56 - May 2001


Page 2

The Once And Future Warrior Princess

Anyone seen my credibility lately?  Anyone?
Xena battles on.

[37] The funny part is while the producers of the show may have driven most of the romantic references underground after the second season, Xena: Warrior Princess was, is and will always remain, a story of two women who love one another. Maybe not in the episodes but surely in the hearts of its fans. That is really what the Xenaverse is all about. A tremendous outpouring of affection and dedication to the idea of romance, redemption through faith, and the wholeness of same-sex love.

[38] By acting timidly, the producers of Xena: Warrior Princess lost the chance to strike out in a remarkably new direction. Instead, the bards, the video artists, the illustrators, and all the people who host the ancillary websites took the love story away from them and struck out on their own. They continue to do so, as the first Uber novels of the Xena/Gabrielle dynamic are just starting to hit the bookstores. The show is ending and the Pasadena Convention is, in part, a farewell party. But it is also as much a celebration of the ongoing myth of quilt-ridden warrior who longed for redemption and the pure-hearted bard whose love provided it. And there are worse things to celebrate in this jaded world.

Varieties Of Xena Fiction

First-Time Stories

[39] The "first time" story is the bedrock of the Xena/Gabrielle romantic myth. The two have been traveling together for some time, having adventures, and experiencing a chaste friendship. Each desires the other but Xena feels Gabrielle would recoil from any overture, while Gabrielle believes Xena thinks her too young or unworthy to be her lover. Both prefer a tormenting status quo rather than risk ending their friendship with a gesture that might be rejected. This state of affairs can go on for some time. "Illuminations of the Soul" by Cousin Liz runs 182 pages and 19 chapters and they do not start kissing until chapter 14. But eventually something intervenes and the women find a way to physically express their love.

[40] More often than not, that something is Gabrielle. Twenty-four when she first began the series, Renee O'Connor played her character as if she were 18. With a face that projected innocence, merriment, deviltry, and wonder in successive waves, and aided by a mid-season costume charge that left her midriff bare, her thighs exposed, and her cleavage just as pronounced as Xena's, Gabrielle became an underdressed ingenue, the Holly Golightly of ancient Greece. In the hands of alternative bards, she became a sexually charged elf who tires of waiting for Xena to make the first move and schemes the two of them into bed.

[41] In a sense, the show itself gave the "first time" storywriters a leg up. From the start, Gabrielle is shown to have her own unique talents. She is not just some tagalong kid. Xena has superhuman fighting skills, death-defying courage, and is an excellent strategist but she is not the brightest bulb in the universe when it comes to understanding people. That is where Gabrielle fits in. She can talk her way out of trouble and she sizes up people in the blink of an eye. In the first episode, SINS OF THE PAST (01/101), she is trying to get a lift from some old guy and offers to entertain him with stories. "I sing of Oedipus" she begins, when the old guy cuts her off. "Oedipus, I know all about him," he says. "Oh really," she replies. "Tell me about him," as she climbs up on his wagon, mission accomplished.

[42] For the first-time storywriters, this duality is the cornerstone of their sexual interaction. Xena has the sexual experience but lacks the imagination to think Gabrielle might want her, while Gabrielle lacks the experience to proceed. "I want to love you Xena but I don't know how. Show me," she says in several first-time stories. This image is a pretty powerful sexual magnet. The show is six years old and Xena and Gabrielle long ago became true equals but the bards are still writing first-time stories where the impish virgin takes the world-weary warrior and leads her to sexual bliss. My hunch is they will be doing it ten years from now.

Uber Stories

[43] The second genre in Xena fan fiction, the Uber (German for over) story, came directly from an episode called THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210) (a short history of Uber can be read at http://whoosh.org/uber/whatuber.html). In a switch of the butch/femme dynamic, Renee O'Connor plays a hard-bitten Indiana Jones type named Janice Covington while Lucy Lawless played a meek, southern bell named Mel Pappas. The year is 1940, the prize the scrolls Gabrielle once wrote, and the plot hinges on the two characters being reincarnations of Xena and Gabrielle. Bat Morda wrote a fan fiction story in response, called "Is There A Doctor On the Dig?" (http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/batmorda/is_there_a_doctor_on_the_dig.htm) chronicling the exploits of the two characters and even introducing in a reincarnated Callisto-like villain the two women have to defeat -- before they get it on, for the first time.

[44] Why they chose to call this type of story Uber fiction is anybody's guess. It is actually archetype fiction. The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are transported to different centuries and inserted into different storylines but are held together in the same emotional bond: old to young, strong to intuitive, haunted to innocent, hesitant to eager, despairing to trusting, and blue eyes to green. It works amazingly well. Like Romeo and Juliet. They have been a burned-out FBI agent and junior coroner solving a serial murder case in contemporary Cleveland, a young ranch widow and a ex-outlaw cowhand in the Oklahoma Territory of the 1880s, a Victorian private eye and her trusted young companion solving a mystery in Egypt, and a young doctor on a colonizing mission and the spaceship's captain. The motto of Uber fiction is "Have hearts, will travel".

[45] The conceit of Uber fiction is that Xena and Gabrielle reincarnate time and again. There is even an Uber story that predates the two, making Xena and Gabrielle merely one more manifestation of an age-old phenomenon. By writing stories utterly removed from the storyline of the show, the bards have elevated a tale of female friendship and adventure into a romantic myth of redemption through love. Central to the telling is the question of faith. The Xena figure always has a haunted past in which she has committed crimes against others she now regrets and believes she is damned for. Her attraction to the Gabrielle figure is based initially on the younger woman's ebullience and zest for life. The older woman uses her skill and courage to protect the younger one from peril. That in turn leads the younger one to love her and believe in her decency. Not wishing to disillusion the one person who loves her, the older woman uses her prowess to make the world a better place. The Xena figure will never believe herself forgiven for what she has done in the past. But she now has unshakable faith that her lover believes in her. And that faith is the cornerstone of her redemption, for with it Xena will only do good.

[46] The casual readers may be fooled into thinking Uber stories are contemporary lesbian pornography, for there are many steamy passages in a majority of the stories. But they are really modern morality tales. These stories ask how those of us who have done great harm in our lives can come back to a place of decency and peace and they offer this tale as example. If the "first-time" story is the foundation of Xena fiction, the Uber stories are its superstructure.

Conqueror Stories

[47] The basement of Xena fiction is the Conqueror story. When Lucy Lawless first played the Xena character, Xena was an evil b*tch. She was out to kill Hercules and mount his head as a trophy outside her tent. Instead, Hercules turned her into a warrior for good. Initially, Xena was suppose to be killed off at the end of a three episode arc, just like all of Herc's other women, but the response to the Lawless character was so positive they gave her a series of her own. Conqueror stories presume Xena stayed a b*tch, conquers all of Greece, murders people for no reason, and rapes innocent maidens. Enter Gabrielle.

[48] There are really only two kinds of Conqueror stories. In the nice ones, Xena gets drunk, debauches Gabrielle silly, sobers up, and notices there is something different about this kid. We then have a variation on redemption myth mentioned above. In the nasty ones, Xena never notices anything special about Gabrielle and turns her into a sex slave. I oversimplify, but not by much.

General Stories

[49] General stories are basically the everything else category but mostly defined by what it is not. It is not about sex or romance. Those are Alt. stories and they can fit into one of varieties of stories mentioned above or not, although first-time stories are, by their name, Alt. and if someone has written a Conqueror tale that does not have sex in it, I have not come across it. Uber stories can go either way, so to speak. As Maribel Piloto explained it, "Alt. doesn't equate to same-sex SEX - it just equates to a view of the relationship".

[50] General stories have a variety of premises. There are Christmas (Solstice) stories and harvest festival tales that equate to Thanksgiving. The ancient Greeks had no Halloween but Xena fiction has an abundance of ghost or horror stories, 86 on Lunacy's site alone, and she is picky. Children's stories, both those written for children and those that feature Xena and Gabrielle as children fall into this category. Finally, some bards simply want to write a kick-b*tt, head banging, and throttle-the-bad-guys and save the villagers type of story. After all, that is what got the whole thing started.

Bards Of The Xenaverse

[51] Bards come with an infinite variety of interests, inclinations, and instincts (see APPENDIX I: Varieties of Xena Fiction). Some like to take a story episode and change the ending. "This is the way I would have liked it to turn out," wrote the author of "While He Slept", a tale that has Gabrielle spending her wedding night with Xena, instead of her soon-to-be-murdered husband, Perdicus. Some just want to write a little sex romp. "I was feeling the urge to write something smutty," Katelin B prefaced her five-page "Waterfall", achieving her goal with admirable succinctness. Although few can match Hawk in the brevity sweepstakes with her 50 word short story "Two Hour Ride":

"Xena read Gabrielle's message. 'Come quickly. Urgent.' The bard waited in the forest overlooking the road. She had calculated the distance and time carefully. The anxious warrior arrived at dusk smelling of horse and saddle leather, a sheen of sweat to her skin. Exactly the way Gabrielle wanted her."

[52] Some write humor, incorporating personality traits of the show's main characters in exaggerated form. In "Bargain Hunting", Della Street writes a variation on O'Henry's "Ransom of Red Chief" that has talkative Gabrielle kidnapped by an unfortunate slave trader. Xena shows up to rescue her but the place is well guarded so Xena pretends to bargain for the slave. The slaver begins by asking 400 dinars but Gabrielle so roundly curses him and Xena, threatening all manner of mayhem that her price keeps dropping, till finally the slaver "gives" her to Xena just to get rid of her. In Emperor Penquin's "Bedsacks", Gabrielle's love of relentless bargaining reduces a merchant to tears, as she batters her down from 30 to 12 dinars and gets a goose-down pillow thrown into the bargain. And sometimes they just want to write tearjerkers. Katelin B.'s "Because You Loved Me" shows an elderly Gabrielle in her hut after Xena's funeral with a scroll Xena wrote may years before, saying all the things she could never tell her bard face to face.

[53] WordWarrior posted her first story, "Just Another Warlord", in 1996. She has written a total of 21 stories that are posted at http://cousinliz.com/fanfic/fanfic.html. She is eclectic in her choice of subject matter and style of writing. In "The Babysitter", a 13-year-old Xena is forced to baby-sit for a five- year old Gabrielle, with foreshadows of the relationship they will have as adults. She writes straightforward dramatic action in stories like "Just Another Dead Warlord", in which a badly-wounded Xena carves the story's title on her own tombstone to throw off soldiers who are trying to hunt her down. Humor and light romance are the staple of "A Night at the Theater". In companion pieces, "Who Are You Xena?" and "Who Are You Gabrielle?", she sets their archenemy, Callisto to indict them separately, using incidents from the first three years of the show, to create a vastly different picture of the two than they hold of themselves. Gabrielle is far more violent than she claims while Xena believes everyone, particularly Gabrielle, has betrayed her. In the end, both women are left questioning who they are. It is a masterful mixture of innuendo and half-truths, just barely believable, a Xena version of "Who Afraid of Virginia Wolff?"

[54] WordWarrior calls herself an instinctual writer. "I never have any idea what a story is going to be about when I start writing. I just start typing and find out what's going to happen as the story progresses." A writer of stories before she started watching the show, her initial goals was modest. "Originally, my only aim was to stay true to the TV show with an emphasis on the 'subtext'," she explains in a Q & A that accompanies her posted stories at http://www.xenafan.com/fiction. In her "first time" story "Truth or Dare", WordWarrior created two characters, Widgie, an oracle and healer with magical powers, and her husband, Jorgos, who help Xena overcome blindness. "I've enjoyed creating my own characters and weaving them into the mythology [of the Xena show]. I have them return in my stories so that eventually, they feel as much a part of the supporting cast, to me, as the folks on the show." Widgie proved so popular that other bards started weaving her into their stories, after soliciting the author's permission.

[55] LJ Maas is a novelist. She has been writing novels since she was 16 and had gotten to the stage where she was sending them to publishers, when she watched the very first episode of the show. By the second, she was ready to write fan fiction. "All the short stories I wrote then were in response to episodes," she states. "They were written for only me. I never posted them anywhere." An early web designer, Maas created her own website (http://www.art-with-attitude.com/artist/Alt_FanFic.html) back in 1997 and began posting her remarkable "Queen" series. There are six novels in all, plus a couple of lengthy short stories, centered around Gabrielle and Xena's life, courtship, marriage, and god-assisted childbirth while living in an Amazon village where Gabrielle reigns. Maas regularly tests the strength of the pair's bond by the kind of emotional torment and heart-breaking sadness rarely depicted on the show or in other fan fiction. She even puts in an angst warning among her disclaimers. But she can write a wickedly erotic scene and her Gabrielle is every bit the match for Xena.

[56] Maas really hit her stride when she posted "Tumbleweed Fever", a story of two women, a range rider and a ranch widow, living in the Oklahoma Territory in the 1880s. It is a beautiful story of a dark-skinned, woman ex-outlaw named Dev who is barely literate and emotionally barren, going to work for a small, determined blonde-haired mother of two, Sarah, whose husband has died and who is trying to save her ranch against great odds. Nowhere are the strengths of Maas' writing more apparent than in this tale of the coming together of two utterly different personalities. Sarah has vowed never to wed again, except for love, and watches in amazement as the hidden depth of Dev's character and courage gradually attract the former southern belle and gentile rebel to the male-dominated west. Dev's desire for Sarah is burning but her shyness is profound and it takes her near-death experience among her adopted Choctaw family before she final tumbles that the blonde wants more than a hired hand. Despite Maas' bravura performance in the Queen's series, there is nary a sexual moment in "Tumbleweed Fever". But that has not halted its popularity. It garnered a "Swollen Bud Award" despite its modesty, is linked on several fan fiction sites, and was published last year by Renaissance Alliance Books, where it has achieved a modest success.

[57] Maas' other Uber effort, "None So Blind", is an altogether lighter, not to mention more modern effort. Set in the 1980s through the 1990s, it charts the twenty-year history of college roommates, deeply bound together but unable to recognize that each desires the other. They separate for 15 years. It takes a threat to the daughter they raised together for the first two years after college to reunite them, and sage advise from one of their mothers to get them to overcome their blindness. It is porous, but enjoyable beach reading. "None So Blind" was published in December and is currently in second place on the best-seller list of the Open Book Shop, a national, on-line gay and lesbian bookstore. Later this year, Maas will take the dramatic step of publishing "Prairie Fire", her sequel to "Tumbleweed Fever" without posting it on the web. With that step, Maas will have achieved her lifelong ambition of becoming a professional novelist.

[58] Maas' work contrasts sharply with another Xena novelist of note, Melissa Good. For one thing, Good got there first. The first fiction writer to see her work ("Tropical Storm" by Justice House Publishing) in print. The first fan fiction writer to write an episode (two actually) for the series she is a fan of. The first fan fiction writer to write and sell a pilot script for a TV series based on their work (also "Tropical Storm"). For another, Missy, as she is known, does not have an angst warning on her novels. She has never needed one. Her Xena and Gabrielle are beset by enemies aplenty but rarely lose faith in each other. Even the one exception, "Darkness Falls", which deals with a third-season rift between Xena and Gabrielle and which Good describes as "an extremely dark one" does not begin to match the sadness Maas invokes in her "Queen" series, when Gabrielle's daughter, Brianna, dies at birth.

[59] While Maas' writing may be more potent, it is Good who receives the accolades and adulation. Good's popularity among the Xenaverse is so soaring that she has her own fan conventions, her own fan club website (http://www.merwolf.com/merpups), complete with chatroom and three different mailing lists. "For readers of Xena fan fiction," writes Maribel Piloto in her WHOOSH article on Good, "the name Melissa Good has become as recognizable as that of commercial icons like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, or John Grisham."

[60] Her own website, http://www.merwolf.com, is named for her heraldic coat of arms, a sea wolf and has been up since April 1997. To date, Good has posted 17 novels, and is currently posting chapters for the 18th, numbering some 7,000 pages in all. Thirteen are part of her "Journey of Soulmates" Series, and four from the Uber series set in Miami, beginning with "Tropical Storm".

[61] Other then a few unpublished stories, Good had never written before watching the show. She came across it accidentally. "I was painting the wrought iron trellis in my house when [Xena: Warrior Princess] came on the television," Good told Xena Magazine back in December 2000. "I was covered in paint, and I couldn't turn it off. I'm not much for television; I normally watch the Discovery Channel, the History Channel and those things. I liked the blend of camp and action, and the humor [in the show]."

[62] After watching a few episodes, she got an idea and started writing "A Warrior By Any Other Name". In it, Xena and Gabrielle come to the rescue of a strange creature, "like a cross between a man, and a desert cat". Turns out he is part of a race that Ares, the god of war created to terrorize the earth, only the creatures did not want any part of it. In addition to being incredibly fierce fighters, they are also emotionally empathetic to each other and can read the emotions of humans. Consequently, they avoid our race like the plague. This one, named Jessan, got caught out in the open by mistake. By the fourth page of her first novel, Good's imagination was already outpacing the writers of the show. She has never really looked back.

[63] Jessan is a key creation. Xena's rescue and Gabrielle subsequent nursing of him put the three together. Through Jessan's empathy, Good is able to write about the emotional bond between Xena and Gabrielle without them having to acknowledge it. Speaking of the spring of 1997, Piloto recalls,

"subtext was reaching its zenith. Viewers were embracing the idea that a very special connection did indeed exist between warrior and bard, even if they never seemed to fully acknowledge it. Missy's first contribution to Xena fan fiction played beautifully with these readers. With her second novel, At A Distance, Good made subtext the main text and achieved popular acclaim."

[64] It is interesting to note that this most popular of all Xena bards has never written a sexually explicit scene. Her gentle handling of sex is legendary and her disclaimer always advises that the "action" will be PG-13. In "At A Distance", the lovers finally embrace and kiss in a rainstorm and later consummate their love in a hayloft. "[A]nd it was very comfortable, and very intense, and then got more so," she writes.

[65] Given the epic length of the "Journey of Soulmates" series, Good has been able to introduce a vast number of elements that the TV show, with its 47 minutes and four-act format could never do. While Xena's past is a staple of the show, Gabrielle's is not. Good spent her fourth novel, "Home is Where the Heart Is", giving Gabrielle a history of child abuse and a father who is a chronic alcoholic. Missy's Gabrielle becomes a real Amazon Queen, not the once a year visitor she is on the show. Xena comes back to her hometown Amphipolis, reunites with her mother and older brother, and ultimately settles there with Gabrielle. But Missy's greatest gift to the warrior and bard (and her readers) was Dorianna, their daughter. Her birth comes in the 12th novel, "Circle of Life", and serves as coda, turning Xena and Gabrielle's journey of redemption through love into a saga of family survival in a world bent on destroying it.

[66] Although her fame and her popularity are rooted in her amazing productivity and enormous skill as a writer, her single most important attribute is her heart. She is the bard who best captures the core of Xena and Gabrielle's friendship. The playful banter of two people who are opposite in outlook but trusting of each other. Their continuous desire to make each other smile. Their faith that what the other says of them has merit and is said in love. Their willingness to listen and unwillingness to give into despair. As Robert Tapert, the shows chief producer and husband to Xena's actress, Lucy Lawless, said in a WHOOSH interview earlier this year, "I'll tell you why I like working with Missy Good: she loves Xena and Gabrielle." And therein lies the secret of all Melissa Good's success. Asked what most she would like to see happen on the show, Good did not desire kisses or a subtext ending to the series. Instead, she wished "Just once I'd like to see both Xena and Gabrielle achieve a sense of joy. I'd like them to both be happy, even if it's just for the one episode."

[67] And that is as close a definition of a bard, as you will ever need.


Philip Tracy Philip Tracy

The author was a full-time journalist for 20 years but has worked for a San Francisco nonprofit for the last 15. He stumbled onto Xena: Warrior Princess while surfing during a commercial break for a baseball game. Xena and Gabrielle were taking a bath together. He never went back to the baseball game.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE
Favorite line:Gabrielle: "Believe me. If I have to go the rest of my life without companionship, knowing myself will not be a problem." THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER
First episode seen:FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS
Least favorite episode:I do not have one.

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