I’ve been in fandom for over thirty years, and in that time, I’ve had only one hard-won rule about it: Never, ever meet the wizard.
Actors are always shorter than you think; writers don’t always understand why their villains are your heroes; and the deep, meaningful conversations you’ve rehearsed in your head a thousand times tend not to go as planned. All too often, meeting the wizard is about learning to live with the awkward humanity of your heroes – and of yourself. Hanging out with your friends and writing fanfiction is usually a lot more fun.
Rules, however, are meant to be broken. So when Ellen Kushner – who I’d known for years after serving as her assistant -- invited Patty Bryant (another member of the Tremontaine S1 team) and I to dinner, I couldn’t say no. There was a vague promise of good wine and a puzzling proposition that had some connection to our fannish backgrounds.
Ellen knew I had loved Swordspoint so much that I’d studied rapier combat in Sicily one summer. She also knew I’d written a lot of “World of Riverside” fanfiction. Mostly about Richard and Alec. Some of it definitely really filthy. All of it likely riddled with typos.
This is what you get for meeting the wizard, my brain screamed at me as we caught up on each other’s lives and the mysterious motivation for the meal was nowhere in conversational sight. It’s taken years, my brain hissed, but the awkward is finally coming for you.
Because Ellen knows how to set a scene and choose her moment on the page as well as in real life, the big reveal waited until desert. She would be expanding the universe of her Riverside novels by working with Serial Box, a new publisher that wanted to be “HBO for readers,” producing serialized fiction in a structure and environment modeled on how TV writers’ rooms produce season-based narratives.
As a fan, I knew her world. And as a TV fan – who was always, often futilely, defending showrunners and writers on Tumblr – I knew how TV worked. Did I want in?
Ghostbusters flashed through my head: When someone asks if you’re a god, you say YES!
When a creator of something you love asks if you want to play in their sandbox, you also say yes!
Coming to Tremontaine specifically because I was a fanfiction writer (despite also being a professional writer with five romance novels and a bunch of novellas under my belt), made my experience of the project different than that of much of the rest of the team.
Some of that had to do with practical realities that gave me an advantage. Throwing out what-if ideas about someone else’s world was a worry-free sport for me. So was working collaboratively. I had participated in a fan season of Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood after it got cancelled and had written fanfiction collaboratively in tons of universes. Sitting in a room arguing was how I’d learned to love – and understand – stories. So much so, that even my romance novels are all co-authored.
My fannish background also meant that I had always believed stories are improved by having audiences and feedback at their earliest stages of gestation. Brainstorming, sharing drafts, letting people see my most id-based ideas, and saying “yes, but what if” were all natural parts of the writing process for me.
On the other hand, being known as “the fanfiction writer” was – and sometimes still is – weird. Would people think I wasn’t a “real” writer? Would I have to keep explaining what fanfiction is and isn’t? Would I need to remind people that fanfiction isn’t a thing people do until they become pro, but something people – both pro and not -- do because they like it? Would my professional writing career get erased from the narrative?
Mostly, the answer to these questions has been no. Certainly our team over the last three seasons has included not just SFF pros you probably already knew and loved before their work with Tremontaine (e.g., Malindo Lo), but writers flourishing in other genres from memoir (Joel Derfner) to theater (Liz Duffy Adams). Lots of us – regardless of what we write or how we came to it – have had moments over difficult drafts or challenging outline calls where we felt like we had no idea what we were doing.
This is unsurprising. Sometimes, being a writer of any sort is, by definition having a case of imposter syndrome. After all, we make up people and circumstances and hope they all sound real enough that someone wants to see what happens to them – whether that’s murder or marriage.
I’ve always loved fanfiction for the freedom it has provided me as a writer – in structure, narrative theme, and its tendency to focus on antiheroes, sidekicks, and all the characters fans felt never got enough attention in the original source material.
Tremontaine draws on all these elements in the way it centers women, queer people, characters of color, and autistic characters; provides the team freedom to experiment with story structure in each individual episode as well as in the larger story structure; and showcases the way collaboration can make a story much bigger than the sum of its parts.
This isn’t because of some fannish magic I’ve contributed to Tremontaine as a writer and producer over the last three seasons. Rather, fanfiction and Tremontaine both arise out of something we as humans have always done: Sit in a room, with people we enjoy, telling stories about the world as we’ve dreamt it.
If you write stories – in your sandbox or anyone else’s -- the truth is that you’ve already met the wizard, because that’s what all of us that tell stories are.
Racheline Maltese can fly a plane, sail a boat, and ride a horse, but has no idea how to drive a car. With Erin McRae she writes romance novels about fame, public life, mythology, and witchcraft.
Tremontaine is the prequel to Ellen Kushner’s beloved Riverside series that began with Swordspoint! Synopsis: A duchess’s beauty matched only by her cunning; her husband’s dangerous affair with a handsome scholar; a foreigner in a playground of swordplay and secrets; and a mathematical genius on the brink of revolution. Suddenly long-buried lies threaten to come to light and betrayal and treachery run rampant in this story of sparkling wit and political intrigue. Written serially by six critically acclaimed authors, including Racheline Maltese, Tremontaine is a tale of intrigue, manners, treachery, and cleverness that will delight readers.