How I Ended Up Running A Fan Fiction Zine

Before fan fiction blew up on the internet just under 20 years ago, the only way to access fan-created stories, poems, filks (parody and original songs based on fannish topics), and art was to get your hands on a fanzine. Known as “zines” for short, they were sold through the mail or at conventions that allowed people to hawk them. Zines were originally created as fan-created pulps that published work from beginner writers but those were all original sf/f stories. It wasn’t until Star Trek came along that someone carried the concept over to fans writing their own Trek stories.

Zines were still the only game in town when I started reading Star Wars fan fiction in the early ‘90s. I was reading both contemporary and old school zines. This was at a time when we got only one Star Wars novel a year and Dark Empire was the only comic book. New movies were eight years away. Of course I was happy to get my hands on more Star Wars even if it was 100% unofficial.

To make a long story short, after a few years in the wild and woolly world of SW fan fic, I’d noticed that Leia either didn’t get written about very much or she wasn’t handled too well. I shall be brutally honest…for a long time, maybe even today (I don’t know every fandom), established women characters got hosed by their fannish authors. Ironically, or perhaps not, most of these writers were female too! It was a different story with original characters, including the ones that were blatant Mary Sues. But established female characters? Pfft. It has been my experience in most fandoms that most fan fic writers want to write about men and female characters were quickly dispatched or disposed of. Leia is still my favorite Star Wars character, tied with Anakin. Spicy personalities, I suppose. But as a kid, Leia was a huge inspiration to me and I didn’t like that she was getting cheated in fan fiction.

By the ’90s, there had been Luke zines, Han zines (especially Han/Harrison Ford zines), Vader zines, and general interest zines but only a couple of zines dedicated to Leia had been published since the late ‘70s. Both of them contained stories set in a sub-universe or alternate universe created by the editor/publishers. My idea was to set the stories in Lucas’s universe and let the authors do what they wilt within it. Around this time, someone corresponding with me via a letterzine loved the idea of a Leia zine and she started making suggestions and giving ideas. Even though I ended up doing most of the work (this person was much older and lived in another country), she did give the title for the zine (“Snowfire”…cool on the outside, fiery on the inside) and I did take a lot of her suggestions, so I credited her as co-editor.

In 1994, I started soliciting for the zine by letting fans I knew I was taking material, and by advertising in other zines/letterzines. The goal was to get the first issue done in time for something called Media West Con the following May. It was a con entirely dedicated to fan fiction zines and most of the Star Wars zines of that era were published that month so somebody could hawk them at the con. It was a con I’d never attended by the way. I’d always agent my zines out to somebody. As it turned out, I got a decent number of submissions that first year, enough to make it a 100-page extravaganza. I wrote some stories for it but the majority of material came from other people. By the way, many of my contributors throughout Snowfire’s run were guys and in spite of what many would think, they wrote really good stories and did fantastic art. I did get some cheesecake but nothing I was really uncomfortable with at the time and the stories themselves weren’t about Leia’s slave girl bikini falling off at inopportune moments. They were genuine character studies and fun action/adventure. So much for stereotypes! The cover art on the first issue was interesting…I wanted to go with something different from the usual portraiture on the front. One of my SW pen pals was also a budding graphic artist so I gave him my idea and he whipped up the cover art. It was a purple Alliance logo with a little crown on top and laurels on the side. No title on the front page.

Unlike the zines of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Snowfire was spiral bound. To save money, I had everything run off at Staples and did the binding myself. I never made that mistake ever again!

Snowfire was intended to be a one-off, but my small print run sold out and I got a lot of positive feedback. So much so that I started soliciting material for a second issue, which I published in 1996. I got a lot more material that time and I went for a color cover by an illustrator I knew who was building up his portfolio, so he gladly volunteered. Now he’s pretty well-known but back then he was trying to get Dark Horse just to look at his stuff at Comic Con. I’d asked him for a romance novel-esque cover with Han and Leia, and he delivered. It’s still one of my favorite pieces of fan art and once this guy hit the big time, Lucasfilm bought the original version. So it’s either on somebody’s wall or in a vault somewhere.

#2 was a success, so I put together #3 for 1997. This time I went for a black and white cover to save a few bucks but I decided I preferred color and so did buyers.

The amount of submissions I got dropped for #4. You would’ve thought that with the success of the Special Editions and Star Wars mania on full strength in anticipation of new movies, I would’ve had submissions collapsing out of my mailbox. But fans found the internet much more convenient. Instead of waiting a year to publish your story for a couple hundred people and on top of that letting a stranger (known as an editor) mess with your work or even reject it outright, you can crank something out and post it for thousands to read instantaneously. Readers didn’t have to pay for fan fiction online. I don’t think Snowfire ever cost more than $20 but most of the bigger zines were $35-$50. I was writing stories mostly so I could get those zines for free.

#4 though had another great cover by my illustrator friend. Steve Sansweet bought the original from him.

By the time I published #5 in 1999 and #6 in 2000, I knew the cake was baked with the future of Snowfire and zines in general. Not only did I have dwindling contributions, producing the zine was too time consuming and too expensive. It was a lot of work just to break even, since I could not profit off the zine. Fan fic’s home was on the internet, as with fan art. So I folded with #6.

Still, I’m pretty proud of how Snowfire turned out. I thought I had collected some of the very best fan fiction written about Leia (though I don’t know how I’d view them now) and the last couple of issues won some awards from the Star Wars zine world. At the end, I also include a couple of stories about Padmé/Amidala, one of which I’ve posted online with the title “Childhood Sweethearts.” You can find it on Fanfiction.net. Now, if Snowfire was still around today, would I also include stories about say, Ahsoka, Asajj Ventress, Hera, Sabine, various handmaidens, Rey, and other canon female characters? You bet I would!

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3 Responses to How I Ended Up Running A Fan Fiction Zine

  1. Tarrlok says:

    Did Lucasfilm tend to be supportive of fanzines or did their lawyers sometimes come down like a tonne of bricks?

    It’s surprising to read that sexism against female characters and bad handling of Leia was sometimes more of a fangirl thing. I was aware of the origins of Star Trek “slash” fiction, but I’d have thought that Leia’s popularity with women/girls would have taken off immediately following ANH. Or did that popularity simply not manifest in fanfiction until later?

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    • lazypadawan says:

      At first, Lucasfilm’s lawyers came down like a ton of bricks. They went after everybody doing knockoff merchandise, starting fan clubs, publishing zines, etc.. Based on info I gleaned recently from reading an oldster’s FB page, it was the thinking of Lucasfilm at the time that they wanted to not only stop others from profiting off of Star Wars, they wanted to get out in front of fandom. They didn’t want Star Wars fandom to become like Star Trek fandom, with the fans were running the asylum. So some of the first zines were slapped with C&Ds.

      But from what I understand, some Star Trek zine editors and writers who wanted to make the jump into Star Wars cornered Gary Kurtz at a con somewhere and explained to him what they were about and tried to convince him there would be no harm in allowing fan fiction, fan art, and zines. This might be true, it might be an urban legend. I don’t know if that did the trick or not but by 1979, Lucasfilm was allowing people to publish zines but with some caveats. Those caveats were you can’t make money off of them (duh) and the material had to be “family friendly.” In 1980, Lucasfilm slapped some C&Ds on a couple of zines because one zine ran a story with a sex scene between Han and Leia and the other ran a violent story where Han was tortured to death. I haven’t read the latter–not my thing–but I did read the former and by today’s standards, it was laughably tame unless I saw an edited version. You can find much more graphic material in .0001 flat on the internet. I’ve written a few R-rated Anakin and Padmé stories in plain sight. Obviously, Lucasfilm doesn’t care about that anymore, not even in its post-Disney purchase incarnation. Probably because they know they can’t control it. It’s pointless.

      Fan fiction and the kind of women who write it is kind of a complicated thing to explain. If you can hunt down a copy of “Enterprising Women,” it paints a picture of what I’d observed of the kind of fan women (I hesitate to call them fangirls because they weren’t girls anymore) I first encountered in fandom. On the one hand many of them were very socially/politically liberal/left, considered themselves products of the ’60s and ’70s, and were very suspicious of the status quo or what they called the “mundane” world. On the other hand, they had teenage girl crushes on their favorite leading men/male characters and a lot of their sensibilities were right out of cheesy romance novels. It isn’t to say nobody wrote good fanfic about Leia or nobody liked her. It was just that the fan fic culture of the time sprang from Trek, which focused on Kirk, Spock, etc., cop or buddy shows like “Starsky & Hutch,” and Brit t.v.. So women who focused on writing about male characters kept writing about them in Star Wars. Without the internet and with the fan fic culture being much smaller and closed off than it is now, it took a long time for attitudes to shift.

      I think things started to change in the ’90s because of two shows: The X-Files and Xena: The Warrior Princess. The former brought in a lot of younger fans who love, love, love Scully and the latter brought in a lot of lesbians and well, it was a show that starred two heroines. If you wrote Xena you had to write about women. Now, the fans who were into Mulder/Skinner were eager to dispose of Scully because she got in the way of their made-up slash ship (Padmé endured a similar fate among Anakin/Obi-Wan writers). But otherwise, you couldn’t ignore her.

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      • Tarrlok says:

        Interesting stuff. I’ve found your retro fandom pieces enlightening. While I was aware of some of the broad strokes of history, the personal perspective sheds light.

        From what I’ve seen, Padme gets pushed aside even by Anakin/Ahsoka writers. This habit of sidelining female characters does seem a lot less common nowadays, though.

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