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!