Futurama

Interview - Red_Line, April 2011

MC: I'm talking with Red_Line, alias Tim, or is that the other way around?

Red_Line: Either one works, it's all good.

MC: Since you've written a few fan fics ...

RL: One or two ... or uh *counts on fingers ... takes off left shoe … takes off right shoe* sixteen actually.

MC: Then let's start there. What first got you interested in writing?

RL: Futurama and Futurama fan fiction. I always hated writing, or at least thought I did. I'm a techie by nature - I fixed my first television set when I was 5 years old - Math and Science always came easy to me and I didn't much care for the "fuzzy studies", eg English, Literature, Grammer, etc, in school and did my utmost to avoid them as much as possible. I took classes like "Group Dynamics" and "The Film as Art" to avoid any real work associated with writing. It took (quite) a few years, but it was Futurama that changed all of that.

MC: What types of stories do you like to read and who are your favorite authors?

RL: In general fiction, mysteries; I like the classics like Perry Mason, Nero Wolf, Sherlock Holmes, and the 1930's hard boiled detectives, and more modern authors like Sue Grafton. I like action/adventure stories that have a science angle to them like the Dirk Pitt novels. And of course, Science Fiction. I read a ton of it when I was younger. Not so much anymore, mores’ the pity.

In the fan fic realm, I tend to prefer stories with a strong shippy component, but that being said, there are also some very good and entertaining ones that are more canon too.

MC: How did you get into Futurama?

RL: Purely by accident. You should know that with the exception of the first season of Star Trek, The Next Generation, I pretty much quit watching TV sometime in the 70's. One day I just decided that it was all drek and I had better things to do. My opinion hasn't gone up any since then. So one night in October 2005 I'm on my way through the basement to go work in my shop and my daughter is watching something on TV. I walk by, stop, back up, and said "What's this?". There was this robot that was smoking a cigar and this one-eyed, purple haired woman with a smoking hot body (Hey, I'm a guy, it's what I do). My daughter explained the basic premise, popped the first DVD in, and I sat there and watched the first 9 episodes all in a row. By the end of the week, I'd watched all of the first season. A few days later I started searching the Internet and that's when I discovered fan sites and fan art and FAN FICTION! By then I was pretty well hooked.

MC: What got you interesting in writing fan fiction?

RL: Well, by Xmas of 2005 I'd seen all of the first three seasons, and it was Parasites Lost that I think really turned me into a Fry and Leela shipper. From reading the fan sites, I kinda knew what happened in season 4 so, purely by coincidence, my daughter received the season 4 DVD set for Xmas and by the first of the year I'd seen it all. Like a lot of other people, I felt kind of left hanging by that ending. I wanted more, I wanted to know what happened. But of course the series had been put on "hiatus" three years earlier and there never would be any more, never would be the answer to what happened. This just whetted my appetite for fan fiction and for a while there I was reading a lot of it. Some was total drek. Some was well written but went off in directions that didn't interest me. And some were damn good. But one thing a lot of them had in common was that Fry and Leela usually ended up in bed about 15 seconds after it all came together. That usually doesn't happen in real life (at least, it never did for me. ) so I wanted to explore my own ideas of how it might have gone on from there. I took keyboard in hand and started writing.

The first three or four attempts were just awful. I deleted them. But finally I got a story that seemed to have promise, and I kept altering and revising and rewriting it until finally I was satisfied with it.

Then all I had to do was get up the nerve to publish it. I was so sure that my stories were so bad that I'd get flamed off the internet but I figured that I could just disappear quickly and quietly when that happened. Well, no one was more surprised than I when a lot of people REALLY liked my stuff. It still surprises me.

It might help to understand that for many years my job, although it pays very well, was kind of thankless. I did technical stuff that not very many people could comprehend and you could never please everybody (sometimes nobody), and I was not used to hearing "good job" from anyone, even when I brought the projects in on time and under budget.

MC: Do you write any other types of fiction?

RL: Well, unless you count some of the reports and memos I write at work, then no, I don't. I've thought about it, but the big idea hasn't hit me yet.

MC: What type of stories do you like to write?

RL: Like I said before, I'm a sucker for F&L ship, so my stuff so far mostly has a strong romance component to it. I'm also a fan of the epic space battle. When I was writing Das Schiff which had a space battle in it with Leela commanding an old freighter that was not unlike a WW2 era sub. She had to give maneuvering commands and rather than making up some nonsense (I'm detail oriented (aka anal-retentive) like that) I dug out my old Calculus text and read up on cylindrical coordinate systems. Then I diagrammed the whole thing out and did some math. I think someone should be able to read the fic and work out the maneuvers. Yeah, overkill. But I had fun.

MC: Concerning your own stories, what do you think of your material? How has it changed from when you started? Do you have any favorites? Has that opinion changed over time? Anything, looking back, that’s particularly cringe-worthy?

RL: Woah, dude. Slow down. I haven't gone back and re-read my early stuff in a long time, and if I did I would probably cringe. If I were starting over today, there are things I would do differently. But overall, I had a lot of fun writing most of those and I'm really proud I was able to write what I did and that people like them (that still shocks me, even to this day).

I'd like to think my skills as a writer have improved but I'm hardly in an objective position to judge that.

I think the ones I enjoyed writing the most were the latest four in the Eight Hours to Earth series: Event Horizon, Fault Line, Das Schiff, and The Acid Test.

My least favorite was Ten Years After - it's a real downer of a story, probably the "heaviest" one I've written. I wrote it as a pain dump - I'd received some really bad news and that was my way of coping with it in the short term. I'm not saying it's a bad story, quite the contrary, I think it's a good story. It's just not a happy story.

The three I wrote for and because of the TSFFC writing competitions, In A Pigs Fry, Michelle Shock, and Fryscape, were also a lot of fun but they were a whole different animal with a whole different set of challenges. In normal fiction, you start with an idea and see where it leads you and who cares how long it takes. With these competitions, you had a fixed set of things to choose from, a word limit, and a deadline. You want a challenge - tell your story in 3,000 words by next Tuesday.

MC: Are you working on any new fics right now?

RL: Right at this second, no. I'm slacking off by doing some silly interview. Seriously, I've got a whole steaming pile of ideas. I've got the next five stories in my Eight Hours series outlined and a bunch of snippets written, and several standalone fics in various stages of completion. I'm making slow headway on one of them but minutes have not been quite as plentiful as I'd have liked over the last couple of years.

MC: Do you have any advice for prospective writers?

RL: Yes I do.

#1 - write to please yourself first. Have fun. If someone else likes what you've done, that's just icing on the cake.

#2 - Authors (and I assume artists) are their own harshest critics. You will be harder on yourself than most of your readers.

#3 - Having a tough hide and asbestos underwear is a big plus. Put another way, can you handle criticism? Hopefully, if someone thinks your stuff is so much Decapodian excrement, they'll just be quiet and go somewhere else. Even more hopefully, the will give kindly worded constructive criticism. But there's always the one misguided jerk that will say "You suck". He's easy to ignore, not so easy is the list of 18,437 spelling errors, misplaced commas, dangling participles, and plot holes that the English Lit PHd posted for your amusement and edification. You have to be able to look at each bit of criticism objectively, take what you can from it, and dismiss the rest.

#4 - Don't be afraid to scrap and start over. Whether it be a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, or the whole damn story, if it just isn't working, sometimes it's better just to toss it all away and start over than try to fix it.

#5 - Spelling, punctuation, and grammar: The best idea in the world will be totally ruined if it's full of misspelled wurds punctuation, in the. wrong place and sentences, that no make any cents. There is no excuse for not having a spell checker these days. Use it. If you're no good at those other things, see #6. See #6 anyway.

#6 - Beta readers, get some - one or more people you trust to read your works and comment. You'll want them to pick apart everything from the low level stuff like spelling, punctuation, and grammar all the way up to the whole plot structure.

#7 - Go to Futurama Madhouse's Fan Fiction section and read How to Write Shippy Futurama Fan Fiction by Tongue Luck. Not only is it really, really funny, it is required reading on how NOT to write shippy Futurama fan fic. Even if you're not going to write shipfic, it's STILL required reading. Morbo demands you read it.

#8 - Pick up a copy of On Writing by Steven King (yes, the horror guy). It's also quite funny and chock full of stuff every writer should know.

#9 - NEVER, EVER plagiarize. This means using parts of someone else's work without permission. If you get caught, you will loose all credibility. On FMMB, it will probably get you banned. If you feel you absolutely have to include something that someone else wrote, contact them and get their permission and then put that disclaimer in your story. Better yet, write your own stuff.

#10 - Sit down and write! And have fun.

MC: What other authors/artists inspired you or had other significant impact on your work?

RL: Oh man, that's a hard one. I've read a lot of fan fic in the last *counts on fingers* six years. I think the first person I'd have to cite would be Ramon. He was one of the first responders to my first fics and he was always encouraging. Later on, and continuing to this day, we've become friends and we talk on the telephone frequently and bounce ideas off each other. Two others authors I remember reading early on were Andy Robertson and Mysteryman - they both wrote some very good stories and I think all three influenced the style I adopted. I'm sure there were others but at this distance in time I can't recall if they were before I started writing or later.

At least one fic and several sceens in my fics have been inspired by fanart. Interlude was an attempt to recreate in word the scene from "The Voice"'s Oceanview wallpaper, and there is a fan art by Erdrik called Smell that inspired a scene in another fic. I know there have been more, but those are the ones I can recall.

MC: You've been a webmaster and admin on Futurama Madhouse for a long time now. How did that happen.

RL: Well, I'm still not entirely sure. No, really it went something like this; after I'd published my first four stories on FMMB and was busy writing more, I sent those first four into FM to be put up on the main site. That wasn't happening, and if you go back and look in the News Archives, FM was only updating once or twice a month at best. Someone commented on that on the forum and Graham replied that it was hard to find people with the necessary skills anymore. Those skills were legacy kinds of things like HTML and using FTP. "Well, Heck" I thought, "I've done that stuff for years.". So after mulling it over for a few days, I sent Graham a PM saying something like "I know that stuff and if there's something I can do to help ...". BAM! Before I knew it he tossed me the keys and said knock yourself out. And he made me a Global Mod on FMMB too. Seriously though, Graham held my hand through a lot of those early days and taught me a lot of things about the exciting career of webmaster. So I started knocking out the backlog of fan fic, my own included. After that first batch, there was only enough trickling in to update once or maybe twice a week. But soon, the volume picked up and it's turned into a full time job. I think people saw stuff happening and they responded, and that caused more frequent updates - success breeds success I guess. Anyway, a few months after that Graham made me an Admin. I guess I was doing something right, or else he was just tired of the “please delete user $XYZ for spamming” messages he was always getting from me.

MC: Tell me a little about what being a webmaster is all about.

RL: The simple answer is people send you stuff, you say “Thanks”, and get it put up on the site. Now in an ideal world, something would come in, you'd get it put up right away and life would be good. What really happens is stuff comes in in bursts, a bunch all at once, and then nothing for a week. So you've got some record keeping to do: record it when it comes in, record that you acknowledged it - I think this is very important, contributors like to know you received their stuff and when they can expect to see it on the site so I try to reply to every submission I get as soon as I can – and record when you put it on the site, and record when you mention it in the news.

Then I like to dole the contributions out at a fairly steady pace whenever I can and there have been times when I've had a two week backlog. And then there's other time when I've got nothing.

I usually put stuff up in more or less the order it came in, but there are exceptions to that too. Sometimes, I find stuff that just kind of fits together. Other times, I'll get something that requires more effort than I have time to do, so it might get put off for a day or three and something newer will get done instead.

MC: What is the easiest kind of fan contribution for you to put up?

RL: Fan fics and fan art. Art because all I've got to do is make the thumbnails and use the uploader that Leandro built and magic happens. Fan fic 'cause I've got some scripts of my own that do all of the grunt work. On a clear day, I can get a fan fic converted and uploaded in 5 minutes.

MC: What's the hardest?

RL: No question about this one – video. The problem with video files is size. File size and bandwidth are always concerns so we try to squish the video file down to a reasonable size. That's not always easy to do.

MC: Let's talk about something else. You're .. uh .. above the average age that's generally found in fan forums. Has that been weird for you?

RL: Let's not pull any punches here, I'm 54 and that makes me the second oldest (so far as we know) regular on FMMB. And no, it hasn't been a problem at all, and in fact I have one or two funny stories related to my age that I probably shouldn't tell. The nice thing is that at FM you can be judged by what you say and do, not by what you look like or by some arbitrary statistics.

On a related note, I've had the opportunity to meet in person with a few people on FMMB, talked to a couple more on the telephone, and seen pictures of others. It's always fun to compare what a person really looks and sounds like with the mental image you formed of them.

MC: Well, that's all I can think of. Any closing comments you'd like to make?

RL: Futurama Forever! *does the hand thing*

Buddies