Chicks Dig Time Lords (edited by Lynne & Tara O’Shea) was released from Mad Norwegian Press in 2009 and its focus on female fans of Doctor Who and their experiences in personal essays seemed to be exactly what fandom was looking for. The book exploded several myths about the ‘lack’ of women in Classic Who fandom, and gave a celebratory voice to women in the new fandom too.
The success of Chicks Dig Time Lords (culminating in a Hugo for Best Related Work) led to follow up projects including Whedonistas (edited by Lynne M Thomas & Deborah Stanish), this week’s new release Chicks Dig Comics (edited by Lynne M Thomas and Sigrid Ellis) and the to-be-released-later-this-year Chicks Unravel Time (edited by Deborah Stanish and L.M. Myles) which brings the series back full circle to the Doctor Who universe. As a reader, I love the fact that this series of books is treating women’s experiences with fandom seriously, and that I get to read some great essays with so many different female bylines at once.
Thanks to Lynne and Deb for agreeing to be interviewed by Tansy about their work for Doctor Her!
DOCTOR HER: Let’s start with Chicks Dig Time Lords. How did you get involved with the project originally?
LYNNE: Well, it all began in 2007 when Tara O’Shea had the publisher (Lars Pearson) and his wife (Christa Dickson) locked in her apartment…erm, I mean, when Lars and Christa stayed with her for a weekend as they attended an event in Chicago. It also began with a tshirt that Tara designed to wear to the Gallifrey One 2007 convention, which sported the words “Chicks Dig Time Lords” that many of us fangirls (myself included) coveted.
I should note that Tara attended college with my husband Michael, and all of us (Tara, Michael and I, and Lars and Christa) were friends through Doctor Who fandom. Christa and Tara had been doing Fangirl-Squee! and slash-type panels for years, and I soon joined in. Lars had been running Mad Norwegian Press for quite some time, putting out guidebooks that did things like put all of Doctor Who continuity in order, or reviewed all of the Doctor Who books published while the show was off the air.
During that fateful weekend, Tara pitched the anthology to Mad Norwegian Press, with the title based on the tshirt. The pitch was accepted, work began, and then about 6 months later some family issues came up for Tara that were making it difficult to complete the book herself on the original timeline. I was brought in to lend a hand as co-editor, based upon my experience as an academic writer and editor. I curate the literary papers of SF/F authors as part of my day job, so I brought a lot of additional contacts to the table.
Tara and I sat down and figured out how to move forward from that point together.
Mad Norwegian had never published an essay anthology before. We had never edited one. So there was a lot of figuring out how to do things in that first year, both before I came onto the project, and after I joined it.
DOCTOR HER: So what are the most important lessons about editing that you took away from that first book?
LYNNE: Can I say “everything”?
It was a huge learning curve for all of us.
Our associate editor, my husband Michael, ended up doing a lot of the legwork researching how to put an anthology together.
We learned how to contact writers. We learned to use our current network, but not to be afraid to approach people cold. For instance, Elizabeth Bear, Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire were friends, and thus easy to approach for the book. On the other hand, we emailed Carole Barrowman cold through her website.
Another lesson, I think, was in organization. Spreadsheets help you to know where you’re at (who has turned in what, whether it’s been edited, etc.). Which we figured out in time for the second book, Whedonistas, that I did with Deb Stanish. The spreadsheet for Chicks Dig Time Lords was in Michael’s brain and our email accounts. Not as easy as Deb’s spreadsheet.
We also learned how to work with writers, publishers, etc. We had to develop a vocabulary to describe what we were looking for, and to explain what we wanted as we worked with them. Most importantly, knowing the difference between when to leave something alone, and when to assist a writer in developing something further. That took practice.
Fortunately, we had phenomenal luck with the people we worked with. They were talented, enthusiastic, and willing to work with us.
DOCTOR HER: You both wrote essays for the first book – how did you choose your topic? Or did it choose you?
LYNNE: Tara gave me my topic, really. She had a list of potential topics that essayists might use, and one of them was about marrying into fandom. Which is what I did, so I grabbed that topic with both hands. It evolved from there, of course, into being about found family and community, but that was where it started.
DEB: My topic actually grew out of a presentation I gave at a local con on fandom hierarchies. As I was thinking about what I could bring to the Chicks Dig Time Lords table I decided that, in addition to the idea of hierarchies, I really wanted to explore my experiences not only as a new fan, but also as a new female fan in what had long been presented as a “boys club”. My experiences writing for the Doctor Who Information Network fanzine “Enlightenment” was the perfect vehicle to tie all of this together. Plus, who can resist a good anecdote about face-painters and the very mainstream acceptance of sports fandom?
DOCTOR HER: What kind of support did the book get from Doctor Who fandom? Was there any resistance to the idea of a book about “Doctor Who and girls”?
LYNNE: Well, the response really depends upon where you are. Here in the US, we were welcomed with open arms, and, to put it mildly, it has been overwhelming. We won a Hugo. So I think it’s fair to say that we have gotten a ton of support in the US.
In the UK, however, it’s been a bit quieter–we didn’t even make the Doctor Who Magazine top 5 nonfiction book list in their 2010 annual poll, for instance, despite a really lovely review of the book from Andrew Pixley in DWM. We’ve not really experienced actual resistance; it’s been more a matter of polite disinterest in most cases.
Internationally outside of the UK, we have seen pockets of fans here and there being excited, but since all of our events have been in the US, we really haven’t have had much opportunity to squee in person.
DOCTOR HER: So let’s talk about THE FREAKING HUGO. What was it like to win Best Related Work on the night? Has it changed the way the book is perceived?
LYNNE: Frankly? I’m still kinda in shock, nearly a year later. I was speechless for most of the night, which, if you know me, does not happen very often.
We made history. This is the first time in the history of the Hugos that a nonfiction book about fictional media of any kind won, and only the seventh time that a nonfiction book about media was even nominated. There aren’t terribly many female editors who have won Hugos, either. Winning the Hugo has also opened up some new opportunities for me, such as taking over the helm of Apex Magazine as Editor-in-Chief, guesting on podcasts, or doing occasional Doctor Who programming at local public libraries.
[interviewer note: since completing the interview, Lynne's podcast the SF Squeecast received a Hugo Nomination for this year's new Best Fancast category]
I am, and remain, very, very grateful, and humbled. I can’t thank our publisher, Mad Norwegian, my co-editor, Tara O’Shea, and all of our contributors enough. I’m very proud of our book, and I’m thrilled that these fandom communities have embraced it to this level, given that it really is a love letter to the fandom experience that happens to be about Doctor Who in particular.
Has winning the Hugo changed how the book is perceived? I doubt it. But I’m viewing the perceptions of the book from inside the SF/F and Doctor Who fandom communities, who knew about it already. It has garnered a certain amount of additional attention outside of those communities, of course; people who might never have come across the book have now heard of it. Which is never a bad thing.
DOCTOR HER: Next came the follow up book Whedonistas, the one that you worked on together as an editorial team. What challenges did writing about the Whedonverse bring, compared to Doctor Who?
LYNNE: I think one of the biggest challenges was that as the book was being put together, there weren’t any Joss Whedon shows currently running. So it was much more retrospective than Chicks Dig Time Lords in that sense.
DEB: I agree. There is a certain vibrancy and cohesiveness associated with a “live” fandom. At the time we commissioned Whedonistas the Buffy comics were really the only Whedon property in current production so we found the vast majority of essays were more a contemplative look at the impact Whedon’s work had on their personal and creative lives. There was a lot of nostalgia and it was beautiful.
DOCTOR HER: Why do you think there’s so much crossover between Whedon fans and Doctor Who fans – especially women?
DEB: My personal introduction to Doctor Who was through my Whedon friends. In 2005 Whedon fandom was buzzing with talk of this “new show” and I had friends who insisted that I needed to watch this amazing thing so, anecdotally, I’m going to say there is a fair amount of crossover. I think this is particularly true with New Who. Whedon fans tend to gravitate toward smart, thoughtful television with complicated interpersonal relationships so New Who is pretty much tailor made for that audience. And now that Whedon alum Jane Espenson has been brought into the Doctor Who family, via Torchwood, the crossover is officially canon!
DOCTOR HER: And now Chicks Dig Comics too, which was officially released this week! Lynne, was this topic an obvious next step for the series? What excites you most about this book – and what’s in it for Doctor Who fans who loved Chicks Dig Time Lords?
LYNNE: I think that it was a fairly obvious next step for the series, particularly so once you take into account some of the controversy about the lack of women writers and artists initially announced for the DC Comics “New 52” relaunch. It was one of many sequel books pitched by Tara when she pitched Chicks Dig Time Lords, but then she moved on from Mad Norwegian to other projects. So Chicks Dig Comics moved forward with her blessing, with myself and Sigrid Ellis as the editors. Sigrid has been a comics fan her entire life, and has been actively blogging about comics at Fantastic Fangirls for several years. She’s also an air traffic controller in her day job, which means that she’s organized and decisive, both of which made her an excellent editorial partner.
The format of Chicks Dig Comics is roughly the same as Chicks Dig Time Lords: a diverse group of comics professionals, SF/F writers, and fans, all talking about the comics that made them squee. What excites me the most is the contributors: we really got a bunch of stellar contributors: Gail Simone, Marjorie M. Liu, Greg Rucka, Seanan McGuire, Louise Simonson, Amanda Conner, Terry Moore, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Delia Sherman, Jill Pantozzi. Mark Waid wrote us a fantastic introduction.
For Doctor Who fans who loved Chicks Dig Time Lords (who don’t happen to also be comics fans), it’s more essays by smart women talking about something they love deeply. I suspect, though, that there’s a fair amount of crossover for female geeks who love Doctor Who and comics.
DOCTOR HER: Deb, what can you tell us about Chicks Unravel Time? Is it a direct sequel to Chicks Dig Time Lords, or doing something different?
DEB: Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who is more a sister anthology to Chicks Dig Time Lords than a direct sequel. The concept was born out of my own experience in being asked to write an essay on Season Eight for Enlightenment. My editor, Graeme Burke, couched the request with a rueful “you’ll have to deal with a lot of Jo Grant”. The prevailing wisdom being that she was a ditzy screamer in a short skirt. I, however, adored Jo. I found her to be a bit sly and subversive while deftly playing the early 1970’s hand she was dealt. She may not have had Liz Shaw’s credentials but she held her own with charm.
In Classic Who there are a lot of absolutes, the sacred cows of fandom: Jo Grant is a ditz, The Fourth Doctor was the best Doctor, The Caves of Andronzani was one of the best episodes ever, etc. I wondered how many of those sacred cows would stand up to a fresh perspective, particularly a very diverse, female perspective. So, with Chicks Unravel Time, we asked 35 women to each take on a season of Doctor Who, including the TV Movie and The Specials. We have diverse group of contributors, ranging in age from their early 20’s to 60’s, from all over the world who bring their unique viewpoints to what has been, traditionally, a very male dominated field. Besides the contributor base, the anthology also differs from traditional review/critique volumes in that it is a collection of smart, witty essays that look at each season as a whole rather than story-by-story reviews.
DOCTOR HER: As this interview is for a feminist Doctor Who blog I’d like to finish with two vital questions: who is your favourite female Doctor Who character of all time, and who would you cast as the first female Doctor if you ruled the BBC?
LYNNE: I really hate to play favorites, because there are so many female characters on Doctor Who that I adore, but if I am forced to choose, my favorite female Doctor Who character of all time is, and remains, Dorothy “Ace” McShane, companion to the 7th Doctor. My love for Ace is true.
If I was in charge of the BBC and could cast the first female Doctor (knowing that whomever it was would say yes), I’d ask Kate Winslet. Because I love her work and I think she’d make a splendid Doctor.
DEB: My answer to this question changes on almost a weekly basis! I think your first companion, like your first Doctor, will always hold a special place in your affections so I have to say that Rose Tyler will always be the companion of my heart. However, I am a huge fan of the Big Finish Audios and love their take on the companion story, often going in directions the series can’t, or won’t, go. Sheridan Smith’s Lucie Miller absolutely blew me away during her run with the Eighth Doctor and she’s currently at the top of my Companion Hall of Fame.
As for the first female Doctor – Helena Bonham Carter, hands down. She is absolutely bonkers, in the very best way, and would be absolutely delicious in the role.
Thanks, Lynne M Thomas and Deborah Stanish for being the first interview subjects on Doctor Her! We look forward to hearing about more of your projects in the future.
You can find out more about these books at the Mad Norwegian Press website. You can also find Lynne M Thomas at her blog, her podcast The SF Squeecast, and as the fiction editor at Apex Magazine. She is on Twitter as @lynnemthomas. You can find Deborah Stanish at her blog, and on Twitter as @debstanish.