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05 November 2009 @ 04:02 pm
Machines of Freedom: Author's Notes  

Machines of Freedom seems to embody, the more I think about it, the ways I approach XF fanfiction as writer. I'm telling this story, not another, because of who I am, and how I think about the series, and how I think in general.

First, there's the title. I chose it in part because I simply love the line; I also love the idea. Elsewhere in the same interview, Foucault says that liberty is a practice, liberty is what must be practiced; we only become free through acting in a free manner, despite the fact that the cards are always stacked against us, that we can never truly escape the oppressive features that surround us. We are free when we act freely. I've always thought the universe of The X-Files is Foucauldian, in that power acts invisibly around us, without necessarily needing instruments; we become free when we figure out how to resist at all costs, because resistance is what makes us free, even when we fail. The Consortium wants a technology of freedom, an agreement with the Other that it will simply not-oppress, a mechanical way of liberating humanity from the coming threat. The project that Mulder and Scully represent, which I have taken to calling the Stark Insurgency (shut up), is instead a project of continued struggle, even in the face of guaranteed failure. Even up until the moment he falls unconscious at the end of chapter 11, Mulder is still free, because he refuses to be otherwise. Even if they had lost, they would still be free. We all are, as long as we never surrender our ability to act.

Second, canonicity and transformation. I'm a writer who wants to get as close to canon as possible in order to see what can be done to it; at the same time, I'm interested in doing transformative things to it. (Yes, all fanwork is inherently transformative; but I'm interested in making the universe do things that it doesn't do at all, generally thematic and political things.) What I wanted to do in writing this was write a story that was almost--almost--something you could imagine being filmed as the third X-Files movie; a story that seemed to capture the spirit of the series, that seemed as if it could be canon, except not quite. So I've got the goddamn ghosts from The Truth haunting the thing, despite the fact that they make no sense. (WTFever, ILU ghost!Krycek.) IWTB was kind of insane for making Scully suddenly, magically a neurosurgeon; nevertheless, a neurosurgeon she is. We've got a smoking informant of questionable allegiance, who seems to know more than is being said; we've got a global conspiracy designed to get the drop on the good guys. And, frankly, Mulder and Scully never actually solve anything, never actually save anyone; any time someone is saved in canon, it's because someone with greater knowledge than they of what's going on parachutes in and does a deus ex machina intervention. Well, that's what we've got here, too.

But--here's the transformative part--I needed to do something to intervene into the constant narrative of the X-Files as a story about fathers and sons. It's the story of Mulder, needing to redeem himself for the sins of his father--for the sins of both his fathers. It's the story of Jeffery Spender, who first accepts, then rejects his father, in order to find his own power in the narrative. It's the story of Bill Mulder and the story of C.G.B. Spender, who want to protect their children, and who end up sacrificing them in the process. It's the story of William, the lost son Mulder can never fully redeem.

And I like this; I like that The X-Files is the story of the Fall of the House of Mulder, the story of how family relations grow burdensome and collapse under the weight of persistent corruption. (Perhaps this is just because I have a family like this one myself, though with fewer aliens.) But--here's the thing--it's never about the women. It's never about Teena or Samantha, except as objects moved around by others; it's only about Scully as it pertains to Mulder, most of the time, at least when we're getting mytharc-y. Here is a show full of fascinating female characters, and yet the central narrative never has any room for them to be the driving forces of what happens. (This is, incidentally, why the show floundered so badly in the last two seasons; even without Mulder present, it somehow still had to be all about Mulder, when it could have, very easily, become all about Scully. But Mulder took up too much space in the narrative arc; he couldn't be moved aside that easily.)

So I wanted to alter this story, and the way to alter it was, quite simply, to make it a story about daughters. A story about Maggie watching her little girl go off to war; a story about fighting aliens and watching Dora the Explorer; a story about a daughter willing to rend the fabric of time and space to fix things.

The reason I love Casey so much--and Scooly's note should make clear that I do, if the story itself doesn't--is that she ends up embodying the majority of the little interventions I made into the universe to get here. Having her appear for the first time as "the smoking girl," soon to be revealed as some form of a "CSM"--a phrase never used by the characters in canon, an artifact from scripts and a term of ours--begins the process, by situating her as embodiment of the mytharc. She's Krycek in a leather jacket and combat boots; she's Spender in the helicopter in a trench coat; she's Marita Covarrubias with a pocket full of secrets. But as she develops, she becomes, subtly, Mulderish: she drops her gun; she spouts long random monologues about her copious knowledge of random shit; she snarks, she works the puppy dog eyes to get what she wants, she can't manage to get a real declaration of affection out without having to couch it in a bunch of noise (to either Monica or her father). And she's spent years searching, years looking. Unlike Mulder, Casey got the chance to go back and fix things--but Mulder wouldn't have turned the opportunity down if he'd been offered it, would he? And in the end, it's easy to forget that the S and the M in that little set of initials can just as easily refer to Our Heros as their nemesis.

But after all this deep shit, the story comes down to this: I wanted to write a trashy sci-fi novel. Sure, it does all this deep intellectual work, but it's fundamentally a book about OH SHIT ALIENS LOOK THINGS GO BOOM OH NOES WE'RE ALL GONNA DIIIIIIIIIE. This is why I like about being a fanfiction writer: I like being able to tell a story, a very unserious story, but to do serious intellectual work in the background of it. The fact that we all share a universe in which I work allows me to make the interventions I want to make and still be able to write something that's cracky as all fuck. I don't need to justify my work to myself with serious content; I justify it to myself by doing serious work with unserious material. Yes, all of this smacks of intellectual elitism, of a belittlement of unserious genre work. I don't doubt that these are intellectual prejudices I have; in fact, I'm fairly confident that I do. But these are still justifications I need; I need to know I'm doing something as I work, that I'm making something new, something transformative, something political happen. And I did.

I wrote a trashy sci-fi novel. With Foucault, and feminism.



I struggled with how to handle the Van de Kamps in this story. Frankly, most of the post-William fic I've read has dealt with them by eliminating them, somehow--the bad guys kill them, they turn out to be a known quantity (I've read at least one fic where they're Charlie Scully and his wife--that one was a little awesome), they turn out to be evil, or something. But, well, my personal politics when it comes to adoption don't allow any of those things to happen. I'm a non-biological parent, though not one by adoption except in the eyes of the law; I've got relatives who are birth parents, and relatives who are adoptive parents. In writing the complex relationship between the Scully-Mulders and the Van de Kamps, I didn't want to erase anyone's parenthood, or, most especially, Will's relationship to any of the people in his family, because that would just be flat-out wrong. I didn't really have room in this story to do much of the work I wanted to do, but I tried, at least marginally, to do what I could to complicate the meaning of family. I'm planning on writing more in this universe, assuming anyone other than me and idella want to read it; I'll probably do more with them then.


Scooly mentions something in her notes about the Mulder/Casey fistfight being hard to illustrate. I actually had a lot of trouble writing the lead-in to it; specifically, the line "That bitch had his son." The problem is that, if it had been a man, "asshole" or "bastard" would have fit nicely; but "bitch" was the only option for Mulder to call Casey in that moment, and it's such a nastily gendered word that I didn't want to use it. But I didn't have a problem writing the actual moment of the fight. In other words, it was harder to write Mulder engaging in symbolic violence against a female character than actual violence.

I thought about the reasons for this for a little bit, and finally came to the realization that it was because, in the physical fight, Casey is able to resist. Sure, she's littler than he is, and he's got the element of surprise, but she knows how to fight, and she doesn't hold back; she's half-way to getting him off her before Will grabs his arm, and could have taken a few more blows before she managed it if necessary, and I have no doubt they would have broken every piece of furniture in the room if there hadn't been intervention. (Somebody has daddy issues, is all I'm saying.) The possibility of resistance is right there. But there's no resistance to his labeling her a bitch--there's no possibility of it, because it occurs inside his own mind, and at a moment where he's not thinking about the values of things. (He catches himself when he calls her a girl, in chapter 2; he justifies it, but he knows it's a thing that needs justification.) I can handle characters doing fucked-up things if there's someone to call them on it.

So, here, I'm calling Mulder on it. Dude: that's fucked up, don't say that.


I spent a shitload of time on Google Maps looking up place names for this, as my geographical knowledge of both Virginia and the mountain states is very poor. Othma, Virginia, really exists, and the closest Catholic Church is actually in Columbia; there is a 580 Sussex Road in Kaycee, Wyoming, though there isn't a gate there; and Stark, Montana, is a real place, an hour from Missoula, two hours from Polson, and with its closest mosque in Spokane. Google is magic, yo.


I'm a visual writer, at least in my head; I see the stories I'm telling quite clearly at many points. So working with an illustrator was both a fantastic thing, and a little scary: what if she got it wrong? I was incredibly lucky to work with Scooly, whose work is fantastic, for one thing, and also who is just as anal and nitpicky as I am. I am just blown away at the work she did over the course of these past few weeks, as we've been bouncing sketches and revisions back and forth. And I want to thank her, for bringing me in to her creative process. It can be annoying when someone else wants to intervene in what you're doing. I hope I was minimally annoying to her. Incidentally: she got it right.

I can't sufficiently express how grateful I am to idella for the work she did as my beta. More than just the best copyeditor in the known universe, she was someone who was willing to love what I was doing as much as I was, and who wanted me to get the work I was doing done. Everyone should be so lucky as to have an editor and friend like her at their side when working. I wish I'd had one for my dissertation, that's for sure.

memories_childmemories_child on November 5th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)

I think I love you.

Seriously, I've been waiting to read this with Scooly's illustrations for ages. I cannot wait to get some free time and curl up with it. Thanks so much for taking oart in the Bang.
Amal Nahurriyeh: mof: omgship!amalnahurriyeh on November 6th, 2009 03:31 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for running it! I hope you like it when you get a moment. (It takes, um, rather a while to read.)
memories_childmemories_child on November 8th, 2009 05:50 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! It was a bit stressful at times, but a lot of fun nonetheless. Planning to download the PDF when I'm on my laptop and don't have a load of work to read for workshopping at uni tomorrow *g*
sangria_lila on November 6th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
Casey is so awesome and kickass and so very postmodern feminist creation. I love that you turned such a chauvinistic show like XF on its head.
Amal Nahurriyeh: mof: csm!amalnahurriyeh on November 6th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
I mean, that's like 99% of what I'm doing 'round these parts, yeah? ;)

My depth of feeling for Casey is a little excessive. Let's just say...she gets more stories, I think.
agent scully's childhood fear of clowns: oh my god it smells like fanartscooly42 on November 6th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)
could only read those now, sober. :D
yiss, notes tiems! this was very interesting. i am not coherent enough yet so i'll idk email later, now i'll just, you know, quote something and nod.

>>I didn't want to erase anyone's parenthood, or, most especially, Will's relationship to any of the people in his family, because that would just be flat-out wrong.

YES, THAT. i liked that a lot about this fic.

>>I'm planning on writing more in this universe, assuming anyone other than me and idella want to read it; I'll probably do more with them then.

(Deleted comment)
Amal Nahurriyeh: mulder hotamalnahurriyeh on November 10th, 2009 06:00 am (UTC)
Wouldn't that have been nice? Alas.
Yen: [XF] Fanficriddledfate on November 10th, 2009 05:20 am (UTC)
Ok, now that I've read this, I think I need to pop a question...
How are you so awesome? lol, for real. I want to go back and read the whole thing all over again with all these notes in mind, because it's made your story even more interesting/wonderful in my eyes. And I didn't think that could be possible ;) Thanks so much for sharing this!
Amal Nahurriyeh: dw srs dramalnahurriyeh on November 10th, 2009 01:22 pm (UTC)
LOL, thank you. I'm all about sharing my process.
(Anonymous) on November 11th, 2009 01:25 am (UTC)
This was fantastic. Just so well-written and eloquent and engrossing. I am an editor in my real life, and I can't express enough the pleasure of reading something so well-crafted. I've read all of your work and always thought to myself I wish her stories were longer--thanks for fulfilling my wish! And please continue to write.
tilden13tilden13 on November 13th, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
Wow. Wowee wow wow wow.

I don't think I can compose an articulate-enough response to this piece in a dinky little comment box, so I'll try to rein myself in and just say thank you, for your lovely and compelling story and for these notes at the end, a lens I want to go back and reexamine the entire series through. It's work like this that allows me to say no, I'm not just an obsesso geek for this old t.v. show...I mean, yeah, I'm that TOO...but there is room in this fandom and this universe for serious literary and sociological discussion. Reading this is like getting my XF doctorate online, Amal, and I thank you so much for that. :)

>>I'm planning on writing more in this universe, assuming anyone other than me and idella want to read it

Yeah. No one else cares, I'm so sure. EYE. BROW. I'll read anything you got, lady.

Two more tidbits: one, I was up til 2:00 through chapter 9, and am neglecting my J-O-B now to finish, so don't tell anyone; two, I screamed aloud with delight when Drummy showed up to retrieve Maggie and Sadie. I lurve your Drummy. That is all.

Amal Nahurriyeh: mof: csm!amalnahurriyeh on November 20th, 2009 11:10 pm (UTC)
Sorry for taking so long to reply--RL, oy. But thank you so much! And I'm really glad you loved the Drummy pick-up! I like that one too.

Yeah, I think this universe has a fan club going... ;)