Sitting Down with Deborah Stanish of Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them

We were fortunate not only to have a prize given to us from Deborah Stanish of this compendium of Whedon fan essays but also to sit down with her to talk about her fandom experiences, what's good and bad about the Jossverse, and why there's always, despite its flaws, things to love about the universes of Joss Whedon.

1) Gotta ask, what exactly does the term "Whedonista" mean and how did you settle on it.

 Since this book was part of the same line as Mad Norwegian Press’ Chicks Dig Time Lords we were challenged with finding a title that was slightly less creepy than Chicks Dig Joss which a) yuck and b) that’s like saying “kids like candy”, obvious and not at all witty.  Lynne actually lit upon Whedonistas as being amusing, identifiably female while also being recognizable to the fan base. 

[img_assist|nid=254|title=Chicks Dig Time Lords - Unfortunately Does Not Sound as Good for Chicks Dig Joss|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=400]

2) Ms. Stanish, you mentioned in the book's opening how foreign it was or how you were nervous being at your first fan convention. How did you first get into the works of Joss Whedon and what prompted you to get to meeting "internet people" in person?

 I actually came to Whedon’s work through  Angel.  I’d heard of BtVS sort of late in the game and since I hate starting things in the middle I was determined to not make the same mistake with Angel.  Of course, Buffy is woven through Season 1 of Angel so before I knew it I was peeking at Season Four of BtVS and finding myself drawn in to that universe.  Then I discovered box sets and it was all over. 

 As for meeting “internet people,”  BtVS/Angel was my first online fandom and I was astonished at the depth of intellectual discussion surrounding these shows.  I eventually joined the online discussion and became part of a community, connecting with people on a level I never could have anticipated.  Meeting them in person seemed a natural progression even though, of course, everyone on the internet was an axe-murdering scammer (I actually had an older relative tell me this!).  When the opportunity finally arose thanks to a small, local con I felt compelled to make that final connection. 


3) Okay, so maybe this is mean, like making you all pick a favorite child, but which essay included in the book was a favorite of yours?

 Oh, that is mean!  I’m torn between Kelly Hale’s “My European Vacation: A Love Letter/Confession” and Meredith McGrath’s “How an Atheist and His Demons Created a Shepherd”.  Kelly’s because it shows the power and love of fandom and Meredith’s because it is an example of how these stories matter and how they can profoundly affect us. 


4) Conversely, were there any "runners up" or essays that caught your eye but you just didn't have room for in the collection?

 Because this was a commissioned anthology we, fortunately, didn’t have to turn down any unsolicited essays.  However, there was an essay on the comics that we cut from the book because the tone wasn’t quite right.  The comic series was a bit problematic for a large swathe of BtVS fandom and, despite the excellent work essayists did with the piece, ultimately it didn’t fit in with the goal of the anthology. 

 [img_assist|nid=255|title=The Buffy Comic Essay Did Not Make the Final Cut|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=255|height=400]

5) What does being a feminist fan of Whedon's work mean to you all?

 It means loving something that isn’t perfect.  Rejoicing in characters that astonish you and frustrate you.  And, at some point, realizing that for all of Joss Whedon’s brilliance in writing female characters, all of his sympathy and good intentions (and they are legion) he is still a man who can never entirely shed his privilege backpack.  But the fact that he is trying puts him miles ahead of a majority of creators. 


6) How do you think Whedon fandom differs from other internet fandoms? I know this can be hard cause that would span from Buffy fans to Browncoats to Dr. Horrible aficionados, but, in general, do you seen similarities?

 That is a hard question because I can only speak of my own experiences in this and the few fandoms that I’ve had personal contact with.  I can say that Whedon fandom is incredibly caring and generous.  You only have to look at their continued support of Equality Now through the “Can’t Stop the Serenity” project* to see the power of fandom in action.  My own experience is that Whedon’s writing tends to attract really literate fans.  His work is so layered and complex that unraveling all the meanings and metaphors is a delightful puzzle.


 7) What's your favorite fandom experience with "those internet people"?

 Writercon 2004.  This was a convention whose origin story started at a traditional sci-fi/fantasy convention.  A group of women who had met online discovered that the best part of that weekend was the time spent by the pool discussing the shows, the meta and the fanfic surrounding BtVS and Angel.  So they got together and created their own convention which was held in Las Vegas in July 2004.  Over 300 fans from across the globe descended onto the tackiest casino/convention center in all of Las Vegas and spent three days reveling in academic discussions, fanfic seminars and roundtable workshops based on the works of Joss Whedon.  The Guest of Honor was Jane Espenson who was hailed as a rock star.  Although I wasn’t a fanfic writer I knew that some of my favorite fannish people would be in attendance and, despite being 32 weeks pregnant, I caught a plane for my first big convention.  It was amazing.


8) What do you honestly think can be problematic with Whedon's works from a feminist perspective? For example, many fans in Buffy season six were angry at the dead-evil lesbian cliché portrayed onscreen.

 As I said above, he may be enlightened but he’s still a man and he’s not always going to get it right. And may not even understand why it’s not right.  I was not a fan of Dollhouse and struggled with Penny’s fate in Dr. Horrible but for every Penny you get a Zoe so it sort of evens out.  Do I wish we didn’t have stories that fell back on problematic tropes?  Absolutely.  But Whedon’s track record has more in the positive column than negative so I can only hope that his work continues to grow and that other writers look at characters like Buffy and Zoe and even Darla and take that strength even farther. 

[img_assist|nid=256|title=Zoe Washburne of the Short Lived Series Firefly|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=226]

9) How did you find/solicit the essays for your compendium and how did you decide which ones made the cut? 

 This was truly collaboration between Lynne and myself.  Lynne had an amazing list of contact in the SF/F world where I had a lot of contacts within the fannish community.  Between the two of us we pulled together a really diverse group of contributors who spanned the Whedon fannish experience.  As I said above, since this was a solicited collection we knew the strengths of each essayist.  In some cases they came to us with topic ideas and in other cases we asked them to write about a particular set of experiences or on a topic which they were uniquely familiar with.


10) What do you think makes your book unique among the growing group of Buffy and Whedon Studies books out there?

 The vast majority of Buffy and Whedon study books are academic in nature.  And that’s great, I *love* academic media studies.  However, Whedonistas is one of the few books that addresses not only the intellectual nature of Whedon’s work, but how they resonate on a very personal level.  This is a book about the fannish experience, in all its iterations.  It’s also unique in that we didn’t solicit essays from just published writers and media professionals, we went into the trenches and solicited essays from the fans, the people who are on the message boards and writing meta on their blogs and creating fanfic.  Their voices add something special to this volume. 


11) Finally, if you could talk with Mr. Whedon, what would you say to him?

 I’d say thank you.  Thank you for introducing me to a world that that is bigger than I ever could have imagined and would result in experiences that I never could have dreamed of.  He may have only been putting words on a page but it became something important to a lot of people.    

[img_assist|nid=257|title=Joss Whedon at The Avengers Premiere and May Black Widow do Buffy Proud|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=264|height=400] 


A few notes:

1) *If you are interested in the 2012 roster of charity screenings of Serenity for the "Can't Stop the Serenity" benefits for Equality Now, go here.

2) Nancy Holder contributed an essay to the book about her times on set while compiling The Watcher's Guides and Angel: The Case Files. She also interviewed with us earlier this month here.

3) We also spoke with Ms. Holder's co-author on both the first Buffy tie-in novel, Halloween Rain, and on The Watcher's Chronicles, Mr. Christopher Golden here.

4) There's also an exclusive interview in Whedonistas with Buffy scribe Jane Espenson. We were honored to talk with Ms. Espenson as well about Buffy, her current work on shows like Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time, and finally her own webseries Husbands here.

5) All images are copyright their respective authors and are not owned by Legendary Women, Inc.