How author Sam Starbuck shapes online fandom (and vice versa)
Sam Starbuck is the fandom equivalent of a household name. Along with his popular LiveJournal blog (copperbadge) and fanfiction, he has self-published several books and his historical novel, The City War, was recently released by Riptide Publishing.
Starbuck is a rare breed in the world of fanfic: an author with a readership loyal enough to follow him from fandom to fandom, even when his favorite canon sources range from cult Japanese anime to Harry Potter to mainstream American crime dramas. Currently, fans are pooling together to record a full-cast audiobook of his Australian Steampunk novel, The Dead Isle.
While fanfic-inspired bestsellers such as 50 Shades of Grey and The Captive Prince have garnered enormous fanbases of their own, Starbuck’s success has had more to do with his personal brand and online presence rather than a single piece of writing. We spoke to him about his history in fandom, the issues brought up by maintaining a long-term online pseudonym, and the unique community-based editing process he developed for his original writing.
DD: Your LiveJournal has been going for a long time, and it’s developed into something more than just an everyday blog. Could you tell us a little about Sam’s Cafe?
It’s got a life well beyond me, I sometimes feel. Essentially it began as a place to talk about fannish things and post fanfic, and for whatever reason, it drew a crowd of people who aren’t even necessarily in that demographic. A lot of it is just me talking about my life, and people responding to that. Sometimes I look at it less as a blog and more as a discussion board where I’m just the moderator.
DD: A quick glance at your fanfic archive shows that you’ve been involved in a wide variety of fandoms, including Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, The Avengers and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Is there a particular type of character or story that makes you think, “I should be writing fanfic about this”?
I think a lot of it has to do with how well-built the world is and how complete it is. There are some stories where I don’t need to write anything because they just… feel complete, though I’ve never been able to put a finger on precisely why. Other canons have possibilities, nooks and crannies you can peer into and mess around with. In many ways I think the sign of a good creation is one that people want to play with and dig into.
As for characters — well, the fact that I have a type is almost a running joke at this point. I’ve always gone for the sidekicks, or the people who are out-of-place; the butler who turns badass, the time traveler who doesn’t understand the customs, the street kid who somehow ends up a duke.