October 18, 2010

WayWords with Belladonna1472, author of The Cullen Campaign

This is a great example of how we want the author interviews to go on Peas & Carrots and WaywardPushers. ForksPixie or I interview an author, then that author interviews another and so on, opening up more fic and authors to the fandom. The progression of this interview was ForksPixie and I interviewed LolaShoes, who interviewed Myg, who interviewd MasenVixen, who now are interviewing Belladonna1472, author of The Cullen Campaign.

A note from MasenVixen
 Let's start with the fangirling, shall we? The Cullen Campaign ("TCC") is the smartest, most clever fic either of us have read, well, ever. There's just so much to love: The witty banter. The sexual tension. The scrumptious lemons. And Edward. Oh God, Edward. Nothing makes two lawyers like us twitch more than an Edward Cullen who cites Supreme Court cases one minute and fucks Bella against a bathroom wall the next. We could go on and on about the hot-as-fuck one-liners, and we could geek out for hours analyzing the legal and political discussions woven through the story. Instead, we'll put our mutual squeeing on hold long enough to ask the lovely Belladonna1472 a few questions:

V: How would you describe TCC to someone who hasn't read it?

B: I think the most common explanation is that it's The West Wing meets Twilight. If you want political banter with your B and E, then TCC is the place to go. Am I as witty as Aaron Sorkin (creator of TWW)? I don't know about that. But TCC is a comedy, a light-hearted story that's not supposed to be taken too seriously. There's no political agenda. Just Democrat Edward and Republican Bella in a star-crossed lovers type situation.

M: How did you end up with such an interest and expertise in American politics?

B: It was my specialty in my liberal arts degree, and I eventually revisited the subject. I think I'm intrigued by the system and the ideologies behind it; it's interesting to look at both concept and reality. Constitutional Law is obviously important when it comes to analyzing how certain democracies work, or are supposed to work. That link between politics and law is something that really captures my attention - in TCC, I tried not to delve too much into the politics of the First Amendment, but yeah, there's a lot of passionate commentary out there from both liberals and conservatives.

V: "The Lemon Test" is, without a doubt, the best name ever for a fic chapter. How instrumental was Lemon v. Kurtzman (i.e., a Supreme Court case about freedom of religion) to your early conceptualization of TCC, and were you worried that it wouldn't resonate with your non-lawyer readers?

M: Allow me to add that I texted V as we both read the fic at the same time. My text was like "The LEMON test? Are you KIDDING me?? Best Chapter name EVER."

B: It was literally what started TCC. I studied Lemon before I came across the fandom, so when I learned what 'lemon' meant in fic, I was like "wouldn't it be funny to write something on that?" And then I thought "yeah, right, because the Establishment Clause is frickin' hilarious." *snort* So I sat on the idea for awhile. Then one day I was craving The West Wing because my friend had borrowed all seven seasons from me and hadn't given them back after a year and two months. I mean, he went and bought his own DVDs, yet still hadn't returned mine. I got frustrated and decided to write some banter. I don't use my education at work, so it was refreshing to write intellectual humor!

I honestly wasn't worried about the legalese until Chapter 7, when I introduced Salazar v. Buono. My objective with the opening chapters was to show that B and E were smart instead of just saying "they're smart." I tried to make the opening Lemon references as accessible as possible without dumbing it down too much. With Salazar, I started to worry that I was going to bore people to death. I mean, there were cert grants and jurisdictional issues and reversionary property interests. At the end of the day, however, people can read around the Lemon discussions if they want to. And a lot of people do. That's cool with me. But I think it's important not to apologize for writing a smart fic.

M: I love that answer because I was wondering the same thing about readers. You do an amazing job of combining humor and UST in Edward and Bella's smart banter about real legal nuances. I bet you have educated a lot of readers about the US political and legal systems.

B: Aw, thanks. Who says twific can't be educational?

V: On that note, can you describe your writing process? Are your prereaders/betas politically- or legally-minded?

B: I have a strange writing process. Sometimes the banter comes first and the chapter is easily written around it. Other times, it's the reverse. Sometimes my betas send the chapter back with a note saying "this isn't quite right" or "how about some humor here?" Some of the best lines have been inserted after my second-run, Kristen Lynn, has already looked at it and smoothed out the rest of the chapter.

Interestingly, even though I have an overarching plan, sometimes my drafts are not quite right. In fact, sometimes my first-run beta, moonlightdreamer333, has to deal with multiple versions of the same chapter, like it's 'choose your own TCC adventure!' My two betas help me with plot and humor (and lemons), and then the pre-readers (JESSICA0306 and ColourmeCullen) sign off on it. Some of my typos have been ridiculous, like the time I accidentally wrote in Laurent instead of Lauren.

I write best late at night, sometimes with a DVD on in the background. These days I'm usually watching 30 Rock. If I need to get into a conservative state of mind, Fox News helps. If I'm writing liberal humor, Jon Stewart is pretty inspiring. Random conversations and tweets can also spark banter ideas. I think it's important to have fresh humor, and to make regular things hilarious. I'm probably running out of federal agencies to use in chapters - I should pace myself!

I think it's important to trust your betas, and have betas that tell you the truth. The TCC beta/pre-reader team is pretty well-balanced politically. Both my betas are equal opportunity jokesters in that they routinely suggest jibes that target either side of the political aisle. Aren't they great?

V: In so many fics, ours included, the sexual tension between Edward and Bella is left unresolved for several chapters. (You know the ones. . .where you're just like, "will they just fucking fuck already?") In a move that is wonderfully refreshing and works so well for your characters (M: HOLY HELL DOES IT EVER WORK. UNF. BRB rereading The Lemon Test), TCC takes the opposite approach. Why?

B: I thought it would be irritating to have chapter after chapter of suggestive banter without anything happening. I was impatient with these two. They were always going to fuck that soon. Haha. UST is only funny for so long. After that, it's all about resolving it again!

M: Hear, hear! We love us a smart Bella who is a match for Edward mentally as well as sexually. Your Bella is smart, successful, and a --*gasp* -- non-virgin. Do you identify with her? Do your readers?

B: Personality-wise, I'm probably closer to Edward in that I'm not that ambitious. But there are definitely times when I identify with Bella, especially when I feel snarky.

I wanted to write a confident Bella. There are a lot of stories that I love where Bella doesn't match Edward mentally or sexually, but in this case the banter really requires them to match. A lot of readers have responded to the fact that Bella can hold her own - she's not afraid to try and get what she wants. Canon Bella sometimes irritated me in that she kind of lacked a backbone. Strong, confident women aren't necessarily bitches; it's okay to have a bit of an attitude sometimes!

V: Do you know how the story will end? How many more chapters?

B: I do know how the story will end. There are 10-12 chapters left, so we're into the final third!

V: Like us, you're a "ninja" fic writer--meaning that your fic identity is secret and separate from the rest of the world. How do you balance your fic life with real life? Do you, like us, downplay the Twilight obsession when cavorting with stuffy lawyer-types?

B: There's time for fic and then there's time for RL. I know, how profound. They should quote me on refrigerator magnets and motivational posters.

I work part-time at the moment, so that makes the balance easier. Sometimes I'll get distracted at work because of fic, but no one's going to die/sue/laugh/vomit if I don't get enough work done.

There's no Twilight talk when I cavort with my lawyer friends. Cavorting takes concentration, and Edward Cullen is distracting. But I am quite ninja in that I ask my lawyer friends about political-related stuff without telling them why. Like when I asked one of my best guy friends -who interned for a Senate Republican a few years back -whether the Senate cafeteria sucked. Yeah, even ham sandwich jokes take research, you know.

M: Your characters are smart, sexy and (a rarity in fic) funny. Are you funny in real life?

B: God, I hope so. Otherwise everyone is laughing at me instead of with me.

V: When did you read Twilight? Did you jump in headfirst, or were you initially resistant?

B: I ignored the whole Twilight phenomenon until a little after the first movie opened. The reason Edward is traveling to Boston at the beginning of TCC is because that's where I first started reading the book. I needed something to read for my flight to LA, so I went to the book shop in the terminal. The sales guy would not let me leave until I bought Twilight. I'm serious. He would've tackled me to the ground had I tried to walk out on him. He said it was going to be the best thing that would ever happen to me (he said it was "so bad, it's good"). We then had a ten minute debate on whether I actually needed the film tie-in paperback that came with a pull-out poster. I won that debate, insisting I didn't need a poster of these over-photoshopped vampires. He said I'd regret it. Jury is still out on that one...but I'm not sure whether they were given directions to ever return a verdict.

Anyway, I was glad I bought the book. The flight was suddenly delayed after we'd already boarded. And American Airlines being American Airlines, they actually thought we'd be appeased if they showed the in-flight movie. Nights in Rodanthe. We were grounded on the tarmac and they thought showing us a Richard Gere movie was going to make us feel better. Seriously? The screen closest to me had something wrong with the color balance. So Richard Gere was purple and green. How did I even wait until Chapter 19 to complain about his movies?

*breathes in and out of a paper bag*

Sorry, where was I?

Yeah, I read the book on the plane.

V: Did you go looking for fic, or did it find you? And how long after reading fic did you decide to write it?

B: Breaking Dawn was a let down. Was she trying to win a crack fic challenge or what? I didn't go looking for a BD alternative, but I did do a general fic rec search. I read Wide Awake and I was sold like a $10 shirt at a sample sale. And that $10 came from returning Breaking Dawn, because we consumers should not have to put up with faulty goods. What the hell ever happened to quality control? Are you listening Little, Brown & Company? More like Little Brain & Company.


M: I totally agree with you about BD. (Did you really return it?? If so, you are my new hero.)

B: No, I didn't return it. It makes for a good door stop, you know. Or paperweight. It's probably not good to have a rage-inducing paperweight on your desk though. Let's stick with the doorstop. At least that way, it's in an ideal place to kick it. Just don't stub your toe on it - it's already caused so much pain.

V: What are your fandom/fic pet peeves?

B: Pointless drama in the fandom. We don't all have to be best friends, but we should respect each other.

I don't think I have specific fic pet peeves, but I can't stand it when something hasn't been beta'd properly. Or at all.

M: Tell us about your process for writing lemons. In part because of the fantastically USTy nature of the relationship you've created between these two, yours are particularly hot. Does it come naturally to you or are they harder to write than the rest of the prose?

B: Chapter 4 on the train was the second lemon that I ever wrote (my first lemon was Carlisle/Bella in a one-shot I published under a different penname...and should probably pull.) Anyway, I didn't feel any pressure with that train chapter. I just wrote it. Then from then on, I started to really realize how difficult lemon writing can be. Chapter 9 had to be rewritten a number of times. Chapter 13 was my first time writing a male POV lemon. It is so much harder than writing regular prose - you could totally write a lemon that works in isolation but doesn't fit the feel of the story. My second-run beta, Kristen, is the genius who works with me to perfect everyTCC lemon chapter. You should see some of our chat transcripts, haha. She's truly a savior.

If you told me tomorrow that I was suddenly banned from writing lemons for a month or something, I think I would only be mildly upset. I don't know how people can regularly churn out lemons without getting anxious. And I'm not sure I could ever write another multi-chap with lemons as graphic as TCC. I'd always be worried that they would pale in comparison.

Actually, I just finished my entry for The Cherry Exchange. And while it was so weird to write an inexperienced B and E, it was a refreshing change. I popped my cherry-writing cherry. Haha.

V: Have you made friends in the Twi community? What fellow authors inspire you?

B: I've made great friends in this fandom! My betas and pre-readers are especially awesome. I don't have the room to give a shoutout to everyone, but I'm really glad I've met so many creative and supportive people. Kassiah stumbled the first fic I ever started writing, and she was very supportive. That gave me the confidence to start TCC. Oh, and I must thank WriteOnTime for supporting the cause of smart fic. She was instrumental in helping TCC gain more readers! I'm so grateful to everyone who has promoted TCC - it means so much to me. And I have to thank jennde for helping me with something different I wrote recently - I'm trying to push myself beyond my writing comfort zone.

M: Do you have any recs for us?

B: Oh gosh, I wish I had more time to read. Here's what comes to mind:

I was recently a judge for the In the Closet Contest, and I really liked The Kinsey Scale by Pastiche Pen.

I was also a judge for the Love Lost Contest. There were a lot of great entries, but I especially enjoyed Losing Faith, Losing You by rags88.

I'm also dying to catch up on The Cannabean Betrothal by ItzMegan73, and need (times a million) to finish the recently completed The Blessing and the Curse by The Black Arrow. And lastly, my fave crack fic of all time is I Wanna Eff You Like a Masochistic Lion by Feisty Y. Beden, Philadelphic and Nelson Smandela.

M: V and I both *adore* The Blessing and The Curse with a fiery burning white-hot passion (so, yes, you need to finish rtfn). And IWEYLaML is total, pure, unadulterated WIN. Will definitely have to check out the others!

B: And I will definitely be reading Stranger Than Fiction soon!

Fun stuff

  • Have you ever made a man beg for sex? Have YOU ever begged a man for sex?
No to the former. As for the latter...no. Although, if a guy was as hot as Rob, maybe I would. Somehow I think the real Rob would just blush and feel awkward. Nawww.

  • What's your UN-sexiest pair of pajamas?
I actually first read this question as "What's your U.N. sexiest pair of pajamas?" and thought "The United Nations is sexy? That's news to me." I think there's something wrong with my brain.

Anyway, I suppose I can't count short-shorts, so I'll have to say it's this pair I have that is covered in little ski-resort inspired cartoons. It's like Aspen meets flannel. Typically, this could be sexy. Think ski cabin, apres-ski wear, hot guy, warm fire. But the closest I've been to skiing is when I went snow-tubing in New Hampshire last year. Snow-tubing sounds like a dirty word, but it really isn't that sexy. Oh wait...stuck in a hole and you fall over the edge...yeah, I guess it could be dirty.

  • If you could have sex in someone else's car, whose would it be?
Going with the U.N. theme, maybe it should be in a diplomat's car. Because then there would be those little flags on the front of the vehicle, and presumably a bodyguard of some sort who can stand guard outside. Plus, if there was any indecent exposure, you could claim diplomatic immunity.

  • Favorite "smart" magazine?
I'm not sure if this really counts, but I'm going with Vanity Fair. There's style with the substance there. Although, I have read some good, smart articles in GQ and The New Yorker this year.

  • Favorite trashy magazine?
I actually hate tabloids most of the time. Sometimes the stories are legitimate, but otherwise they're just insulting our intelligence with their made-up drivel. But if I had to name a guilty pleasure, it would be Cosmopolitan. It's only trashy in a relative sense.

  • Most embarrassing CD you ever listened to over and over
Without a doubt, Middle of Nowhere by Hanson. I thought they were so awesome back in the day. MmmBop, Where's the Love...that was the shit. I used to have arguments with my cousin because she was a Backstreet Boys fan. Anyway, eventually I moved onto my *NSYNC phase (I'm sure everyone went through such a phase), therefore becoming much more sane. *nods* I personally do not resent Justin Timberlake's solo career for making it impossible for *NSYNC to continue. I love Justin. And I can still see JC on America's Best Dance Crew. So all is well.

  • Most played song on your iPod right now
Teenage Dream by Katy Perry, and Alejandro by Lady Gaga. I'm not sure what that says about me. Please don't analyze! Lol.

  • Ever trust a politician?
Actually, no, not really. But while I've met a few, I've only ever really known student politicians. Plus, there's a difference between trusting someone to carry out their policies and trusting someone to hold your purse while you vomit in a rosebush. I think most politicians would be okay with the latter. They might be tempted run off with your purse because they're low on campaign funds, but they probably won't, considering that might lose them votes. Just saying.

  • 3 Interesting (or not-so-interesting) random facts about yourself
1. I don't drink for medical reasons. So if you ever want to buy me a drink, buy me a diet soda or a juice.

2. I skipped seventh grade.

3. At a U.S. Consulate function in 2004, the Secret Service agent at the door laughed at my I.D. photo. It was a bad photo. He still let me in, though.

  • Jake: Love him, Hate him, or Tolerate him?
I totally hated him in the books. I felt that friendship was forced. I didn't mind him in BD, but you already know my thoughts on that book. In the movies, however, I definitely warmed to him (that's not a pun, for once.) Maybe it's because I could see how much he cared about Bella. Props to Taylor Lautner - I'm happy to tolerate Jake in the movies.

Part of the reason I swapped Jasper for Jake in TCC is because I wanted Edward and Jake to be friends for once, brothers even. I'm happy with that decision. I think there's something great about having Jake as Edward's wingman.

  • Your personal aphrodisiac?
A good dessert, I think. Chocolate mousse. Creme brulee. Tiramisu. Ice-cream (pistachio is my favorite flavor.)

  • Peas or carrots?
I'm going to have to go with peas. I'm not a very good cook, so frozen peas are doable. Raw carrots sometimes make my mouth feel all tingly, like an allergy or something. Yes, I'm weird. If you want to torture me, feed me raw carrots. Even chopping them up into smaller pieces and smearing cream cheese or dip on top still won't do it for me. Yep, it's a dealbreaker.

Next interview....dontrun, author of Homecoming and To The Extreme! Want to ask her a question? Submit it here.

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