Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of the essay collection, Family Don't End with Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives, through BenBella Books / Smart Pop Books! What inspired you to take on your role as editor for this collection?
Lynn Zubernis: The short answer is the Supernatural fandom and Jared Padalecki! I’ve been a fan of the television show since the start of its second season, and have been researching and writing books on fandom (focusing on the Supernatural fandom) for almost that long. Over the years, I had heard many powerful stories about how the show and being a fan of the show had changed people’s lives—sometimes even saved them. I wanted to bring those stories to light and let them be an inspiration to other fans, so began to think about an edited collection. Jared Padalecki had contributed content to several of my other books, and read all of them, so when he asked me if I was writing another and I said yes, he admitted that he might have something to say too. That gave me the idea of including not only fan stories, but the actors’ stories too—and they turned out to be just as powerful!
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in compiling the essays contained within the book, both with Supernatural cast members and fans?
LZ: It was a very long process. The first step was trying to figure out who to invite to contribute. There were hundreds and hundreds of amazing personal stories, and honestly I wanted to include every single one of them. This was, in a sense, the hardest part of the process. I also tried to pay attention, from the very beginning of the process, to compiling essays that were not all the same, so that none of the stories lost their power. I was also aware of our audience—I had a specific goal in mind of including essays that would speak to a wide variety of fans. I wanted, ideally, every fan to be able to see themselves in one or more of the stories. That meant sometimes not including essays which I personally LOVED, but we already had something too similar.
With the actor chapters, the process was a bit different. I asked the current cast to contribute, and many of the actors who are regulars on the convention circuit, mostly because these are the people I know the best. I was sensitive to the fact that they are actors, not writers, and that they all take very seriously everything they set their minds to doing. That meant I wanted to provide as safe a space as possible for them to be creative within; that was much easier to do when I already knew them a bit. And for the actors, I think working with someone they knew and trusted was a large part of why their chapters ended up being so courageous and open and ultimately so powerful.
I had the help of several very talented people during the multi-layered editing process. After my initial edit and selection process, Alicia Ramos edited all the chapters and made suggestions for changes, which were for the most part welcomed by the contributors. Once the collection made its way to the publisher, Leah Wilson took over as editor and we worked collaboratively to get the chapters in final form. We also worked to order the chapters in such a way that there would be a diversity of topics and authors, but at the same time a crescendo in terms of gravity of the stories as the reader worked through the chapters.
BD: Given the extraordinary fandom that Supernatural has obtained in its incredible twelve-season run, what do you hope that readers will take away from the collection that is wholly unique to the fandom?
LZ: Everything about this fandom is unique, in my opinion. There has never been a television series whose cast and crew have become so close to its fans, simply because there has never been a show with bi-weekly conventions all over the world for 10 months out of 12. This is a cast who knows their fans, without the impediment of stereotypes and stigma. This is a fandom who knows the cast, and respects them. Both sides inspire each other, which is what we all wanted this book to do. My hope is that Family Don’t End with Blood will be something that every reader can relate to—maybe one chapter, maybe all twenty something. My hope is that the powerful messages of hope and caring and overcoming obstacles will ring true and inspire readers to do the same. But I also hope that anyone who picks up this book, whether they’re familiar with Supernatural or not, will come away with an understanding of just how unique the SPN Family is—and that, improbably, when we say family we really mean it.
BD: What makes Smart Pop Book the perfect home for this book?
LZ: When my agent suggested they might be a good fit for this book, I didn’t know much about Smart Pop Books or their parent company, BenBella. I took a phone call from the editor-in-chief and within ten minutes, we were no longer talking about contracts—we were talking about Supernatural. He was a big fan, too, and just as passionate about the show as I was. I began to think oh, this will be a good fit.
I had already decided that I wanted a portion of the proceeds from sales of the book to go to charity. That’s a tradition in fandom, and in the SPN Family. I wanted to follow Jared and Jensen and Misha’s examples and do some good in the world. I figured that would have to be something I did with my portion of the proceeds, so didn’t bring it up in our conversation—but he did. Out of the blue, he seemed to read my mind and said this seems like something that might be a good fit for a charitable portion like we sometimes do with our books. That was it. I was sold.
Working with the team at Smart Pop has been an absolute pleasure. It probably sounds like I’m just saying that, but it’s true. They get pop culture, and many of them watch the show too; I even went to a Supernatural convention with one of the team members!
BD: What do you feel enables the fandom behind Supernatural to continue its longevity and passion for the series and its cast?
LZ: In part, it’s that the quality of the show itself has remained high enough to keep fans’ allegiance. I don’t think fans would keep watching if the quality dropped precipitously. One of the reasons I think it hasn’t is that the cast—especially the lead actors—really care about the show and about their long-time characters. And the production staff and writers and showrunner, to their immense credit, trust the actors to know what they’re talking about. If they say, this isn’t something that Dean would say, well after 12 seasons it’s probably not something Dean would say!
In addition, the conventions have kept the show going as much as the show has kept the conventions going. All the Supernatural actors are tremendously warm and welcoming, and they make the con experience for the fans incredible. Addictive even. The fans are passionate about the show and the characters, but they have genuine fondness for the actors too. And after over a decade of close contact at conventions, that fondness is mutual.
Finally, while any group of people will have contention sometimes, the Supernatural fandom—the SPN Family—is a close-knit community that has provided a tremendous amount of support for other fans. I’ve seen people team up to get an organ donation to happen! On a daily basis, fans are there for each other, with validation and empathy or just to share some joy and passion.
BD: Given your previous experience in writing about geek culture Slate, The Conversation, and Supernatural Magazine, as well as your work as a licensed clinical psychologist, have you found that these two fields have complemented one another and positively impacted your work?
LZ: Absolutely. I started researching fandom because, as a psychologist, all I’d seen in the literature was a lot of pathologizing explanations for why people become fans and what being a fan does for them. The term “parasocial relationship” was tossed around a lot, questioning the legitimacy of a relationship with a celebrity that’s entirely one-sided—in which the celebrity literally does not know the fan. At all. (Which is often not at all how it is in the Supernatural fandom!) There were negative stereotypes of fans as lonely, isolated, socially incompetent individuals essentially hiding in their parents’ basements trying to escape into fictional worlds. Yet that wasn’t what I myself had experienced in fandom at all! So, I wanted to set the record straight and provide a more balanced view of fandom. From what I’d seen in my clinical experience, there was nothing more worrisome for me than a client who wasn’t passionate about anything at all! My psychology training provided a lens with which to explore the benefits of fandom as well as the pitfalls, so it has been very helpful. That experience also gives me more of a leg to stand on when I’m trying to convince someone not to be ashamed of being a fan!
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
LZ: Right now I’m really hoping people will spread the word about Family Don’t End with Blood. We are all very proud of it, both actor and fan contributors, and we hope that it will be an inspiration to readers to “always keep fighting” and that it will make a difference for Attitudes in Reverse and Random Acts, the charities it benefits. I’ll be bringing the book to lots of Supernatural conventions this year!
I also co-wrote and co-produced a documentary on fangirls called Squee the Fangirl Project, which is available online. It’s a documentary written and produced by an all-female crew, and we’re very proud of it—look for us to do some panels at cons across the country, including Awesomecon in DC next month.
And because I love writing about Supernatural, I am co-editing (along with fellow psychologist and professor Travis Langley—well known online as @superherologist) a new book called Supernatural Psychology which will be released in October. We’ve had a great time editing it, and I wrote and co-wrote a couple chapters for it, too. The introduction to that one is by Mark Pellegrino (Lucifer on Supernatural), so we’ve been joking that we really did make a deal with the Devil.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Family Don't End with Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives and your other work?
LZ: The best way to keep up with me and all my projects is to follow my blog at fangasmthebook.wordpress.com. I do weekly reviews of Supernatural when it’s airing, cover conventions, and do behind-the-scenes cast interviews, and when anything is happening with books or signings or anything else, you can find it there! You can also follow me on twitter at @FangasmSPN or on Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr. We also have a website, familydontendwithblood.com, where there will be general information about the book, giveaways, etc.
Family Don’t End with Blood, Supernatural Psychology, and my other books—Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls, Fan Phenomena: Supernatural, and Fandom At The Crossroads—are all on Amazon. And Squee’s website is here.