Transcript: Track 15: Two-Person Love Triangle
Episode 15 posted April 3, 2020
Transcript by thatpeculiarone
Links to all fics mentioned can be found on the main episode post.
Ellen: Hi everyone! Welcome to the fifteenth episode of Mixtape Book Club podcast. My name’s Ellen.
Mal: And my name’s Mal.
Ellen: In each episode, we take a look at a different trope or subgenre in the huge collection of Destiel fanfiction. And today we are going to be discussing one of the fandom’s favourites and one of our personal favourite tropes: the Two-Person Love Triangle
Mal: And to discuss his fic, Four Letter Word for Intercourse, we would like to welcome very well-known Destiel author bendingsignpost. Ben, would you like to say hi?
Ben: Hi! How are you guys doing?
Ellen: Welcome! We’re super excited to have you here. So as well as Four Letter Word For Intercourse, we are going to be talking about Waiting on A Signal by CBFirestarter and TrenchcoatBaby and also Go Down With This Ship by PorcupineGirl.
Mal: Links to all of the fics that we’ll be discussing today, will be available in the episode’s post on mixtapebookclub.com and included in our special collection on AO3.
Ellen: Just a quick warning before we get started talking about this trope and these fics is that we are… somehow today we have managed to pick three fics that do have very adult content in them. So things will be getting very not safe for work and small ears today. So, if you are listening in the presence of impressionable ears, you might like to wait until you’re alone [laughter]. Just a warning for not safe for work.
Mal: We might be using words they don’t want to hear, you never know.
Ben: We can always try to pull out some FCC guideline language instead.
Mal: I think we’ve got a pretty good guideline of words that we can use.
Ben: Oh, yes.
Ellen: We’ll be talking about rosebuds in this episode.
Ben: Possibly entire rose bushes.
Mal: As long as we don’t get into too deep a discussion on tongue baths, we’ll be fine.
Ben: Okay, just gotta — gonna make sure we don’t go in-depth on how to park cars. Just know that they become parked somehow.
Ellen: So Two Person love triangles, how much do we love them?
Mal: [laughs] I’ve been waiting for this episode for sooo long. Legitimately, my favourite trope.
Ellen: Me too. Even though like… I was gonna just start by saying that even though this is a recognised trope on TV tropes, you know, that people know about it. It’s not an official tag on Ao3.
Ellen: I think that um… we were talking on twitter with PorcupineGirl earlier today and she was saying how their fic, Go Down With This Ship, was possibly the first Destiel fic to actually use two person love triangle as a tag. But it’s still… even though that was a few years ago…
Mal: And that fic was completed in 2016. And they still have not yet canonised that tag, despite there now being I don’t know… quite… quite a few out there I think… with the two person love triangle tag.
Ellen: So hopefully someone gets onto that and it gets, like I know they’ve tag wranglers who work all that out don’t they? And they change tags, or they group tags together, that kind of thing. So if you search for one, you get the variants. But I don’t think that has happened for this yet.
Mal: No, I did try searching earlier with kind of a few different ways of phrasing it and punctuating it and it doesn’t pop up as a canonical tag for any of them. So, which makes it that little bit more difficult to search for them. Which is frustrating.
Ellen: Yeah, we’ll have to start a petition to have it canonised.
Ben: I’d back that.
Ellen: if our fandom can do anything, I reckon we can do that.
So I guess two person love triangles we should probably define, like most people would know it by the name what it actually is, but in our case it’s where Dean and Cas sort-of meet each other in two separate ways. Often these days it’s an online component versus in-person one. Or, in the case of Four Letter Word we’ve got an on-the-phone relationship that’s separate from an actual in-person one. So, they basically fall in love in two separate places. When you’re writing it, you’re writing two separate love stories basically. That get to converge at some point. Which is so much fun! Both to read and write, don’t you think?
Ben: Oh yeah.
Mal: It is the most fun. And you’ve done [talking to Ellen], let’s see, you’ve done online with yours, ‘cause you did them meeting through gaming, right?
Ellen: Yep, that’s right.
Mal: Basically, not quite World of Warcraft but [laughs].
Ellen: Almost World of Warcraft.
Ellen: And you’ve [talking to Mal] done various chat groups, you know GISH, kind of, ish, GISH-ish. [laughs]
Mal: GISH-ish, yeah.
Ellen:… interactions. So yeah, there are so many variations and different ways that this sort of trope can be created like um you think about it, like you think there’s not… like how many ways can you actually have them knowing each other in different ways. But you actually can [laughs] there is a lot of different… people are very creative in the ways they put this one together.
Ben: Just the more you list, the more my brain is going: “Okay so for my next attempt, can I do three simultaneous relationships” and I’m like, “no, slow- down.” [laughter] “Put that idea on ice, don’t do that.” “but three would be.. “ “No….”
Ellen: That would be so interesting and also possibly really confusing both for you and…maybe readers [laughs]
Ben: Sooo confusing!
Ellen: Maybe that’s the point of it [laughs]
Ben: That might be the point of it. Like, “I can recommend a friend to you but wait… what, what? Hmm… Hmmm…”
Ellen: The friend is actually me.
Ben: I need to stop talking about that now, alright.
Mal: Now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m actually sitting here really surprised, realising that I’ve never done one where they’ve met gaming, at all. How? How’ve I not done that? I’ve written like four or five of these.
Ellen: That’s your next… that’s your next one.
So I guess another, like… it’s not always just the two of them not knowing each other the whole time either, like sometimes there’s a variation where it’s just one of them who doesn’t know that they’re actually, that they actually know the same person, but they think it’s two different people, if that makes sense? So it’s more of a triangle, I guess, literally, in that….
Mal: It’s kinda just like a… two legs… like a triangle with no… I was going to say a triangle with no bottom but given the amount of BDSM we’re going to be talking about today [laughter]… that could be misleading.
Ellen: Yeah. But it’s like the superhero thing where you know Superman has an identity, a secret identity and in real life he also knows Lois Lane separately, you know?
Ellen: It’s that kind of thing. Where it’s one person who doesn’t know.
Ben: My jam has always been the four-person… sorry… the two-person love rectangle otherwise known as when Superman is in-love with Batman and Bruce Wayne and Bruce Wayne is in love with Superman and Clark Kent. And just the sheer shenanigans that ensue and it’s both of them not knowing versus the strangeness when one person either already knows or is contriving to remain two separate people and it’s a vastly different dynamic when both people are in the dark about there only being two people.
Ellen: Absolutely. Now I want to read…
Mal: The most fun to read as well.
Ellen; I want to read Batman and Superman fanfic now.
Mal: Someone write that. It’s got to be out there right? Rules of the internet, it’s out there somewhere.
Ellen: So I guess one of the — my favourite things about this, also not only does it allow for two personas to come out for each of the people but also you get a bunch of near misses where they almost find out, and then they don’t quite, and that’s such a good tension there. It’s a great way to build tension.
Ben: Uh there is definitely some suspension of disbelief that… I mean just through being on both the writing and reading side. That sometimes when I’ve been marking like the path progression of like what information has been shared. That there’s this certain degree of like once a crucial character detail goes…. The Impala is something that is so specific that once you say the word Impala, it’s like: “that is a very specific thing to say in two locations.” Whereas I’ve had people go on Four Letter Word saying, “you mentioned a big, black car.” and I’m like, “Well, the Clue movie would say that’s either a limousine or a hearse.” So like ‘Big, black car’ is generic enough that that could be anything. But once it comes up like… this is an identifying feature, so even just saying like, what counts as an identifying feature, can be kind of an interesting way of saying, “Okay, how far apart are you guys being kept and should you have put that together?”
Mal: There is a certain amount of fun in kind-of wanting to yell at the characters a little bit, and be like “you’re being so stupid!” but there’s a line where it’s crossed where it becomes too much and if they haven’t picked up on it by that point. It definitely gets frustrating at that point. You do have to… that suspension of disbelief is tested. But finding that sweet spot is wonderful.
Ellen: I tend to yell at characters a lot in this one.
Mal: I think yelling is an integral part of shipping Destiel, period.
Ellen: Especially Dean and Cas.
Mal: Yeah… more than any other ship, ever, I’ve never wanted to yell at anyone as much as those two.
Ben: Do you guys prefer the mutual reveal or like one person figures it out first? Do you have a preference?
Mal: Oh I definitely prefer the giant, gobsmacking, elephant in the room, suddenly erupts, they both find out at the same time. Where there’s no like space for them to deal with it privately. [laughs]
Ben: I’m with you right there.
Ellen: I agree as well and also partially because if one of them finds out before the other, it feels a bit like… you can’t let that go on too long or it starts feeling a bit manipulative like I dunno… like they’re keeping it a secret on purpose now and it’s a bit weird. Does that make sense?
Ben: Yeah it does.
Ellen: I prefer I prefer it if they do both find out at the same time and it’s just a “what the fuck?” kind of moment, you know?
Mal: I 100% agree with that and then um… one of my fics that I wrote which I don’t really term as a two-person love triangle because it is that strange one-person has two identities but the other person only has one. It’s kind-of, it’s half of a two person love triangle. And that was the thing that I struggled with most during that because at no point did I want it to become some kind of manipulative thing where Dean was taking advantage of having more knowledge than Cas had. So it’s a lot tricker to write that, I think and it’s also just a lot more fun when you get to have this whole rectangle situation going on.
Ben: I do think that it’s also… There is an element of fun if you have one character who is the two that this… in a prior fandom I wrote a two person love triangle for Sherlock BBC. In which the Sherlock character had two personas whereas the John Watson character just had one persona. And our duel-persona-wielding character was like: “yes, but I am only seducing you as myself. So clearly, there won’t be an issue with my secondary personality — what do you mean you reject me for me and you’re into my other personality? You went the wrong way!” I feel like you could do a bit there of like… it’s still manipulative, it’s still pretty darn weird, but if it’s only intending in certain ways, like if you had Clark Kent doing weird sort-of: “I know things about Lois Lane that I couldn’t possibly…”
Ellen: I think that one-sided kind-of thing is sometimes tagged as Identity porn. So if you’re not into that, you can sort-of filter it out if you want to. But I don’t know if it’s always tagged as that, that seems to be another tag where it’s a bit wishy washy where people actually use it or not.
Mal: The perils of tagging. Such an amazing and useful system but occasionally, it makes it tricky to find exactly what you need.
Ben: I enjoy how it overlaps with certain elements of farce that there’s just.. the people talk about fanfic… you get the people who are like: “oh fanfic! Ohhh, derogatory term!” and we’re doing the same shenanigans that Shakespeare had a lot of fun with so uh what’s your deal? Because the sheer Twelfth Night of it sometimes where you’re just “okay, how many characters can we shuffle?”
Ellen: And it’s almost like a pantomime where it’s like, “he’s behind you!” and you look around and he’s not there, you know? Like that can be really effective in this kind of fic too. Like just the near miss kind of… you almost get it and then you just don’t, which is brilliant.
Mal: But I love the freedom that fanfic gives us to take those concepts which could be really written in such a cracky way, that whole “oh he knows! Oh no he doesn’t!” but it really could be written like that. But it gives us the chance to take them seriously and write them in such a way that they do come across as genuine, serious stories. I like that.
Ellen: yeah they’re real ancient, theatrical principles right? Like this is storytelling from the olden days that we’re still using in all of our words these days, so.
Mal: Yeah, like I could go on for ages about the history of storytelling in general, but I think it’s really fascinating and says a lot that even when given like a carte blanche to write whatever we want. Like no one tells you what to write in fanfiction. Well… we’ll… we’ll ignore the corners of the fandom where they try to do that but.. Nobody tells you what to write and yet somehow we still end up gravitating towards these very specific knowns of storytelling that work and that’s, you know, that’s the way human brains work but it’s really fascinating that we do that and somehow we often manage to do it better than TV and various kinds of scripts do… in my opinion.
Ben: Well fanfic also has the inbuilt advantage of we know who these characters are, that you can have someone going in under a fake name but you give the basic, uh key words of “okay, he smiled in a way that showed too much of his gums” okay, that’s Cas. “The bowlegged man” okay, we got Dean. “The guy who’s impossibly tall”, there’s Sam. It’s just boom, boom, boom, boom, Very short descriptions, you immediately know who it is and thus we’re allowed to play this absurd game of just hide the ball under the cup, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle and we still know who is who.
Ellen: Yeah, and we also get the added benefit of knowing that it’s going to have a happy ending.
Ellen: yeah I mean not all fanfic does obviously. But we know that the point of the whole thing is for them to get together so it’s safe to read, like in your mind, you know? Like you’re thinking: “they could go through all this crap and be so sad but in the end they’re going to get together and it’s going to be okay.” There’s something comforting.
Mal: I put up with more from fanfic than I would in a book or a movie I didn’t know the ending of, just because there’s that carrot dangling at the end. Well I know that fic has been tagged with a certain thing, that is what I want to get to.
Ben: I mean honestly if more movies were tagged like fanfic. I mean, I want to watch more queer films, I do, but I also don’t have the bandwidth to be like, “oh good! A queer— ohhhh, oh,” Like I just can’t take it anymore.
Mal: Oh it’s a minefield.
Ben: I just don’t watch things.
Mal: Oh dear, no. I do think it’s getting better, but, queer content in general is still a minefield, generally. It’s getting better. It’s getting a lot better on the book front. There has been a lot of really great book discourse on fandom twitter recently. It’s really getting a lot better on the queer book front. However, the queer television programming has a lot of catching up to do.
Ben: Not even Star Trek is safe, nooooo!
Ellen: I guess that’s when recommendations by other people become so important. Because then you can… if you find people that like the same sort of things you do. Then you can take their advice on what to read and stay away from things that you would rather not… in the absence of actual tags.
Mal: There’s a sense of kind of camaraderie with it too. Whereas, I know that there are fics out there that I haven’t read, that maybe I have just been confronted with the tags and I probably wouldn’t have picked them up to read. Then I have had friends that have read them and there is something about sharing that experience which makes it easier to deal with. So, you know, kind-of wish that you know, films and TV shows and books could be tagged like fanfic, honestly.
Ben: I had one last idea about the compelling force behind why the two person love triangle trope is… that when you see, particularly in queer scenarios, the soluton, question mark, to when you see the generic love triangle is: “why not both?” and the two person love triangle is something that answers “why not both?” with “because both is just one person, it’s fine.” So, the whole ‘having your cake and eating it too’ and also the bizarreness of like: “does this… does this mean our relationships were a lie?” “No this means that we now have excruciatingly added depth to our relationship.”
Ellen: Yes. That is why we love it [laughs]
Mal: Bouncing off that a tiny little bit, actually, I think part of the reason why it works so well particularly for the characters we’re dealing with in this fandom, is because miscommunication is pretty much their main trope, canonically. And, giving them two different facets where usually they see different parts of each other so usually in a two-person love triangle, you’ll have, even though they’ve met in different ways, they’ll maybe be able to let their guard down more with one side than another or they’re putting on some kind of show for one person that the other person doesn’t see. And they’ll get to see kind of behind the scenes of that person. And I think that’s particularly valid because there is a lot of comparisons that can be made to the ‘performing Dean’ trope that we have specifically, where if Cas had to wait patiently to see those parts of Dean, he may have never got there. And because he gets, you know, because he gets that kind-of ‘behind the scenes’ look where there’s less pressure because usually they can’t see each other or they might be masked in someway or how they’ve met, it comes down to that thing where a lot of the time, you can be more honest with your online friends than with the person you sit next to at work, right? So I think that really feeds into that trope and actually for me, makes it a lot more interesting because you get to see Dean talking about things that maybe he wouldn’t for a long time if it was an AU where they just met normally. Sorry, tangent!
Ben: No, it’s very true.
Ben: The code-switching is intense.
Ellen: Alright well we’ve got three fics to talk about, we better get into them. Cause I feel like we’re going to have plenty to discuss here. Shall we start with Waiting on A Signal?
Mal: Yeah, let’s go for it.
Ellen: Alright so Waiting on A Signal by CBFirestarter and TrenchcoatBaby. It was published in 2019 and it is 90k words long and it is explicit. And it has… I guess there is no particular warnings but it is set in a BDSM club so there is going to be plenty of kinky stuff in this one. The summary goes like this:
Dean Winchester, hardworking medic, has two ways of coping with the demands of the job. One, he chats online with his anonymous best friend and fellow medic, FlyBoy83. Two, he’s a member of Black & Blue, a BDSM club where he subs twice a month. One night, he’s finally paired with a blue-eyed dom he’s been eyeing for months, a man he’s waited to call Master.
Or, the story of how Dean and Castiel are online best friends who fuck each other senselessly in real life…and never even know it.
It’s such an amazing premise to start with, this one. But I will say before we start getting into it that this fic has minimal kind-of tags at the beginning and a lot of the kinky tags are in each chapter. So, if you are going to give this one a go and you’re worried about particular kinks, then just read by chapter and a lot of the kinks are listed in the author’s notes.
This is like my favourite of their works they’ve written together. Mostly because not only has it got some really excellent, kind-of extremely hot BDSM scene-ing. Which I’m not always into reading a whole lot of, but it is very well-written and safe and consensual and all that kind of thing that goes along with that. But it also has some really beautiful fluffy kind of relationship building which I really, really love and that they both write so well.
Mal: And I have to admit that I agree, this is one of the fluffiest BDSM fics that I’ve ever read. Oddly enough I don’t seek out BDSM fics to read necessarily, I guess I do read a lot of tags that it seems to intersect with a lot and this one I’m pretty sure I read this as they were posting or I joined like halfway through they were posting it. And jumped in and caught up on a chunk and then read the last few chapters. And I actually think, even though like you said this is really well-written, one of the things I like when CB and TrenchcoatBaby do their BDSM fics is the way that they write them. Yes, obviously you have this kinky scene going on and there’s bits flying everywhere and God knows what else, but [laughs] you are in the moment enough that it’s more of an emotional scene more than just a physical one, and for me that’s what makes the difference between a good BDSM story and a bad one. I am more interested I guess in what’s going on in the characters head than you know what their body is doing necessarily. I mean, obviously, that’s great, fair enough. But I really like that they bring in all those other aspects and that you know… as a lot of people will quite rightly point out in their stories, thank goodness, BDSM is not just a physical thing. And they very clearly remember that when they’re writing. And that makes me so much more interested in their scenes when I’m reading it than in, y’know, some throwaway BDSM-erotica thing, like no. To me it’s all about the characters, so. That makes it much better. And um this story, I really loved the non-completely-like-day-to-day non-BDSM parts of it, was really really fascinating to me. I learned a lot reading this story. I learned a lot about the paramedic side of things and the flying stuff… clearly my vocabulary is wonderful [laughs] but I actually learned a lot from reading this. I love that feeling when I put down a fic and I’m like, “ah, I learned things.”
Ben: Just the entire idea of: “oh wait, there would be apps for medics to be able to just complain about their days without getting in trouble with their bosses. This does make sense as a very distinct place for them to meet.”
Mal: And it’s so unique to have come up with that as a fic concept, I think it’s really great and they made it make sense so well, I loved it.
Ellen: I guess we didn’t mean to turn this episode into a BDSM chat, but [laughs] but I think it’s really um—
Mal: We can talk about it without talking about it, you know? [laughs]
Ellen: No, I was just going to say that those… in fics that do include a Dom/Sub kind-of dynamic, even if it’s not actual scenes, it sort of plays into, usually in a well-written one, it shows how much they both kind-of need it? Like Dean usually… ugh, I don’t want to say usually cause he’s not always the Sub and Cas is not always the Dom but, it shows that they need that kind-of control either taken away or they need to have control to make the other person feel better. It’s also a psychological thing for them, almost therapy. You know it’s comforting for each of them to have this. As well as being sexually fulfilling.
Mal: Yeah and I think that is something that is much better represented in fanfic than it is in the mainstream. I could go on for a long time about that, I have lots of thoughts on why that probably is, like marginalised communities and all kinds of things. But I won’t bore everybody with that, but it is definitely something that I think is much better represented in fanfic than in the real world. And as much as I always, always, always say that you know fanfic is not sex education, nor should it ever be and that should not be where people are learning anything from. I’m at least glad that if it is a starting point for people, that we do at least have kind-of a whole bunch of writers out there who are giving good, genuine representation to things. But I’m really hoping people go beyond that and learn correctly as they should and don’t ever take anything they read in fanfic to be an educational experience. But I hope if it’s opening doors, it’s opening the right ones at least.
Ben: This one was one where they didn’t have a simultaneous reveal, that it was a scenario where it’s like only one of them would have noticed and the other one finds out after. And uh, it’s like that, ‘you can’t have that going too long’ and uh, that neither character intentionally revealed themselves to each other. Even though we had that, first bit of one person finds out first, the second person finds out after, the whole strained communication going down, like “ah-ha! I’m going to pull back. Oh no, the other person means to rush forward, and if they are rushing forward, they will find out the thing!”. It’s just interesting to see how different stories handle those reveals, that often when you have one character who does the “I’m going to pull back and away”, you don’t have the other character’s response to be, “No, it’s time to go and make the giant gesture!” So that was, that was unexpected.
Mal: I do love a good giant gesture in fic now and again, I have to say [laughs] could definitely get away with things in fics that would be ridiculous in real life, so I love it when we have these giant outlandish gestures in fics.
Ben: I feel like that it’s Cas who’s like ‘I’m gonna make the absurd thing go’ and it’s like, “yeah.. your idea of what is normal and what is acceptable is often in a strange amount of fluctuation. So like alright, go Cas, go.”
Mal: Go Cas!
Ben: It weirdly makes more sense when it’s him. Whereas Dean I feel like the embarrassment would set in at some point.
Mal: Dean would stop himself at some point. He would self sabotage at some point.
Ben: Yeah, he would just start going “chick-flick ahhh no!”
Ellen: The other thing that’s great about this one with both of them, sort-of falling in love in two different scenarios, is that they both keep saying to themselves, “we can’t do this, I can’t fall for this guy in the club, it’s never going work’ but they do anyway? They just do it despite themselves, they still do. Which is very, canon I guess because through the whole show they’ve been always [sighs] not canonically, but thinking they could never go there. Well I guess from Cas’ side at least it’s canon. And in this one it’s really well kind-of… they do it over and over again. They’re always saying in this one: “I can’t, I can’t fall in love with him, but I kinda am.”
Ben: They also do the whole discussion of, “is there someone else you’re seeing? Is there someone else I want to see?” and that initially you see them edging closer and closer to the conversation where they’re going to decide to re-up their relationship in the club, or cut it out entirely. And you approach it thinking, ‘oh okay they’re actually going to completely split’ and then, reveals come out and it’s like, ‘oh! No, we’re actually going to double down. Oh okay so I thought you were going to officially break up so you could officially get together but you just speed runned that.’
Ellen: I remember at the time there was, because it was posted serially, there was a lot of screaming in the comments around then. Everyone was like, “oh my god, what’s going to happen?” but yeah, I’m glad that they didn’t make it too… neither of them got too angry at each others, I guess that’s what I was mainly worried about when I get to fics like this in general, when one of them will find out, and I’m always expecting them to get really angry about the whole thing. Maybe that’s just how I would react if I found out [laughs] especially if the other person already knew. But no.
Mal: I guess that’s why the rectangle thing tends to work better for me, because well they can’t be that angry when they were doing the same thing.
Ellen: Yeah that’s right.
Mal: That’s why the rectangle thing kind of comes easier.
Ben: I enjoy the mutual reveal too because the sheer shock of it becomes the honesty of, ‘wait, we’re both bewildered?’
Ellen: yeah, ‘you didn’t know? I didn’t know. What?’ [laughs]
So they do have… they also have their family around like we’ve got… Dean has Sam with him to kind-of… eventually it all comes out and he… Sam gives him the advice of how to deal with it all. So it’s good that he’s got a support network. And um… I’m trying to remember who Cas has as his side… but you know there’s found family all around them in this one and I really love that. They’ve also got Billie and Pam in the club itself to support them through it as well which I really like.
Mal: I love fics that have Pam in them, I just love her.
Ellen: She’s a great character.
I didn’t mention at the beginning but this fic also has some really, very explicit and quite lovely I guess, artwork by Gio in the middle of chapter three so if you’re into some artwork… be warned it is quite… extremely, not safe for work that one. So watch out.
Mal: It’s one of those ones that if you’re reading it on your phone in public, you have to very suddenly scroll past. Quickly.
Ellen: And then go back covering it with your hand.
Mal: Not that I have ever done that.
Ben: Is it time to go down with this ship?
Mal: Hell yeah.
So the second fic we’re going to talk about today is Go Down With This Ship by PorcupineGirl. This was published for Tropefest back in 2017 and it is 31k and it is explicit. And the summary goes like this:
Since he has to stay deep in the closet to protect his job as a children’s librarian in conservative Wichita, Kansas, Dean’s main outlet for sexual frustration is writing and reading slash fiction for his favorite show, Devil Boys. When he starts corresponding with AngelofThursday, another male slash writer in his ship, he really is just looking for friendship… but when it seems like more might be on the table, he’s not going to turn it down. If only he didn’t also have a crush on Cas, the hot volunteer at his library branch…
Ellen: If only…
Mal: Can I scream now? Yay!
Ellen: You can scream now.
Ben: I read this one ages back, so when you linked it, I was like: ‘oh it’s this one!’ like when you started describing it, my brain went: ‘Devil Boys’ and I don’t know why the name of the fictional show in the story, I was like ‘do I remember the author’s name? No. Do I remember the specifics? No. Do I remember the random thing they wrote fanfic about? Yes.’ I don’t know why.
Ellen: Brains are weird sometimes.
Ben: Oh yeah.
Mal: So this was the very first two person love triangle fic that I read because within the fandom. I’m pretty certain it was the very first one. It was definitely the very first tagged two person love triangle. I have not found, as of yet, any untagged ones that were earlier than this. So this is kind-of the OG two person love triangle fic for the fandom.
Ellen: So it’s not that old really, is it?
Mal: No, it’s definitely I’d say it’s a newer trope, I guess. I mean I’m sure the trope itself existed long before that but it just wasn’t much used in the fandom. And this is definitely the first one that I found and was definitely what inspired me to write two person love triangle stories in general. In fact, she probably doesn’t remember this, but I DM’d PorcupineGirl on twitter after I read this because I had this idea and obviously I wanted to link her fic in my story to just be like ‘look, this is where I discovered this trope. It’s great! Go read it!’, to just shove people in that direction. So I messaged her to make sure she’d be okay with that and that sort of thing.
Ellen: That’s sweet.
Mal: Yeah I know, that was small Mal. Actually it wasn’t that long ago, how long ago was this? It was a few years back.
Ben: It took awhile for there to be a lot of these fics going around. Because I remember going down, binging that whole tag and being like: ‘ooh, how many of these can I read?’ and then quickly exhausting that pile. And that was when I read this for the first time. And then had to sit for like several years, being like: ‘but how to contrive… how to contrive the scenario. Is this why there are so few because you can’t contrive the scenario? Ahhh!’
Mal: Yep, that’s the hardest part. Coming up with them, yep.
Ellen: People are so creative though and like we said earlier, there are so many different ways you can do it, you just have to come up with it and pull it off, that’s the tricky part.
Mal: And this fic is obviously like fascinating and great and almost quite meta to read as a fanfic writer because it’s obviously based on two people who also write slash fic so, which isn’t something we see a lot, um in fanfic, I do know of at least one other story that does it which we will mention later. But, this is particularly fascinating, it was the first time I’d seen that as well. Like seen the characters, kinda taken and kind-of put in our shoes a little bit.
Ellen: Yeah. Yeah I love that. It’s almost like a love letter to fandom, really, this one. Because she does say how lovely it is to have friends in fandom who you can talk to about your writing and you know as someone who has found, only in the last few years since I started writing some really awesome friends through fandom, I really appreciate this story and the way it deals with that, so. I also love the tumblr shade, like the way they’re like ‘I hate this tumblr ask box thing, I’m just going to post it and you know…’
Ben: The fanmail thing, yeah.
Ellen: I don’t know if they still do that, do they?
Mal: I really relate to Dean in this, because I’m that person who I’ve been on tumblr for a long time now and I’ve been actively using twitter for like a year or whatever. And you always see these people who have like friends and their groupchats and all these people you know and I’m just there like, I’m so fucking awkward most of the time and I’m like, ‘how, how do you make friends on this thing when it only works like 25% of the time?’ Like, how is this possible? Definitely related to Dean in this one.
Ben: I vibed with the whole Dean’s job with the children’s librarian. And some people who’ve been around my tumblr long enough know that I do work with kids and there is definitely the whole, closeted fandom thing where you have to be doubly closeted, where it’s like ‘okay is it a safe environment to even bring up the fact of being queer’ and it’s certainly isn’t going to be any territory where you bring in, ‘oh yes i do have knowledge of this fanfiction of which you speak’ and so uh, some of Dean’s moments of, ‘oh, we can not talk about this here. Oh my goodness!’ like it felt very real and very well-done, in rang true for a lot of the things there.
Mal: I really like the fact that he was specifically a children’s librarian in this one because I really enjoy like librarian stories in general, stories set in libraries or where one of them or the other is a librarian for some reason, don’t know why, just something I find quite enjoyable. But I also really really like seeing Dean interact with children, specifically children that aren’t his own, for some reason. I think it’s because we do kind-of see him in canon, he’s always actually really good with kids but you get the impression that maybe he thinks he isn’t. But, he actually does a lot better with them than he thinks, so I kind-of love stories that put him into situations where he is interacting with other people’s children, I guess. In this case, through his job, he obviously interacts with a lot of kids. ‘Cause I think that’s a side of Dean that we don’t get to see that often.
Ellen: Yeah. In the first chapter especially is… rang very familiarly to me. Basically because one of their first interactions is almost word for word a conversation that I’ve had with you at one point Mal about…you know now I’ve got to find it in the fic and work it out. But I was reading it going, ‘oh my god I’ve had this discussion with somebody.’ Also in the first chapter, there’s some commenter who’s been commenting about the inaccuracies of the smut or something. I just read that back going… [laughs]
Ellen: Ben I’m pretty sure you’ve had some experience with this kind-of thing but look…that just made me laugh.
Ben: Bodies are different [laughs] and this is not meant to be an instructional video.
Mal: Ah that’s my main thing, yeah I always get so frustrated by that, I think every fic writer does. But it’s even worse like it has to be worse for male slash writers, clearly. Like, ‘please don’t tell me how a penis works, I have one.’ Like [laughter] it’s got to be even more frustrating. But yeah people tend to not keep those comments to themselves, unfortunately.
Ben: Some of it is just plain funny that are… there was a little thing I put, I can’t remember what I called it, but there was a story I did where I just did some basic googling around like: ‘is this actually possible?’ and yeah, there are actually people who are self lubricating, weirdly enough, in that there is a gland in the backstore that is meant to excrete things that help get the poop out. And as it turns out, it’s not just gay men, there are some… well it doesn’t matter about their sexuality anyway. But men or women, doesn’t matter, intersex, who knows, it’s just people who have a specifically sensitive gland that goes, ‘aha! It is time to lubricate!’ and uh it’s quite bizarre, where you’re like ‘wait, that sounds like a bizarre fanfic concept’ but no. Reality is actually weirder than that.
Mal: Are we evolving to omegaverse?
Ben: You still shouldn’t do it. You really shouldn’t do it because there are many reasons why it could go wrong. But it’s like you technically could. So whenever people come at me with the whole ‘no but there needs to be…’ I’m like, ‘no, let me tell you this bizarre concept. [laughter] Like this is actually real.’ ‘what?’ yeah don’t do it anyway, it’s a bad idea.’
Ellen: You could hurt yourself, pretty bad, probably
Ben: It doesn’t protect as much as, you know, other things designed to protect would so.
Mal: Ah, things designed to protect. Sorry that sends my brain down the hole. Worst thing you have ever seen used as lube in fic, discussion.
Ben: Oh. Oh God. Oh… the butter. Oh why butter.
Mal: So much butter!
Ben: I think… I think the worst one I’ve ever seen, this was like, to be fair, it was a survival fic, but it was like fat rendered off of seals they’d clubbed.
Ellen: Oh my God.
Mal: I love the detail that they clubbed them themselves.
Ben: Yeah! There was so much detail that went into it. Just one guy with the club and the other guy behind him with the knife just going and getting as many seals as they possibly could. Then, they used the fat from these poor dead animals and I’m like ‘wow, that’s really specific.’
Ellen: It is. Kind-of violent. Extremely.
Mal: On the one hand, I’m like, ‘let’s try keep it realistic, like things that would work as lube and that kind-of stuff but, on the other hand, there’s that part in my brain that’s like ‘but you know what? When humans are horny, they will go to great lengths, okay?’
Ben: oh yeah. There’s entire websites just dedicated to, ‘the thing the person went to the hospital with because they thought it was a good idea.’
Mal: oh yeah. Complete with x-rays.
Ellen: I think there’s a few of those in Waiting on A Signal, actually.
Ben: There are, yeah. [laughs]
Ellen: One or two.
Mal: Well Go Down With This Ship, at least, has no ill-advised lubrication use.
Ellen: No, it doesn’t. I did find the conversation looping back around to non-sexual chat… at one point Cas does say ‘I’m gonna write this thing’ and then Dean goes, ‘yep you should write that’ and he [Cas] goes, ‘oh, you don’t really want the next chapter of this other thing I’m writing?’ and I’m like oh my god! [laughs]
Mal: The number of times me and you have had that conversation.
Ellen: ‘I’m not the one that tries to juggle ten fics at once. I can hardly handle one at a time.’ I’ve definitely said that to you! Anyway, nevermind.
Mal: I’m the terrible person that juggles ten things at a time, I wish I was the person that only wrote one fic at a time, like teach me your ways.
Ellen: Oh God, me too.
One of the things they also bring up is that… I think it was Dean who found it a little odd that he was in a space in fandom where everyone was really young and I think a lot of the time we forget that people who write… like there are some young writers who are brilliant. And they write really well and they’re… I mean I envy them because when I was 18 years old, I was not writing anything, anyone would want to read. But a lot of the people who are fanfic authors tend to be older, you know 30s or 40s even. So that was acknowledged at one point in this story and I appreciated that too.
Mal: Yeah. I definitely liked that they were slightly more… it feels wrong to say middle-aged about people in their 30s? But I did appreciate that they were that age. I generally, for the most part, tend to relate better to fic when they’re that kind of age. But in this one particularly because it felt so personal with the whole fanfic writing thing. I really liked that they were that age. I also really liked it because… when Dean is then explaining his kind-of… his history of sexuality of Dean Winchester, he’s talking about his experiences with Charlie. Like how he kind-of came to understand his own sexuality through fandom, through fanfic, through realising the difference between, you know, sexual and romantic love and hero worship and that kind of thing. All of those references were just right on par for me [laughs]. They were all perfect. Even though obviously the show, that PG [PorcupineGirl] has had them write about, Devil Boys in this, is obviously not real it’s just a take up of our beloved Supernatural obviously. But there is so much else that is referenced in here from Harry Potter to MCU to Star Trek. Lot of like Spock/Kirk stuff referenced in here. I loved it. I loved just like rolling around in those references.
Ellen: Yes. I’ll have to read it again I think. Just to.. Uh… because it’s one of those fics where, similar to Four Letter Word for Intercourse, where you sort of get to the end and then you realise that all the way through there has been extra things you didn’t pick up on the first time and you know… I really need to go back. This is the first time I’ve read this one, I don’t know why. I thought it’s really similar to another fic I’ve read which involves librarians. Um… like children’s librarians and I thought I’d read this one before but I hadn’t so. Loved it.
Mal: I’m glad I could shove this fic into your orbit, forcefully. [laughs]
Ellen: Yes, thank you. You’ve been trying for a while, I think.
Mal: I have. I’m sorry.
Ellen: This one also has some… very not safe for work art in it. In kind of a comic book style, which I quite like. The artist is called HorrorFemme.
Ben: I mean at the end of chapter one, there’s one.
Ellen: Yeah, there’s also one in chapter two.
Mal: I don’t know if it’s in every chapter. But there’s definitely… definitely a few in here. It might be in every chapter, I’m not sure. I’m always fascinated by artwork in two person love triangle fics though, because I love to see how artists represent the kind-of two sides of it. [laughs] and then the different ways they choose to do that. And it definitely was done in a very interesting way in this one with the kind-of, like, almost like a comic strip with them being in different panels.
Ellen: Yeah like imagining what they might do and I think that’s very cool.
I also really liked the kind-of general running theme through this one. Obviously it starts of with the reader realising that Dean lives in this very conservative area, has a job he has to be more concerned… even than a lot of other people about his job and any interaction with his sexuality at all. Because I also live in a very, very conservative place. So, I related to that. And obviously we find out later, I don’t think it’s any kind-of spoiler given that it’s a two person love triangle, that Cas miraculously also lives in this area. And uh, volunteering at the same library branch. Um, but Cas, even though he is in the same area, he has a different experience than Dean does. I think there’s something I guess almost hopeful there? That sometimes you can be in a place, where to Dean’s mind, this is a really bigoted place, this is not where he wants to be, he can’t be himself here. And while there is an element of truth in that, it sometimes does come down to, where you know, there’s no perfect place. There are good and bad people everywhere.
Ben: And speaking of, things being along the fandom lines, it is a lot of curating your own experience, in that Dean has written himself into the corner of, ‘yeah, I work with kids, I’m over here’. When you’re an adult man that works with children, there is many extra precautions and training things that go in, to make sure that you do not even come close to any lines that could ever be crossed. Like I’ve had moments of panicking where I once had a student wander after me into a room where I’m like, ‘okay, you thought you saw this on the floor, oh we’ll try to clean it up.’ and then the kid came in behind me and closed the door and I nearly died of panic because you cannot be alone in a room with a child, and I was like ‘open the door! Open the door! Open the door!’ and they were like, ‘is it a mouse?’ and I’m like ‘no it was a leaf. But please open the door anyway!’ Just so, you have a character that is working with this baseline of like, ‘okay, this is…’ like the fic didn’t need to go into the levels of anxiety that Dean could be having over having that role plus the gay, because when areas are more conservative, it’s a lot more like ‘oh, you’re gay? So you’re a child molester?’ and I’m like, ‘wow, that was a jump there.’
Mal: Yeah, that was a big leap you took.
Ben: That’s a big leap there. Why is that not such a leap for people sometimes? So for him to be like, the job definitely reinforces his view of the area. Whereas Cas, who’s like, ‘I don’t work with kids at all! No this is a much queerer thing!’ and the sort of weird tradeoffs that get made depending on where you go.
Mal: Yeah, and what kind of adult you have to be during working hours.
Ben: God, yes.
Ellen: Yeah I guess that separated their personas, quite a lot. Because I think Cas always assumes that Dean’s straight the whole time, in that completely closed-off kind-of way of his, where you know he’s got his mask firmly in place or whatever.
Mal: I think it comes from different places in this fic, specifically, whereas working at the library, they’re both assuming the other one is straight. Cas is doing it, kind-of, based off the way Dean is presenting himself, like a certain amount of overcompensation, maybe? He’s presenting himself a certain way, so that’s leading Cas to believe that he’s straight. Whereas when you read it, it feels a lot more like Dean’s assuming Cas is straight out of fear. [laughs]
Mal: Which, is, very relatable. So.
Ben: He’s like, ‘how do I ask if you’re available, without getting punched in the face? I want to know!’
Mal: [laughs] and I like that, even though, you know, fic is escapism for the most part. I do like, you know, some real life issues to be touched on in fic. So. I do like that. Without them necessarily being all of the fic, like the main plot line of this is definitely fun and hot and not at all the big heavy thing that I’m making it sound. It’s not, it’s a really fun story more than anything.
Mal: I love that all of those things are there in the background and even without them being dwelled upon a lot, they are very clear in the story.
Ben: I mean, the first chapter ends with them thinking, ‘I need to get out of this town’ and when you get into the sheer experience that Cas has in the same area, it’s like, ‘actually you could be okay’.
Ellen & Mal: Yeah
Ben: It’s a… weirdly hopeful, the way that twists it around a bit.
Ellen: After saying all of that, we have to reiterate that this is a very fluffy fic. There is a lot of fluff, especially after they discover, you know, their identities. You know, there’s not any angst really in this one, it’s all just really lovely, fluffy stuff.
Ben: Yeah, you put any remotely angsty thing in front of me and I’m like, ‘ooh shiny, must pick up, must play with’ so, sorry.
Mal: I think the only real angst in this necessarily is what Dean creates for himself. Like what he is thinking might happen.
Ellen: Yeah that’s true.
Ellen: He does that a lot. In a lot of fics, [laughs]
Mal: I kind of like that as a reader though, you’re just there like going, ‘noooo. Cas isn’t like that, you idiot.’ So I enjoy that. Apparently I just like yelling at Dean, learned that today.
Ben: I mean if Dean wasn’t doing that, where would the stakes be? So. He’s the required idiot. We need him to do this.
Mal: And he’s so good at it.
Ellen: Poor Dean.
Mal: This fic does actually contain my favourite footnote in any… endnote in any story ever. And that is where she is explaining… I will read it. It’s:
PorcupineGirl’s Axiom of Smutty Discussion: As the time spent in a chat room full of fic writers goes to infinity, the probability of discussing rimming approaches 1.
Mal: I love that that’s just an endnote, by itself, with no explanation required.
Ben: In a larger, meta sort-of context of, I remember that… when I was skimming through, I did not re-read this story, I was like, ‘I remember enough of it!’, turns out I did not. I should re-read it. But yeah, I remember at the time it was coming out, there was a lot of those, ‘if you’re writing fanfic, this is how sex works’. And then there were people, who had the response wave of, ‘the one finger, two finger, three finger, woo!’ and like that was a thing, that was just like drilled into everything. So seeing this fic, just like start with a rebuttal to that nonsense and there’s a chapter where Cas’ like, ‘yeah I’m not a gold star gay’ and just seeing little things like that was just really refreshing, in the cultural context of the fic, of the time that it was being posted. Cause that, was, that was, oh goodness, that was an interesting time for watching people yell at each other about how sex in fiction works.
Mal: There are waves of what goes on in fandom, I guess.
Ben: Yep. This was a great palette cleanser at the time, for the level of ‘oh please, everyone stop’.
Mal: The current wave unfortunately seems to be that people aren’t allowed to write smutty things at all. Which…
Ben: ‘If you think a bad thought, that means you did the bad thought and you’ll die’. That’s. Shush. Shush.
Mal: ‘That’s a little extreme. Let’s..’ [laughs]
Ellen: It’s still going on at the moment.
Mal: Yeah it’ll always go on. It’ll always go on. And eventually people will, they’ll get a bit older and they’ll look back and most times, they’ll probably cringe. But yeah, it was really actually fun to see the whole like… I guess tumblr environment from that time, recreated in this story. Because Tumblr is very different now.
Mal: Yes the whole ‘nipplegate’ issue that caused so many problems and it all just went downhill from there. Um, and obviously this was back in a time when now we do have much easier messaging on tumblr. Not that it works most of the time, but in theory, we have much easier ways to communicate on Tumblr than they did during this particular story. And I think in one of her notes, somewhere, she actually mentions that while she was writing this or posting it, or something like that, Tumblr actually updated to the slightly better format we have now. But I kind of love this the way it is as a bit of a time capsule, really.
Ellen: Like it’s always been a little difficult to use, you know? Just ways, you think should work and then they just don’t and the formatting doesn’t work properly. It’s just a bit frustrating, but anyway.
Mal: Yeah I think tumblr’s functionality itself is kind of like a barrier for entry. Like if you..
Mal: Like if you have the patience to get through this, then you deserve to be here.
Mal: One of the things I really like and this is definitely a spoiler so plug your ears if you don’t want a spoiler for the end of this fic, people **SPOILER** One of the things, that I really liked about this one is there is a scene towards the end where Dean comes out to Ellen, who is his family friend and she’s also his boss. Which, in this story, holds particular significance, really. I kind of really enjoyed the fact that in this story, it wasn’t kind of glossed over and swept under the rug. There was immediately a response of: ‘okay, yes, I’m your family, that’s fine, I love you’. But in the very next second, was that immediate thought of. ‘Okay but this is going to affect your job, this is going to affect your life’. Um and I kind of like that, I kind of have a love-hate relationship with coming out scenes that are too perfect. Cause obviously that’s the dream and everybody would love that and so a lot of people want to represent that in fic and that’s fine. But for somebody who is in Dean’s position that he’s in this story, it is never going to be that simple. As much as we would love it to be. It simply isn’t, in the situation that he’s in. So, I love the fact that PorcupineGirl didn’t shy away from that. And immediately had Ellen bring that up and immediately had that discussion happen in the fic. That as much as Dean is now with Cas and he doesn’t want to hide that he’s with Cas, he doesn’t want that kind of life, it’s going to have consequences for him unfortunately and as much as that’s not necessarily an exciting, wonderful topic to talk about, I really like the fact that that was actually touched upon in a fic for a change.
Ben: It felt very true, when you have an employer who you’re getting along with and you’re like, ‘hey! Here’s something that 1. It would be cool if you were supportive but 2. Will be a complication that you’ll have to deal with’, it is a: multiple relationships, multiple consequences. **END OF SPOILER**
Ellen: Alright, well, let’s move on to the third fic. Ben, would you mind reading the summary for us? Is that okay?
Ben: I will go ahead and do that, though I’ve been told, repeatedly, that I should’ve written a way better summary for the story than I did. And I’m like ‘yeah I can get behind that too.’ So this is the first entry in my talk series. I named the series talk because I get asked a question a lot and you might be able to guess what the question is when I tell you the title is: Four Letter Word for Intercourse. Summary is as follows:
As a grease monkey turned college freshman, Dean’s constantly three seconds away from being stressed out of his mind. It hardly helps that he’s finally figuring out his sexuality in his thirties.
What might help with that stress is a little phone number (and a big credit card bill). If he can’t figure out how to be bisexual in person, he can at least give it a go over the phone, right?
(It’s probably a bad idea, but he really can’t help himself.)
Ellen: I think that’s a great summary!
Ben: A lot of them are like, ‘you didn’t say about the mental health themes and the sheer amount of porn!’
Mal: Look, the tags are right there.
Ben: Yeah that’s what the tags are for.
Ellen: Yeah the tags.
Mal: The tags are right there. I do think that’s actually… because you don’t want to give everything away in a summary, right? That’s a nice way to kind of lead people into the story.
Ellen: And it sets up exactly what happens.
Ben: All of his debating happened before the story began, so that’s his decision process and everything else that follows is the fic.
Mal: Yeah like we are literally starting the fic with the phone call, so. You’ve already primed people for exactly what’s happening.
Ellen: Yeah. Um, just to add on, it was published serially in 2018. And it is 195k words long. It’s quite a long one. And it is definitely explicit, if you hadn’t worked that out by now. [laughs] Firstly, I wanted to… like we’ve got a lot of people have sent us messages to tell you how much they love this fic and we’ve gotta congratulate you on the success of this one, it’s become a fandom favourite and for a very good reason. We all love to read it and re-read it, so thank you! Thank you for giving us this one.
Ben: Thank you guys. I wrote this on the basis of, I thought a lot of things would be funny. And then in execution, I’m like, ‘okay now it’s gonna get serious.’ but just I remember running the concept by a couple of friends and going, ‘okay the scenario is, they’re over here, they’re over there. There is a Sex-One hotline and at one point, while Dean is trying to reach out through all of this, he is going to get intercepted by Crowley and it’s gonna suck.’ and just the look on my friend’s face, I just cracked up at his response, that was like the opening concept of this of like, no this will be Dean being BDSM’d into self-care.
Ben: And uh seeing how far that will go. This is the story of how many vegetables can I cook into the cupcakes before anyone notices. And the answer has been ‘everyone noticed, but you don’t care’.
Ellen: No. It’s so good.
Mal: No they love it actually.
Ellen: Yeah so I guess the premise is, if by some chance you haven’t read this story and you’re interested in it, is that Dean is going to college and he does call a Sex hotline as a way of exploring his newfound bisexuality. And ends up talking to Cas each week throughout the first semester, I guess is it?
Ben: Yep, it’s nearly the entire semester.
Ellen: Yes and there is plenty of BDSM kind of tropes I guess, scenes in this one. But a lot of it is focused on Dean’s mental health journey and his, you know, discovering his sexuality through that. So, there’s also a lot of fluff and hilarity, I will say it’s also very funny a lot of the way through.
Ben: So most of the chapters are split up between being the phone call followed by the in-person library…
Ellen: Oh, I forgot the second part of the triangle!
Ellen: Yes also as well as the phone parts. They also… Dean goes to the library to study each week and he meets Cas there, but they’re not allowed to speak in the library. That’s a great thing about this fic, the juxtaposition of having a voice-only communication method and then the face-to-face method where they can’t communicate by voice. That was a really genius kind-of set-up.
Ben: I knew I wanted to do some sort of.. I’ve always wanted to do a two person love triangle. Well trying to go for the full two person rectangle there but I also know I wanted to do a phone-line one, just because, why not? And then trying to figure out what would be the scenario where they can see each other without looking at [talking to] each other. And realising that Cas is that level of petty that if you put him in a silent section of a library and that was the rule, and you’d try to speak to him there, you’d just get by sheer eyes and the narrowing with the forehead, like you can see the evisceration glare of ‘you are not supposed to be speaking in the silent section’. So actually figured out that way through there.
Mal: And it is so very Cas, like he will break cosmic rules of the universe, but he would 100% sit and glare the fuck out of you if you tried to talk in a library, like…
Ben: I love the weird things that constitute as like normal, just for this one character.
Ellen: I guess one of your endnotes, or maybe it was a chapter description, you know, summary. You just said: ‘Dean continues to Dean’ and I think that is like the perfect description. It’s very…
Mal: There has never been anything more accurate.
Ellen: He just Deans his way through. Freaking out.
Ben: He’s been Dean’ing the whole time.
Ellen: Sorry I’ve got a whole list of notes here and I’m not really sure how to start [laughs]
Ben: Yeah, I mean, I can start with my notes. Because when you approached me to come on this Mal, my first thing was like, ‘I need to go find my notes’ and by that, I do mean literally my note. I have a small little notebook that can fit into a back pocket, it is four inches by five and a half inches and literally one side of one page is the entire summary of the fic and I do mean chapter by chapter. Like the entire thing is just on one page. And it started off as just two columns of column J and column C. Column Jimmy for the phone call and Column C for Castiel. And there are some scribbles around where I had to like move bits. But one thing that was important was, I figured out like the progression of the characters, mostly on the Cas side. Because the Dean character growth kind of comes to the forefront when it’s his life interacting with people outside. In fact people who, uh, if you read with a close eye, you might notice that literally nothing happens in Dean’s life in person, outside of the Cas in the library, for like the first half of the fic. He interacts with nobody else.
Ben: And so, it gets a little wild. And so you have the phone calls with Jimmy saying, ‘you should reach out to more people’ and then you have Dean interacting increasingly more with the outside world. That it was uh narrow on purpose from the start to get to expand, so all the big growth was in the Cas column. By which I mean the words, ‘meet, study buddy, freshman reveal, professor reveal, get help outside Cas, midterms, LGBTQ house, halloween party, next: halloween, books, biphobia.’ A little cross out bit where I was like, ‘this is where Cas was going to be asleep at his desk’ and then I’m like, ‘nope that’s thanksgiving’ because I realised when I was posting that something that people… if they were following the fic when it was coming out, I was actually able to post on the schedule of this fic, so that if the chapters began on a Thursday and go onto a Friday. And on that exact timeline, I would then post it on the Monday following. So that when I did the thanksgiving chapter, the Monday afterwards everyone got to read the thanksgiving chapter, having just themselves had thanksgiving. And that kept through the whole thing, until I finally hit a chapter where I had to split the phone call away from Dean’s in person stuff which is when Dean first actually goes to therapy. ‘Cause Dean’s real life is now important enough to have a chapter by itself. I kind of love structure for how I can show things that are important. So that was the big structural break to show like, no this is a huge step where it has its own chapter.
Ellen: That’s awesome.
Mal: Yeah that’s really awesome.
Ben: The Jimmy column, uh, that is actually where I was more stressed that you asked questions like, ‘what was the hardest to write?’ and by the end I was like, ‘okay, I need to write yet another scene of Jimmy telling some story and Dean having a good time.’ and I’m like ‘what in the world is left?’ [laughs] so by then I was like, ‘scrape the barrel, scrape the barrel’
Ellen: Oh no. I have to say…
Ben: It didn’t read that way I’m glad.
Ellen: … following it week to week, I think I came in and started reading it, it was probably around the thanksgiving chapter? It was right in the middle when I binged like all the way up to there and then I had to start waiting week to week. But the tension that you gradually build through this fic is, it’s quite different reading it in a binge re-read than it is when it was posted week to week because you had to wait like the cliffhangers were just like… oh my god, what’s happening? Whereas when you binge the whole thing, you can just go on to the next bit and sit up all night reading, like you know, shirk your responsibilities like I did this weekend. It was um, yeah… even though you say like you were kind of like not sure what could come next. The way that you ended up doing it was just really good. So thank you.
Mal: I love all that about the structure though, because it is.. Obviously what you’re writing is very important but the how, the how you choose to write it and present it, matters as well. And I think that obviously really really worked in this fic because it does come across as Dean’s world being so very narrow to start with, like it feels kind of quite choked in because you’re only seeing, this, this very narrow part of Dean’s life which kind of is Dean’s life at that point, that’s all he’s focusing on. And whether that’s true or not, or whether it’s his own perception focusing on those things because he’s not, I guess, in a place mentally where he’s going to look beyond them. But as it goes through the fic, and we start to see Bobby and we start to see him going out for drinks with other people from work and you get the first mention of other people like Benny and so on. And it does like slowly expand, it’s like you can track it with kind of Dean’s mental state but it’s slowly expanding. And it’s very cool and it is definitely something that you probably maybe notice more on a re-read. I don’t know. Do I notice it more on a re-read? Hmm…
Mal: Probably. [laughs]
Ben: I cannot weigh on whether you notice it more or less.
There were definitely things in the re-read that I noticed more the second time round.
Mal: Yeah. It is definitely a fic that I enjoyed having a really good excuse to read twice. Because I think you can read any fic and there are certain things that stick in your mind about it but there are always going to be little details that you just miss or that fade away in your mind after a certain amount of time, and then going back into a story already knowing the end, I know the second time I read it I noticed many more little details of… for example, when Dean is with Cas in the library, and he’ll do a little something or something will come up, he’ll be reading something or he’ll write something down… I was going to say “say something” but that’s not how it works… write something down on his notepad and as the reader you’ll go, ‘oh Jimmy does that.’ And you’ll be like, ‘Dean you should know that’ but obviously, I think it’s perfectly reasonable you’re not going to assume just because two people have a tiny habit in common that they’re the same person. But as a reader, you immediately like jump on it like, ‘ooh, they have that in common. That’s the same thing, c’mon Dean!’ [laughs]
Ben: Yeah I’ve actually gotten comments of people going, ‘he does the deep breathing thing too! How could you not realise they’re the same person?’ and I’m like ‘well one that is pretty tenuous first off.’ But there is also a lovely element of Dean POV where he’s just like ‘I’m this uneducated idiot moron, maybe all smart people know how to do this breathing thing?’ where he’s just sorta like completely able to write himself out of it. So, like when that was brought up to me like, ‘that could be a comparison bit!’, honestly the knee-jerk response is like, no, Dean would just assume everyone but him already knows how to do this. Because that’s just where his mental state is at that point.
Ellen: And it makes more sense later on then, when the two of them kind of start merging together in Dean’s mind. That… because they are, you know there are things about them that are similar, even though he never picks up on that, I guess. Because they are the same person. But yeah, when he starts having the dreams featuring Cas but with Jimmy’s voice.
Ben: Oh those are so much fun.
Ellen: They’re fun to read. Yeah. So one of our friends, our friend MandalaRose, said that your writing can paint a picture in your mind while using few words, which is a skill she admires. So she was wondering how… does inspiration come as a visual for you? Like do scenes play out in your head before you write them down? And does dialogue come to you first or do you write the narration first and then put dialogue in? Like… how do you write your scenes?
Ben: So when I get the basic, it’s always a concept where I’m like ‘hee hee this will be fun’ bouncy, bouncy, bouncy. And I need to slow the bouncy, bouncy, bouncy down until I can actually hold the bouncy ball and look at it and see, okay, what is actually in this. Despite people having, I’ve often gotten feedback of, ‘oh it’s so descriptive. I can really visualise’ — I don’t visualise that much or I visualise more in shapes and concepts in the way that’s kind of hard to describe, like I’ve tried to fit the idea of, like no, I have the puzzle pieces of my brain that fit into these shapes and then the geometry of it is like so and these latch in and that’s just how it works. And when you write a scene, you know, ‘okay, I want to hit these points and you guys are going to talk about this and if I push you this way, then that one is going to ping pong off of it that way’ so it’s a lot more like planning out if I could play pool better than I play it. Just a really good like trick shot for playing pool, of ‘okay, I know that if I hit this character that way, they will respond in this manner because that is just how they’re shaped.’ whereas I know ‘if I hit you in this way of this character over here, you will actually spin because you’re centered like that.’ It is a very unusual way I’ve been told of visualizing characterisation without actually visualising the scenes. For most of my visuals, I do a lot of writing with fanvids up on the side of the screen or a picture of whatever character it is that the viewpoint character would be looking at, of like ‘okay this is the mannerism that I want to get down. This is how you move, this is how it goes’. Like I need an actual visual aid to get that. And then as for the rest of the space, that just kind of fills in with the ambiance of the incidental things also happening in that space. I don’t need to describe the space if the character is interacting with it, because the interaction is what makes the space. Like black box theatre.
Ellen: So… do you actually plan out, like in this case, did you plan out the entire fic? Like you said you had a list of the outline.
Ellen: But did you plan out individual scenes, before you started writing altogether?
Ben: Uh… I had the jist of what I wanted to get but like literally all of chapter four, the notes just say ‘week 6 of school, Mandy, professor reveal’. That is it, those are the entire notes for chapter four.
Ben: Like that’s it. So there’s a lot of, I try to keep for this one, like the openness of the structure, Like I know the main points that I want to get to, I know that the emotional bandwidth is going to expand and I know that early on, Dean is very much edging in towards like, ‘how do I even circuitously ask for what I want?’ to the point where like the second chapter, he literally calls this hotline and asks to be walked through what it’s like to get a massage. Like he’s that much unable to ask for what he really wants. That he’s like ‘I’ll go with something of plausible deniability, that is not what I want’. And then slowly building up to him being like, ‘no we have an actual bit where we’re going to decide on something together, that we know that I want.’
Ben: So there’s a lot of planning out, the uh the Jimmy scenes. As I’m going to be referring to them between the two personas of the Cas, in-person, and the Jimmy persona, on the phone-line, in that… like those required the most amount of thought. Because I have to be able to figure out like, okay, what are the weird games that he’s contrived to like pull up here. How am I going to figure out how to build in this whole, ‘no tell me what you have done that makes you good. We will find a way, we will break it down until we find something that is what makes you worthwhile’ and then having to spin that back up into the context of, ‘no, this isn’t a therapy session, this is BDSM, here we go’
Ellen: Yes, there’s so many moving parts,
Mal: Yet they can be so close to the same thing, [laughs]
Ben: Honestly, yeah, there’s the vulnerability and you’re trusting your inner self with another person. You know, I can see where the overlap comes in.
Mal: One thing I will quickly mention first because it’s come up multiple times in questions on multiple places really, it’s came up on discord and on twitter again here, I find it quite amusing but also really awesome that people keep repeatedly saying that the thing that this fic helped them learn… because it’s always nice when fic has an impact beyond just what people have read on the page.
Ben: Is it the thirty minute studying technique?
Mal: Yeah, everybody goes on and on about the study technique. It’s great!
Ben: It’s that and the essay writing, people are like ‘I didn’t know this is how you do it’ and I’m like, yeah, when people are like ‘here’s your essay, do it on these books’ and I’m like ‘cool, I’ve got all my post-its and I just post it all the way through the book and by the time I’m done I’m like, “alright, all these post-its are about this, all these post-its about about that. So for the essay they want me to write, well this one has the most post-its, I’ll write that one.’ And so I just gather the ammunition first, here we go. I’m glad that the fic has helped people hopefully make up for all the sleep they lost before their tests… that people often say, ‘I should be studying, but I’m reading this instead’ and I’m like, ‘I hope you learn enough to compensate’
Mal: That is the true gift that you gave those people.
Ellen: I think a lot, before you go on Mal, I just want to add, that a lot of people have said how much this fic has helped them in different ways. And that a lot of readers in general in our fandom tend to identify with Dean in ways that, with the anxiety or with the self-doubt, bordering on hatred and rejection of everything that he wants. And the negative self-talk kind of thing. And this fic actually really helps… seems to help people work through that, and for me anyway, it helped me trying to realise that I’m allowed to ask for things that I want and that I need. So thank you, thank you, you helped a lot of people with this one.
Ben: I’m glad.
Mal: Yes we have a lot of comments to that effect, basically saying… yeah.
Ben: In a very strange way, this felt like, nobody ever graduates from therapy but I’ve hit a point where I’m just like, ‘I want to put together all of the things that I’ve learned that are actually effective and put them into one place.’ And for some reason that one place ended up just being covered in porn. But uh… there you go [laughs]
Ellen: Hey, it works.
Mal: Look, you draw people in with the porn, and then you make them leave with better coping mechanisms for life. I think that’s pretty great.
Ben: It’s like, ‘I show you the porn, I show you the porn, okay here’s the actual support mechanisms, here you go, take it and run with it.’
Ellen: It’s amazing. I mean we could probably all use a gentle Dom to force us to give priority to our own mental health but [laughs]
Ben: Oh God yes.
Ellen: But sadly, they are not always available.
Ben: I’ve had a number of people comment on, the extent of ‘how are you seeing into my brain’ and it’s just really underscored how much of the anxiety and the self-doubt and many of the issues in the fic are just like, ‘no this is weirdly universal’ that…
Ben: A lot of people are like, ‘no this is my specific issue. This is the thing that I specifically do.’ And it’s like ‘actually as it turns out, us as a giant group, we’re all messed up in very similar ways’ so hopefully that will lower the bar in terms of ‘if I tell them that’ll freak them out’. No, if you tell them, they probably already know and will go, ‘no but that’s what I do!’
Mal: Yeah. Well as Cas says in your fic, we’re all just trying to unfuck each other, right? Ourselves.
Ben: Yeah [laughs]
Mal: Cause, everyone’s a mess. It’s something you don’t… you don’t learn for a long time, and you don’t believe if someone would just instantly tell you, ‘oh, everyone feels like you do. Everyone has very similar thoughts’ you won’t believe it because humans are inherently self-centered.
Ben: I mean often we’re also told, ‘no everyone feels like that, no you’re just making a big fuss, of course everyone feels like that’ and you’re like, ‘actually no, like I need a medical diagnosis please and some pills.’ and ‘cause depending on the first person to be like, ‘no everyone feels that way sweetie’ and you’re like, ‘but I want to die? Is that normal?’ and they’re like ‘no everyone feels like that’ and then you get hospitalised and you’re like, ‘ohhh, maybe not’. Like the number of people…
Ellen: People feel that way and then they do this and go and get some help for it.
Ben: Yeah. It was very important for me to include like broken Cas reference, because I definitely wanted to have a character who had gone through like a big hospitalisation. Like yeah you are going to have some people who hit those depths and you get people who come back from that and do better and keep going up better and I know I actually had a couple readers freak out at one of the follow up fics where Cas gets worse. Because you know it’s not a linear recovery at any point and I think having people read a story where like ‘oh, it was weird when they switched roles between Dom and Sub’ but what freaked people out was having Cas in breakdown mode where like, ‘no, you’re supposed to be the good, supportive person who never breaks’, But no, he’s allowed to break. Everyone’s allowed to break,.
Mal: Yeah. everybody’s human, even Cas. At least, in this story.
Ben: In this, yeah.
Ben: Everyone but Mandy is human. [laughs] I ended up having a bit of an inside joke with a friend, you know the whole ‘what is a man but a miserable pile of secrets’ and it was ‘but was is a woman, but a miserable dog clicker and a jar of vaseline’.
Mal: I will never forget that vaseline scene.
Ben: I just… the sound design, like I don’t know if you were going to ask about the researching for sound design things.
Mal: Yes, that was 100% the next thing that was going to come out of my mouth.
Ben: Oh I’m so glad, because that was just fun research. I wish I’d kept half of the articles that I read that… I did a bunch of looking around of viewpoints of people who worked at call centers, people who worked at home, people who had, there was a non-binary, disabled article writer talking about how they have to do this from home, because they can’t get out of the house. There was a woman who worked from home and didn’t have someone intercepting the calls and just got the calls fresh. That was actually how I realised that this story would, their call center, they would receive calls and be sent out to people in their homes. So like, the logistics of where Cas would be doing this was a thing. Of like, ‘where are you doing this? Can you do it from home? Okay, cool.’ The article I read with the woman who received the calls herself, she had this whole thing where she would put on one of those heavy New-Jersey ‘what do you want?’ accents, when people like picked up the phone because otherwise people would call and just like do their business and hang up within five seconds. But if she intercepted and was like, ‘what do you want? What kind of girl are you interested in? Clearly you’re not interested in Marge here’ and it would like cut people’s momentum and they would have to slow down. And I’m like, what weird tactics people have developed. And so this is someone who said like, she would do her Marge reception voice and then like get into character and so many different articles were like, ‘you will be either provided with a script by your call center or it’s time for you to just come up with about five to eight different personalities that you can do’ because the more personalities you can do, the more work you do. And that’s where the whole, Jimmy just being one of the many personalities became a thing.
Mal: Which works so well for Cas because we have so many different Cas versions out there in canon.
Ben: Oh yeah.
Mal: And then we have the kind of main Cas that we recognise as being Cas, but then you got to tap into other little bits which even though we don’t necessarily see many of those characters. We do kind of see a couple of them later on, I would say. That’s probably not too much of a spoiler.
Ben: You see Steve for customer service Steve, who wants to talk to just this old man who’s calling in to tell his old stories of his own life. And you have Lucian, because I definitely wanted to do something with Lucifer-Cas voice, and just I’m like, ‘who would he hate being the most?’ He hates being Lucian, he hates being this person who is one, derogatory and, just not at all supportive or building up but also someone who is engaging in the one hang-up he has about the sex work is the fact that his clients, in some cases, are commiting adultery. And it’s very interesting to see where the morality of the character is, because he’s just like ‘yep I am a very Christian character in this, but I’m also engaged in sex work and the one thing I have a problem with is the adultery and everything else just is fine,’
Mal: So the issue becomes the antithesis of everything Cas normally stands for.
Ben: Yeah. So I really liked having that dichotomy, there’s a bit at the end where Dean gets to sit in on some conversations, But uh just to show like this is what Cas hates doing versus this is who Cas wants to be so. You have the weirdness where it’s like, we fully crossed into the phone-line being something that Dean gets to be a part of, while still physical.
Ellen: I loved that, all the way through, Dean’s always thinking ‘this isn’t real. I’m paying for this. He doesn’t really mean it when he says things and he’s not really jerking off or whatever’ and in that moment, sort of later in the fic where he realises that a lot of it, like, it was all real and he really does care, was just so good. It was just, finding out… that’s my favourite part of lots of fics when he realises that the other person really does care. In this case, when Dean feels like no one wants him and no one needs him anymore, you know? That was great.
Ben: Yeah, you often hear about the whole, ‘where’s the italicised, oh.’ The ‘oh I’m in love’ but for this, this was Dean going, ‘oh I am loved’, was the… the biggie for him.
Mal: Yeah I think this is something I said to you in a message, earlier today, or at some point, whenever it was, what is time? [laughs] But yeah, at various points it feels very much like a story about Dean learning to love himself as much as Cas, really. Yes obviously his relationship with Cas is important but it wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t learned to love parts of himself, at least a little bit as well. Because I don’t think Cas would’ve allowed it. It wouldn’t have been something Cas would’ve been able to engage in, if Dean hadn’t been in that place. And I really like that, I like fics where we can… I hate the word fix because that sounds like there is an end destination and that’s generally not the way that mental health or life works. But, that we’ve at least helped Dean on his journey, at least a little bit during the period of the fic. So do you have a point where you sit down and think, ‘okay like where do I want him to be at the beginning and where do I want him to be at the end?’ Or is it more of a natural evolution as you write it?
Ben: A little bit natural evolution but I also, like I knew that I needed him to come out to people in his life because I wanted to have the mutual revelations scene be as a consequence of Dean’s own actions. That, like, I didn’t want them finding out by accident, I don’t want this to be found out by contriveness, I wanted him to be the one to escort Cas out of the silent section and then speak. And I wanted that to be like this major moment where he like, he needed to achieve that goal before the next part began. Because the reveal is really the beginning of the next act, so he needed to fulfill that big development, for character development, before the reveal and the fact that he does as the reveal was just very neatly done, like ‘okay, okay, can it work? Can it work? And it slots together just so, hooray!’
Mal: Good job!
Ben: ‘okay so you know where you need to finish your character development, we’re going to build the ramp that you will actually shoot yourself off of in this little car, go, go, go, go!’
Mal: I love the way that you did that scene because it felt really important to me when I was reading it that at that point in the fic, it is a turning point where Dean is leading Cas, rather than the other way around. And very, very literally like by the hand. Just he’s doing it and that’s definitely a turning point that you definitely can feel and feels important that Dean is standing up and doing that by himself. And it’s not even something that he’s doing because he promised Jimmy that he would or anything like that, it’s something he comes up with, on his own, in addition to what he’d spoken to Jimmy about. And that he is the person, leading Cas. Not that maybe Cas wouldn’t have got there in the end because obviously he didn’t know any of that other stuff about Dean at that point. But the fact that Dean was the one that initiated that, perfect! Could not have been done better, I don’t think.
Ben: It’s also kind of funny because early on there’s a bit where Jimmy describes, you know this very flirtatious, bisexual man he knows in real life. And Dean immediately goes, ‘I hate this guy’ and I’m like, ‘Dean you hate yourself’ because just Cas’ image of Dean in person, is so dramatically different from who Dean is on the inside, the way that Dean is like, ‘no I’m Michael on the inside’ and whatever Cas is seeing as the outside is clearly false. But, in that moment, right before the reveal, Dean has fully manifested as the extremely flirtatious, openly bisexual man that Cas described earlier in the story, that Dean said he hated. Like he has actually, become that guy, not just who Cas thinks he is. That is who he really has become.
Mal: Yeah because there is a point earlier, where I think they hug for the first time. And somebody, sees him hugging Cas in the library briefly and Dean kind of has a thought of, ‘oh God, somebody actually saw me, like that didn’t look platonic, somebody saw me hugging another man’ like he has a little bit of a moment and it kind of occurs to him that like, Cas doesn’t see him that way. And the great thing as a reader is we kind of get to see him both ways and we’re just waiting for Dean to catch up like, you can be both of those people. You don’t have to, it’s not one or the other, nobody is 100% confident and perfect all the time and nobody, at least hopefully, nobody is 100% of the time like completely anxious. You can have both. It’s a scale.
Ben: Very much. Playing the back and forth between the two was very interesting for like the personas of trying to keep all of this stuff separate. Like I’m honestly surprised I didn’t ever write down the list of specific details that Dean fed to Jimmy versus to Cas. But there was a very distinct dividing line of, if something came up naturally in the story, I immediately had to go like, ‘okay so, Dean told Jimmy that Sam’s name is Sam. That he referred to his younger brother as Sammy. And therefore, at no point, can Dean ever tell Cas about having a brother named Sam.’
Ellen: Yeah. The details are difficult to keep separate.
Ben: That for Michael, on the phone, he’s always talking about, he’s in job training. Dean’s at college, like, these are different things but it’s the same thing. So on one side you’ve got, ‘oh my uncle’ whereas for Dean talking to Cas, in the library, well writing to Cas, says ‘my boss’ and so on one side, you have this same, exact scenario being described in different terms, and that’s what shovels it apart. But just making sure I kept track of, ‘okay so on the phone, Bobby is the uncle, in the library, Bobby is the boss. On the phone, younger brother is named Sammy. In the library, who knows, what about the sibling situation? On the phone, Michael is a businessman. In the library, Dean is a mechanic.’ and so, those were lines very much laid down to just keep those as far apart as possible.
Mal: And Cas has his own lines I’m sure, because I love the points where things kind of almost intersect. I know there is a certain point where Dean, as Michael, makes a comment to Jimmy about a professor. And Cas just like literally starts coughing. [laughs] and I love that. Those little moments where it’s almost there. But not quite.
Ellen: Even when they’re doing their library scene like towards the end. That, alarm bells start ringing when they start talking about the desk they both sit at and that kind of thing. But neither of them makes that extra leap to realising that, you know they are both familiar with this situation.
Ben; Yep just the idea of, they’ve clearly both had ideas about that table and that scenario.
Ben: And uh, just be like ‘oh yes this is suitably generic, yes of course’
Ellen: And ‘yeah I would just fuck you up against the stacks’ and ‘oh no I’ve never had that thought before’ [laughs]
Mal: ‘I’m too innocent for such thoughts’
Ellen: Of course not.
Ben: Never crossed our mind, noooo.
And just fun little bits of, you know, Cas might be, that’s just might be how he dresses, who knows? Or he might be literally listening to what another person finds sexy and dressing to impress Dean. Who knows?
Mal: I really like the fact that even though we are in Dean’s POV for this entire story, something that was said on a few of our comments from the Profound Bond server, I believe and on twitter as well. Was that, somehow, you did a brilliant job of making sure that even though we’re in Dean’s POV, you have a pretty good idea what Cas is thinking a lot of the time. Just through those little changes and intonations and tiny movements like even when he can’t speak in the library. His facial expressions, the way he moves, you can still get a really good idea of what Cas has been thinking this entire time, even though we never see anything from his POV. And I think that was exceptionally well-done. I did notice, it was a question that came up and I kind of answered it for you, only because you had answered it on your tumblr. So I just passed that answer across. Where a lot of people were really keen to see more of the story from Cas’ POV. And you kinda said, ‘well, not to say it would be irrelevant, because that’s not quite the word, it’s not really what the point of this was’ and uh, I kind of admit… I really, really agree with that, I feel like it would, people are gonna hate me for this, I feel like it’d almost spoil it for me if I saw it from Cas’ POV.
Ben: It would undermine things. The whole point is that we’re watching Dean struggle to communicate and the only things he is able to get is… is what he is able to get through that communication. So throwing in some direct Cas POV, more than just the whole ‘here are my research notes’, that just feels like a weird cheat. I feel like once I reveal Cas brain, the audience can never fully go back to just only having Dean brain. That only having Dean brain is so much of the story. Because it is about the Dean brain. I can’t uncrack that egg.
Mal: Yep. So as much as initially I was like, ‘oh yeah I would love to see… to actually see it from Cas’ POV’. The more I think on it, the more I’m like, ‘no actually I like it the way it is’ and I actually think it would take something away from it if you got that additional POV as well. I guess I like being trapped in Dean’s messy brain.
Ben: There is still fun to be had despite the mess, or maybe because of it.
Ellen: Messy is good. Good for writers.
Mal: Yes. Not so good in real life. But what is fic, if not a reflection of real life sometimes?
Ben: Or the bonkers things we wish could happen.
Mal: [laughs] I think I love it best when it’s a mixture of both. Like take a really crazy concept and then like ground me with something like this mental health issue that can be really related to. I love it.
Ben: I mean that’s my favourite thing, it’s like, let me start somewhere completely absurd and then, it’s like, no I’m going to take this completely seriously and we’re all going to get invested in something absurd right now.
Mal: Um I’m looking through the ones on twitter, a lot of them are kind of comments necessarily than questions. Someone is actually saying that the scene just before Dean and Cas find out the truth, where Dean finally, like he gives a note to Cas, shall we say, to be not too spoilery. Apparently that is their ultimate comfort fanfic scene.
Mal: They’ve read that multiple times, Which I kind of relate to, I’ve.. a lot of people I know they have this concept that fanfic is either just poorly written drivel or porn and nothing in between, which there is absolutely nothing wrong with fanfic that it is just porn, if that’s what you’re looking for. [laughs] that is absolutely fine, not my business. But I find that the scenes I go back to in fics and re-read, do tend to be those little pivotal scenes like that. I know I have read that particular scene, with the note, more than once. And I know that in the other fic we read earlier, Go Down With This Ship, I have read the scene immeidately after Cas finds out about Dean, where he’s kind of like making the decision about how he’s going to let Dean know in a way that won’t frighten him off.
Ben: Just talking about the note exchange. There’s a bunch of different notes in the fic, like there’s the ‘asking out’ note, there’s Cas’ ‘happy finals’ card, combined with his report card for Dean. But the one that gets the most attention, like, someone drew a whole comic of it! Of the circling the letters in the LGBT.
Mal: He circled the ‘B’! [laughs]
Ben: Like people have really responded to that, I was like, ‘is this going to be too cutesy?’ and the answer has been like ‘no, this is just cutesy enough’
Ellen: I go through that all the time because as an Australian, we don’t generally respond to like over-the-top cutesy stuff very well. And I feel like, writing for a mostly American audience, I found that when I think ‘oh, this is way too schmoopy, like no-one is going to want this.’ and then I put it in and everyone is like, ‘ohhhh this is amazing!’
Ellen: I don’t know if it’s just American audiences are really into that, or if it’s just me who’s not into that or? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just fic audiences love like fluff. Like they love really heartfelt, fluffy stuff. I don’t know.
Mal: I feel like you’re… I was going to say that you’re either a fluff person or an angst person but I’m definitely one for in each camp, really.
Mal: I love the pain but then make it better after [laughs]
Ben: I mean the contrast is where it’s at, cause uh, the mountain is only that tall if you throw in a valley.
Ellen: Yeah right.
Mal: That’s why hurt/comfort is so perfect. Neither of them work as well without each other.
Ellen: This particular fic, I’ll just say again congratulations on how much everyone loves it. It’s had a bit of a resurgence actually lately, I think a few people sort of reviewed it on TikTok. Or on instagram. On one of the kind of newer socials.
Ben: It blew up on TikTok and I’m like… oh, God.
Ellen: [laughs] a lot of new people jumped on it I think. There’s been a lot of discourse on twitter, especially about it. So you’ve got a lot of… a lot of very vocal fans right now.
Ben: It’s honestly rather intimidating, like I’m thrilled, but I’m also like, ‘oh my God there are so many of you. Where did you come from? So quickly?’
Ellen: Oh it’s amazing.
Mal: We’ve got a question from Catherine, which I’m hesitant to include just because it’s such a whole subject. [laughs] Like, I understand why they’re asking the question, but at the same time, there is both a short, extremely obvious answer and then something that deserves an entire episode to itself really. It’s about um being a voice in the fanfic community which is often dominated by women.
Ben: Mhm. Let’s see what it is. As an asexual gay man writing queer fiction, can you talk about the importance of queer male asexual voices in fanfic community that is often dominated by women. Um.. sometimes it is weirdly lonely in that, like I work, as anybody who works with kids is going to work with mostly women. Anyone who is in fanfiction is going to be mostly women and non-binary people. And I’m like, ‘I’m gaaaay, I would like another gay boy pleeeeease’ and it’s like, ‘no? Okay fine, byyye’ and I mean like, I’ve spent the majority of my life surrounded by competent women and I don’t intend to stop anytime soon because you know quality of life goes up that way. But, uh, sometimes I was like ‘relatable, relatable, anybody? No, okay, okay, goodbye’ I mean there is part of me now that wants to do like one of those absurd meta things where it’s like, the Chuck Tingle like version of meta where it becomes its own character. And literally is the fandom being dominated by just a concept that is women. And it’s just the BDSM [someone makes a whip crack! Noise] yeah, exactly!
Ellen: Very meta
Ben: Yeah where it’s like, ‘now tell me the rules for commas! wuh-PSSSH’
Ellen: I like it. Write it. Yep. Definitely.
Ben: For the asexual bit, a lot of people have an askance where they’re like…‘you’re asexual?’
I’m demisexual. So I don’t experience sexual attraction until I’m like ‘dear god, gone other than romantic attraction’ it’s basically like… my favourite example is watching the live-action, Fullmetal Alchemist movie in which there’s a scene where you see a man, and my impression is, ‘that’s a guy’ and then, ‘ooh he makes fire appear, that was Red Mustang… he’s the hottest man I’ve ever seen!’ and it was like the weirdest switch in my brain of like nothing to everything, because the attachment was there. And so when people are like, ‘but you write all this porn’ and I’m like, ‘the only thing that can ever make it hot is the emotional attachment’ and if that’s not there, it’s just bodies doing things that are making weird noises and it’s boring. That.. um… I’ve gotten through like so many stories where it’s like, ‘oh this is the tension, is wonderful’ and I mean this for both published books, for fanfiction, for even TV shows, where the relationship of the characters, will they get together? Won’t they? Oh they finally get together and… the emotions just die. And… there’s nothing left. And… there’s nothing to care about. And I know this is where I’m supposed to be happy about it, but there is no emotional throughline even when they’re a couple. And if that’s not there, if they’re not progressing towards something. What’s the point? And I guess that’s, that is the importance of the asexual voice for writing, because what’s the point? Is there a question that remains pertinent, especially during sex scenes, because seirously, why am I reading this if not for the point of these characters going on some sort of emotional journey.
Ellen: That’s the best kind of smut scenes when they’re, you know, there’s feelings involved.
Ben: There don’t even need to be feelings towards the other person. Like, you could both be in a crisis and I’m like, ‘wow, I’m just going to popcorn this, the drama of these two people being awkward. Fantastic!’ as opposed to, ‘oh this scene, their having the best of their life and nothing matters. Okay. Back button.’
Mal: See I think that’s a lot of my… I wouldn’t say issue… but writing smut, because it’s something at least on a technical level I find really interesting and fun to do, it’s kind of almost like a fight scene to me? Just like moving people around, getting them in the right places.
Mal: Like there’s no connection in my brain to anything remotely sexy when I’m plotting out a smut scene. I would just point that out right now. It’s like a fight scene. The bodies. They move, they do things. Hands they go here. Feet. But I struggle and generally don’t ever include any kind of sex scene in a fic if the characters are going to be the same at the end of the scene as they were at the beginning. Like if there is no purpose for that scene, generally I just don’t want to… like I’ve done ‘fade to black’ scenes, simply because ‘okay, like they went away and did this but there is no point in me showing it to you because we are not learning anything about the characters during that scene’. So I generally just… I don’t know, I guess I prefer to write the characters and the sex as just a by-product of what they’re experiencing at that time. If that makes any sense to anyone out there.
Ben: That makes perfect sense. I mean it’s like is their character progression happening? No, okay, then I don’t need to hear you write about them doing the dishes. It’s weird to combine that as part of the metaphor of, ‘that’s as interesting as the other thing’ but I would rather have, emotionally fraught ‘but the dishes, I must dry them now’ ‘but I’m trying to talk about this!’ ‘no but I care too much about this plate you put in the microwave!’ like if that can be more compelling than just like, ‘body. Other body. Smack. Smack. Smush.’ yeah, I’d rather have the fraught dish scene, if something comes of it.
Mal: And I know everyone can be very different in that way. Cause you know, we’re all different. We’re different people. We’re all made differently! But like I’ve written, I’ve written fics that have a lot of sex in them. I’ve written like, BDSM related stories, that have a lot of sex scenes in them. But even so, when I’m looking at my outline or when I’m writing, I’m thinking, ‘okay what am I actually achieving with it?’ and I still end up cutting out a lot of things. So… sorry people who read just for those scenes. I’m cheating you out of some but…
Ellen: It’s also something that you’ve got to come to terms with. Well I did anyways as a newish fic publisher, in that if you start publishing explicit stories and people kind of expect that from you and the ones that are explicit tend to do better in terms of, readership and whatever. Then I get to like a story like the one I’m writing at the moment, where I feel like more people would read it if it had smut in it, but I don’t really want to put the smut in it? Because I don’t think it’s… it doesn’t fit in the story very well and there would be no point in having it, even like, there would just be no point. So it’s hard to sort of separate that expectation of what you think the audience wants to read rather than the story you want to tell. If that makes sense?
Mal: That makes perfect sense.
Ben: The movies are like, ‘we’re going to hire this well-known actor and throw them in for like three scenes and then kill them off. But put it in all our previews’ and it’s like. So if you only came here for that one thing, you’re going to be disappointed. And everything else got overshadowed by all the hype for, ‘no, this one thing you like, that we included, because we knew you’d come to see that one thing!’ and it just undermines the people who are looking for the one thing as the… everything else, really. I mean, considering Four Letter Word for Intercourse is primarily phone-sex, like trying to write that amount of dialogue for a sex scene, without coming off as just, token cliche, terrible, just porn dialogue. Like trying to have Cas stay as Cas with all of that dialogue, was ridiculous and his was the characterisation I was feeling more shaky on, because it’s like, ‘okay, you’re the non-POV character but you are also doing a lot of work there’ and so some of it was lifted up by the personas he was in. But it is a lot to have characters talk, not just do it, but just talk about it that much. Without sounding completely ridiculous. Unless they’re intending to sound completely ridiculous.
Mal: Yeah and sometimes you can embrace the ridiculousness.
Ben: Once I found out about the FCC stuff, I was like, ‘that’s going in there. That’s the comic relief chapter!’
Ellen: it realy is.
Mal: I love how that’s just become a thing in our fandom now, like I’ve seen references to furled rosebuds in places where I’m not even sure they know what they’re referencing.
Ellen: It’s made it into the lexicon.
Ben: I want to see more tongue baths, I mean I don’t, but I do.
Ben: I want to see more reactions…
Mal: That’s definitely my favourite one.
Ben: It just makes such a good punchline!
Mal: The worst part is tongue bath makes me think of cats, and I’m like, ‘I don’t want that connection!’
Ben: Very effective for like getting around censorship if you’re doing the furry thing but uh…
Mal: Yep. I love that you included that, I love fics that have some kind of aspect of comic relief in them. I love reading funny things, I love writing funny things.
Ben: There’s so much ridiculousness going on, some of it’s got to be funny.
Mal: I mean, when it comes down to it. I always say this, like, sex is hilarious. Like I’m sorry but it is.
Ellen: It is. If you think too hard it. You’d never get it done. You’d just laugh too much.
Mal: Like it’s… obviously when people read sex scenes, they want the sexy stuff, and the tension, and all the rest of it. But like when you break it down to its compositie parts: sex is ridiculous and… it’s very strange to watch and often a little gross and we just kind of gloss over those parts. But every now and again, I just like to kind of like face that head on and I’m like, ‘nope. This is funny and this is how I’m going to write it’ so I like it.
Ellen: Um, look we’ve got a bunch of fics that we can recommend in this trope, right. Should we go onto those?
Mal: Yes, let’s do a quick run-down of a couple of them for further reading recommendations.
Ellen: So firstly, I guess we need to say there are a few that, we’ve actually spoken about a couple of these before in other episodes. So we’ve got, Cupcakes and Kittens by MandalaRose which we spoke about in our episode on baking, Bakery AU. And funnily enough, The Way to a Man’s Heart by LicieOIC, was also in that bakery episode, that was also a two person love triangle as well.
Mal: We like cake in this fandom.
Ellen: We do, indeed.
Mal: I’m going to recommend a fic called Astrolabe by reluctantabandon & Winter_of_our_Discontent. This is one of the few out there that is, it’s older than the PorcupineGirl fic we talked about today. This is actually from 2015 so it’s actually not tagged as a two person love triangle. Which is… I think a reason why a lot of people haven’t read it. Because it’s not tagged in that way. That fic didn’t really… sorry that tag didn’t really catch on in the fandom until later. But this is a story where Dean and Cas are both in the same college, if I remember correctly, they’re both graduate students but in entirely different fields. And they share adjoining library carrels and end up leaving each other notes, it’s very cute but also very interesting. There’s a very memorable scene where Cas builds a cathedral out of Dean’s books that he left behind. And uh, it’s… it’s really entertaining. It’s quite indescribable without spoiling everything.
Ben: Is this the one with the art of the post it notes?
Mal: Um… yes, I think it is actually! It is, it is!
Ben: Yes I’ve read this! It has art of the individual post its all the way through.
Mal: Yes. So it’s a really good read. It’s very unique, in my opinion. Even though it’s now, what, six years old or so. Um I’ve never found a two person love triangle done quite like this one. It’s one of my earlier favourites and definitely one I would recommend anybody reads. It’s about 35k words, so it’s not a huge commitment compared to some of them. It is mature. But it is one of those stories that we’ve mentioned a few times on this podcast, I just think that the scale of what is mature and explicit has evolved over time in the past few years, and I think a lot of people now would probably rate this fic as explicit, so do go into it with that in mind.
Ellen: The next fic I wanted to mention is called Hot Water and it’s by… I don’t know how to pronounce this author’s name, I think it’s chiyume? And it’s quite a long one, it’s over 150k words but it’s basically that, Cas has… at his work they have a bathroom that you can have a shower. And he goes in and has a shower in the evening and there’s someone else in there and they end up jerking off and he hears it, and he’s kind of turned on by it too but at first the other person doesn’t know. And then, over time, he sort of, he goes back into the bathroom at the same time as this other person. They never meet each other but they’re kind of getting off together in the shower [laughs] and in his job, I think, there’s a maintenance guy that comes to the office and does stuff and that’s Dean so they… I’m pretty sure it’s all from Cas POV. I don’t know if you guys have read this and can correct me if that’s wrong.
Mal: I have read it but I’m not recalling…
Ellen: Yeah it’s been a while since I’ve read it.
Mal: it may be some of Dean’s POV later, maybe? Yeah I think there might be some Dean POV maybe.
Ellen: Okay well all I remember… else about it is that it was super hot and it was, worth the read for the, you know, gradual kind of development of Cas going, ‘okay, what am I doing here? This is crazy and inappropriate but I kind of love it’. Worth the read.
The other one I wanted to mention before we go on is, we haven’t talked about our own fics, which I don’t really want to but.. We have to mention.
Mal: Mmm… I’ll pass! I hate talking about…
Ellen: No, I was going to mention that if you love GISH and if you are a GISHer, go and read Mal’s fic called The Greatest International Love Story the World Has Ever Seen which is one of the longest titles I think you’ve ever come up with.
Mal: I’m a short title person so yeah I think that is actually the longest one.
Ellen: Dean and Cas end up on this same GISH team, they get paired up and they… they know each other in real life as well, its been a while since I’ve read this one too but I’m just saying, it’s really good, go read it if you are into that and into GISH stuff if you haven’t already. Everyone probably has.
Ben: Speaking of stories with art in them too…
Mal: Yeah. I will speak up on that, there is some really fantastic art by Sunny [Blueeyesandpie] in that fic.
Ellen: Was that a DCBB fic?
Mal: It was something. I don’t know. Bangs kind of blur into one… it was Pinefest 2019. There you go. But yes there’s some great art of our characters in interesting costumes in that fic, so.
Ben: My own brain was like, ‘wait a second, that’s the one with that costume there’ I’m not going to spoil his costume, since you were so careful to speak around it. I was like, ‘oh yeah! That one!’
Ellen: I’m going to have to read it again.
Ben: And the fantastic, ongoing, misunderstanding.
Mal: Ah the misunderstandings never stop.
Ben: I applaud you for your contriveness.
Mal: Thank you. [laughs] It was actually a lot of fun coming up with that.
Ben: Contrive harder!
Ellen: That’s the greatest compliment anyone could ever bestow.
Ben: I don’t mean contrive in a bad way, I mean ‘oh god, contriving is so difficult’
Ben: [laughs] You are getting into kahoots with a fictional world.
Mal: I think it’s when you sit there and get this idea and you’re like, ‘okay this could work’ but then you have to sit there and think ‘okay but how?’
Ben: Okay I just need to carry a couch up a spiral staircase, I’m sure it could fit somehow. Alright and then you do.
Ben: And it does it hurt, yes.
Mal: Well, if Ellen very meanly mentioned one of my fics then I’m going to mention one of hers, ha!
Mal: The one I’m going to mention, I think she knows, is one of my favourites of her’s… I think this was also pinefest 2019 apparently. It’s called Dark Blue, Dark Blue and this is the story of Castiel and Dean who are in the same guild and raid team in their online game and they also.. Um get to meet each other in real life when their friendship groups, I guess, collide so. I would recommend that to anybody… that’s not a super long one, it’s only about 36k words, I think. Yeah 36k words, there we go. But I love that story, that also has really beautiful art in it. And I have read that one many times so I will get you back by mentioning that one.
Ellen: We have to mention 300cc which is by Lanaserra & spandwiches, um actually this one was inspired by And This, Your Living Kiss which is not two person love triangle. Now that I’ve said that I’m not sure if that’s correct. I guess it kind of is in the same way.
Mal: I’m not sure.
Ellen: So in 300cc, this is like one of those ones where Dean knows. Dean is the one who knows the whole time. So basically he knows Cas in real life and he writes him a message on a messenger service, he writes him poetry. Beautiful poetry. This one has some really gorgeous poems in it. And, so Cas is the one who’s trying to figure out the whole time if he has feelings for this guy in real life or this mysterious person who is messaging him on this.. On their campus website so. I love that one. It’s really good. [laughs]
Mal: I’m also going to really briefly mention, just because we did go into depth about Go Gown With This Ship and we mentioned that not only is it a great two person love triangle, it also has this really fun trope of the guys writing fanfic within it. There is another fic, although it is very different to that one, it does have tropes in common with it. And that is Write First, Then Read by MittenWraith. It’s about 60k words, um and it’s a story where Castiel is a librarian and Dean is… if I remember correctly, he is a school counsellor, I think? But they work in the same elementary school. And they both write fanfic. And they start, they get in touch and they end up kind of helping review each other’s work. And it all gets tangled from there.
Ellen: I’ve been meaning to read that one for a long time.
Ellen: I haven’t gotten around to it,
Mal: It’s great. So it’s a very different story to the.. Uh, Go Down With This Ship story. But it does have those two tropes in common which I really love so I want to try and nudge people towards reading that one if I can. And yes, we will have an entire list of stories on our blog at mixtapebookclub.com including all the ones we have mentioned and plenty more besides.
Ellen: We have to say, thank you very much Ben for coming to talk to us today. It’s been a pleasure.
Ben: This was fun!
Ellen: What’s happening with you, next… are you working on something that you’d like to talk about at all or…?
Ben: Uh I’m trying to drag a fic, kicking and screaming, further on. I’ve been having some difficulty there but I’ve got a bunch of shorter fics that I wrote on tumblr, that I will be putting up on Ao3 soon. Little bits and bobs to go up there until I put up this second part of an omegaverse series that is more medieval fantasy.
Ellen: Oh wow, yes.
Mal: Nice. We definitely need to do a fantasy episode at some point. We haven’t done that yet and I know both me and Ellen both have big favourites that we like and that’s in that kind of genre so.
Ben: It’s a good genre.
Ellen: It is. Really is.
Ellen: Cool, alright. Well, you can get in touch with us to scream about Four Letter Word for Intercourse or any of the other fics we’ve talked about by… through our social platforms where we’re @mixtapebookclub on all of those. Or you can email us at email@example.com or you can chat with us on the Profound Bond discord server in our own channel there.
Mal: So thank you for listening and we’ll talk to you all again soon and as always, remember that the story isn’t over until we say it is.
Mal: Ooh, the ship’s unstuck! Sorry, real world leaking in
Ellen: Oooh, is it!
Ben: Good on the ship!
Ben: Looking over the questions you sent, actually I think we got most of the things. Done!
Mal: Yeah, good for us.
Ellen: Yeah, we did it, woohoo!
Mal: It’s almost like we know what we’re doing. We’re getting there.
Ben: Fake it till you make it!