Rec Center: a weekly newsletter of fanfic recommendations

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Newsletters are back in fashion (thank you, Lena Dunham) and Fangirl has found your new favorite! The Rec Center is a weekly newsletter full of fandom news, articles, and most importantly, fanfic recommendations. Created and curated by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Elizabeth Minkel, the Rec Center features a variety of fandoms and fan cultures. I chatted with them about the origins of the newsletter, fanfic recs, and what makes a fic good.

The Rec Center comes out every Friday. Sign up here!

Why did you start the Rec Center?

GBW: Our mutual twitter friend @kfan was asking around for fanfic rec newsletters around the New Year, and no one seemed to know of any. Elizabeth and I both replied like, “OMG I want to start one!” So instead of launching competing newsletters, we decided to team up—which was definitely a way better idea, because collaborating is fun and half the work!
ELM: I was actually pretty relieved when Gav showed up—I responded to @kfan a few hours earlier and I was already fretting about doing a fanfic newsletter alone, like how to avoid “speaking for fandom” or only presenting my own opinions about fanworks. (Which I do in my journalism— all fandom journalists do, to some degree—but this is different.) I co-host a podcast about fandom as well, and it’s great in both situations, working with a person who speaks a common language but has a different perspective.

What has the reception to the Rec Center been like so far?

GBW: Super great! People really seem to be enjoying what we’ve done so far, discussing stuff on Twitter without us needing to bother with a hashtag or official topic or whatever. We’re also inviting guest curators to come in and share their own recs, so we can represent a wider range of fandoms and audiences.
ELM: Agreed! And I love that it feels like we’re making a tiny magazine every week. I make big magazines for my day job and there’s something really delightful about putting it all together.

How did you get into fanfic?

GBW: Harry Potter, when I was 11. I read some dumb newspaper article about HP fic, googled it, and was immediately hooked. I was a lurker for years and years, but started writing properly and making friends when I joined Inception fandom in 2010.
ELM: I’m what, five years years older than Gav? So I have the classic “I wrote fanfiction before I had access to the internet and knew this was something that other people did” story. The first time I encountered someone else’s fic, when I finally got online, was when I was deep in Buffy fandom, age 14. I was a lurker, like a hardcore one for…15 years, yeesh! I always kept my fic reading and writing super secret. But after being a book journalist while hinting at my fannishness for a while, I started writing about fandom in earnest a couple of years ago.

Can you talk about the role of rec lists in fandom?

GBW: Rec lists are great for the obvious reason that there’s A LOT of fic out there, and sometimes you need someone else to pick out the good stuff—especially in big fandoms, or for specific tropes or pairings. I think Elizabeth and I, and a lot of our readers, miss how easy it was to find recs on Livejournal etc. Tumblr fandom is harder to navigate in that regard, so a newsletter makes more sense these days.
ELM: For sure. I actually just rejoined the fandom/pairing I was in from like 2002-2010, and I’m gleefully finding all these old pre-LJ rec lists and thinking about how *different* it was compared to how I find fic on AO3. You wind up reading stories with a lot of hits and kudos, and they get more hits and kudos, etc etc. Sometimes I’ll look at peoples’ bookmarks, but I miss the days when rec lists were the main way I found new stuff.

What makes a fic good, in your opinion? How do you choose what you recommend?

GBW: Haha, I feel like this is kind of an impossible question. I have a fairly wide range of tastes, and it varies a lot from fandom to fandom—both in terms of my own interests, and the style of writing that different fandoms produce. Some canons tend to inspire really long, thoughtful fanfic, while others are geared towards short, cute stories, or maybe the entire fandom is about one particular ship.

In terms of “how” I choose what to recommend, it’s completely down to my own whims and what I enjoy. Hence why we have guest reccers, because they can do the same thing for fandoms and pairings they love and know a lot about, but I or Elizabeth might never read ourselves.
ELM: I have yet to pen a list for The Rec Center, and I gotta say I’m intimidated by how good Gav is at it. I suspect I’m not as…broad a fic reader—I have always been deeply loyal to one fandom at a time, and usually even just one pairing at a time. So I can make you some reeeeally specific rec lists! The rest of the newsletter is really easy for me, though. I spend all day sharing links on Twitter and reblogging stuff on Tumblr, so it’s like, what amongst that would I recommend *again*.

What do you do if a friend recommends a fic that you don’t like?

GBW: I’d just be like, “I don’t like it.” People have different tastes, it’s fine!
ELM: The morning we decided to do this, Gav sent me a message that said something like, “I hope my feelings about Sherlock don’t come between us.” (I’ve even fallen out of Sherlock fandom now, but I’m still pretty protective of it.) But yeah, one thing about becoming kind of a pan-fandom journalist is that I’m getting good at saying, “I totally understand *how* you feel about the thing, even if I will never feel that way about the thing.” We all love fanfiction, and that’s all that matters!


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