This is not an article that I ever wanted to write – or that I ever, in a million years, imagined myself writing. But I want to say something about the friend that I lost this week, and remember just how special Kathy Larsen was.
I met Kathy through fandom. In fact, she was one of the first people I met through fandom, shortly after I discovered that online fandom was even a thing that exists. We were part of a small listserv, passionate about some of the same rather obscure things – a movie, a band, an actor that not many people had even heard of – and fangirled each other’s writing immediately. Kathy was a brilliant writer, whether it was fiction or nonfiction. She could make you laugh, pull you into a mystery, or absolutely gut you with a tragic ending. She could explain concepts that were difficult to grasp in a way that never felt like talking down to anyone, which I’m sure her students appreciated too.
Once we found out we lived only a few hours from each other, we started driving that two hours often, especially when we fell down the rabbit hole of loving a new thing – a relatively unknown little TV show on the WB called ‘Supernatural’.
Along with two friends, we fell in love with Supernatural together, and became fascinated by the close-knit community we found in that show’s fandom. At the same time, we questioned whether it was really okay for us to be quite so far down the rabbit hole. We were professors, professionals, partners, parents. Was it really okay for us to spend so much time and energy loving a TV show? Maybe because we were both professors and accustomed to research, or maybe because we just needed to prove to ourselves that it WAS okay, Kathy and I set out to find the answer. We would write a book, we decided, that set the record straight about fans and fandom, and especially fangirls. We’d examine it from our somewhat diverse perspectives, me as a psychologist and her as an English professor. But to do that, we reasoned, we needed to dive into Supernatural fandom head first and not look back – and that’s exactly what we did.
We flew across the country on almost no notice to see Jensen Ackles on stage in Fort Worth for A Few Good Men, leaving partners and kids a bit stunned. Especially when we decided one performance was not enough. The personality differences between me and Kathy made our fangirl adventures quite a contrast, and occasionally hilarious. We met Jared Padalecki (who had flown in to see his friend in the production) in the lobby candy line. I marched right up to say hello; Kathy opted not to budge from her spot in the corner and watched from a safe distance.
We needed some margaritas after with our friend Amy.
We flew across the country again all the way to LA for the premiere of the Ackles-laden indie film Ten Inch Hero (starring both Jensen and Danneel). I managed to tell Danneel how much I loved the film while Kathy once again watched supportively from across the room.
But in other things, Kathy was fearless. We rented a PT Cruiser, figured out how to drive it (mostly) and drove down to San Diego to experience Comic Con and the Supernatural panel for the very first time.
Driver picked the music.
Shotgun shut her cakehole (and enthusiastically sang along to the classic rock and a little Steve Carlson).
Comic Con was eventful. We finally met Jensen Ackles.
Kathy watched supportively from ten yards away and then hugged me and patted me until I calmed down.
(A short while later, we met Eric Kripke for the first time. It was Kathy’s turn to cry that time.)
Sometimes our fangirl proclivities trumped our personality differences and we ended up on the same page – which was often a unique one.
We took a detour to Capistrano and giggled nonstop while taking photos of a giant vat of holy water, enacting our very best Sam and Dean and confusing all the other tourists who were less than fascinated by it.
We stayed up half the night for days on end to get a good ticket for the very first Creation Supernatural convention – and the second, and the third, and the fourth.
If you’ve read Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls, you know that Kathy HATES having her picture taken. The fact that I dragged her into a few photo ops is really a testament to the power of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, who she adored enough to allow Chris Schmelke to snap a few pictures.
We made a pilgrimage to Vancouver and joined a few other Supernatural fans in a quest to find some of the locations where our favorite show was filmed. A bench, a gas station, an alley, a playground, a bridge. Things that were unremarkable to others were cause for celebration.
We nearly got arrested at midnight, looking for the iconic fence (in the dark, without a flashlight) where Dean finally confessed to Sam what their Dad told him he might have to do. That one was hard to explain to local police.
And all the while, we wrote.
We documented our wild road trip through Supernatural fandom and what we learned about being a fan and being part of the community of fandom. Warner Brothers was shocked that anyone was interested enough in the constantly-on-the-bubble Supernatural to write a book on it, and invited us to the set to talk to Jared and Jensen.
In conversations in the boys’ trailers, Kathy consistently provided the voice of reason (and elbows to the side none too gently) when my fangirl side threatened to derail my professional side. (Don’t let that fool you though, she was as affected as I was by Ackles in single layer black tee shirt and Padalecki taking off his Sam Winchester wardrobe as we chatted).
The next time we went to set, we interviewed Misha Collins, brand new to the show, in our hotel bar, talking to him for so long that his manager called and reminded him he was missing another appointment. We chatted with brilliant director of photography Serge Ladouceur in the same bar until well after midnight, endlessly fascinated.
We set up shop in the green room at the next few conventions as we worked on the book, conducting interviews with the Supernatural actors while we swallowed our nerves, to understand their views of fandom – and getting to know some of them as the awesome people they are along the way.
Sometimes we met up with the actors in the local coffee shop so we could caffeinate at the same time – Kathy’s love of coffee is legendary, and probably influenced my current addiction to iced lattes, though they’re decaf now. And on one memorable occasion, at Jim Beaver’s house, because he’s just that lovely.
We wrote articles for Supernatural Magazine, thrilled to contribute and never tiring of writing about our favorite show.
After our professional chores were done, we put our fangirl hats back on. We drank purple nurples and toasted the show we loved and bought matching Chevy Impala replicas one night stuck at an airport at 2 am while trying to get home, having much too much fun opening and closing the doors in unison like we were Jared and Jensen on set.
And we wrote and we wrote and we wrote.
We met in a Starbucks at a rest stop halfway between Philly and DC on I95 every time we had a few free hours to work on the book. If we had a weekend, I’d stay at her house or she’d stay at mine, and we’d watch Supernatural.
And we’d write.
We got together on family vacations in Ocean City, Maryland, our kids and partners growing close too, united in their annoyance when Kathy and I inevitably ended up with our noses in books, drawn back to the research.
Writing a book is of course only a part of the battle. For a while, it looked like the powers that be would publish our book themselves, eager for the much needed publicity. That didn’t exactly work out when they belatedly realized we wanted to tell it like we saw it and not like anyone else wanted us to see it when it comes to fandom, and then we were back to square one. I was discouraged, ready to give up. Kathy, on the other hand, was not. We have an important story to tell, she said, and goddamnit we’re gonna tell it!
Kathy did the hard work of finding us our first agent, who then did the hard work of trying to find a publisher who would take a chance on a book about fandom and a show no one had really heard of. Some publishers thought it was too academic and “fans won’t understand this”. Others thought it was too fluffy and “won’t be taken seriously.” All our protests of “actually fans are really smart, and yes they will read this” didn’t work, and eventually our lovely agent gave up.
But once again, Kathy didn’t.
We found a little publisher in the UK almost as obscure as Supernatural itself, who was willing to publish the more academic part of our research but allow some anecdotes along the way to bring the story to life so fans might read it too. Henry Jenkins, the ‘father’ of fan studies himself, liked it and invited Kathy and me to discuss it on his popular blog. We celebrated the publication of Fandom At The Crossroads like we’d had another child.
Writing is a little bit addictive, as every writer, published or fanfic or both, knows. People kept encouraging me and Kathy to tell the rest of the story – our own story of falling into fandom. Chad Lindberg was one of those instrumental people. So was long-time friend M. Night Shyamalan.
Eventually, despite our misgivings about being so personally vulnerable, we listened. University of Iowa Press took a big chance and published Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, the behind the scenes story of our unlikely roadtrip through fandom – and of our friendship. Now that Kathy is no longer here with me, I am beyond grateful to have the story of our friendship and all our fannish adventures immortalized in that book. You get to know her when you read it. Her sense of humor, her wit, her intelligence. Her loyalty and affection and passion.
God, I’m going to miss her.
We published two more books together – Fan Culture: Theory/Practice, and Fan Phenomena: Supernatural. But that wasn’t all Kathy did to make her mark on the world. Kathy was a force of nature in the field of fan studies too. She was instrumental in starting the Journal of Fandom Studies, which has been a major influence on the field and continues to be today. I joined her as Assistant Editor for a while and am on the Editorial Board now, as the Journal has flourished under her leadership. She chaired the Fan Studies area of the Popular Culture Association, where I’m presenting at their annual conference next month. I thought I would (virtually) see her there – it’s surreal to know that I will not.
We started this website together, as a place to share thoughts on fandom, accessible to everyone. We hoped our books would help other fans feel good about fandom, and come together to celebrate the things we loved.
Our fandom paths diverged some in recent years, as Kathy moved on to other fannish loves and I remained steadfastly fandom monogamous, but we stayed friends and we stayed fascinated with fandom and all the things that are good and healthy and positive about being a fan. We had a zoom chat not long ago and spent some time reminiscing about those early days when fandom was so new and exciting and we had all the time in the world to discover it. We were looking forward to a new semester of teaching, new projects, new shows and films and music to love in 2022. To new adventures with friends and partners and the amazing people our children have become.
Of course, you never know what “all the time in the world” means or when that will come to an end. I didn’t expect to lose her so suddenly, when she was so full of life and vitality.
I’ve been thinking about the question we asked ourselves when we fell into fandom so many years ago – is this okay? Can we really do this? I think Kathy would be glad for all the times we threw caution to the wind and did something that seemed a bit outlandish but ended up making memories that would last a lifetime. Together we traveled places we never would have, shored up courage we didn’t know we had to attempt things we never expected would succeed, and made friends all over the world as a result of a little show on the CW that we all had in common.
Yesterday when I posted the news that Kathy had passed away, that same fandom that we discovered many years ago reached out from all over the globe to express their sadness at her loss, and to share how the books and her writing had helped many other people feel good about being fans and following passions themselves. I hope Kathy could feel the love. I’m pretty sure that she’s now certain, as am I, that the answer to that long ago question is a resounding YES.
Thank you, SPNFamily, for all the love and support.
[For those who asked about donations in her name, Kathy’s family – her amazing husband Dave and her awesome kids Mikah and Alex – suggest the Lupus Research Alliance]
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