Within minutes of talking to Lynn Zubernis, I was absolutely blown away by how similar we are in our thought process towards fandom in pop culture.
Lynn is a professor, a psychologist, and mother, but I think the most important title to give her is Captain of the Supernatural fandom. But how did she come to claim this title? Every fan has their origin story so I asked Lynn what her Supernatural Origin story was. At first she laughed, I could feel that she was recalling her origin and blissful memories were making their way back into her memory.
“It’s a story that I guess is similar to others. I’ve heard so many people’s origin stories that it seems like everyone has an amazing origin story, especially with this show. Mine is an unusual one. I actually did not fall in love with the show in the first season. I had a friend who had fallen in love with the show before it aired just watching the trailer and hearing the buzz at comic con. For the whole first season, I had a bunch of girlfriends we were all sort of “fannish” and we’d get together for “girls weekend” every now and then and this one friend would ALWAYS bring Supernatural. It was so long ago that she would bring these VHS tapes that she had made. We would all have to watch them. It was her thing and she was trying to convert us. I liked it from the beginning but it didn’t really grab me. So I would watch it from time to time just because I wanted to be able to talk to my friends about it and I wanted to keep up with the storyline so I would know what was happening. But then early in season two, it was on (as it always was when I was grading papers) and I had all the papers sort of stacked up on my lap. I became so engrossed in the show that the papers actually physically slid off my lap and onto the floor. I was sort of poised there with my red pen in my hand just staring at the television. I said, “oh my god, this is the best show ever”. My daughter also in the room was also sort of not paying attention (to the show) said, “mom are you losing it? You’ve been watching this show for a whole season, what is wrong with you and what happened to the papers you were grading?” That was it. That episode I was like, this is a whole other show why did I not realize? I tore open the season 1 DVD set that my friend sent me that I had never taken out of the wrapping and mainlined the entire season.”
I had shared a similar experience with a series my best friend tried to get me to watch, and I shared that with Lynn,
”Isn’t it funny how it takes a certain combination of stuff on the show and a certain sort of mindset on the viewer’s part for that alchemy to kind of come together in that perfect storm and then you just fall. It still sort of mystifies me. When I go back and watch season 1 now it’s incredible and I adore it. I probably watched season one more times than any other season. Why when I watched it before did it not grab me? Was it something about where I was in life or not paying attention,n I really don’t know.”
It truly is mystifying. We may not grab onto shows based on what we are currently going through in life. But when we find a show that speaks to us in the moment or a moment we have experienced, we don’t let go. Lynn’s book Family Don’t End With Blood is something that I grabbed onto because almost every essay in the book hit home for me. Lynn has written around six “fan books” and I wanted to know her process and how these incredible books came to life.
“It really happened because when I fell in love with Supernatural– and I’m talking love affair, head over heels, down the rabbit hole –that had never happened to me before. I’ve been fannish about things but I had never been a participatory fan before. I had watched Buffy and had been a fan. I watched it with my daughter who was young and we loved it. I watched the X- Files but I had never gone to a convention. I had never written fan fiction. Which I didn’t even know existed. I never did anything really fannish. Supernatural was the first time I was so in love with something that I had to like dive in head first. Into the fandom, into the online fandom. Fanfiction. I couldn’t wait for there to be a convention. In the midst of all of this, I was sort of shaking my head at myself and going “What is happening to me? This has never happened to me before.” All I could think about was Supernatural. All I could think about, write about, talk about was Supernatural! As a psychologist, I asked myself this question for real. Am I crazy or am I getting some kind of psychological benefit from this? It started as a research project with my friend Kathy Larsen (an English professor). Both of us were falling for Supernatural. Both of us were shaking our heads going, “What’s happening to us?” Moms and serious professor type people. How come all we want to do is squee over Jensen Ackles’ green eyes? Like this is weird. We started doing research. We took the entire research lore of fan studies and went through it. We took a whole year and we decided that at the end of all this research that no one really had it right.”
She has a driving force of uplifting others — it’s in her professional title, she is meant to help others. What is really special about this one is that it’s a book composed entirely of essays on personal experiences with Supernatural and how it changed peoples’ lives. Not only can you enjoy personal essays written by fans of the show but also by the actors including leads Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) and Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester), who wrote their own essays for the book. Lynn explained,
“People really brought it (when it came to writing). I didn’t push anyone to get personal or push anyone to write anything they didn’t want to write. Actors are really encouraged to be guarded and to keep up a persona. These guys were just like…no, we’re doing it. We want it to be real.”
Hearing that the actors actually wanted to write a personal story was a breath of fresh air. You wouldn’t normally expect this from many actors in the industry. Lynn and I both agreed this was important. Lynn is no stranger to writing books so I asked her what was different about writing this one.
“Oh yeah, It was completely different than the other ones. The first one “Fandom at the Crossroads” was an academic book. “Fangasm” was a memoir. It was behind the scenes absolutely wild fangirl adventures uncensored. We wanted to tell the real story. That book was pure fun. I still can’t believe we published it because there are just way too many embarrassing stories in there! That was my first experience and understanding that for a book to be meaningful to someone and really validate someone, you had to get real. People responded to Fangasm by sending me their own stories. I had thousands of compelling stories. So originally it was just going to be a book about fan stories. And then one day I was at a convention, I was going through the autograph line getting a book autographed for charity and Jared said, “Hey are you writing another book?” I said yeah. (I have to say, Jared, Jensen and Misha and all the other actors have been unbelievably supportive of all the books since day one. They had read all the books and had known them.) I said I was thinking of putting together a book of fan stories of how Supernatural has changed lives. He put the book down and sort of looked serious for a minute and said, “You know I have a story too.” I said are you saying you want to write a chapter for the book? He was like, “Maybe.” I told him I had never thought of it but if he wanted to, consider it done. He thought about it for a while and then he said he wanted to do it. So I thought maybe I would ask some other actors and maybe they would have something to say. Every person I asked immediately without even thinking about it said they had something to say. That’s how it all came about and then it was the process of shepherding all of the writers through the process — that was really hard for them because they were writing something really real and personal and it was scary for them. I feel like I got to know them all on a personal level by helping them through the process. I really think the only reason why this happened with this particular show is that they (the actors) have gotten to know the fans so well.”
My favorite essay in the book is by Kim Rhodes so I asked Lynn what her favorite one was.
I think I would still have to say my favorite is Jared’s just because he worked the hardest and the longest on his chapter and he was the first to start. He literally took almost two years to write that chapter. Those two years of working with him so closely on that chapter and having conversations about it and really knowing how terrified he was and how hard it was for him makes that a really special chapter for me. I love Rob Benedict’s chapter too. I was at that convention where he had the stroke her writes about, so I felt like I went through that experience. When he sent the draft of that chapter for the first time I was sobbing. It’s hard to read because it’s so real.
Knowing this book sparked at a convention, I asked Lynn what her favorite Supernatural convention or non Supernatural convention was.
That’s tough, I think Vancouver is always going to be my favorite Supernatural convention. Just because it’s in Vancouver so it has a very different feel than the other conventions because usually a lot of the crew is there. And others actors come and the boys are usually laid back because they don’t have to fly there. I really love Vancouver and Jensen sings at the Saturday night special and its one of my favorite things in the whole world! I have a lot of good memories in Vancouver.
I had to ask Lynn her favorite seasons of Supernatural.
One, two and four are my favorite seasons. I have a real soft spot for season one and four.
Lastly, it was important that I know Lynn’s favorite character but I had a feeling I knew this answer already.
I am just totally obsessed with Dean Winchester. I have been fascinated with that character, that’s the character pulled me in from the very beginning. It was that character who I was like, wait a minute, what is going on, this character who I thought was this macho asshole is crying. He’s tearing up for real when he is talking to his brother. Jensen had said to me a little while ago, “You know you might be the other person who knows this character really well other than me.” I just laughed because of course, he knows this character better than anyone. This character is just fascinating to me, though, so I put a lot of time and energy into trying to figure out that character.
One thing Lynn said that really stood out to me during our interview was, “There are a lot of things that people get from Fandom that are really healthy and really good so we should really celebrate our passion and not be afraid of it.” I’ve been thinking about these words for weeks. Many people get caught up in the stigmas around being a nerd and liking certain shows. It should not matter. We should be proud of what we like and celebrate it. Lynn sparked a whole new passion for Supernatural and pop culture in general in me.
There is something about talking to Lynn that makes you feel so completely validated about yourself in your fandom. There is a reason she is the captain of the Supernatural fandom. She’s incredible.
Check out Family Don’t End With Blood available on Amazon and in Barnes and Nobles Stores. Every purchase is a charitable contribution to Attitudes in Reverse and Random Acts!