theurbanwire.com: the 14th edition







HP Webmasters Interview

Heidi Tandy
Fiction Alley.org

By Mary-Ann Russon UrbanWire
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Heidi Tandy, 33, a lawyer specialising in intellectual property & Internet law, is one of the co-founders of Fiction Alley.Org, one of the largest Harry Potter fan fiction websites on the Internet. Heidi is also part of The Leaky Cauldron.Org staff, and is on the board of directors of Harry Potter Education Fanon, Inc., a non-profit educational corporation that promotes Harry Potter-related educational symposiums around the world.

In an instant messaging interview with Heidi, UrbanWire finds out more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into Fiction Alley.Org, and about the work that goes into planning international Harry Potter-related events.

How was Fiction Alley started?

But why fan fiction? Why not write a book or something?
What's makes Harry Potter so interesting as a topic?
Had you worked on websites before starting Fiction Alley?
How did you get involved with The Leaky Cauldron?
That's interesting though, a lawyer with a journalism background - care to elaborate?
Are there any big events that have been held for Fiction Alley?
Could you tell us more about Nimbus?
Have you been interviewed before about Fiction Alley? How did it feel?
What are your future plans for Fiction Alley?


UrbanWire: How was Fiction Alley started?

Heidi Tandy: "The seeds for the site had started back in February 2001, when some Harry Potter fans - Cassandra Claire (then a freelance journalist, now writing original stories), Ebony (then a schoolteacher, now a writer), Jana (a high school student), and a few other people - and I started schnoogle.com as a fanfic-shipper button site [a site which hosts avatar icons themed around fan fiction character relationships].

"We had a few dozen buttons, with different [relationship themes] from [fan] fics. At that point, there [were only two Harry Potter fan fiction archives on the Internet] - Sugar Quill and Fanfiction.net (FFN). Sugar Quill are very specific [about] what they'll archive, and none of us could get our fics hosted there, and Fanfiction.net, [the only] "open to every [type of character ] pairing" fanfic archive in the fandom, [was] down a lot through most of April & May and the start of June [2001].

"So we'd talked amongst ourselves about setting up an archive that would host everything the fandom could create - with some minimum grammar standards, of course - but we wouldn't discriminate as to [whether the fan fiction featured an unusual relationship-pairing], or character, or whether a fic was an "Alternate Universe" story or not. We'd take it all.

"When FFN changed the way they were implementing their Terms of Use… a number of us realised that according to FFN's new restrictive rules and their misunderstanding of the law and the dictionary, there was no way we could keep our fics there under those Terms of Use. So about 24 of us quit, and started Fiction Alley.

"It took about a month from quitting FFN to launching FA. We were very busy, and we only started with Schnoogle - we had no money to toss around, so we used the domain name we already had. About a week later, we launched the other three houses, and two weeks or so after that, we launched the Park, with absolutely no publicity, and people started hanging out there and it became this big thing."


UrbanWire: But why fan fiction? Why not write a book or something?

Heidi Tandy: "Well, for a lot of people, it's just another way to discuss the books. That's what it's been for me. Other people like exploring their creativity in a communal format - you can have that community with fanfic, whereas you don't when you're writing on your own. FA is much more than a fanfic site - we have over a million posts discussing the books, the movies, writing, etc."


UrbanWire: What's makes Harry Potter so interesting as a topic?

Heidi Tandy: "Harry Potter has been an interesting thing to talk about since I read the first book back in the fall of 1998. I had to wait for the release of, not just Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire [the 4th book], but Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [the 3rd book] as well! I remember ordering my copy from the UK. I'd been on a discussion list that was an offshoot of something started around the tv series Friends, and in '98 and '99, it was enough to discuss HP over there, but when I saw in a Washington Post article the day before Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire came out that there were other grownups talking about the books, I was just captivated."


UrbanWire: Had you worked on websites before starting Fiction Alley?

Heidi Tandy: "Actually, I've worked on sites since 1994. I'd been a [moderator] on AOL's law forums from '93 to -'94, [and] then in 1995, I was with the New York Times' electronic media company, on the legal side. In '96, I went to theknot.com as a chatroom coordinator (and writer) and that's the first thing I did that was similar to how the web is now. From '97 to '99, I was a mod [moderator] for frenz.com's mailing list, and I'd been an elf on hpfgu.org.uk from about 6 months before FA started, through last summer. And of course, The Leaky Cauldron."


UrbanWire: How did you get involved with The Leaky Cauldron?

Heidi Tandy: "B.K. DeLong just asked me, in the winter of 2001. I'd been posting a lot about merchandise on Harry Potter for Grown Ups (HPFGU), [which is] one of the oldest HP discussion forums [online]. Since I had a bit of a journalism background, he thought I'd be a help. I like to think I have been."


UrbanWire: That's interesting though, a lawyer with a journalism background - care to elaborate?

Heidi Tandy: "I started in local TV when I was 14, working for a tiny local cable station, then spent a year with the then-NBC affiliate, a semester at Fox's channel in Philadelphia, a summer at CNBC, and eventually, a term at WUSA in Washington D.C., on the legal beat with a guy who went on to be an anchor at court TV. I was a producer-intern and a scriptwriter. I occasionally ran news desks on weekends and did some off-camera field reporting, [covering] everything from murders to Supreme Court justice resignations. And, of course, writing for theknot.com, and being in the electronic media newsroom for the New York Times."


UrbanWire: Are there any big events that have been held for Fiction Alley?

Heidi Tandy: "We had an enormous party at Nimbus 2003 [a 4-day Harry Potter Educational Symposium] - about 300 people came and danced for hours, and there was cake. And of course, [600 people attended the] Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban IMAX screening in New York City last month [which was held jointly by TLC and Fiction Alley]."


UrbanWire: Could you tell us more about Nimbus?

Fans gather for Double Film
Screening at Nimbus 2003

Heidi Tandy: "We started work on it about 25 months ago. It was the first Harry Potter symposium - we had talks about everything from fan-fic workshops to magical law, [about] whether invisibility cloaks could be real, how to teach the books in classrooms or have library events about it. And we had a double screening for the films. One from 6pm to midnight, and one from midnight to 6am!

"There was just a bunch of us, back in November 2001, who wanted to have a get-together. HPFGU chat was where we started talking about it. Then, in 2002 summer, Disney was still trying to get more business from events in the post-9/11 days so they gave us a great deal!

"We didn't want a fan convention- we worried that it would be crazy mob scenes if the actors were there. The event was [held] at a Disney hotel, and one of the special events was at Epcot. There was a burgeoning focus on Potter in Academia so we decided to focus on panels and presentations about the books and literature in general. Hence, Nimbus.

"We had about 75-80 presenters, including an FX person who'd worked on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the head of the anti-book banning division of the American Library Association. About 600 people attended and it was just amazing getting to meet people we'd only known online and having such fun together.

"Harry Potter Education Fanon, Inc. (HPEF) is the non-profit corporation behind Nimbus 2003, and Lumos 2006. The next event for HPEF will be in October 2005 in Salem, The Witching Hour 2005. [Lumos 2006 will be in] Vegas in 2006. Our book of the [Nimbus 2003] proceedings (which is going to be over 600 pages long) comes out next month via http://www.hp2003.org/proceedings.

UrbanWire: Have you been interviewed before about Fiction Alley? How did it feel?

Heidi Tandy: "Oh yeah, by a bunch of papers. About Nimbus, too. It's always kind of funny being on the other side oh things, especially as I'm still sort-of-reporting with TLC."


UrbanWire: What are your future plans for Fiction Alley?

Heidi Tandy: "We are launching a new search engine by the fall, and we're going to have a focus on essays around the start of the Hogwarts school year."

All photos courtesy Melissa Anelli.

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