Interview with Ru Emerson

July 1998

Bitch of Rome: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, Ru! It was nice of you to find the time.

Ru Emerson: I can almost always find the time for Xena Fans--as I said at the Fest in Renton, I've never met such an overall generous, warm and downright swell bunch of people.

BoR: You are the writer of the Xena novels, "The Empty Throne," "The Huntress and the Sphinx," and "The Thief of Hermes." I have read all three and loved how you captured the characters, after having only the first season to guide you.

RE: I'm really glad you liked the first three novels--and, not only were they all written during first season, but when I finished "The Empty Throne", I hadn't even been able to see as far ahead as "Beware Greeks [Bearing Gifts]" (one reason Gabrielle's still in that peasant blouse and long skirt). But, I did have scripts for most of the first season, several tapes and what I saw on TV, and I immersed myself in the show as best I could, so I'd have the strongest sense of speech patterns and all the rest. So I'm glad it seems to have worked, by and large.

BoR: Could you tell me a bit about yourself?

RE: Let's see. I grew up in Butte, Montana (and by now, I guess nearly everyone knows it was back when they were still mining copper ore with flint tools *G*). For a long time, my folks thought I was the only one they'd get, so I got all the music, dance etc. lessons, plus my dad taught me all the cool stuff a son would get back then--how to throw and hit a baseball (he was a minor-minor league pitcher), how to fish, hike, climb--and how to beat a bully into the pavement, rather than let my mother call his or her mom and complain... Let me tell you, that kind latter skill came in REAL handy when I moved to LA in my early 20's and lived in some of the tackier neighborhoods going. Anyway, from before I was in grade school, I wanted to act, dance and sing, preferably in movies (there was no TV then, not in Butte, anyway). But I also wrote my own stories based mostly on western movies, and later on western tv shows: Kind of like kids in recent years have written their own Star Treks...or other things...

BoR: What made you want to be a writer and how did you get started?

RE: I never really took the writing seriously as a money-earning occupation, not until I'd been in LA for years, realized I didn't have the looks (or probably the talent) to make professional, and also realized I couldn't live with retiring as a secretary. I also had started reading SF and fantasy and once I did, something clicked--I had my own ideas for stories, for the first time ever, and I was excited about writing them.

How I got started: Basically, I was living in Venice Beach, working in Century City (L.A. Law-land) and typing in the back room on an IBM Selectric on weekends and at nights, trying to write a Great-Questnovel (you know: Take people at Point A, throw a disaster at them that requires the survivors to try to reach Point B--and THEN toss everything in the Book at them in between the two points). Unlike many would-be writers, especially now, I had no clue you could get help, or at least direction: I bought a copy of the Writers' Digest Guide to Publishers and told myself when I sold a book, I'd admit to being a writer--but I did not go to workshops (didn't know such things existed) or conventions (same thing). I think I started in 1978; in 1983, Doug and I moved from Venice to rural western Oregon, and I took off 6 months, so I could polish my 5th book (the trilogy and a SF novel having been turned down with depressing frequency). That book, "The Princess of Flames," sold to Ace Fantasy in mid 1984--after which the editor bought that first trilogy, aka "The Tales of Nedao."

Basically, as far as getting started as a pro writer, what I did was write one book, start submitting it, rewrite it once I had 6 months away from it--but in the meantime, start a new book and write on that. I think that was what got me over the hump, especially since I didn't know the first thing about what I was doing...

BoR: Your next Xena project is the next three Xena novels. How are they coming? What can you tell me about them?

RE: The new Xena trilogy is moving slow but sure; I turned in the outline and MCA has accepted it, and the first book of the three is Due As We Speak (or nearly so). And let's see, what can I tell you about them.... It is a connected story between all three books, there will be no cliffhangers at the ends, there will be some ocean travel, and "guest" appearances by Draco, Joxer, Herc and Iolaus, Menelaus--and a "special effects wizard" (MCA asked me to change him from a wizard to a priest of Apollo, the only change they wanted) named Avicus.... There's a lot more I could tell you, but I don't want to spoil the fun...*EG*

BoR: Do you enjoy entering Xena’s world and creating a tale with her and Gabrielle?

RE: Writing for Xena, and telling my own stories, has been some of the best fun I've ever had as a writer. Xena's a character that, if I'd had such good fortune, I would have loved to have created myself--and the same goes for Gabrielle.

BoR: Since the show includes it, and many people want it, do your new books include subtext?

RE: There will be some, probably more than there was in the first three books (of course, when I wrote #1, no subtext had cropped up in the shows I'd seen to that point....I did get a very small bit of it in "Huntress", and because of a variety of Odd Things, did not even attempt to pull much in "Hermes"). Although MCA has not actually hit me over the head with directives, my feeling is that I have to toe the same line the show does, and I would anyway: I adore the subtext, but I'm not leaning either direction off that fence, because if I go one way, I will upset the fans who see things the other direction. And that's not my job--and it's not why MCA asked me to do three more books.

BoR: When did you first start watching Xena? What made you want to see it again?

RE: I first started watching Xena by directive. I don't do much TV, the last regular show I'd watched on a weekly basis (before Xena) was MacGuyver—and Anderson's other show Legend. Before that, maybe the first season of Battlestar Galactica. I'm probably the only person on the planet who's never seen Gilligan's Island or Mr. Ed, or when my agent called to ask if I'd seen Xena, I thought, "
? What's that?" He mentioned Herc--which I'd caught one or two of, and kind of liked. He said, go watch a Xena and call him back, he could get me a book. (This was October of first season). I e-mailed a friend in Portland to ask about this Xena thing: She got the message and CALLED to say, it's Xena and don't even wait until Sunday, call him back and say YES!!!

Well, I did-- and that weekend's show was "The Titans." As an episode, these days I'd put it at iffy, but 5 minutes into it, that fight scene, I was on my feet yelling and jumping up and down, it was WONDERFUL!!! I was an Avengers fan during its Emma Peel days, and hadn't seen such great kick-butt fighting since then... By the way, that's the reason my agent got the call for me to check out Xena: my long-term editor at Ace got the call from MCA about books (the two companies are somehow tied together) and MCA asked if she had a writer who could work fast, work true to someone else's characters--and write a killer fight scene. It's very gratifying to me that my name was the first (and by and large only) one to come to mind...

What made me want to see the show again--those fights for one thing. A broad as tough as Xena--unlike Lucy Lawless, I'm 5'5" and smallish, which for years made me "a mark" until I developed a "Don't Start With Me" attitude, thanks to my dad for starts. There's a degree of identification there, even though I can't do those darned flips (and you can't think what a hassle THAT is when you choreograph all the fight scenes in a book ) But beyond the fights, it's The Relationship--Xena and Gabrielle and how they manage to hold it together despite incredibly harsh odds against them, right from Day One. It's the fact I never know which direction things are going to go in an episode until I get there--this season caught me WAY off guard, and was all the more exciting for it. It's the minor characters, all of whom are incredibly's also the music, Joe LoDuca is one of the best and most diverse composers I've ever heard anywhere, I own all three CD's and listen to them often.

BoR: Who is your favourite Xena character and why?

RE: My favourite character--gaak. That's telling! It changes hourly, I swear. But mostly, it's Xena herself; I identify with that kind of tough (and that vulnerability underneath). I also admire how Lucy works with herself, her character, the writers—all of it—to come up with the way Xena's changed since the Herc episodes. And the incredible hardships she's endured. And just as a slightly green-with-envy singer, the wonderful opportunities Lucy's had to use her talents...and how very well she's done with them. She's given me courage to try some things in my own small pond, and considering what a scaredy I can be, that's something.

BoR: Do you feel that you relate to any of the characters?

RE: Xena, like I said above....I occasionally fall into Silly Mode ala Aphrodite, and I can understand Joxer's inferiority's hard being a dweeb or something like, and knowing you are, and trying to go on anyway as if no one else is noticing (as if...)

BoR: From watching you view "The Bitter Suite" at the PNW XenaFest, I could see that the show can strike a cord with you. What draws you into that world?

RE: Ooooh, you caught me out, darnit! The Bitter Suite...I got the CD (from one of the fans who decided I needed the music for inspiration, bless her) before I saw the ep....I KNEW it was going to be a tough one and it was. I know anyone who's lost a human child will probably not understand, but for those of us who never took that responsibility, but took other responsibilities...anyway, back in 19**, I adopted a silver mackerel tabby cat and bonded with him. Linus and I had nearly 10 wonderful years as mom and son--and then he got feline leukemia, developed a brain tumor and died. Like human parents who lose a child, I have not really ever been able to put this behind me--ten to a non-cat owner is a long time to have a cat, but to someone who's been there, ten years is cruelly short, especially cut short like that. I still cry on the anniversary of the day I lost him, 16 years later, and it hurts to look at his pictures, even though I currently have a similar-looking silver mackerel tabby, mesomorphic body type daughter named Roberta. So I knew that going into the whole series of episodes that wound up with Xena's son dying, I'd unglue. And I also knew that the "The Love of Your Love" song near the end would undo me--and I did not want to lose it in public.

"The Bitter Suite" reacted in me on several levels: I feel I know the characters as well as I know people close to me; the loss of child trauma was physically painful; the music enhanced this to an incredible degree. What draws me into the world is that, despite it's set in a myths, it uses fantasy characters, lots of music, gods, etc., it stays in touch with the things that matter--love, death, hate, caring...and it does it with both intelligence and true emotion. There is nothing faked, phony or unreal about the underlying world.

BoR: Is there a scene or episode, where it doesn’t matter how many times you see it, you’re still just as emotional as when you first viewed it?

RE: There are several, and for various kinds of emotion.

For heart-stopping and/or tears:
1. When Julius Caesar has Xena crucified and both her legs broken (I still won't let my Doug watch that one; he was recovering from dropping a 200 pound piece of concrete smoothing equipment on his right lower leg and breaking it so badly it took 8 months to get the last cast off--which was when I was writing the second and third books)
2. "The Love of Your Love" song from "The Bitter Suite."

For scary as hell:
The Horde--when Xena and Gab paddle that canoe down-river and the camera pans to the Horde member slowly rising from the water (I have nightmares about THAT one) - or Joxer being hauled foot-first into a grave in "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"

For giggle effect:
Aphrodite's first appearance to Joxer in "For Him the Bell Tolls" Ares as a mortal in "Ten LIttle Warlords." Gabrielle eating Squid. With Gusto. Salmoneous discovering Miss Known World is a basso... Xena as Diana trying to kick butt with Philemon, but not let him catch on...

Scream factor (also wildly jumping up and down)
Mel Pappas kicking off the shoes and spinning around with sword in hand...( I first saw this with 2,000 other crazed fans in Burbank, and was temporarily deafened)... the kiss in The Quest...which brings us to The Subtext factor... The round the pole scene in "Comedy of Eros" (I literally fell on the floor and howled)

And serious lump in throat factor:
Xena screaming at Gabrielle in "Is Their a Doctor in the House?" also the gauntlet in the ep by the same name. Having been hit a few times, I wince every time someone is in scenes like that.

BoR: What is your favourite Xena episode and why?

RE: My fave Xena ep--well, it depends on what I want when I watch my tapes: For funny, there can't be anything funnier than "Comedy of Eros"; for all-around satisfying, "The Xena Scrolls"; for emotionally draining but still worth it—"The Bitter Suite". And for Ares, "Ten Little Warlords" (for Marcus, "Mortal Beloved"; he's gorgeous, and I'm a sucker for a tragic prince, well done, that is)

BoR: what is your view on Xena and Gabrielle as role models? Do you think one is a better role model than the other, or are they equal?

RE: Hmmm--you've hit on a tough question. To my thinking, Xena and Gabrielle are equally important as role models (though I know a lot of "soccer moms"- and forgive me if any of you DO have kids who play soccer- would disagree). Gabrielle's a great role model; she reads, she writes, she has heart, she's sweet, kind and good--but she realizes there's a point you can't keep bending over backwards until you fall on your face--you have to hit some people to make 'em see they can't keep acting the way they are acting. Xena knows this, gut deep--and she's better at picking out those who don't deserve the second chances, so it's rare when she'll bend at all. But she's better at seeing the depths in those who are or have been violent to start with, but aren't just that. Reason I bring in the soccer moms: I grew up small and dweeby in a town where these things were seen as a Reason To Flatten You by those not so small and part of a crowd of toughs. At the same time, as the aunt of a 19 year old who just got out of a small-town high school where violence was seriously discouraged, I can see why you would try to point out to kids that it isn't right to hit people. At the same time, I can still see that, while I'd rather my niece didn't have to fight the kinds of fights I went through, I'm glad I can still stare down someone who's trying to cause trouble, and can be aware that I can deck someone if I have to.

When I moved to LA years ago (east la, to be specific; back then it was gang-ridden, too, and also full of Kansas rednecks) I found that just knowing I could hit someone hard enough to discourage them from bothering me twice—well, it was useful as a talent, and also as backup for a hard look. I knew only one or two women in all my years in that area who'd ever hit anyone in anger--and those who hadn't, and were grown up, couldn't imagine doing such a thing... Anyway, I think for me that that dichotemy, and the way the show's writers and producers (and actors) handle it, is one reason I'm endlessly fascinated.

BoR: Why do you think Xena is so popular?

RE: Why I think Xena's so popular: It's deep, it's smart, it isn't afraid to touch on largely forbidden subjects (like subtext), and on top of all that, Xena gets to pound bad guys into pulp. My Doug's 5 year old niece--and his best friend's 8 year old son--are both avid fans of Xena, and they're as much poles apart as you can get.

BoR: Who is your favourite Xena actor/actress?

RE: Kevin Smith, the man's utterly incredible as an actor, and this besides that he has that hair, that beard and those muscles...and all that even before I knew he could sing like Samuel Ramey (one of the greatest U.S. operatic baritones going--a man who could also sing MEPHISOPHOLES in only trousers, and live up to expectations). I'm admittedly a sucker for a good resonant baritone, but Smith's exceptionally good...and he dances good, too. Anyway, yes, Kevin: He's got a wealth of talent going, and as an actor, he's superb...also, he's kind to unknown novel writers who wander up to him in the Green Room in Burbank and ask for his autograph, you can't get any better'n that *G*

BoR: Then I guess that answers my next question, have you met anyone from the cast or crew? What was your opinion of them?

RE: I've met more of the crew than the cast--but did get a few minutes to talk to Hudson Leick and Kevin Smith this last Burbank con, which was very nice--and the con before that in Burbank, I spoke briefly with Bruce Campbell and Robert Trebor (who kissed my hand when I told him he was in book 3, what a sweetie). Rob Field (Avicus) was kind enough to give me a tour of his base of operations at Universal and show me how he puts together a fight scene; I've also met Steve Sears and (so briefly he'd never remember me) Rob Tapert. Also Maggie (Last name escapes me, but not her face, she's one of the post-production people and very nice at making a mere novel writer feel comfortable in a green room full of tv people.

BoR: You’ve made appearances at XenaFests and conventions. What is your opinion of Xenites?

RE: My opinion of Xenites is that with one or two very, VERY rare exceptions, these are the salt of the earth (and not just because they buy my books *G*). I wrote a Beauty & The Beast years ago based on the TV show and found that most fans weren't interested in the books, and many of them were willing to say so, quite loudly. I have to admit, when I first went online and asked who cared if there'd be books, I was terrified...and without cause, because from that moment on, I've had nothing but nice, kind, interested and interesting people to deal with. Xenites as a group are caring, generous, intelligent and just neat. As a writer, I find myself often falling into shy mode, but not around Xenites, with whom I have so much in common (we like the same show, after all!)

BoR: Are you on any Xena mailing lists? If so, which ones?

RE: I have a couple people who send me posts that might be of interest, but don't really have time to be on mailing lists at present.

BoR: Do you visit any Xena chat rooms? If so, which ones?

RE: Until my AOL went slightly sideways on me this year, I went into a couple of weekly and twice-weekly private chats...

BoR: Besides anything Xena related, what do you like to do?

RE: Other activities besides Xena-related; you had to ask, didn't you? From age 18 on, (or so) I wanted to be a true Renaissance woman (NO pun intended!)... So, I knit, crochet, quilt, sew, cross-stitch. I garden and collect native plants. I run, bike, lift weights for definition, in-line skate, roller skate (trick skating), ski, water ski, fly two and four-line stunt kites. I dance (Ballet, modern, jazz, tap, ballroom, Latin--and I'm hoping to take up Irish soon's I can find someone to teach me). I play instruments (piano, cello, guitar) sing, and act (I majored in acting in college, along with dance and music and have recently done a number of melodramas, Broadway musical numbers and cabaret acts and audience participation murder mysteries, and successfully tried out for the local Light Opera company). I also read voraciously, probably can sing huge tracts of every Broadway musical ever written (my university vocal coach also coached Frederica von Stade, and my L.A. City college instructor was Marni Nixon--the voice of Natali Wood in West Side Story).

BoR: Tell me a bit about your non-Xena books?

RE: As I said before, my first was a great-quest, and it set me on a track that I only recognized much later....I'm pragmatic, and so even though I was dealing with Tolkien-ish questions, gods, etc., my bottom line question was "If your land has been invaded by Hun-like barbarians and 80 percent of you are dead or missing--how do you recover?" Everything I've done since -- except a couple short stories -- has had something of that kind of hard reality at the core of it, despite it is fantasy. That first trilogy, "The Tales of Nedao," follows a young woman who's heir to the throne and so a swordswoman (heirs have to be in this land) but also a sorceress thanks to her mother's blood. And her tutor in this magic she doesn't want is a 70 year old tortoiseshell cat (based on two of my own). The book I wrote after (and that sold first) deals with the hard realities of how you fit into someone else's skin (I won't give it away more than that) even though you don't need to pretend because you're good enough...

SpellBound is my own take on Cinderella, based on an epiphany I had while watching a PBS special of Prokofiev's ballet from San Francisco....the prince looked utterly poleaxed when Cinderella (and the female corps de ballet) came into the ballroom and I suddenly thought, Gee, if this is a 1600's Germany, witchcraft is gonna get you burned alive, and what just walked in here? Onlyjust magic... After that, I wrote the 6-volume "Night Threads," where 3 contemporary Angelenos (a young Century City lawyer, her older ex-hippy sister and that sister's smart-mouthed 16-year old technophile son) get hauled into a how-tech world and have to survive there--which means the hippy, Robyn, has to learn to live in a world with no cheap boxed wine and no cigarettes...) I've also written a "Beauty and the Beast" (Avon) which was directly based on three episodes of that show, with my own connecting bits, a "Bard's Tale" with Mercedes Lackey (her outline, my book, such fun), and, as Roberta Cray (because I had two other books coming out the same year) a 300,000 word brick called "The Sword and the Lion"...a Troy-like quandary that deals with how individuals deal with war, and why...which utilizes a lot of my original dealings with Vietnam and my later dealings with Desert Storm.

BoR: Last question. Do you believe there is anyone who can beat Xena in a fight?

RE: Well, Hades (or some-such)...I've been thinking and not to my surprise, I can't come up with anyone on a physical plane who could defeat Xena...

A big THANK YOU to Ru for the interview!