Today I’d like to introduce Stephanie Hamm of the Jane Austen fan fiction site BeyondAusten.com. BeyondAusten is a lovely site where a number of authors, including myself, are currently posting stories.
When did you first discover Jane Austen or how did I get myself into this mess?
I first discovered Jane Austen in 2009. My husband was deployed and I had many nights all to myself. I started watching movies a lot having nothing else to do. I came across Becoming Janeon Netflix’s watch instantly. The movie fascinated me because it was based on a true person. Her story was intriguing and led me to watching all the current Jane Austen adaptations. I enjoyed the movies and decided to read Pride and Prejudice. I’m not sure why I picked this novel to read out of all the ones she wrote -maybe because it was mentioned in You’ve Got Mail. It seemed like it was the most popular of her books. I wasn’t disappointed; of course I loved the book – and Darcy.
How did you discover fan fiction and what was your initial reaction or what made me think this was a good idea?
Shortly after reading P&P I was walking through Target’s book section and saw a book with the name Darcy on it. I guess I was drawn to the name since I just immersed myself in the story for the previous weeks by watching the movies and reading the book. At that point I had no idea there were sequels written. I bought the book and went to the bookstore later to buy others. One of the books I bought had the author’s website information so I visited the site. From there I found links to the various JAFF sites. By that point I was addicted to reading any and all stories that involved Darcy and Elizabeth. After reading all the P&P stories I could find I moved on to Persuasion. Now I think I’m just as addicted to Wentworth as I am Darcy.
At first when I discovered JAFF, I thought I was in wonderland – so many stories!! It took me a few months to read most of the completed stories before I realized that there was such a thing as “works in progress.” Then I discovered the real JAFF community, reading people’s comments, navigating through the forums, seeing that there are actually others that are just as addicted as I was. It was like opening up a whole new world and an escape from reality when I needed it.
I’ve made a few online friends and even met quite a few in person. Meeting fellow members face-to-face has probably been the best experience so far. It was awesome to actually “see” them instead of just looking at their pictures online, to see their mannerisms and personalities to take shape. Establishing these friendships and connections with others has been a blessing. I’m very grateful for being part of such a unique community.
Have you always dreamt of running your own internet forum? (LOL)What made you decided to start (with your team) Beyond Austen?
I have honestly never imagined myself running a forum. Prior to joining the various JAFF sites I had no idea what a forum was or that such things existed. I never frequented any blogs and my Internet usage consisted of doing research for school or visiting mainstream websites like cnn.com.
Beyond Austen became a prospect by happenstance one day when Robin Helm and I were talking about various things through e-mail. Robin and I have been in constant contact since the beginning of 2011 when she first started writing her Guardian series. I was one of her betas, and we have become friends since then. We thought this was a journey we could do together. Gayle Mills eventually joined with us. We were confident we could have long-term success with the three of us as a team. With them being sisters, there would likely be less conflict between the two of them. I’m the wild card of the group, but we are comfortable enough with each other to be open and honest. So with what we considered a solid foundation, we decided to start the forum and hopefully provide a new addition for the JAFF community. We believe that there could never be enough exposure to JAFF.
Can you tell us something about Beyond Austen? What makes it distinct from other forums?
The main factor that distinguishes us from most other forums is our restriction on story ratings. The stories posted on Beyond Austen do not contain mature content. There are readers out there in the community that prefer non-explicit material, and we thought there was a place in JAFF for a site like Beyond Austen.
One of the reasons that led to our decision to make Beyond Austen a ratings restricted forum was the desire to have a site that we were fully comfortable sharing with family members, school contacts, and church members. With Robin and Gayle being leading members of their church, it was just a natural move to create a place that is accommodating to readers of all ages.
We, in no way, want to slight readers or writers that prefer mature content; I visit all the sites and read almost all the stories. We believe there’s a need in the JAFF community for a site like Beyond Austen, and it is just one more place for people to read some great stories.
How difficult was it to start up your own forum? What were the biggest start-up challenges? What are currently the biggest challenges? Do you love being the geek in residence or do you hide when you hear new email has arrived?
It was definitely a challenge to start Beyond Austen. We first got the url and forum services back in April and didn’t open to the public ‘til the end of July. It pretty much took the months in between to make the site presentable. All three of us were novices going into this project, but I was nominated as the technical person. It was definitely a struggle for me since I didn’t know what I was doing.
When making the final decision on starting the forum, a big issue was which service we would use. Right away we knew that we wanted quality. I Googled which were the best forums from which to choose, and the result was evenly divided between two services: vBulletin and IPB (Invision Power Services). The first was entirely too expensive and the second affordable. IPB has been an excellent choice. Their tech support center has helped me tremendously when I had issues or questions. They have forums for their customers to interact, so when I find a problem I just ask in the forums and someone always replies. Everyone I’ve encountered has been extremely friendly and helpful.
My biggest challenge was making the site look pretty. First, I downloaded some of the free skins that some developers offered. Ultimately we wanted something more custom. I contacted a lady that was willing to help make a skin for us, but we ended up not liking it, because the colors were not what we wanted. So I ended up just coming up with our final product. A member of IPB created a step-by-step guide on how to change various parts of the forum; however this guide was for an older version (3.1 & 3.2). Our version (3.3.4) changed quite a bit so the guide didn’t work for some parts. The developers of the hooks and applications I’ve added provided directions so those helped, but for the most part, a lot of what I have done has been trial and error. I found a good website that gives directions and examples of HTML and CSS codes, which are what is used to change the design and skin of the forum.
There is still so much that I don’t know about the technical side of the forum. I’ve enjoyed being the techie and learning about HTML/CSS codes, but I do dread the e-mails concerning problems or issues because I’m not confident I’ll be able to fix them. At least I know there is a great support system with the IPB members.
What do you love about having the forum and why would people want to hang out there?
What I love most about the Beyond Austen are the authors. We have a great group of authors posting some wonderful stories. One of our goals in creating Beyond Austen was to offer a variety of stories. Being huge Persuasion fans, Gayle, Robin, and I love that we have some authors that prefer the Persuasion fan fiction. It would be even better if we could get more stories about Northanger Abbey, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, or Mansfield Park. I don’t think there are enough of those out there.
There are also some seasoned P&P authors that have written many stories in the past, but have been away from the forums for the last few years. I believe they want to get back to interacting with their readers and enjoy the camaraderie that goes with that. We also have a couple of brand new authors that have never posted stories before. Overall, it is a fantastic group of people. There have been no issues, and the atmosphere has been welcoming and encouraging.
What are you guys planning for the future of the site? What future projects do you have in mind? No, running headlong off a cliff is NOT what I meant.
As of right now the plan is to just continue what we are doing. We just want to celebrate JAFF by encouraging readers and writers. For readers, we want to offer a place with many great stories. For writers, we will show our support anyway we can. We’re utilizing Facebook to announce new stories or chapters being posted in an effort to reach more readers.
My main hope for the future is to have more members participate by leaving comments on the various threads on the board. Because the forum is new, we gathered membership through word of mouth and Facebook. As a result, over half of our membership is brand new to the JAFF community. This is exciting because it means that JAFF is growing. However, with new members, it also means that they are less likely to comment. We hope that once people get more comfortable and are not afraid to comment we’ll have more participation.
You can find Stephanie, Robin and Gayle at:
- Get to Know Maria Grazia founder of Fly High and My Jane Austen Book Club (authormariagrace.com)
- Mansfield Park (bacaklasik.wordpress.com)
- My review of the Cambridge edition of Austen’s Later Manuscripts (reveriesunderthesignofausten.wordpress.com)