Yuletide Letter 2017

Dear Yuletide Author,

Hello there, and welcome to astrokath's Yearly Yuletide Wishlist.

Thank you, first and foremost. Whether you've matched me on one fandom or several, were assigned me or grabbed me as a pinch hit, hopefully there's something here to spark your imagination.  As usual, my requests are a mixture of SF, art, animation and general nostalgia, so do please browse whichever bits of it take your fancy. This year's list of fandoms is in order of which one I found most recently, but I love them all equally.

Secondly – my apologies. My letters are always pretty long ones. But optional details are optional!  Feel free to ignore everything beneath the cut(s) and write what you want. I think the best stories come from writers who are engaged with what they're writing, and I don't want this to be a chore for you. If you're feeling compelled to write the fic of your dreams for one of these fandoms, then GO FOR IT. I'm 100% sure I'll love reading it too.

If you want to stalk my own writing, you can find it on ao3 and FFnet. Most of my own writing is within the Dragonriders of Pern fandom, but I like to offer/request other fandoms for Yuletide.

A quick note before the cuts: I've requested the following fandoms:

  • Machineries of Empire - Yoon Ha Lee

  • Rules of Summer - Shaun Tan

  • Flodskörden | Things from the Flood - Simon Stålenhag

  • Song of the Sea (2014)

  • Dark is Rising Sequence - Susan Cooper

What do I like in my stories?

What I like best: gen, deleted scenes that fit canon, stories that take canon divergence in plausible and interesting directions, and any kind of exploration of the worldbuilding. Well thought out OCs are fine - I'm guilty of enough of those myself. I prefer writing worldbuildy gen to romance, but when I do write sex scenes they're heavily biased towards the emotional headspace of the participants rather than any graphic descriptions of what they're getting up to. As far as reading them goes, I read a lot more widely than I write, but I’d prefer not to receive anything E-rated as a yuletide gift. Romantic/shippy stories in themselves would be just great, but I get the most out of them when the relationship drives the plot and/or character development forwards, rather than being the sole focus of the prose. Crossovers are rarely my thing - please ask a hippo first before writing me a crossover.

For some of my requested fandoms, the existing characterisation is pretty sparse or non-existent. So, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of characters/character tropes that I most enjoy reading: Morally dubious (or with such a strong moral compass that they’re willing to ruin their own humanity for some greater good). Smart. Dangerous. Determinators. Manipulative/magnificent bastards. People who rise to a challenge. Redemption narratives. Tension, sexual or otherwise. Hope & despair. Grace in the face of destruction. Unreliable narrators. Uneven balance of power/agency, where the underdog fights on regardless. (You can probably see why I requested Yoon Ha Lee’s series now...) I’m also interested in non-standard types of human/sentient beings - aliens, cyborgs, selkies, machines, anthropomorphic animals - and all the ways they can be used as characters to explore what it means to be human (or not, as the case may be!)

In terms of tone and pacing: anything goes. Poetic, rollercoaster, cracky, serious, lightweight, dark...seriously, I'm not fussed. You know what works best for you as a writer. In the past I've had gorgeously dark heartbreaking stories, poignant light-weight gen, cracktacular meta, sweet nostalgia, and all sorts of other lovely things. With the caveat that I'm not after torture porn or Ulysses cycled through Babelfish, I doubt you'll write anything too dark or too cracky for me (this is not a specific request for cracky darkfic BTW, just free rein should you feel inspired to write either/both - and maybe I should note that I prefer emotional/psychological-dark over physical/violent-dark). I love character-centered stories, plotty epics and concise, high-clarity snapshots all equally well, and really respect an eye for detail. Write me something atmospheric or poetic, or plotty of any length, and I'll be very, very happy. Make it clever and devious and twisted as fuck and I will love you forever! pressure. ;-)

Yuletide also has a number of opt-in extras, and opinions on them vary. So, here are mine. If you want to write me a fic that meets the criteria for Misses Clause/Chromatic Yuletide/the Yulechat Challenge, then go for it. Would I welcome an art gift? Absolutely! A Yumadrin drabble? I'd be hypocritical not to. Crueltide Darkfic? Hell yes. Interactive Rules of Summer? I am RIGHT there. And if I get none of the above? Well, that's what browsing the sub-collection tags is for.

What are my Do Not Wants?

  • A story overloaded with either sex or violence. Considering sex first, I really don't want a PWP or pornographic fic for Yuletide. If you were hoping to write porn for your recipient, please put your energies into treating someone on the Yuleporn list and don't worry about phoning something in for me. Related to the above point, lovingly detailed descriptions of violence in progress would probably be a huge no for me. In both cases, where I'd draw the line depends very much on what you're writing, and the fandom you're writing for. If it serves the purpose of the plot then do whatever you need to, but otherwise please don't go too far beyond the tone of the fandom itself.

  • Crossovers - please think very carefully before writing me a crossover. I'll be throwing a few crossover ideas in further down the letter, but don't take them as carte blanche to write me a crossover with some random mega- or minor-fandom that I have no interest in. If you desperately want to write a crossover with a fandom that I haven't mentioned in this letter, please check via one of the Yuletide Hippos, but don't wager anything valuable on it. ;-)

  • Unless it's a standard part of the canon worldbuilding, I don't want to see young kids dying/in serious peril. This particularly holds if the story's protagonists are in some way responsible for their fate. Even if the nastiness happens off-camera, don't think I can't read between the lines. Please don't set off my parental angst! So what sort of things would cross the line? Using a couple of my fandoms as examples, I wouldn’t want to see an AU of Rules of Summer where we see one or both of the two kids end up graphically torn apart by giant anthropomorphic falcons. But, if one of the kids makes different choices, or doesn’t come back, or goes bad in some way - that’d be fine. (Unless the story’s focus is on parental worry/anguish. Just don’t go there.) A post-canon Song of the Sea AU where Ben's quest had failed and he lost Saoirse? Sure. Dwelling on his/his Dad's emotional state at the time as they try and fail to find and/or save her? No thanks.

  • Anaphylaxis. Avoid like the plague. In fact, if you can avoid close focus on plague/any other medical nasties too, that'd be just peachy. (Exotic nastiness happening to redshirted extras in a Ninefox Gambit fic would be fine, but lovingly detailed descriptions of an OC protagonist being on the receiving end of it… nuh-uh.)

Next, on to the fandoms...

Machineries of Empire - Yoon Ha Lee
Characters requested: Kel Cheris, Shuos Jedao
Fandom type: books & literature (SF: 1st and 2nd books in trilogy and at least one short story have been published so far.)

Note: Please treat this as an OR request rather than an AND request. If you’ve matched me on this fandom for Cheris and Jedao alone, that’s awesome, but if you were hankering to write for some of the other characters then this is your go-ahead from me. Cheris and Jedao are my favourites, but I love everything about this fandom. I had some AMAZING TREATS in this fandom last year, but because I am a greedy person and this fandom is basically catnip for me, it's probably going to be an annual request for quite some time...

So, the character tropes I highlighted earlier? That kind of sums up what I love about these books. Kel Cheris and Shuos Jedao just work for me so, so well. Conflicted loyalties and competence! (Khiruev and Brezan, I HAVE SO MANY FEELS.) And the worldbuilding, the worldbuilding is just so. Damn. Cool. Maths and formation manoeuvres, space battles, politics, heretical science, all interwoven with the very fabric of reality. This is definitely one of those universes that I’d really not want to be anywhere near (remembrances! *shudder*), but it’s fantastic reading. It also ticks all of my ticky boxes for unbalanced power dynamics. Oh. yes.

So would I be interested in for a Machineries of Empire fic? High concepts and small moments, I guess.

Here are some prompt ideas if you're looking for them, including some for other characters or OCs if you fancy writing something in that vein.

  • Kel Cheris working new formations, becoming the person we meet in the first book. How she adapts to her new circumstances at the end of the book. Key moments that focus her character. Missing scenes between Gambit and Stratagem.

  • Camaraderie in battle. Unexpected surprises. Jedao being caught out, or (if you’re feeling ambitious) engaged in a complex strategic double-bluff.

  • Heretical calendars and their zones of influence coming into conflict with one another.

  • Immolation/sacrifice as a general theme, or the nature of sentience under different Calendars, or individual worth, or any kind of symbolic exploration.

  • Weird exotic weaponry (or its creators - I mean, who came up with the Threshold Winnower? Was that what they were trying to achieve?)

  • Jedao remembering why he’s doing what he’s doing, experiencing the world through Cheris’ eyes and/or his own memories.

  • Characters brought to breaking point, with or without formation instinct involved.

  • Servitors! (You know what, I’d adore a 5+1 style servitor fic.)

  • Day in the life of an average person - how do they adapt to a sudden shift in calendrical reality?

  • Crackfic. Darkfic. Both?

Rules of Summer - Shaun Tan
Characters requested: Younger boy, Older boy
Fandom type: 5 minute fandom, picture-book/graphic novel accessible to all ages
Fandom theme: surreal, rite-of-passage, fantasy

Oh my word THIS BOOK. I found it in the kids’ section in the local library, but like everything Tan produces, wow, does it have depth! On the surface, it’s an illustrated story of the summertime adventures of two boys. Underneath that, it’s about friendship, connections, and coming to terms with the wider world, which in the case of this story is pretty fucking weird (or suitably allegorical, if you want to read it that way.) The illustrations are gorgeous and so evocative. The worldbuilding is surreal and creative. There are giant rabbits, sinister birds, mecha, feasts, algebraic tennis, congregations, cities, and a growing sense of real peril.

Never leave a red sock on the clothesline.

This is where it all kicks off. A red sock on the clothesline, and the two kids huddled against the wall. The older boy has his hand over the younger boy’s mouth, the malevolent red rabbit is right there behind them, but their eyes are fixed on the crow. The crow just stands there, watching.


As the story goes on, the adventures grow wilder, but the younger boy can’t quite seem to keep up. And then, everything breaks down, and the wrong bargain is struck...

What I’d love in a story for this fandom… okay, brace yourself for a brain-dump of ideas rather than a nice, clean set of bullet points.

Not a fic that simply retells a scene in more words, but one that unpicks it and makes the layers resonate. How does the (possibly allegorical) fantasy interleave with the boys’ lives before, after, or even (in a mundane, real-world setting) during the story? How do the ‘rules’ compare with the other rules of adulthood - and those of childhood? Why do these rules matter? What happens when you break them? How do the rules stay with the boys in later life?

What does the Crow want? Why is it always there? Where were the Crow’s people taking the younger boy? What was the older boy offered in exchange? What happens if you do miss the last day of summer, or if you can’t find your way back?

How about an AU where the book’s rules are broken and different rules learned? (Feel free to go full-on Crueltide with that, if it takes your fancy.) Or, the interpretation where the setting is more of a portal-world fantasy. How did the boys stumble into it, and do they ever return? Does anything ever come out of the summer-world into the real-world? Crossovers with mythology? Or with other portal fantasies (e.g. Narnia, Terabithia, Cooper’s Seaward, Pan’s Labyrinth, Labyrinth-Labyrinth, Dark Tower - and by all means deconstruct as much or as little as you want out of these fandoms/associated tropes, if you want to go that route). Character development - this is such a rite of passage story, one of those formative friendships that stay with a person forever. The kids learn and change so much. The best thing about YA fic for me is its focus on change, alongside everything else an individual story might be about. What’s the impact of the events of the book on these kids?

All of the above probably sounds like a request for twisted, plotty longfic, but please don’t feel obliged to go that route! Some of the stories I’ve loved most from Yuletide have been utter gems of 1k-ish words. You can do a heck of a lot with 1k, and often it’s all you need. So, just write what you want, or what works best for you.

Flodskörden | Things from the Flood - Simon Stålenhag
Characters requested: Any
Fandom type: 5 minute fandom, art book
Fandom theme: alternate history, aliens, tech, normal life, horror

I requested this fandom two years ago under the “We need to talk about Annika” tag. Since then, the same images and a number of others have been collected into an art book/graphic novel. It’s a loose sequel to Ur Varselklotet | Tales from the Loop, but you don’t need any knowledge of that in order to get into this fandom, as every image or image sequence pretty much stands on its own, even though they’re also part of a larger narrative. I’m happy with any interpretation of these images for yuletide, so don’t feel you have to have an intimate knowledge of the text of the book in order to write in this fandom.

So: the best place to start is probably the characters in the tagset, and the images they can be found in.

The female police officer can be seen here, as part of the Things From the Flood: part II sequence of images.
The story of Annika and her boyfriend is covered in this series of images.
The stimulus roadworker can be seen here.

You can also get more of an idea of the creepy alien tech here and here.

I’ve received awesome fic for Stålenhag’s artwork in past yuletides (seriously, go and read it) but there is just SO MUCH potential for exploration in this fandom, and my enthusiasm for it is still a heck of a long way from being sated.

Possible prompts, if you’re looking for specific inspiration (some cloned from last year’s letter):

  • “Things from the Flood” is the start of this particular story arc - the sudden emergence of gory biotech with a mind of its own. What’s it like to be there at the outset?

  • The image texts suggest some form of xenomorphic evolution of native species. What are the implications for humans?

  • What’s the female police officer’s story? What has she found? Where does her job take her next?

  • The pictures suggest that Annika's boyfriend goes into one of the machines alone. What does he see inside? How does it change him? His appearance in the later image suggests he's not quite himself, but are the repercussions of going inside short-lived, or something he'll have to deal with for a while. Does he come out the same person at all? (Hello, cloned boyfriend!?) How much do they know about what they were exploring and what happened to him (if anything did)?

  • Why? What led Annika and her boyfriend to head out to these locations. A simple whim, or some larger purpose? Does Annika have an agenda of her own? Did she persuade her boyfriend to go inside? Did they find something in the first machine that led to them going to the towers/teleporters/biomachines?

  • What's in the pipes? Where's all that energy going? What are the other machines for? Why the gore? Why is the wiring/pipework so biological and haphazard in appearance?

  • Who (or what) are the (other?) victims of the machine - or is the gore part of the machine itself? Is that biological waste going anywhere? Will it do anything more than just sit there in a pool?

  • What role does Annika's relationship with her boyfriend play in this story? WHO needs to talk about Annika? Why? Where are the lovers in the final image? What kind of machine/structure is that, and what is its purpose?

  • Human society becomes accustomed to the new tech. But what’s the price?

  • The roadworker wearing the stimulus headgear - is he relaxing between shifts, or is it part of his job? What is he seeing/doing beneath the mask? What’s his life like outside of work?

  • Maybe the roadworker isn’t a roadworker. Maybe it’s some kind of scheme to hack or infiltrate the towers in the background. Maybe his colleagues aren’t resting. Maybe they’re dead, or suborned.

Song of the Sea
Characters requested: Any
Fandom type: animated movie
Fandom theme: mythology, rites of passage, families

This is, quite possibly, the most beautiful film ever made. It's so full of emotion and heart. I love the interwoven stories - magic and reality, and the fading of magic from the world matching the journey from childhood to adulthood. Conor's grief and Granny's pragmatism interwoven with Macha and Mac Lir. Life as a selkie vs. life as a human child. Bronagh's sacrifices - to stay with Conor, to leave for the sake of Saoirse, to lose Saoirse and Conor and Ben all over again. The narrative of love and grief and belonging, oh, it tugs on me SO HARD. The prices we pay, the ones we choose and the ones we just have to deal with. How all the different characters deal with their emotions: Conor drowning his, Ben angry, resentful and self-limiting, Saoirse silent and lost but freer than both, Macha refusing to entertain them at all.

I love how much all the characters grow, and would love to see that growth continue in a post-canon fic, or explored in a moment of realisation within the flow of the film itself. Or how Conor and Bronagh met, how they melded the magic of what she is into their everyday lives. Ben and Saoirse and Conor post-canon, and how their relationships evolve. How they feel about the sea, and the magic that's no longer such a tangible part of it. Macha and Mac Lir - the love and compassion that drove both of them, the safety in retreating to a life of stone, how they mirror Granny and Conor in the way Granny is so intent on safety at all costs and how Conor has pretty much stopped feeling at all. (Yeah, they're very obviously direct archetypes of the mythology, but how overtly do they understand what they are?)

I don't really want to give too many specific prompts for this, because otherwise I'll want to start writing them myself, and in a fandom this tiny what I want most of all is to see what makes this film so special for YOU. I trust you. Write the fic of your heart, please.

Crossovers: Maybe you were hoping to write one? I'm not expecting one, but please go ahead only if you're sure that (a) I'm familiar with the crossover fandom, and (b) the eventual story benefits from its inclusion. E.g. the story of how Conor and Bronagh met, or Ben or Saoirse's continuing adventures involving some other vaguely magical fandom. General Irish/Celtic mythology or children's lit like Susan Cooper, Alan Garner or E Nesbitt are examples of things that could fit that bill, but a megafandom like Harry Potter would be something I'd prefer to avoid. Maybe that'll inspire something, maybe it won't, but there it is if you need it! (And I'm sorry I'm so picky about crossovers, but they're the kind of thing that can make or break a fic for me.)

Dark is Rising Sequence - Susan Cooper
Characters requested: The Lady, The Black Rider
Fandom type: childrens literature
Fandom theme: saving the world, two sides of the same coin, mythology

Note: Please treat this as an OR request rather than an AND request.  This is my nostalgia fandom this year.  I've never been hugely into the shipping that propels the fandom along, but don't let that put you off writing for me if that's your thing. I'm just more of a how people tick/big plotty stuff/small moments kind of person. And also, I really don't ship the two characters I've requested!  That said, they both have similar roles in their respective hierarchies - the early personification of power. And at the same time, they're completely different: the black rider is one half of the polarised fanaticism of the dark, while the Lady is small and all-encompassing and everything in between. I'd love to see their various dualities explored, at any point that suits you along the timeline. I'm going to leave this particular prompt short, because I don't think it really needs more than that specific pointer. Show me who they are, what makes them, where they intersect and reflect.

Aaaaand... I'm done. Like I said, apologies for the seriously exuberant length of this thing. I hope you have fun with this, and that your own yuletide is an excellent one.