The Fangirl Identity: A Lynn Zubernis Book Review


Lynn Zubernis has had an unusual career progression, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

She is a trained clinical psychologist, who has worked for many years in school and treatment center environments. In her spare time, she and a group of girlfriends get together and share something they have enjoyed watching recently. One day in 2005, one of them shared the first season of a new show called Supernatural. She wasn’t immediately hooked, as her friend had been, but binged the whole first season with that group and would have it on as background noise as season two aired live on then-network The WB.

Cut to episode two of season two, titled “Everybody Loves a Clown”. Main characters Sam and Dean Winchester stand beside each other as they give their father’s remains a “hunter’s burial”. Sam wants to know if their father said anything before he died, and the internal battle Dean faces is apparent as he openly lies to his brother. Zubernis was supposed to be grading papers, which by then had fallen out of her lap while the red pen dangled from her fingers. Suddenly, the show she felt obligated to watch for her friend’s sake was much more than that.

Up until that point, Zubernis had never been part of a fandom. Sure, she had been a fan of shows such as The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but suddenly she found herself in a community of creative people that she never knew existed. At the same time, she was learning that her own field of psychology had little to no research on fandom studies. Between her and her friend Katherine Larsen, they found nearly every piece of research published on fandoms and conducted their own research to create what is now their first book, Fandom at the Crossroads: Celebration, Shame and Fan/Producer Relationships.

It took a few years for the book to get published, for several reasons. First, they had two very different disciplines: Zubernis in Psychology and Larsen in English Literature. That meant that their research styles were completely dissimilar, and they had to find a medium that worked best for them.

“We had to struggle through all the ethical issues and how were we going to do this research and how much were we going to anonymize and how that is going to be possible, because the fandom community is a marginalized community that's often stigmatized,” Zubernis said.

Once they had all of that in place, they had to find a publisher. They found it difficult to pitch the book because not only was fandom studies still a new topic, but they wanted their book to appeal to both academics and fans. Academic publishers found the book ‘too readable and pop culture based’ while popular publishers told them that the topic was not something the average person would read. It didn’t help that Supernatural was still a relatively new show, with more of a cult following than a mainstream one.

In the end, both were wrong.

A small publisher in the United Kingdom took a chance on them, and soon enough it was in the hands of Henry Jenkins, a scholar who focuses on transmedia storytelling and convergence culture. With his stamp of approval, Zubernis and Larsen continued to research and develop more fandom study books.

Photos by Chris Schmelke
The second book, Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls chronicles their journey in the fandom and how making that transition from fans who sat in the audience to fans who sat backstage was a challenge.

“We really felt like we were sitting on a rail, straddling two identities that didn't mesh very well,” Zubernis said. “I identify as a fan, I identify as a fangirl. That is part of my identity, but we really felt pressured to not be fans because now we were backstage, we were in the green room, we were interviewing people. We were uncomfortable with it, we were awkward about it, we probably made it harder than it had to be because we were so awkward about it. But it was a transition that we learned to navigate little by little and a lot of pretty hilarious things happened as a result.”

While it was once again a challenge to find a publisher, they now had more people in their corner, including actors of the show.

Zubernis had been toying with the idea of making the next book about stories from fans and how the show changed their lives when she was asked about it by none other than the actor who played Sam Winchester, Jared Padalecki.

While standing in line to meet him at one of the Supernatural conventions, Padalecki asked Zubernis if she was writing another book. When she told him the idea, he went silent. Surely, Zubernis thought, he hated it. Instead, she was surprised when he finally did say, “You know, I’ve got a story like that about how the show changed my life.”

Was he asking to write a chapter in her next book? Yes, yes he was.

Family Don’t End With Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives shares incredibly personal accounts on how the show has inspired fans to be the best versions of themselves. There are also essays or special messages from Padalecki, Ruth Connell, Rob Benedict, Kim Rhodes and more.

When it was announced that Supernatural would end after 15 seasons, Zubernis knew she had to write one last book. This time around, she wanted to make sure they released a book that spotlighted the diversity seen in the fandom and give all walks of life the chance to reflect on how the show impacted them. There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done: Actors and Fans Celebrate the Legacy of Supernatural does just that.

“I felt like because this show was so important to so many people, including me, [they] really needed something to hold on to to remember the show,” Zubernis said. “A lot of how I crafted the book was purposely to be something that fans could hold on to as they were grieving a really important loss and something that would validate those feelings of loss.”

As a fan of Supernatural, it might be complicated to put into words how much this show has impacted the people who stood by it for 15 years. Thanks to people like Zubernis, Larsen, the actors, directors, producers and fandom community, the impact of this show has been immortalized.

To learn more about the books or purchase them, visit their website.