Jennifer Stanley isn't psychic, but she has ripped a hole in the space-time continuum. Two years ago, on a whim, she wrote "Wildest Dreams," a 12,000-word piece of fan fiction depicting (with some uncannily accurate details) the budding relationship of Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston.
When a British tabloid released a smattering of images of Swift and Hiddleston canoodling on a Rhode Island beach, the internet erupted into flames — and blew up Stanley's phone. Stanley, 22, has just graduated from Saint Mary's College in California with degrees in politics and philosophy. Last summer, she interned in the office of California Governor Edmund Brown, in the external affairs and legislation department. In the fall, she'll start law school. I chatted with her about the craziest week of her online life, the relationship between fan fiction and her IRL career, and what it's like to be the omniscient author of the novel we call life.
Kaitlyn Tiffany: How did you start writing fan fiction, and do you do any other kinds of writing?
Jennifer Stanley: Writing is something I've always done on the side growing up, I think starting around middle school. But I didn't start writing fan fiction until I wrote "Wildest Dreams," actually. I didn't even start reading fan fiction until a year before that. I knew Tom and Taylor were sort of a strange couple to put together but there's so much fan fiction, I was like "Of course there's something out there!" But there was nothing! So I wanted to write something and I did. Most of the writing I do isn't fan fiction. I do a lot of poetry, actually. I'm not the best poet but I do enjoy it. And I'll do some short story writing, kind of anything I'll scribble down in my journal.
When you were just reading fan fiction, what kind of stuff did you read mostly?
Mostly Glee, I was really into Glee. A little bit of The Vampire Diaries when I used to watch it. When I found out who Tom Hiddleston was, I went on Tumblr, and that's when I saw fan fiction about him.
So "Wildest Dreams" was an off-shot of Tom Hiddleston-specific fan fiction not Taylor Swift-specific fan fiction?
Yeah, it never occurred to me to write anything about Taylor.
Can you expand a little bit on why you thought "Oh yeah, Tom Hiddleston and Taylor Swift, specifically, I should write fan fiction about them." What makes them fit well together?
What drew me to Taylor is just how much she inspires myself and others, and how confident she is. She is such a sweetheart. I've never met her, I don't know her personally but I know she is sweet from all the things I've heard about her. And I love the fact that she's a huge goofball and at the same time, she exudes confidence. Then, when I found out who Tom was, I started watching YouTube videos of him and I saw a lot of the same qualities that Taylor has. He's extremely optimistic and positive. I know that he loves to dance like her and really it was just the fact that their personalities seem very alike to me.
When you first saw those paparazzi photos of them together, did your brain explode? Did you think you had altered space and time?
Okay, well first the Met Gala video of them dancing came out. I was a resident adviser this past year for 100 first-year residents and I was on duty that night and I was sitting in my room and I started getting blown up with texts and Tumblr notifications about the video and I was like "Oh my god, what have I done?" That kind of died down after that week and I was thinking okay they just danced together, it was just friendly dancing.
And then, when the photos came out, I was actually at an awards ceremony in Wisconsin. We got a tornado warning, so we had to take shelter in a furnace room. I'm standing there in the furnace room, next to a bunch of pipes talking to my dad and a bunch of other business people when my phone starts to vibrate a ton in my purse. I'm getting bombarded with notifications on everything saying "Oh my god, you predicted it, Jenn." It was so surreal and it still is now. I'll still look at a photo every now and then when it comes up on Tumblr and be like "This happened, it really did happen." I was in shock and I had to contain myself because I was in public. It was probably five hours before I could finally start to react.
Okay, so let's talk about the sequel to "Wildest Dreams" — "I Know Places." You have Taylor and Tom get caught by the paparazzi when they're hanging out by the water, just like what really happened! When I read that, I screamed out loud in the newsroom.
It's so difficult to wrap my mind around. I'm definitely not psychic like a lot of people are saying. I know most of it's joking around, but some people actually think I'm psychic!
"oh my god, what have i done?"
Anyway, in 2014 I was getting a lot of people messaging me saying "I need a sequel, I really need a sequel." I enjoy working out at 3 o'clock in the morning, because it helps my mind wander. So, I was on the elliptical and I was thinking about what to do for a sequel and I was thinking, "Okay, how should I get them caught by the paparazzi and then stir up some trouble?" and then I just thought, "Let's just do a beach!" I don't know how this happened in real life. I'm getting messages asking me how I think Tayvin (Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris) broke up and how everything with Tom went down, and people seem to think I know, but I really don't know.
Does any part of you think that they staged that, that they're not actually getting caught but it's a strategic move?
When it originally came out, I was still head over heels in shock. I follow some really popular Taylor blogs on Tumblr and they were getting tons of questions from people speculating about whether or not it was a stunt. I had that little doubt in my mind reading that stuff, but as the days have continued I really don't think it is a stunt at all. I don't think they meant to be caught by the paparazzi. I think they were having a private moment in her home. It's very invasive for that to have happened to them.
I don't think it's fake either — that would go against the Taylor narrative. But it's definitely interesting, the frenzy that springs up whenever she does anything.
It's really tense right now. I'm pretty sure that they're being scouted out non-stop by the paparazzi. I feel really bad to be honest, just because I think they should be able to have normal lives. There's a Snapchat video that surfaced on Tumblr a couple days ago, that I saw but I didn't reblog or anything: someone was walking by her house and they happened to see Tom on her balcony. Really? That's her home. They should be allowed to have some privacy. I feel bad, and actually the fact that my story went viral makes me feel worse, just because that puts more of a spotlight on them. I don't want to tarnish their reputation. I don't like that perhaps I am adding to that.
When you wrote this story you probably didn't expect anywhere near this number of people to be seeing it. Was there any moment of this that was scary for you, or was it just exciting to reach such a large audience?
"I don't want to tarnish their reputation"
At first, I was excited because there was a huge amount of traffic. And when I wrote it, I never anticipated this ever happening. Them coming together as a couple in general, not even the details I apparently nailed down. I never expected it to just spread everywhere. But then I started to worry about the long term. And I felt bad, kind of selfish, for thinking about my career, but this is going to follow me. I want to be a lawyer, and that kind of made me a little scared to be honest. Perhaps my future will be affected, but I really have no idea.
Could you speak a little bit to how you feel about the perceptions of fan fiction — do you view fan fiction as an art, as just a creative release, or what do you think the genre is capable of?
I don't like the perception in society about fan fiction and fan fiction writers. I experienced it recently myself with comments on articles that I've done interviews for in the last week. People say, "Oh, you have no life, because you're writing fan fiction" or "Oh, you must be crazy, because you're not funneling that time and energy into your own life or your own love life." Stuff like that.
There's also this perception that you have to be a preteen to be writing fan fiction. I really don't like that, and it's definitely not true. I know people who are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s with families who write fan fiction. I've found that fan fiction is for sure an art form, and very therapeutic. If you're dealing with any emotional trauma from the past that you still haven't sorted through it really helps — writing about characters instead of yourself. I've gone through emotional trauma, I'm a sexual assault survivor, and I've found that writing, whether or not it's fan fiction or free writing, helps kind of work through what's going on internally. People should just keep writing if that's what makes them happy. If you're passionate about it, why stop?
Probably one of the things that people take the most issue with in fan fiction is the sex scenes, for whatever reason. There's this very conservative response to young women writing about sex. Which is so odd, because it seems like a very safe way to explore sexuality. Can you talk about writing the sex scene in "Wildest Dreams?"
"we should be allowed to explore our own sexuality"
I don't see why female fan fiction writers should be scrutinized for having sexual scenes in their writing. We should be allowed to explore our own sexuality whether or not it's through writing. It really helps you discover who you are, in terms of how you connect with someone else. I'm 22 years old and I'm still trying to figure myself out. I'm exploring sexuality and writing does really help with that. It gets your mind going, it gets you thinking, "Well, this is what I like, but perhaps I should look into this more and that sounds kind of great" and then you can correspond with other people and learn about their experiences and they kind of help you build your knowledge. It shouldn't be as scrutinized as it is, and it's definitely linked to how women's sexuality is scrutinized by the media and scrutinized by popular culture in general. I define myself as a feminist, for sure.
Are any of your friends also involved in fan fiction, do you participate in any communities?
I have a few friends from high school — I didn't know that they wrote fan fiction until I wrote "Wildest Dreams." We'll talk about what ideas they have going on, what ideas I have going on just to kind of help each other build it. On Tumblr, I talk with a lot of other people. I mainly get messages from people about how much they enjoy my writing and I'll talk to them. I love to get feedback, so I can make sure that the people that I'm writing for are really enjoying my writing. That's really the main reason for why I write: it's lifting up a lot of people in their day to day. It makes them happy, it makes them excited, and I love seeing that so much.
Do you have plans for anything else you're going to write, are you going to keep writing under the same name?
The hard part with all this is that it's making it seem like all I do is write fan fiction. I don't like that, because I do have a lot of accomplishments. School and family are my top priorities, and during the school year I'm not on Tumblr that much. I've always taken up a lot of jobs and internships. So fan fiction definitely isn't my life. But I do enjoy it; it does help me. As of right now, I want to take a little more time to think about whether I want to keep writing. I think I'm leaning toward a yes.