Friday, January 18, 2013

Let's Talk Fan-fiction.

Today, Katya & I are trying something a little different. Since fan-fiction is such a huge part of fandom, and has increasingly become a surprise addition to the professional publishing sector, we felt it deserved its own post.

KatyaI've been writing fan-fiction since I was 16 (which would make it... five years this November. Yelp!) I won't link my profile because it will be kinda embarrassing to have people read the shit I wrote (although it is kinda impressive when you compare where I started out and how my writing has improved... privately). I wrote stuff for many fandoms, including Twilight, and am guilty of writing a fic so ridiculous and misogynistic (yes) that even the Twifans were disgusted by it (go figure). Said fic no longer exists, because I know better.

Ceilidh: For me, I think I was about 15 when I discovered fan-fiction, thanks to the Harry Potter section of the IMDb message boards. I didn't really write anything in fan-fiction until a couple of years later (and no, not linking to that either, because it's terrible). It was a handy outlet for some of my creative juices, and very helpful for allowing me to grow as a writer. I haven't written fic in a while now, mainly because I haven't written anything fiction in such a long time, but I still read it regularly for a number of fandoms. I think it's an important part of fandom creativity. It's one of the foundations of fandom. Of course, nowadays things are a bit different. I don't think any of us ever thought we'd be seeing fan-fiction become a new milestone in the modern publishing industry. 

I'm adamantly against pulling fan-fiction and rejigging it for "original" publishing purposes. What about you?

Katya: Honestly, I'm a little conflicted about it. On the one hand, I know how much time and effort goes into the making of a good fan-fic, and there are some that are drastically different from the source material. But that could be the inner fan in me speaking - I was really sad when "The Lost Boys" got taken down, so I was really looking forward to the re-release, because I loved the story so much. (Note: I have read the re-release, and it has several large differences from the original. So... not all of the P2Ps are given a cosmetic makeover.)
Still... yeah, I do think that the way everything's done right now is not cool. It would be one thing if authors re-edited the story and queried it the traditional way, but instead, publishers are now actively seeking popular fics with an established fanbase. I get it that they want to make a profit but... yeah, not cool.
Since we're covering the basics, I also want to point out that fan-fiction in itself is a pretty awesome thing, since it encourages fans to interact and explore their fandom beyond what the writer did. Didn't get enough world-building in "Under the Never Sky"? How about a history of the Aether, with a love story thrown in? Or you didn't like the ending to "Breaking Dawn"? Let's give it the bloodbath it deserved! One of my favourite fics is basically a Twilight re-hash, but it replaces vampirism with serious lust, going back to the original myth that vampirism was just a metaphor for sex. There is just so much in theme and character that can be done, and the fans do some amazing things with it. As a phenomenon, it's fascinating. 
What about you? Do you think fan-fiction has literary merit?

Ceilidh: Definitely. I'm always amazed when people say genre fiction has no literary merit because it's really bloody hard to write good genre fiction, be it sci-fi, romance, crime, etc. I think it's the same concept in regards to fan-fiction. Not only do you limit yourself to an extent by working with a set universe or characters or tropes, but you're working with something that many people are greatly attached to. I particularly enjoy reading fan-fiction based on a piece of work that wasn't particularly well received critically. I think the writer has more freedom in that aspect to really do as they wish with the world because the creator missed so many opportunities with their own work. 

Besides, fan-fiction is part of literary history. Many of Shakespeare's plays were based on Greek tragedies or historical events. Jean Rhys took the mad woman in the attic trope from Jane Eyre and turned it into a feminist revisionary masterpiece. Gus Van Sant turned Shakespeare's Henry IV into a non-linear gay romance. Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, they've all been re-imagined time and time again. One of my all-time favourite films, Quills, is a dramatic re-imagining of the life of the Marquis de Sade. Technically, fan-fiction has won Oscars & Pulitzer Prizes, sold millions of copies and changed the face of entertainment. We have fandoms fighting over which fan-fic is better, notably in the recent case of Sherlock versus Elementary (team Lucy Liu!). So when people claim it has no literary merit, I simply ask them to examine history.

Of course there's a difference between Wide Sargasso Sea and Fifty Shades of Grey.

If fan-fiction continues to be openly sought out by publishers for "original fiction" purposes, what is the future of fan-fiction as a fandom-centric element?

Katya: I honestly don't know. I haven't really been an active member of any fandom, so I don't really have a perception of what the reactions are towards publishers openly seeking fan-fics for publication.

That said, I imagine that it might add a layer of competitiveness that wasn't there before. Even before "50 Shades" became a phenomenon, or even got pulled, fics got remade and pubbed, either through Amazon or through Omnific, but I didn't think much of it. Perhaps because self-publishing wasn't nearly as big back then, but I didn't think you could make much out of publishing your fics. I thought it was all about the stories and the fans.

That, obviously, is no longer the case. I'm as curious as you are as to what the effects on the fandom would be, but with stories being sold for seven figures, it's obviously not all about the art and the fandom anymore. With the possibility to become the Next Best Thing, wouldn't that just add a whole lot of pressure on people? It's like the old "I write better than XYZ, so why are publishers NOT hounding my fic?" on steroids. I'm actually a little worried this might take away some of the fun people used to have with fan-fiction.

On the other hand, the fandom might just give a big, mightly shrug, clink our glasses together and go back to writing Jesmett slashfics, or Bella/Edward/Jasper menage-a-trois. And who knows? Maybe the fandom will insert some much needed diversity in traditional publishing. What genre is more accepting, more inclusive than a fandom? Homosexual, bisexual, polyamorous, interracial relationships - they have them all!
What do you think? If publishers really did go indiscriminately after the most popular fics out there, what kind of positive change do you wish for fan-fiction to bring to the traditional publishing table? 

Ceilidh: If that does indeed happen, it could have a positive impact, particularly in relation to YA (so far, self-published P2P works have been limited to Twilight based adult romances/eroticas, but it's still early days). For all our talk of diversity in the genre, it's still mostly cis white monogamous romance that dominates the field by quite a margin. Slash fiction is hugely popular with readers of all ages and makes up a big chunk of many of the most popular fandoms. Even Twilight fandom is diverse (who doesn't prefer Edward/Jacob over Edward/Bella?). Another great positive aspect of fan-fiction is that it opens up the original text beyond its default mode and allows for a more progressive and diverse representation where it couldn't have been before. Twilight, for example, is hardly the most modern of texts in regards to its portrayal of 21st century relationships. 

However, there's no guarantee that publishers will take the risk with non-het fan-fiction. Take the recent case of S&S buying a 16 year old writer's One Direction fan-fiction (I'm pro real person fic, but wow, I find the purchase of this story problematic). One Direction has a huge, somewhat infamous fandom with a large slash dedicated element. The most read 1D fics on AO3 are by and large slash, and have way more hits than the one S&S purchased. Yet the status quo remains. Het fic is the way to go. I think this is primarily because of the self-insert element that comes with something like boyband stories, and I'm sure publishers will claim that it's about demographics and such, but it does leave me pretty fed up to see huge sums of money being thrown at the same old vanilla stories over and over. And that's one big issue for me that I can't avoid with the recent P2P band-wagon - all these stories are cut from the same cloth. Boy meets girl, typical vaguely snarky but highly predictable relationship unfolds, conflict ensues briefly, happy ever after comes without much work. And sex. Lots and lots of sex.

P2P is primarily focused on erotic romances right now, thanks to a certain series. Do you think this over-emphasises the role of sexuality and sexual content in fandom, and on that note, what role do you think fandom can play in discussions of sex amongst young people?

Katya: Actually, I think that the focus on sexual content was already there to begin with. Again, this is my bias showing, but the majority of stories I read as a teen were of T and M rating ( People want to read about sex, and this is especially true about Twilight, where the original work was mostly abstinence porn (and, after three books of building up to it, people wanted to see something more than a fade-to-black payoff). There was even an outcry a few years back when some stories got pulled (MotU included) for their graphic sexual content, which was apparently not allowed by the ToS. Looking back at it, I don't know if it's true or not, but it certainly got people talking.
On the other hand, this curiosity about sex is pretty important. Too often you see publishers freeze out what they consider questionable content like sex and homosexuality in books for young adults, saying it's not marketable and that it would only bring controversy. Young people want to talk about sex. They want to read about sex. They're endlessly curious about sex, and hell, they may be even more creative when it comes to sex than most adult writers. The fandom shows that teenagers are not a bunch of squeamish older children whose ears should be covered whenever anyone utters the word "fuck", they are interested and eager to learn about their bodies and their sexuality.
Just sayin'
So, with all those good things about fan-fiction, what do you think the publishers are doing wrong now? Why are P2P fics decried instead of celebrated?

Ceilidh: For me, it simply comes down to an issue of copyright and authorial intent. Fan-fiction isn't supposed to be written for profit. Pretty much every general fan-fic disclaimer comes with a notice of how the writer is not profiting from this story, how they don't own the characters and that everything is the property of the respective author. For myself, whenever I see a P2P book on Goodreads or being lauded on another website, I immediately recoil. I've discussed these issues before (as has our lovely new co-blogger Christina) but it's always worth repeating. Fan-fiction comes with a built-in foundation for writers - the characters are already established, and readers will bring their preconceptions and love of those characters to the table when they read the fic. The work is already partly done for the author. I'm sure that there are many talented fan-fiction writers out there who could turn their fic into something unique, but for me it's a question of when a story stops being fan-fic and starts becoming "original". This isn't really helped in instances like "50 Shades of Grey" or "Gabriel's Inferno" which were nothing but search-and-replace exercises in laziness. To me, that's worth criticism. People are worried about copyright and justifiably so. 

With one P2P fic hyped to the high heavens this year (the decidedly underwhelming "Beautiful Bastard") and editors and agents freely looking for the next big thing in P2P, what do you think makes a good candidate for P2P? Any fics out there that we should keep an eye on? 

Katya: Hmmm.... I haven't seen the adaptation of "Clipped Wings and Inked Armor" yet, which is actually one I'd like to re-visit someday. Also, "The Red Line" was a pretty cool fic, even if I only read a little of it.

We're interested in your views on this issues. Favourite fan-fics? Thoughts on P2P? Any recommendations? Share your own work, if you're up to it!