Another round of pearl-clutching over fanfic

It’s getting kind of hard for me to get worked up over authors making sweeping ignorant statements about fanfic, but it’s also impossible to ignore. The latest culprits are big names: Time-travel romance author Diana Gabaldon and epic fantasy MVP George R.R. Martin.

And luckily, there are plenty of folks stepping up to the plate this round: I particularly appreciate Catherynne M. Valente’s take:

So much ire spent over something that ultimately helps books, keeps the conversation going past the long tail of marketing, keeps them alive and loved—I’ve never understood it. Quashing fan activity is not only self-sabotaging, but unkind. I have always been delighted when told there was a piece of fanfic inspired by a book of mine floating about. I don’t read it for legal reasons, but I’m thrilled to know it’s there. Someone cared. Someone loved it enough to spend their free time writing about it for free.

And with a more bare-bones look at things, Kate Nepveu:

People gossip about their favorite characters; become fascinated by unexplored characters, locations, histories, themes, implications; imagine what would happen next, or if, or instead; and critique every aspect of a work. Sometimes this takes the form of passing in-person conversations, sometimes of blog discussions, sometimes of scholarly works, and sometimes of stories. (Sometimes, even, of critically-acclaimed, award-winning, professionally-distributed stories.) I would be astonished to hear that your own writing never was influenced by this impulse—I say this not to suggest that you’ve been writing fanfic all along, but to point out the strength and universality of this impulse.

(What fan activity isn’t born of that impulse?)

Granted, for the most part, my personal experience with fanfic has been within Star Wars, and Lucasfilm has, for the last, oh, 20 years or so, pretty much turned a blind eye. (No, this wasn’t always the case.) But I’ve been in a few smaller author-based fandoms over the years where it was politely asked that fans not engage in fanfic of the books at hand, and people complied. (And not only that, they self-policed.) It’s not perfect, and may be hard to enforce with a larger fandom, but treating your fans with respect is never a bad move. Doing otherwise just makes one look like a bully – and a particularly petty one at that.

10 Replies to “Another round of pearl-clutching over fanfic”

  1. Thanks to the link to the book excerpt about Lucasfilm wanting to shut down fan publications a long time ago. That’s fascinating and I wish I knew more about it.

  2. It wasn’t shutting down as much as restricting… The non-explicit stuff was still okay. There’s a bit more at Fanlore.

    All this pretty much mirrors what I heard from zine folks as a young n00b.

  3. My favorite part is where Gabaldon pulled a flounce and a “I’m sorry you misinterpreted my wooooords!” and then deleted everything! LOL.

  4. That’s all very interesting and relates to a post I just put on Bonnie Burton’s page over at FB!/bonniegrrl?v=wall&story_fbid=126243497391327

    fan Fiction is the cheapest and best way for any franchise to embed itself into the hearts and minds of it’s followers. back in the early 80’s I started writing my own Star Wars fanfic, and 28 years later I’m running Lightsabre (well, working on a giant spring clean that’s taken a year before relaunching august 12th)
    But to deny fans that opportunity to expand and explore concepts that are clearly important and challenging to them, that’s crazy.

    It’s a credit to the SW franchise that this is allowed and to an extent encouraged (despite Maureen’s words back in the day. Whatever happened to her, she’s a dream interview guest for us at Lightsabre) and for my part it drives me to get something we created mentioned in an official capacity, to help expand even further the SW universe.

    Hey, it’s a long shot but who knows!

  5. …I really, really do not recommend using fanfic as a way to get official recognition, to the point where parts of me are just screaming UR DOIN IT WRONG. If you have that goal in mind you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.

    There’s always getting a C&D, of course, but I don’t think that’s the kind of recognition you mean.

    (Yes, I know it’s happened in other fandoms, but it’s still breathtakingly rare, and given that most fanfic is crap… Yeah.)

  6. On the one hand: free advertising yay!

    On the other: I have to admit, with some of the character I write, should I ever be so fortunate enough to be well-known and people like them enough to want to write about them…yeah, knowing what most fan fic looks like, the thought makes me nauseus, too. I know people are going to do it, I did it, just…don’t show me or tell me about it!

  7. Dunc, absolutely right. I’m nearly 40, I know I won’t be doing anything official by way of fiction, but it’s always there in the back of my fanboy mind that maybe, perhaps one of the big guys will drop by the site, have a read and think ‘these guys understand how it works, let’s give them a shot’.
    Nieve for sure, but it’s got me this far :-p

  8. Funny you should mention Diana Gabaldon. She is a massive authorial success with a bestselling series of books under her belt, and what looks like a second series in the works (the Lord John stories, or as I like to think of them, slash for romance fans). There are several large, and intricate websites devoted to her, including her own. However, not a syllable of fanfic is on any of them. I have a sneaky feeling that she shuts down fic as soon as it pops up, which is wasted effort.

    Unlike J.K. Rowling, George Lucas (who saw the light years ago), Gene Roddenberry (may he rest in peace), the hugely overdone Twilight franchise, and the people over at Lost (a series made for fanfic if there ever was one), she is obviously very threatened by the whole idea.

    It’s too bad, because there’s so much fic out there, and most of it is so bad that it cancels itself out — all without any authorial fireworks at all. Sometimes the best way to get rid of something is to step out of the way and let it run off the proverbial cliff all by itself.

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