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Saturday, January 10, 2015

An Old Fanwriter Reminisces

Over the last few years, fan fiction has become huge on the Internet. Rainbow Rowell, author of the delightful YA novel Fangirl(reviewed on this site) says that people are already writing fan fiction based on Fangirl! I think she's rather chuffed. I might be too, if it was me, though I do recall when someone wrote and asked me, many years ago, for permission to write a story set in my universe. I said sure, provided she let me know what she had in mind. She never did, but some months later she sent me a copy of a novella she had written, using some of my characters and making them unrecognisable. I said so, politely, and got a rude response. I don 't know if she ever published it - I had said she might as well, since the characters with the names of mine were different enough to be her own. 

At least she asked. Nobody would bother in these days of the Internet. And that's the thing. The Internet is where most, if not all, fanfic is published these days, as far as I know. The days of the print fanzine are over and that's a shame, because they were works of art and you could curl up in bed with them. There's a wonderful web site called 1001 Trek Tales(look it up as I don't have the link on me). It is dedicated to rescuing old stories from th print fanzines in the editor's collection, with the authors' permission(in some cases the permission of their estates). They have a couple of my stories.

The first fanzine I ever edited, cover by Robert Jan, who won't mind.

These days, there are a lot of younger fans who think the Internet is the be-all and end-all and that hardly anyone published this stuff before. 

My club fanzine, in which I had a story, though I can't remember what it was. Cover by my friend Greg Franklin.

Someone on Twitter the other day put in a link to a blog on which the author, a young woman who is working on her first novel, gives tips about writing. This one was on fan fiction. It was written on the assumption that fan fiction was pretty much a Net thing - I assume it did, because anyone who was familiar with fanzines wouldn't have said some of the things she did - and advised readers to think carefully about writing it because it didn't make money and you were restricted in what you could write because of canon, giving some details about Harry Potter as an example. The tweeter wondered if the author of that article had read any fan fiction and after reading it, I wondered too. I went to the web site and wrote the following:

Sorry,XXX, but reading this post makes me wonder just how much fan fiction you have read – and from a look at your bio, I’m guessing you weren’t BORN before the Internet. You know the word “canon” but not, it seems, “alternative universe”. Even these days, that exists and I am quite sure there are plenty of stories in which Harry’s parents survived or he never went to Hogwarts or Petunia did. ;-) Fans can and do and have been changing absolutely everything in fanfic, since well before you were born. There were these printed things called fanzines – I wrote about 150 fan stories set in one universe or another, before people started paying me to write books, and have a huge pile of contributors’ copies to prove it, plus plenty more. And so do a lot of speculative fiction writers who are big names these days. It’s rather sad that since the Internet there are far fewer of these forms of self expression.
While it’s true you don’t get paid for writing fan fiction, it does indeed build up your audience(as she had said)and teaches you the craft. Because while fans can and do change everything in their chosen universe there are always others to argue with them that they got the characterisation wrong or made a mistake about the universe or even, in some cases, got their physics wrong or their history in the case of some historical fantasy universes. You couldn’t buy that kind of feedback. You certainly don’t get it from publishers who have rejected your magnum opus.
And I have heard of a rare, much sought-after fanzine that was sold in the US for $1500! So much for “you can’t make money out of it.” This is only an example, though. Not to mention some writers who have rewritten their fan fiction and sold it.
And recently, I edited my first prozine and found it a comfortable process because it was not much different from editing a fanzine. You choose your stories and your artist, you edit and you publish. The system is different, of course, we used to just photocopy, but not a problem.
But even if you never write anything else, if you’re having fun, who cares? 

I hope I didn't offend her too much, but as a fanzine veteran, I found the post just a bit patronising - from someone who hasn't even sold her first book! Ah, I'm such a grumpy old fan! 

My last edited fanzine, cover by ? A friend whose name I don't recall, to my shame.


Lan said...

I don't know how I feel about fan fiction. I understand why people love it but I almost feel like it sometimes blurs the lines of copyright quite badly. I read and didn't really enjoy Fangirl for that very reason. The MC seemed to not understand that the world of Simon Snow wasn't her own creation just because she wrote fanfic for it. I really didn't like one of the chapters in which the MC states that she possibly writes fiction in the Snow world better than the actual author. That smacks of such arrogance to me and also makes me shake my head because if she was such a great writer she should have come up with her own world and not built a fanbase using someone else's hard work.

I love so much of what the internet has been able to do for literature but sometimes it does produce these really young writers who haven't had much experience. I try to just avoid them as much as I can!

It would have been great to have been published in a fanzine!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Because I'm a schoolmarm, I have a lot more tolerance for this sort of nonsense than you do. Kids write it. They experiment. They grow up and create their own. And if they never do, they have fun. And arrogance goes with the whole thing, the notion that your fanfic is better than the original. Poor Kath! But she ends up doing better than the boy who has been trying to use her ability for his own benefit.

I think we should respect the author's right to say if they do or don't want fan fiction written - and quite a lot of it is indeed atrocious - but many don't mind, as long as the authors don't, say, turn their universe into porn. And as long as they don't make money out of it. I know J. K Rowling doesn't mind fan fiction, in fact thinks it's hilarious. Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek. Turned a blind eye, asking only that he got copies of the fanzines. It was only after his death that the company started taking down web sites and closing fanzines - mostly here in Australia, because other countries had a loophole in their copyright legislations.

Fandom is a world of its own. We started writing Star Trek fiction because the TV series was finished and we were hungry for more. It went on from there.

Remember, some big names started in fan fiction. For example, Lois McMaster Bujold's Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan started life as a Federation officer and a Klingon! Diane Duane started in fan fiction, Star Wars, I vaguely recall. I have a fanzine somewhere with one of her fan stories in it. The really exciting thing about looking through one of my old fanzines is seeing how many names I recognise from book covers.