Fan Fiction

In a lot of respects, I was a late bloomer, but when it comes to fan faction, I was way ahead of the curve. I wrote my first fan fiction story when I was six years old. I don’t remember the specifics, but there were two horses involved, and they were playing out a story I’d seen in a cartoon movie around that time.

I didn’t know it was fan fiction at the time.. I don’t even believe the term was in popular use. What I did know is that I loved a story, and I made it my own using characters that were already developed (if subjected to an equestrian treatment.)

It doesn’t matter if you’re six or sixty; fan fiction is a way to let your imagination explore. Reading stories is how you learn story structure. Certainly you can study stories on a more intellectual level, but humans grasp stories instinctively. The fact is that it’s much easier to borrow established characters than develop new ones.

Fan-fiction is a bit like training wheels. It’s a writing exercise. “How would I have had this character develop in this world?”

Now, there is this little thing known as Intellectual Property. I don’t claim to understand the fine print but the basic idea is “I thought it up, it’s mine, and you can’t make money off of it because all that money belongs to me.”

Ostensibly, this is to protect artists. It’s hard enough to get paid as an artist, and having someone stand on the shoulders of giants is a little offensive at first blush. I could absolutely see being annoyed if someone took my protagonist and wrote a story and *gasp* sold more copies than me. However, I’d have to look very closely at this other writer’s work, and see what he or she did to succeed with my character that I didn’t do.

I think that as a consumer culture, we need more stories. There are 7 billion humans now, and we all need entertainment, not as much as food or shelter but certainly it’s a human need. And while it can take a year to write a book or 6 months to make a movie, it takes two to three hours to watch a movie and a week or two to read a book. Creation is slower than consumption. That’s how it’s been since humans learned to put wood on fire to keep it going.

I don’t know how I feel about fan fiction as a consumer, on the other hand. I can square with it from a writer’s perspective, but it’s hard to find a good book even when the writer has the backing of a professional house and the marketing team and editors that go with it. To me, fan fiction smacks of reading someone’s homework. It might be a labor of love, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy it. My son’s kindergarten career brought home a metric ton of creations over the course of the school year. I kept five of the best pieces and let everything else go recycle. I love him more than I love another human being but that doesn’t mean all of his practice scribbles have attained Jackson Pollock status.

I want to encourage writers to write. It’s therapeutic; it’s good for the soul. However, I’m an elitist when it comes to my personal reading for enjoyment. What I read in my spare time for fun has to reach a certain level of awesome or it gets abandoned on the side of the bed, to be twice-sold or gifted or donated as is appropriate.

I think the world is always looking for more forms of story, and I respect that. Fan fiction is the place a lot of good novelists begin. In my eyes, however, fan fiction is a stepping stone to the real deal.

The Black Between Stars

I walked with fellow writer/artist Allison along the downtown streets, some of which are salted with people who are displaced from society, and have created societies of their own in the tide pools of shadow and cement. My gaze slides past them, seeing them but not too deeply; I don’t want to cause trouble, and I don’t want to invite conversation.

We were talking shop. I have a limited audience for people who will listen to my flights of fancy, and Allison is one of the lovely souls that will let me fly. As we walked, I noticed a blonde girl in a red tank top, pacing along the side of a building and aggressively taunting a man who stood outside of her orbit. I started assessing the situation, and almost missed the second blonde, crouched low, sitting on her feet, knees out, smoking.

As we passed the first blonde, the crouching blonde started talking.

 “Hell no, fuck no.” She muttered, drawing on her cigarette. She had sores on her nose and cheeks that I first took for freckles. Her eyes were glassy and stared out into the void. “I’d rather die.”

In that moment, a small piece of her climbed inside my head, and stared outwards.

I assume that she was on something, probably meth from the thinness of her body and the poor condition of her skin. The fact that she spoke to no one suggested it too. I could almost feel the ragged hole where her aura should be, trying to draw something in.

As a writer, I’m a magpie. I take poignant moments and internalize them, try to synthesize meaning out of it, and then send it back out to the world. I can’t get another person to feel anything if I don’t feel it first.

And let’s face it; no matter how we love our heroes, we cannot say they have easy lives.

I try to soak up the good things as much as I can. But the world is full of horrible people, and if we pretend like they don’t exist, it gives them permission to continue being horrible.

Indeed, at this point, the meth-addicted blonde isn’t a horrible person, she’s just trapped in a prison no one can save her from.

I don’t like being a writer for this reason. If I see something, I know about it, and if I know about it, I care.

And I can’t just care. I have to pass it along.

That’s what it means to be a writer.


Being a writer is a lot of work.

It’s not enough to sit over your keyboard and sweat blood onto paper. It’s not enough to pay out for editors, or to get your beta readers to read, or to attend writers’ groups. It’s not enough to go to conferences, and book signings, and meet-and-greets.

No, you have to have a blog, too.

Social media of all stripes, honestly. Twitter, Facebook, WordPress.. it all takes time, and word count to upkeep.

The formula is simple. Social media = exposure = marketing. If you don’t market yourself, no one is going to do it for you.

Oh, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a self-published author or a big-house backed author, the expectation is there. Publishing houses do marketing for their authors, but they aren’t going to run a blog or a Twitter feed for them. Maybe if you’re Stephen King, but you know. Who is?

The irony of this is that social media is the enemy of any artist. It is easy to look at a FaceBook page, click on an interesting link, and lose two hours. You only have to do this four times to lose a day’s worth of work.

So why do it? For people. It is the best way to meet people, people you may never have been exposed to otherwise. I met a writer on Twitter who was offering to send his work to anyone who would read it and critique it. I have felt the same way, shouting at the universe for someone to look at my story and tell me what they think. So, I responded to him. I learned a lot from the experience, and he did too. He’s sent me follow up chapters with my suggestions incorporated in them. He’s offered to read my work, and critique it too.

Someday, we may buy each other’s books.

I don’t mind having an obligation to my blog – its part of the process. And, it keeps me honest.