There’s a joke in Starling (okay, I think it’s Starling, when you’re writing a six book series it gets hazy sometimes), where Gemma is talking to Alex about fame, but every time she says the word, she whispers it.
Alex responds, “Is that like… cancer?”
The moment comes from an event in my own life, almost 20 years ago. A friend and I were in a Barnes & Noble discussing fanfiction. New to writing fic, and feeling a little weird about my foray into Star Trek: Voyager fanfic, I whispered the word.
She looked at me, her face already twitching with sardonic mirth and said what Alex says. “Is that like… cancer?”
Both of us, having grown up in houses where cancer was a topic, but also a topic undiscussed, laughed like loons. The thought of that conversation, and her gentle mocking, still makes me smile.
Lately, I keep winding up in conversations about fanfiction. No, it’s not, by its nature plagiarism (something which I wound up in a heated discussion about recently after a hideous plagiarism scandal in Romancelandia). And no, it is not, by its nature, something “real” writers don’t do (ask anyone who has written for Doctor Who in the last decade if they’ve ever written fanfiction). And no, it’s not, by its nature, just for practice (although it can be, if an individual wants it to be).
Erin and I are both authors who have written fanfiction. Sometimes we still do. I personally don’t view it as a lesser form than non-transformative works. Granted, I don’t have the time for it that I used to, now that people pay me to make up stories. But it’s not a secret, and I’m not ashamed of it.
Accusing me of having a background in fanfic (which happens occasionally) is a little like accusing me of being queer. Because, honey, I know. I mean, I also have a background in journalism, but no one ever gets weird about that.
Professional writers have a range of relationships with fanfic. Some of us write professional and in fan capacities. Some of us used to be fan writers. Some of us were never fan writers, and some of us are unfamiliar with, or opposed to, fanfiction.
But for me, it’s just a thing. I also enjoy dark chocolate, play the guitar exceedingly badly, and really, really want to talk to you about visual symbolism in pretty much every television show I have watched. Ever.
It’s also this, which is just some of what I said to Lev Grossman in 2011 for his article on fanfiction for Time:
“For me, it’s sort of like an acting or improvisation exercise. You have known characters. You apply a set of given circumstances to them. Then you wait and see what happens…. We don’t own nonfictional people, and at the end of the day, I don’t think we can own fictional ones either.”
So, despite my moment of absurdity in a B&N sometime in the 1990s (weep with me, oh fellow crypt keepers), it’s not something I whisper about. Then again, I don’t whisper about cancer either.
That’s what happens when you get older, you get less shame. As the years go on, you tend to wind up knowing people who have to face off with cancer. Fanfic seems about as common, and a hell of a lot more pleasant.
So hey, I’m a pro writer who writes fanfic. I’m also a fan writer who is a pro. And it’s not weird for me, so it probably doesn’t have to be weird for you.
If you ever want to create transformative works about the stories Erin and I write, we’re cool with that and extraordinarily flattered. We also won’t come poking into what you’re doing — just like reviews are for readers, not writers, we pretty much view fanfic the same way.
Just like everyone deserves a happily ever after, we also believe everyone deserves as many instances of once upon a time as they want.