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Tag Archives: fanfiction

Kindle Worlds: Not bigger on the inside

22 May

Today Amazon announced Kindle Worlds for Authors, which is a self-publishing tool to allow authors of fanfiction to monetize their work as long as it adheres to certain guidelines, including no porn, no offensive language, and no crossovers.

It’s not the first time someone’s tried to make money at the corporate level off fanfiction and it won’t be the last.  As a big believer in the idea that creative people deserve compensation for their creativity and that as a legitimate form of storytelling fanfiction should not be considered a pale shadow of traditional professional writing, I’m not even, necessarily, inherently opposed to the idea.

But Amazon’s project raises a bunch of compelling questions that we’ve been hurtling towards for a while now, especially as fanfiction has increasingly received positive, mainstream, and significant news coverage in outlets like Time Magazine and a property of The Washington Post.

Question 1: To what degree does Kindle Worlds suggest that fanfiction can only be legitimized through the eradication of fan culture’s gift economy?

Question 2: Fanfiction has significantly changed our media culture.  Kindle Worlds isn’t just capitalizing on it, but arguably represents an attempt to shape it.  Is this a feedback loop in action or an attempt to stop the catalyst that is fan work?

Questions 3: The contractual terms of Kindle Worlds are the sort traditional professional writers would be strongly advised against signing on to.  Is fannish work worth less?  Should it be?

Question 4: Fanfiction has, arguably, always been about the option to use use all the tools, particularly those often discouraged by corporate content production (e.g., sexuality), to tell story.  If the toolbox is limited, whether a given writer would choose to use all the tools or not, is it fanfiction or is it some other form of derivative (vs. transformative) work?

Question 5: How will fan readers view/treat fan writers who use a tool like Kindle Worlds? And how does that impact our communities, hierarchies, and barriers to entry?

Please play in comments below.

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Girls Write Now: Fanfiction workshop follow-up

18 May

While it was a week ago, I did want to follow up on my talks at Girls Write Now last week, because it was a ton of fun, and I did promise the program participants and their mentors I’d update with some relevant links and a summary of what we talked about.

One of the things that was really fun was none of us were talking about justifying fanfiction.  Rather, we talked about both how fanfiction is entirely legitimate as an end in and of itself, but also how it functions as a gift economy, a mode of criticism, and a way to approached and even produce salable work.

We looked at the idea of given circumstances for character and story development — which is the notion that a person has certain key traits and reactive patterns and that a lot of fanfiction is taking known quantities (characters) and changing their given circumstances to see what happens.  We also talked about how playing with other people’s universes is a great way to learn cadence and voice and certain stylistic techniques.

We covered Harry Potter, One Direction, Buffy, the Whoniverse, Teen Wolf, and Game of Thrones. I mentioned Glee (but am pretty sure I mostly got side-eyed for that), and Ellen Kushner‘s novels (Swordspoint is where to start, and The Privilege of the Sword is the YA-ish one with the female protagonist).

We also talked about published incidences of fanfiction, including Wide Sargasso Sea and an anthology about fictional sexual encounters with celebrities called Starf*cker(Yes, the star is really in the title, and just so the girls in the program know, I was happy to say fucker in front of you all, but imagined a mentor or two might not have approved.  But I’m sure you can handle that).

We laughed a lot (thank you!) and great questions were asked about using personal experiences in storytelling and about how fanfiction can be used to highlight the stories of characters from backgrounds and experiences that are often marginalized.  In both groups people wanted to know if I’d ever met creators of work I’ve played with in a fannish context (yes, and that’s ranged from neutral but slightly weird to totally awesome).

Mostly, though, everything sort of boiled down to the joy and necessity of narrative — how it’s something we assign to the randomness of our own lives in order to make sense of it, and how it’s in imitation of that that we also learn to tell stories whether fiction or non-fiction.  In one of the sessions this led me to mentioning a Clive Barker quote I couldn’t really remember, but thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I can tell you it’s from the prologue to his novel Sacrament and is

I am a man, and men are animals who tell stories. This is a gift from God, who spoke our species into being, but left the end of our story untold. That mystery is troubling to us. How could it be otherwise? Without the final part, we think, how are we to make sense of all that went before: which is to say, our lives? So we make stories of our own, in fevered and envious imitation of our Maker, hoping that we’ll tell, by chance, what God left untold. And finishing our tale, come to understand why we were born.

On that note, some more links I promised people in the room are below.  Additionally, if there are specific resources you’re looking for that have not been mentioned here, please ask in comments, and I’ll see what I can find; I know some of the girls I talked to were particularly interested in anime-focused fanfiction archives, which was just one of those things I have no answers on.

Fanfiction.Net — Sometimes we call this the pit of voles, and quality can be challenging, but it’s there and it’s been there forever.  I don’t actually recommend it as a starting point for reading and posting fic, but it may work for you.

The Archive of Our Own — a great place to post and find fic to read.  Still technically in beta so you have to request an invite.

LiveJournal — no longer the hub of fanfiction (or anything else) it once was, but was definitely a vibrant pace that has/had a lot of fic communities.  Depending on your particular interests it may still be a good choice for you.

Tumblr — while I often derisively describe this space as blinky not thinky, Tumblr has lots of people posting fanfiction on it, as well as lots of people telling stories through visual modes and doing criticism too.  Organizationally it’s hard for conversations, but it’s grown on me as a way to be exposed to lots of random content on lots of different things.  As such, it’s sort of inspiring in a pattern recognition sort of way.

If you were at this event, please feel free to say hi, ask questions, leave comments, or just be excited about your fannish obsessions below.  For now, I’ll leave you with a quote that just came up on my Tumblr dash

That’s the nature of any creative activity — you’re mostly going to be rejected.

That’s from The New Yorker’s Bob Mankoff at a recent TED salon.  He’s the magazine’s cartoon editor today.  But when he first changed careers to become to a cartoonist he submitted 2,000 cartoons to the The New Yorker in his first year.  Every one was rejected.

As long as you’re writing stuff, you’re a writer.  Many days, that’s hard enough.  Keep making stuff as long as it makes you happy and even sometimes when it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in becoming a mentor for Girls Write Now or are a high school student eligible to participate they are still taking applications for next year’s program through June 15 (I’d sign up to mentor in a heart beat if I weren’t on the road so much).

Girls Write Now: Wildcard Workshop

6 May

This Saturday, I am getting up much, much earlier than I normally do on Saturdays to talk about fanfiction and how it can contribute to a writer’s creative process and professional life at a workshop held by Girls Write Now.

Girls Write Now is a non-profit organization that matches teen girls from NYC public high schools with professional women writers for one-to-one mentoring, genre-based workshops, public readings, college prep activities, and scholarship and publication opportunities. This seems like an amazing thing, and if my life weren’t already so over-scheduled and constantly in-transit, I’d sign up to mentor in a heartbeat.

The event (actually two, I’m doing a morning and an afternoon session) is only open to girls currently in the program and their mentors.  But I wanted to share this in the context of fan and transformative works being taken seriously, and also to let people know that Girls Write Now is out there.

Deciding you want to write for a living is weird, no one knows what to do with that, and the standardized-test focused school system doesn’t help.  The idea of an organization supporting girls through story and for story is massively exciting to me.  If it’s exciting to you, I hope you’ll consider getting involved in Girls Write Now or whatever similar programs may exist in your community.

MASH 2013: Journalistic Artifacts, Transformative Works, and the Assemblage of Persona

22 Feb

ImageNow it can be told.  I’ll be presenting a paper at Mash 2013, the Making and Sharing Conference on Audience Creativity.  The event will be taking place over July 4 -5, 2013 in Maastrict, The Netherlands, and registration will open soon.  Meanwhile, you can see the preliminary schedule at their WordPress.

My paper, The Media Tells Me So: Journalistic Artifacts, Transformative Works, and the Assemblage of Persona, will be presented on the first day of the conference and the abstract is below:

 Many texts with significant fan communities utilize journalistic media as characters in order to enhance the believability of narrative and support and encourage the free marketing that often comes with ironic believer communities (“Clap If You Believe in Sherlock Holmes: Mass Culture and the Re-enchantment of Modernity.” Saler, 2003).  Such narrative use of journalistic media is often taken up by fan audiences in response to source texts.  These audiences not only include news media elements in the transformative works they produce, but sometimes create journalistic media artifacts – newspapers, magazines, video and audio broadcasts and recordings – specifically as transformative works.

Such use of journalistic media to enhance both original texts and transformative community participation does not represent a dialogue that flows solely in one direction, or that happens outside of the gaze of the news media.  In fact, there have been multiple instances of fan-created, transformative, journalistic artifacts that have been picked up by news outlets as factual reportage.

This paper will examine the use of journalistic media as a character in subject texts and transformative works. It will also document the dialogue that occurs between fan communities and news media outlets when transformative uses of journalistic media styles are encountered by naïve believers (Saler, 2003) and subsequently reproduced as fact, transmuting fiction into reported truth. This will be achieved through a focus on the relationship between FPF (Fictional Person Fiction) and RPF (Real Person Fiction) fan communities. It will examine how texts use journalistic media content to acquire naïve, ironic and enchanted believers (“A Tangible Reality of Absence: Fan Communities and the Mourning of Fictional Characters.” Maltese, 2010), and highlight the role fan-created, transformative, journalistic artifacts play in the invention and reinvention of both fictional texts and celebrity personae.

Can you see me rubbing my hands together with glee on this one?  I’m always talking about how I want to do serious work regarding RPF fan-culture, but this is the first time I’ve had a good excuse.  Of course, I’ve already found multiple instances of fandom accidentally morphing media and persona truth for this, but if you happen to know of any, I would love to hear from you in comments and email.

Glee, superheroes, and “All the Other Ghosts”

5 Feb

Sometimes one of the worst things that can happen to you is to get what you’ve always wanted. If you’re in fandom, that often means meeting the object or creator of your object of desire. In the flesh they are shorter or less charismatic or more distracted than you always imagined. They don’t look you in the eye, and even though they are talking to you, often, they don’t see you at all.

I don’t write about fanfiction on this blog very much. Not because of any shame, and not because I don’t believe that fanfiction and other transformative works are criticism. They are, because they are, by their very existence, in dialogue with the text. However, that’s one of those things that people who already agree don’t need to hear more of, and people who don’t believe are inclined to dismiss as a justification of porn and Internet weirdness, and that pretty much everyone is somewhat inclined to roll their eyes about and call academic wankery. Besides, there aren’t that many fanfics that have a dialogue with their relevant texts that is explicit, relevant, and clever for audiences both in the subject communities and outside of them.

Rainjoy’s “All the Other Ghosts” is a Glee superhero AU, that you need absolutely no prior knowledge of Glee or superheroes to engage with. It tells the story of a guy named Blaine who’s a part of the Tumblr fandom for a superhero named The Ghost. The Ghost saves people in a terrible, dangerous New York that evokes the Summer of Sam era. He can disappear at will, or pass his hand through people’s brains to “haunt” them. He also has a really great ass, and Blaine keeps posters of him over the bed in his apartment and reads fanfic and reblogs pictures of the guy using the tag dat ass.

One night, Blaine meets him. And through a series of events, they begin three relationships: one as teacher and apprentice, another as their non-superhero identities, and a third as their superhero identities. Public life, persona, and private life become, quickly, very complex, especially for Blaine who is now dating the man he used to read Internet porn about. It’s just what every fan has ever wanted, right?

Not so much.

Blaine can’t tell anyone. And he can’t retreat from fandom and still keep the secret; taking the posters down would seem strange and might alert someone to his own transformation into a superhero named Phalanx. He also can’t continue to participate in fandom exactly as he has. It’s too weird. People write porn about him now. And the online community that was his refuge is no longer home. He effectively loses his friends and his hobbies, and every night he and his boyfriend see the worst New York City has to offer from burning museums to dead children, and a whole lot worse I don’t want to spoil for you.

But Blaine is not the only person in this story who gets the one thing he, as a fan, has always wanted. Because a good 30% of the story is in the voices of the Tumblr fandom from whence Blaine came. We meet that fandom’s BNF’s, witness its ship wars, learn about the real lives behind handles like paleandghostly, draxie, and blackbindings, and are treated to tons of Tumblr’s unique grammar (I literally can’t all the evens ever). In addition to this, an actual Tumblr fandom has sprung up around this story, with fanart and fanfiction, some of it referenced in the story, some of it an addition of apocrypha to the tale.

One night, The Ghost gets hurt and Phalanx doesn’t know how to get help and keep their covers. After all, in this terrible New York, superheroes are also illegal. He reaches out to a few well-known fandom figures anonymously, and they assume, reasonably, it’s a troll. Except one woman who comes, just in case it isn’t. She winds up transporting a grievously wounded and possibly dying Ghost and a terrified Phalanx in the back of her car. She hears Phalanx’s real name. She sees how in love they are. She gets The Ghost’s blood all over her back seat. And she can’t tell anyone. Ever.

In this story, Rainjoy has created an astounding response not just to Glee, addressing its narrative themes around sexual assault, outing, abuse of power, marginalization, and ambition, but to fandom. She examines the consequences of the success of one of our community’s most common desires.

She also examines the price of secrets, of gossip, of loyalty to friends you’ve never met and personas you love so much you feel their hand, ghostly, holding yours when the plane takes off. She examines ambition and types of fame and fandom’s treatment of both, as well as the supposedly mundane, or even inadequate, lives that so many people in fandom are said to have with not enough resources, or not enough health. Rainjoy shows us how all of those people — all of these people — are heroes too. We are, in fact, it turns out, all the other ghosts of her title, over and over again.

The story is challenging. It becomes peculiarly circular at one point, and the parts of it that are brutal are inescapably so. Characters facing death never vow to die bravely in this universe, because they know that the truth of their world is that they will go out begging for the end, and that, that final abasement is worth it, if it can keep just one more person safe.

I’ve been in fandom long enough, and have been innately fannish my whole life, that I’ve had plenty of occasions to meet the objects and creators of my desires. These experiences have ranged from negligible or anti-climatic to surprisingly transformative. They’ve involved everything from accidental nights out to autograph lines and have often encompassed supposed secrets (hint: there are no secrets in fandom).

Each of these experiences, for good or for ill, has served to remind me of how far apart people and persona always are, even if we’re just talking about people I chat with on Tumblr, whose acquaintance in the flesh I have not yet had the pleasure of making. They have all also reminded me that to meet the wizard is a great and terrible thing. Sometimes, it’s even the worst thing.

But Rainjoy herself says she only writes happy endings. And that is true, not only in the narrative of “All the Other Ghosts” but in its treatment of all those desired meetings. Because the flaws, disappointment, fear, disgust, and surprise of the results of desire are central to her story. But instead of unmasking, outing, and truth being the basis of rejection as illusions are shattered, it is, in Rainjoy’s fic, the basis of elevation because the story behind the story is even more compelling.

“All the Other Ghosts” showcases not just fandom at its best (and often most absurd), but our daydreams and their consequences at their bests as well. Not without cost, but the story makes the price seems fair.

“All the Other Ghosts” is mostly rated R with a few brief forays into NC-17 material for language, sexuality, and violence. The story addresses sexual assault, domestic abuse, bias crimes, extreme violence, medical horror, and, in an homage to Watchmen even manages to evoke the nuclear dread of the 1980s. It is one of the most grueling stories I’ve ever read, but if you’re interested in reading about how and why fandom tells stories about itself, its love, and its desire, it’s utterly unmissable.