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Received an interesting email question today from a young writer who's a listsib (a person who is also subscribed to a mailing list I am subscribed to, for those not fluent in listspeak). She wanted to know when "too much explicit detail is too explicit". I advised her that I wasn't the person to ask since I've been criticized from both sides of the spectrum. What follows, however, is the rest of my letter to her. I'm sharing it here with permission...

I've written before about a Wiseguy fan novels writer whose hackles arose visibly when I approached her to introduce myself. You could literally see the chip forming on her shoulder. Her partner fell in line soon after (she had once written me a very nice LOC) and started describing my novels as "good, entry-level Wiseguy slash" as opposed to her lady's more sophisticated novels filled with buzzing buttplugs, I suppose. lol I'd always liked her novels (the first one anyway since I didn't read the others) and respected her right to write them however she pleased without me knocking her but she certainly didn't seem compelled to return the favor.

My Wiseguy slash was a lot of things ... weirdly-worded, long-winded, grammatically hazardous, occasionally purplish (though not nearly as bad as my Blake's 7 "made beauty a poor cousin to the truth" stuff) ... but "entry level", I don't think so. Still, everyone has a right to an opinion ... even me.

I also received an email from someone saying my slash was "too explicit" ... that I wrote "porn" (as if that wuz a bad thing) and not "erotica". When I dialed down the heat for my Northern Exposure erotica (because that fandom doesn't tolerate adult fic well), I was told by my slash readers that the novel was "very tame" and "too mild".

Ah, well, you can't please everyone so you got to please yourself ... as somebody at a Garden Party once said. This illustrates that there's always somebody with an idea about what you should be writing. There is no one right answer, however, except for the one you give yourself. I take the input into consideration if it comes from someone whose writing I admire but if you listen to all the input too much, you stop writing your own stories and start writing someone else's.

I do strongly recommend you get a good beta and editor, though. (All hail, Annie the Booker and Lyn of Townsend, my betas and birthday trips) They can really help you not look like an ass at times.

One last thing, the emailer also wanted to know "when it was okay to call herself a writer". It seems some of the fannish hierarchy (primates are so cute) have been perplexed over the issue in recent days. So here goes --- Amy, you're a writer. Someone who writes is a writer. It's that simple. And it ain't like canonization, folks. We're not doing brain surgery.

Speaking of which, poor Natasha Richardson underscores all that is really important ... the moments we have now with our friends and family. The rest is just set decoration. It all goes by too fast to worry about stuff like this. Write your own stories. Nothing else matters.

Comments

john_booth
Mar. 18th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
Writer's write - end of story.

Good writing can be defined in many ways, many not including good spelling or grammar. But that too comes down to what you want as an author, approval of academia, critics, readers, monetary reward, and so on.. take your pick and write accordingly.

Porn too, is in the eye (or other orifices) of the beholder. Different strokes for different folks, find people who like your writing or adapt to their needs..., writers choice.

Two of the many things I don't understand are fanfic and slash. Shared obsessions make me nervous. I like reading other people's fantasies but I don't want to write about their worlds. I want to create my own worlds, however poorly.

If you are a good writer (or even a bad writer with pretensions) don't you want to create something unique to yourself? Maybe this is why I buy albums by singer/songwriters rather than singers(interpreters). I want to hear what this particular person has to say, not how they can interpret someone else's song. It's OK, but its not my thing.

Slash about Harry Potter or any other fictional character owned by a living writer makes me even more nervous. It seems to me that slash is treading on the author's toes and is 'ungentlemanly' at best.

The work isn't tribute because it perverts the author's intent, and while all writing is theft to some extent, this can come close to scrawling all over another author's treasured family photographs. It just seems wrong to me.

I exclude TV and Film from this worry, because they are a different media to writing and far less personal in nature. And the work of the dead is also fair game if that is what turns you on. I still wouldn't write slash, but that's just me.

It also seems to me that the excuse that no money is changing hands is a little weak. Sort of.. "I rape your daughter, but look, I have left her her purse and she is physically unharmed."

Having said all that, I consider that it's all none of my business and I'm all for live and let live. I know that many fanfic writers have gone on to do the real thing and I wish the best of luck to all writers whatever they write.
lil_shepherd
Mar. 18th, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
Quite often it's an urge to "make it better" - I know this was why I wrote Blake's Seven fanfic. Also to take the characters where the writers dare not take them. In the case of Harry Potter fandom, I understand that there is a strong urge to make some sense of the originals!

Slash is just fannish 'porn' of a form that women, in particular, prefer - words rather than pictures. The reason they like to write about homosexual relationships is-argued-about. However, it has to be said that the Japanese have been catering professionally for this market for some time.

I've recommended before that you take a look at some of the academic work if you really want to gain any sort of understanding of these genres. Henry Jenkins's Textual Poachers, though out of date, is a good and sympathetic place to start.
melodyclark
Mar. 19th, 2009 12:08 am (UTC)
Well said. Often, it's a wish to fix a sad or unfinished ending (as is often the case with B7). Sometimes fan fic is written out of a vision of a specific relationship that won't be tackled on the show itself (or has been handled in an unsatisfying manner).

And yup, women tend to like word porn (or story porn) over picture porn so ergo slash and erotic het fan fic.

Edited at 2009-03-19 12:09 am (UTC)
john_booth
Mar. 19th, 2009 08:42 am (UTC)
The fanfic genres as a whole have no personal appeal to me. As I said above, media fiction I understand and sometimes like. But your comment above on HP fanfic sums up the key reason I don't like that particular genre.

I've dropped in and read some slash, some of it is beautifully written. Since much of it strays so far away from the characters in the books/films/TV I don't know why the writers just don't change the names and make it fully original. I have seen very little (that is: None) that sticks to the characters as portrayed in the books, films etc.
lil_shepherd
Mar. 19th, 2009 10:16 am (UTC)
You might take a look at our hostess's House/Watson slash...

Or, for that matter, Harry Potter fanfic by A.
J. Hall. (Who used to be on my flist under another name, and is a casualty of Racefail '09.)

Edited at 2009-03-19 10:34 am (UTC)
(no subject) - melodyclark - Mar. 19th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
inamac
Mar. 19th, 2009 11:11 am (UTC)
I don't know why the writers just don't change the names and make it fully original.

They do. It's known in the trade as 'filing off the serial numbers'. If you'd like a list of professional authors whose work still bears the file marks I'd be happy to oblige...
melodyclark
Mar. 19th, 2009 07:46 pm (UTC)
I've read a lot of very in-character slash. Of course, "in character" is in the eye of the beholder.

And as other folk have told you, fan fiction with the names changed to protect the innocent is extremely common. I have a friend who won an Edgar award with one. It's still fan fic whether or not one changes the names.

The first stories of any kind, by the way, were invented within the bounds of others' universes.
melodyclark
Mar. 18th, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
Your point about "good writing" is exactly what I feel. My aim is to please the individual reader, whomever that is. If somebody else in some group dynamic likes it too, that's fine, but the important relationship for a writer -- imho -- is the one he/she has with the individual reader.

I write fan fiction and my own worlds. Most fan writers do. And in many ways, my translation of that fan world is my own world. I bring to it my sensibilities, my perspectives, etc. My Blake is different than xBryn Lantry's "Blake" which is different from EPS' "Blake" (gosh, whatever happened to old EPS ;) ... etc. The constraints are only those of something we love in the first place so they aren't really limits but guidelines.

I suspect the experience of fandom is something uniquely individual. It's kind of like a love of a certain type of music. If you don't get it, you don't get it. Musicians love playing their own stuff but they also love playing songs they have a special feeling for. That's all fan writing is.

That said, I don't write lit fic with the one exception of "Sherlock Holmes" and everybody writes Holmes ... even the pro writers kvetching about fan fic write pastiches. The Vampire John Lennon was mistaken as Anne Rice fan fic by the puritan enclave that took over GAFF, primarily because they were not sophisticated enough readers to get that "The Vampire so-and-so" is a common title for any vampire. As to the question of Real People Fic, it's only Beatles fan fic in the abstract sense(based in a holographic world spun out of their movies). Even so, the Beatles have been used in fictional form in over thirty professional novels and short stories. In the words of Sir Paul, at least the Beatles slash writers have the decency to call it fiction ... unlike various supposed "biographies". lol

I have no trouble with other people writing lit fan fic. People will always muse about scenarios in their own minds ... why not share them? To try to limit expressions seems on the edge of becoming thought police. I've had people write in my own universes. It doesn't bother me. I have pro writer friends who actually are touched when they read fan fiction (I haven't talked to her in a good while, but at one time L.J. Smith used to amiably correspond with her fan writers). I certainly think we should respect the wishes of writers who don't want people playing in their universes, though.

I also think the writer of Brokeback Mountain needs to realize that the fan fic isn't written in her universe. The people are ficcing the film, not her novella. Her caterwauling comes off a bit like ignorant drama queening to me.

Media fans are encouraged by most intelligent media producers. The smart producers realize that we're creating viral advertising that will only push their product. The producers of "Monk", for instance, actually created a graphics site to help fans build their own web sites. The producers had a directory of fan fiction, too.

I would point out that some of us "have gone on" and yet still write fan fiction. I've written pro novels and non-fiction books. I still write fan fiction. I consider my fan fiction as important and serious as my pro work ... in fact, in many instances, more so. I certainly have more readers overall for my fan work than I did for some of my novels. lol (Remaindered is my middle name)


Edited at 2009-03-18 11:40 pm (UTC)
john_booth
Mar. 19th, 2009 08:47 am (UTC)
I think if fans sought the permission of the writer to extend their worlds I would be much happier about it.

That said, pro-writers are mainly interested in the bottom line and a fan buying a book to extend it is still a sale.

As I've stated above, media and film are different in my mind at least.

The thing in my mind is all about courtesy, respect and honour to the creator of a work.

But then I'm very old fashioned
carose59
Mar. 19th, 2009 10:10 am (UTC)
Unfortunately, as I've always heard it, asking permission is counter-productive. Copyright holders are required to defend their copyrights or risk losing them.
lil_shepherd
Mar. 19th, 2009 10:28 am (UTC)
I can name you a number of highly successful novels that started life as fanfiction, some acknowledged, some not. There's the best first detective novel Silver Dagger winner that started life as a Starsky and Hutch fan story, and one of the most beloved and successful SF series started life as a Trek piece, and a later novel in the series features versions of Avon and Servalan, while there is a fantasy novel that is well known to be an Avon and Vila piece - indeed, it is dedicated to Paul Darrow under his middle name.

There are a number of successful writers who also write occasional fan fiction, and many like to read fan fiction based on their work but, for good legal reasons, they cannot acknowledge this! Certainly, most Blake's Seven fan fiction written in 1978-1981 was circulated on set. Oddly, the porn usually rose to the top, or so we were informed by David Jackson. Rowling has few problems with fan fiction, though she would prefer people kept to canon.
(no subject) - carose59 - Mar. 19th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lil_shepherd - Mar. 19th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - melodyclark - Mar. 19th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lil_shepherd - Mar. 19th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - melodyclark - Mar. 20th, 2009 05:03 am (UTC) - Expand
melodyclark
Mar. 19th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
All writing is, is the transference of thought into symbol set form to be shared outside your head. People muse about things like this all the time. If you tell a friend about a story, outlining your thoughts about a character, how is that different than writing down those thoughts in symbol systems?
lil_shepherd
Mar. 19th, 2009 10:42 am (UTC)
My Blake is different than xBryn Lantry's "Blake" which is different from EPS' "Blake" (gosh, whatever happened to old EPS ;) ... etc.

EPS created EPS so she could write out-of-character angst and slash. [grin]

You never know, Ermentrude may turn up again some day...

Edited at 2009-03-19 10:43 am (UTC)
carose59
Mar. 19th, 2009 10:23 am (UTC)
I used to write original fiction, along with fan fiction. This was many, many years ago, back when I was in grade school. I don't remember ever finishing the original stories I started. I didn't finish a lot of the fan fiction I started either, but some of those I did finish. It's one thing I like about writing fan fiction: there are lines, and I can see them.

I'm a Method writer. When I'm writing from a character's POV, I'm in that character's head, I'm feeling their feelings, and it's a soaring experience. I don't get that from writing original fiction because in that, I have to put the feelings in. There's nothing for me to take out.

I'm curious if you'd ask the question of creating something unique to yourself of TV script writers, who also write in other people's universes. Or Tom Stoppard, who didn't create any of the characters in "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead."
john_booth
Mar. 19th, 2009 12:28 pm (UTC)
All creative fields eat themselves and recycle. Some of the best works of art/music/poetry are created when 'artists' interact and bounce off each others ideas. This is why I used the phrase 'all writing is theft' in my original comment, but there is a profound difference between creating a story that has a 'boy wizard' in it and taking HP + characters in their entirety.

TV is particularly bad at stealing ideas verbatim and not even giving the slightest credit (Though, Star Trek producers did consult with Bob Heinlein before filming The Trouble With Tribbles and he gave them his permission)

Film, at the moment, spends its time stealing from itself and comic books, which is amusing because comic books are extremely derivitive (Taken as a whole, there's obviously great originality in small patches).

I think that once an author is dead and out of copyright, direct theft of worlds and characters is fair game. After all, they are no longer in the market themselves. And writer's estates grant permission all the time for good sequels.
(no subject) - carose59 - Mar. 19th, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - john_booth - Mar. 19th, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - carose59 - Mar. 19th, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - john_booth - Mar. 19th, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
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