Fanfiction

Words for Writers: Triptych & Non-Happy Endings

I received this letter and with the permission of the writer, I’m posting it and my response here.

If you have not yet read Triptych and are leery of spoilers DO NOT READ THIS POST.

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Dear Miss Frey

I finished reading Triptych this morning, and it has stuck with me all day. I am not usually sympathetic or empathetic towards characters in text, as they are often nothing more than words on paper to me, but it has been many years (if ever) since I felt this strongly about any novel I’ve read. On Tay’s recommendation (over on Tumblr), I went out and bought the book. Truth be told, I had low expectations coming in, as I tend to stay away from less well-known authors. I am very happy that I made this exception, and you have far outshone my wildest expectations. For that, I thank you.

For the most part, I am not an emotional person, but I felt genuine joy while reading Triptych. I loved the exploration of Kalp’s world, people and personality, as well as our world seen through their eyes. I loved that you made them recognizably humanoid, but distinctly alien in more ways than just their appearance. The way they experience the world around them, and their approach to families and sex. That they are neither prudish, nor childishly naïve on the subject. It’s refreshing to see a world where such a natural thing is not just ignored.

I expected there to be a happy ending. I WANTED there to be a happy ending. I wanted them to go back and fix things. The first time Kalp died, I thought nothing of it. We are so used to dead main characters coming back to life, and you presented a way for that to happen. I expected them to change the outcome. I wanted them to save Kalp and be happy. I wanted more Kalp. I wanted a sequel. That seems unlikely now, and we don’t always get what we want. It made me angry and sad. They then go on to get married ‘properly’ (I assume), as if everything with Kalp wasn’t proper. Wasn’t real. That, too, made me angry and sad. I don’t begrudge you these decisions. Yes, they made me angry, but I’m glad that they did. I shows me that it meant something to me. I savour the moments when literature evokes emotion in me, good or bad.

I would not want to unread Triptych. A selfish part of me wants a different book, but I doubt it would have had the same effect on me if that was the case. I so want more people to share my experience, but much like the bigots in the book, I fear that the subject matter would turn many away without a second glance. I sincerely hope to see more novels from you, but could you please not break our hearts every time? Thank you for writing Triptych. Thank you for sharing it.

 

-[Redacted]

 

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Dear [redacted];

Thank you so much for your message, and sorry for my delayed reply. I wasn’t around a computer this weekend.

I’m happy to hear that that Tay’s love of the book infected you. I do understand the reluctance to try out a new author, especially one published with a small press and is virtually unheard of. It’s sometimes easier to stay inside one’s comfort zone, and it’s always especially disappointing to think a book sounds really cool and it turns out to be lame. But sometimes you find a jewel, too – I am lucky in that most of what I read now-a-days is the as-of-yet published work of my friends, or pre-published books from publishers looking for me to give them a great quote for the cover. In that I’m lucky, because I get exposed to all sorts of books that I might not have chosen for myself; many of them I really like, too!

I’m very pleased to hear that I did surpass your expectations. You’re welcome. Thank you for giving me a try.

I am also pleased to hear that you felt genuine joy while reading Triptych; I felt genuine joy writing those parts of the book. They were my favorite to write, just as they seem to be everyone’s favorite to read. (Well, there’s also a scene where Mark makes Basil help with the bailing, but that got cut. I know the hilarity of watching city folk bailing for the first time.)

I loved developing Kalp’s culture. It’s always a bit of a balancing act for me, because I grew up as a writer in the Fanficion community where culture-building in AUs is applauded and consumed voraciously. When I was creating Triptych I had to very consciously restrain myself and trim the excess. As a fanficcer, I know what gaps in the narrative I always wanted to fill (I call it “cultivating a garden between the gaps in the paving stones”), so when I lay the paving stones of my own novels, I always try to leave little gift-gaps to my readers. Hopefully people will decide to cultivate in them soon.

(UHG. SUCH A HARD TIME trying to decide if I should close the big slashy gift-gap in The Untold Tales of Turn or not. It was so stressful! In the end I didn’t, because I originally chose to have that part of the narrative remain off screen for a reason, and as much as I want to write the big slashy get-together story, it must remain off screen for that same reason.)

I understand your upset about the unhappy ending. I originally had a happier ending to the book, but it felt disingenuous. It felt fake. It felt like I was betraying all the pain in the rest of the book, and worse than that, the real-life analogue where people are hate-crimed to death. Those people don’t get to come back. Why should Kalp? It really broke my heart to do that to him (and Gareth), but in the end I feel like it was the right choice.

As for Gwen and Basil getting “proper” married at the end… I hope it came across correctly, but Basil and Gwen did think of their Aglunation as a “proper” marriage. With Kalp dead and their Aglunate broken, they needed to find a way to carry on, to feel like they had something in each other to live for. Instead of being widows, they wanted to affirm their relationship, and that’s why they will get “human” married. It doesn’t erase the Aglunate, any more than a second marriage overwrites someone’s love for the previous spouse, but it gives Basil and Gwen something that is just theirs, something just them to celebrate between them and together. They still love and miss Kalp, and they will never forget Gareth (in my writerly head-cannon they adopted Ogilvey’s daughter) but they needed a way to move on.

And yes, Mark’s inability to really understand what the Aglunate meant and his subsequent request of Basil was meant to make you a little mad. Because even the most understanding of people don’t always totally get it.

It’s good to hear that my writing was able to elicit that sort of emotion in you! Thank you! And yes, I think that if Triptych wasn’t so painful, it wouldn’t have resonated with me, and with other readers so much.

>> I sincerely hope to see more novels from you, but could you please not break our hearts every time?

Oh dear.

Um.

Well, the thing is… my friend Ruby Pixel is fond of saying “It’s not a J.M. Frey book unless you gross-sob at least once, and then throw it against the wall.”

So, er… I make no promises? I do have SOME stories that don’t end quite so tragically.

Thanks again for your very thoughtful letter, and I wish you all the best,

–J.M. Frey

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For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: Triptych & Non-Happy Endings
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Words for Writers: The Value of Writing

Stories Matter

(From the Office of Letters and Light blog:)

This June, the nonprofit behind National Novel Writing Month, the Young Writers Program, Come Write In, and Camp NaNoWrimo is running a fundraising drive to increase the impact of their programs and resources. In 2012, they supported 369,541 writers in 615 libraries and 580 regions across six continents, and 82,500 students in 2,000+ classrooms as they reached for their creative goals and brought their novels to life.

Why care about new novels? Because making safe spaces for people to write their stories isn’t just about ending up with more books in the world. It’s about changing creative lives. You can help The Office of Lettesr and Light do that.

NaNoWriMo believes that stories matter.

“NaNoWriMo changed my life profoundly at a time when a new focus, purpose, and goal were needed just to keep me alive. I signed up because I desperately wanted something to take my mind off the cancer I was battling, and because there had been a story bouncing around in my head for over twenty years that wanted me to tell it. Thanks to all the wonderful people and support and ideas that are NaNoWriMo, that story is being told.”

– Julie Ann Thayer

NaNoWriMo believes that anyone can be creative.

“Before NaNoWriMo, the only projects I’d worked on were assigned by teachers or bosses. NaNoWriMo empowered me to choose my own creative goal, and helped me realize that if I am willing to spend hours working on a project for someone else, I should be willing to do the same for myself. Thank you for the gift of creative writing.”

– Mary Harner

NaNoWriMo is preparing to inspire 500,000 people to tell their stories in 2013.

This year, they’re working hard to make our resources as accessible as possible. They want to create a safe space for people from every walk of life to tell their next story. And the one after that. And the one after that… (This could go on for a while.)

Consider donating and partnering with them to make more safe spaces for creative writing and its wide-reaching impacts.

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When I was seven, I wrote a short story about a girl named September who had to babysit a fairy’s wings for a week. It was published in the local paper for a contest.

When I was eight, I was picked to go to a young author’s conference at a local university.Between the ages of nine and thirteen, I participated in children’s drama and local theatre, wrote plays (none of which were performed), and screen plays (none of which were finished).

When I was fourteen I discovered fanfiction. Fanfiction taught me how to build worlds, build narratives, build character, build a fan base, and build confidence in my ability to tell engaging stories. At last count I had written over 15000 pages of fanfiction. I would still be writing it if I had time.

When I was eighteen I went to university for theatre. That was also the year I started my first novel. (Because if I could write 500 page fanfics, I sure as heck wasn’t going to be intimidated by a novel!)

When I was nineteen I wrote a screenplay that won an honorable mention in an international competition.

When I was twenty a friend dared me to do this thing called National Novel Writing Month with her. We both won. That MS was a lot of fun and will never again see the light of day.

When I was twenty one, I did NaNo again. I won again. That manuscript was later subsumed into a novel.

When I was twenty two, I did NaNo and won.. That manuscript was later subsumed into a novel.

When I was twenty three, I tried to write both NaNo and a Bachelor’s Thesis at the same time. I failed NaNo, but graduated with honors.

When I was twenty four, I moved to Japan and finished my first novel, wrote a comic book series, wrote lots more fanfic, and was told for the first time that perhaps I ought to think about starting to polish up old manuscripts to submit to publishers and agents.  For NaNo that year I decided to write something sale-able and came up with the novella (Back).

When I was twenty five I spent a year revising my first novel before realizing that it was beautiful and unwieldy and I resigned it to my trunk. I sold (Back). I did NaNo and started what would eventually become Triptych.

When I was twenty six I returned to Canada and tried to write a Master’s Thesis and NaNo at the same time again. I failed NaNo again, but passed with the record highest marks in my program at the time. When people asked me how I had written my thesis in one month I laughed and said, “If I can win NaNoWriMo five out of seven years together, I can write a thesis!”

When I was twenty seven I was offered a full ride for a PhD and turned it down. I decided that I wanted to get a novel published before I turned thirty. I did NaNo and wrote a story called The Dark Side of the Glass.  After thirty-six rejections from both agents and editors, I sold Triptych.

When I was twenty eight, I did NaNo and wrote The Skylark’s Song.

When I was twenty-nine, Triptych debuted. It was nominated for seven awards and won two. The success of Triptych and the promise of The Skylark’s Song book landed me an agent. I sold The Dark Side of the Glass. I began a novel for NaNo called The Maddening Science, but got too ill to continue. (Spontaneous organ death is FUN, yo.) I turned it into a short story and sold it.

When I was thirty, I wrote The Untold Tales of Turn, a novel celebrating novels, and writing, and those of us who need books in our lives. NaNoWriMo is mentioned in the book. My agent is currently shopping it, and next week The Skylark’s Song goes out to publishers for consideration.

At thirty-one (almost), I am a successful, professionally published author who has won accolades and earns an income on her work, and who has just celebrated a decade of participating in NaNoWriMo.

But far more importantly than that, I am also a confident, well-read, articulate young woman who finishes what she starts, and has learned the value of compassion and touching the hearts and souls of those around her. I have learned to put myself in other people’s shoes, to consider different viewpoints, to research before I judge, to accept critique and criticism gracefully and with an engaged ear, to take pride in my accomplishments and to pick myself up and try again when I fail, to realize that haters are just gonna hate but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t always give the entirety of myself to my prose or shy away from the difficult discussions and topics, to stand up for myself and those who are denied the right to speak for themselves, to take responsibility for and try to help improve the world and the people on her with every word I set down, and to hold close those friends and family who value my work as an extension of myself.

And this is the value of writing. This is why writing matters.

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Find out more about the Office of Letters and Light’s Stories Matter fundraising drive here.

(Also, thank you, Office of Letters and Light!)

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For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.

JM FreyWords for Writers: The Value of Writing
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Kindle Worlds – Some Vauge Musing

So John Scalzi posted this: Amazon’s Kindle Worlds: Instant Thoughts

To which Neil Gaiman replied: I’m with Scalzi on this.
My thoughts:I’m mostly with Scalzi and Gaiman on this. I definitely share the concerns in #5 paragraph re: paying authors.

But I’m not sure this is meant to be an attempt to quash fanfic so much as an attempt from Amazon to mine yet one more form of writing to make money. Which in and of itself seems a bit ruthless. I’m sure quashing as such is not on the agenda.

(Besides, we all know it won’t work. You can’t stop fanworks from happening. Ever.)

As both an author, a fanficcer, and a fanthropologist, I am waiting patiently to read what Organization of Transformative Works and my agency, Forward Literary (who are very plugged in to the digital fanscape) have to say.

But so far I don’t feel indignant. Or celebratory. Just sort of resigned. I am sighing at Amazon. They really do want to be all things to all people, and I just don’t know if they can sustain it.

So far, my reaction is pretty even keeled, and along the lines of Scalzi’s.

Would I allow my copyrighted works join those of Alloy Entertainment’s on Amazon Worlds? I’m uncertain. I think Scalzi’s concerns re: copyright and who owns what (point #2) are on the mark. I feel like it’s unfair that I, the author, might get to use a character that you, the fanficcer, made up for nothing. That’s, well… that’s sort of like theft.

I don’t care if you fanfic my work; in fact, I encourage fanficcing as a creative exercise. It teaches you lots about telling a story, finding a voice for yourself in a mainstream that might exclude you, and learning to be a professional creator. I learned how to be a writer by writing fanfic.

I honestly think it’s kind of cool that we could work together on your story, that you could fanfic my work as a pro-tie-in, and get paid for it. What I don’t like is that you could do all the work making up the AU or original characters, and I could be the one getting paid for it. That’s all… squicky.

And I’m not certain that I’m cool with people publishing what amounts to a tie-in without any input from the original creator. I mean, if my publisher is sanctioning it, then it’s more or less official, right? Which means I should be consulted.

Except then you can have really controlly or paranoid authors ruining the fanficcer’s story, especially if it’s an AU or crossover. Or authors who could just end up being jerks to the fanficcers. Or totally offended by the notion of fanfic.

I don’t know, I’m sort of spinning with this point.

Here’s a thought… are there going to be Kindle World’s employees scouring FF.N and AO3 and LJ, reading fanfic as if reading slush, and reaching out to fanficcers to publish their work?

And, I mean, what if some of the copyrights holders/production studios/publishers that own the rights to the worlds I’ve written fanfiction in jump aboard and start contacting fanficcers for permission to publish my fanfic? Do I use my pro name?

So many thoughts!

As for point #3… I do know some authors who do media tie-ins professionally. I have even pitched a few tie-in ideas myself. The thought that this might be the catalyst for the death of officially sanctioned media tie-ins scares me; it’s the main source of income for a lot of writers.

Lastly… I don’t know about the rest of you, but personally speaking, I don’t think I’d everpayto read fanfic. There’s just such an abundance of incredible fic out there that I can’t imagine the need to pay for it just to ensure that what I’m reading is quality work. If I were to pay for a fanwork, I would do so through a method that ensures the creator gets 100% of the profit. I would either donate to their site, or buy them a year’s subscription to LJ, or buy their fanart/comic/knitted Dalek tea cosy at a convention, or buy through their Etsy shop, etc. If I’m going to give a fancreator money, it likely won’t be via Amazon.

Anyway. There’s my first thoughts, for those who have been asking about it. And like Scalzi, I may change my mind later when I’ve read/learned more.

JM FreyKindle Worlds – Some Vauge Musing
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