Fanfiction

WORDS FOR WRITERS: The Value of Fanfiction

WORDS FOR WRITERS: The Value of Fanfiction

There’s been a lot of chatter on social media these last few weeks, recycling that trashy, self-aggrandizing, tired old “hot take” that reading and writing fanfiction is somehow bad for you as a writer.

 

Before we go any further, let me give a clear and definitive answer to this take:

Middle Finger on Google Android 11.0 December 2020 Feature Drop

No, reading and writing fanfiction will not make you and does not make you a bad reader or writer.

 

Period.

 

Why? Here’s the TL;DR version:

 

  • Reading and Writing, any kind of reading and writing, will make you a better reader and writer. And it’s enjoyable, to boot.
  • Fanfiction has been around as long as Original Fiction, so we’d know if there was any negative impact by now (spoiler alert: there isn’t.)
  • Practice is Practice, so matter what medium you get that practice in.
  • Comprehending and writing fanfiction is harder than writing original fiction because you have to hold the Source Media Text in your head at the same time as you’re reading/writing a different story. It improves your understanding of storytelling.
  • No hobby, no matter what it is, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else or yourself, is bad. And that goes double for if you decide to keep it a hobby. Not every fanfic writer wants to write original fiction, and that’s just fine. Not every hobby has to be monetized.

 

Okay. But what do they mean by “fanfiction”?

 

“Fanfiction is fictional writing written by fans, commonly of an existing work of fiction. The author uses copyrighted characters, settings, or other intellectual properties from the original creator as a basis for their writing.”– Wikipedia

 

Basically – it’s when you take elements (setting, characters, major themes or ideas) of a Media Text (a novel, a movie, a podcast, a comic, etc.) and create a different story with those elements. You can write a missing scene, or an extended episode, or a whole new adventure for the characters of the Media Text. You can even crossover or fuse multiple Media Texts, or specific elements, to create a whole new understanding of the characters or their worlds.

 

Similar to fanfic, you can also create fanart, fancomics, or fansongs (“filk”), fancostumes (“cosplay”), and fanfilms. These are called Fanworks or Fancrafts.

 

Fanfiction is usually posted to online forums, journals, blogs, or story archives and shared for free among the public. Before the advent of the internet, fanfiction was often printed or typed, and hand-copied using photocopiers or ditto machines, and distributed for free (or for a small administration fee to cover materials) among fans at conventions, or through mail-order booklets (“zines”).

 

Fanfiction has existed pretty much since the beginning of storytelling (A Thousand and One Nights, Robin Hood, and King Arthur all have different elements attributed to them by different authors retelling, twisting, adding to, or changing the stories; there’s no single-origin author of those tales.)

 

There are billions on billions of fanfics out there in the world—and while a majority of them are romance stories, there are also adventures, comedies, dramas, thrillers, stories based on case files, stories about the emotional connection between characters when one is hurt and the other must care for them, historical retellings, etc. There are also stories for every age range and taste, though be sure to take heed of the tags, trigger warnings, and age range warnings as your browse the archives and digital libraries.

 

As a reader, it’s your responsibility to curate your experience online.

 

So why are people so afraid or derisive of fanfic?

 

People who are hard on fanfic say that…

 

  • It sucks.
    • Well of course it sucks! As it’s a low-stakes and easy way to try out creative writing for the first time, the majority of fanfiction is overwhelmingly written by new and young writers. Everything you do when you first try it sucks a little bit. I’m sure no figure skater was able to immediately land perfect triple axels ten minutes after they strap on the skates for the first time in their lives. No knitter has ever made a flawlessly perfect jumper on their first try. No mathematician has ever broken the code to send a rocket into space after having just been taught elementary-school multiplication. So why on earth do people think that new writers don’t need to practice? I can promise you that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first rap was probably pretty shaky.
  • It’s lazy or it’s cheating.
    • Listen, anyone who tells you that writing anything is lazy clearly has not sat down and tried to write anything. Writing is tedious. It is It takes hours, and hours, and hours to get anything on the page, and then once it’s on the page you have to go back and edit it. UGH. There is nothing about being a writer—even a fanfic writer—that is lazy.
    • And anyone who tells you that trying to tell a fresh, new story within the limits and confines of a pre-existing world and have it make sense is cheating, then they have no freaking clue how hard it is to be creative with that kind of limitation placed on you. It’s harder when you have a set of rules you need to follow. What you do come up with is often extremely interesting and creative because of those limitations, not in spite of them.
    • The argument that using pre-made characters, settings, tropes, and worlds to make up a new story is cheating is also complete bunk. Do those same people also expect hockey players to whittle and plane themselves a whole new hockey stick from scratch before each game? No, of course not. And yeah, a baker can grow all their own wheat, grind the flour, raise the chickens and cows so they can get eggs and milk, distill the vanilla, etc. Or a baker can buy a box mix. Either way, you get a cake at the end of the process. Whether you write fanfic or original fiction, you still get a story at the end of the process.
  • It makes you a worse
    • * annoying buzzer noise * Practicing anything does not make you worse at it. And reading stories that are not edited, expertly crafted, or “high art” will also not indoctrinate you into being a bad writer. If anything, figuring out why you don’t like a specific story, trope, or writing style is actually a great way to learn what kind of writer you want to be, and to learn different methods of constructing sentences, creating images, and telling tales. Or you know, just how much spelling and grammar matter.
  • It’s not highbrow or thoughtful enough.
    • Sometimes stories are allowed to be just comfort food. Not every book or story you read has to be haute cuisine or boringly nutritious. You are allowed to read stories because they’re exciting, or swoony, or funny, or just because you like Anyone who says differently is a snob and worth ignoring. (Besides, fun silly stories can also be packed with meaning and lessons—I mean, hello, Terry Prachett, anyone?)
  • It makes you waste all your time on writing that can’t be monetized.
    • No time is wasted if you spend it doing something that brings you joy. Not every hobby needs to be a money-maker and not everyone wants to be a professional writer. You are allowed to write, and read, fanfic just for the fun of it.
  • It’s theft.
    • According to Fair Use Law, it’s not. As long as the fanfic writer (or artist, cosplayer, etc.) is not making money on their creation that directly impacts or cuts into the original creator’s profit, or is not repackaging/plagiarizing the original Media Text and profiting off it’s resale, then Fan Works are completely legal. So there.

 

How, exactly, does fanfic make you a better writer?

 

Fanfiction…

 

  • teaches you to finish what you start.
    • The joy of being able to share your fic, either as you’re writing it, or afterward, is a big motivating factor for a lot of people. They finish because they get immediate feedback on it from their readers and followers. Lots of people have ideas for books, but how many of them do you know have actually sat down and written the whole thing?
    • Fanfic is also low-stakes; there’s nothing riding on whether you finish something or not, so you have to inspire yourself to get there without the outside (potentially negative) motivation of deadline or a failing grade if you don’t get the story finished. You end up learning how to motivate yourself.
    • Fanfic has no rules, so you write as much or as little as you want, stop wherever you think is a good place to end the story, write it out of order, or go back and write as many sequels or prequels as you like. Again, it’s totally low-stakes and is meant to be for fun, so you can noodle around with what it means to write a “whole” story and “complete” it, which teaches you how you like to write, and how you like to find your way to the finish line.
  • teaches you story structure.
    • Before you can sit down and write a story based on one of your favorite Media Texts, you’re likely to spend a lot of time consuming that text passively, or studying it actively. Either way, you’re absorbing how and why Media Text structures the stories it tells, and are learning how to structure your own from that.
    • Once you’re comfortable with the story structure the Media Text you’re working in is told, you’ll probably start experimenting with different ways stories can be told, and find the versions you like to work with best.
  • teaches you how to write characters consistently.
    • Fanfic is really hard because not only do you have to write your fave characters in a way that moves the story along, but they have to be recognizable as those fave characters.
    • This means you have to figure out their body language, verbal and physical tics, their motivations and they way the handle a crisis (fight, flight, or fawn?), and then make up the details you may need for your story that you may never see on screen/the page, like how they take their eggs or what their fave shampoo is, based on what you already know about them. That takes some top-notch detective work and character understanding to pull off.
    • Once you know how to do that, just making up a whole person yourself for original fiction is a breeze.
  • Teaches you how to hear and mimic a character/narrator voice.
    • You have to pay close attention to how an actor speaks, or how a character’s speech patterns, dialect, work choice, etc. is reflected on the page in order to be consistent in your story.
    • And all of this, in turn, teaches you how to build one for yourself.
    • I have a whole series of articles here about building a narrative voice, if you want to read more on constructing an original voice for your narrator.
  • Teaches you how to create or recreate a setting.
    • Again, like achieving character consistency, or mimicking a character or narrative voice, it takes work and paying attention in order to re-create a setting, time period, or geographical region in a fanfic—and if you’re taking your characters somewhere new, your readers will expect that setting to be equally rich as the one the Media Text is based in.
    • Which, again, teaches you how to then go and build an original one for yourself.
  • teaches how to take critique.
    • Professional writing is not a solitary pursuit. In fact, most writing is not entirely the work of an author alone. Like professional authors work with editors, critique partners, and proofreaders, some fanfiction writers will sometimes work with beta-readers or editors as well. This are friends or fanfic colleagues who offer to read your fanfic and point out plot, character, consistency, or story structure errors, or who offer to correct spelling and grammar errors. This is a great way to practice working with editors if you decide to pursue a professional career, and also a great way to make friends and strengthen your community and skill set if you don’t.
    • Many fanfic sites offer readers the opportunity to leave a comment on a fic, rather like a reviewer can leave a review on GoodReads or Amazon, or any other online store or blog, for a novel they’ve read. Sometimes these comments/reviews are 5 star and enthusiastic! Sometimes they are… not. The exact opposite in fact. As you get comments on your fanfic, and learn to ignore the ones that are just mean rather than usefully critical, you gain the Very Important Skill of learning to resist firing back at bad comments or reviews, while enjoying the good ones. It also teaches you how to ignore drama or haters.
  • Teaches you how to exist within a like-minded community.
    • While the actual writing part of writing is solitary and sometimes tedious, nothing is ever published into a vacuum, whether it be fanfiction or original. Besides your editing/critique/beta reader group, you will also likely develop friendships, a support network, and mutuals. It’s always great to uplift, support, cheer on, and celebrate one another’s accomplishments and victories, whether the writing is fanfic or original.
  • Teaches you that it’s okay to write about things important to you, or your own identity.
    • You can change a characters ethnicity, cultural background, sexuality, religion, or disabilities to match yours, and talk about your lived life through the megaphone of that character. Or, you can insert original characters based on you, your desires, and experiences.
    • Once you’re comfortable writing in your #ownvoice in fanfic, you can approach it in original fiction, if you like.
    • See my article titled Your Voice Is Valid for more on this.

 

What if I want to be a professional writer?

 

Notice how I didn’t say “real writer”. Any writer who writes any kind of story is a ‘real’ writer. I mean, pinch yourself—you’re real, right? The difference is actually between being an “amateur” writer (a hobbyist who does not write for pay), and a “professional” (who is paid for their writing). Just because you only play shinny on the street with your friends, or in a house league on the weekends, it’s doesn’t mean  you’re not still as much of a hockey player as someone who plays in the NHL.

 

Writing fanfiction before or at the same time as writing original fiction that you intend to sell is a great way to learn, or practice, everything I’ve mentioned above. If you read it widely, it will also expose you to different story telling styles, voices, and tropes than your reading of published fiction.

 

  • Can I sell my fanfic?
    • For fanfiction to remain under the umbrella of Fair Use Law, you cannot profit off your fanfiction. There’s some grey-area wiggle room around things like charging a small amount for a ‘zine or a PDF to cover administrative costs, but zero wiggleability around, say, selfpublishing your fanfic and charging heaps for it.
  • Can I “file off the serial numbers”?
    • “Filing of the series numbers” is when you take a fanfic you’ve written and essentially pull it apart, remove everything that’s clearly someone else’s Media Text, and reassembling the story so that it’s pretty much a completely original piece of creative writing.
    • Yes, you can sell these, provided your filing is rigorous enough that you aren’t likely to be dinged for plagiarism. It’s widely known that Cassandra Claire’s Shadowhunters was once Harry Potter fanfic, and that Fifty Shades of Gray was once Twilight But did you know that my Triptych started life as an idea for a Stargate Atlantis fic? There’s lots of stories out there that were once full fics, or the idea for the novel was originally conceived for a fandom, but written as original instead.
    • So long as you’re careful to really rework the text so that it’s not just a find-name-replace-name rewrite, you should be fine.
    • Be aware, though, that the agents and editors you might pitch this novel to know how to Google. They may discover that this is a filed-off story, and depending on their backgrounds and biases, might be concerned about it. There’s no need to inform them of the novel’s origin straight off in your pitch/query letter, but you may want to have a frank discussion with them about it after it’s been signed so they can help you make sure that any lingering copywrited concepts or characters are thoroughly changed before publication.
    • Should you take down the original fic-version of the novel while you’re querying/shopping it? Well, that’s up to you, and whether you’re comfortable with an editor/agent potentially finding it.
  • Should I be ashamed of my fic, or take it down, or pretend I never wrote fic?
    • What? Why? No! I mean, I have hidden some of my most immature work, but I’ve left pretty much my whole catalogue of fanfic online and I don’t deny that I was/am a ficcer. Why? Because it’s a great repository of free stories that people can read before they buy one of my books, so they can get a taste of how and what I write. Also, you will be in good company. Lots and lots of writers who are published now-a-days started in fandom, including:
      • Steven Moffat
      • Seanan McGuire
      • Rainbow Rowell
      • Claudia Gray
      • Cory Doctorow
      • Marissa Meyer
      • Meg Cabot.
      • Naomi Novik.
      • Neil Gaiman.
      • Lev Grossman.
      • E. Hinton.
      • John Scalzi
      • The Bronte Sisters
      • Andy Weir
      • Sarah Rees Brennan
      • Marjorie M. Liu
      • Anna Todd
      • and of course, J.M. Frey

 

How fanfic can harm.

 

Like with anything else, there are ways that reading and writing fanfiction can actually harm you, or others, but it has nothing to do with the reading or writing of fanfiction in and of itself.

 

  • Some creators may prefer that you don’t (and may or may not follow up with legal action).
    • Anne Rice famously went after fanficcers in the 90s who wrote fanfic of her work, handing out Cease & Desist notices like confetti.
    • 99% of creators don’t care. Those who do will generally have a notice on their websites or social media politely asking fancreators to refrain. Mostly this is due to their general discomfort over the idea of anyone else getting to play in their worlds. The best thing to do is respect that request, and find a different fandom to write in.
  • Flamewars and fandom fights leading to bullying and doxing.
    • Regrettably, just like any other community filled with people who have different favorites, opinions, and preferences, there will inevitably be clashes. It’s up to you to decide how to react to negative interactions, and how to model positive ones.
    • Don’t forget, you curate your online experience, so don’t be afraid of that block button.
    • Also, don’t be the jerk who goes after people for liking different aspects of the fandom. Everyone is entitled to interact and like a Media Text their own way. “Don’t yuck my yum,” as they say.
  • Trying to make money on other people’s IP/Media Text (law suits, etc.)
    • It doesn’t belong to you, so don’t try to make money on it.
    • There’s a grey area here in terms of selling prints/plushies/jewelry/etc. and there’s no hard line about where one copyright owner will draw the line, and another won’t. Warner Bros. owns the film rights for both Harry Potter and Hunger Games, but I’ve seen Harry Potter-themed bars spring up while fans wanting to make Hunger Game fanfilms have been shut down. A friend of mine sells hand-made fandom-inspired items at cons—there is no rhyme or reason to what she gets told to stop making and what she’s left alone on.
    • Best thing to do if you’re told to stop is just so stop, move on, and find a different fandom to be active in.
  • Writing Real Person Fanfic (“RPF”) can be considered a violation of consent.
    • This article sums it up pretty well, but basically… if you decide to write RPF, be aware that they person you are writing about is a real person, with real thoughts, and emotions, and they may feel violated by RPF. If you decide to write it, never send it to the people it’s about, and always clearly tag it so other can choose to engage with it, or avoid it.
    • Also be aware that it could ruin their love for what they do. For example: the friendships between the members of 1Direciton became strained and the band eventually disintegrated because people wouldn’t stop sending band members smutty stories or art of them having sex with one another, and it made them too uncomfortable to continue in the band.
  • Showing/sharing fanfic & fanart outside of its intended context. Fanworks are for fans, and there are definitely issues if…
    • It’s shown to celebrities/actors/creators.
      • Shoving your fantasies onto the people who create or portray your fave characters is rude, and wrong, and also kinda gross. If they seek it out themselves, that’s one thing, but the same way you wouldn’t throw it at a complete stranger, don’t throw it at them. You may love the characters these people play, but they are not their characters, and they are not your friends.
      • It may also really weird them out and ruin their love for what they do.
    • it’s shown to writers working on the series.
      • There was a famous case where a fanficcer sent a story to a novelist, and the novelist was accused of plagiarism by the ficcer when their next novel in the series resembled the plot of that fanfic. There was a whole court case and everything.
      • Because of this, writers of TV shows, books, etc. don’t want to (and often times, legally can’t) read your fanfic. They don’t want to get accidentally inspired by what you’ve written, or worse, have to throw out something because it resembles your fic too closely. Just let them write their stories the way they want, and if they choose to seek out fic, they will.
    • it’s mocked by celebrities.
      • I’m not letting Alan Carr and Graham Norton off the hook. If it’s super rude and gross to shove fanworks at actors/writers/creators when you’re a creator, then it’s doubly rude for anyone to take a story or art made for a specific audience (the fans), by a specific community (the fans), lift it out of it’s context, and invite the public to mock it while also shoving it at the actor/celebrity in a place where they are literally cornered and can’t leave (i.e. the chat-show sofa). Man, it really steams me up when they do that. It’s rude and it’s tone-deaf, and it’s not
      • And most of the time they do it, they don’t even ask the artist or writer for permission, first, which is just…. Uuuuugggghhhh. It may be fanfic, but it was still created by someone, and you should always ask permission before publicly sharing something created by someone else.

 

In Conclusion

 

If someone tells you that reading or writing fanfic is bad for you as a creator, tell them to get bent.

Famous Fanfic

  • Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  • Wicked: the Musical by Stephen Schwartz
  • The Phantom of Manhattan by Fredrick Forsyth
  • A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman
  • Sherlock by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
  • The Dracula Tape, by Fred Saberhaugen
  • Paradise Lost, John Milton
  • Inferno, by Dante
  • The Aeneid, by Virgil
  • Ulysses, by James Joyce
  • Romeo & Juliet, by William Shakespeare
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
  • The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
  • Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith
  • Phantom, a novel of his life by Susan Kaye
  • …and so many more.

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Find more WORDS FOR WRITERS articles here.

JM FreyWORDS FOR WRITERS: The Value of Fanfiction
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Words for Writers: The Story of How I Started Selling Stories

Improbable Press put out a call asking fan fiction authors how they went from Free to Fee. Here’s my response. Happy reading!

My parents, teachers, and acting/singing coaches will all tell you that I’ve always been a story teller. For the first twenty four years of my life, I was determined to do so through musical theatre, though I had always secretly harbored the desire to write a hit stage play. My early writing consisted of plays for my friends and I to put on, interspersed with prose that I supposed would one day become a novel, but which wasn’t my passion.

I was a big reader, but where this habit came from, I’m not certain. While my mother always had a book on the go – whatever crumbling paperback law thriller or murder mystery she’d been handed by the woman down the street when she was done it, which was then passed on to the next neighbor – my father and brothers preferred sports (either on TV or outside in the yard) over reading. I stumbled into fantasy and science fiction because Wil Wheaton was hot, and his show was on every Friday night, and from there I consumed every Star Trek tie-in novel my tiny rural library carried, then started following the authors of the novels into their other worlds and series.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that this was how I found fan fiction for the first time. My “I love this, gee, I wonder what else there is?” muscle was well developed by junior high, and before the internet had come to The Middle Of Nowhere Rural Ontario, I had already gotten quite adept at search keywords and codexes to track down more books to consume.  Imagine my shock and joy when, in the middle of my Phantom of the Opera phase (come on, fess up, you had one too), the internet in my school library told me about not only Fredrick Forsyth and Susan Kay’s stunning re-tellings, but of something called fan fiction.

I wasted a lot of the librarian’s ink and paper printing out these books and secreting them into binders and pretending to do school work at my desk or backstage between scenes. A lot. And yes, I still have most of them.

And as we all well know, the jump between reading and writing is a short when one is submerged so fully in communities of creators. Everyone else’s “What If” rubs off on you, and it’s just a matter of time before you find yourself playing with the idea of coaxing a few plot bunnies over to spend some time with you. Not everyone loves to write, but gosh darn it, if you want to give it a try, then you couldn’t ask for a better, more supportive community. It doesn’t matter how new you are to it, everyone reads, everyone comments, everyone makes suggestions. People beta read. People edit. People co-write. People cheer, and support, and recommend, and enthuse. Yeah, there are the occasional jerks, flammers, and wank-mongers, but on the whole? There’s literally no better place to learn how to be a writer than in fandom, I firmly believe this.

So, of course, born storyteller that I am, I had to give it a try.

I started writing fan fiction in 1991 for a small, relatively obscure Canadian/Luxembourg co-pro children’s show called Dracula: the Series.  I used to get up and watch it on Saturday mornings, in my PJs, before heading off to whichever rehearsal or read through or practice I had that year.

1995 brought the English dub of Sailor Moon to my life, (and put me on the path to voice acting), and along with a high-school friend, I wrote, printed out, illustrated, and bound my first “book” – a self-insert story that was just over eleven pages long, which introduced new Scouts based on us.  From there, I didn’t really stop.

1996 led me to Forever Knight and Dragon Ball Z, and from there to my friend’s basement where they’d just installed the internet. We chatted with strangers on ICQ, joined Yahoo!Groups and Bravenet Chat Boards. (Incidentally, a friend from my DBZ chat group turned out to be a huge DtS fan, too. We wrote a big crossover together which is probably only accessible on the Wayback Machine now. We stayed friends, helped each other through this writing thing, and now she’s Ruthanne Reid, author of the popular Among the Mythos series.)  In 2000 I got a fanfiction.net account and never looked back.

In 2001, while in my first year of university for Dramatic Arts, I made my first Real Live fandom friends. We wrote epic-length self-insert fics in Harry Potter and Fushigi Yuugi, cosplayed at conventions (sometimes using the on-campus wardrobe department’s terrifyingly ancient serger), and made fan art and comics in our sketchbooks around studying for our finals and writing essays on critical theory or classical Latin.  I was explaining the plot of the next big fic I was going to write to one of them, an older girl who had been my T.A. but loved Interview with the Vampire just as dearly as I, when she said, “You know, this sounds really interesting. Why don’t you strip all the fandom stuff out of the story and just write it as a novel?”

You can do that? was my first thought.

No! I don’t want to! Writing is my fun hobby. What will happen if I try to be a writer and get rejected by everyone and I end up hating it? was my second.

But the seed was planted.  Slowly at first, and then at increasingly obsessive pace, I began writing my first novel around an undergrad thesis,  fourth-year  essays,  several other big fanfics that popped me into the cusp of BNF status but never quite over the tine, and then a move to Japan to teach English. From 2002-2007 I wrote about 300 000 words on the novel that I would eventually shut away in my desk drawer and ignore until I published on Wattpad under my pseudonym on a lark. It was messy. It was long. It was self-indulgent and blatantly inspired by Master of Mosquiton, Interview with the Vampire, Forever Knight, and anything written by Tanya Huff, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Charlaine Harris. This was fine for fanfic, but in terms of being comfortable with presenting it to agents and publishing houses, I felt that it wasn’t original enough.

By this time I was teaching overseas, and in my spare time (and boy, was there a lot of spare time while sitting in a Japanese teacher’s office for 40 hours per week when one only actually teaches for 11 of them) I started applying to MA programs (where I eventually wrote my thesis on Mary Sue Fan Fiction). I also spent it researching “How to Get Published”, mostly by Googling it and/or buy/reading the few books on the topic in English I could find at the local book store or order from the just-then-gaining-international traction online bookstore Amazon.

What that research mostly told me was “Write and sell a bunch of short fiction first, so you have proof that a) you can do the work and b) you can finish what you promise you’ll finish and c) you have proof that other people think you’re worth spending money on.”

Short fiction. Huh. Of course we’d studied short stories in school, and I’d even taken a short story writing class in university, though nothing I’d written for the class was indicative of the kinds of stories I preferred to tell. But I felt pretty confident about this whole writing short stories thing… after all, I’d been doing weekly challenges for years. Drabbles. Flashfic. Stories and chapters that were limited to the word count cap that LiveJournal put on its posts. I’d written novellas without knowing that’s what they were called; I’d written whole novels about other people’s characters. All I needed was an idea. Short fiction I could do.

Unfortunately, everything that came to me was fanfic inspired. It frustrated me, because I didn’t want to write a serial-numbers-filed-off story. I wanted to write something original and epic and inspiring. Something just mine. I started and stopped a lot of stories in 2006-2007. I’d been doing NaNoWriMo for years by then, having been introduced to it in undergrad, and I was determined that this would be the year that I wrote something I could shop. Something just mine. Something unique.

While I adored fanfiction, I was convinced that I couldn’t make a career on it.  What had once been a fun hobby soon because a source of torment. Why could I think of a hundred ways to write a meet-cute between my favorite ships, but come up utterly blank when it came to something new and original and just mine?

It took me a while to realize that my playwriting and short story teachers had been correct when they said that there are no original stories in the world, no way you can tell a tale that someone else hasn’t already tried. The “Man vs.” list exists for a reason.

The unique part isn’t your story, it’s your voice. Your lived life, your experiences, your way of forming images and structuring sentences. Your choices about who the narrator character is, and what the POV will be, and how the characters handle the conflict. In that way, every piece of writing ever done is individual and unique, even the fanfic. Because nobody is going to portray that character’s quirk or speech pattern quite like you do, nobody is going to structure your plot or your imagery like you. Because there is only one of you. Only one of me. Even if we’re all writing fanfiction, no one’s story sounds like anyone else’s,  or is told like anyone else’s.

That is the reality of being a storyteller.

And strangely enough, the woman who opened my eyes to this was a psychic from a psychic fair I attended, who told me that Mark Twain was standing over her shoulder admonishing me to stop fretting and just get something on the page – but to never forget character. My strength, she said that he said, was in creating memorable, well written, well rounded characters. And that my book should focus on that above concerns of plot or pacing.

Well, okay. If Mark Twain says that’s what my strength is, then that’s what my strength is, right? Who am I to argue with the ghost of Mark Freaking Twain?

An accident with a bike and a car on a rice patty left me immobile for six weeks in 2006, and I decided that if I was finally going to write this original short story to sell – especially since I would need income, as the accident made it obvious that I would never be able to dance professionally, and probably would never be able to tread the boards in musicals – now was the perfect time. I was going to stop fighting my fannish training and write.

I cherry picked and combined my favorite aspects of Doctor Who, Stargate: Atlantis, Torchwood, The Farm Show/The Drawer Boy, and my own melancholy experiences with culture shock and liminal-living in a foreign culture, and wrote a novella titled (Back). It was a character study of a woman named Evvie who, through an accident of time travel, meets the future version of her infant daughter Gwen. And realizes she doesn’t like the woman her daughter will become. It was a story about accepting people for who they are, instead of who you wish they would be, and had a strong undercurrent of the turbulence I was going through in trying to figure out my own sexuality and that I wouldn’t have the future in performance that I had been working toward since I was four.

Deciding that I would worry about where I would try to publish the story after it had been written, I sat down and wrote what ended up being (at least for me) a pretty standard-length fanfic: 18,762 words. It was only after I had finished the story that I looked up what category that put it in – Novella. Using paying  reputable markets, like Duotrope, the Writer’s Digest, MSFV, Absolute Write, SFWA, my local Writer’s Union, Writer Beware, I realized that I had shot myself in the foot.

It seems like nearly nobody publishes novellas anymore. SF/F and Literary Fiction seem to be the last two bastions of the novella, and the competition to get one published is fierce.  The markets that accepted SF/F novellas was vanishingly thin I had to do a lot of Googling and digging to figure out who I could submit to with an unagented/unsolicited SF/F novella. If I recall correctly, it was only about ten publications. I built an excel database and filled it with all the info I found.

I put together a query letter and sent it off using my database to guide me. Most of the rejections were kind, and said that the story was good, just too long/too short/ too sci-fi-y/not sci-fi-y enough. Only one market offered on it – for $10 USD. Beggers couldn’t be choosers, even if I had hoped to make a little more than ten bucks, and I accepted.

It was a paid professional publication, and that’s what mattered to me. I had the first entry on my bibliography, and something to point to in my query letters to prove that I was a worthy investment for a publisher/agent.

And energized by this, and now aware that length really does matter, even in online-only publications, I started writing other shorts to pad out my bibliography more.

I tried to tailor these ones to what my research told me the “mainstream industry” and “mainstream audiences” wanted, and those stories? Those were shot down one after the other. I was still writing fanfiction at the time, too, and those stories were doing well, getting lots of positive feedback, so why weren’t my stories?

In 2007 I returned to Canada and Academia, frustrated by my lack of sales, desperate to kick off my publishing career, and feeling a creative void left by having to depart theatre because of my new difficulties walking. I wrote my MA, and decided that if (Back) was the only original story that people liked, then I’d try to expand it into a novel.

Over the course of two years I did my coursework, and  read everything there was to read about how to get a book deal, started hanging out in writer’s/author’s groups in Toronto and met some great people who were willing to guide me, and expanded (Back) into the novel Triptych. I kept reminding myself what Mark Twain said – character was my strength, the ability to make the kind of people that other writers wanted to write stories about, a skill I’d honed while writing fanfic. Because that’s what we do, isn’t it? Sure, we write fix-its and AUs and fusions and finish cancelled shows, and fill in missing scenes, but what we’re all really doing is playing with characters, isn’t it? Characters draw us to fanfic, and characters keep us there. Characters is what we specialize in.

Fanfic had taught me to work with a beta reader, so I started asking my fic betas if they’d like a go at my original novel. Fellow fanfic writers, can I just say how valuable editors and beta readers in the community are? These are people who do something that I’ve paid a professional editor thousands of dollars to do for free out of sheer love. Treasure your beta readers, folks. Really.

“It reminds me a lot of fan fiction,” one reader said. “The intense attention to character and their inner life, and the way that the worldbuilding isn’t dumped but sprinkled in an instance at a time, like, you know, a really good AU. I love it.”

Dear Lord. I couldn’t have written a better recommendation or a more flattering description if I’d tried. Mark Twain was right, it seems. And fanfic was the training ground, for me – my apprenticeship in storytelling.

Of course… what Mr. Twain hadn’t explained is that character-study novels just don’t sell in SF/F. They say Harry Potter was rejected twelve times? HA. I shopped Triptych to both agents and small presses who didn’t require you to have an agent to publish with them, and I got 64 rejections. Take that, J.K.

At first the rejection letters were forms and photocopied “no thanks” slips. But every time I got feedback from a publisher or agent, I took it to heart, adjusted the manuscript, edited, tweaked, tweaked, tweaked. Eventually, the rejections started to get more personal. “I loved this character, but I don’t know how to sell this book.” And “I really enjoyed the read, but it doesn’t really fit the rest of our catalogue.” And “What if you rewrote the novel to be about the action event that happens before the book even starts, instead of focusing solely on the emotional aftermath?”

In other words – “Stop writing fanfiction.” There seemed to be a huge disconnect between what the readership wanted and what the publishing world thought they wanted.

Disheartened, frustrated, and wondering if I was going to have to give up on my dreams of being a professional creative, I attended Ad Astra, a convention in Toronto, in 2009. At a room party, complaining to my author friends that “nobody wanted my gay alien threesome book!” a woman I didn’t know asked me about the novel. We chatted, and it turned out she was the acquisitions editor for Dragon Moon Press, and incidentally, also a fan of fan fiction.

I sent her Triptych. She rejected it. I asked why. She gave me a laundry list of reasons. I said, “If I can address these issues and rewrite it, would you be willing to look at it again?” She said yes. She was certain, however, that I wouldn’t be able to fix it. I spent the summer rewriting – while making sure to stay true to my original tone of the novel, and writing a character-study fanfiction. I sent it in the fall. I do believe it was Christmas eve when I received the offer of publication.

From there, my little fic-inspired novel was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards and a CBC Bookie, was named one of the best books of 2011 by the Advocate, and garnered a starred review and a place on the Best Books Of The Year at Publishers Weekly.

The award nominations led me to an agent, and further contracts, and even conversations with studio execs. It also made me the target of Requires Only That You Hate, and other cranky, horrible reviewers. But you know what? I’ve had worse on a forum, and on ff.n, and LJ. It sucked, and it hurt, but if there’s one thing fandom has taught me, it’s that not everyone is going to love what you do, and not everyone interprets things the same way you do. The only thing we can do is learn from the critique if it’s valid and thoughtful, and ignore the screaming hate and bullying. Then you pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and go write something else.

Because a screaming hater? Is not going to ruin my love of storytelling.

But for all that… the day someone made me fan art based on Triptych is one etched in my memory. It means far more to me than any of the emails I ever received inquiring about representation or film rights, or wanting meetings to discuss series.

The lesson I learned from publishing Triptych  – now sadly out of print, but we’re looking for a new home for it – is that if I chase what the “mainstream” and the “industry” want, I’ll never write anything that sells because my heart won’t be in it. I have to keep writing like a fanficcer, even if I’m not writing fanfic, if I want to create something that resonates with people. And if it takes time for the publishers and acquiring editors to figure out what I’m doing, and how to sell it, then fine – I have an agent on my side now, and a small growing number of supporters, readers, and editors who love what I do.

Do I still write fanfic? Very, very rarely. I’ve had some pretty demanding contracts and deadlines in the last two years, so I’ve had to pare down my writing to only what’s needed to fulfill my obligations. Doesn’t mean I don’t have ideas for fics constantly.

Sometimes the urge is powerful enough that I do give into it – I wrote To A Stranger, based on Mad Lori’s Performance in a Leading Role Sherlock AU recently, when I should have been writing the second and third novels of The Accidental Turn Series. And even more recently, I cleaned up To A Stranger  into something resembling a real screenplay and started shopping it around to film festivals and producers because I love this story, I love what I did with it, and I’m proud of the work. If To A Stranger is only ever a fanfic, that’s fine with me. I poured my heart into it and am so proud of it. But I figure that if there’s one more project I could possibly get into the real world, then why not go for it?

The worst thing the festival heads and producers can say about the work is: “No, thank you.” And being an online writer has taught me not to take the “no, thank you”s personally. Applying the values of Don’t Like Don’t Read or Not My Kink to your publication/agent search makes it much easier to handle the rejections – not every story is for every person.

Maybe once every producer in North America has rejected it, I might think about working with someone to adapt the screenplay into an illustrated comic fanbook? Who knows?

That’s the joy of starting out as a writer in fandom – felixibility, adaptability, creative problem-solving and cross-platform storytelling comes as naturally as breathing to us fan writers. It’s what we do.

You may not think that this is a strength, but trust me, it is. I was never so shocked at an author’s meetup as when I suggested to someone that their “writer’s block” sounded to me like they were telling the story in the wrong format. “I think this is a comic, not a novel,” I’d said. “It sounds so visual. That’s why the story is resisting you.” And they stared at me like I suddenly had an extra head and said, “But I’m a novelist.” I said, “No, you’re a writer. Try it.” They never did, as far as I know, and they never finished that book, either.

As fans, our strength isn’t just in what we write, or how we come to our stories. It’s also about the physical practice of writing, too. We’re a group of people who have learned to carry notebooks, squeeze in a few hundred words between classes, or when the baby is napping, or during our lunch breaks, or on commute home. This is our hobby, we fit it in around our lives and jobs, and that has taught us the importance of just making time.

We are, on average, more dedicated and constant writers than some of the “novelists” that I’ve met: the folks who wait for inspiration to strike, who quit their day jobs in pursuit of some lofty ideal of having an office and drinking whiskey and walking the quay and waiting for madam muse to grace them, who throw themselves at MFAs and writing retreats, as if it’s the attendance that makes them writers and not the work of it.

We fans are career writers. We don’t wait for inspiration to come to us, we chase it down with a butterfly net. We write when and where we can. More than that, we finish things. (Or we have the good sense to know when to abandon something that isn’t working.) We write to deadlines. Self-imposed ones, even.

We write 5k on a weekend for fun, and think NaNoWriMo’s 50k goal and 1667 words per day are a walk in the park. (When I know it terrifies some of the best-selling published authors I hang out with.) Or if we fans don’t write fast, then we know that slow and steady works too, and we’re willing to stick it out until our story is finished, even if it takes years of weekly updates to do so. We have patience, and perseverance, and passion.

This is what being a fanfiction writer has given me. Not only a career as a writer, but tools and a skill-set to write work that other people think is work awarding, adapting, and promoting. And the courage to stick to my guns when it comes to telling the kinds of stories that I want to tell.

This is what being a fanfiction writer gives us.

Aren’t we lucky, fellow fans? Hasn’t our training been spectacular?

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J.M. (@scifrey) is a SF/F author, and professional smartypants on AMI Audio’s Live From Studio 5. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. Her debut novel TRIPTYCH was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards,  nominated for a 2011 CBC Bookie, was named one of The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011, and garnered both a starred review and a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly. Her sophomore novel, an epic-length feminist meta-fantasy THE UNTOLD TALE (Accidental Turn Series #1), debuted to acclaim in 2015 and was followed by THE FORGOTTEN TALE (Accidental Turn Series #2) this past December. FF.N | LJ |AO3| Books | Tumblr

 

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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 Story of How I Started Selling Stories
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Questions from Fans – TRIPTYCH

Afternoon, Nerdlings!

One of my FAVOURITE things as an author is when I learn that readers are SO INVESTED in my work that they are just bursting with questions about it.

I got a really interesting, in-depth set of questions from Red Dog Reid about Triptych, and with their permission, I am posting my answers (and their responses to my questions!)

 

  1. How tall is Kalp? What is the height range for his species?

Kalp’s around six and a half feet tall; he’s a little runtish for his people, who can get to upwards of nine feet.

 It’s probably pretty weird, then, since Kalp was short on his planet, for him to suddenly be tall. I know that feel. I’m 5’3 and was a stilt walker in a parade once; it’s quite an experience!

Yes, it must have been! Just one more thing to throw him off on Earth. He was frightened that he would accidentally crush a tiny human child quite often.

 

  1. What actors would you pick to play your characters if it was made into a movie?

Funny you should ask that; I just did a guest blog post about that elsewhere.

I like those picks. I wonder at Basil’s actor, though. He’s not pudgy at all (and can I say I love that you have a pudgy main character!), and a bit young, yes? But definitely a good actor!

Oh, I bet Colin Morgan would love the opportunity to eat a lot of fried foods! Originally I had Canadian actor David Hewlett in mind for Basil (inspired by his characters in Nothing and Stargate), but unfortunately if the film was to be made now, he’s aged out of Basil’s age range.

And yes, it’s important to me as well that I represent real people with realistic bodies in my novels. Perhaps not as important as it is in visual mediums like TV, film, and comics, but to have people with normal bodies –  or bodies the best suited to their occupations – means a lot to me.

Basil lives a very sedentary life, and even his childhood hobbies meant he spent a lot of time sitting around, so he is pudgy. Gwen grew up on a farm, doing chores and running through fields, so she isn’t pudgy, though she isn’t a svelte unrealistic model either. In one of my upcoming books The Skylark’s Song, my female MC is skinny and her upperbody musculature is on par with a body builder’s because she spends all her time hauling machine parts in a city under severe rationing.

 

  1. Would you ever want to turn this into a movie? What about a sort of three-part series of long episodes/short movies? Tv show? (if a show would work somehow; not sure if it would with the format and all.)

 

Yes, I would love to see a dramatic adaptation of “Triptych”, though I think the complexity of the story would be better served as a miniseries rather than a feature film. There was some interest from a few companies, but it never ended up panning out. Of course, I’d love to see Starz, HBO, SPACE, SyFy or Showcase pick it up.  Also, I don’t think there’s enough story in the book to stretch it out into a full multi-season TV series, but then again, someone with a great idea might prove me wrong.

But of course, an author, unless they work in or have ties to the television industry, doesn’t have much control over whether a book gets optioned for a dramatic adaptation. A producer/screenwriter/director first has to take an interest, and pitch it to their team, get approval and funding, option the rights from me, and then they make the show/film. I might be consulted, or ask to come on board a story consultant, or even be invited to write some of it. Or the production house may choose to keep me out of the production entirely. It’s their call, I have no say in that outside of whether I would agree to licence the rights to option my intellectual property, and if an invitation to participate is extended to me, whether I’ll take it or not.

(Unless I have a spare five million bucks hanging around and choose to executive produce it myself.)

I would love to see this made into a three-part series! By the way, you don’t happen to ever have made/thought about making anything in the way of merch? Posters or the like? (I ask because I’m saving up to open a bakery in Eugene, Oregon within the next three years, and I intend to have a book-trade/library area with book posters, and would love to put Triptych up! Or, with your permission, blow up the cover image and frame it?)

Oh, yeah! Definitely a three part series, each of them 90mins, like Sherlock? That’d be really swell. I think that would serve the narrative very well, especially if each episode was told from a single POV, like the book’s sections.

In terms of merch, that’s a bit more tricky. See, I don’t own the cover art. The publisher commissioned the cover art. It’s understood that I can use it in my marketing efforts – on postcards and bookmarks I bring to conventions, or on my website, or on things I give away for free – but to actually make money on the cover, to put it on teeshirts and posters and the like and sell those, I would need my publisher’s permission and a contract regarding licensing rights and who gets how much of the profit.

I haven’t discussed this with my publisher because it’s a small press, and I’m still a small author, and it’s a relatively unknown novel. The amount of money made on the merch probably wouldn’t offset the price of setting up the online store, or the bother of doing said paperwork. It’s probably not an attractive option for them.

Having said that, you never know until you ask, so contacting my publisher and expressing an interest in having the cover design available on their Zazzle store couldn’t hurt! And while you’re at it, I’m sure if you asked the publisher would let you know what they feel about letting you create a big poster for your store. I’m sure they’d probably have no problem with it.

And man, from my perspective? That is DARN cool and an honor. I’d love you to do it.

 

  1. What Earth language do you think is closest to Kalp’s language?

I’ve never really thought of it. Something lyrical, with a lot of glottal stops, I think. Funnily enough, considering that Basil is from Wales… maybe Welsh?

Welsh. That makes sense. I was reading it as sort of a Russian/Pashto blend. (By the way, is Trus’ name pronounced like “truce” or like “trust” without the t? Is ‘isk’ pronounced the Western way, just as it’s spelled, or does it have the more back-of-the-mouth feel like some other languages, where the the i is less ‘ih’ and more ‘ee’?) How about gramatically; does it follow a western grammar, or more eastern or perhaps Germanic, or like in sign language? 

Oh, gosh, you’re asking me to think a lot more hard about this than I originally did when I wrote the novel! I didn’t do as much worldbuilding on Kalp’s world as I have since done for worlds like the one in The Tales of Kintyre Turn, precisely because I didn’t want the reader to know too much. The point was that Kalp found it all too painful to think about, so I didn’t overthink it myself. (And of course, I’m no linguist like Tolkien or Roddenberry!)

But to answer your questions, I imagined that his language is more like sign language in grammar – encompassing ideas and particular singular meanings that are given grammar by context, usage order, and familiarity with your conversation partner.

And as Kalp’s people have little snouts, I’d say the language is a little more nasal, and probably involves a lot of lips shaping the sounds.

Trus = “trews”

 

  1. Does Kalp’s society have abnormal relationships? How do they view it when/if only two get together? Four? Pairings of all-same-sex relationships who are thus unable to have kids?

Of course! Though I wouldn’t call them “abnormal” so much as “just not mainstream.” Like humans, like bonobos, like dolphins and penguins, of course there’s a spectrum of sexuality and relationship arrangements.

However as biological sex is a lot more complicated in Kalp’s people than it is in ours, no arrangement of sexual partners is ever biologically “unable to have children”, unless there is a medical reason for sterility. (Or a personal choice to use contraceptives.) There are Those Who Can Get Pregnant and Those Who Can Impregnate, but even that can shift, and alter, and is a finer line that it is here.

If an Aglunate of all one biological sort, their biology is adaptable enough that with some medical intervention, it could happen.

I wish I could live in that sort of society. As a queer transman, it sounds utterly ideal.

I wish we could a live in a society where any and all arrangements of romance, affection, gender, and sexuality are accepted and medical science is able to easily and freely help people have the bodies they know they are meant to have.

 

  1. This was your first book, right? Were you worried about writing about material that isn’t really socially acceptable, such as poly relationships, bisexual/homosexual characters, interspecies relationships, things like that, for your first book or even in general? 

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about the marketability of the subject matter when I wrote the book.  The book evolved slowly, so in the first version of it (published as a novella titled (Back)), there was no interspecies relationship, no bisexuality, and no poly relationship. When I began to expand it into a novel, a friend who’d read the original novella actually said, “Wait, were Basil, Gwen and Kalp F@#$ing?” And I was like, “Wait, what? What?… um…  yes? Yes! Good idea!”

I was more concerned about telling the story, and being true to the characters and the narrative, than the subject matter.

Having said that, it was also important to be to be respectful of the issues and topics that DID end up as part of the narrative through the organic evolution of the revisions. I did a lot of research, asked questions in the community, and read books.

Whenever I decide to include things that don’t fall within my own personal lived experiences, I always do very careful research and make myself aware of the negative stereotypes and pitfalls inherent in including them in my work. And if my best isn’t good enough, I’ll own up to it and invite feedback from people whose lived experiences I’m attempting to emulate in prose.

Do you ever worry about accidentally doing something offensive without knowing? Even with all the research you can possibly do, you can never be sure. I’m writing a book right now myself, or trying to, and I keep getting torn between not having diverse representation, and how horrible I would feel if I accidentally mucked something up. Any advice on this particular dilemma? Like, what to do if it happens (because I know pretty much all you can do to avoid it is research and talk to people.)

Constantly. One of my biggest fears is really effing it up and hurting my readers without meaning to.  My advice in this case is to do your research thoroughly and via lots of varied sources that don’t reference each other, but come from lots of different places. Secondly, ask someone who comes from that community to read the book over, and give you suggestions or point out places where you’re making misinterpretations, mistakes, or accidentally reinforcing harmful stereotypes.

And if you do make a mistake, and are called out on it (even if the book is already published), thank the person, acknowledge the mistake, apologize, and learn from it. Readers are usually very respectful when you say, “Ah, right. I’m sorry. Thank you for pointing that out to me, and I’ll try harder next time.”

But also be aware that sometimes people misread a book.

For example, I’ve had readers complain that there’s too much sex in The Untold Tale for a YA book… but it’s not a YA book. I’ve had reviewers complain that the book was full of spelling and formatting errors, when I stated in my advance coverletter that the version they were receiving was the ARC, and that it hadn’t gone through final line edits yet.  You can be explicit about the context of the book and people can still miss it.

And also be aware that you cannot take “werewolf cookbook” reviews to heart. (These are reviews that are essentially like: “This is an okay cookbook, but there are no werewolves in it. I only like books with werewolves in them, so I’m only giving this cookbook one star.”) Like, seriously? You’re leaving a one star review in the book because it didn’t meet your personal taste? Uhg.

Of course, sometimes there are people who just live to be offended, and no matter what you do or how hard you worked, they’re going to scream and say horrible things about you, and accuse you of doing it on purpose and being a bigot/racist/mysoginist/asshole. And sometimes they will threaten you and say horrific, vitriolic things about you, as Requires Only That You Hate/Winterfox said about me.

And in that case, I say try to ignore them and forget it ever happened. I know that’s actually hard, because it will hurt, especially if the attacks get personal. But remember, no reviewer worth their salt reviews the author – their job is to review the book, and ad hominem attacks are a sign of a cranky amateur. Haters gonna hate, and assholes love to hear the sound of their own voices. Take Elsa’s advice on that one.

 

  1. How do you feel about people doing art/fanfics of your work? Does it bother your or do you like it? (yes, I’m kinda asking permission. And yes, I do include erotica in that. >///<)

Welp, seeing as I started as a writer in fanfic and wrote my MA thesis on Mary Sues, I think I’m cool with it. I honestly love it, and knowing that my work inspires others to create in their own way fills me with all the warm fuzzies.

You go right ahead and fic/art/smut to your smol heart’s content!

I have more to say on that here, and here, and here.

The only caveat is this: if anyone is writing fic of something I’m actively working on – like The Accidental Turn Series  – for example, I can’t read that, unfortunately. It’s for legal reasons, so there’s no chance I could accidentally steal an idea, or be accused of it later. You can tell me about it. But I can’t read it. Not yet, anyway.

But for anything else, I usually read the fic, or at least skim through it, and I definitely love the fanart, comics, and cosplays. I have a wall in my office filled with fanart that I’ve printed out and framed.

I find fanworks flattering af, and if you tag me/ping me on them, I’d love to see/read/adore it.

Here’s me on tumblr, and on A03, and here’s A03’s Triptych tag.

In that case, I went ahead and posted a quick doodle of Kalp on my tumblr. I don’t know if that’s really what he looks like, but I tried!

OMG! Lookit at the wee Kalp, everyone! Look at its perfection!!

Kalp by Red Dog Reid

  1. Can you suggest any other authors for me to read who write things like this, things that go outside societal norms without making it disrespectful or offensive or a joke or queerbaiting or, well, all that?

Oh, easily!

Jennifer Roberson, Octavia E. Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, George Sands, James Tiptree Jr., Anne-Marie McDonald, Margret Atwood, Julie Czerneda, Tanya Huff, Ann Carson, and if you’re feeling like some good old fashioned ancient Greek comedy-erotica then Petronius’ The Satyricon is hilarious. Also check out the Lambda Literary Awards, James Tiptree Jr. Awards, Gaylaxian Awards, and the Bi Writers Association Awards for reading list suggestions.

I’ll try them out, thank you!

You’re welcome! Happy reading.

 

  1. What made you choose a triptych style for the book? Why did you decide to start in the middle at the beginning? 

The format of the story – and indeed, the title – grew organically out of the narrative. I wanted to tell Gwen’s story, but from the POV of the people who mattered most to her.  The original novella was written from Evvie’s POV, and Evvie’s section, so that left her boyfriend/husband and (later, when I decided Kalp would be in a relationship with them) her lover. That made three, so I decided to write three novellas, three separate tales from three separate voices. And what’s a word for three separate panels that combine to form one piece of art? A triptych! I actually struggled about whether to include the prologue and epilogue, but in the end, the story really did need those two extra snippets at the house, and on the farm.  In the end I appeased my artistic sensibility by at least keeping the book in three POVs, if not three parts.

We’re always told to start a story in media res, or in the middle of the action, not in the lead up. And I decided to tell the story chronologically by year, not by narrative experience. That’s always a choice you have to make when you’re telling a time travel tale – which order do I tell the story in?

In the end, when I had to add the prologue and the epilogue, I thought it would be really nifty to literally start the story in the action, and at the climax, when the bullet leaves the barrel and the body hits the ground. It was a bit of a bold storytelling choice, and it took some finessing to make it function, but I’m proud of it. And yeah, it is the kind of narrative trick that, again, only a time travel story would let an author use.

I like the inclusion of the epilogue and all, I think it works well. And the first line was actually what made me pick the book up; such a bold choice really made the book seem interesting from the get go, no slow starts there!

Awesome, thanks!

  1. Do you think that Kalp would be considered some sort of non-binary gender, though he uses masculine pronouns? Or is he a cismale but doesn’t conform to traditional western gender norms?

Kalp’s sexuality and gender presentation isn’t really on a binary, it’s more of a … wibbly-wobbly gender-wendery ball of stuff. Obviously there are biological differences between Those Who Can Get Pregnant and Those Who Can Impregnate, but it’s less delineated than it is here, and gender presentation, especially on a binary, is unheard of in his culture.

Kalp’s people were introduced to the concept of gender when they arrived on Earth. They are baffled by this need to separate based on biology. What do your genitals have to do, after all, with who you choose to love, the media you choose to consume, the employment you can take or are suited for, the colours you prefer, and the toys, games, and entertainment you enjoy?

Kalp’s people had the option to choose to identify themselves as either male or female, but some also chose to identify as both, and some as neither. I imagine Kalp took an online personality quiz with a title like “Can We Guess Your Gender Based On These 30 Awesome Questions?”  and based on that said, “Right, yeah, okay. I guess I’ll pick male. It’s simple to the point of being insulting, but saying ‘male’ is the least incorrect.” Kalp is a One Who Can Impregnate, and he works in the sciences, so according to our narrow Earth designations, that makes him more male than female. (But he also likes domestic tasks like cooking, he enjoys tidying, and he was really looking forward to being a parent.)

So he’s neither cismale nor does really consider himself male. He just chose the pronoun for the ease of communication. He isn’t really on the gender spectrum, either, because his people have no spectrum. They just are.

So, he chose male because English often demands that speaker does so. It was a communication shorthand. Not because he is “male” in the way we understand it.

Do they have words in their language for One Who Can Impregnate and On Who Can Be Pregnant? 

I’m sure they do, but I haven’t made any up.

 

  1. Does Kalp hate heights in general, or did he just panic because he was in something that reminded him of the escape pods?

Kalp doesn’t have any particular issue with heights. Most of the dwellings on his homeworld were built amid the trees, so he couldn’t. He just flashed back to the escape pods and couldn’t handle the PTSD episode it brought on.

That panic attack was really well done, too. A lot of people exaggerated them, make it cliche. You didn’t do that. It was really nice.

Thank you. I’ve only had one or two in my life, but one of my former roommates used to have them a lot, and I remembered sitting up with her sometimes and talking her through them. I also know other people who get them, and spoke to them about what they felt and how they experienced the panic. I wanted to make sure it was authentic and an honest portrayal.

More questions! (If you don’t mind? Sorry, I’m a little over-eager; I’ve never actually been able to talk to an author before!)

I don’t mind at all. I think every author likes to talk about their worlds and characters. 😀 We don’t always have the time to do so, but we love it when people love our worlds, and characters, and our work.

 

  1. What are the sorts of physical differences one sees in the species from different regions of their home planet? Accent differences? Cultural?

    Generally speaking, fur colour varies, just as human melatonin distribution varies, based on proximity to the equator. Greener near the rainforests, bluer nearer to the ice. There were only two continents, and of course there were cultural and linguistic differences between the continents. They’re probably quite varied, like the difference between Japanese Shinto culture, and Muslim Islam, and European Judeism. Though Kalp’s people weren’t particularly religious, there was a great deal of ritual, social hierarchy, non-verbal gestures with the hands and ears, and a rich culture of cuisine and storytelling.

Kalp mentions in the book that stories start differently on “the other continent”, but on his they start, “In a place that is not here and a time that was not now,” (or something to that effect, I don’t actually recall how it went). Again, this is one of those worldbuilding questions that I never asked myself, because I wasn’t writing about the differences between the cultures.

 

  1. How do Kalp’s limbs work, with the extra joints? A fluid bend? Like the tail of a monkey or cat, lots of little bones/joints? Are their legs different, three-part like a human’s, since it’s refereed to Kalp having knees? It’s always noted that he spreads his toes when he walks; is his species plantigrade or digitigrade?

    Rather like a monkey’s tail, I would say, though there are major joints amid the minor ones that humans called knees and elbows for ease of reference.

    I had to look up what plantigrade or digitigrade mean:

    And the answer is… kinda both? It’s Digitigrade, but not to this extreme degree.

 

  1. What’s the name of their species? How they refer to themselves and/or a name humans have given to them. They can’t just be refered to as “the aliens”, right?

    “Us.”

 

  1. You’ve written a lot since this first novel. Looking back, is there anything you would change if you could rewrite it? 

There’s little I would change, but I would maybe choose to have written the whole book from Kalp’s perspective and involve more reference to his culture and history.

The one thing I really regret not doing is making the human character’s varying ethnicities more obvious.  I hate saying “so and so is Black” or “so and so is Asian” because, of course, no one ever says in fiction “so and so is White.” White is the assumed default. I thought I left enough clues in the narrative by using non-European family names, and little hints, but I guess not. Many people assumed the characters who were not-white were in fact white, and I got a lot of crap about making a world-wide organization “filled with white people”.

It’s difficult to figure out how to balance the twin desires to have a wide variety of representation and not be pedantic, self-congratulatory, or condescending about describing everyone’s skin tone.

 

  1. How did you deal with the language? Do you have more words in their language that weren’t added to the book itself, like if you came up with the language beforehand? Or was it more a situation where, when you found something you wanted to add Kalp’s word for it in, you figured that out on the spot? 

Ah… this is a bit embarrassing, but most of the words in that language are taken from things that were around my desk as I was writing. At that time, I was in grad school so most of the words are acronyms for academic grants that I didn’t get. 😛

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Thanks for the Questions, Red Dog! Does anyone else have any more questions?

JM FreyQuestions from Fans – TRIPTYCH
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Words for Writers: Why Is Fandom Important?

In honour of INTERNATIONAL FANWORKS DAY, I am reposting my article on why I love fandom!

This was originally posted at RuthanneReid.com, now AmongTheMythos.com.

Photo by Francis Baker

Photo by Francis Baker

Authors need fans, right? Sure we do – we need people who like our books, our writing, who recommend them to other people, who spread buzz and vote for them, who defend them and squee over them, who recommend them to their librarian and give them as gifts. We need fans, at the most basic, to buy and read our books or we couldn’t afford (financially or emotionally) to write more.

But what about fans? I’m talking the come-to-every-event-you-do, attend-every-signing, write-fanfic, build cosplay, analyze-the-crap-out-of-your-work kind of fans. Do we need those?

Yes. YES WE DO.

And I love you, too. I love you guys a lot.

Let me tell you why I love you – and why many authors love you too.

I was Once One Of You

  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fanfiction was my novelling training wheels.
  • You encourage new creatives to take chances with their work, to stretch and grow, to learn, to explore. More than that, you encourage us toshare, which is sometimes the hardest part of writing a novel or making a piece of art.
  • You teach writers how to take praise, how to take critique, how to edit and how to build character and worlds and narratives every time you leave feedback.
  • You provide a safe community in which to explore creativity.

…And I Still Am.

  • I read fanfic constantly. I call it my “comfort food” because I already know I love the worlds I’m about to spend time in, already know I love the characters. It’s a safe, wonderful, happy, glowy kind of coming home but I get a brand new story/idea/AU/world.
  • I still cosplay, when I can get away with being a professional guest in costume at Cons.
  • I still roam Artists’ Alley and drool and buy way too many prints and bookmarks and buttons and cool things, because they are innovative, and beautiful, and fun, and for just a moment creates a thread of mutual understanding, respect, love of the media text, and a tingle of creativity passes between me and the artist/vendor.
  • I still think like a fan – every story I create I approach with a fanficcer’s mindset: “How can I tell this from a new angle? How can I use the traditions, the clichés, the assumptions to push against the envelope of the narrative? Whose voices are missing and how can I give them the center?”

I Have Met Some Of My Best Friends Through Fandom

  • One of my best writing friends was my fanfic crossover co-author, and I’ve to date never met her in person, but I’ve known her for about 15 years. We have cheered on each other’s pro careers, edited each other’s books, and supported one another for literally half of my life.
  • Some of my very good friends IRL I met while at Cons and while cosplaying.
  • I met pretty much every other pro writer friend I have at conventions
  • I sold my first novel at a convention.
  • I made very good friends at university by introducing people I liked to cosplay and fanfiction and working with them on fics, art, and costumes; then I dragged them to cons where some of them are now professional creative, too.

You Are Unabashedly Passionate

  • You have the guts to wear the proof of your passion on your person: to cosplay, to wear tee-shirts, to attend cons, to get tattoos, to style your hair or your wardrobe as a tribute to your favorite characters.
  • You spend hours, years, and sometimes a significant amount of money creating things based on other creatives’ works
  • Really, Simon Pegg might have said it best.

You Are Smart As Heck

  • You build communities like those Archive of Our Own andFanfiction.net, Tumblr and Deviant Art.
  • You do good deeds in the name of the writers, actors, and shows that you love –David Hewlett’s Squirrel Army all donating to Medicines Sans Frontiers for his birthday, or the charitable deeds of the Browncoats, for instance
  • You parlay your love into degrees, courses, conferences, academic readers, and text books
  • You call out work that is problematic and encourage creators to grow, to learn, to take an interest, to get better.
  • You find things in my work that I might not have realized I put there and you play with them. It’s incredible.

You Are the #1 Best Form of Advertising

  • The best kind of advertising in the world is a friend or family member or teacher or librarian handing you a book and saying: Read this. Trust me.
  • Crossover fanfiction is what got me into like, 90% of my fandoms.
  • You tell the book stores about me, and demand that I be kept on the shelves.

You Are Hella Supportive

  • You buy everything I write.
  • You come to every signing, every reading, every pubnite.
  • You come talk to me and tell me what you loved (and didn’t love).
  • You ask questions. You force me to ask questions of myself.
  • You ask me to come be a guest, a guest of honour, a judge, a participant, a contestant, and interviewee, a guest star, etc.
  • You invite me to submit to newsletters, journals, magazines, anthologies, and blogs.
  • You interact with me on social media.

And You Are Vocal About It, Too

  • Fans send letters to magazines, to film executives, to bands, to playwrights, to graphic novel creators, to other creative and say Have you Read this? You should totally do something with this. You make other people pay attention to me and my work and you help forge connections.
  • You tell people on Facebook, on Twitter, on Tumblr, on Pinterest,everywhere what you love and why you love it.

You Keep Me Accountable

  • You make me think of things that I might have missed, critique what I’ve published in ways that helps me be more thoughtful and more compassionate with the next book and characters, and you point out flaws that I didn’t see before, and never know I had.
  • You ask me when my next book will come out, remind me that there are stories that I promised, and help me stay on track if I start playing around on social media too much.

You Keep my Worlds and My Characters Alive

  • You write fanfiction, fancomics, build cosplays, and make fanart and fanvids that breathe new and continued life into my work.
  • You write the scenes and/or plug the gaps that I had to leave off screen for logistics or narrative reasons (and usually with way more imagination that I would have!)
  • You psychoanalyze my work and find things in it that I hadn’t realized I put there. You make the characters realer, their reactions more human, and you teach me, in breaking apart my work like this, to do it for myself and to really craft my characters with the same care you take in studying them.
  • More importantly, when I hand in my novels for the last time for publishing, the world becomes closed to me. I can’t change anything, play with anything, push and pull and turn it on its head and play with dynamics. But you can and you do.
  • I love AUs. I LOVE AUs. I LOVE IT WHEN YOU TAKE MY WORLD AND REMAKE IT. LOVE IT.

You Tell Me How Much My Hard Work is Appreciated and Loved

  • You leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads that make my heart soar. Or make me think critically about the choices I made and consider how to do better next time.
  • You post your art or pics of your cosplays online and make sure I know how hard you worked on them. (And I know, oh, I know.)

And most importantly:

You Engage in A Dialogue With Me About My Work

  • Every fanwork you put up is your response to something that I said or did in my book. I have offered the opening and this is your reply. And the conversation is marvelous.

To close, a lovely quote on fanworks by Ruthanne Reid:

“When you create a new world, a new story, it’s like you’ve just built a brand-new playground. Other kids love it so much that they CHOOSE to come and play in that one with you. When you lock them out of fandom, you’re sitting in it all by yourself, wondering why the other kids don’t want to sit outside in the grass and watch you play.”

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

JM FreyWords for Writers: Why Is Fandom Important?
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A Summary of My 2015

I wrote two novels, a novella, a few shorts; two novels I wrote launched; five anthologies in which I had shorts or essays launched; I signed and announced two new book series (whaat??); got injuries that I am still recovering from (come on, me, being immobile is so 2006); had my heart absolutely crushed to sludge twice; moved back home with the rents (best. roomies. ever.); made my comic-writing debut; and made some amazing new Tumblr friends that I adore to pieces (one of whom just proposed to me last night. I’m moving to the Deep South, y’all. I hope she realizes that I’ve decided her joke was serious. :p ).

So in short: I’ve had lots of amazing things happen on the professional side, some really awful stuff happen on the romance side, so absolutely crappy stuff happen on the health side, and have had some amazing friends and family helping me through it all. Really am blessed in that category, and I won’t forget it.

Now onto the granular breakdown:

January

  • Announced that my two comics “Bloodsuckers” and “Toronto the Rude” had been accepted into Toronto Comics Vol 2. (I got a great pair of illustrators assigned to my stories, too!)
  • Midway through the month I took a slip on the ice outside of my house and (though I didn’t have a full diagnosis until November) herniated a disc, got micro-tears in the muscle of my back, wrenched my knee, tore the muscle at the top of my ankle, and tore the squishy stuff in the socket of my hip. Slept for the rest of the month with the really good drugs.

February

March

April

May

  • Unable to work full time due to my injuries, I moved home to live with my parents, and focus on getting better and meeting my contracted writing deadlines.

June

July

August

September

October

  • Attended EerieCon17
  • The War of the Worlds” happened, and I realized I was really, really not healthy enough to be treading the boards yet. It was interesting and extremely painful.
  • Began writing “Untitled Geek Dating Webseries Screenplay: Season 1”
  • Second round of edits for “The Untold Tale” begins

November

  • NaNoWriMo: wrote two short stories,one novella, and finished writing “Untitled Geek Dating Webseries Screenplay: Season 1”
  • Wrote and Launched “Ivy”, an Accidental Prequel
  • Finally got all the diagnosises for my slip and fall. Have now had enough MRIs and XRays to glow in the dark.
  • Finished line edits for “The Untold Tale”

December

 

Goals for 2016

  • Finish a short story for Peggy (so close to being done!)
  • Finish the second Accidental Novella (so VERY close to being done!)
  • Write two more Accidental Shorts
  • Write “Untitled Geek Dating Webseries Screenplay: Season 2” (And possibly 3, we’ll see.)
  • Write “The Silenced Tale”
  • Assemble all my Peggy Barnett short work into a short story collection, add a few new stories
  • Be faithful to my diet and loose some of the weight that makes my injuries worse
  • Walk every day, or ride my Recumbent Exercise Bike

Goals for 2017

  • Publish the Peggy Barnett short story collection
  • Write “The Skylark’s Search”
  • Write “The Skylark’s Sacrifice”
  • Finish some short stories set in the Skylark world
  • Be faithful to my diet and loose some of the weight that makes my injuries worse
  • Walk every day, or ride my Recumbent Exercise Bike
JM FreyA Summary of My 2015
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