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[META] I Am Acafan, Here Me Roar?

“I”, meaning whom?

I am Lisa Schmidt, writer, thinker, debtor, and life traveller, and this is my introductory post.   I’m very pleased to be joining the Organization for Transformative Works, truly.  I am one of those academic types who was a fan first, always and forever a fan.  I was a fan — for a very long time! — before I knew there were other people like me, people who shaped themselves into groups and found ways to communally refine their gorgeous obsessions.  Some of us even thought to harness our emotional and intellectual energies and fashion them into a career — thus was born acafan.

So, I think it important to begin with a sort of fannish curriculum vitae.  As with any C.V., one picks and chooses a little, lining up the major entries for maximum effect.  In other words, this is only a partial list.  It goes:  Star Wars, Remington Steele/Pierce Brosnan, Johnny Depp, Star Trek: TNG, Star Trek: Voyager, The Sentinel, LOTR, OMG LOTR!, Everything-Associated-With-Elijah, Supernatural, Stargate Atlantis, did I mention Supernatural/Dean Winchester/Jensen Ackles? In between and during all of these, I’ve had my various obsessions with films, books, shows, topics and personages ranging from T.E. Lawrence to Kate Bush to the Dragonlance novels.  I don’t just like Bette Davis; I WORSHIP her.  I think that Joss Whedon is a true genius and if I could I would throw myself at his feet and ask him to hire me.  I think that Bjork is a GODDESS.  I don’t how to NOT be a fan.

I have to say this because it such a huge part of the picture:  I love fanfiction.  I love it as an academic and as a human being and as a reader of fanfiction and — oh, yeah, as a writer.  I’ve been a writer my whole life.  I have boxes of unfinished fantasy novels, most of them written in my teens.  They shall probably never see the light of day, and that is just as well.  The point is, my blogging may skew towards fanfiction, particularly slash.  To me, fanfiction is a particular formation of a very basic sort of human creativity, an activity that pre-dates the Internet and electronic media and even the novel.  It is not something that supposedly uncreative people do because they don’t know how to do REAL writing…. but I digress.

So as I was saying, I am Lisa, and I am a fan.  I am also an academic.  As I write this, I am sitting in my apartment in Sherbrooke, Quebec, home of Bishop’s University.  I just finished teaching one course (Hitchcock) and will begin two more next week (Media and Society, Sex and Gender, whee!).  I did my Ph.D. at the University of  Texas at Austin, which means that you may hear me rant about the weather in Texas, or American politics, or grad school, or all of the above, at some point.  But I am a Canadian girl, born and bred. I went to McGill and the University of Toronto.  I like to think that being Canadian makes me cool, but I’ve never really been cool, to tell the truth.

Because I am an academic, I can’t bear the thought that anyone might have read the title to this post and said “Hmm, can’t she SPELL?”  I can spell, I promise you.  I thought I would try for a clever sort of double meaning with “HERE”, as in this blog.  In this blog, I will roar.  Why ROAR?  Because I am a fan.  I think I’m pretty darned rational most of the time, but I can get very passionate about certain subjects (Hello?  Fan here).  And on the subject of fandom, I do feel like roaring sometimes.

Of course, being Canadian, I try to remain polite even as I roar.

[META] I am Mary Sue! Pheer me!

The most recent issue of “Transformative Works and Cultures” featured a fascinating interview with Paula Smith, the fan writer and editor who coined the term “Mary Sue” in 1973. Anyone who writes fan fiction that includes original characters in any form runs into this term sooner or later. And probably all fan fiction writers spend way too much time worrying if their original female characters are somehow slipping perilously toward this stereotype! Mary Sue’s are female characters in fan fiction who, Smith says, are “wish-fulfillment characters whose presence in any universe warps it way the heck out of reality. But we don’t notice that when it involves men.” These characters are way too perfect, take over the story inappropriately, and are often author-insertion characters. Smith says: “A story demands headspace, and the Mary Sue wants to come and occupy your whole head, so the writer gets the enjoyment and not the reader.” Cynthia Walker interviewed Smith, and asked many fantastic questions. One that leaped out to me was their elaboration of why fandom and its source materials tolerate male wish-fulfilment and self-insertion characters way more readily than female characters of the same type. “Q: Why, then, do Superman and James Bond succeed, while we tend to pull back from the female version? “PS: Because the world we live in is not just a patriarchy; it’s a puerarchy—what gets focused on in the culture is defined by boys and young men. Psychologically, there’s a turning point in men’s lives. There’s a point where they need to break away from women in their youth, and then later they come back to women as grown men, but many men never make it, never quite come back to a world that includes women as human beings.” I love how smartly and briefly Smith put that! Besides the very clear-eyed and historical look at Mary Sue and Gary Stu, in fan fiction and in our source material, the interview is a wonderful tour of the early years of Star Trek fandom and media fandom generally. That’s one of the chief things I love about this journal — its attention to our fannish history. So much to learn, and so much to be proud of here!

[META] A fan fiction controversy: More questions than answers

Within the last year, scholar Catherine Coker and writer Jim Hines both looked into the legendary controversy surrounding the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, her uncompleted Darkover novel “Contraband”, fan writer Jean Lamb, and her Darkover-verse fan novella “Masks.”

Hines and Coker report that for most of her long and prolific career, Bradley was well known for her encouragement of and interaction with fan fiction authors, until her confrontation with Lamb ended that practice in 1992. (Bradley died in 1999.)

I had heard about this controversy for years, and eagerly read about it wherever I found it mentioned, but I confess I’m still left with more questions than answers. Might be the journalist in me!

Coker interviewed Lamb and Lamb’s former beta reader (fan editor), Nina Boal, and wrote about her findings in an article for the latest issue of “Transformative Works and Cultures.”

Hines researched the controversy and wrote about his findings in his blog and mirrored the post at his Livejournal in May 2010. (The blog post garnered 23 comments; the LJ post 157, for whatever that’s worth.)

I can do no better for conciseness here than to quote Hines’ conclusions after his interviews and research:

“As far as I can tell, the following is not disputed.
1. Bradley originally encouraged fanfiction.
2. Bradley read Jean Lamb’s story “Masks” in Moon Phases [a fan zine].
3. Bradley contacted Lamb, offering payment and a dedication in exchange for rights to use the ideas from “Masks” in the Darkover novel “Contraband.”
4. Bradley and Lamb were unable to reach an agreement, and “Contraband” was cancelled.
5. Bradley changed her policy on fanfiction, stating that she would no longer allow it.”

In his post, Hines asked the same questions I want answered, questions that in my opinion the Coker article does not answer, one of which is: Why exactly was “Contraband” cancelled, and by whom? Hines says that DAW, the publisher, did not cancel it. Coker apparently did not try to get a statement from DAW, which is a big gap in her information-gathering.

Coker did not interview writer Mercedes Lackey, either, though Coker states that before her death, Bradley gave the unpublished notes for “Contraband” to Lackey.

Hines, on the other hand, links to a comment Lackey made in a discussion hosted at the SFF blog “Making Light” back in 2006. In this comment, Lackey states that Bradley “liked the ‘take’ a particular fan author had on the situations and asked to use that spin on things for her book in return for the usual acknowlegement in the front of the book. She had done this before with other fan authors (even though she didn’t have to, after all, you can’t “own” an idea). However in this case, the next party heard from was the author’s agent, who demanded cover credit and co-authorship, or there would be a lawsuit.”

Hines, like Coker, quotes Boals.

Neither Hines’ post nor Coker’s article quotes anyone from Bradley’s estate.

Another problematic element of Coker’s article was the quotes she chose to include from fans who responded to the controversy in the nineties on newsgroup threads. They seem to be stating their own opinions or impressions of the controversy, but as they are using fannish pseudonyms and are not otherwise identified as being directly involved, it’s hard to understand why they were included at all in Coker’s article, and impossible to evaluate their credibility. I found myself, as a journalist, questioning why Coker allowed them space in her article.

Personally, I would love to hear from Lackey in more detail, because she could apparently document how much of “Masks” was actually going to be in “Contraband” as Bradley envisioned it at the time “Contraband” was cancelled.

I’d also like to hear more concrete information from DAW, and from Bradley’s estate. It seems to me that the facts regarding what Lamb actually asked for and the substance of her threat to sue are documentable at this point, but neither article has complete information about that. Coker in particular talks her way all around this very important point, going so far as to include hearsay.

Coker concludes her article by talking about how the incident has been “spun” in fandom, which to me is much less important than the facts of what happened.

Hines concludes by talking about what pro writers can learn from this incident in regard to interacting with fan writers and reading fan fiction.

I think it’s important to remember that Bradley harmoniously interacted with fan writers for more than 20 years before “Masks” and “Contraband”. But it seems to me simply a wise choice for pro writers to adopt a policy of benign neglect toward whatever fan fiction is created for their canons.

[META] Bromance rediscovered

Hannah Hamad made a recent post on the Flow TV blog about the bromance between two members of the UK pop group Take That, and considered this event as an example of the recent trend of bromantic themes in movies and television.

I kind of hate the coined word “bromance,” a conflation of “brother” and “romance,” according to Wikipedia, but I guess we’re stuck with it.

Apparently film and TV critics and scholars are definitely seeing examples of this sort of male/male friendship, marked by emotional intimacy and openness and more physical touching, cropping up everywhere these days. Wikipedia, again, notes that it’s a post-feminist expansion of what is allowable in male friendships.

What is socially acceptable for Western men to do in friendships may indeed be changing, thanks to the impact of feminism, and it makes sense that these changes would show up in the culture, and in the buddy picture genre, from Butch and Sundance to “Boston Legal” and everywhere in between. And that pop stars would spin their friendships this way in their PR.

I’m kind of tickled when I read about bromance, though, because it’s as if the “conventional wisdom” about what happens in male friendships is now basically saying that it’s okay for men to nowadays do friendships the way women always have — hugging, touching, telling secrets, being intimate. More than just getting together for shared activities or sports, the traditional “common knowledge” about how men “do” friendship. So all the dither about “bromance” seems a little obvious to me, perhaps.

And I imagine there’s a huge disregard of history going on here — weren’t there periods in Western history where male friendship looked very different from the way John Wayne or Sam Spade are depicted as conducting it? Where more intimacy was considered ordinary and not a new sign of feminine influence, or perhaps relaxed expectations of gender roles thanks to the influence of gay culture?

And regardless of this newfangled trendy attention to bromance, literature featuring male friendship — and scholarly analysis of same — go back centuries.

The same buddy pictures and buddy TV shows that serve as examples of bromance, of course, are where slash fan fiction finds its characters and stories. In this genre of movie or show, the primary relationship is between the male protagonists, and any female romance is in the background, or relegated to some sort of Babe of the Week event.

Slash fan fiction pushes the friendship seen in these shows and movies further into intimacy, of course — to sexual intimacy and love, and that is sometimes offered as a criticism of m/m slash — that it focuses too much on sex and ignores or discounts other forms of friendship and affection that aren’t romantic or sexual.

Slash, of course, is a special case when it comes to reimagining or expanding what is possible in male/male friendship. For one thing, it’s written overwhelmingly by women. I’ve pondered many times the elegant saying I heard on Live Journal years ago: “Slash is about men the way “Watership Down” is about rabbits.” I tried very hard to track down the source of that aphorism, and both the writers to whom it’s usually attributed disavow saying it, though they both remember the online conversation (apparently now deleted or lost in the mists of time?) in which it was offered.

And while I am fascinated by the way slash fan fiction reimagines or reinterprets male/male relationships, I always readily admit two things: First, slash is, unavoidably, a very small and very specialized part of whatever societal conversation or evolution is going on about men and their gender roles, whether it’s bromance or the Victorian era or Abraham Lincoln’s friendships that is being discussed. And I’m noticing that often, in conversations both about bromance and about slash, the impact or effect or input of gay men isn’t considered much. There seem almost to be three separate conversations there. And they only rarely intersect.

Of course, depictions of gay men in Hollywood are occurring with glacial infrequency, and slash until recently was usually not trying at all to accurately depict actual gay men based on real life or real communities.

But I remain fascinated by all the ways society depicts the changing expectations and roles for men, in the media and in life, and it’s interesting to compare these different conversations.

[META] “The Last Ring-bearer”

Guest post by Helen W.

I follow how fan fiction is perceived by nonfannnish society through a weekly survey of references to fan fiction in mainstream media (somewhat broadly and arbitrarily defined). The past few weeks, I’ve been seeing a number of references to fan fiction in the context of the discussion of a recent English translation of Russian scientist Kirill Yeskov’s The Last Ring-bearer (Последний кольценосец), a 140,000 word novel “set during and after the end of the War of the Ring (the climactic battle at the end of [J.R.R. Tolkien's] The Lord of the Rings) and told from the point of view of the losers“, according to Salon’s Laura Miller.

Though sold commercially in Russia, and in translation in several European languages, fear of the Tolkien estate has kept an English translation from being professionally published.

Several months ago, Yisroel Markov, who claims he spent “several lunch hours” on the project, produced a full translation of The Last Ring-bearer and, with the blessing of Yeskov, put a link to a download on his LiveJournal. And then the fun began.

I first became aware of The Last Ring-bearer via articles on Guardian.co.uk and Lovereading UK. Though the headlines of both articles imply the Tolkien estate is actively working against the dissemination of The Last Ring-bearer (“Free fan-fiction reworking of The Lord of the Rings infringes copyright”; and “Lord of the Rings reworking a hit with fans, but not Tolkien estate”), the estate’s response has actually been pretty muted. Quoting from the Guardian piece, David Brawn at HarperCollins, Tolkien’s exclusive publisher, said: “To my knowledge, none of us have ever been approached to publish this book.” Russia has operated outside copyright “for years”, Brawn added, though the situation is now changing. “Online there are lots of infringements which it is extremely difficult to do anything about,” he said. “When you get something as popular as Tolkien, fans want to create new stories. Most are pretty amateurish. Tolkien himself isn’t around so it’s the estate’s view that it’s best to say no to everything. If you let one in, you’d open the floodgates.”

( Compare this to recent press reports of the estate’s response to Steve Hilliard’s Mirkwood: A Novel about J.R.R. Tolkien. )

Mainstream attention to The Last Ring-bearer might have ended there if it hadn’t been for Salon’s Laura Miller, who published a lengthy piece on the novel on Feb. 15. Of particular interest to me was Miller’s closing: “Yeskov’s “parody” — for “The Last Ringbearer,” with its often sardonic twists on familiar Tolkien characters and events, comes a lot closer to being a parody than “Wind Done Gone” ever did — is just such a reminder. If it is fan fiction (and I’m not sure I’m in a position to pronounce on that), then it may be the most persuasive example yet of the artistic potential of the form.”

Miller’s piece caught the attention of, among others, The Atlantic’s Mark Bernstein, who wrote on his blog, “It’s a probe of the former Soviet Union and an examination of memory and of history, and if the rest of the book lives up to its opening chapters, much [of Miller's views on other subjects] may be forgiven.” A mention of Miller’s piece on Slashdot has garnered 581 comments. Showing an amazing lack of knowledge of fan fiction, a piece on Mumbai Mirror began, “Every story has two versions. However, for the longest time J R R Tolkien’s epic three-part novel Lord of the Rings was the only version of life on Middle Earth and the dark lord Sauron its main villain. However, a new book titled The Last Ringbearer looks at the War of the Ring (the climactic battle at the end of LOTR) from the perspective of the people of Mordor.”

And on The Moviefone Blog, Eric Larnick wrote, “How would you react if we told you a secret installment of ‘Lord of the Rings’ in some other-worldly language existed, circulating among a few intrepid literary archivists, building in rumor to the point of myth? Now what if we told you that that new ‘Lord of the Rings’ story has finally arrived Stateside — and that you can read it for free right now. Curious? […] [W]hen you’re done reading it, we can all begin speculating when the big-screen adaptation will finally happen (most likely the year 2350 when copyright law is abolished in the Great Disney Wars.)”

I’m still trying to figure out what this means, if anything, for fan fiction. Does a generally positive reaction to The Last Ring-bearer bleed over into respect for the thousands of fics published every day with no notice outside of fandom? I fear the opposite – that The Last Ring-bearer, alongside professionally-published works of highly derivative fiction (e.g. Wide Sargasso Sea, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) provides opportunities for the offhand insult of fan fiction in general. (Incidentally, Salon has also published a translation by Markov of an excellent essay by Yeskov, written for a fanzine in 2000, about why he wrote The Last Ring-bearer.)

I also can’t help but wonder how the coverage of The Last Ring-bearer would be different if Yeskov was a woman, or had written the novel anonymously so that Yeskov’s career in science wouldn’t be a legitimizing factor. Or whether there’d be any mainstream notice at all (tens of thousands of Lord of the Rings stories on the internet suggest not).

[META] Accent Memes, Brit-picking, and Other Perpetually Fascinating Phenomena of Internet Linguistics

Let me get this out of the way right now: I once lived in fear of Anglophilia. This fear has had serious consequences, such as, for example, preventing me from reading the Harry Potter books, and, until a few years ago, watching Buffy (which I knew contained prominent British characters played by American actors, inspiring what I feared would be an awkwardly Anglophilic fanbase). My parents are British, you see, but I have lived my entire life in the United States, and therefore have a solidly USAmerican accent, Central Pennsylvanian to be specific. Starting in early childhood, I experienced the social world of strangers as one utterly fascinated by my parents’ accents, and one saddened by my lack of the same. And so, early on, I developed my Linguistics 101 talking points about the connections between accent, affect, perceived credibility, and social class. Aside from the Linguistics 101 situation, I’ve found that these talking points become relevant in two other situations in which I commonly find myself: when I am meeting new colleagues, for example, a new cohort of graduate students in my program, or when an accent meme goes around among a newly-coalescing group of internet friends. The former situation is not relevant here, but I think the latter one is, if only because it offers a way in to a discussion of internet intimacy, and how it connects to the language politics of fandom. I’ve been through three or four “rounds” of accent memes with various online social circles, and some interesting trends have emerged. Here, I’m talking about accent memes that specifically look for likely points of difference (say, the pronunciation of Mary/marry/merry) among English speakers, rather than, say, the dynamics of a wave of podficcing, which are less predictable depending on the variety of fans involved. Within accent memes proper, I’ve noticed that people seem to produce an attitude toward language that values authenticity and rare speech patterns in ways that would stretch the boundaries of etiquette in a different context. To be clear, I am as guilty as anyone else of this exoticizing impulse, particularly when it’s combined with the inevitable excitement of connecting a person’s textual presence with a new sensory element of their presence, their voice. But it does strike me as somehow strange that it’s so much more common to hear “oh, that accent is so cool” than it would be (I hope) to say “oh, that person’s face/name is so cool.” Certainly, when people post pictures of themselves, there’s an expected chorus of “you’re so cute!” but it feels somehow different. That “somehow” is what drew me to the study of linguistics in college. For a few key historical reasons, English speakers in the U.S. are incredibly confused about what one can and cannot say about language. The most important of these, I think, is the institutional equation of Standard Written/White English with “correct grammar,” and its inherent enforcement of the prescriptive approach to language patterns. Armed with an understanding of SWE versus the deviant, many English speakers in the U.S. create a strict division between the language of education and professional advancement on the one side, and the language of emotion, family, and home on the other. (Obviously I’m generalizing to a ridiculous degree here.) Within internet culture, this distinction can become even more deeply entrenched. Hardly the revitalization of communitarian culture some have proclaimed the internet to be, some spheres of internet culture create their hierarchies entirely based on language use, taking prescriptive mandates more seriously than many English teachers do. But this attention to detail is not without its own insights for social justice vis a vis judgements of linguistic competence. For example, to accompany the exoticization I’ve seen in accent memes, there’s a counter-phenomenon of the Brit-pick. Here the accuracy of non-British fic authors’ representations of British characters’ voices is put to the test by native speakers of particular varieties of British English. I find Brit-picking (and its cousins, such as Yank-wank, which term I’ll have to admit I’ve never seen used) fascinating, especially as it relates to accent meme authenticity. I assume that in the context of concrit, it’s actually quite helpful, but when, as an outside reader, I encounter a comment that says “no British person would say x,” I find it strange. I’m sure it’s true sometimes, but I can’t think of many statements I’d be confident in saying that no native speaker of American English could ever organically utter. I mean, I know I’ve come up with some pretty odd, non-idiomatic sentences while composing this very piece, but I don’t think any of them disqualifies me from my national identity. These issues are all separate, of course, and I’d like to do a post at some point on my perhaps naive confusion as to why so many actors are asked to play characters with dramatically different accents than their own. (Dollhouse offers something of an in-story explanation of this, but that’s a topic for another day.) I’d also like to think more about the space podfic creates for a discussion of the connection between the aesthetic and narrative effects of accents and accent mimicry, and how conversations surrounding podfic differ from the off-the-cuff accent meme responses. But for today, I hope I’ve raised some questions worth thinking further about, related to language and online fandom.

[META] Whose pregnancy?

Mary Ingram-Waters wrote an article in the most recent issue of Transformative Works and Cultures called “When Normal and Deviant Identities Collide”, about her experiences trying to collect information from authors of mpreg fan fiction stories at a Harry Potter fan convention. She was seven months pregnant at the time.

“Mpreg” means “male pregnancy,” and it has its own subgenre niche inside fan fiction. Ingram-Waters quotes a fan author as ruefully explaining, “It’s definitely a ‘guilty pleasure’ for some and a squick for others, and is in general not that well regarded [among fan fiction readers and writers], mostly because it allegedly turns the male characters into whiny, feminized versions of themselves.”

Ingram-Waters writes that there was a distinct difference in the way she was treated by the authors she interviewed in person compared to the authors she interviewed via email. The authors she interviewed at the convention seemed to make more mention of the stigma of writing mpreg when faced with an actual pregnant woman. They seemed defensive and took pains to note that they had done research on pregnancy before writing. One writer refused to be interviewed at the convention, after previously agreeing.

Ingram-Waters writes, “One explanation for the negative interactions is that my physical presence illuminated the extent of deviance of their mpreg stories.”

Deviance can certainly be found in fan fiction, however one wants to define the term (I immediately thought of that tag line, “You say that like it’s a bad thing!”), but I am focusing on the dictionary definition of the word, seen in the way she contrasts “normal” and “deviant” in the title of her article. I think by that contrast, we can see that mpreg is not all that “out there” in fan fiction terms. One of the things fan fiction does with mpreg is the same thing that commercial science fiction that speculates with gender roles does – it experiments. It plays. What does it mean to be pregnant – socially, culturally, personally? Would it mean something different to a man than it does to woman? What do we learn about pregnancy if we posit that it’s the men who do it and not the women, like sea horses? What is gender, anyway, and what does it have to do with reproduction?

A lot of this sort of questioning and playing goes on in fan fiction, as it does in science fiction, and I have always found those kinds of questions deeply interesting, and also at times downright entertaining.

This particular Ingram-Waters article was confined, however, to the methodological issues, and did not go on to actually examine her findings as she researched the subgenre of mpreg itself, although I am hoping that at some point she’ll publish the outcome of her research on the stories and the authors! That would be fascinating too.

She found that unlike other scholars who have conducted field research while pregnant, the experience of being a “visible normative reproducer” was of no help in establishing rapport with mpreg writers. Some scholars in other fields, she found, have written that being pregnant makes them seem nonthreatening and gives the people they meet something perceived as positive to talk about, something familiar.

Ingram-Waters also noted that she had gone to some pains to identify and establish herself as an acafan as she pursued her research into the mpreg subgenre online, but that face to face, her identity as a pregnant cisgendered woman trumped that pretty completely.

She found a silver lining in even her negative interview experiences, writing that perhaps she’d stumbled on an efficient way to elicit “stigma management strategies for mpreg authors.” I share her fascination with subjects concerning “identities of gender, sexualities and normative bodies,” and I look forward to getting to read more, someday, of her actual research into mpreg fan fiction.

In the meantime, her description of how she was received made a fascinating story.

[META] Fan fiction as play

Our guest blogger this week is: Susanna Goodin, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Philosophy Adjunct Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies University of Wyoming ~~~ No other type of writing does what fan fiction does: It allows the writer to play. Think about it. How do most of us get into fan fiction? A story captures our imagination. It doesn’t matter if the source is great literature, popular fiction, film, play, or poem. We become captivated with a setting or with characters; the original work creates a mental space within our minds that we are loathe to leave, and so we continue to think about the original work long after we have closed the book or left the theater. We can certainly enjoy or study the work without writing fan fiction. We can go out for coffee and talk about the film. We can gather in someone’s home and talk about a novel we have all read. We can go on-line and join a forum and discuss details ad naseum. If we are of a scholarly inclination, we can write a critical essay discussing themes and implications. But in all these cases we are sticking to the story itself. There remains the option of going beyond the story itself and beginning to play with it. We use the thoughts we are having about the original to write a story of our own, playing with it by continuing the tale, revising it, or using it as a jumping off point to go wherever our mind’s fancy takes us. It isn’t that I can’t create my own worlds; it’s just that, sometimes, I have something different in mind. I really like some of the worlds out there that have already been created and I want to spend time in them, see more about what is going on, discuss it with others, and get their take on it. I want to play with the world and play within the world that has captivated me. Fan fiction often consists of what are known as fixes, what-ifs, or gap fillers. A common move is to take characters from one story and place them within another, then explore what might happen. Come play the “what-if” game with me and imagine for the moment that Captain Vere from Melville’s Billy Budd were to find himself in the kitchen with the two women from Susan Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers.” Should a person write this story, they would be writing fan fiction, drawing upon a common original source and using it to explore new possibilities. The interest is not in creating new characters or a new setting, but using, playing with, established characters to explore new possibilities. Would Captain Vere adhere so rigidly to justice if faced with the same evidence as the women in that cold, desolate kitchen as he did on a ship during wartime? Perhaps the majority of the readers of this blog do not know Glaspell’s “A Jury of Her Peers” (or the play version of the same story called Trifles). Then the power of imagining Captain Vere in the kitchen is lost. And if I have to spend my time writing a story that sets up a similar situation to that found in Glaspell’s work, then the focus of imagining Vere in that so very bleak kitchen is lost. But what if Frodo had sent Merry and Pippin back to Hobbiton rather than allowed them to accompany him on the Quest? What if Snape went to IKEA? The point here is that, whether we are dealing with literature and asking serious questions about justice or writing crack!fic about popular children’s stories, it doesn’t matter. What we are doing involves playing with a shared, known original text, and as such it all qualifies as fan fiction. The type of writing that shows up in fan fiction couldn’t happen in any other setting because the work deals with the possibility of capturing a moment and playing with it, where the focus is on the playing (twisting, revising, exploring) rather than on the establishing, since the work of establishing the moment was done in the original work. Fan fiction can also provide a study into an otherwise minor moment in the original work, revisit the moment from a different perspective, or use the moment to tell another story entirely. Fan fiction can draw upon an established story with known characters to create a mood, moment, or story that is not possible unless there is shared knowledge of the original. It only works if the audience knows the reference, for if the reference has to be created anew each time, as an original work, the focus of the piece about the mood or the moment would be altered. For example, consider the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. This play is fan fiction–professional fan fiction written at the highest level, but fan fiction nonetheless. (One might even argue that it counts as slash, since the introduction of the Alfred character creates a homoerotic subtext that was not there in Hamlet.) The success of the play depends entirely upon a shared knowledge of the source material. Granted, Stoppard has written a play that can be enjoyed by those who know nothing of Hamlet, but to grasp the full import of Stoppard’s work, knowledge of Hamlet is essential. In other words, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead depends upon there being a Hamlet fandom. What Stoppard does in his play is play with Shakespeare’s play. I would like to be able to refer to fan fiction writing as playing-writing, but I suspect the playwrights would object. My claim is that fan fiction is playing and that in order for that playing to occur and to be the focus of the writing, it needs a common source upon which to draw. This means that there needs to be a fandom—others out there to read and write within the same story world that I am reading and writing in. I’ll end with a final comment that is beyond the scope of this post but merits further exploration. There is a psychological component to the notion of play. One doesn’t play unless one is comfortable in the environment. There needs to be a sense of freedom and acceptance. And since playing often is improved by the presence of playmates, the play is more fun in a community of like-minded individuals. Women tend to be far more communal than men—they are less competitive and judgmental. I mention this as a partial possible explanation for why the majority of fan fiction writers are women.

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The new issue, No. 5, of Transformative Works and Cultures, the academic journal with which we’re affiliated, was published this week, and I haven’t had time to do more than skim the editorial, which in an academic journal such as this sums up and gives an overview of the issue, and read one article which immediately leaped out at me.

The editorial finds the theme of “the embodied fan” to be running through many of the works in this issue. There’s a great summary of what you can find in all the articles on the OTW’s own blog; if you didn’t know about it I strongly recommend following it as well as this one. I believe Francesca Coppa does most of the posts there, and that blog for the umbrella organization does links roundups and points out a lot of cool stuff that I certainly miss.

Given that my main interest in media fandom is fan fiction, and that I primarily approach media fandom as a writer and a reader, I of course immediately gravitated to the interview the editors of the journal did with three women who have experience writing fan fiction, tie-in novels for TV shows, and their own original fantasy and science fiction.

The interview, with Jo Graham, Martha Wells and Melissa Scott, was fascinating to me.

I was particularly struck by the distance that these authors maintain from the fannish community compared to authors who write primarily fan fiction, and was also intrigued and found much to think about in their examination of the much wider and more eclectic audience they see for tie-in novels for TV shows compared to the audience for slash or other types of fan fiction.

A fascinating look at how writers have navigated all three of these types of writing — how they are different and how they are the same.

I’m looking forward to reading more of the issue and I hope you are too!

[META] Genre shift?

When I started reading fan fiction, around 2002, I ran across fan fiction of all ratings right away. I had vaguely heard of fan fiction and ‘zines as far back as the seventies, but I had never read any or even seen any except in passing. When I got interested in fan fiction, I found it online, and I ran across missing scenes that could have been slotted right into the original shows or movies or books, and I also ran across triple-X rated, *fans self* porn that most emphatically rejected the fade to black — sexually explicit stories that could never have been included in the original books or movies, but showed the characters we knew and loved in bed. When I first ran across the term “slash”, I wrongly assumed it meant any adult-rated romantic fan fiction story. Furthermore, I assumed that if fan fiction were grouped in any way, it would be divided into categories I knew from mainstream movies — the G, PG and PG13 stuff would be separate from the R and NC17 stuff. I was completely surprised to learn, the more I explored list-based and Livejournal-based fan fiction, that in fact the groupings were based on other concerns completely. The categories I found were gen, slash, femslash and het, and the boundaries between them were less about ratings for explicit sex or violence than about the presence or absence of romance, and the presence or absence of same-sex relationships. My preconceptions were, perhaps, a product of my 21st-century introduction to fan works. A little history, drawn from articles on media fandom (meaning fan communities that grow up around TV, movies, and other forms of pop culture), on Fanlore, this article by Coppa in Transformative Works and Cultures, and her chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet”. Fan fiction as written within media fandom seems to have been an outgrowth of science fiction fandom, and seems to date from the sixties and early seventies. When fan writers began weaving their own tales about Kirk and Spock and Number One and the Alien Babe of the Week, the male/male slash was hidden away in boxes under the tables, while the straight romances, even the explicit stories and the explicit art, were displayed widely at conventions, along with the action-oriented, plot-oriented fan stories whose focus was not romance and which became known as gen. Based on my readings in fan history, it seems that the first widely written femslash came out of Xena, and that fandom seems to have a separate history. (Please correct me if you have different information!) As we all know, societal attitudes toward same-sex relationships were harsh in the sixties in the USA — and still are, in many places. Because the Hollywood TV and movie canons we write about are so, so, so heteronormative, fan fiction that tells stories about intimate relationships between men or between women is usually pairing off people who aren’t presented as queer in the original shows or movies. (As an aside, the range of sexualities explored in fan fiction is limitless and often sets aside entirely the idea of sexual binaries.) So the objection to the earliest slash fan fiction often took the tack of: “Oh no! Don’t make that character gay!” Gay, lesbian or queer characters in mainstream Hollywood productions are very, very rare to this day. So if you hold out for only the romantic relationships that are present in the original canon, that means het (unless your fandom is Torchwood or one of the non-Western fandoms….). Of course, we’ll always have subtext, and certainly we are all watching different shows in our heads, and Hollywood is getting less reluctant to show us non-straight characters, but…. Let’s just say the lavender revolution is not yet in Hollywood. So my exploration of the history of fan fiction showed me a het+gen versus slash+femslash divide (and femslash is still by far the rarest category — all that history deserves a post of its own. In the meantime, I direct you to the Fanlore entry on Femslash, which is just fascinating.). But it’s my impression, and cryptoxin has written about this as well, that the het+gen/femslash+slash split is not as pronounced these days, two generations into what’s become known as media fandom. The lines that delineate the camps are blurring. Why is this? I’d love to hear your answers. I think it’s because movies and TV now include more female characters in roles other than Babe of the Week, and even occasionally pass the Bechdel Test. One reason that is sometimes advanced for the emergence of slash was the lack of strong female characters in television and movies in the sixties. I don’t know that I buy that, but it is true that fan writers now have a broader range of strong characters of both sexes from which to draw for our stories. So, my question is this: Do we have one fan fiction community now, instead of two or three or four? Or maybe we still have two, but a different two than slash+femslash and gen+het — maybe now we really do have the two categories I wrongly assumed almost a decade ago: Adult Rated, and Everything Else? And if these category lines have blurred, is it because society changed in terms of accepting queers? Or is it the shows that changed? Have vehicles like Buffy and Leverage and Stargate Atlantis and Queer as Folk and Torchwood, shows that have queer characters and female protagonists, driven the shift I see — the blurring of fan fiction genre lines and the lessening of negative judgments against each genre? For example, I rarely see today’s slash fans asserting that “there’s no good het” — and honestly, I always have a hard time understanding how bad het fanfic could be any worse than the badfic of any other genre! Another question: Did the internet accelerate the boundary crossing among fan fiction genres after, say, 1995? And, am I wrong in my additional impression that the fan enterprise of writing romances involving two people who are not traditional male/female, perhaps doesn’t horrify The Powers That Be as it once did? I do know that it was slash which captured the attention of the academic researchers, moreso than erotica of any other type, because it seemed “strange” that women would be interested in porn about two men. (Fan fiction is overwhelmingly written by women.) There’s a terrific discussion of this in Driscoll’s chapter in “Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet.” But surely, such an interest is not strange anymore to academics? Or to Hollywood? Or is my personal comfort level with this type of fanfic — and with GLBT lit in general, for that matter — obscuring for me a colder reality? There will never be an end to ‘ship wars, of course, and probably never an end to gen-only fans ruefully noting what they see as a fan fiction community preoccupied with romance and sex at the expense of other kinds of stories, but at least within media fandom, it seems to me that the het and the slash and femslash and poly and noromo and bob fans coexist much more peaceably than in earlier days.

[META] Archiving and Its Vicissitudes: Social Networks, Central Archives, and Media Fandom

[FANTEXT AS ARCHIVE] I found media fandom in the nineties, when I looked for more of my favorite show and stumbled onto a fan fiction site. It was the days of mailing lists and Like any anthropological recovery, the artistic products may need to be studied as artistic artifact and as testimony to the social event and community where it originated. Fannish artifacts that are removed from their initial setting require us to be aware of the fact that we may only see traces rather than the entire textual and community engagement.

José Esteban Muñoz’s articulation of the “ephemeral trace” offers a useful concept that acknowledges both the artistic as well as the social aspect of most fan products. Ephemeral traces are that which is left behind a performative event, both hinting at and hiding the originating social engagements. Applying this notion to fannish artifacts helps us remain aware that much of the text’s meaning can be tied in with a specific place, time, and community in ways that make it difficult to read (let alone judge) these artifacts.

[COLLABORATIVE PARATEXTS] Not only are the fan texts themselves important archives of the communities which create, disseminate, and read them, most texts are embedded in a complex network of accompanying paratextual information that serve interpretive and evaluative functions but that may change depending on the place where the story is placed. Paratexts have become an important academic concept in fan and media studies as Jonathan Gray’s recent book, Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and other Media Paratexts.

Gérard Genette, who originally coined the term paratext, restricts it to those textual traces where “the author or one of his associates accepts responsibility for it.” In contrast, I suggest that within fan studies a more inclusive understanding is necessary. Media fandom’s intertextuality with its varying degrees of collaboration invites an expansion of the paratextual concept: fannish reading practices contribute to the paratextual apparatus insofar as they produce and direct consequent readings of the source text.

As these paratexts shape and affect reading experiences of fan stories, they effectively form a shared, complex interpretive architectural frame for the fan fiction they accompany. These paratexts are a central aspect of the overall fannish response, which shapes how people engage with the television show they’re invested in. Indeed, paratexts play central roles in fan fiction communities, as these communities develop around shared readings and interpretations of television texts. These collective analyses, the debates surrounding them, and the fan-created texts responding to them create a dense textual network that forms a backdrop for fannish readings and writings.

More generally, expanding the notion of paratexts to include surrounding textual materials complicates the clear lines drawn between readers and writers, between creative and analytic writing, between aesthetic and affective responses. Understanding reader comments, textual debates, recommendations, and reviews as paratextual material broadens the scope of the interpretive frame and thus more accurately depicts the way in which fan texts are read. It also reflects the constantly shifting roles of readers and writers within creative fan communities and acknowledges the fact that many fan works are co-inspired if not actually co-created.

[RHIZOMATIC STRUCTURES] LiveJournal and its complex interlinking is a prime example of how the architectural design of archival online spaces affects paratextual material. Whereas archives and mailing lists developed formal guidelines and etiquette surrounding paratextual material, social networking and blogging sites complicate the architecture of autonomous fannish spaces as they merge multiple discourses, such as the personal and the fannish. The rhizomatic structure of Livejournal, for example, often spreads conversations out over various communities and journals, some restricted to only some users, and, at times, other off-LJ web sites. In the aftermath of a story, private emails and IM conversations merge with public feedback and reviews, some of them analytic, others emotionally responsive; some theoretical, others fictional. At its best, then, the rhizomatic structure of fannish interaction decenters meaning production through multi-authored paratextual intertexts.

Different archiving platforms thus can have very different requirements and social norms regarding paratexts, both for author-created paratextual information, such as fandom, rating, pairing, thank yous, or warnings, and reader-created paratextual information, such as comments or recommendations. Thus if we look at paratexts as an important part of the fannish engagement, an archiving platform’s ability to include various forms of paratexts may be needed to replicate the social component of fannish engagement. On the other hand, many archives are created purposefully as long-term repository of the textual artifacts themselves. And yet, it is the ephemerality, the conversations and connections and contextual thoughts that are most in danger of getting lost.

[CONCLUSION] In the end, given the ephemerality of online sites, redundant archiving is important, and central archives that strive for permanence may be a crucial way to archive fandom exchanges—even if all that remains is the ephemeral trace of the fan artifact without the accompanying paratexts. When fans are debating the advantages and disadvantages of dedicated archives as opposed to social networking platforms, the central arguments often tend to revolve around control and accessibility: can the fan delete her stories easily; can she control access; can fans who enter a fandom later on still access stories; will a fan’s departure mean her stories disappear as well; and related concerns.

One issue that rarely gets addressed, however, is the way fan stories may be more paratextual and their understanding more contextually dependent. And while safeguarding the artifacts is an important task and allows fan culture to create an archive of its own artistic history, what may indeed often disappear are the specific contextual circumstances, the paratexts co-created by writers and readers, leaving behind the story itself as an ephemeral trace of the fannish moment which created it and which, in turn, it commemorates.

[META] Existing settings, existing characters

We are all familiar with the elements of fiction: plot, character, theme, setting, point of view.

When a writer decides to set a story in San Francisco in 1980, or in Bonn in 1950, or in her home town the year she was twenty, there’s research involved. What did the place look like? What were the landmarks? What was the weather like? What was under construction? What blooms in which seasons?

The more familiarity the writer has with the place, the better and more vivid the story.

And, no one thinks it’s cheating if a writer uses a real place for the setting of a story. Quite the reverse.

No one thinks it’s “better” or “more creative” to make up a setting from scratch instead of using an already existing city or countryside. (In fact, the genres where making up a setting from scratch is normally necessary, like SF or fantasy, are often dissed by lovers of literary fiction.)

A large part of the joy of reading, say, Robert Parker’s Spenser novels is enjoying Boston through his eyes. The entire genre of travel literature lets us all explore, fictionally and nonfictionally, places we already know and love.

Fan fiction does exactly this same thing, but with character instead of setting.

The last go-round, this spring, regarding the legitimacy and definitions of fan fiction (and this is a topic that comes around a lot on the guitar) seemed to be very focused on copyright restrictions and authorial control. The fantasy author Diana Gabaldon, in blog posts that were mostly, alas, deleted afterward, took serious offense at fan fiction and was soundly and elegantly rebutted by another author at Bookshop, Livejournal.com, May 3, 2010.

Then, in related developments, the well-known blog BoingBoing listed a bunch of Pulitzer Prize winning works that can be defined as fan fiction, prompting cofax7 to offer a definition of the genre (Dreamwidth.org, cofax7, May 28, 2010). If you read her post, do read the comments too, for more nuances and discussion. On the other hand, the BoingBoing comments are pretty funny! In the “oh no” sort of way.

(As a tangent: Bookshop also links to one of her own comments where she addresses succinctly what is one of the biggest misunderstandings in this perennial discussion: Many people seem to keep going all bzuh at the idea — central to fan fiction — of writing something and sharing it with a community, with no intention or desire to sell said piece of writing for money.)

Like Bookshop, I’m kind of bemused every time I have to have the conversation about why fan fiction is way okay. Aren’t we there yet? So maybe I can offer yet another way of making the argument: Any writing textbook lists those five elements of fiction. Why are the anti-fan fiction critics so hung up on the presumed necessity for original characters in the best-quality fiction, but see no necessity whatsoever for original settings?