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Okay, so I keep meaning to do a post on genre. But this is not that post, though it is related.

So, Diana Gabaldon has said she really hates fanfiction. Diana Gabaldon is the author of two serieses of books which I have read, one series about a time-travelling lady called Claire who meets a handsome Scotsman and has excellent adventures she gets through via her medical expertise and true love, and one series about an English gentleman soldier called Lord John who keeps stumbling into mysteries and espionage and has to solve them with his stubborn sense of honour and occasional lapses from being polite into berserker rage. (PS Lord John is gay, always nice to see a main character who just is without that being the central point of the narrative, sometimes. Because people just are.) I like both serieses very much.

Having explained Diana Gabaldon, I will now explain fanfiction! I see I have already handily explained it in my FAQ section on my website.

Q: What do you think of fanfiction (stories on the internet which are based on your books)? Can I write some if I want?

A: I think fanfiction is very cool. It’s a way to have fun, be imaginative and practise your writing. And if you want to write some based on my books, I’ll be very flattered and pleased: you have my permission to go right ahead. I can’t read it, because that can get writers into nasty legal situations, and you’re not allowed make money off it. Otherwise go right ahead!

So, stories on the internet that are based on people's books. (Or movies. Or TV shows. I don't have either of those things, though.) Apparently I would be so pleased to have fanfiction of my stuff that I said 'go right ahead' twice.

Stories about other people's stories. Well, I've written those. Lots of people who love stories have, I think: it's a really natural thing to do, out of our emotional response of love for that work.

When I read Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outers and Dog, the tale of four nice normal British children, a Scotty dog, and Fatty, the mad genius kid who at first alienates and irritates the others, then through a process to do with solving many crimes together becomes their poetry-writing cross-dressing lord king, I wrote down stories where Fatty came back from his posh boarding school amazingly good-looking and the two ladies fought for his love.

When I read King Lear in school, I loved the evil brother who was plotting to take down his father, brother and seduce the king's evil daughters. I thought to myself 'If Edmund had just been wounded and not killed, everyone else who survives is so dumb, I bet Edmund would end up ruling England from his sickbed and they could not execute him because who would run the country then? Also, if Cordelia had lived, Edmund could snag all three sisters.'

I blame Edmund from King Lear and Edmund from Narnia for my life-long appreciation for evil brothers. I really do. Curse you, evil Edmunds.

After exams in school also, I used to have a lot of time because I can write pretty fast, so I would write joke X Files scripts where Mulder and Scully met mad scientists or Dracula, and after exams were done all my friends would read them and laugh. It was a good time, aside from times when people would ask me for the next script and I would say I didn't have one, and they would say 'What were you doing all that time' and I would say 'My exam.' I had a demanding fanbase! Of like six people.

I also wrote fanfiction and put it on the internet from when I was seventeen, because I found Harry Potter fanfiction and I thought it looked like fun, so I decided to write it too. I wrote about my favourite character (Draco Malfoy, see above re: the Edmunds, I can't help myself) and what-if scenarios and turning into rats and fighting crime and any number of romantic entanglements. It was fun: I had fun doing it for many a year. And I made friends who I still love now. Near the end it wasn't much fun because I wanted the time to do other stuff, so I finished up the stories and did other stuff. I also took down the stories, because I wanted to keep this journal and having fanfiction up is a legal grey area, and because the thought of unedited stuff I wrote when I was seventeen floating around forever was a bit horrifying.

Now keeping the same journal and being pretty open about what I used to write has worked out fairly badly for me, all things considered: I get daily hatemail from people telling me how much I suck, how much my book sucks or how much they will never read it. More hate response than fan response. Imagine, if you will, how much it sucks to be told, every day, by strangers, that you suck. For a writer with her very first book hoping kind of tremblingly that people will like it and already completely on edge with nerves, this? A horrorshow to live through, and it made me feel really ambivalent about the stories I wrote.

But that doesn't mean fanfiction is bad, it means that being a professional writer and a writer of fan stuff is complicated. Just because I got knocked over by a car doesn't mean everybody else has to stop crossing the street.

Fanfiction being a legal grey area is something I don't know much about, not being much versed in law. Here is a more knowledgeable opinion about it. But my feeling is this. Doesn't matter, if nobody makes any money and nobody means any harm!

And as I said, it's just something a lot of people who like stories do in response to stories. And not just any stories: stories they love. Not being able to get a story out of your head and playing around with it in said head is fun: it's a loving response.

Diana Gabaldon is obviously icked out by seeing other people play with characters she thinks of as hers. That's an emotional response, and it is hers. No way to control it, any more than my baby sister can control being afraid of spiders and becoming a six foot two blurred tower of blond terror whenever she sees them. And since fanfiction is a loving response, knowing the creator of what you love would be bothered by you doing something? I think it's best to respect it bothers her, and not do it. (Note: these are my personal feelings on the topic, and not the ultimate guide for proper behaviour!) And I think - because as I said, it's a loving response - that's what will happen.

I am sad thinking that a writer I like thinks something I did was manky, but a) maybe she will change her mind, she's already re-considering since a ton of people have pointed out it is a loving response and b) even if she still thinks it's a horrible terrible no-good very bad thing forever, well, that's okay. People disagree all the time.

I have seen some people in response to her go 'Oh well, your story had inspirations! Or your story's bad because it is too sexy! Or because it's romance! Or because it's fantasy!'

I don't think fanfiction is bad. I don't think any particular genre is bad.

I think it's always kind of sketch to say to someone 'This is bad, because.' Anyone in the world can say 'I didn't enjoy this, because.' Or even just "I didn't enjoy this" - emotional responses are valid! But why tell someone that something they love, something they enjoy doing, is bad?

Unless they're hurting someone, it's not.

I had a contest for advance copies of my second book, and people wrote me stories, and drew me art, and it was excellent. Talented, enthusiastic people liking something I made, and having fun with it, and me, and each other? Well, I'm not sure this essay has a conclusion other than 'People have emotional responses and that's okay! Don't put each other down though!' But okay: my emotional response was that made me really happy, and I thought it was awesome.

Next up: my post on why I think genres like fantasy are extremely awesome too.



( 254 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 5th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
Just for the record, despite disagreeing with you vehemently on the readability of Diana Gabaldon (though it should be said I am allergic to most modern romances), I've never once thought you suck and since I consider a great many people do, you probably don't ;-)

On an unrelated side note, I am having a minor breakdown trying to track down someone who will be stocking your new book in the Antipodes. Any ideas?
May. 5th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)
Well, each to their own. ;) The Lord John mysteries aren't romances, though, and are a lot shorter? *helpful*

I am delighted to say that quite a few places should have it, because Australian and New Zealandish people were so kind as to register disappointment they had to wait, so my UK editions got printed and sent off early so as to come out at around the same time! But Galaxy, I hear, and Kinko's? I'm sorry I cannot be more help! I do not know the ways of bookselling down under.
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May. 5th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)


that is basically my main response to this post, i love it. :D

except for the part about daily hate mail. what on the everloving earth.

Dear people reading this LJ post, you know what is better than sending hate mail? THE DEMON'S LEXICON. THIS BOOK YOU CAN BUY. YOU SHOULD CHECK IT OUT. :D

ILU SARAH, and yes, genre is awesome, fantasy is awesome (a thing fandom has taught me), and you are awesome. :x
May. 5th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
Dear people reading this LJ post, you know what is better than sending hate mail? THE DEMON'S LEXICON. THIS BOOK YOU CAN BUY. YOU SHOULD CHECK IT OUT.

Yes, this! :D
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May. 5th, 2010 03:30 pm (UTC)
I cannot imagine anyone disliking you; I take a weird intense pride in the fact that I stalkerishly, lurkily read your blog, and read your blog back when you were doing the point of Harry Potter fanfic, to the point of going "Well yes actually Sarah Rees Brennan referred me to you work, do you know of her?" when I met Sarah Monette at Penguicon. I feel like a creeper telling you this.

But that is my emotional response, I suppose!

On another note, my mother so vehemently defends fanfiction that she will not read authors that ban people from writing fanfiction about her book, with the exception of Robin McKinley.

I think my mother may have a secret thing for Robin McKinley.
May. 5th, 2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
I like your mother. Robin McKinley's anti-fanfiction is a bi-monthly torment for me. There are so many different things Con and Sunshine could be getting up to, and what about poor Mel? Also, Harry and Corlath. Aerin. Tor. What about the children? ARGH. Anyway. 8D
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May. 5th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
I don't know if I've ever told you this. I love your book! I won an ARC of Lexicon when it came out last year, and I've read it about a dozen times since. I'm going to buy the paperback (for the spiffy new cover) and I'm even going to buy the hardcover of Covenant when it comes out, despite a lifelong hatred of hardcover books (I'm waiting months and MONTHS for Rampant to come out in paperback, despite wanting to read that desperately. I dislike hardcover copies that much.) because I cannot wait to see where the story will go next. I read Lexicon in one sitting when I received it, because I couldn't put it down, and I laughed, and cried, and recognised several things from your fanfics, which are what originally lead me to your LJ, and from there, your books.

You are my hero and because of you and your stories, I had the courage and determination to think to myself, "If Sarah can do it, so can I!" And I took a lifelong dream to write a book, and made it a reality.

I can't imagine that anyone who's ever read your book could actually dislike it, and the people who hate on it, and you, have probably never picked up a book in their life. I am a mostly complete stranger to you, but you are one of the - for lack of a better word - most awesome people I know. I love reading your LJ and your books and your fanfics, and I just think you should know.
May. 5th, 2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
It makes me incredibly sad and angry that you get hate mail. I don't know what's wrong with people. I'd like to send you tons and tons of fan mail just to make the hate stuff seem insignificant by comparison.

I was wondering what your opinion on what Diana Gabaldon said would be. Your response was very classy. (I was rather irked by her blog post.)
May. 5th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
I have to say that I probably wouldn't have read Demon's Lexicon when I did if I hadn't found out that you were the author of some of my favorite HP fanfics. And then I did read Demon's Lexicon and I was delighted from beginning to end.

One of the best things I loved about it is the style of the writing. I spent the entire book feeling off-kilter (in a good way!) about the way the story was being told and then I found out Nick's background and it suddenly clicked into place. It was absolutely brilliant that you made us feel Nick's lack of feeling - which I think is the main reason that you get so much hate mail; people felt discomfited throughout the story. Hopefully, those people will one day pick up your book again and it'll click for them as well.
May. 5th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
Oh dude, most of the people who send hatemail haven't read the book, and those who have are angry because it's not fanfiction, it's nothing to do with my book at all. ;) (Which is not to say everyone loves my book - just the people who thought Nick was too mean, and there are plenty of them, haven't written me hatemail. Which I appreciate!)

Very pleased you like the style of writing! I feel a bit flustered by people being so kind since I was trying to explain why I feel ambivalent and don't like to talk about my personal fanfiction while thinking fanfiction as a whole is excellent, and not fishing for praise! But thank you. ;)
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May. 5th, 2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
It's so reassuring to hear from an author we really respect, like you, that you approve of fanfiction (even of your own work), and especially of its motivations.

I'm personally just shocked that you get so much hate mail! It just doesn't make sense to me. You're a fantastic writer and such a nice person. I mean, just look at all the ridiculous lengths you go to to do things for us. All the extra little story cookies, the contests, the writing posts... When I tell people about the sorts of sweet things you do for us on LJ, they don't believe me! So whatever people are honestly that cold-hearted and cruel to try and tear down your confidence like that don't deserve the time you spend to read their hate mail.
May. 5th, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
So, shamefully I am a frequent lurker here, who has maybe commented once before. But I felt like I should leave a comment on this one at least, since the idea of people sending you hate mail made me very sad for you. Those people need lives (and also to read TDL so they know what a horrible mistake they're making). Your book (soon to be books!!) and your fanfiction are both so great, and it is terrible that people take the time out of their days to try and make you feel bad like that.

On to the actual subject of this post though. I love fanfiction. I am one of those people who just never wants the book to end, so being able to find other people who are writing about the characters I have come to love always makes me feel better. I can understand why some authors would be bothered by it (there is some out there that is just not good and out of character and for an author who knows their characters inside out, that would be hard to read). In general though, I agree with you that it's a response to really loving a story and not wanting to let it go, and that makes it a great thing.
May. 5th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
The problem I have with DG's post is not that she's said she doesn't like fanfiction, but that she's said it's *immoral*. She compared it to writing explicit rpf about your neighbours and then showing it to said neighbours. It feels like a personal attack on who I am and what I choose to do in my spare time.
May. 5th, 2010 03:44 pm (UTC)
Yes: like I said, I don't think anyone, including Diana Gabaldon, should say what someone loves or loves doing is bad.

I do think it was hyperbole based on an emotional response and she's thinking better of it, but I don't agree: that's why I wrote the post.
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May. 5th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
Ouch. Oh Sarah, I didn't realise the internet could be so malicious! (I am possibly very naive.) But you do have an excellent base of fans who have loved your writing even before your first novel was published, who also promptly ran out to buy it because they loved your writing. *raises hand*

My thoughts on fanfiction can be a little mixed. On the whole, I don't think it's a bad thing. When I was a child, I wrote really awful stories set in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain in which there was a heroine who just HAPPENED to look like me and who had a snarky relationship with someone who just HAPPENED to be like Taran--only he wasn't. (He had to take care of an oracular cow, thank you very much.) I wrote them because I loved the world Alexander stole from Welsh mythology (no one seems to get upset over the fact that he shamelessly wrote The Mabinogion "fanfiction") and just wanted to play in it some more. Ditto all the fanfics I wrote and read as I got older (from The X-Files to Harry Potter to Sailor Moon to you get the drill).

I think fanfiction as a concept is fine. Sometimes it's a fan's wish-fulfillment fantasy (please see: everything I wrote between the ages of 9 and 14) and other times it can be a fledgling writer's practice field, to make beloved characters believable and behaving in ways that seem logical and emotionally true in otherwise non-canonical situations.

But there's no denying the possibility of abuse by both readers and writers of fan work, the chiefest reason being because you cannot legally profit from it. Because the writer cannot own the "property" in a fanwork it can lead to extremely treacherous territory--if the writer feels proprietary over her words, but the readers feel proprietary of their emotional response to the source material, etc. Could be bad.

That being said, Gabaldon's stance irritates me because while she may claim copyright on her characters' name, appearance, what-have-you, what does she feel about derivative works that get published which don't infringe on copyright? Someone could very possibly write a novel about a time-travelling heroine named Clara who travels to 18th century England and saves her lover from the plague with her 21st century medical expertise.

Of course one should respect her wishes. But it's one thing to say "fanfiction bothers me" and another to claim that fanfiction is illegal. It isn't. It's illegal to profit from it.

Regardless, Sarah, I'm glad you wrote fanfic. I found your writing. That in itself should be a good thing. :)
May. 5th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC)
This is me, as well -- I love your writing, your style, your voice, and I first discovered it through fanfic -- and therefore I now am a fan of your published writing as well (*waiting very impatiently for DC*).
May. 5th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
I would just like to be one of the people countering the people who tell you that you suck. You are awesome. And I encountered you and your extremely funny writing through fanfiction. Thanks for sharing those stories with us, and I am truly sorry that, because some people have decided to be inexplicable assholes, your generous work has not gone unpunished. Makes me furious.
May. 5th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
This is just to say, I write historical romances AND fanfiction and you have been an inspiriation to me as a writer for a very, very long time--about seven years now.

That makes me really sad that keeping your journal hasn't worked out well for you, because I thought it was a really gutsy move and I personally love it when published authors are open about their fannish past (or present!--in those cases it seems like people mostly keep their identities separate, which is what I do, but I still love it when authors openly say "Yeah, I write fanfiction"). I'm proud of my fanfiction and I wouldn't give up my community of fannish friends for ANYTHING, and I hate how it's something a lot of people seem to think we should be ashamed of.

Plus, watching you go from your early stories (WHICH I LOVED) to your more recent stuff, and getting to meet you when you toured, and everything, has been THRILLING for me. Now I wish I'd sent you more fan mail! Expect some after I read Demon's Covenant because I am EXCITED for that book.
May. 5th, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
There are much worse ways to conclude an essay. I'm not getting into this fanfic related fight, because it's beginning to feel like deja-vu. I'm sure I've participated in this fight once every 2 or 3 years now. I sat through all the HP ones so now I feel it's time to let the young fandom initiates like the Twilight and SPN fans have their moment. No-one can change the mind of a person when it's their feelings doing the talking. If it's not a reasoned response you can't apply reason to it.

I may have watched your journal for the fic in the beginning (and still read the pdf regularly) but I've also bought your first book and respected your right to develop as a person and I'm so sorry to hear that others haven't been as grown up about it.
May. 5th, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
People send you daily hatemail? WTF! You are seriously the nicest writer-blogger I've ever followed! You compliment everyone! Your adventures are amusing! You answer all our questions without biting our heads off! How could anyone hate you??

I suspect you already know this, but please go on ignoring them.

Just out of curiosity, is Canada considered in the US or the UK category when it comes to your publisher? I know the covers are the US ones, but the release dates seem to be UK?
May. 5th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
Ahem, as someone who works in publishing (and stalks Sarah's comments), Canada is often considered part of "North American rights", which means that the US and Canada can be considered one territory. UK, Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand (and other Anglophone countries) are part of "World English".
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May. 5th, 2010 03:53 pm (UTC)
I just had to shake my head as I only read one Gabaldon, and it read to me like intelligently written but essentially manhurt fanfic of the Lymond Chronicles, with the serial numbers lightly sawed off.

Humans, they are weird.
May. 5th, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC)
The Lymond Chronicles, really? Huh. I would never have thought so, but then, Lymond gets so far up my nose he hits brain. Even though the books are most excellently written!
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