Monday, November 17, 2014

Fan Fiction and Me...or How I Started Writing (Again) Pt.3

Again, this won't make a whole lot of sense unless you've read Part 1 and Part 2.

Check those out if you haven't, then come on back here!

I was talking about the benefits of writing fanfic, like the fact that it's like writing with training wheels (writing a novel or even a short story on your own is scary enough!), working with other authors for editing purposes, and that you get instant feedback through reviews.

Some of you may be wondering about the legality of it.  The very nature of fanfic is taking someone else's work (work that's often not in the public domain already) and playing in it, making parts of it your own.  Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, so the following is as I understand it.  Fanfic is legal, as long as you're not making any money off of it.  It's not for profit.

"But some people pull their fics from the online posting sites and publish it!" you may be saying. "Fifty Shades of Grey was one of those--it was a Twilight fanfic before it was a bestseller, and the author has made shitloads of money!"

Yep. But good news... I asked a friend, who actually IS a lawyer and works with issues like this, what her thoughts were.  Here's what she said: 

The question asked is whether publishing a story that was originally written as fanfic is copyright infringement. It is certainly actionable to publish infringing material for commercial purposes. However, if a fanfic story was infringing, and those elements are modified or removed prior to publication, there is no viable claim. The fact is, curing infringement happens every day. There is no support whatsoever in either the word or spirit of the law for the concept of “once infringing, always infringing.” I believe such an approach would be highly disfavored because it serves no useful purpose and would result in new and improved products and expressions of creativity being discarded simply because at one time they contained an infringing element. The purpose of copyright is to “Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” and such a concept is wholly inconsistent with that purpose.

Likewise, the idea that simply because I was inspired by the work of another, I can never fix the infringing element, is without merit. We are almost always inspired by something when we write. In the words of Justice Story, “In truth, in literature…there are…few, if any, things, which in an abstract sense, are strictly new and original throughout. Every book in literature… borrows, and must necessarily borrow, and use much which was well known and used before.”

In a nutshell, according to what my friend said above, there's nothing wrong with pulling your fic to publish it, so long as it's far enough removed from the original source material.  If E.L. James (author of Fifty Shades) had written it closer to the plot of Twilight, or if there were vampires, then there might be issues. But as it stood, all her characters were human, and, if I recall, there was no hardcore BDSM in any of the Twilight books.  If James had left her characters called "Bella" and "Edward", there might be problems, but don't you think Stephenie Meyer's lawyers probably looked at this from every angle already?

But this issue polarizes readers and writers in fandoms almost more than any other.

I've read many--many--fics that have been pulled from sites by their authors and subsequently turned into published works for profit.  Some have been self-published by the authors, and some have been published by big New York publishers.  I see them on the bookshelves in stores, and I smile, happy for the authors' success.  Most you would read these books and never in a million years guess that they were ever a Twilight fanfic (or from another fandom); even in their fic form, a lot of the similarities ended simply with the characters' names and physical descriptions.  The rest--places, family relations, etc., resemblance to Stephenie Meyer's characters/story--are easily edit-able and changed, removing any Twi-fic-ness about them.

What's amazing is that since I started writing fic in 2009, the stigma has been lifted to a huge degree.

See this poster here?

Sorry about the size; I wanted you to be able to read the names, which were tiny in the original.  These are the attendees of an author event at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas at the end of October this year.  And out of all these authors, I can count five...yes, five...that I recognize as Twilight fan fiction authors.  There are possibly more on the poster, but I don't know their names or pen names.  These are all best-selling authors; some of their published work is former fanfic, some is completely original from their imaginations.  Am I going to let you know who they are?  No.  If you don't know already, then that's fine...maybe they don't want to be outed.

I'm a member of the Maryland Romance Writers RWA chapter, and they have a stage each year at the Baltimore Book Festival in Maryland.  If you click here, you can see that this year there was even a panel titled "From Fanfic to Fiction".  The description is: "Join published authors who first cut their teeth writing fan fiction to discuss the transition."  I wished I could have been in the audience for this one, because I have a feeling they reviewed a lot of what I've mentioned over these past few posts, answering audience questions.

And in a huge turn of events, fan fiction is even being deliberately sought after by publishers.  This article from the Washington Post mentions a few Twilight fanfics that have been successful in the publishing world, and also discusses a One Direction fic that was acquired by publishing giant Simon & Schuster and recently published.  It's worth a read.

You might be wondering how much fanfic did I write?  I had probably 10+ short stories out there, along with 2 novel-length pieces.  Do I still write fic?  Between my editing and writing, I honestly don't have time at the moment, but I can't say I never would again.  I've pulled most of my fic from the web, but there are a few still out there.  I can't say that they're good--it's mostly stuff that I did very early on, but that's the idea, right? To practice and get better.

Do I read it?  Occasionally, but not Twilight so much anymore.  Other fandoms I've read fic in include Sherlock, Harry Potter, and Marvel comics.  All are great in their own ways, and I'm always blown away by the writers' creativity.  I swear, some of the Harry Potter fic I've read could have been written by J.K. Rowling, it fits so nicely into her magical world.  And the talent of some of these writers rivals some of the best published authors I've read as well...and who's to say they're not one in the same?  I'm aware that there are plenty of best-selling and/or published authors who write fanfic in their spare time as a fun writing exercise when they're not writing for themselves.

I've met some of my best friends and fellow writers through writing fanfic, and I had nothing but good experiences with it.

So, that's how I got started writing again and discovered this was what I wanted to do.

I'd love to know what you guys think about fanfic...hit me up in the comments.

xoxo Sarah

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fan Fiction and Me...or How I Started Writing (Again) Pt.2

This won't make any sense unless you've read Part 1 yet, so go back and read it if you missed it.

I'll wait.

Back?  Okay, onward!

So, when I left off I was saying how my first desire was to fix the Twilight books...write them the way I thought they should be.  But maybe I didn't have to do all this work...maybe there was something out there like this already?

I didn't really know where to start.  I had no idea people even did wrote stuff like that, but some Googling sure fixed that for me.

Site upon site popped up, and I started reading on several of them, fascinated and relieved that I wasn't the only one who wanted to take the work in a different direction.  A lot of the stories were decidedly more adult in nature (to be expected, given how much importance is placed on sexytimes (or avoiding them--Edward) in the books, and the fact that Stephenie Meyer faded to black in Breaking Dawn, not even giving the fans a little bit or somethin' somethin').  There were even stories where the characters were all human (abbreviated AH) instead of vampires, allowing the fic writer to take the characters in completely different directions while still retaining the character traits.  I'll talk more about this later and in Part 3.

I mostly read on the sites for a while before the writing bug really started kicking in.  I started small, writing a short story that was accepted on one of the sites, then, when I'd gained some confidence, actually wrote a novel-length piece.  People might wonder why I'd bother spending so much time and energy doing this--why write fanfic when I could have been developing my own worlds and skills?

You see, I was doing just that.  To me--and what I often tell people who look down on fanfic writers as silly people who are wasting their time when they could be writing real stuff--is that I believe writing fanfic is like writing with training wheels.  For someone new at writing period, or someone like me who hadn't done it in so long and was a bit rusty at it, it makes the process easier.  Half of the work is already done for you...the characters have backstories, descriptions, personality traits.  The fic author just has to make them do stuff--make a story around them.  It's like playing in someone's sandbox with the toys already there.  And later on, this gives us the tools and frees us to create characters and stories of our own.  The practice I got writing fanfic was, I believe, in some ways just as good as taking a creative writing class, and much more hands-on.

Another giant plus about fanfic writing is the instant feedback.  The sites you can post on all allow reviews, so readers will review your work (usually as posted...most of the time you can post chapter by chapter), and trust me, they won't pull any punches.  Sure, you'll get your share of "OMG write more! Loved it!" which is always nice, but you'll also get those who will give you a detailed critique of your chapter and/or story.  And there'll be some who hated your work, hated your characterization, hated...whatever...about the way you took the story.  Not much difference between fanfic readers/reviewers than "real" ones on Amazon and Goodreads, huh?

I loved working with other writers as well.  I was lucky enough to find a few that I used as "beta readers", or basically light content and grammar/spelling/punctuation editors.  We'd trade services where we'd read each other's chapters before posting them, giving the author feedback on what they've written.  As time went on, I could see my work improving, which was very satisfying.

Again, this is getting away from me, so stay tuned shortly for Part 3!

Thoughts?  Leave 'em in the comments below!

xoxo Sarah

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fan Fiction and Me...or How I Started Writing (Again) Pt.1

Whenever I meet new people, either in a personal or professional capacity, during the standard get-to-know-you stuff, inevitably the question is asked, "So, what do you do?" And when they find out that I'm an editor and writer, the conversation turns even more inevitably to how I got started writing in the first place.  After all, it's not exactly a career choice for everyone.

And up until now, I've been, well, sort of vague about the whole thing, except with a few people, and that was after knowing them for a while first.  Mostly to make sure they wouldn't laugh in my face.

I'd tell them that I'd loved writing as a kid, and gotten back into it while my husband was traveling a lot; that I'd come home from work and have a lot of time on my hands, so I started writing short stories.  And that was about it.

And it's true.  Mostly.  Sort of, in the same way as your skeleton can be considered your "body".

You see, the truth is, I got back into my writing groove writing Twilight fan fiction.  Let me define that for you: Fan fiction is, as Wikipedia says, the term for stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator.

If you're laughing, I kind of don't blame you, and I'll give you a minute to get it out of your system.  Fan fiction has this weird--mostly undeserved--stigma around it: that it's written by bored, horny housewives or squealy teenage girls to fulfill...what, I don't really know, probably something that needs fulfilling.  If you haven't participated in a fandom (group of people with a common interest in something, including the minute details--Trekkies are a good example of a fandom) before, most people assume it's all about writing sexytimes with someone else's characters, and while there is plenty of that, it's about a whole lot more.

Let me explain, but also let me back up a little bit.

I've always loved to read and write, and I've been crafting stories, good and bad, since I was in elementary school and probably before that.  I'm sure being an only child has something to do with it; by default we're on our own a lot, and we tend to have active imaginations.  Story-creating is what we do.  Despite this, I never majored in English or creative writing or anything that most people would automatically associate with something to springboard into a writing career, but writing and creating weren't foreign concepts to me.  I feel this needs to be established.  So there you go.

Anyway, yes, my husband was away traveling a lot, and yes, I had a lot of time on my hands and got bored.  So I guess I'm not dispelling the "bored housewife" stereotype, but whatever.  This was back in 2008, and the first Twilight movie was just coming out.  Though I'd never heard of the books or movie before, the buzz around it was quickly picking up steam, and I'm weird about reading books before I see a movie based on them (mostly so I can judge them harshly), so I figured why the hell not and picked up the first book.  And I was kind of hooked--the story wasn't bad, and it was enough to keep me entertained, which is what I was looking for, so I bought the other two and finished them as well before the fourth book came out a month or so later.  Mostly I wanted to see when Edward Cullen would get his head out of his sparkly emo ass and bite Bella, because they were clearly meant to be together forever...

Ahem...back to my story.

"Bite me." "No." "Why?" "I'm too angsty."
But when I read that last book, I immediately wanted to throw it across the room.  I almost did, actually, but I don't condone human-on-book violence.  I completely disagreed with some story choices the author Stephenie Meyer made in the third book (Eclipse), which somehow also led to the clusterfuck that was Breaking Dawn.  It's the book (and plot twist) that shall not be named. Sorry, but if you disagree with me, we can get into a fight about it in the comments section below.  I've met a lot of people who enjoyed all of the books, and a lot who agree with me, and while I respect their opinions, my blog, my rules, my skewed opinion.

And while Stephenie Meyer did an admirable job world-building, and her characters (weirdly enough the side-ones like Esme, Charlie, and Rosalie along with the rest of the Cullens) are interesting, her two leads needed a lot of work.  And then there were the plot points I didn't like.  These were all things floating around in my head after I read the books, leaving me with weird feelings I hadn't had about someone else's story before.

I had the overwhelming urge to FIX IT.  Make it--the story--the way I thought it should be.

This post is getting a bit on the long side, so I'll break it off here, but stay tuned shortly for Part 2.

Leave a comment below if you've ever been part of a fandom...which one? Did you read fic? Write it?

xoxo Sarah

Sunday, November 2, 2014

New Newsletter! Woot!

I've been taking a class on how to self-publish on a shoestring by the amazing Magda Alexander for the past month, and one thing that was discussed was having a mailing list or newsletter.  Readers can sign up to get it, so you can update them on whatever's going on--a new release, contest, etc.

So, if you want updates on my writing, publishing, contest and giveaway news, either sign up in the side-bar on the right, or click the link here and sign up.  

I'd really appreciate it!

xoxo Sarah