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09 May 2010 @ 05:25 pm
[Rant]: Professional Writers vs. The People Who Love Their Work, Round Umpty-Snout  
(I realize right now fandom is rightly and deeply upset about a whole other issue. I live in the past, okay? But I know for a fact that this particular one is comin' around again, so. Also, warning: possible triggers.)

Okay. I am really, really tired of professional writers - or maybe I should say published writers, since professional behavior is not these people's long suit, generally speaking - posting rants about how they don't like fan fiction and here are their random reasons why. (If they would just say, "It feels wrong. I don't have a reason - it just feels wrong," I still wouldn't agree, but at least I wouldn't have to question their maturity. It's when they try to justify their feeling that they start to sound like a seven-year-old explaining why his cousin shouldn't be allowed to come near his toys.)

So, I'm going to help you out, oh hater of fan fiction! No more do you have to embarrass yourself (and piss off rape survivors everywhere) with the inevitable reference to rape! (Please, someone, make a new internet law that reads: Here is what is just like being raped: being raped. Describing something that is not rape as rape indicates either a) the kind of irrationality where the flecks of foam are visible through the monitor or b) a total failure to understand what rape is. In either case, everyone should politely look away until you calm down. And buy a fucking dictionary.) No more do you have to issue legal proclamations that make it very clear that you don't understand what copyright is and, in fact, think of copyright as Captain Copyright, Defender of Whatever Rights You Feel You Should Have! (Note: Captain Copyright is totally fictional. Feel free to write stories about him defeating evil writers of fan fiction. Um, warning, though: that will be fan fiction.)

Sadly, this won't address my least favorite rant elements:
  1. Rants in which a published author makes it clear that she believes millions of people are writing fan fiction about her characters, when in fact there are four stories total in her universe, which makes me all hot with vicarious embarrassment, because she's just exposed her own screaming It's All About Me neurosis and made it clear she has no idea what she's talking about. It's a horrible two-for-one special in the embarrassment aisle.
  2. Rants in which a published fan fiction writer - someone who writes primarily tie-in novels in someone else's universe - announces that fan fiction is evil, because doing it for love is wrong, but doing it for money is right. This makes me make a frowny face, because that isn't what they said in Sex Ed.
But, well. One thing at a time.

Good Reasons for a Professional Fiction Writer to Fear Fan Fiction
  1. Fan fiction folks might not like you anymore. People who are into fan fiction read a lot, and I do mean a lot, of stories at all levels of quality, from Holy Shit Pulitzer to Holy Fuck My Eyes My Eyes I See the Reaper Coming for Meeeeeee. Many of us also write. And when you do that, when you read and write a lot, you learn things. (Unless there's a baseline competence issue, and some of us do have those, but yay! Mostly not.)

    So we've all gotten better at reading, and reading critically, and at interacting with the story. And, yes, that means we might not like you anymore. We might now be painfully aware of how you suck or how you fail, in ways that we wouldn't have been before our time in fandom. And that's scary - readers who are now judging your work and maybe finding it wanting. If you want to rant about that, I will have sympathy.

  2. Fan fiction folks don't need you anymore. I mean, we still might like you, but the fact is, we can probably get better than you for free. Because, okay, yes, most fan fiction is crap, but so is most published fiction. (Anyone who wants to refute that has to read ten books selected by me first.) And the ten percent of fan fiction that is worth dying for is not just good, and in fact not just great: it's great and it's for us. It's written for our community, with our community standards in mind, by someone who shares at least some interests and probably some beliefs with us. So it's not just that we can get stories for free; it's that those stories are written to appeal directly to us. You can't write for us and you almost certainly don't want to.

    That's readers - a lot of readers, depending on what you write - who may not be shelling out for your next book, or who may be waiting for a library copy or the paperback. That sucks for you, and if you rant about that, seriously, I will have sympathy. (And I will try to refrain from pointing out that if you're good to your fans, we're your paycheck. We'll buy your hardcovers forever just because twenty years ago you created one character we love. We'll buy your merchandise. We'll go to cons to see you. We'll buy more hardcovers for you to sign. And so on.)

  3. Fan fiction folks took your power away. It used to be that the Anointed Few stood at the front of the room - sometimes a tiny classroom, sometimes a giant lecture hall with video cameras catching each golden word for those not lucky enough to hear it in person - and spoke. And everyone else was just audience: the listeners, the readers, the passively entertained. Fandom has turned your lectures into seminars. We keep speaking up. We keep having our own ideas. We don't even have the courtesy to raise our hands and ask to speak. And sometimes we lock you out of the room altogether.

    That isn't what you signed up for. I understand that. You want the podium back, you want the breathless admiration back, you want the silent, receptive audience back. You want the exchange to be: I entertain, and you applaud, and that's it. I can understand why you'd want that, and if you want to complain about it, I will sympathize. (I won't promise to fix it or anything, because it's better for me this way, but I understand that loss of power can be painful, and I swear if you want to complain about it I will feel sorry for you.)

  4. Fan fiction folks are better at the internet then you are. Oh, not all of you (or, for that matter, all of us), but, um. I don't know how to put this gently. A lot of professional writers (and editors, and others associated with the publishing industry) appear to lose their brains and their ability to write (and to understand what they've written) when they're online. It's sad, and it's pathetic, and it's hideously painful for those of us with an embarrassment squick. Meanwhile, fandom is organized, fandom knows the rules (fandom even codified many of the rules), and fandom is - well. If you're making an ass of yourself on the internet ("You're interrogating the text from the wrong perspective!" "You're RAPING ME by writing fan fiction about my characters!"), fandom is mocking you. If you're proving that you're an ass in real life ("There's no racism! It's all classism!" "But there aren't any female writers of SF. I mean, I don't know any, so..."), we're probably pointing that out to you fairly loudly. (And we are not watching our tone.)

    And I do see that that sucks, that you think the internet is your playground and it turns out there are actual real people watching you and calling you on your bullshit. I think you could probably solve this problem (either have less bullshit or limit your audience, your choice), but I will still understand if you just want to complain about it.
But if you're going to tell me, yet again, that fan fiction is illegal! Immoral! Dirty! Wrong! EVIL! ASSAULT! RAAAAAAAAAAPE!, well, I cannot promise to have sympathy. I can't promise to care. I can't even promise to read your rant, or indeed anything you write.

I'll just read some fan fiction instead.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.
Tags: [meta]
(Anonymous) on May 15th, 2010 02:37 am (UTC)
I'm about to get in trouble
I suppose I shouldn't comment, since I'm one of those despised published writers. But I've read and enjoyed your blog for a while now, especially your sense of humor, which tends to the gently sarcastic like mine. So I was a little...surprised...at the tone of the essay aimed at Ms. Gabaldon. And since I used to write fanfic back in the day, and therefore have a little insight into both camps, I thought I'd presume to give the other side of the coin.

Good fanfic is awesome, and let's face it, how else were Elrond and Celeborn ever going to get together? But then...then there's the bad stuff. And there's a lot of the bad stuff in fanfic, let's be honest. And some of it isn't just bad, it's cringe-inducingly horrible. Kirk-and-Spock-anal-fisting-with-a-goat kind of horrible. (I haven't actually seen that one, but it's out there. You know it is.)

So imagine, if you will, slaving, sweating and almost wrecking your eyesight over a bunch of characters, not to mention the hours upon hours of work crafting a world in which to put them. And then imagine someone who didn't go through the heavy lifting coming along and putting those characters in one of THOSE kinds of fics. Yeah.

So, do I agree with Ms. Gabaldon? No. I'm usually flattered (and a little bit amazed) whenever anyone is inspired enough to write anything based on one of my books. But then, I also don't read the fics. Because I have recurring nightmares about exactly what I'd find. I think Ms. Gabaldon might have made the mistake of reading a few, and in the process run across some of the goat genre, which prompted her comments (which did not, as I recall, use the word rape).

Just my two cents. And hell, no, I'm not signing my name. I haven't said anything here that I think could possibly be misconstrued as an attack, but then, the internet is a touchy, touchy place. And she probably thought the same thing.
Ariquiresti on May 15th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm about to get in trouble
The thing about "tone" on the internet is that it is pretty subjective. For example, I find your first line "I suppose I shouldn't comment, since I'm one of those despised published writers" pretty nasty. And the tone at the end is pretty off, to me. Now, I find the rest of your comment fairly reasonable, so I assume that you probably didn't mean the other parts to be quite as passive-aggressively mean as I found them. Although with the header you chose...you might have.

I understand being conflicted about copyright issues. My mother is an author, primarily of non-fiction but some fiction too. And while she finds the idea of internet based writing in general, and fanfic from conversations with me, pretty interesting (she supports the idea that everyone should be able to get joy from writing as an art form), she also sees some of the ways that the publishing world is being negatively impacted by the internet.

My mom was plagarized once. A romance author published books that lifted whole passages from one of my mom's non-fiction books. Mom's reaction was 1)that's weird...and a little hilarious. And 2) it would have been OK if she had been using the ideas (after all, the main point of writing non-fiction is to share information, not horde it) but if she was going to take the exact words used and earn money off of them it would have been nice to a) know, and b) get a little of the money too. Fanfic writers are sharing ideas, which is a baseline state of human nature; and they are not generally making money (I don't count charity events).

People have different lines. I find RPF weird and RPF porn really creepy. But I don't think the people writing it are necessarily creepy. I think a lot of them are cool people and good writers and just are able to see people in the public eye in a different way than I do. So I don't read RPF most of the time and we manage to coexist happily. Some people like that "horrible stuff." Some people feel hurt and offended when you call things they enjoy horrible.

The thing about most of the posts I have seen from published authors complaining about fanfic, is most of them attacking the people who write it. They attack directly by calling them talentless (and there are some amazing writers) or horrible people. They attack indirectly by using trigger words like "rape" or "white slavery"--and yes, I have seen those used.

I have a lot of complicated ideas about copyright and intellectual property and I recognize that it is a debate for a reason--it is a complicated issue.

But that debate isn't what I see in anti-fanfic rants that bugs me. As thefourthvine pointed out, if people just said "This makes me uncomfortable, don't try and get me to like it," I would shrug and cross that person off my list of people to talk about fandom with. And I agree that it is probably a bad idea for published authors to read fanfic (although if I got anything published I would probably be obsessively checking the internet to find stories). But that isn't what most of the published authors I see ranting are doing. Most of them seem to be trying to shame people into not writing fanfic, reading it, or talking about it any positive terms. And that bugs me.

I like published authors. I have a lot of respect for a lot of them. And I agree with thefourthvine's comments. I can dislike the behavior of some people without "despising" an entire group they are part of. Which is why your first comment tripped my buttons.
(Anonymous) on May 16th, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm about to get in trouble
And yet, it DID, in fact, get me into trouble, because I dared to say that maybe there was a valid reason why Ms. Gabaldon (about whom the post was made) might have been upset. And why she might have a reason to be so.

I think the problem here is part of a wider issue--that of a general lack of understanding of intellectual property as actual property. If someone comes along and steals your car or breaks into your house, everyone understands that as a rip off. They are taking things from you that took you years to amass, and which took them very little time to cart off. You're upset and annoyed, and are probably feeling like ranting about the state of the world these days, and everyone understands why.

But if what was taken was intellectual rights, it's a different thing in many people's heads. Some of those same people, who would never even consider doing either of the above things, will merrily post copies of authors' works to the internet for free or write fan fic using authors' characters or world. And not only will they not think anything about it, they will get very upset if the author has the temerity to object!

I personally have much more of an issue with the pirating of my work than with fan fic. But obviously Ms. Gabaldon feels differently, and she has the right to do so--and without being considered a monster.
Ariquiresti on May 16th, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC)
Re: I'm about to get in trouble
It didn't get you in trouble. I had some thoughts that I wanted to share because this issue makes me think and you did say some things I wanted to address. I am not interested in attacking you. I don't disgree with everything you said. I do disagree with some of it and I want to express myself more clearly, but again, it isn't an attack on you.

I have not read Ms. Gabaldron's thoughts on the matter, so I want to make it clear that my comments have little to do with hers.

Second, I want to go back to the point I wanted to make in the first post. I can disagree with someone without thinking or calling that person a "monster."

Like I said, I recognize that intellectual property is a complicated issue and I personally have complicated feelings about it.
For one thing, it is different from material property. If someone steals my car, the main problem for me is that I *don't have my car* anymore. If someone steals an idea and copyrights it before I can, or steals an article and publishes it before I can--then they have taken something from me and I no longer have use of it. If someone takes something I have written and am selling and posts it online, then I have lost the money I could have made by selling it (possibly). But if someone writes a story using characters that I have written and gives me credit for the original story, I haven't lost the original story, I haven't lost my acknowledgement for writing it, and I haven't lost any money towards selling it.
The fact that it is not an exact analogue to theft does not mean it is necessarily more moral. It just means that the analogy is flawed. Analogies often are.

I think any author has the right not to like fanfic. I think they have the right to say so. I think that all human beings have the right to feel that they and their choices are respected--with the understanding that there are consequences to some choices. And I think authors have the right to say "I don't like this. Please don't do it."

What I object to in the responses to fanfic I have seen from *some*, not all, professional authors, is the shaming. It is when they use words like "monsters", "horrible", "talentless", "rape", "stealing children" and so on.
(Anonymous) on May 17th, 2010 09:36 am (UTC)
Re: I'm about to get in trouble
And I wasn't trying to attack Ms. Vine in my post. As I stated, I enjoy her blog and her sense of humor very much (her Star Trek posts alone are freaking gold.) But this time, I felt that someone needed to stand up for the fact that authors do have rights over the work they create--and how that work is used.

I should have mentioned one other point, which is that most of us have been overwhelmingly supportive of fan's rights to enjoy our work as they please. Think about it: there are tens of thousands of published authors out there, and that's just if you're looking at the last few decades or so. Yet how many have publicly objected to fanfic? A dozen? Two? And of that few dozen, only a handful have done so in a way that has stirred up controversy. Which would seem to suggest that most authors either are in favor of it, don't really mind or haven't yet heard of the phenomenon (and that last seems pretty unlikely these days).

Could Ms. Gabaldon have phrased things better? Absolutely. But then, could fan fiction writers have simply said, hey, you know what? There are tons of movies, TV shows, and other author's books out there for us to write about. If this particular author is this upset about what we're doing, maybe we should just let her books alone. The few authors who have objected are a small enough group that it won't be a big loss to the fanfic community, and it would keep the controversy down--and keep publishing and production companies out of the debate.

By the way, I'm was very happy to find someone who is actually against book piracy, as I've been taken to task more times than I can count for daring to object to it. All we authors are multi-millionaries, you know, so the tens of thousands of pirated downloads don't actually hurt us. Or so I've been told. I keep wondering where all my millions are, because look as I can, I can't seem to find them. Maybe under the seat of my ten-year-old car.
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV glowythefourthvine on May 17th, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
Re: I'm about to get in trouble
You're not about to get in trouble with me! (I, of course, cannot speak for the entire internet.) And I don't despise all pro writers - it would be weird for me to, since I have so many on my friends list, including several who have commented on this post - but I do have an increasingly hard time stomaching the over-the-top wailing about the evils of fan fiction; whatever despising was going on here, it was intended only for those people, not every published writer going.

(And this essay wasn't aimed at Diana Gabaldon. Yeah, she maybe triggered it more than Martin or - what's her name, um, Kerr? - because of the rape thing (yeah, she used the word rape), but there were three authors involved in just this round, and I've seen a lot of rounds of this. This post is addressed, in my head, to many, many published writers, and Gabaldon doesn't top the list.)

And there's a lot of the bad stuff in fanfic, let's be honest. And some of it isn't just bad, it's cringe-inducingly horrible.

Absolutely! And while there is almost as much bad stuff - even bad sex stuff - in pro fiction, the primary difference, I think you're saying, is that this is badness using an author's characters. Which, I can totally see why people might not want to read that. (Actually, I can see many reasons to avoid the hell out of fan fiction set in any universe for which you are a, or the, pro writer. I'm just saying there's a difference between "don't like, won't read" and dissing an entire genre and community hysterically and cluelessly, which is where Gabaldon, Martin, and what's-her-name, among others, choose to go.)

And she probably thought the same thing.

If she did, then - well. There's a difference between your comment (and notice how careful you were to avoid connecting your online identity with it; you obviously understand how this internet thing works) and Gabaldon et al's posts - the difference between avoiding the bee you see on the flower next to you and standing directly under a hive and hitting it with a bat. While buck-naked.

Because if Gabaldon honestly thought she wasn't saying anything that could get her into trouble, she must have thought that not one of those dirty "fan fiction people" (she is careful to avoid calling us writers) could possibly read her blog. She didn't think we were part of her audience. And that - that's a mistake that displays a lot of ignorance about her readership and, you know, the internet at large. So, yeah, she maybe thought she wasn't saying anything that anyone would object to, and clearly she didn't think she'd get this much objection, but - well, that's kind of symptomatic of exactly what I was talking about.

And that actually makes me far more eye-rolly and astonished than, you know, Yet Another Flawed Rape Analogy. (Those just make me sad. And mad.)
(Anonymous) on May 17th, 2010 10:13 am (UTC)
Re: I'm about to get in trouble
I absolutely agree that Ms. Gabaldon's comments could have been phrased differently, and I certainly wish they had been. And yes, she ought to have known how the internet works better than that (I bet she does now). But even if I don't like what she had to say, I do understand the impotent anger behind it. Or, at least, I understand how I feel when I see my works plastered all over the internet for free--often on the very day they are released! Authors' rights, such as they are, seem to be eroded everyday, and there's not a lot we can do about it. And sometimes that kind of helplessness can make a person a little crazy.

As I said in my response to a commenter above, the overwhelming majority of authors have never objected to fanfic and probably never will. I know I don't. If they bought the book, as far as I'm concerned, they have the right to enjoy it as they please, including penning an alternate scene or two if it makes them happy. But while most authors respect the fans' rights, it would be nice if the street went both ways. And frankly, that often doesn't seem to be the case.
The Gauche in the Machinechina_shop on May 15th, 2010 08:46 pm (UTC)
pslasherpslasher on May 18th, 2010 12:37 am (UTC)
Amazing, very well articulated post. I've bookmarked it.