R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson) wrote,
  • Mood: contemplative

You can take the author out of the fandom…

No, actually you can't. *clings to fandom, barnacle-like*

Somebody at some point a few months ago (I can't remember who or under what circumstances, as I've been working doggedly on Quicksilver for the past six months while trying to get my mother through cancer treatment and a series of debilitating vertigo attacks, and everything that's happened to me since January is pretty much a blur) told me I should write something about the way I relate to fandom, which they thought was interesting and fairly unusual for a pro author. So here I am, writing about it.

First,my fannish credentials. I started writing fanfic in my early teens, back when I naively thought I had invented this brilliant new idea that no one had ever imagined before. I wrote stories for Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall books [1] and Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising series, and then I wrote for all my favourite TV shows like Remington Steele and Scarecrow and Mrs. King [2]. And my first, awful attempt at an original manuscript [3] was a file-off-the-serial-numbers version of a Fifth Doctor fanfic trilogy I'd written a couple years before.

But like the witch-cursed peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I got better. And not coincidentally, the marked improvement in my writing skills happened shortly after I got online. Because that was where, for the first time, I met other writers. Some of them were professionals; some were working toward publication; some weren't even trying to get published, but were just happy exercising their skills as a hobby. But they showed me how to look at my writing with a critical eye, and figure out how to make it better. They encouraged me and corrected me and gave me line-by-line or chapter-by-chapter feedback, and taught me to see criticism as a necessary and desirable part of the writing process. I learned to get my stories beta-read before I posted them, and that prepared me to understand and accept the kind of critiques I would get from a professional editor. And where did I meet the majority of those smart, talented, critical-thinking but constructive people? In fandom.

I'm far from being the only professional author who got her start in fandom, of course. Several people I met in X-Files fandom or HP fandom or Alias fandom, or any of the other fandoms I was part of in the early 90's, have since been professionally published and gained a fan following in their own right. Yet I know at least some of them still dabble in fanfic from time to time when a plot bunny hops across their path. And sometimes they write meta and get involved in other aspects of fandom, too--cosplay, fanart, going to cons as an attendee rather than a guest. Because they're still fans at heart, they still love the kinds of shows and movies and books and music they've always loved, and getting paid for their original work hasn't changed that. Why should it?

That being said, nearly all the pros I know who are still involved with fandom use a pseudonym. And often with good reason,because their fannish activities are frequently of a different nature and intended for a different audience than their professional work. This is especially true of authors who write professionally for children and teens, as I do -- but it applies to some authors who write books for adults as well. [4] They may be heavily involved in fandom, but they prefer to remain incognito because the content of their fanfic may well be of a more explicit or controversial nature than their published writing, and they don't want any negative personal or professional fallout from that.

Another reason pro authors who write fanfic often stick to a pseudonym is the desire to avoid any appearance of profiting from another creator's work, even indirectly. After all, if Midlist Author writes fanfic for Bestselling Author's books, and people like it and decide to check out Midlist Author's books as a result, isn't she unfairly profiting from the work of Bestselling Author? Some may say no, because it's the quality of Midlist Author's writing that won her those new readers. But others would say yes, because those new readers would never have read Midlist Author's stories if they hadn't been about the world and characters invented by Bestselling Author. So the issue can get thorny, and some authors feel it's best to avoid it altogether by keeping their fanfic under an alias.

I don't hide my identity, however. Like Diane Duane, Peter David and a few other stout or possibly reckless souls, I do my fannish activity under the same name as I publish my books.

One day, perhaps, I may come to regret this. But so far, using the same name for all my writing and meta and fannish interaction hasn't caused any problems for me. For one thing, my fanfic has pretty much the same content and rating as my original novels, and in some cases is even a bit tamer than the canon I'm writing for -- so it's unlikely that a parent is going to go ballistic if they find their tween or teen reading my stories.

Another reason I don't bother with an alias is that I am no longer a BNF [5] in any fandom, if I ever was; which makes any accusation of me profiting unduly from another author's work to be a pretty long stretch. [6] So I still have the profile on Fanfiction.net that I set up when the site first opened. I'm on AO3 and Fiction Alley and a few fandom-specific archives as well. I'm a happy member of sounis, and though now and again some other member recognizes me and says something nice about my writing, I keep my replies brief because I'm not there to talk about me, I'm there to share in the Queen's Thief love.

Here's my philosophy of fandom in a nutshell:it doesn't matter what I do for a living, because the fandoms in which I participate are not about me. When I participate in a fan community, I'm not there as a creator, I'm just another fan. And when I post a fanfic, I am also just another fan. There's no reason anybody should pay more attention to my writing just because I'm professionally published, or consider my stories to be inherently better than the stories of the many amazing fanfic authors out there who are not professionally published. In fact, there's no good reason for me to mention that I'm a published author at all, because the writing should speak for itself. And just because you can write a novel and get it published doesn't necessarily mean you can write good stories about other people's characters.

So when I post comments about fannish stuff in another person's LJ, or on a community like sounis, I try never to use an icon that promotes my own books. Instead, I use icons that reflect or promote the fandom being discussed. And in my profile on FF.net and other places, I don't say "HEY KIDS, I AM A PUBLISHED AUTHOR! HERE ARE MY BOOKS SO YOU CAN BUY THEM!" [7] I don't want to treat fandom as a self-promotional tool or use other authors' success as a springboard to my own, because that's rude and obnoxious. I just want to enjoy the fun with everybody else.

Anyway, that's how I do fandom, for good or ill. Because I am still a squeeing fangirl at heart, even if my pro commitments keep me too busy to write a lot of fanfic or meta these days. And unlike some pro authors I know who have had nasty experiences with fans harassing them for not writing more fanfic instead of those STOOPID ORIGINAL NOVELS HOW DARE YOU, I've had a pretty easy ride in fandom on the whole. The tiny group of readers I have who've stuck with me since my pre-published days have been lovely, kind, supportive people; and the modest amount of fanart, vids and fic I've seen for my books has been created by enthusiastic young readers who have no idea I've got any fandom history at all. And as long as that keeps up, I've got no reason to go underground.

And when, as happened this afternoon, I get a bunch of thoughtful, enthusiastic reviews for a fic I wrote back in 2003 from a reader who has no idea I've written anything professional at all, it makes me just as pleased as a good review for my published books does. Because I put all the same heart and skill into my fic as I do into my published work, even if the skill set involved is a little different. And because, as a fan, I know how enjoyable and worthwhile a well-written fanfic can be.


--
[1] This was before I had any idea that Anne McCaffrey was militantly opposed to fanfic based on her work. Sorry, Anne.

[2] We will draw a merciful veil over the Spies & Detectives' Convention crossover with Manimal and Simon & Simon, in which my self-insert Mary Sue accidentally stabbed A.J. Simon with a letter opener and had to nurse him back to health. And an even more merciful veil over the everybody-gets-mutant-abilities crossover that had twenty-six characters but only sixteen pages.

[3] All 120K of it. I still feel like I owe that poor editor at Del Rey an apology just for subjecting him to the first three chapters.

[4] Naomi Novik, for instance, is heavily involved in fandom and it's no secret that she writes plenty of fanfic herself; but most people don't know her fannish alias, and she prefers to keep it that way. I know of two or three other well-known authors who take a similar stance.

[5] Big Name Fan -- i.e. an author or artist whose name everybody in a given fandom will probably recognize, even if they haven't seen their work.

[6] Since I got published I have only written one piece of fic based on another author's books, and I think said author and I are on pretty similar levels at the moment as far as book sales go. So if somebody reads that particular fic, they're just as likely to be a reader of mine discovering her work as they are to be a fan of her books discovering mine. And since the story is so heavily based in her world and characters, it isn't really an advertisement for my own imagination so much as proof of my mad fangirl love for hers.

[7] I did mention it on my Teaspoon profile, in the first flush of my "Squee, I'm going to be published!" enthusiasm, but even then I didn't mention the title of the book. And it's changed now.


This entry was originally posted at http://rj-anderson.dreamwidth.org/3168.html. There are comment count unavailable comments on Dreamwidth.
Tags: fandom, fanfic
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