Friday, May 06, 2005

Dirty Little Secrets

Yesterday, still in catch-up mode, I spent some quality time with HelenKay, Wendy Duren, Meljean, PBW, and Alison Kent. They all had a fairly interesting April, seems like, with much discussion on all kinds of good stuff.

On several instances my fingers itched to leave comments, but since I came to the party a good two weeks after the discussion, I figured my remarks would be about as welcome as picking a nearly-healed scab. Enter the glory of having a blog of my very own. In this tiny microcosm of cyberspace I can offer up my dollar and two cents worth whenever the mood strikes. Plus, I have the added bonus of time having passed and people having moved on - the battles have been fought, camps populated and the begrudging truce of agree to disagree already reached. No worries of getting wounded in the fray.

Funny enough, these lovely ladies have helped me make a decision that has haunted me since I started blogging. But I need to back up a bit...

Starting with the RTB column by Melissa Senate, Judging a Book by It's Blogger. In it, she shares a conversation she had with her hubby about how something she read in a writer's blog made her want to not read that writer's books. Hubby's cooler head and good logic prevailed, but even so, the emotion behind Melissa's reaction illuminated something that has bothered me since January, when I posted my first blog entry.

See, I had this idea/fear/delusion that what I put in my blog - what I revealed about myself - might at some point in the distant future have some impact on what people think about my writing. That if someone read something in this blog that they didn't like or disagreed with or found horrible, they might not ever buy my books or like the stuff in my books, regardless of whether said stuff read like Shakespeare's finest or like yesterday's garbage.

This fear is not completely unfounded. Alison posted an entry that discusses how she'll purchase books by unknown entities (and understandably risky reads) because she's gotten to know the writer through her/his blog. The responses to Monica Jackson's remarks about the issue added weight to the idea that blogs can drive people to seek out writers they might not otherwise pick up off the shelves. I myself have done that - I've read books by authors I'd have otherwise walked right past simply because I had no idea who they are or what they write, but have since come to know via their blogs, liked what I saw and was then compelled to explore their works. I've found some really cool stuff this way, actually.

So there is reason to think that via this blog, I could gain or lose readers.

Except, gaining and losing readers was neither my intention when I started this nor a real big concern considering I don't have anything out there yet that people could read or not read. Talk about the proverbial cart before the horse. I write this blog because it is fun to do, it helps me stretch my writing muscles and forces me to engage in the act on a regular basis, and because I have a big mouth and love to shoot it off to anyone who will listen.

I'm not afraid to say what I think for fear of hurting someone's feelings. Well, I would never intentionally hurt someone's feelings, and I would always try to do my best to be diplomatic and professional. But I would never hold back an opinion simply because someone might not like what I have to say. Except now it seems that there is more at risk than simply bruising someone's ego.

In light of what some bloggers have put forth - those supposedly on the inside in the industry - what you write in your blog might not only lose you readers but also lose you opportunities as well. Like HelenKay, this idea totally freaks me out and reeks of complete unprofessionalism. I'm highly comforted when people - also on the inside - like Alison claim bunk to such ideas as blackballing. Honestly, if I found out that my otherwise acceptable manuscript was rejected simply because I had expressed (in a professional, non-personal way) a disatisfaction over some other writer's work, I'd pack up my word processor and move to a deserted island.

Besides, like Monica and HelenKay and PBW...actually, all of the bloggers I read regularly...I find blogs that are honest much more interesting to read than those which toe the party line. I respect the bloggers who are willing to express their opinion even when they know what they have to say will not always be popular. Heck, 99% of the time I agree with their opinion and am glad they brought the subject up.

So I am willing to express opinions, but still there was something inside me that remained guarded. My opinions on industry issues do reveal stuff about me and what I believe. But these opinions are not the same as details about *me* as a person, details that might cause others to form an opinion about...gasp...*my work*.

However, all of my concerns changed when HelenKay opened the Pandora's box of trouble that is the world of fanfic writing. Remember when I said my hands itched to comment? I actually had to ferret out some Cortaid to soothe the burn...

Not to worry, though, because Meljean rode to the rescue. In her blog, Meljean very eloquently expressed every feeling I have about fanfic, making any comment I could add redundant and unnecessary. Thanks, Meljean.

But Meljean did something more for me than defend, or rather explain, the rational behind the entire fanfic phenomenon. Meljean - a person whose opinions I very much respect - has written fanfic.

So have I.

Which brings me back to my original dilemma. From the get go, I've pondered whether or not to admit that I've written fanfic. I've worried that I would be frowned upon for engaging in what many *real* writers view as a far inferior form of writing. If there is an unspoken hierarchy in the world of writing, I think even those in the romance community would rank fanfic on the bottom-most rung.

But just as those who find romance novel writing substandard - an ignorant, full-of-yourself assertion made only by complete buffoons (so much for that diplomacy thing) - people who dismiss fanfic out-of-hand as something only pimply-faced teenagers and barely-literate sci-fi geeks eek out in the wee hours of the morning because they have no real talent are just as guilty of prejudices. Fanfic may be illegal...okay, technically fanfic is illegal...but it is still an artform with examples that range from horrifying to outstanding.

When I found out that Meljean not only writes fanfic but isn't afraid to admit it, I realized I was being silly. Writing fanfic is not a dirty little secret. At least, it shouldn't be.

I wrote fanfic for all of the same reasons she did. Fanfic served as my writing training wheels. Fanfic allowed me to learn the art of writing in baby steps. Reading other people's fanfic, editing it and studying it, helped me become a better writer.

Because fanfic writers were at my level. They (usually) were not published writers who had already worked out their issues with rookie mistakes and general storytelling. Analysing published books could teach me certain things - which kind of stories I liked and what qualities I appreciated in characters - but they didn't demonstrate the problems most beginning writers have with craft. How was I to know that an over-use of adverbs bogs down a story when published books didn't offer me an example of it? By examining and editing the work of people on the same beginning plane as me - people making the same mistakes I was making - I was able to identify how I could be better.

But fanfic also gave me something that Meljean did not mention in her blog.

Writing fanfic gave me courage.

I wrote my first story, I screwed up the nerve to post it - and this was the first time ever that I shared something I had written with an unknown population - and the most amazing thing happened. I got immediate feedback.

People read my story and they liked it.

And because they liked it, I started to believe in myself. I started to think that maybe I had something. Something that with time and a lot of practice and a lot of refining, could be honed into a real writing career.

So I wrote another story. And another. And the feedback kept coming. Some of it not as good, but a lot more good than bad. I acquired beta readers - people who could show me where I'd fallen down and offer advice on how I could improve. Advice I take very seriously, by the way.

Best of all, I got better. I reread my first offerings and can see how much better I've gotten. My writing has improved 1,000%.

And after a time, I stretched beyond fanfic. I added original characters to interact with the ones I'd borrowed from the brilliant writers who had so generously loaned them to me. I pushed beyond the settings and parameters of the original fic world to create places and premises of my own. Eventually I jumped off the high dive and sat down to write a completely original story.

Which is where I am now. In a way, I've sort of left the fanfic nest. My wings are dried and ready to fly. Now my own characters and my own stories fill my brain, drowning out the voices of the fanfic characters who called to me so strongly.

Say what you will about the wrongness of borrowing another writer's characters. I won't argue about the legalities of it. I personally believe that fanfic deprives no-one of any money that is their due since the day people forgo a writer's newest offering in lieu of fanfic is the day that writer should consider retirement. Fanfic keeps alive franchises that might otherwise die out, thus continuing the flow of money to the original creators. And if I ever become so popular that people want to borrow my characters to write their own stories, I hope I'm suitably grateful of such a success.

But I don't expect to change anyone's mind; that's not my intention here. Besides, I know how impossible that would be and I have better things to do with my time and energy.

This is simply to say that I fall on the side of those who think fanfic is not an evil unto mankind and the writing world. I've engaged in it and appreciate it when it is well done. I owe a huge amount of gratitude to the fandom that started me down the writing path.

If admitting this means that I've dropped any degrees in anyone's opinions, that is something I'm willing to accept.

Dang, this blogging stuff is cathartic.


Anonymous said...

First, welcome back to the blogging world. You were missed. As for the fanfic stuff? Seems to me this is your blog and you can say whatever you want and shouldn't worry about doing so. I'm a big believer in having open and honest, not nasty, dialog. That means we're all not always going to agree with each other. It's how maturely we handle those differences that's probably the key.

For me fanfic is a black & white issue - which is strange because nothing else in my life is a black & white issue. I understand it's not that way for others. I thought Meljean was thoughtful and eloquent in her responses on my blog and elsewhere. We agreed to disagree. And, I respected the way she took her shots, especially when some of those shots came from Lee Goldberg who is even a stronger opponent than I am (and less charming about it too :-) )

The blackballing thing was shocking to me. Alison eased my fears a bit on that one too. The idea that it goes on makes me crazed. But, in the end, I think the scary quote about that author running around to editors and fellow authors spreading negativity about someone who didn't like her work spoke loud and clear. That crap is high school and it's time we all graduate.


sybil said...

I don't read much fanfic these days but at one point read a lot of it.

Fanfic writers are writers. Some of them put published authors to shame and some of them shame fanfic.

It always amuses me to learn of a published writer who wrote fanfic and if I can I will buy the book just to support them. So I am all for owning up to your fanfic roots but I understand people who don't.

As for blacking balling, I think that is a sign of a small mind and nothing but jealousy. Any have a respect for anyone who puts his or her writing out for the public to read but to put it out there and expect nothing but praise or silence is stupid.

For every book there are people who love it and people who hate it, neither group is right or wrong. It is opinion. People need to get over themselves. If a person can't handle someone not liking their work, for whatever reason, then they shouldn't publish.

And as a writer you are just as entitled to say what you like and don't. I personally want to read it, even when I don't agree.

Lynn M said...

HelenKay - I'm totally cool with your stance on fanfic. You have a strong opinion about it and are sticking to that principle, which I very much respect. There are many other issues on which I see black and white but can understand why others might not agree with me. And that's the beauty of being a grown up - we can agree to disagree, go about our business and still find things we have in common that are much more interesting to discuss.

Yeah, Sybil, you'd think that people would understand that an opinion is simply that - an opinion. Just because Ms. A doesn't like a book doesn't mean she's right or wrong, and just because Ms. B feels the opposite doesn't mean *she's* right or wrong. Really, isn't it sad that some people can't manage to grasp such a basic concept (something I think we were all taught around kindergarten) and end up resorting to such nastiness as what HelenKay experienced?

Well, hopefully those type of people - people who threaten those of us who speak our mind - will learn that the more they try to put an end to it, the louder we all speak up. :)

meljean said...

I just found your blog (I'm the one late to the game *g*).

You are absolutely right about fanfic offering courage. I don't think this comes through very well on my blog, but I was likely one of the most ridiculously shy, introverted and least self-confident people ever (still am really shy in person). The fanfic community really helped with that.

And it isn't as if it was all support and no criticism -- some people seem to think that learning to write/gain confidence in your writing that way only works because everyone is a clamoring "YAY!" fangirl. That's not the case. There are just as many people saying harsh stuff as there are cheering you on. And you learn to filter out the constructive harsh stuff from the flamey harsh stuff, and it helps. It gets you ready to put a face on your original writing.

I knew I wanted to write -- and I wrote all the time -- but I didn't have a direction at all. The classes and workshops helped with craft but not really story or character. Fanfic helped focus that writing, and I learned beyond a doubt that I wanted to write romance, and what kind of romance. And when I grew out of the training wheels, it was great -- but I would never pretend that fanfic wasn't there for me when I needed it.

It was a tough decision to 'come out' about it -- and you might get some crap (I hope not) from people who aren't willing to agree to disagree (if you do, let me know, and I'll get your back *g*). Fanfic wouldn't be the way everyone would go, but for those of us that did...well, I can only say it feels right. And I can think of plenty of fanfic writers who I'd love to see writing original works, so I hope they come on over this way, too.