Archive for March 10th, 2012

Yet more thoughts on fanfiction: E. L. James and Fifty Shades of Grey

Ilona Andrews drew my attention to the phenomenon that is FSOG and I couldn’t help but dive face first into the trainwreck.

That review by lazaruspaste is truly amusing on top of being edifying, by the way, and I love her voice.

It was infuriating. I wanted to scratch my eyes out or maybe the characters’. I’m not really sure. At one point, I had to start drinking heavily. But even gin didn’t dull the fury.

I know, I know; the ease at which I get TWS is truly horrifying. It’s almost like norovirus — somehow, sometimes, despite how many times you might get it, your immune system never quite develops full resistance to it.

(Here’s another funny summary of the highlights of FSOG from Read|React|Review in list form, for those of you who might want to read this after seeing the trainwreck. Bonus! Drinking game from Livingbyfiction that’s hysterical. )

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on about the fact that FSOG’s previous incarnation was a fanfiction of Twilight called Master Of The Universe.

MoTU was one of the most popular series on ff.net, a repository for free fan fiction. During the height of its popularity, an auction for the series raised $30,000. The author appeared on a fan fiction panel at the 2010 ComicCon and attended a three day conference in DC thrown by her fans.

There’s a lot of divided opinion on the matter and I’ve spent the better part of the night trying to figure out where I stand on the matter.

Jami Gold’s assessment of the situation:

Beyond what’s legal or illegal as far as copyright, trademark, fair use, or derivative vs. transformative works, fanfic authors owe a debt of thanks to the original creator (after all, without the original work, the fanfic author wouldn’t have been inspired to use that as a jumping-off point). And in return, I believe a fanfic author should never exploit the characters, setting, world—or the original author’s brand or fan loyalty—for their own gain.

I believe that if someone chose to invest their time, energy, and heart into doing something, they deserve to be paid for it. I’ve said it before and I’ll said it again now: everything’s been done before, somewhere, somehow, countless endless times.

This follows that I believe that people should be allowed to be paid for fanfiction, yes?

Correct.

After all, Wicked, and Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies are pretty much fanfictions that are capitalizing off of their established fanbases.

It’s true that they are considered parodies, but I think that line is sometimes a bit too indistinct. It’s not enough of a hard line that I’m ready to pass judgement on someone just because they’re playing in someone else’s sandbox.

Some defenses of James that I don’t find relevant to what I find problematic about the situation but feel I should address because I don’t want them to pop up as strawman arguments:

Trojanwalls comments that:

Recently I found one of my favourite authors posting her opinion on a book that she admits she barely read - ‘Would FSOG be as successful without Twilight?  Probably not.  It’s definitely cashing in on the Twilight fandom’s desire for nookie between beloved characters.’ – probably because she read other people posting similar opinions on their blogs. Maybe they are right, maybe I missed something – but it seems wrong to judge a book by its biased reviews which is what she seems to have done.

My reaction to that is, if James truly thought that her work could stand on its own feet, then she wouldn’t have put it up as fanfiction. Also, something that DA and Smart Bitches lambastes in quite the way lazaruspastes did is unlikely to surprise me in terms of quality.

Pavarti K Tyler, on pull-to-publish fanfiction (I don’t think she’s explicitly talking about MOTU, but these arguments have been used in defense of MOTU being published) :

But what about some of the stuff I wrote that really wasn’t based on them. What about the original fiction I was writing that I plugged their names into just so I could put it out there. I didn’t have the balls to self-publish it then, would it be wrong to pull and publish it now?

Again, if James didn’t have the balls to throw her baby out there and have it judged on its own merits, then it shouldn’t be an issue that people are complaining that she’s capitalizing off Meyer’s fame. Either it’s OF or it’s FF, make up your mind. Everything has a price, and you’re staring right at it. This is vaguely related to my actual beef with her, but I wanted to clarify that the names were never the problem.

What specific issues do I have with James?

I feel like she cheated and that she’s a bit morally suspect for her actions.

I’m not even going to go into chat transcripts that imply she only went into the Twihard fanfiction world just to drum up a fanbase so she could get catapulted into fame.

“Well don’t tell anyone – I have visions of being interviewed by Time Magazine for revolutionizing publishing…”

“I have done it as a sort of exercise.. to see if I could … and I think I have proven that I can… I now want to capitalize on it…”

“I have to say I do not feel as passionately as you do about the fandom”

“it’s like the old groucho marx joke which I cant remember about not wanting to belong to a club that you’re a member of…”

even when you publish it on amazon, theres still gonna be negativity “true… but I’m sure it’s easier to take with a big fat paycheck LOL”

What I really despise is that I feel like she’s gamed the system for her own benefit and it reflects extremely poorly on the rest of us, writer or fanficcer alike.

I feel that Wicked and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies were likely held up to a higher standard because they had to overcome the stigma of being derivative works. They are also open and upfront about being derivative, which is actually a mark in their favor.

In my opinion, James took something that could have been an Original Fiction (OF) and essentially springboarded her work by branding it as Twilight fanfiction. Then, as far as I can tell, she took her work, which was available for free, as soon as she figured out that she could capitalize on it, and stripped it of all identifying tags and published it for her own profit.

So she’s cheating by gaining a built-in fanbase, by bypassing the slushpiles (virtual or otherwise) using the knowledge that fans will read almost anything in their desire to get more of their crack, by using fans as free sounding boards and critique partners, and finally she’s cheating Meyers of whatever advertising she could have provided through her fanfiction.

KimmyDonn also makes a very good point when she says:

You wrote a great fanfiction ‘novel.’ That’s great! Wonderful! You have readers and reviewers ready and eager for your next work. Don’t just give them redressed left-overs. Put that practice piece aside. Give it the place it deserves as a lesson learned and start your new and completely original idea. If you’re worried about losing those fans in the meantime, tell them what you’re doing. You might redress ‘left-overs’ in the form of out-takes from your completed story to keep them checking your page. Tack on a teaser from your Work-In-Progress to whet their appetites, and then, give them what they really want – something original.

Yes, it’s also a bit suspect when you take something that was originally **free** and repackage it for sale, even with significant overhaul.

Every person’s first novel, or heck, their second novel is essentially a trial to see if they have the chops to make it. Not only has James slunk past the starting line by advertising her work as FF, but she’s not even really respecting her fans or Meyers by putting her first novel up as sort of a tribute, something to give back to what inspired her and gave her what’s now her fanbase. I feel like she had the change to take the classy route and she utterly gave it up and rolled around in the muck.