Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Rise of Fan Fiction

Of course, fan fic is nothing new (The Gospel of Thomas, anyone?) but self-publishing has brought another dimension to the discussion: People are getting paid for writing it! Think Fifty Shades and all that.

But, on the other hand, this isn't anything new, either. If you've enjoyed any of the recent Sherlock Holmes iterations (Robert Downey, Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller), you've partaken of the feast. Some lucky fan got to write those screenplays.

In fact, any Star Trek or Star Wars novel is essentially fan fiction. The only difference is that the publisher and owner of those franchises has invited only certain fans like Dean Wesley Smith, Alan Dean Foster, and Timothy Zahn (to name but a few) to write those stories. I'm not begrudging them. It's a great gig.

And now the gig is opening up. At least in one particular franchise. Hugh Howey's Wool is a NY Times Bestseller - a SF novel that has grown from a self-published novella just a few years ago into a megahit, traditionally published book...with a twist! Howey retained the electronic rights for his books and, this is where the fan fiction department gets some new paint, he's allowing fans to join the fun.

Best show you what I mean. In January, W. J. Davies published a "silo story" (for those unfamiliar with Howey's "wooliverse," post-apocalypse societies live in underground bunkers) as a short ebook called The Runner. And this with Howey's blessing. Within a few weeks it was in certain top 10 lists on Amazon.

So ... I emailed the author, struck up a friendship, received some great advice ... and just published my own silo story, The Last Prayer. I even cleared the concept with Howey himself and he emailed back: "I love it. Feel free to write and publish whatever you want." So here I am, yes, taking advantage of a new trend. Some might think it's riding coattails, but I figure each story stands or falls on its own merit. If my story sucks, it won't make any top 10 list and no one will read it.

In my quest to become a better writer, what better way to get immediate feedback from readers (via reviews if they so choose) than to jump into a fan-favorite world like Wool. Like Dean Wesley Smith has been saying since this self-pubbing revolution began, the gatekeepers have changed. Instead of relying on one person (an agent or editor) to tell you whether your story is good, go to the reading public and let them decide. In other words, you don't have to wait for an invitation to this publishing party any more. Fan fiction has opened the doors to just about everyone.

UPDATE: I just read this at Kristine Rusch's site - "Write a lot. Write well. Constantly strive to improve. Move forward. Market your work, then let the market decide its merit." Exactly!

4 comments:

Michelle Browne said...

Technically fan fiction is unauthorized. By recognizing it, the author has made it canon.

Fan fic still occupies something of a creative grey area. It is often cited as a tool for practicing, but what about cases in which it prevents proper literary development? 50 Shades of Grey anyone?

Sometimes it adds to the universe or provides a fresh new perspective, as August Derleth and other Lovecraftian writers have done, or as Maguire did in Wicked.

Bottom line is, I am glad fan fic writers are pushing the boundaries of universes but I also hope it does not feed into the overly positive and generally inept writing culture that surrounds fan fic sites. There is plenty of room for retelling and expabsion and growth of stories...but teenage girls writing slash fic with male pregnancies and poor self- inserts are not making the source material look good.

Lyn Perry said...

Good call, Michelle. Yeah, I'm not in favor of uncritical acceptance of all fan fic, just the opportunity that is available to many many writers.

I'm currently reading a series called Voyage by Zachary Bonelli (zacharybonelli.com) that started out on a fantasy forum board. He's edited, shaped, and is now publishing it in episodes and making it available to a broader reading audience. Amazing days for writers/indie publishers.

Thanks for commenting!

Michelle Browne said...

Hi Lyn!

Interesting update. Ì wrote a blog post myself at www.scifimagpie.blogspot.ca explaining my change in thoughts. Tell me more about this Bonelli?

I agree--fan fiction actually has a lot of potential. It is a potentially interesting medium for retellings. It has some issues with being self indulgent but I am really intrigued by where it will go from here.

Lyn Perry said...

Some great thoughts in your blog post. Thanks for mentioning it. As for Bonelli, you can find his work here: zacharybonelli.com - and his first few stories are free on Smashwords. In the back matter he talks about the origin of the series - on a fantasy fan board. So it's not derivative of a particular work, but an original take on various themes found in fiction. Episode 3, for example, takes the Hunger Games motif and puts a different spin on it. Interesting, fairly well written, not my particular style, but not bad and maybe worth a look-see if interested.