Posts tagged writing

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Book Review: Yesterday’s Kin

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Book Review: Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Review by Prof. Jenn

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Yesterday’s Kin is a novelette which takes us on a breakneck pace through the philosophical, scientific, and psychological implications of a near-future contact with alien life. They come in peace, they come with some scientific advancements but not totally all-powerful, and we experience them through the POV of a prominent scientist and her flighty, dreamy, ne’er-do-well son. What the aliens’ actual purpose is for parking in New York Harbor and what happens to the people of Earth (and what will happen) is a fascinating, intelligent and intuitive discussion of the old “are we alone” question of so much sci fi.

The book is written in third-person limited POV, and is limited to two perspectives only: Marianne”s (the scientist) and Noah’s (her son), which makes what we know and when we know it tightly dictated and suspenseful. By the time we get to the big twist/revelation at the end, whether or not the reader has guessed it already is irrelevant–it’s a tense moment nonetheless.

Bottom Line: Yesterday’s Kin is highly recommended. I read it through in one sitting. I think it’d make a great movie…

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5 Questions: Maxwell Alexander Drake

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This interview appeared originally at bonzuko.com. Specifically, here: http://bonzuko.com/?p=5661   ~Prof. Jenn

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The good folks over at Imagined Interprises connected with me recently, and I had the opportunity to interview one of their authors, Maxwell Alexander Drake. He’s another author that specializes in action scenes and instructing others in the composition thereof. Please to enjoy this interview, and stay tuned on facebook for a promo of his work! ~Jenn

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5 Questions: Maxwell Alexander Drake

by: Jenn Zuko Boughn

1) What’s the one essential factor for writers to keep in mind when writing action sequences?

The number one thing a writer needs to keep in mind when writing action is that, well… it is ACTION. So, the words the writer chooses to use, the sentence structure, etc. all plays into how the scene will read. There is more detail in my  on my website, but here are the big issues to keep in mind.

1-Use strong verbs. Sally’s fist struck John in the face vs. Sally’s fist smashed John in the face. Smashed is a much stronger verb than struck.

2-Write in an action, reaction manner.

3-Do not write with passive voice.

4-Short sentences read faster, therefore feel faster.

2) What got you into Western Martial Arts? Why WMA and not Asian martial arts?

I like both Western and Asian martial art styles. However, for me I have always been more attracted to the western style of fighting than the Asian. Not because of the actual fighting style, but the culture that each of these has created. What can I say, I like Castles and Knights. There is just something more visceral with the western style. More primal. I am not saying the Asian fighting style is all prim and proper. When two people face off to kill each other, rarely do they do it with kindness. Perhaps it is also that my ancestry is Western Europe. Though I think it has more to do with Dungeons & Dragons than anything else.

3) What’s your favorite weapon / style in WMA?

I like the long sword; a blade that is versatile on the attack in both thrust and swing, and is good on defense. Plus, with the heavier blade, you can really put some weight behind it and cleave off extremities. A great way to end a fight.

4) Cthulhu, Zombies, Western? Wow. Please explain that combination! 🙂

Dead Ned is a story that is a long time in the making. It saw many different variations and themes before it became what it is today. Basically, it started out as a challenge. Someone asked me if I could write a story where the protagonist (the hero) was evil. And not in a Despicable Me kind of way that is actually loveable, but a truly vile person. After giving it some thought, I found that the only way to accomplish this would be to make the antagonist an even bigger threat. Then, it was figure out why an evil protagonist would take up the cause to kill the even more evil antagonist, throw in a few gods from other planes of existence, the occasional undead for good measure, and you have a story.

Unfortunately, due to health reasons with the artist, this project is on temporary hold. We are planning on getting back into it by year’s end and hopefully having the first graphic novel out by Comic-con 2013.

5) What action scenes in literature are the best/most inspiring to you? Is there anyone you still try to emulate in your own work?

I am a fan. The quintessential “fan boy” as it were. I love this industry with the unabashed wonder of a three-year-old child. So, basically, everything inspires me. I will walk away with ideas from even the most horrible of movies/books/comics. There is so much to see and experience, it is almost overwhelming.

As to emulating, I am not sure I have ever “tried” to emulate anyone. I do, there is no doubt about that. But it is purely subconscious. Robert Jordan was one of my favorite authors growing up. And my narrative voice is similar to his. Though, while he was heavy on description, I write mostly action and dialogue. It is also why so many equate me to Brandon Sanderson. I had never read Brandon until I was published, so he had no influence on me. However, Jordan was an influence on him, so we have walked similar paths.

However, I think my violence is unlike most. Some say it is closer to George R.R. Martin, though I disagree. I think my violence is a bit more visceral than his. More brutal. More emotional.

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A Short bio of Maxwell Alexander Drake

Maxwell Alexander Drake, or Drake as he prefers to be called, is an award-winning Science Fiction/Fantasy author and Graphic Novelist. Drake teaches creative writing around the country as well as for the library district in Las Vegas, NV. Find out more about him at his website, www.maxwellalexanderdrake.com

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Pride and prejudice

Conceited Independence

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Disclaimer: The following is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of Nerds in Babeland or any of it’s many fabulous contributors.

“It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence,a most country town indifference to decorum.”

-Jane Austen

If you’re a fan of Austen (or even just Colin Firth <3), you’ll recognize the above quote as a line from Pride and Prejudice, spoken by Caroline Bingley, a lady well-accustomed to looking down her nose at anyone she feels is beneath her. Basically Miss Bingley calls our lovely protagonist (Elizabeth Bennet) an ignorant hick for walking by herself “barely three miles” in dirt/mud to visit her beloved sick sister. Keep in mind that a lady walking alone anywhere was frowned upon, God forbid she get her petticoats dirty in the process!

Now I bring this up for a few reasons. First being that I love Pride and Prejudice so any chance I get to reference it makes me a giddy little school girl. The second is that I feel this kind of attitude–and Jane Austen herself, even–is extremely relevant towards the attitude and stigma towards self-published work.

“Oh,” you say with a touch of disdain. “It’s going to be one of those posts.”

Yes, it is.

There is a clear ‘status’ divide between many traditional and self-published authors and I think it’s time we tried to bring it to a stop, don’t you? Good. Now, let’s examine the major prejudice against ‘Self-Published’ work. The complaint I usually hear is that since anyone can self-publish and so there’s some real trash out there. Okay, fair point.

But can we agree that there is also some truly terrible traditionally published work?

Yeah. That’s what I thought. Regardless what your taste is, we’ve all read at least one book that made us go, “How the hell did that get published?”

A lot of people seem to think that you only self-publish after you’ve been rejected by multiple publishing houses–which is true for some authors, but again, this doesn’t mean that the story is bad or even poorly written.

Publishing houses aren’t really looking for a good story–they’re looking for a product they can sell. Did you happen to notice the boom of published vampire novels after Twilight gained popularity? Those manuscripts had been sitting untouched in publishing houses until it became clear that they were going to turn a profit because they were the ‘in’ at the time.

Yes, just like every other market, books follow trends and while possibly more discreet than the fashion industry, it can often be ten times more vicious.

It’s why we’ve seen certain repeating elements in books that may not have anything in common at all. Take ‘The love triangle’. It used to be a convention we only saw on an occasional sitcom and soap operas. Oh and in anime, but anime took the ‘love triangle’ and turned it into a polygon with much more sides (See ‘Harem’ Animes, Love Hina, Tenchi Muyo, etc etc). But ever since publishing houses discovered the marketing power of ‘Team Edward’ and ‘Team Jacob’–you’re seeing our heroines (and some heroes too, I guess) constantly at odds with who they’re going to get sugar from (or… y’know… love forever ‘n shit).

And before anyone starts on Pride and Prejudice–NO. Despite that romance is a major theme in the books, there was never a, “Oh, but I like them both, which shall I choose?” moment.

A friend of mine who has some beautiful traditionally published work even confided that the publishers MADE her make a character a second love interest so the love triangle marketing ploy could be employed.

Which brings me to why I decided self-publishing was the route I wanted to go.

The chief complaint I hear from any traditionally published author is fighting with the Publishing House over aspects of your story because at the end of the day they’re still looking to sell a product. Whatever that means. It could be adding sex scenes, it could be taking away some of that spicy talk that one of your character’s favors. It may be little things, it may be actual character or plot altering changes. Either way, it wasn’t a discussion I wanted to have. While being challenged about my work is fantastic and I encourage anyone who reads it to do so–I wanted that to come from a “What best suits this story?” stand point rather than “What bests suits our pocket book?”.

A publishing house tells you they don’t think they can sell your book? Fine, to me, that probably denotes a lack of courage and creativity that you don’t want supporting your work anyway.

I think self-publishing challenges authors in a way they may not have had to be challenged in the past. It’s not just uploading a file and pressing ‘publish’ through Amazon Kindle or Smashwords, it’s being your own marketing and pr team. It’s becoming less of an age where being that recluse on a mountain top is going to cut it. Now you have to network, now you need to cultivate some level of charm because ultimately, you’re promoting yourself. If someone likes you, they’re far more likely to give a damn when you mention you have a book out.

So maybe that’s where the disdain and hostility comes from; self-published authors try to do everything themselves and so they’re viewed as being self-important, or even possessing ‘a sort of conceited independence’.

But I would encourage you to look at it this way: Someone was passionate enough about something to go and create it without being directly sponsored. And does that piece of work discredit any other piece of work just by existing? No.

Self-published books are to the book industry as web-series are to television. Neither is ultimately better than the other, it’s just two different ways of going about getting your story to the world. Okay?

Can we play nice now?

Good.

Book Review: The Innkeeper’s Song

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Book Review:  The Innkeeper’s Song, Peter S. Beagle // by Prof. Jenn

The Innkeeper's Song

 

This book was a personal favorite of mine as a young, Fantasy-obsessed geeklet and recently I revisited it. I was not disappointed! Many of you nerd-babes may know Peter Beagle from his stunning Last Unicorn, but this lesser-known book is a Fantasy masterpiece.

I know, I know—them’s strong words, particularly coming from a geek who reads LOTR almost yearly. There are many reasons for my statement, but the main two elements of literature that make this the best Fantasy I’ve (re) read in a long time are: character (and POV), and the way the Fantasy world (and its magic) is built.

The book uses a short-chapter construction, with each chapter titled with the POV character’s name. What this does is makes the intense emotional journeys and tense action sequences easier to bear. If the entire novel were told from the perspective of, say, Lal (or Nyateneri or good lord Tikat), the reader would be exhausted emotionally and wouldn’t be able to take the huge dramatic builds in each action scene. By chopping the action up into small (yet tautly constructed) chunks, each from a different character’s perspective, we get a kaleidoscopic view of the story, and insights beyond what we’d get with 3rd-person limited POV. This structure also gives us a clearer view of each character (we get their inner life as well as other characters’ opinions/observations of them), without getting lost in info dumps. The lack of info dumps/exposition doesn’t lose a reader—actually, it makes the characters that much more realistic, and puts the reader there in the world with them.

The other thing that’s so gripping about the way these characters reveal themselves to the reader (and is actually the same reason why I found Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind so great—hey, I wonder if he was inspired by this book?), is that each character is telling the story right to the reader, as though s/he is in an inn, listening over red ale. The characters refer to the fact that they’re recounting what happened, years later, and even go so far as to address the reader directly: a couple characters ask “do you understand what I mean?” and stop the reader from interrupting them. One character even threatens to dunk the reader’s head in their soup if they continue laughing at them. This tone makes the story compelling in that it sounds like real people talking. It makes you want to know what happens next that much more.

This is, of course, why the world of The Innkeeper’s Song is so complete: the characters explain what happened, but as though the reader is also a tenant of the world, has heard the legends before, and is merely there to relay their eyewitness account. Far from confusing the reader, or not having enough background detail to easily picture the world, two things are happening with this multiple-realistic-POV technique: 1) we get certain events reiterated without seeming repetitive, and 2) the people and surroundings are so realistic that even the magic and foreign-sounding terms are readily understandable, because there is so much context.

Any of you multilingual nerds will know that long before one becomes fluent in a different language, one can understand it pretty well by gist, and context. Sure, there are creatures that aren’t from Earth, but a reader can readily get what (for example) a rock-targ is, or a shikri, from not only the sound of the names, but all the characters’ reactions to/knowledge of them. This is the way a Fantasy novel should be—it should plunge you into the world without using the dreaded info dump, but not in such a “Viking swimming lesson” way as to confuse or lose the reader. This is a fine line to tread, and Beagle is a master at it.

It’s my theory also that the main reason that the magic is so realistic (!) in this book is that the two magic-users in the story aren’t ever a chapter-heading. In other words, we are never in either of the wizards’ heads, never in their POV, but only observing the magic from outside the magic-user. This way, the actual process of it is a mystery, and the one who actually practices it are sort of like an old-school ninja-movie sensei, like Mr. Miyagi, who is simultaneously the master of life’s secrets, and also kind of a kook. The other is the classic over-egotistical, disgruntled, powerful “sith apprentice”. So we have the perspective of students, learning about what they do but rightly not understanding completely. This is a way to get lots of information across about the fantasy world, without becoming Basil Exposition.

Also, there is one point in the story at which I always, but always, have to reach for a tissue. Even when I know it’s coming.

I also hear that Beagle has written/is writing a sequel, or at least will be visiting the world (hopefully the characters?) in the future.

I highly recommend The Innkeeper’s Song, especially for those of you that get sick of uber-noble Aragorn types and would enjoy a Fantasy in which someone uses the word “goatfucking.”  J

~Prof. Jenn

Book Review: Two by Arturo Perez-Reverte

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Need some excellent summer reading, Nerd-Babes?

The New York Daily News called Arturo Perez-Reverte’s book The Club Dumas “beach reading for intellectuals,” and I wholeheartedly agree. I also recommend several of his books for those of you who like fun mystery-almost-sci-fi-smart-cliffhangers, but have read all the Sherlock Holmes stories way too many times and are far too discerning a reader to tolerate The Da Vinci Code. Allow me to recommend two of his books in particular to you: The Flanders Panel and The Club Dumas.

The Flanders Panel

Julia is a young art restorer that drinks lots of black coffee and vodka and whose best friend/surrogate father is an elegant gay man who owns an antique shop, named Cesar. See how cool our company is already? Julia is assigned a painting called The Chess Game, and all kinds of strange murder-mystery-meets-chess-game-puzzles ensue. First, she needs to figure out the puzzle within the painting, which hinges on the phrase, “Who Killed the Knight?” that she finds under a layer of paint. Then, she needs to have help to continue the chess game in the painting to head off the current murders taking place in her world.

There’s all kinds of in-depth art-appreciation scenes as well as paragraphs of fascinating chess-as-philosophy discussions amongst the artsy characters. Back in the day when I spent much of my time being all artsy in coffee shops (this was pre-hipster, people), the characters in this book made me so happy, as they discussed life and art and chess in long wonderful diatribes. Some delightful moments here, when Julia finds herself caught up in the story and images of the painting, and the painting’s story blends with hers. Also, a surprising ending. I didn’t actually foresee “whodunit” before I got there—let me know if you did.

The only drawback some people may have with this book (actually with Perez-Reverte in general) is its sometimes-longwindedness. What you need to remember is: a) this is just nutritious play for your brain. Get into it; and b) since Perez-Reverte is Spanish, anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish and/or doesn’t have the original Spanish edition, is perforce reading a translation. Which is way different than the original, as any bilingual person can tell you.

The Club Dumas

Two book-centered plots gallop along side-by-side in this book, its connective node being mainly Lucas Corso, an antique book hound. See how cool Perez-Reverte’s characters are? The elitist artsy type in me just revels in this stuff. Anyway, so one plot is about a handwritten chapter from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. The other is about an ancient book called the Necronomicon, and trying to piece together the actual powerful woodcuts that appeared in the original as compared to the copies that made (perhaps conscious) mistakes. Book forgers, old aristocrats, Corso himself, and a mysterious woman who calls herself Irene Adler make up the complex characters. And a pretentiously arrogant, unreliable narrator. Also people who take on the personae of Three Musketeers characters.

You may know this book because of the Johnny Depp movie barely based on one of its plots, The Ninth Gate. This movie, though a fun thriller, and admittedly does bring some of the suspense of the book-hunting to life, doesn’t really touch on the mystery, the unexplained, the depth of the two plotlines of the novel working together. The movie goes with the Necronomicon plot and has nothing of the Dumas plot, nor does it play with the identity of Irene Adler as much—it treats her as a cardboard cutout, not an enigma. Without spoiling the plot, here’s what we should think about her: “Whoa, is that a symbol for what I think it is? No, no, it couldn’t be…” The movie shows too much of her mysterious identity too soon, and makes her into too much of a Resident Evil Alice sort of character.

The great thing about this book is similar to what’s great about The Flanders Panel: artsy characters, philosophical discussions, hair-raising chase scenes and fight scenes, and twisty endings. The drawbacks are also basically the same: it’s going to be a translation, unless you have the language and the special editions. An extra drawback to this one is if you’ve seen the movie first.

 

In conclusion, pick these two up by Arturo Perez-Reverte if you’re a nerd who loves art, puzzles, and a good, nail-biting, hair-raising adventure. After these two, feel free to move on to The Fencing Master, The Seville Communion, or any of his series about duelists or pirates. But I’d recommend starting here.

~Prof. Jenn

Prof. Jenn’s TED talk

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Have you nerdy babes heard about the local versions of the TED talks that take place in universities everywhere? Well I recently had the opportunity to apply to speak at TEDxDU (University of Denver), one of the schools where I teach. I didn’t make the roster this year, but I thought you might get an intellectual kick out of seeing my proposal–this is what I would have talked about had I been chosen. Let me know what you think of these ideas. 🙂   ~Prof. Jenn

Clipped from: prezi.com (share this clip)

 

Babe Nerd Editor

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Here is an excerpt of an interview I had with local literary editor Alison Dickson. Find the rest at bonzuko.com. ~Prof. Jenn

5 Questions: Allison M. Dickson          Interviewer: Jenn Zuko Boughn

1)    How did you get into the editing gig? Do you like it? How does it compare to being a writer?

It really started in college, when I was always the go-to girl in peer editing groups in various writing classes. The act of editing has always come very naturally to me. Having an “ear” for another person’s voice is part of it, but I truly enjoy seeking out errors and looking for compelling ways to express something more visually. After college, I started doing beta reading for some writer friends and one of them was so impressed and suggested that I should consider looking for ways to get paid to do it. That stuck with me. Since I was a stay-at-home mom in need of additional income, and I loved doing it, I figured why not give it a go? I started researching the freelance editing market, getting a feel for the services other companies offered, as well as thinking of ways I could set myself apart from the pack. Eventually, Allison Edits was born. The little company has undergone some adjustments since its inception, and there have been some moments when I’ve asked myself what the heck I’ve gotten myself into, but overall, I have found it to be rewarding. Overall, I bill myself as a “boutique” service. I don’t have a staff or a fancy uploader on my site. Instead, what you get is me devoting as much time and effort as possible into delivering the best edit for your work and making you feel more confident as you wade through the process of getting published. It’s a jungle out there.

Unfortunately, editing takes time away from my writing. I find that when I’m in the course of a hard edit, I’m devoting most of my creative energies to the client. And that’s fine. But I’ve never been able to edit and write in tandem. However, I have found that editing someone else’s work has often given me the inspiration or energy to tackle my own projects again after I’ve finished. And when I do, I find that I write better. I recommend all writers network with other folks in the craft so that they have the opportunity to beta read and edit other writing, even free of charge. It’s easier to see shortcomings in other people’s work than it is your own, and so it’s a priceless educational experience in what not to do.

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R.I.P. Brian Jacques

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In honor of author Brian Jacques, who died Wednesday, I hereby share with you my series review and sketch of his booksigning. This was a handwritten in-store review after his appearance back in the late ’90s at Boulder Bookstore.   ~Jenn

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The Redwall Series (Redwall through Marlfox)

For those young enough to enjoy a ripping good yarn, and those old enough to plow through ten novels with delight. Follow the adventures of the young warriors of Redwall Abbey and Salamandastron as they battle unceasing evil hordes.

Each book is a terrifying, humorful, thrilling tale of heroism, pitting good mice, voles, squirrels, and hares against evil foxes, ferrets, weasels, and rats. Each book features good friends, grand battles, and a grand feast afterwards. Yes, this formula can begin to feel repetitive, but in a good way–like enjoying the familiar tropes of a Star Trek episode or James Bond film; that happy familiarity that can be satisfying. Those of you with daughters (or adults who like good YA fiction) who are looking for strong female warrior characters without a sexual focus need look no further than the good woodland creatures of Redwall, where a young underdog saves the day and takes the cake, female as often as male.

Young readers, or intrepid readers-aloud, though, beware: Each animal species is written with a different, distinct dialect from the British Isles, from RAF soldier-like hares to Welsh voles to the almost incomprehensible Cornish moles. I recommend not only silent reading, but listening to any of the many audiobooks which Jacques himself reads in his bass voice from Liverpool. You can really get the flavor and cadence of the many accents by doing so. All in all, a highly recommended series!   ~Prof. Jenn

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Writing Inspiration: Reynolds Price

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Earlier this week, I received the news that my writing mentor Reynolds Price, an esteemed writer of Southern fiction, passed away at the age of 77. At present, I’m still stunned and heartbroken, but his presence will continue to be felt throughout the years.

Mr. Price was the reason I started writing and he was a constant touchstone throughout college. My first interaction with him culminated in a personal correspondence when he invited me to a reading and from that point on I was a frequent member of the audience when he did readings. (I actually carried a picture of that event around in my wallet for many years until it faded out.) Reynolds was a voice of not only the South, but the world at large. His religious interpretations became one of my favorite components of his literary career and he was definitely responsible for me combining my Creative Writing minor with a Religion minor.

For the past few years, I hadn’t been able to see him as much because of scheduling conflicts, but he never left my mind. My bookshelf is filled with his works, I began his first fan webpage while back in college and I still maintain it, and every time I sit down at the keyboard it’s his voice that’s in the back of my mind. May you all find a writing inspiration as great as Reynolds Price. The world is a darker place with the loss of this great man.

Photo Courtesy of io9

Guest Post: On Writing Fan Fiction

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The following post was kindly written by request (from me) from an amazingly awesome friend of mine.  This writer requested that he/she remain anonymous and they will explain that below but they did give me permission to share their screen name (mysterypoet66) on Fan Fiction Net/Live Journal in case you are curious about their writing.  Now, why did I ask someone to write this? Here is my big confession: I actually enjoy reading fanfic.  I agree with the author below that a lot of it can be quite frightening but, regardless, there is the ‘shameful’ truth.  I do not have the discipline to finish my own personal story creations when I start them, therefore I have never dabbled in writing fan fiction myself.  Nevertheless, I believe there are some fan fiction writers out there that are better writers than “professionals.”  I also find it hilarious that there is such a stigma against online fan fiction while we regularly publish and promote books that could easily be at least linked to fan fiction (ie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or even Wicked).  Anyway, yes. I read fan fiction and fully love and support my friends who write fan fiction.  If nothing else, read the following post with an open mind.  I’m not trying to recruit people into reading fan fiction (let alone loving it) so much as just trying to get the point across that people who write fan fiction? Not necessarily as crazy as you assume.

Photo Courtesy of io9

I consider myself a serious writer. Which is why I’m not revealing my identity here.  Fan fiction has been painted as something that is considered lazy, deviant, and certainly not, “Real,” writing.

(Although it’s far more accepted, these days, which is an odd dichotomy.)

Consider this: every adaptation, every reinvention of a mythos, every, “Reboot,” and sequel not written by the original author, can be considered fanfiction.  Neil Gaiman writing for Doctor Who, when he’s been a fan of the series since childhood – yup. Broadly considered, it’s fanfic. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss updating Sherlock Holmes? Ditto.

I’m not saying that every author of fanfiction is a skilled or serious writer. But saying that every author of fanfiction is dreadful, does a serious disservice to people who craft stories as carefully as any novelist or screenwriter. Some people, like myself, write fics to polish their RL writing process, as well as engage in their love of characters. Some do it to blow off steam from their real-world writing jobs. Some do it as a hobby. Some do it for porn.

Yes, that’s right – fanfiction is full of porn. Or, if you think of it another way – it’s full of things that can’t be put onscreen, but that are logical in both human and storytelling terms.

Yes, there are some very extreme forms of porn, including things that make a lot of us very uncomfortable. They’re also things that in, “serious writing,” are taken seriously.

Okay, in fanfiction, some of it is just seriously kinky porn. I’m not particularly keen on the Harry Potter fandom, or Supernatural fandom, because there’s quite a lot that will freak me out.

One of the Original Slash Pairings - Image from THYLA.com (All-Ages Kirk/Spock Archive)

One of the things that tends to get quite a lot of attention in fanfic, is slash. Most people know that slash is a M/M relationship, although it originates from the, “/” used in any pairing. I recently saw an icon on LJ, “My fandom warns for het,” and spent a good 10 minutes giggling. The interesting thing to me about slash, is that there has been a long tradition of catering to the heterosexual male gaze in erotica, (and heavens to betsy, look at the, “Lesbian,” or, “Girl-on-Girl,” porn available on the internet,) but very little catering to the female gaze or LGBT gaze. That’s changing, rapidly.  Slash is overwhelmingly catering to anything BUT the heterosexual male gaze. Truthfully, slashfic can either be amazingly good, or really horrible. It depends on the author. Like any story, and any sex therein. An interesting point about the phenomenon of slash, is that the authors tend to be overwhelmingly female. Women are a whole lot kinkier than we’re given credit for, and don’t you forget it. In my own fics, I am someone who prefers to stick to canon (or at least canon-if-you-squint,) when it comes to orientation and relationships. I don’t do original character romantic pairings, (the dreaded Mary Sue/Marty Stu effect,) because that is not the reason I write in a given fandom. Some authors will do anything to get the characters they want in bed together, regardless of how out-of-character it is. Some are so scrupulously in-character and canon-locked, that they don’t feel fresh. It all depends on the author. As all storytelling does.

One of the things that truly inspires me, as a writer – full stop, is that the best authors in fandom, make me want to read their original work. Being able to write a character that is so familiar and beloved, in ways that are completely true to the character, and yet completely surprising, is not easy.   This is the universe you’ve been given – make it work, make it new, make it exciting to the reader. These are the rules. When authors go AU (Alternate Universe,) the challenge is greater. Is this still canon-enough, are the characters recognizable, does the universe you’ve created make sense? And fandom is harsh. You think your creative writing workshop crit is brutal, wait until you screw with someone’s favorite character, or god forbid – kill them off in a story.

And I haven’t even broached the subject of the ‘ship-wars. Try writing Jack Harkness with anyone but Ianto, or writing the Tenth Doctor with anyone but Rose Tyler, and god help you. No, I’m not actually kidding. People take their ‘ships, incredibly seriously.

A fandom can broadly be described as a bunch of people who share a love of something. Be it Star Wars, Twilight, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Good Omens, Discworld, or Transformers. Not everyone in fandom writes or reads fic. Many do.

(Yes, there is Transformer slash. No, I haven’t read it. Although I have a certain admiration for anyone that can write it, because I can’t even imagine how to do it.)

Image Courtesy of Chronicle Books

We’re telling the stories we want to read, telling the stories we want to see, we’re telling stories, and that is the point. Is some of it weird, or kinky beyond what most writers feel comfortable publishing under their own name, even if it were original work? Yes. The vast majority of it, however, is no different from Amy Heckerling deciding to write Clueless based on Jane Austen’s Emma, or something like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

The difference is – we’re not doing it to get paid. We’re doing it, in fact, with the absolute knowledge that we won’t. We’re doing it because we love the characters and we want to tell stories.

Isn’t that what any writer wants?

Human beings have been telling stories since the dawn of time. Everything since has been a variation on a theme. Pretending otherwise is silly. What makes any story original, is how it’s told, the world that the author builds, the characters, and the skill of the execution.

I can respect authors who prefer not to have fanworks based on their work posted, but I think I respect the ones that acknowledge it, even more. Steven Moffat, Simon Pegg, J.K. Rowling, all acknowledge that people love what they do enough to riff on it, (much as I adore his work, Jasper Fforde’s insistence on no Thursday Next fics being posted is. . . odd, to me, given how much of English Lit he borrows.)

So, yes – I write fanfiction. I don’t do it under my own name, and I keep a pretty tight lock on my identifying details in fandom, because I do consider myself a serious writer, and I want other people to think of me that way, too. I’m a serious writer, but maybe I should say I’m a serious storyteller, instead.

The thing is, writing in fandom has taught me more about the craft of writing – structure, pacing, character, and narrative flow, than any of my teachers. It’s taught me at least as much as being a voracious reader from the age of three, has.

I’ve also read fanworks that are infinitely more original and well-written, than dreck that’s being published by major houses. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned though, is that regardless of how insecure I may be, and how much I have to learn about prose, (and I do,) I have the ability to tell different kinds of stories.

We make art with the tools at our disposal. Be they fanvids, or fics, or visual art. Some are funny, some are dramatic, some are sexual. That’s what we do. We make art about what moves us, we explore the human condition through a variety of modes.

Everything is a version of something else; all of it is meant to translate what we – as creators, see in the world.

I find it interesting that television and film companies, and even novelists, often draw upon other sources. How many versions of Shakespeare, or Austen, or Dickens, or. . .

How many updates of those works? When in doubt, go to the public domain.

I take umbrage at the notion that writing fic is somehow not real writing. Taking a leap of the imagination, doing research, constructing and maintaining a plot and narrative progression – in what way is that not real writing?

We write what we know. First principle. What we, as members of fandom, know – is what we love. Where we go from there, is neither required nor guaranteed.

The fact is, if I weren’t a reader, a lover of film, art, music, television, and above all – books, I would never have wanted to be a writer to begin with. Everything is a version of something else. All we do is look at it through different eyes.

Yes, I’m a serious writer. I take writing fic as seriously as I take my original work.

That’s what writers do.

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