When I started writing fan fiction a thousand years ago as a way to safely (and privately) explore the feeling I got in my heart and guts when I saw girls kissing other girls, the concept of fandom was a mystery to the world. Was fandom adults dressed up as Star Trek characters when it wasn’t even Halloween? Was it those people who argued on HotBot message boards about whether or not Mulder and Scully smooching was ruining the awesome alien parts of The X-Files? Was it Whovians doing whatever Dr. Seussical thing a Whovian does?
Over the last 15 years, “fandom” has become a concrete concept and well known word that basically means: any subculture that includes a group of people who interact based on their strong common interest of a thing. It can be a book series or a movie or a TV show or a sports team or a band or website or a writer or any old thing really. Fandom (and fan fiction) has actually been around since the very early 1900s when fans of Sherlock Holmes rallied around each other to protest the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle murdered their favorite fictional detective, and to find solace in each other by continuing Holmes’ narrative saga with their own versions of his story. Now, though, it is easier than ever to find people who share your love (and outrage) over stories and to allow that love (and outrage) to manifest itself in myriad creative ways.
Fandom is more accessible than ever, more popular than ever, more accepted in mainstream culture than ever — and, truly amazingly, fandom is more powerful than ever. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people spend millions of dollars participating in fan conventions. And because money makes people in charge pay attention, and social media makes our voices hard to ignore, the folks who make TV are listening and responding to us, both on-air and in real life.
When I conceived this column, I thought it would be a fun place to curate and celebrate fan fiction, and it has been that! But now I think it’s time to broaden the scope of it even more. So, starting this week, Fan Fiction Friday will be coming at you once a month. It’ll still include fan fiction recommendations, of course, but it will now also offer you news round-ups about fan culture, interviews with fic writers and TV writers and TV recappers and TV directors, mini-essays about fandom from people in fandom, polls, discussion questions, infographics, advice about harnessing the power of fandom to affect real change, and a grab bag where I answer questions people have been asking me.
Queer female fandom is more important than ever, especially when it comes to television. Yes, we’re making strides, but those strides aren’t trends; they’ve come to us quickly and they could be taken away just as fast. And while it’s definitely exciting to see more and more lesbian and bisexual women on TV, those characters are still mostly cis and mostly white and mostly femme and mostly super thin and mostly background players.
It’s the Wild West out here and we’re contributing to the conversation about where and how to build the railroad! Just make sure you stay in a well-lit area and with a buddy when the train chugs through Rosewood.
Fan Fiction Friday: Jane the Virgin
Jane the Virgin was my favorite new TV show last season. It was surprisingly and unapologetically feminist. The mostly Latina cast was so refreshing, as were the queer threads that ran from the pilot to the finale. It was also just really, really smart and funny television. Weirdly, I can never find any femslash fic for this show, despite the fact that it boasts three canonically queer women, one very subtext-worthy best friendship, one Malfoy/Harry-style hate-hate relationship that would make for some very sexy sex, and a fictional world where literally any shenanigan is possible!
Below are five of the only stories I’ve stumbled upon, though my research has lasted nearly eight months! Do you know of more? You should tell me if you know more.
Plot: After Luisa finds out everything about Rose, will she still love her?
Length: 1,300 words
Plot: Before we found out Rose was Sin Rostro, all we knew was that she loved Luisa. And wanted to make out with her — a lot.
Length: 3,500 words
Plot: What if Luisa had just run away with Rose in the middle of season one, like Rose asked her to?
Length: 1,800 words
Plot: Luisa gets wrapped up with one of Rose’s cronies and Rose has to shut it down.
Length: 1,800 words
Plot: Luisa’s been through hell more times than she can count, but she’s not sure she can survive this new Sin Rostra hellscape.
Length: 6,000 words
Daily Prophet: Interview With a Fandom Starshine
Valerie Anne is one of my best friends and also practically my next-door-neighbor — but we never would have met if it hadn’t been for Glee. We kept bumping into each other on Twitter while talking about the show. (Or, more accurately, while I threw things at the TV and shouted swear words about Ryan Murphy while she engaged in elegant, sophisticated conversation.) Valerie got her start writing fan fiction and recaps on her personal blog, and now she recaps Orphan Black, Once Upon a Time, Chasing Life, Black Sails, Rookie Blue, and Arrow for AfterEllen dot com. She has also interviewed all your favorite celebrities and inhaled the glorious scent of Evelyne Brochu’s perfume on a red carpet. This is an interview I did with her about fandom and fan fiction!
How did you get into reading fan fiction?
That’s a hard one, because I don’t remember specifically. I know I was in RPG chat rooms for Buffy a lot back when I was too young to know that I was using it to explore my own sexuality and AOL was still a thing. And that’s basically live-action fanfiction. But I think started reading real fanfic because of Glee. They had all right components for a great story, they just weren’t USING them. I wanted to read what it would be like for Brittany and Santana to be together, and the internet did not disappoint.
How/when did you make the transition to writing fan fiction?
I’m going to be honest with you and you’re not allowed to make fun of me. After Season 2 of Glee ended, it looked like maybe Brittana would never happen. So I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like if, for their senior year, Santana started dating someone else. I’ve spent my whole life inserting myself into my favorite shows and stories in my imagination, so it didn’t end up being that much of a leap to insert someone else in. It was easier than I thought it would be, because I didn’t really have to do much worldbuilding or character development. It was like playing with puppets someone else made, all I had to do was choose the adventure. And I kind of loved it. Of course, looking back, that first fic is the worst thing I’ve ever read, but it opened a lot of doors for me in my mind and let me really start flexing my creative muscles and creating original fiction. It was sort of like I found out I had wings on my back this whole time and I didn’t even know it.
Of course, looking back, that first fic is the worst thing I’ve ever read, but it opened a lot of doors for me in my mind and let me really start flexing my creative muscles and creating original fiction. It was sort of like I found out I had wings on my back this whole time and I didn’t even know it.
How would you say writing fan fiction affected you in terms of now you’re a professional writer about television.
It really opened the world of ‘what if’s for me. Imagining these characters in entirely different settings and thinking about how they would react in different situations got me thinking about those things while I’m writing recaps for any show. I find myself sometimes interjecting things like, “Can you imagine if this had happened?” and detailing how I think the character would have responded. It makes them seem more dynamic, I think, to be able to take them out of the box a little. And it’s easier to connect to them that way, and I think when the person writing about the show cares about the characters, it helps make TV recaps more enjoyable.
How has the fan community you experience online changed your life outside of writing, for good or for bad?
I’ll start with the bad because it’s shorter not because it’s bigger: the hardest part about being in fandom is getting attacked for your feelings. It doesn’t happen often, but it does, it feels like getting slapped in the face. When someone takes your words and twists them into a knife they stabbed themselves in the gut with, it’s an alarming experience. But that’s not too prevalent; usually the ‘ship wars’ I participate in are more like verbal pillow fights.
BUT the good part is all my favorite friends are from the fan community! #BooRadleyVanCullen changed my whole life! I’ve spent my whole life feeling like a little bit of an outsider, even in my own group of friends. And even now, as an out and proud “adult” (term used loosely), and I have a group of straight friends that are awesome and I have so much fun with them, there’s still something missing. With fandom, I’ve found people who GET me. They’re queer and they’re obsessed with stories and they understand why sometimes I’m shouting in all caps and would never ask me to make plans on a Saturday night in April or May when Orphan Black is on. Plus, it brought me to you! And you showed me that words can change someone’s world – and sometimes even the whole world – and how important and exciting that is.
What advice do you have for people who want to get involved in fan communities but are too shy/worried they’re not talented enough?
I would first send them a link to the fanfic Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles and promise them they will never write anything as absurd as that. As for shyness, writing your first few under a pseudonym is an option, but really if you’re writing something you love, it will all work out just fine. Find a friend to beta for you, and just throw it out there. You can always take it down if you change your mind. But I bet you won’t. The thing about fanfiction is you can’t write it for the community you want to be a part of. You have to write it for you, and the right community will find you.
How have you seen fandom change what we see on actual TV? How can fandom do even better/more?
I’m pretty sure the last season of Glee didn’t even have a writers’ room, I’m pretty sure it was just Ryan Murphy printing out fanfictions and giving it to the cast. No but seriously I think sometimes shows see what fans react to and react accordingly – sometimes they don’t, and that’s their prerogative, but it’s an easy way to see which things are gripping people’s hearts. I also think that fandoms can point out when a show goes wrong – and not just like “oh we didn’t like that” because that’s not the kind of control a fandom should have. But like, “hey that was offensive/socially irresponsible”. Because maybe they didn’t even realize it in their Hollywood bubble. But we’re out here in the world, and social media has given us a voice, so why not use it to right the big wrongs? And I think we’re pretty good at that.
I do think some factions of fandom need to learn how to be constructive with their criticism. We live our lives with our hearts on our sleeves and our feelings turned up to 11, so sometimes when someone disagrees with us or a show does something we don’t like, we go nuclear first. Which isn’t always the best way to get results. I also think fandoms need to support each other. It’s fun to debate about why you like this character (for example, I spent many a season defending Alison DiLaurentis to anyone who would listen) but I see too much hate and pointy words and even threats and that’s taking things way too far. The beauty of fandom is that there’s something for everyone; there’s every kind of ship, a tumblr dedicated to every single character you could imagine, crossover imaginings that are just out of this world. There’s room enough for all of us, the internet is infinite.
What’s your favorite fan fiction you’ve ever written and your favorite fan fiction period?
You already featured “Face of the Unknown” in one of your earlier Fan Fiction Friday round-ups, and that’s the only one I know is good, but “Look At You” is a Spencer/Quinn crack!fic because anything is possible in fanfiction.
And “The Music Box” was the first multi-chapter AU fanfic I followed religiously, and one of the first I read in general. I have a hard time with such extreme AUs because it doesn’t feel like fan fiction, it feels like fiction with the same names as popular characters, but I liked this one so much and it opened my mind a bit to fan fiction.
Listening to the news! Again?
Fandom in the news and around the world this week.
+ Australia’s ABC news network profiled Tania Phillips, a journalist with Asperger’s who write fan fiction as a creative outlet from her day job.
“I’m Asperger’s, so I get to the point where I obsess over things, not in a scary, stalker-ish way though,” she said. “I wanted to write and I wanted an audience for that, so I started writing fan fiction because there was a fan base there.” Heat has had more than 50,000 reads online which, if translated to retail, would make Tania one of Australia’s best-selling authors of 2015. But Tania receives no payment for her fan fiction. She doesn’t do it for the money.
+ /Slash/ is a film-in-progress about a fan fiction writer named Neil whose “taboo” fan fiction is discovered by his friends. I don’t care about another movie about another white guy, but I don’t know any more films about fan fiction in the works.
+ Is the new Lisbeth Salander book fan fiction? Bleeding Cool News sure does think so!
As far as I’m concerned, any story not by the original author, written without the approval or wishes of the original author, is fan fiction. Lagercrantz has spoken in interviews publicising the new novel about how he re-read and absorbed the characters and ideas of Larsson’s original novels in order to put him in the right mindset to write Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander in a new plot that captures the feel and complications of Larsson’s books. From the reviews and what I’ve read so far, The Girl In the Spider’s Web is a very competent and perfectly entertaining act of literary mimicry, recreating the feel of the characters and the world of the first three books as well as the technothriller procedural plots. But the question is, is there more than that to it? Does it have Larsson’s undertone of political anger and activism against injustice, misogyny and corruption, or is it just a fun pulp romp for the beach?
Man, fan fiction is so much more complicated than we think.
+ HoustonPress decided to explore subculture and inexplicably grouped fan fiction writers with real literal vampires who walk on this earth.
+ Refinery29 profiled one of the internet’s biggest, loudest, and most powerful fandoms — Supernatural. The writer pulls on a really interesting thread, wondering out loud why such a male-centric show that stuffed their beloved lesbian character in the refrigerator last season continues to draw mostly female and LGBT viewers.
The SPN show universe is complex, which likely appeals to the fandom. In many ways, its political message is liberal. There is no God in their universe and to the dismay of the angels, God has been missing for centuries. The lines of morality are forever being redrawn and the Winchester brothers at the center of it are both nihilists and eternal optimists. That said, there are a few bones of contention between the fans and the show’s writers. The main one being: women. There are loads of female characters on SPN, but none of them have ever been in the core group. And there’s a problem with the writers constantly killing the women off. It came to a head in season nine when fan favorite Charlie, played by Felicia Day, was sacrificed in the service of facing down the season’s villain. It’s a debate that has been raging for several seasons and while it may not stop fans from tuning in, it can be a turn-off.
When in doubt, go to the library.
A personalized book recommendation for you!
One of the best essay collections I have ever read about fandom and fan culture is Smart Pop Books’ Fic: Why Fan Fiction Is Taking Over The World. It features thoughts on so many aspects of fanworks — from the way they tear down the systematic inequalities we see on TV to the way they provide a playground for aspiring writers to hone their craft — from professors, philosophers, social anthropologists, TV executives, and fan fiction writers themselves.
Producers of fanworks are in an enviable position to engage with race and culture concerns, and not simply reproduce the systems of thought that function as the canon (either in terms of the media itself or the society that produces it). They can interact with these, if not as equals, then as new contenders, and actually produce a space where race and culture are thoughtfully and respectfully engaged.
– Rukmini Panda and Samira Nadkarni, Fic: Why Fan Fiction Is Taking Over The World
Writers Rukmini Panda and Samira Nadkarni weigh in on the way fan fiction writers are able to push back against TV’s propensity to make everything overwhelmingly white, while professor Kristina Busse explores the way fan fiction makes our favorite fictional works even more fun. Even Chris Rankin, who played Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter films, and Amber Bebson, who played Tara on Buffy, contributed to the anthology.
If you’re interested in the academics of fandom, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
A handful of answer to a handful of TV questions that made their way to me this week.
Do you know if Lindsey Shaw is coming back to Pretty Little Liars? If not, how can we get her back?
I am bereft to tell you that it does not seem like she will appear in season six at all. I’ve asked everyone in the know who would whisper that information into my ear, and they’ve all mostly frowned and shaken their heads (or sent frowning emojis). I’m pretty heartbroken over Pretty Little Liars right now, so I don’t have the emotional capacity to get involved, but the writers do listen on Twitter, and you know in your heart that Marlene King is the one making those big decisions, so I’d start there if I were you.
Have you seen the BBC’s ‘The Scandalous Lady W’ starring Natalie Dormer? I just watched it and I need someone with good critical faculties to tell me how to feel about it.
I have not, but what you described her — “scandalous” and “Natalie Dormer” — appeal to my interests very much. I assume there is not a queer situation happening here, due to Twitter still functioning properly. (RIGHT?!) Did you know Natalie Dormer woke up like that? How her face is constantly locked into a smirk like she’s in on an enormous delicious secret? She was born with her mouth doing that! Anyway, let me know about the gayness of this; I have to prioritize.
THANK YOU for criticizing Ezria! Also Emily’s the ultimate Hufflepuff right?
You’re welcome, gentle soul. My hatred for Ezra only grows with each passing day. And yeah, I think Emily is the ultimate Hufflepuff, which serves her well in so many ways but is a disaster in so many others. (Sara “Plain White Bread” Harvey, for example.) (Oh! Speaking of which, this Tumblr is the ultimate in Sara Harvey fan fiction, which doesn’t sound like a thing you need in your life but totally is.)
Have you been catching up on “Steven Universe”? If you have, then what’s your favorite song?
I have, yes! I watch and read everything Mey Rude tells me to watch and read. In fact, I have a Slack date with her to discuss last night’s episode as soon as this column is published. My favorite song is “Strong In The Real Way.” Probably going to be my first dance wedding song, to be honest.
Are you going to recap Person of Interest’s sixth season?
I am going to cover it in Boob(s On Your) Tube and write at least two think pieces about it, how about that?
Discussion: Our Most Inexhaustible Source of Magic
On October 6, Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On lands in bookstores and on Kindle shelves. It’s the very first book of its kind: The book that inspired the fan ficton Cath was writing about Simon and Baz in Fangirl. But the real question is: Since Cath’s fan fiction was very clearly written about a fictionalized version of Harry Potter, is Carry On going to be a Hogwarts rip-off or one of Rowell’s trademark original layered amazing super emotional stories? I really want to hear your opinion about this!
If you have an idea for a mini-essay for next month’s column, questions for Owl Post, requests for interviews, fan fiction recommendations, fandom news, or any other thing you’d like to see covered here, hit me on up on Twitter, Tumblr, or email: heather at autostraddle dot com.
Until then: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!