We’ve discussed fan fiction here in the comments before, and I have to be honest that I have mixed feelings about it. Oh, I understand the compulsion to write fan fiction, even to share it with communities of like-minded individuals. I think we all come to the altar of creativity having been led by the hands of the works that inspired us and touched us (sometimes in naughty places, as E.L. James might tell you). Some authors welcome fan fiction; they love that people are so pumped about reading their books that they want to spend more time with the characters. Others feel uneasy, or outright prohibit fan fiction (at least, prohibit it from being shared); while I think taking a hard line on fan fiction might come across as a bit dickish, I can wholly empathize with the authors. I think it would kind of be like hearing a woman ask your kids to call her “Mommy” and then play pretend family. I can imagine the frustration of having strangers take the characters that one has worked so hard to create and use them, for good or ill.
Still, I really have no qualms about the fan fiction universe–or at least, I didn’t. Maybe I don’t personally groove on it, but I tend to have a live-and-let-live attitude about a lot of things that I don’t personally dig. Sports, for example–sure, some aspects of sports tick me off, like having the entire city I live in freaking out during football season, or having my favorite shows put on hiatus to air the Olympics, but by and large, I don’t get my knickers in a twist about it. Fan fiction has been the same, until sj linked me this Kickstarter and I really started to ponder it.
The Kickstarter project, started by a gent named Adam VillaSenor and a group of Harry Potter fans, is a webseries called Sirius Black and the Secret Keeper. It’s a prequel to the Harry Potter series, set during the first war, focusing on Sirius as the main character. Sirius happens to be my personal favorite character in the HP universe; I howled when he died, so I completely understand and approve of the desire to expand on his backstory. I wouldn’t probably watch it, since I don’t do fan fiction, but I think it’s a neat idea and that a lot of people would probably enjoy it.
The thorn in my side about this is the Kickstarter.
VillaSenor set the original Kickstarter goal at $10,000, but in the text, the real goal is revealed to be $105,000. (The project failed funding, so they won’t be receiving any money at all.) They do claim in the notes that they will not be receiving a profit from this, but they don’t outline what the money will go toward specifically. If any of that KS money had gone to buy equipment that they kept afterward, like cameras or computer programs or even computer equipment, well, couldn’t one consider that having profited off of the series in assets gained? Would the actors be paid, and would that be considered profit made from the series? Could the rewards, some of which were tangible items based off of the Harry Potter universe, be considered to be “sold” and the money made from them profit? I tend to think of Kickstarter projects as being pre-sales a lot of the time, and I’m not sure that one could argue that the “rewards” are really different than selling items/services for a profit–the profit being the money left for the project after the last of the rewards has been shipped off. Troublesome. Either of those figures is quite a bit of scratch to be changing hands to produce a fan fiction web series, especially one that doesn’t even officially license the characters.
The case of E.L. James is a successful example of profitable fan fiction. The word around the blogosphere is that they didn’t change anything but the names and other Twilight-specific information when they published Fifty Shades; the concepts and characters were still directly ripped off of Twilight, tweaked just enough not to be sued, I suppose. Is this okay, to be profitable–and so wildly profitable–when the entire work is nakedly derivative of another person’s creative work? How many degrees of separation should one have from an original “inspiration” when publishing fan fiction?
I don’t like this, truly. It makes me uneasy, for several reasons. One, I see both of these projects as potentially being theft. I’m all for fans expressing themselves, but when money starts to change hands based on that expression, I think that steps have to be taken either to license the characters officially or make the work a unique creative work. The second thing that perturbs me is that E.L. James’s project was legitimized by being picked up by an actual publisher, despite the shady premise under which it came into being. I haven’t read the books and I may have this part wrong, but I’ve read in several places that “Edward” becoming “Christian” was a simple matter of search and replace; I, frankly, expect better of the publishing industry–especially as it’s the same industry taking measures to try to prevent piracy, including supporting highly questionable bills like SOPA and PIPA, not to mention making buying ebooks a pain in the ass because they insist on proprietary formats and DRM. Yet, when it comes to publishers making money? Sure, we can rip off Twilight; it’s hugely popular and we should take advantage. Fail.
Mind you, I think Twilight is garbage, but Meyer is still allowed proprietary rights over her own creation, even if I’d almost rather stab my eyeballs out than read it.
I think this is one reason I have become a proud supporter of small press books. I see publishers becoming more about trend and less about creativity; that’s their right, of course–they can run their businesses however they choose. I, on the other hand, choose to support presses that look for originality and quality above making a quick profit off of blatant derivation.
I’m still torn over the issue of fan fiction. As a fan, I don’t want to read it, even if the author officially sanctions it. Stephen King allowed a Dark Tower comic/graphic novel to be produced; I read the first two issues, but it didn’t seem right to me. King birthed the universe of the series in his head, and for me, he’s the gatekeeper of that world. Reading the auxiliary materials, I felt like I was watching a kid put on daddy’s tie and play dress-up, wearing shoes that were too big, their hands swallowed by shirt sleeves a tad too long. Unsanctioned fiction appeals even less to me in most cases; still, I don’t quite begrudge it . . . until money gets involved, and then, I’m peeved.
What do you guys think about fan fiction? Am I being too hard on it? Too easy? Do you read (or write) it? Talk to me in the comments!