Episode 46: Defining Fanfiction: The Survey
Flourish and Elizabeth discuss Fansplaining’s newest survey, which asks respondents to define what fanfiction is—and what it isn’t. They discuss the genesis of the survey and the thinking behind its questions before launching into a wide-ranging discussion about intent, authorship, context, and more. They also tackle the survey’s specific examples, from Lev Grossman’s The Magicians to the Aeneid to Fifty Shades of Grey to the “Riker Googling” Twitter account, and Flourish coins the term “Schrödinger’s fanfic.”
[00:00:00] Intro music, as always, is “Awel” by Stefsax.
[00:01:31] Take the survey!
[00:08:45] To quote the offending article about Fifty Shades directly: “Fifty Shades of Grey has opened the box underneath Pandora’s bed, and we need to decide what to do with the sexy publishing trend hidden inside.” x_x
[00:10:01] Elizabeth holds forth on all the literary shit that’s fanfic too. Maybe.
[00:15:32] Aja Romano’s article arguing OF COURSE HAMILTON IS FANFIC. (This does not mean we agree, necessarily, with their definition of ‘fanfic’!)
[00:28:27] As is often the case, the music is by Jahzzar.
[00:31:07] Zan Romanoff’s Grace and the Fever!!! We’re so excited to have her as our next guest!!
[00:40:42] You might have thought we were joking, but 50 Shades wine is real and unironic.
[00:42:35] “What’s this about a whale play”? Here is what you need to know. (The playwright, by the way, is Claire Kiechel.)
[00:43:53] We do not necessarily endorse Star Trek: The New Voyages as good writing, let’s just note that here and now.
[00:44:59] We’re really excited to get our hands on Francesca Coppa’s Fanfiction Reader! More about it in future episodes.
[00:49:42] OK, The Price of the Phoenix is a Star Trek tie in novel that MUST be read to be believed. To wit:
“I have found your price, Spock of Vulcan. That is my riddle. What buys the man without price?”
“There is nothing you could offer which would buy me—or your life,” Spock said tonelessly.
“Isn’t there?” Omne chuckled. His gloved hand brushed across a control stud on the bar. The great mirror behind it dissolved into a viewscreen and filled with the image of—James Kirk. Laid out on a bench. The naked body draped with a thin sheet. The face exposed. Unmarked. Sleeping with that vast innocence which was his alone. Breathing…
YOU THOUGHT WE WERE EXAGGERATING.
[00:53:26] Anne Jamison’s fabulous political RPF piece, which got overshadowed by the US elections :(
[01:02:44] Enjoy this long list of P&P books.
[01:13:19] The music is still by Jahzzar!
[01:18:57] “Fan Fiction vs. Fanfiction,” or, Flourish picks a fight with the dictionary
[01:21:36] Yep. Still by Jahzzar. We’re consistent.
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Minkel: [laughs] Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom!
ELM: So this is Episode 46, and it is the first of a two-part episode, though Part Two will not come for several more episodes. This is called “Defining Fanfiction,” colon, like the dots, the two, not…
FK: Not like the part of your intestines?
ELM: Not like the body part. [laughs] “The Survey.” And we’re gonna talk about our fanfiction definitions survey and then, in a few episodes, after the survey closes and we have time to analyze the results, we’re gonna have “Defining Fanfiction: The Results.”
FK: Yeah! So if you have not yet taken the survey, can we gently suggest that you go to fansplaining.com or to our Twitter account or somewhere and find the link to the survey—which is an annoying Google link, which is why I’m not going to read it out loud right now, the show notes, whatever, find the survey, and take it. Because…
ELM: I’m not going to gently suggest, I’m going to say that if you’ve been planning to do this, do not listen to this episode, because we’re going to talk about the questions, and we’re going to talk about our own answers, and I have incredibly strong feelings. I think Flourish has…I don’t know what Flourish has. [FK laughs] But I don’t want my opinions to influence your answers. They may have already done so by this podcast, and also I have written about this topic multiple times in a fairly angry way, I recently reread my piece about The Cursed Child and I was really fucking mad.
FK: You were REALLY mad.
ELM: Just mad.
FK: I remember reading that piece and being like, “she is not fuckin’ pulling back, but I guess I’m not gonna edit that out of this, because it’s how she feels.”
ELM: Also it’s amazing because if you read it now, it’s on Medium, and if you’re logged in…I don’t know if this happens if you're not logged in, but people highlight passages and they turn a very faint mint color, like a very light blue-green, and almost the entire piece has been highlighted, which is incredible. [all laugh] Like one sentence isn’t and I’m like “Aw, you didn’t like that, huh?” So I’m glad it resonated with people, but obviously my opinions are in the world, possibly have influenced you. That being said, we would like you to have an unbiased…I mean, bias isn’t everything, what am I talking about. Just go take it if you haven’t taken it already and you would like to, is what I’ll say.
FK: That was smooth.
ELM: [laughs] And you have until, we officially set a closing deadline which is April 30th, yeah? The end of the month.
FK: Yeah. 2017, by the way. If you’re listening to this from the future, hello future, the survey is probably not still open if it’s not 2017. Sorry.
ELM: Yes. So far we’ve had what, close to 3,000 respondents?
FK: Yeah! I’m really excited about this. I have to say, though, I’m still hoping for more, so once you’re done taking the survey, go share it with people; we want folks who don’t read or write fanfiction to take it as well.
ELM: For context, when we did our tropes survey, that got 7,500 responses, so we’re not even at a halfway point of that. That being said, that was all multiple choice, fairly quick. This, you have to actually write out some answers, do some thinking.
FK: Yeah. So go do some thinking, write out your answers and then come right back here, because now I think it’s time for us to talk about our personal answers to this survey.
ELM: And the genesis of the survey itself.
FK: Yeah, OK, what was the genesis of the survey?
ELM: OK, up front I need everyone to know I had literally nothing to do with this survey. [FK laughs] So if you thought it was garbage, that’s completely on Flourish.
FK: Thanks. I see that bus barrelling down the street at me.
ELM: But most people have said it’s a fantastic survey and it’s incredibly thought provoking and it made them reconsider all the things they assumed and thought they knew about fanfiction and literature at large and so Flourish deserves all the credit for that.
FK: Yeah!! The bus swerved! Went and hit a lamp post instead of me, hooray!
ELM: The bus stopped to give you a trophy. Just tossed it out the window. [both laugh]
FK: So yeah! We have a survey. Neither of us have taken it as part of the official results, because we thought that we shouldn’t.
ELM: Tell me about the genesis. I wanna know. Because you were supposed to do a survey about defining “fan” and “fandom” and all of a sudden it turned into a “defining fanfiction,” and I was like “what are you doing” and then I was like “I don’t care, I’m really busy, never mind.”
FK: So the answer to that is it’s really hard to define “fan” and “fandom.” We had a lot of information from people about how they defined “fanfiction” already because people talk to us about that a lot. And people don’t talk to us as much about how they define the words “fan” and “fandom,” maybe because it's hard. So I started to make a survey about how to define the term “fandom” and then I was like, “this is for the birds.” And then I was like, “Well, what if we got a little more information about ‘fandom’ and the way people define it within another survey that was easier.” And so because I am lazy I wrote a survey about fanfiction with a couple of questions about fandom within it. So there probably will be ultimately a survey about fans and fandom, I think it just is going to take a little bit longer to try and distill and the format might not be asking people what their definition of “fandom” is. I’m not sure that’s the right format for it.
ELM: Maybe defining it by what fandom is not is an interesting way to do it.
FK: Yeah, that’s a good idea.
ELM: Anyway, that’s a discussion for another day.
FK: Yes. So I mean, I guess if you’re being really generous to this you could say that I shot for the moon and landed among the stars.
ELM: OK, I already gave you a trophy, I don’t know if I need to be that generous.
FK: [sighs] Guess I was pushing it.
ELM: All right, so you made the survey, you beta tested it…
FK: Yes! We had a cadre of beta testers who are lovely and gave really, really good feedback. So thank you to all of them.
ELM: All right, and then it went out into the world, it’s provoked some responses—as we discussed last time, someone accused us of mentioning Fifty Shades of Grey for the clicks and the laughs.
FK: Yeah, that was a thing that happened.
ELM: Clicks and laughs, I'm not over this. I love that this person’s not going to listen to this so I can keep bringing it up over and over again. Most people said it, like I said, was…“thought provoking” was invoked an incredible number of times, I felt like. It was the most consistent descriptor. I think that’s rare in a survey, so that’s why I’m commending you.
FK: I will tell you this, I think most surveys actually think they’re going to get to the bottom of a deep truth about something, or at least about people’s perspectives on something, and the way that this survey was designed it was more about trying to catch…not catch people out, but poke at their…
ELM: Catch you in a contradictory lie! I mean it definitely made me have to flip over the way that I define fanfiction, because just to get right to it…should we get right to it a little bit?
FK: Yeah, why not, let’s get right to it!
ELM: One of my problems is that I over time have moved towards a smaller tent definition of fanfiction. I’m fine if you use the big…well, maybe I should take a step back and explain what I mean. Should I explain this?
FK: OK, go for it.
ELM: We’ve talked about this on the podcast before, so forgive me, but if you’ve forgotten or you missed this episode, I think we’ve discussed my journey. You know my journey, right?
FK: Talk about your journey.
ELM: [laughs] When I first started writing about fanfiction as a journalist, this was in 2012 and it was during the Fifty Shades of Grey media storm. There was a lot of really, really bad writing. You may remember this. I’m sure you remember it, you were a fan reading journalism at the time…she’s making a, I would say that that's the human equivalent of the emoji who’s like, gritting his teeth. You know that one?
FK: That was my attempt.
ELM: And people are like, is that meant to be awkward, anxious? And some people are like “No, I think it’s just smiling.” No, that’s not what that means.
FK: It’s definitely not just smiling. [all laugh]
ELM: So the Fifty Shades of Grey media coverage was on the whole poor, and there seemed to be, I described it in my first piece about it as “anthropogists uncover this sexy tribe on the internet.” I think that was basically the tone of a lot of the coverage.
FK: Gorillas in the mist.
ELM: And they were like, there was one line in one article where he was like “this sexy Pandora’s box has been opened!” and I was like, for fuck’s sake.
FK: …is it like a vagina with a lot of erotica inside it? Pandora’s box?
ELM: Yeah, open up! There’s demons inside. All the world’s sins are in that vagina.
FK: Not what’s in vaginas normally. A tampon maybe. [dies laughing, at least one minute of helpless, stupid laughter has been excised] Sorry. I couldn’t resist.
ELM: Thank you, that’s…thank you. I’m moving on from the vagina talk. Anyway I was annoyed about all this, partly because I think that the stereotype that all fanfiction is shitty erotica is a damaging one. I guess I will cop to, the instinct of being like, “A lot of it is really serious and has nothing to do with sex and romance!” which I think is a bad “I’m not like the other girls” response that I’m glad I’ve moved past, so I will admit to a little bit of that, but that’s only a portion of the community.
So then I wrote this piece that basically was like, “Here are all the serious literary things that are fanfiction too.” It was a big list, and we’ll put the link in the show notes. I went around and did a lot of research and looked for books, novels, all literary fiction, because this is for a literary website. And obviously the famous examples are Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys which is about Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre’s first wife. I read that as a post-colonial lit person in college, because it’s also a post-colonial refashioning of the story, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, those are two characters in Hamlet, and it kind of retells Hamlet from their perspective. They’re bumbling fools trapped in an existential nightmare, basically. Is that a good description of that play?
FK: I think so. I think that’s a good description of that play.
ELM: Perfect. So then time went on, and I wrote more and more about fanfiction, and I was like “OK, so that’s the big tent definition.” Fanfiction is as old as time, as long as people have been refashioning stories and you shouldn’t make fun of it because it's as serious as Shakespeare. Aren’t the historical plays just RPF? Aren’t all of his comedies and tragedies refashionings of stories that already existed in the commons?
As time went on I started to write in more detail and by a couple years ago I had migrated to a smaller tent definition, on the way also saying, “Who cares if there’s erotic fanfiction, who cares if teenage girls write it, that’s awesome too.” So this is my journey, this is my growth as I’m illustrating. By the time Stephenie Meyer’s Life and Death and Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On came out, both of which were complicated intertextual transformative works being called fanfiction, I lost it and I was like, “These are not works of fanfiction. Fanfiction is something intentional; it means something when you’re doing it. You’re saying, ‘I’m writing fanfiction.’” That’s a smaller tent definition, and you can say that people are doing the same things, but they’re not all writing fanfiction. So that’s my journey. Go ahead, tell me your journey.
FK: OK, so my journey, I too…I think the big tent and the small tent definition of fanfiction, I have held at different points in time, I too am part of this journey where at some times I’m like “It’s all fanfiction! Everything is fanfiction!” And at other points I’m like “Fanfiction is a construction of the modern capitalist state in which we currently have copyright law and these particular communities of people interacting with each other!”
ELM: Oh wow, that’s not a part of my journey. Obviously it’s a part of it, but I think that constructs fanfiction in the negative. I don’t think that’s necessarily what you mean but it’s like, fanfiction is only happening because copyright exists, and when I started writing fanfiction before I knew it was a thing, I wasn’t thinking about who owned Sweet Valley High, I was thinking about my love of the characters and how I wanted to spend more time with them.
FK: I’ve never put very much, this is a difference I think between you and me, I’ve never put very much emphasis on the internal feelings that a person has about the characters or their internal motivations about something as a way of determining if something is fanfiction or not, because I have seen a lot of people writing outside of a fanfiction community who furthermore I don’t think people in the fanfiction community would be very excited to embrace in certain ways, who are writing fanfiction out of their love of a particular character. Who are writing stories that come out of their love of the character, they genuinely feel love of this character, and yet they’re not necessarily writing for the community of fanfiction authors as we’ve constructed them.
ELM: Sure, OK.
FK: I also think that it’s hard to know internally, was Virgil a deep fan of the Odyssey and the Iliad? I don’t know. I have no idea how Virgil felt about the Odyssey and the Iliad. He definitely read them and when he was composing the Aeneid he was referring to them. But was he like a fanboy? Did he have the Catalogue of Ships memorized? I don’t know, he might have! There’s absolutely no way for me to reconstruct that. What I can say is that he was operating at a time period where ideas of authorship were very different. So what I would say is fanfiction has more to do with the ideas of authorship that somebody espouses and that the community they’re writing for reflects back on them, which fundamentally means things like writing for a community of people who are also fans is really important in that space. And writing outside of a corporate context where you’re an officially sanctioned work, and not being the original author of the work is important.
You can also say that’s fine and well, but if you want to do the legitimizing argument for fanfiction, and say that transformative work is valid whatever context it’s in, sometimes I find myself still going back and using that big tent definition and being like “Of course the Aeneid is fanfic, of course Ulysses is fanfic,” not because I really think they’re part of this small tent definition but because I don’t have confidence that my listener, this person who’s trying to say transformative works are no good, will have any…it’s a way of puncturing their ego about what transformative works are good and which are bad, do you see what I’m saying?
ELM: I do, but I…I don’t think it's as effective as we think it is. And by “we” I mean a collective, sort of. I’ve had this argument with our friend Aja Romano. She wrote a very popular article last year saying, I believe the title was “Of course Hamilton is fanfiction and its critics are entirely missing the point,” do you remember this article?
FK: I do.
ELM: And we had a long argument about it, because I don’t disagree with anything which she’s writing, except I do think that some of the characters in Hamilton are a little OOC compared to their canonical counterparts.
ELM: That's fine. If we wanna talk about woobification…
FK: OOC, for those who are not up on the 15-year-old slang, means “out of character,” for what it’s worth.
ELM: It’s not old, it’s current!
FK: It’s long-standing.
ELM: Yeah, OK. It’s a tenet, a pillar of the conversation. Anyway, I just see…because I’ve been making these arguments for years, I see that while intellectually and I think you probably have encountered this too, people can be like “Yeah, OK, I get it, Hamilton does this,” for example, or The Hours, by Michael Cunningham, which is three kinds of fanfiction in one, you can intellectually make them understand that well, there’s no difference between that and me being like “Well, what if Harry and Draco were trapped in a cabin.” [all laugh] I can think of a better example than that.
FK: I can think of some what-ifs for that.
ELM: I just find that there’s still a gap where they can’t make that connection. They’re like, “But Hamilton is a work of genius! It’s Pulitzer Prize winning, Tony winning, this is a masterpiece! And I understand they’re doing the same thing, but this is no Hamilton, what you’re doing.” And that still happens even when they’re not trying to be super judgy and they’re trying to be open minded and they’re like “I intellectually understand what you’re saying and I totally agree with what you’re doing, but you’re also doing this weird thing where you’re interested…” and I think some of that can also contribute to, you see more and more attitudes coming out, and I’m not saying when people are critiquing genuinely problematic stuff and then people will defend it in the name of free speech. But some of the weirder stuff in fic, people are like “OH NO!” Whereas the broader that space gets, you’re going to get more and more people who…it’s a tradeoff you get with the opening of space. Does that make sense?
FK: Yeah. I was going to say, my problem is not so much, my problem with this argument, which I do think it’s not always that effective. I think sometimes it can be effective, and I think often it’s not. My problem is actually kind of the opposite. It’s when people declare that they’re writing fanfiction and you’re like “Yeah, but you don’t actually interact with anybody else that writes fanfiction! You’re not part of this conversation that exists, this audience of people writing fanfiction. You’re not part of any of the audiences.” It’s not just the audience that’s on the Archive of our Own, but you’re also not in the audience that writes greentext fanfiction on 4chan or does zines or writes doujinshi…you’re not part of any such group. So how can you, sometimes I’m like, “You say it’s fanfiction, but you’re publishing a literary novel, and so it’s nice that you’ve identified yourself with a fanfiction community, but you’re not operating in that sphere.” So that’s actually my problem with it, it’s almost the opposite of yours, when people try and say “But I’m fanfiction made good!” and I’m like “Not really!”
ELM: OK. This is also something that I struggle with, and this is fascinating because I think it underscores the main reason why I had to kind of flip my definition around or kind of reexamine it. because, say tomorrow I wanted to write a high literary response to Harry Potter. With the full intention of critical…fiction that exists in conversation with Harry Potter and I got an agent and I published it and it was literary fiction and I marketed it as literary fiction. And I’m gonna sit here and be like “Well I’m just writing fanfiction, you know!” No. Fuck me at that point. That being said, me writing Sweet Valley High, my elaborate Sweet Valley High corporate board that I created, I think that’s fanfiction. But I wasn’t doing it with the community in mind, and that’s complicated.
Part of the reason I’m defensive of our youthful, non-community-oriented fanfiction, or people practicing fanfiction without knowledge of the community or interaction with the community, is that especially if you were above a certain age you wouldn’t have access to that. Rainbow Rowell always talks about how she was writing self-insert, I think it’s self-insert, and she’s an X-Man…X-Person? Are they all called X-Men?
FK: They’re all called X-Men.
ELM: Wow, all right. She’s a mutant. She talks about this as part of her, you know, she talks about fanfiction, her origins and stuff. She’s a few years older than us. And I get this story a lot, especially from people who are a bit older. “Yeah, I wrote it in a notebook. I didn’t know people were doing this, and it was really exciting when I came online in my 20s and found out that other people were like me.” So my concern with drawing the boundaries too much is then that excludes all of those people, but I don’t want to extend the boundaries so it includes people who in the pecking order have a status that’s above the fanfiction writer.
FK: Right. I think this is fundamentally the problem, and it’s not purely a gendered problem, although it is often a gendered problem, which is that I get a little defensive having spent a long time defending my work and having to work through my own hangups about just writing fanfic, right? Realizing I only want to write things that are…actually as a writer I only want to write things that are highly intertextual and transformative and a lot of that has been, whether I sell it as “literary work” or not, that has been fostered only in the fanfiction community for me. People outside the fanfiction community have not been…at least not for most of my childhood, not for most of my formative years, no one was supportive of that.
I mean, not no one. You know what I mean. Of course I had a teacher be like “Go! Go on, write!” But it’s very different to have your fourth grade teacher say “Go ahead, write that thing” and feel as though it’s blessed by…
ELM: I like that that’s the literary establishment, is your fourth grade teacher telling you to write a short story.
FK: That’s what I’m saying, that’s far from the literary establishment. I’m not saying there’s no one in the world who’s supportive, but…
ELM: Not to derail you, please continue after this, but to say as an aside: I think there’s such a conversation, and I can speak to this in a direct way in the literary criticism space, there’s such anxiety about…the anxiety of influence, right? There’s such anxiety about originality, and I see it especially coming from men, especially coming from white men, writing certain kinds of books that are clearly influenced by certain other kinds of books, being super worried about whether their writing is original. And it’s like, “Sorry bro, it’s not usually, and if you just embrace that and play with it as opposed to being worried that your boring novel about walking around in Brooklyn isn’t a special snowflake coming out of nowhere…” You know what I mean?
FK: Exactly! Exactly what you’re saying. So then having none of that being represented by people outside of the fanfiction…people outside of the fanfiction community having all of that anxiety and only being able to find that comfort within…
ELM: Which is a shame because this is a type that exists, within the book space, but there are plenty of other people who are doing fantastical things. And plenty of white men do it too, you know.
FK: Totally! I just reread Pale Fire and…
ELM: You’re such a stan, it’s really…
FK: My mind was blown because I was like “Oh my God.” I’d read it before, several times, but this time for whatever reason I read it and I was like “Holy shit!”
ELM: I think this probably underscores too the difference in what we studied. As I mentioned briefly and I probably mentioned in previous podcasts, I studied colonial and post-colonial literature in school and that was the majority of what I read all through college and continued in the background. Post-colonial literature is inherently transformative. It’s working with, it often is wresting a text out of the hands of the colonizers, refashioning the narrative, whether that’s a written narrative or just a collective text, a story of a people or a nation or whatever. So that just, to me, that always seemed like…because most of the way I encountered English literature and the way I encountered studying English as an English major was through post-colonial criticism, I never had any doubt that this was the way you encounter literature. Whereas if I had just been studying Victorian literature by itself without that context, I might not have realized that that was a massive rich seed within the broader sphere of stuff.
FK: Totally. Or worse, I was a religion major with an emphasis on classics, so while I read a lot of books, they were totally scattershot.
ELM: You would think in a religious…I’m still coming at it from the perspective of being an English major, but as a religion major, the history of Western literature at least is one of…I mean, it’s dumb to say it’s all Bible fanfiction, but there’s a point where you’re missing half the references if you don’t have some basic knowledge of Biblical texts, for a huge swath of the history of Western literature, right? It’s so foundational. There’s so many allusions.
FK: Oh, completely, but all I’m saying is that if you are not surrounded by people who think about literature all the time, if you’re not literally having these arguments in class with people directly, then you’re surrounded by…I definitely had that perspective, but I didn’t see it coming from other people around me as much, even though again, I’m not saying I never saw any of that, but I got the impression from people that I knew who were studying literature that they were very interested in these individualist anxiety of influence kinds of situations.
ELM: Yeah, I know, and I feel bad for you. I just, literally no novel exists in a vacuum.
FK: This is a total aside, by the way.
ELM: No! No, I think this is fundamental and I actually, I don’t wanna be mean to the fanfiction community, but I often think that a lot of people talk about fanfiction like it’s the most unique thing and like no one in any other realm of writing in the history of Man has ever engaged in some of this stuff and it’s like, read a few more books and maybe your English classes were shitty, but…please don’t erase a lot of the work that's happened over this, especially in the 20th century, you know?
FK: Yeah, but I do wanna go to bat for it, because if somebody who has had…had an elite education and literally my grandfather worked on Pale Fire as an English professor, I grew up in a family that was so fancy and so into literature, and if even through this I still came through it, as a non-literature major, feeling like there was this incredible anxiety of influence and originality to the extent that I felt like only the fanfiction community was supporting me in my desire to do transformative writing, that’s a big issue.
ELM: What you’re saying to me is that everyone should be forced to only read post-colonial literature. [laughter] I don’t wanna pin it all on post-colonial work because actually a lot of, particularly in the 20th century you can see a lot of feminist critique via literature.
FK: But it's also not just post-colonial it’s also historical. We get back into the stuff I was studying in my religion classes about early Christianity and you realize their understanding of what authorship means is something totally radically different than what we do today and what we did 100 years ago, and by the way what we understood authorship as 100 years ago is different than what we understand it today, you know what I mean?
ELM: Absolutely. And not everyone on this Earth right now has the same ideas about authorship.
FK: Oh my God, you’re kidding. [laughter]
ELM: Just saying! Just saying.
FK: Right. Anyway, yeah, I think that this is all the mush of where we come from and how much we’ve thought about these things, what we’ve been exposed to, what we think is high literary and what is discounted.
ELM: Absolutely. I just feel bad. Obviously I love fanfiction more than anything, but I don’t know. Sometimes I just get a little…
FK: Why don’t we take a break now.
ELM: Yeah, let’s take a break on my frustrations.
FK: Let’s take a break on your frustration.
ELM: I can stew a little.
FK: Then we can talk through some of the questions on the survey, which spoiler alert, I don’t think we’re going to have answers to that we feel is super satisfying.
ELM: Seeing as I don’t know what half of them are.
FK: I was thinking more of, not of those but…anyway. OK.
ELM: [laughs] OK, let’s take a break.
FK: All right, so we’re back. The first section of the survey was a multiple choice section where the questions were all “Must fanfiction be…” and then there was sort of a blank to be filled in per question.
ELM: And that’s where you’ll wind up like me, in a weird trap where you’re like, “Fanfiction is on purpose! But sometimes it’s not!” Right? And then you’re like, “I don’t know what I know anymore! And then you’ll cry.”
FK: The truth is this segment was more intended to be a warmup section before people do the written segment.
ELM: Where you expose your own contradictory ideas.
FK: Yeah so you have to think through it a little bit, because then the next section asks you to write out your definition of what fanfiction is. So I figured, the hope was anyway, that people would warm up with the multiple choice and then write a nuanced and thought through definition of what they really believed to be a good definition of fanfic. We’ll see in the results whether that worked, but that was idea. OK. So must fanfiction be based on another work of fiction?
ELM: What about RPF?
FK: Yeah, so “Sometimes yes and sometimes no” is the answer.
ELM: Well, RPF people are often inclined to talk about the characters and the story that they’re dealing with as text.
FK: That's true.
ELM: Get excited about our next episode, a conversation with Zan Romanoff, whose incredible book Grace and the Fever is about a One-Direction-like band. And we’ll be having a guest post on our Medium from our friend Allyson Gross, who is the most hardcore Directioner I know, and also speaks at length whenever we talk about this, is why I’m thinking of it. Because she talks about them like a text, what’s canonical and what’s not canonical. That’s complicated when you’re…but anyway. So the point is you could say celebrities are a work of fiction, so maybe I’ll say yes.
FK: OK! I think it’s a question and it’s an ambiguous question that deserves an ambiguous answer. OK. Must fanfiction be based on real events or people? I think that’s a “some are and some aren’t” answer.
FK: Must fanfiction be written by someone other than the original author of the source text.
ELM: Yeah, I feel pretty fine saying that you can’t write fanfiction of your own work.
FK: I agree. Not everyone does, I bet.
ELM: That’s why I wrote that article about Carry On cause they were like “Writing fanfiction of your own…” It was like, what? Is a sequel to a book you’re writing fanfiction of the original, if you wrote both books? That’s absurd. Ech. Anyway, go on.
FK: OK. Must fanfiction be written for a community of fans?
ELM: Right, this is the part where I get tripped up, because I do think my Sweet Valley High stories were fanfiction. And no one will ever see them including myself, cause I don’t know what happened to those notebooks.
FK: Yeah. So I think the answer for that is…
FK: No, because of the Sweet Valley High exception. But I actually think that the next question, which is must fanfiction be written by a member of a community of fans…
ELM: Right, but I was 100% a Sweet Valley High fan, as you know, I tend to be more permissive of non-participatory fans defining themselves as a part of a fandom. I didn’t know what a fandom was when I was 11. By the definition now, I would say I was 100% in that fandom.
FK: I was gonna say, I think it’s sort of a Schrödinger’s fanfic situation. When it’s in the box under your bed, you don’t know if it’s fanfiction or not—until you encounter a community of fans, and when you do if you say “Oh I’ve found my people!” then it’s fanfiction. And if you don’t say that, if that’s not how you feel, if you’re like “I’m not a fan, it’s not like that,” then maybe it stops.
ELM: I don’t know though. I’m sorry, my Sweet Valley High example is so weird because it was such a minor character and so much of it was so original. And actually, I hear stories from people and it sounds like that’s fairly common when you’re writing…when you’re very young, when you’re writing stories. You just use that as the lightest starting point to write a bigger story. It’s not like if I had encountered the Sweet Valley High fandom and hated them, it wouldn’t have changed what it was, and it wouldn’t have changed my relationship to the text or the characters. So maybe I was just writing some intertextual…but I don’t know. I would define it as fanfiction.
FK: I think I’m a little bit tempted to say you are writing some intertextual thing until you have…I’m not saying that you have to talk to people in the community, but until you identify with the community to some degree.
ELM: I don’t know. Complicated.
FK: OK. Must fanfiction be not endorsed by the original creator of the thing?
ELM: By “endorsed,” do we mean like how Cursed Child was written? The story was brought to JK Rowling by these two dudes and she endorsed it. Is that what you mean?
FK: Yeah, sure, or alternately, that was a case where I think people would say it was not written for a community of fans and yet it was endorsed, or you could say, like, a case where a fanfiction story is written for a community of fans and is later re-published as an official story. Does it stop being fanfiction?
ELM: I feel like it is if, based on the original intent. That being said, I don’t like that.
FK: Right, you can like it or not, but you would say it can be endorsed by the original creator and yet still be fanfiction because it was originally written without their…
ELM: Sure. More and more now they have these fanfiction contests that are judged by the creator of the source material, and I feel really bad about them, I hate that, conceptually, but I would be inclined to say the people writing them, if they’re intentionally writing fanfiction…what do you think?
FK: I think so. I think that counts as fanfiction, despite that…and I think it remains fanfiction after it’s been gilded, sort of. OK. Must fanfiction be transformative? I.E., not just a rehash of what the elements that are already in the original story. I think this one’s touchy cause there’s a question of how you define transformative.
ELM: Yeah, I think that as long as you aren't literally copy pasting words from the original story, how is it not gonna be transformative?
FK: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s a little bit complex sometimes because occasionally you get something that is, I think some people and I’m not sure, I’m not one of them, but I can see someone making a distinction between pastiche—trying to do a direct copy or make it seem like a lost story or whatever…
ELM: I just made a face when you said “pastiche” because that’s how I feel about pastiche.
FK: Because of Sherlock fandom?
ELM: Well, I just also think that pastiche is…it’s a weird thing that’s used to put down fanfiction. “I’m writing a pastiche and my goal is accuracy.” And you’re like, “OK, first of all, lots of fanfiction aims to sound like the original text.” Right? Maybe not lots, but some does.
FK: Yeah, I would say it’s actually less common than many people think that the goal is to sound like the original text.
ELM: I would agree with that, but I don’t think it’s out of the question, and I feel like especially with the Holmesian stuff…pastiche, only certain things get to be called pastiche is what I would say. And you know. Don’t get me started.
FK: So must fanfiction be distributed free of charge, that is the readers don’t pay to read it?
ELM: Well, I think so, but I don’t think that everyone agrees with me.
FK: I don’t think so, because if it were the case, then zines would not be fanfiction.
FK: Not to say…
ELM: I also, as I think we both are on the same page about being continually baffled why there’s such a stigma against fic writers getting compensated for their work and other fan creators now getting paid without controversy.
FK: Right. So if…I think that someone can run a Patreon and gift their patrons fanfic, and that’s still fanfic. The next one is the last one in this section, which is must fanfiction be not-for-profit, that is the author does not get paid beyond their expenses.
ELM: I’ve been going first on all these, why don’t you go first on this one.
FK: OK. I think fanfiction, I think it’s established that fanfiction can be for profit. It’s not always the author that gets paid, but people who read fanfiction on Wattpad and have interstitial ads, or that add to Wattpad’s valuation by their presence.
ELM: Fanfiction,net has ads, LiveJournal has ads, Tumblr has ads.
FK: I don’t know about fanfiction.net as far as whether it covers more than the server bills, but yeah, I think there’s lots of cases where people monetize fanfiction with ads or whatever and even if you’re not paying directly for the fanfiction with your cash…
ELM: OK but this brings up the real question, and it maybe brings us into some of the examples, but if we’re talking about filing off the serial numbers and then selling it—and for anyone who’s not familiar with this old clichéd term, that’s basically when you make the barest changes so it doesn’t seem like you’re…what’s a good example?
FK: A great example is Fifty Shades of Grey.
ELM: I mean, she changed more than just the names, though.
FK: I would say that it’s still, pretty much.
ELM: You’ve read both, right? You’ve read the original?
FK: Yes. I would say that it has not changed very much.
ELM: And I mean fanfiction inherently…that was an AU, right? It was a human AU?
FK: Yes. It was an all-human billionaire AU.
ELM: Oh, you’re saying that in the Twilight books he’s not a billionaire?
FK: He is a billionaire but not for the same reasons.
ELM: Not a come into my fancy…
FK: Not like, a titan of industry.
ELM: …my fancy office?
FK: Yeah. OK. Let’s actually talk about those examples then.
ELM: OK, hook me up.
FK: I think that will be interesting. The first example is, “Is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fanfiction?” And I think we both agree that it is not.
ELM: Let me tell you. I have perhaps written 3,000 words on this that I recently reread.
FK: I don’t think we need to go into all the reasons why it’s not. I think people can read your thing. Cause you actually pretty much say the reasons I think it’s not fanfiction.
ELM: I had multiple reasons, too, so yeah, if you are still on the fence about this one maybe go read the piece.
FK: OK. And is Carry On by Rainbow Rowell fanfiction, I think we also agree that Carry On is not fanfiction.
ELM: I know. I also wrote a piece about that that I’m very proud of, it’s one of my proudest pieces ever, so read all my work, is what I’ll say.
FK: Hooray! She speaks for me. Um, is Fifty Shades of Grey fanfiction was what we were just talking about.
ELM: Yeah, so, I don't think so. In the sense of…your story can have whatever source it has, right?
FK: I agree with you, and I think that “Master of the Universe” was obviously fanfiction.
FK: That’s the story as it was originally published.
ELM: I don’t know how anyone can say that wasn’t, that’s what it was.
FK: So I think it has a relationship to fanfiction that is maybe a special relationship compared to some other stories that are based on an original.
ELM: Right, and as far as I understand from people who…you’ve spent more time studying the Twilight community than I have, possibly…were you ever in it? Or you just were interested in it?
FK: I was just interested in it, although I did read and enjoy the books and see the movies and all that.
ELM: OK. It’s my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong, that part of the continued bad blood, and clearly whenever I mention Twilight, you get a bunch of people coming at me being like “You don’t understand what it was like!” And I’m like, “I think I have a good sense.” Everything that happened kinda sucks, but it is what it is, right? We’re gonna have to deal with it now, and the point is we’re writing about Fifty Shades of Grey because it’s a big publishing story, I’m not doing this to keep digging the knife in further.
But as far as I understand it, part of the problem was that it was written within the context of the fanfiction, written as she was a BNF, a big name fan, and kind of there’s a give-and-take relationship with the community, and so she kind of violated the trust by then removing it out of that context and sort of profiting off the communal labor that you might argue any well-read work of fanfiction or any author has because it’s a conversation within the community, and then just hitting the road and cashing it in. And now there’s Fifty Shades of Grey wine, which your husband once served to me. [FK laughs] That took a turn when I said it.
ELM: First time I came to your house your husband served me Fifty Shades of Grey wine.
FK: In context it was a joke because he had gotten me the bottle and I don’t drink red wine because he thought it was funny, and then he was trying to find the right person to fob it off on and that was you.
ELM: I believe he made a joke about unconventional tastes.
FK: I’m sure he did, that sounds exactly like Nick. So, OK. I think that that’s a complicated question too. I think it had to do with also her being, not the first person to do this but the first person in awhile to do it and to hit it so big. I think it was complicated because obviously people who write non-fanfiction things have writing groups, you know? And have a community of people around them who support them and do these things and the difference maybe is that those other people are also trying to do the same thing, so there’s some expectation that you might hit it, someone might hit it big or someone might get successful.
ELM: Did I ever tell you about my friend’s play about a whale?
ELM: I had a writing group for years in New York and I wrote a short story. When I was living in London the first time in 2005 and -6, right as I was leaving, and it was very emotionally fraught time, that whale swam the Thames and made it all the way to central London, you remember this? It went as far as…it went far.
FK: Yeah, I remember this.
ELM: It went as far as my bridge, I lived at the Waterloo bridge, which is right at the center. Anyway, it was a metaphor, as all whales in fiction are. In my story. [FK laughs] So I wrote this story and it was OK, it wasn’t the greatest story I think, and then one of my friends in the writing group was a playwright, it was a multi-genre I guess…there were poets and fiction writers and playwrights in the group. Basically kind of wrote a transformative work of it. She set it in New York instead and it was about a bad relationship and there was this metaphorical whale. It was a play. And she wound up, it was like staged, and people went to see it and paid money for it.
FK: Oh my God!
ELM: I’m not like “Oh you stole my idea” because obviously the whale was real. She said multiple times, you know, in interviews, she’s been interviewed about it, and she was like “Yeah, I got the inspiration from a short story that one of my friends wrote in our writing group about this whale on the Thames.” So she repeatedly credits me as the influence, and obviously there are a lot of similar elements, but she took it in a somewhat different direction. It’s a play, and it’s…she’s really weird, so it’s a weird play, you know. It’s good, she’s great. Her name’s Claire Kiechel, you can look up her work if you want.
FK: Sounds like the kind of person who writes plays I would go to.
ELM: I think you would enjoy her work, I sure do. Anyway, this is an interesting example. I could stand here and be like “she stole my idea,” and obviously we talked about the story extensively in the group; we were all working on this text together. Clearly that influenced her, right? But I’m fine with it. I don’t know. I wasn’t a fan of the whale or of my characters or anything, I think it is different, it gets a lot more heightened, if it was my very special Harry Potter story and then she kind of ripped it off, maybe I would be mad. I don’t know. I like that I care more about Harry Potter than about the characters I created first, that’s great.
FK: OK but this actually has some relevance to the next one, which is, is Star Trek: The New Voyages fanfiction. And obviously this is a little bit of a deeper cut, but it’s the best example of this type of thing that I could find, where people had written Star Trek fanfiction, these two ladies were like “Hey, let's get the official OK for this and publish it as an official Star Trek tie in.” So it’s a short story collection of fanfiction that was published as an official Star Trek tie in back in the…
ELM: That’s not really the same thing, that’s closer to talking about, not really related to my whale play, but I guess it extends from Fifty Shades to…I don’t know, I think it gets a lot more complicated when you have the rights holder, the creator, sanction what you’re doing.
FK: Totally. I was just trying to bring up, this is another fanfiction into something that people are paying for and getting paid for space, and it’s a little different also.
ELM: That’s really complicated, right?
FK: I think it’s still fanfiction. As we were talking about before, I think they were originally written without the intention of it being for pay, and they’re clearly written by and for a community of fans, and…just seems to me…
ELM: Do you know anything about this new Fanfiction Reader, it’s a scholarly anthology?
FK: Yeah, in fact she is planning on sending us a copy!
ELM: Oh really?
FK: Yeah! Francesca Coppa.
ELM: So my question about it, I haven’t looked into it extensively, it’s called The Fanfiction Reader, I know that. But were these stories that were already online and she culled them?
FK: I don’t know.
ELM: That’s what we need to find out. It’s curious. It would change it for me. If it was…or our friend Anne Jamison teaches courses on fanfiction and she’s got into some hot water around taking stories out of context. Obviously there was the Theory-of-Ficgate out of Berkeley, I love that we put a “gate” on the end of that, where students in a student-led course were teaching fanfic in a course and then leaving constructive, kind of mean constructive criticism on stories. And then people were like “How dare you take this out of the real context and into an academic one.”
I guess for me with the Fanfiction Reader, it would make a difference whether the stories were written to go into this anthology or whether they were written to go on the internet and then they were selected. So that’s what makes, with the Star Trek book that makes a difference for me. There’s a difference between the Star Trek people commissioning a bunch of short stories, even from fan writers, and from people writing fanfiction on their own, and then it being so good that they…still, I can see why people would be resentful of it, though.
FK: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know enough about it. I imagine some people were resentful and some weren’t. I don’t know. But one thing that I think is interesting is this brings up Diane Duane who actually tweeted at us, Senpai noticed me!! Right?
ELM: You tweeted at her first!
FK: Yeah, well.
ELM: Senpai noticed me when I poked her. “NOTICE ME!”
FK: “NOTICE ME!” She wrote what I think are the best Star Trek tie-in novels, and she sort of makes a shruggie when people ask are they fanfiction, but she’s definitely absolutely a fan who is writing within a context of other fans of the show for other fans of the show.
ELM: And who likes fanfiction and doesn’t think that calling it fanfiction is pejorative.
FK: Oh yeah! And who was a member of, reading fanfiction and involved in fanfiction communities and all of this stuff. And she was also writing official tie-in novels which ultimately actually, what’s funny, got spiked because Paramount decided that she was getting too far into her own alternate universe vision of the Romulans.
ELM: Oh wow.
FK: Yeah, for many years she wasn’t allowed to finish a series because they didn’t like her Romulans as much as they liked the Romulans they came up with. Their Romulans are worse. Sorry, Paramount, but I like Diane Duane’s Romulans.
ELM: So, that’s interesting though, but I have to…any conversations about these tie-in novels or expanded universes or anything, before we were brainstorming and we were talking about Doctor Who as well, and there’s crossover between…I was saying that I saw a panel of some Doctor Who tie-in novelists who are writing right now, and they were saying the long held wisdom, and Doctor Who is the longest of all of these because it’s been going on for 50 years, it’s easier to get a fan and teach them how to write a book than it is to get a writer and teach them how to care about these characters in this way. Which I thought was an interesting and cheerful distinction. And then they were talking about how over the years people have pulled from…Doctor Who is a show that’s currently made by massive fanboys, and now starring a fanboy too, who was the head of his local Doctor Who club or whatever.
ELM: Which is all very interesting but for me, especially as someone who has read and written a lot of Torchwood fanfiction for example, it still brings up the inherent imbalance of, “Well, only certain types of stories wind up being these novels.” So it’s nice to be like “Oh it’s all one big fan conversation,” but it’s not. The kind of stuff, Doctor Who fanfiction you’ll encounter on AO3, not all of it, but a lot of it doesn’t have…there’s no space for it in the Doctor Who novels or on the show. Right? And so that’s one thing that’s hard about this conversation for me.
FK: I absolutely think, one of the reasons why when I was creating this survey we ended up, I ended up having specific examples, even though I knew that most people would not have read most of the examples, as opposed to just generalizations, was exactly this kind of conversation. Because in some of the Star Trek: The New Voyages bits, the stories feel incredibly fanfictiony. I cannot believe that these were ever allowed to be published as an official novel, you know, or as an official short story collection. There’s one of them where I’m just like, “That is slash. It just is.”
ELM: Was it actually? Or was it…
FK: Well, yeah. I mean, there’s also one of the two editors, also later wrote a book where I literally was reading it and I was like “This is a slash story.” They don’t have sex at the end of it, Kirk and Spock, but it is entirely a story about how…
ELM: But it’s very romantic.
FK: It’s so romantic. It’s incredibly romantic. I will read you some segments of this at some point and you’ll be like “The fuck you say, this is an officially sanctioned novel?!” Literally Spock is looking at Kirk lying naked on a pedestal with a gauzy piece of fabric over him and considering all of his physical attributes and how he loves Kirk more than any other being in the universe. It’s a whole thing.
ELM: All right!
FK: This is just to say that even if, if this section had been “Is a tie-in novel fanfiction?” Well, OK, what are the specifics about this tie-in novel? Is a tie-in novel written by a fanfiction writer who now is writing at tie-in novel fanfiction? Well, I don’t know, what's the tie-in novel about? Is the tie-in novel about Kirk and Spock being in love?
ELM: Just as easily you could say “No. None of it is.”
ELM: All tie-in novels are not fanfiction. I think it’s easier to say that than if you’re trying to say that it is, because then you wind up in these weird specifics where you’re like, “Would the writer get really offended if we called his tie-in novel fanfiction?” You know? I don’t know.
FK: Right, it’s tempting to have a bright line.
ELM: For me it’s easier to err on the side of “No. None of it is.”
FK: Right. The next one I think is gonna be a quick and easy one for us. Is The Magicians by Lev Grossman fanfiction? I say no.
ELM: I still haven’t read it.
FK: You haven’t read it still?
FK: All right.
ELM: [laughing] Don’t tell him.
FK: Don’t tell Lev! HEY LEV, DON’T LISTEN TO THIS PART.
ELM: No! But he, it’s interesting, because he has described them that way. So that’s what makes it interesting.
FK: I agree, but I still don’t think that it is. I think there’s a fannish impulse in writing it, but I think it would similarly be wrong to call Grace and the Fever by Zan Romanoff, which we’re gonna talk about next time, as fanfic.
ELM: Well that’s a whole other can of worms and you self-indulgently included your favorite RPF novel, Di and I, in here, even though I’ve literally never heard anyone but you and Heidi talk about it. But if I were to turn and look on my shelf right here we’ve got Bob Proehl’s A Hundred Thousand Worlds which we talked about last fall, which was essentially about Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny.
FK: Yep, totally.
ELM: I have got a book by Teddy Wayne called The Love Song of Johnny Valentine which is essentially Justin Bieber. I’ve just literally turned my head and I’m like “Oh, this, this, this, and this.” I have The Queen of the Night by my college mentor Alexander Chee which is based on a famous opera singer from the 19th century in France. And all of these, it’s integral to the conversations about them. If you listen to Alex talk about it, he’ll be like “I was fascinated by this woman and I wanted to imagine what would she be doing.” Obviously, I don’t think that that’s fanfiction in any way. Though I don’t think he would be super mad if you said that, because he’s, again, with the good writing teachers who realize that writing is big and complicated and there are lots of things it does. But it wasn’t intended to be, and I don’t think it is, and I think it’s especially complicated because stories about real people…
Or right here! Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders’ novel, my fave George Saunders, it’s literally Abraham Lincoln in a tomb talking to his dead son. It’s about Abraham Lincoln, right! So I don’t know. This is why I’m, I just, mm.
FK: Is the Twitter account @RikerGoogling fanfiction?
ELM: This one is more complicated for me. I don’t know if anyone read the piece that we ran just before the election by Anne Jamison on our Medium about political RPF, but one of the things she talks about, aside from people writing…what was that one that was like “Politics High” or whatever where Michelle and Barack were the prom king and queen [laughing] which sounded amazing, she was talking about how hard it was to write. There was very little political fanfiction about Donald Trump because he’s so miserable and every time you write something fantastical about him he actually does it in real life and you’re like, “Holy shit.” Just keeps moving the bar from what’s unbelievable.
And she talked about Owen Ellickson, she called it his “Twitter saga” and it’s called “Trump Leaks.” He’s a television writer and he’s written for The Office and some other shows. And he was writing a series of dialogues in response to the news, right? And it’d be like, “Trump says blank!” And then, you know, “Mike Pence says blank.” And they were always really funny, and they also were like, ways you liked to imagine these people. Right? And she talks about this as a work of political fanfiction, and to me that's similar to Riker Googling, which is a Twitter account where Riker googles funny things…what's his name? Is he Commander Riker? Captain Riker? First Lieutenant Riker?
FK: I believe that he…oh shit. Does he get a promotion in the middle of it?
ELM: Jonathan Frakes. I know that.
FK: It depends on what time of, it depends on what…he eventually becomes a full captain and I think even an admiral but that’s way later on in the…
ELM: He’s the second in command to Jean-Luc Picard, I know that.
FK: Yes, that’s true. He is Number One.
ELM: And he’s the voice of David Xanatos on Gargoyles.
FK: That’s true. Yeah, I was not sure whether this was fanfiction or roleplay or if it was something in between or what. I could envision it being fanfiction if it were presented in a different way, but I feel like with it being on Twitter…
ELM: Well, that’s complicated. It’s the same thing with these “Trump Leaks.” It’s like, “Oh, well, is it a Twitter meme that you do, or a Twitter account? Does that not count?” Whereas if it was Riker Googling and you took screenshots of those, the googles—the googles, I’m your grandmother—and you took screenshots of him googling these things and put it in an AO3 story, I would count that as fanfiction immediately.
FK: Yeah, I agree. It may have more to do with the form or the location of it.
ELM: Maybe that’s just our hang-ups though. Maybe that’s dumb.
FK: Yeah, I would not be surprised if it was dumb. I’m not sure. [ELM laughs] That’s why I included it! OK. Is Di and I, my personal hobbyhorse, by Peter Lefcourt, fanfiction. OK. The real reason I included this was that unlike many of the other…not like any other thing, there are many things like it, but because it’s actually about, it’s a novel which is about Princess Diana, and it says it’s about Princess Diana, it’s not about Princess Schmishmana.
ELM: Lincoln in the Bardo is not about President Shmincoln!
FK: That is another example. Or The Hours is another case of this where there’s a book that has a real person in it. So. Is it?
ELM: No! Cause it’s a novel, he meant to write it as a novel. That’s my small tent definition. I can write my Lincoln fanfiction right now.
FK: I think it’s definitely not under the small tent definition, but actually that might be complicated because I don’t know what his personal relationship to Princess Diana is. He could be a stan. It definitely has a self-insert character in it. It’s a bit self-parodying self-insert, but…
ELM: I think it's weird to start dissecting authors’ relationships to subjects that they are very interested in. So the Justin Bieber book I was talking about, I think that the author found Justin Bieber interesting, but I don’t think he’s a Justin Bieber fan. But I think he thought Bieber was interesting. Grace and the Fever, she’s a One Direction fan. Both perform a very similar thing, where they’re also interested in the idea of them. And I don’t think that makes a massive difference, whether…I mean obviously Grace and the Fever’s also about being a fan. So there’s that difference, but when it’s talking about the inner lives of celebrities…
FK: Yeah, I guess I’m wondering, if Peter Lefcourt had written Di and I and put it in a shoebox under his bed, like you did for Sweet Valley High fanfic, or didn’t find a publisher so it didn’t ever go anywhere, whatever…?
ELM: Well, then I guess it’s Schrödinger’s fanfiction again. If he finds his Princess Diana—
ELM: —RPF community later…
FK: BOOM! I talked you into that it could be fanfiction!
ELM: But it’s about intent! It’s about what his intent was. And I think it’s unlikely that he would go find that Princess Diana fanfiction community. That being said, look at our friend Kevin Fanning, this is basically what he did. He was writing what is essentially RPF. Someone told him “Hey, that’s RPF,” and he was interested in the idea of it. But Kfan could have just as easily been like, “That’s not me, I’m writing literary stuff about the Kardashians.” But Kfan’s the coolest guy.
FK: But also if we didn’t know Kfan we would have no way of knowing…
ELM: I think it’s weird to assume, you know?
FK: I think we didn’t come to a conclusion. But that’s OK. We didn’t have to. So, is After by Anna Todd fanfiction. This is another one that I included because I thought many people would know what it was.
ELM: Did she change the name of Harry in the published version?
ELM: Then it’s the same with Fifty Shades of Grey.
FK: That’s how I feel.
ELM: Except less blatant…for anyone who doesn't know, After was a massive hit on Wattpad, it was a One Direction self-insert story, specifically focusing on Harry, and the protagonist. It was a huge hit and so they made it into a book deal and a movie deal. Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey I think they’ve been really really open about the fact that it came from fanfiction. That’s a selling point for them, right? This was such a huge hit with the fans, and I think in a way it’s interesting cause it’s like a signal of…because they can say “fans loved this so much,” whereas I didn’t often see in the coverage of Fifty Shades of Grey people being like “this was a massively popular fanfiction,” right?
FK: I agree. I think it was a selling point to get it sold, but then they didn’t rely on it, you know what I mean?
ELM: I don’t know how it did as a novel. People talked a lot about it, but I’m not sure how well it sold.
FK: I think it sold really well.
ELM: Oh, did it? All right.
FK: I’m pretty sure that it was actually a best, best seller.
ELM: Oh, all right, great! So that's interesting. Yeah. I don’t think people lingered on it too much, just like “Oh, that’s just part of it.” So that’s interesting. And I think this is probably, we’re talking about a difference of what, only a couple years. But a massive shift in cultural conversations around this stuff too. So.
FK: OK OK. What about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King.
ELM: I’ve never heard of it.
FK: Are you familiar with this one?
ELM: This isn’t the one that got turned into Mr. Holmes, is it?
FK: No, it’s not. It is…
ELM: Mr. Holmes being the incredibly depressing Sherlock Holmes movie they made a couple years ago.
FK: But it is a piece of Sherlock writing by a Sherlockian.
ELM: I know of Laurie R. King via, they have these anthologies they put out, some prominent Sherlock Holmes pastiche writers.
FK: Yeah. What’s interesting about this is a lot of people within, as I understand it and I’m not nearly as tied into the community as you, but one of the reasons I included it is it’s a case where there is a very self-insert-like…I think she’s a really good character, but there’s a love interest for Holmes who is basically a 1920s young woman who is much younger than him and it’s…they end up later on in the series getting married and having adventures together. And Watson is pretty much written out. So a lot of people have said “This isn’t a pastiche, this is just fanfiction,” in exactly the way you were critiquing. But at the same time it’s a successful series of novels.
ELM: Right. It’s funny how whenever there is any romance involved whatsoever people get really mad.
FK: I know, right?
ELM: So weird how that happens!
ELM: That being said, I know of Sherlock, BBC Sherlock writers, fanfiction writers, not the writers, who simultaneously publish Sherlock Holmes fiction and write fanfiction. Some of it even gay! The problem is if you have an estate that still is…part of the problem is that with publishing in this particular case, the estate has had some strong feelings, right? So…and they get to decide what’s OK and what’s not OK and that’s why you have a genuine gatekeeper who’s like “Well, that’s all right!” and “Oh no you can’t do that. They can’t look at each other that way.” That’s all gonna change as it all comes into the public domain.
FK: OK. So we’re gonna say no on that one for now, but maybe question mark?
ELM: This is just a long series of nos for me on these.
FK: OK. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. I say a resounding NO.
ELM: Absolutely not, fuck that. We have people saying, complaining that we didn’t talk about any of the other Pride and Prejudice books.
FK: That’s true. There’s a lot of them. Many of them were on my list. There’s a wide variety, one by P.D. James, which is…
ELM: The one that I spied on that person on the train, I sent you that picture!
FK: Yeah! There’s Pride and Prejudice variations which are fanfiction that’s published on Amazon.
ELM: I’m so bad, I looked over and this woman was reading on her Kindle and it was like “…and Mr. Darcy did this,” and I was like “EXCUSE ME!” And I snuck it, I saw the title and I looked it up and it wasn’t even complete stories, it was called like “Pride and Prejudice scenes,” I think? And it was just snippets. Drabbles, basically.
FK: Yeah. The term for it within the sort of Amazon Kindle selling community is “Pride and Prejudice variations.”
FK: What’s funny is there’s also a Pride and Prejudice fanfiction community, some of which is available still for free online, but a lot of stories out of the community, as soon as it became possible to publish directly onto Kindle yourself, took down their stories and self published, and now get sold in this way. So there’s a lot of, I would actually say I think there’s more Pride and Prejudice fanfiction written and self published through Kindle, and I would be tempted to call it fanfiction even though it’s self published for money within this space. I don’t know, I think it’s a hard question.
ELM: If the community sanctions it, and they wanna call it fanfiction but also wanna pay for it…it’s, these norms come from communities. It’s not like there’s some…at this point, right, with the laws being the way they are and rights holders and source material originators being where they’re at right now, I wouldn’t have said the same thing 15 years ago.
FK: So then the next one is, we’ve actually already mostly talked about this. The next one is is The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton fanfiction. This was literally I pulled a title out of a hat of five different possible run of the mill commissioned by the official people tie-in novels. Although these are a little bit different, because as you may know, the Star Wars Extended Universe has been made non-canonical.
ELM: Yeah, I do know about that.
FK: You don’t care at all.
ELM: I care in the sense that I like to interrogate people as to why they do care. [FK laughs] Because I’m mean. I’m like, “YOU’RE DUMB WHY DO YOU CARE.”
FK: I care because they wrote out [both speaking together] Mara Jade.
ELM: Mara Jade, Mara Jade, we’ve already had this conversation.
FK: So many times. OK. Is The Hours by Michael Cunningham fanfiction.
ELM: So I have a lot of feelings about this. No, but this is one of the most blatant examples of someone performing the same…someone playing with the same techniques. I say playing because it is like genuinely fun. Anyone who doesn’t know The Hours, it’s three parts. The first part is about Virginia Woolf and it’s RPF and it's about Virginia and Leonard Woolf and Vanessa, her sister, and her mental illness, and it’s set I wanna say in the 20s.
ELM: And it kind of plays with some of the same…it plays with some of the ideas, it makes a suggestion that Mrs. Dalloway, cause the book is about Mrs. Dalloway, the whole book on the whole. Sorry, I just wanna talk about The Hours for a second. So the second one is about this housewife who’s a closeted lesbian I guess, or maybe bisexual, that’s part of the story?
ELM: Who’s trapped in a very heteronormative classic 1950s housewife relationship.
FK: Actually I think the implication is that all three of them are bisexual. We know Virginia Woolf probably, I don’t know if she would have said that but she seems to have been, and then…
ELM: I think she’s bisexual.
FK: And then the second part is a closeted bisexual woman in the 50s, and Mrs. Dalloway is also about bisexuality at least in part, or people doing bisexual things.
ELM: So the middle part, the woman is just reading Mrs. Dalloway, so when you’re thinking about this…and then the final part is literally a modern AU retelling Mrs. Dalloway, except there’s genderbending because…or not genderbending, I’m trying to remember, because she’s in a relationship with a woman, right?
FK: Yep. And she’s imagining what her life would have been like…she’s caring for her friend who has AIDS.
ELM: Right, oh my God, now I’m just thinking about that part of the movie.
FK: But he’s also a little bit like the character in Mrs. Dalloway…
ELM: Who has post-traumatic stress, right? And he’s just having a very hard time. But it’s interesting when you’re thinking about it because the first and the last are so blatantly like fanfiction in the sense of, that is just basically a modern AU, genderbent, interesting…
FK: Oh my God, 200% a modern AU.
ELM: And to the point where he’s even using the same language and it’s very clever that way.
FK: And her nickname is “Mrs. Dalloway,” right. So there’s a joke, she’s going to get the flowers herself in the first time we meet her.
ELM: That nice referential bit that we can get in an AU, too. And then the first part is just straight up RPF, right? It’s about Virginia Woolf. The middle one plays with the themes of Mrs. Dalloway and engages with Mrs. Dalloway in a cultural conversation, in a critical conversation, and it’s interesting because that in a way…the middle one is the one where you say “Oh, that’s the one that’s traditionally like fiction.”
FK: But it’s also, she’s sort of a fan, because the character’s reading Mrs. Dalloway.
ELM: Right, and it’s still heavily thematically influenced by that. And that’s interesting cause you could look at the two, the first and the last, and be like “that’s obviously fanfiction,” but the middle one, well, that’s not much different than what a lot of other novels do. So many novels engage with other novels. So it kind of breaks down these ideas of where these barriers are between what’s influence and what’s a transformative work, I feel like.
FK: The main thing I’m taking out of this conversation is thinking about how funny it was that when I was in high school I was completely obsessed with Mrs. Dalloway and yet I could not admit to myself that I was bisexual.
ELM: That’s really good, you’re like the woman in the middle section.
FK: I loved The Hours too. “WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS BOOK THAT SEEMS TO SPEAK TO ME SO MUCH? I don’t understand why I feel so much relationship to this book!” [all laugh]
ELM: That’s really good. Whereas I only read Orlando in high school, but you know. My cat Orlando is now sleeping next to me.
FK: Orlando is great too.
ELM: Orlando is, in my opinion, better.
FK: Both the cat and the book.
ELM: Yes. You wouldn’t name a cat “Mrs. Dalloway.” You might, actually.
FK: I would totally name a cat “Mrs. Dalloway.” That would be a great name for a cat.
ELM: A kind of long-necked grey cat, I could see. In a window.
FK: Is the Aeneid fanfiction? People had fucking opinions on this one. Spoiler for the next episode. People have so many opinions.
FK: I actually have a hard time saying whether it is or it isn’t, just knowing too much about the literary culture of the time. Cause I think there were people who behaved in ways that were fannish, but I think there’s not the same sense of authorship as there is today so I think it’s tough to say.
ELM: One thing that’s fascinating to me in listening to how you talk about it is knowing whether they are a fan or not is very important to you.
FK: Yeah because I feel like it’s a cultural construction. I guess I’m definitely on the end of, on the side of “no,” but…
ELM: I’m not saying this as a criticism, I’m just saying I would never think about that. Like, I’m saying, cause I’m thinking about, obviously Michael Cunningham fuckin’ loves Mrs Dalloway and loves Virginia Woolf. But does that make it fanfiction?
FK: I don’t think so. I’m probably on the “no” end of it.
ELM: I’m just sitting next to all my books and every one of these writers loves something. Right? You cannot be a novelist unless you really love some books. And just because you love it doesn't mean…just because you are engaging with a book in another book…all literature is conversation. So...
FK: Yup. And then the last one is, is “McCain the Elder at Pompeii” by Ziyad Gower fanfiction, and that is a, for those who didn’t google it, that's a sort of parodical article about John McCain and the way he behaves. But it’s set in, you know, Pompeii.
ELM: This is such a Flourish choice that you made.
FK: I was like, I want a piece of political parody that’s about something that also has fanfictiony things in it, like an alternate universe thing. And then I decided to pick a Flourish thing.
ELM: People increasingly, and people…I mean I guess it's not new. Look at “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold,” right? You’ve read that article by Gay Talese? So much of the reporting from that era, or the profiles, profiles often read like fanfiction. Right? Look at every gross middle aged man writing a profile of a young female celebrity.
FK: “She batted her eyes while nibbling…”
ELM: “She looked at her one leaf on her plate and I thought she was imagining me,” you know? And you’re like, “GROSS GET AWAY FROM HER. You shouldn’t be allowed to have dinner with this woman if you’re gonna write these things about her,” right? And so it’s like, it’s interesting because that often feels fanfictiony. Also, you increasingly see people just straight-up writing pretend dialogues, right? Or did you see that article about Jared Kushner going to Iraq that was like…
ELM: You know the one written like a children’s book that was like “Jared got to ride in a helicopter!” It’s like, “is this fanfiction,” right?
FK: And I think that the answer to this one is “no” also, and I think the answer to those are “no.”
ELM: I mean who wants to write Jared Kushner fanfiction, honestly.
FK: Yeah. Anyway. So obviously [laughs] not to cut this off, but I think we should move on because we need to…
ELM: End the episode?
FK: Finish recording this episode at some point.
ELM: Yeah. Well, we went through all the examples! And the rest is more just asking, for self-definitions, if you say you’re a fan, if you’re not a fan, what your relationship to fanfiction is, I think that you hit a lot of, a huge variety of different…have you ever published fanfiction? Do you do this? Do you, you know, all this stuff. I think you hit a lot of different angles which is nice, and I like that they were all presented not in opposition to each other. I think it was nice that you got to select what describes you.
FK: Thank you!
ELM: Yeah, good job.
FK: So obviously there were 10 billion other examples we could have used and the way that I went about picking examples was I came up with the types of things, and then I picked an example from each of the types of things that I thought a lot of people would have encountered, or alternately the one that I was self-indulgent about was Di and I. The other ones were actually all picked because I thought people would have encountered them more. And so, you know, I think we might consider releasing a list of edge-case books, or something like that, which would be interesting for people to discuss, possibly. There was a very, very long list. Including probably most but not all of the things on your shelf, and I’m sure there are more things.
ELM: Lincoln in the Bardo? Was that on there?
FK: I don't think it was on there because I don’t think I knew about Lincoln in the Bardo at that time.
ELM: Oh God, what else is up here?
FK: You have to send me your list and then we’ll merge it with the list I have been working on and then we’ll publish it and then we’ll have other people add other things.
ELM: Oh yeah, Geraldine Brooks, March? That’s a famous example of “literary fanfiction,” quote unquote. I did air quotes when I said that.
FK: All right.
ELM: I’ll get more, don’t worry. There’s more up there. Margaret Thatcher makes an appearance in The Lion of Beauty. Yeah, what happens when real people show up in the story? Lookit right there, The Remains of the Day, Chamberlain comes to dinner in Remains of the Day.
FK: I restrained myself from having Don DeLillo’s Libra as one of the examples.
ELM: That would have been another self-indulgent one.
FK: It would have. I actually don’t like Libra at all.
ELM: I know but you mention Don DeLillo all the time so you are clearly letting people know that you’ve read him.
FK: I like some of his books very much.
ELM: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
FK: Anyway, OK. I don’t read that much literature anymore so I mention the literature that I read.
ELM: I know, you only read One Direction mpreg A/B/O fic.
FK: And Star Trek tie-in novels.
ELM: Those are the only two things left in your life right now.
ELM: Should we take one more quick break and then we can talk about a couple closing things?
FK: OK. let’s do it.
ELM: All right, so I think we’ve kind of traversed literature as well as our own survey. Your survey. That is great.
FK: Thank you. Yeah, I think so.
ELM: Assuming that you, if you listened to all of this you either have already taken the survey or you’re never gonna take it, right? So I would say maybe our conversation will have added new layers to your thoughts on this. So obviously you, please feel free to write us, or call us. Our number is 1-401-526-3267. 1-401-526-FANS. Every time we say that I feel like we’re in a public radio pledge drive.
ELM: And if you don’t wanna call us, then you can leave us an ask on Tumblr. You can write an email to us at email@example.com. Those are probably the only two ways. You could tag us in a Tumblr post but I think it’s better if you leave an ask, rather than asking us to reblog and kind of…you know what I mean? Would you agree?
FK: Totally. And in fact the last person who left us an ask had a question.
ELM: Oh yeah, which relates to something that’s coming up on our Medium that you wrote about!
FK: Last time we had an episode, we said, we made a casual joke about “Ha ha those people who spell fanfiction with a space in it!” And this person was like “I spell fan fiction with a space in it, what’s wrong with that?”
ELM: You’re inserting an emotionality that I’m not sure was there. You read it in an indignant way, whereas I read it as a genuine…they were like, “Wait, I do that, what’s wrong with that?”
FK: It could be either.
ELM: OK. We don’t wanna assume.
FK: It’s text.
ELM: Asker. Yeah, it’s true.
FK: But not assuming, actually I have written an article that is about what’s…well, not what’s wrong with that, there’s nothing inherently wrong about spelling anything any way, I guess.
ELM: For context you did not write the article because of this ask. I think we referenced it because we had been talking about it, because you picked a fight with Merriam-Webster.
FK: Yes, I picked a fight with Merriam-Webster because in Merriam-Webster it says the correct way to write “fanfiction” is fan space fiction, which I believe to be a possible spelling but not the only possible spelling.
ELM: I think it should be a variant but the main spelling should have no space, and the actual conversation that you had with them got really paradoxical, right?
FK: Yeah, it was pretty frustrating because I was saying “Look, when I see fans who write fanfiction spell the word, I see it spelled fan with no space and then fiction. Fanfiction. And when I see journalists writing about this, they spell it fan space fiction.” So to me I was like, “Well, this is stupid.”
ELM: Not just journalists, Flourish! You seem intent on blaming journalists for it, I see people doing it every day. Hollywood writers, perchance?
FK: I mostly see journalists writing about fanfiction who don’t know.
ELM: I see people writing “fan fiction” on Twitter every day and a lot of them aren’t journalists and they’re joking, like “that’s Mike Pence fan fiction,” with a space.
FK: Fair enough, fair enough.
ELM: So yeah.
FK: Point being though.
ELM: Get over blaming all journalists for what is a problem of humans.
FK: You’re very indignant on behalf of journalists, but all I’m saying is that people from outside the fanfiction community…
FK: The thing is it actually does have to do, though, with journalists in a specific way, not just journalists but academics and anybody who has to write to a style guide, because Merriam-Webster lists it as fan space fiction, so whenever anybody writes an article and someone goes to edit it, they’re like “Well, the dictionary says that it’s spelled fan space fiction.” So then it goes into this published work and it is published as fan space fiction, and that is why Merriam-Webster lists it as spelt like that.
ELM: It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.
FK: Cause Merriam-Webster only looks at officially published works.
ELM: And I’ve actually had arguments with editors about this and they’ll say “Well, we defer to the dictionary.” But then we are then creating the canonical works that the dictionary is referring to, and so we’re in this big stupid circle that editors will not let you break.
FK: Right. And this would be less irritating if it was not a case where so many people in the fanfiction community who write fanfiction spell it without the space. That’s a totally accepted spelling, in fact it may even be the more commonly accepted spelling, and I said that it was and I went and looked in Google and Google seemed to suggest it and a bunch of other linguists hopped in, thank you Gretchen McCulloch, and showed us that when you look at the amount it’s used online, they’re used about the same amount, fan space fiction and fanfiction, but the version without the space is more used on places like Tumblr and the Archive of our Own et cetera, places where fanfiction authors tend to hang out, and the version with the space is more used in things like MTV.com and CNN and whoever else, I mean, CNN probably not. But…
ELM: Eh, CNN. They have to write their steamy Fifty Shades of Grey takes.
FK: That’s true. So anyway, things that use official style guides tend to have the space. And so that’s irritating. So I wrote an article about it and that’s why we’re making fun of fan space fiction.
ELM: So that should hopefully be up by the time this episode comes out.
ELM: What I would be curious to know, if our listener is an outlier, I don’t want anyone to feel attacked. Maybe we could do a little poll.
FK: That’d be nice.
ELM: And see if you say, I prefer this one, I prefer that one, I would never write it without a space, I would always write it without a space…I’m not gonna say it's universal, I was just reading some really good meta about fanfiction and it was so blatant that they read a ton of fanfiction and know it very very well, but they spelled it throughout with the space in the middle. And I was like “Huh, huh.” So I wouldn’t say universally “No true fan would spell it without a space.” Because…I don’t know if that’s true.
FK: Yeah. But on the other hand it’s very irritating because we know that true fans and people who are very good writers do spell it without the space, so it’s irritating to have the dictionary say that you’re spelling it wrong.
ELM: That’s true. I’m just saying not all true fans. Anyway, keep an eye out for that.
ELM: Before we wrap up, I think we’re almost done here, a couple orders of business, we got a bunch of new Patreon subscribers, thank you so much. If you somehow missed it, we put out our most recent special episode, it was about a Harry Potter fanfic that I love and now Flourish loves too called The Pure and Simple Truth by Lettered.
FK: Oh my God, it’s so delightful.
ELM: So you can check that out. And we’ll hopefully be doing another one soon and we’ll be doing our spring tiny zine soon as well so get ready if you have $10-a-month to spare that you can join the tiny zine crew. And one more thing I’d say which we haven’t said in a long time, is if you are relatively new listener, or if you’re a longtime listener and you haven’t rated and reviewed us on iTunes, I would love if people did that. Last time we mentioned this a bunch of people left us really nice reviews and really thoughtful reviews, so if you have any inclination, it would be really awesome. The more reviews and ratings we get I think the easier it is for people to find us, at least that’s what I understand. Possibly also if you subscribe, if you listen via iTunes, subscriber numbers actually count for something, I’ve learned this recently. So there’s that.
FK: Wow, all right. So go rate, review, subscribe, be kind, you know. Contribute to our Patreon if you can. Send us things. Say hello.
ELM: These are all our requests.
ELM: And if you’ve taken the survey and haven’t shared it with your friends, even non-fanfiction friends, please do.
FK: All right, does that cover all of our requests?
ELM: I think it covers everything.
FK: In that case I guess I will talk to you next time, Elizabeth!
ELM: About Grace and the Fever!
FK: About Grace and the Fever, woo hoo!
ELM: OK I’ll talk to you then.
[Outro music, thank yous, disclaimers]