Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Readercon 2010: Fanfic as Criticism (Only More Fun)

Panel report one of two. Description:

Fanfiction is being produced online at a rate of millions of words per month. Fanfiction can expand on a shorter work, change a work’s themes, or even attempt to “fix” things the author is felt to have done “wrong” (e.g., provide a backstory to explain otherwise undermotivated behavior). These dynamics are not unheard of outside of Internet fandom communities—Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway attempts to “fix” James Joyce’s Ulysses (which itself retells Homer’s Odyssey). In what ways can fanfiction be a valuable part of the criticism of a text? Can it appeal as criticism to readers outside the fanfiction community? If so, how can they find the most interesting works?

Victoria Janssen (L), Alaya Dawn Johnson, Erin Kissane, Ken Schneyer, Cecilia Tan.

First, an important note about pseudonymity. Four of the five panelists stated that they wrote or write fanfic; one of them did give the name under which they wrote, but (1) I couldn't hear it and (2) the context was such that I would want confirmation that they were okay with my associating it with their professional name in a permanently-Googleable document. So, if you know the fanfic identities of any of the panelists, or anyone else who has not made their fanfic identities generally public, do not post those fanfic identities in comments. I will not allow it. (If the authors themselves want too, of course, that's fine. But I doubt it.)

And now, the panel notes. These were taken on my netbook and minimally expanded for readability; ask if anything isn't clear. Everything is a close paraphrase unless it's in quotes.

Tan: "maven of erotic science fiction": starting writing fanfic after published, actually--fell in by accident: knew of but didn't read or write. Then wrote Harry Potter to blow people's minds at readings, basically, Snape/Harry *clutches head*. There would be stealth fanfic readers in audience who would come up & ask to publish, eventually after book 6 fell into HP fandom really deeply, 2 years 200K words, keep writing muscles in shape because career stall. And being a writer and a Ravenclaw, had to experiment with style etc., became her online writer's workshop where trying stuff out.

Schneyer: relatively new writer, came back to writing after hiatus of 26 years through fanfic, because safe, no downside and could do whatever liked (POV experiments): "middle-aged stories about loss and regret in Harry Potter universe," people started saying not really HP, just using it because there. Stopped, too busy, also kind of like a drug, like historical fiction because so many common referents, easy

[This is the point where I started realizing that Harry Potter is the gateway drug to end all gateway drugs into writing fanfic. Also boggled at the idea that I might've read some of theirs, but my interest in that fandom was mostly after book 5, so on reflection probably not.]

Johnson: story of her writing inextricably linked to fanfic, started with Sailor Moon ("by the way, this is very confessional"). Thinks fanfic in terms of developing writer very interesting & useful, can be crutch, but also way to get through the feeling that you have no audience, no one can appreciate your work; hard to get through a whole novel when feel like writing into a void. Since publishing professionally, written in Veronica Mars, had sworn off but certain narratives are memes that colonize your brain, TV is interesting because some things TV doesn't do as well as narrative prose, so writing fanfic interesting to explore characters and do other things with text that couldn't do on TV. Also now writing Supernatural.

Janssen: started writing fanfic in college, obsessed with Blake's 7 (which was off air at time but ended on cliffhanger so huge volume of fanfic): writing for community had benefits "can't overstate"--critique, enthusiasm because shared interest--slow at start because writing in fanzine era, but then moved to Internet and get instant feedback. Did a lot of experimental work like others, also community aspect, just fun.

Kissane: "my big confession is that I don't write fanfiction". Strong academic interest though and been consuming for years, started with Buffy when went off rails (didn't specify season). Interest: anthropological, teenage girls forming own communities and critiquing; also usually older women writing each other custom erotic often in real-time. Writing, interesting: only 2d-person narrative ever enjoyed in fanfic. People who don't write may be surprised by formal experimentation--including people who don't want to move to authorized work.

Janssen: wants to make clear that very different for work-for-hire/tie-in novels, which have all sorts of constraints, not just episodic & recreating kinds of stories get in show

Janseen: address questions in description?

Schneyer: all of literature in one tradition is a conversation. Different voices are heard? HP interesting because know that JKR reads some though doesn't say what, and has interplay with fanfic community; also that community drums up enthusiasm for canon work, thus why WB stopped trying to slam

Janssen, Tan: HP con Infinitus has 2300 (!) registrations, lots of academic presentations

Johnson: agrees, kind of baffled by some famous writers who are on record as being against fanfic, "might as well say I can only get positive reviews," one of fundamental ways that people respond to texts is narrative. Not new at all, just method/dissemination. And can get at some responses in ways couldn't in other methods.

Tan: just because some authors are too sensitive to engage with readers doesn't mean that readers shouldn't engage with text: engaging with text and with author are two separate things. Fanfic always has tension with what's canon and what's not, always something left out in canon and so have to fill in; sometimes don't know what's in character's head until write scene from that POV, for example.

Janssen: part of value of that is conversation [among fans?]

Kissane: something that tends to be invisible if not part of community is how much interact with source texts, how abstracted it can get, e.g. alternate universes (AUs) with characters in radically different setting; resonance because of known source text but can get very complicated. Also much bigger audience for this kind of popular criticism.

Schneyer: seen series of stories that are for all intents and purposes debate about canon, e.g. moral culpability of Dumbledore leaving Harry at Dursleys

Johnson: recently in her Supernatural fanfic, arguments in comements of the fic about interpretation of Sam that were going interesting directions that she was mostly staying out, interesting that thought had meant story as explanation of Sam, hadn't realized extent to which she was making an argument

Tan: one of most valuable things is to realize that in own writing, could do AUs on own characters and see what changes or is the same, nimble enough in own writing to move things around and strengthened own

Schneyer: "you're writing Cecilia Tan fanfic"

Tan: also makes taking editorial suggestion easier? can see part that's still yours and essential and what can be changed around

Kissane: essentials really important term, fanfic really useful at breaking down what's core, underlying assumptions. Going back to HP, is House sorting really a good idea?

[I'm not convinced there is a core, necessarily, to any given work. But put it in plural form, sure.]

Janssen: appeal to outside readers?

Janssen: discusses rare fandoms, Yuletide

Johnson: "Yuletide is crack"

[Yes, this is why I posted my Yuletide 2009 recs last night.]

Janssen: much more often literary, useful ex.: selection of that are critiques: Dalemark Quartet (someone) is grown up, Calvin & Hobbes--grownups stories, Max goes back to Wild Things, continued exploits of people from Lorax, 30 years after Dark is Rising, Vimes & son in future, Carrot & Angua's wedding, Tenar and second changes from Earthsea, many different takes on "problem of Susan" in Narnia

[See comments for links to specific stories.]

Schneyer: question as posed: almost begs question as to where dividing line is. Opened by calling Gregory Maguire fanfic, playing a bit because Maguire would not. Two ways of defining: self-definition, or taking existing work and doing something to it.

[Somewhere there was a brief acknowledgment that many fanfic writers do it as a hobby and don't intend to use it as practice for paid writing, but not much of one. Anyway, they do, in the same way that I cross-stitch because I enjoy it and it gives the people who look at the finished product pleasure (I hope), but don't sell my works or enter them in contests.]

Janssen: also noticed that many people not familiar with fanfic find RPF (Real Person Fic) much more natural, because celebrities are already fantasy objects

[me at time in my notes: "!! really!! I thought RPF was a bigger squick", while on the panel--]

Johnson: really? I remember being shocked to find Burr/Hamilton slash in Yuletide. Lot of people happy to write about fictional characters, but RPF, "there's a certain thing they call squick". But a good narrative is a good narrative, Sargasso Sea versus Yuletide is just stigma/availability. If collected best of HP fic, easily appeal to people familiar with original work, which fundamental requirement

Kissane: really wants to talk Lev Grossman about The Magicians as fanfic (had to make changes in British edition because ran into trouble with Lewis estate). Body of feminist revisitionist fairy tales, same mechanics, Angela Carter

Tan: when considering mythic works retold hundreds of times, move into different category than "things JKR got wrong". Original engine of Kirk/Spock: wanted to see gay characters that were missing, so took straight and made gay. Funny thing now have gay characters are ignoring and still turning straight ones. Some things aren't ficced very often because so few gaps. Naomi Novik: interesting that so little considering popularity, especially among fandom.

[I was dubious about this too, as there are a number of Temeraire stories in Yuletide, but it's been pointed out to me that it could've been the fandom that ate fandom and isn't, which is entirely true.]

Kissane: what works attract and resist and why?

Janssen: certain level of emotional engagement, if enough, she doesn't need fanfic, usually want in fanfic id-tastic emotional grab, punch. Temeraire has that, also Martha Wells, who also does write fanfic.


audience anecdotery leading up to: re: relative lack of Temeraire fic, daughter sees biggest fandoms are those that leave a lot of unanswered questions, leave more room to play, often best writing

[My thoughts on this: additionally, some written books have very difficult voices, would require a lot of work to do well, or don't hit enough people's Id Vortex. I'm guessing that if it does hit the Id Vortex enough, you'll get fic even if the source doesn't leave a lot of room, because you'll get a lot of more-of-the-same Mary Sues--I originally say from 10-year-olds, but the appalling number of Pride and Prejudice sequels made me reconsider this.]

audience: remember that fanfic is critiquing not just canon but fandom and social issues, e.g. "Take Clothes Off As Directed" (article discussing story, which links to story itself)--engaging very directly with a genre of fanfic, DADT, specific stories, use of sexuality

audience re: not slashing gay characters, writing about emotional characters: "one word: Torchwood." (happens because of non-satisfying aspects)

audience non-fanfic reader: (1) what about quality of writing, critical insights? (2) reading list

Janssen: Sturgeon's Law; Organization for Transformative Works (which honestly I'm not sure does have reading lists; it hosts the Archive of Our Own, but that's an archive, not curated)

Schneyer: universe of acutely ummoderated fanfic, speciality sites that moderate

same audience member: does cream rise to top?

Schneyer: mostly yes, but be surprised what else does

Kissane: will try to put together a post on Readercon LJ

*end panel notes*

Afterward: I talked with Margaret Ronald, who wanted to ask what does bad fanfic teach us; I thought it shows the Id Vortex up close and personal, the stories and ideas that people can't help but write about even if they aren't any good or don't know it.

Here is a very very short reading list of fics that I think are critical of the source, accessible to those who don't usually read fanfic, and suitable for general audiences. (If you just want recommendations of things that fit the last two, see my fanfic tag.) These descriptions are going to have some spoilers because they need to explain why they're critical of the sources.

  • The Ivory Horn (PG-13, 14,400 words). A His Dark Materials story that turns out to be a crossover with Narnia and, thereby, a brutal critique of The Last Battle.
  • Platform 9.99999999999999999999... (not rated, suitable for general audiences, 700 words with charming illustrations). Critiques Dumbledore as we last see him and, by extension, his behavior throughout the entire Harry Potter series.
  • The Kids Aren't All Right (PG, 11,500 words). An Iron Man story which opens thusly:

    It’s been “a hell of a year” since industrialist Tony Stark owned up to his alter ego in a move that stunned observers and longtime aides alike. With the US facing unprecedented homegrown suicide attacks, Iron Man’s contribution to national security is more than ever under scrutiny. As she follows Stark during a year of crisis, exclusively for Vanity Fair, Christine Everhart explores the many contradictions of the man behind the mask, uncovers tales of personal loyalty, patriotism gone awry and corporate betrayal, and asks whether Iron Man is the embodiment of an outdated American fantasy—a self-made, unilateral, technological solution to hopelessly complex problems—and whether he can survive the violent encounter with reality.

  • Concession (PG-13, 28K words). An Iron Man story that goes AU after the first movie and examines just how very awful a stalker Tony would be.

These were the first four things to come to mind; please leave yours in comments.

Tags: con reports, cons, fanfic, readercon, readercon 2010

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  • I haven't done all the research on this

    Doubtless someone else has, but re: the most recent in the wave of federal district court decisions striking down state same-sex marriage bans (…

  • link blogging

    1. Back when the news that Ben Affleck was going to play Batman broke, I said elsewhere, The thing is, I don't really care about casting for…

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