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Today I was skyping with S., a friend from Germany, and the topic of Robin McKinley came up. You have to understand that for me, long before there was Tolkien or Doyle or Douglas Adams, even before there was Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott and L.M. Montgomery and maybe even Lois Lowry, there was Robin McKinley. I fell in love with Beauty, her charming retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy-tale. Her writing's a major figure in the history of my childhood reading history.

And I was *cough* not ashamed about fangirling about McKinley's work - I went through a phase where it helped me find myself as a reader, and I still reread Beauty periodically. S. was a bit surprised by this because apparently McKinley is pretty anti-fanfic and she knows my fanfic Actually, she follows me at AO3 because she says reading one of my stories is as good as a long chat for making sure I'm doing well, and I think she's right. Anyway, because I like (present tense) what Ms. McKinley does and Ms. McKinley apparently does not like what I do, at least in the abstract, I wanted to find out a bit more. So I whipped out my trusty Google and poked around a bit.

To her credit, I only found secondhand accounts of how she didn't like her work to be fanficced and this FAQ and footnote on this blog post (on her own blog). If she's not a fan of it at least she's not talking about it at every occasion. Here's what she says on the topic:

showing stuff you've written from these origins to your immediate circle of friends, family, teachers, creative writing group, whatever, as an exercise to improve your skills is also fine. And this would as far as I'm concerned (although if I get any queries about this I'd have to check with my agent) include any private, password-protected, invitation-only groups on the net. But using other people's work should only be an exercise in getting yourself going into your own work. [...] And I feel that if you're going to display/hang/offer something for strangers, for anyone and everyone, to read — as on the fanfic sites — it should be your own work. Yes, sources, catalysts and retellings are always with us — but mostly it's pretty obvious where the line runs, and fanfic is by definition on the wrong side of the line.

So says the woman who made her name, at least the way I learned of her, for a re-telling of a fairy-tale. Honestly? *rolls eyes after the manner of Sherlock*

Fanfic, for me at lest, isn't just practices. It's something that has a whole host of legitimate motivations from fostering relationships with other creative types to exploring the stories my generation uses to explore big questions and issues (you know, like once upon a time French peasants used the story of a girl and a monster to explore the nature of beauty and someone else thought it might be good to play with that story a few centuries later). It's also a way to participate actively in the stories rather than just consuming them passively, and to repair some of the damage done to narrative when we only get exposed to those stories good or safe enough to turn a profit. Sometimes they are ways to criticize a story; other times, to honor the spirit and carry it into the nooks and crannies beyond the scope of the story, like the wonderful stories about characters' childhoods or alternate POVs on canon events or just coming up with stories about Rohan or Lestrade or whomever else that have very little to do with the actual plot of the story being told. Sometimes they're a way to fix the racism or sexism or homophobia or classism you see on display in what passes for commercial art. And sometimes it's just because it's fun and serves no other purpose at all.

So yeah, I try to make my art the best I can. But fanfic isn't the warm-up. For some people I'm sure it is, and that's okay. But for other people it's really, really not. And that's okay, too.

(c.f. Steven Moffat and quotes that send my blood pressure spiking, but that really is a different topic, I suppose)

The other thing that really bothers me is that she not only doesn't seem to understand the modern technological world, but she seems to be a bit of a technical luddite. As she says in the FAQ, "I'm not built for the new etherware world, and I've been marching in the wrong direction for over fifty years. Virtual to me is only . . . virtual." And that really is okay -- for her. But her position that people can only share their fanfic of her stories with specific people they already know seems to impose that preference on everyone else. It assumes that the internet is just a more efficient way to mail manuscripts or make a phone call or meet up with a face-to-face concrit group. Whereas in reality it's a way to connect with new people who you'd never know if you didn't put your stories out there where everyone could read them. It's also about feeding off a kind of hive mind, the inteprlay with readers and other writers at all stages of a story's (or personal version of the universe) development. It may seem scary and less intimate, which it is and there's a reason the best stories often go through several versions with a beta reader before seeing the light of day.

To be honest this seems like a good thing. Even back in the pre-internet day not everyone had access to people to help them edit their stories and perfect their crafts. And the people whose stories are least likely to be represented in the mass culture are the very ones (women, ethnic minorities, less well-off social classes) are those with less access to cultured friends and formal artistic education. I'm not so worried about the Manhattan (or even Asheville) waitress writing her first novel on the side; it's the stock-clerk working nights at a Spartanburg Target that I'm more concerned about. Also, from the perspective of artistic diversity, I really want to hear from.

So, Robin McKinley. I'm still a fan of her work, no question. But fanfic just as a way to practice before you become a real artist? That smells stinkowiff.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 29th, 2014 09:54 pm (UTC)
Fanfic, for me at lest, isn't just practices. It's something that has a whole host of legitimate motivations from fostering relationships with other creative types to exploring the stories my generation uses to explore big questions and issues.
That. Every single word.

I have a feeling people who want fanfiction to be some pre-writerly exercise have never really read fanfiction. Or they would know how different fanfic is from canon in many cases.
Jul. 29th, 2014 10:48 pm (UTC)
I like your description of how fanfic can enrich our lives, especially...

It's also a way to participate actively in the stories rather than just consuming them passively.
Jul. 29th, 2014 11:26 pm (UTC)
Very well said. our stories are an art form in their own right.

Many of Shakepeare's greatest works are his own interpretations of earlier plays.

Edited at 2014-07-29 11:29 pm (UTC)
Jul. 30th, 2014 02:57 am (UTC)
Nicely put. There are so many other reasons to write fanfic other than "I want to be a published author some day." It's like someone saying "Well, yes, that village dance/community quilt/church choir is all well and good, but they shouldn't do it out in public like that because it's not really Art, now is it?"

I much prefer Lois McMaster Bujold's opinion of fanfic - it's awesome, she loves to read it, and the only reason she doesn't read fic of her own universes is because her lawyers won't let her (to avoid any risk of a lawsuit if someone claims she stole their idea).

I understand how hard it is to get published, and how hard it is to make money at it. I can see where someone who has somehow managed to get profitably published might, on a gut level, be scared of losing that status. Taken from a purely financial viewpoint, good fanfic writers are potential competition, and a lot of people have the instinct to put down or diminish such threats, even if they don't acknowledge that's what's motivating it.

That's the only way I can really interpret it when a published writer, especially one who's published derivative works (like Beauty or Sherlock), starts claiming there's an absolute qualitative dividing line between what they do and what fanfic writers do. Doesn't make them any less good as an author, but it does give me a slightly lower opinion of them as a person.
Jul. 31st, 2014 12:38 am (UTC)
Well, while she seems a little condescending and patronizing about it, at least she's not downright nasty with it, like Diana Gabaldon or George R.R. Martin. Those two have said some truly scurrilous things, tarring all fanfic writers with the same brush.

I can also understand that if she really doesn't understand the online world, she doesn't understand fanfic.

I'm a little sad to know this, though, because I've always liked her work, and now I'll feel just a little less respect for her.

I don't know WHEN the notion that writing is only acceptable as a hobby if the goal is ultimately to make it a profession will ever go away. Writing fanfic is my avocation NOT my vocation. I do it for fun, but I take it seriously. I have no intention of EVER writing fiction for money. (Non-fiction, OTOH, is another beast altogether.)

Oh well, I'm preaching to choir here! ((hugs))
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )



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