Always, as a transformative artist, I mind where I came from and where I’m taking my art.
Like a certain famously fannish-first writer, I learned how to write well from other fans. I put myself out there, I got feedback, and I worked closely with other fans if I wasn’t sure a piece was quite audience-ready. I learned how to edit, which served me well when I stepped outside of fandom. Tim appreciated my education and built on that. He taught me even better habits that I brought back to fandom. (In this way each one teaches one and we are all enriched.)
N’oubliez jamais, I tell myself all the time. Just as une actrice peut apprendre jusqu’a son dernier jour, a writer can keep honing her craft until she dies.
So I can’t grudge Cassandra Clare her learning. Not if I’m going to own learning the same way. There’s a lot about her that’s unsavory; the part where she adapted The Mortal Instruments from fanfiction doesn’t quite count. Humans have been telling stories this way forever, making tweaks and changing settings and characters. They haven’t, of course, been transmitting them down the years word for word except in very important cases like prayers and poetry. In that respect, let me be clear, I still find her actions reprehensible. But the way she built her story is familiar. You can’t tell a tale you don’t know. This is why I am letting themes tumble through different guises before they settle. Ultimately I may end up incorporating all the basic plots and characters into the fantasy world I am still building. There is room. If I have to distill the archetypes into different flavors of fiction, that’s what I have to do. That’s the work.
Some part of me does, however, regret that a professional examination and transformation of a given work must be done this way, or else in academic robes.
There’s no question that You Could Make A Life would have died on the table had Taylor Fitzpatrick not chosen to fictionalize her hockey players. It has been understood in what I can only refer to as Gen X fandom that we do not write about real people where they can see it and/or identify us. Everyone maintains plausible deniability. So we make stand-ins, and some of us have fun guessing who’s who.
But there are alternate schools of thought on, say, Harry Potter. What J.K. Rowling did well; where some fans felt she fell short. What might have happened if only the plot had turned this way instead of that. The debatable nature of several characters. We can write all the essays we like and be published and, possibly, taken seriously. What we cannot do is write an alternate Potter and publish that except on our own websites, under pseudonyms.
And it means I can’t use fiction to explore social roles in John Norman’s Gor novels without breaking copyright law, which makes me cranky. The material is not exactly the most accessible. If literature is liquor, this is moonshine with a whiff of antifreeze. It might well drive you mad if you attempt to take it seriously. On rereading Captive of Gor, I always place a different kind of person in Elinor Brinton’s shoes and wonder how that person would fare. I know Norman isn’t giving us the most sympathetic narrator. I suspect he’s doing that on purpose, because he’s not writing for women. He’s writing for men who want to see women like Elinor pushed down and women like Ute and Ena exalted. A woman’s chief virtue on Gor is to please men. There must be something in the water on Gor, because no woman appears capable of independence without periodically going into a frenzy of longing for domination. Nature or nurture?
You’re already nodding off as I wonder these things aloud.
John Norman’s people are not going to storm the Rookery and seize my hard drive — they damned well ought not to; there are family photos on here I’d as soon keep. But they could suppress publication of fiction that turned Norman’s ideas sideways. They could keep Gor manly. They could, in theory, get any fanfiction pulled that wasn’t clearly parody. This is why, in days of yore, we included disclaimers with every story we wrote. The disclaimer can be implicit now because it was traditionally explicit, and fandom’s traditions have paper trails.
If I try to write a Gor that women will take seriously, I’m toast. It’s such a waste of a setting, and such a missed opportunity for dialogue. Flyting via fiction! Meanwhile, rap decided it didn’t give a toss about who owned what and established open lines of communication in-medium — but that’s a thought for another day.
I’m going to toddle off downstairs. There’s stir-fry for supper, homemade, and Poldark to watch. But I won’t forget what I’m wondering. And I want you to question the narrative, too.