I should not even post this, because it is a shitstorm in the making, but OMG.
Sharon Lee/ of Sharon Lee & Steve Miller is doing an open Q&A, and posts a response to a question about fan fiction over here.
Fan fiction is an incredibly touchy topic, and I thought Sharon responded with an enormous amount of grace and intelligence in her explanation of why she doesn’t like or support fan fiction of their universe.
I should not, of course, have read the trackback links on the blog entry.
One heavily weighted version of those responses is “I won’t read anything by writers who don’t condone fanfic of their universes,” which I think is stupid, but okay, that’s the reader’s decision, fine.
The other emphatic response is “The authors of these works have no right to tell me I can’t write fic in their universe,” with bonus “what is their fear, that someone will DO IT BETTER?”
Let me come right out and say that this is bullshit.
Look, I have written more than my share of fic in the day. I freaking *love* playing in somebody else’s universe. I have written more words of X-Men fic than comprise the entire 11 book Walker Papers series. I wrote an entire Highlander novel, which, while intended at the time for publication, has been essentially relegated to fan fiction, and has been posted online as such.
And know what? If the owners of those properties hit me with a cease and desist? That would absolfuckinglutely be within their rights.
Would I think they were being poor sports? Yeah, probably, especially with Highlander, which is a moribund property right now. If it was something like the Liaden Universe®, which Miller & Lee are actively pursuing and make their living from? I might still think they were poor sports, but I would totally feel it was their right to be poor sports about it.
And, y’know, nobody in the goddamned world can stop somebody from writing fan fic, but a fic writer does not then have to post it on the internet. Back in the day, of course, people wrote fic and snailmailed copies of it to each other, which got them an audience; today you post it and anybody can access it. This is magnitudes of difference in scale, and yeah, frankly, I think it’s relevant. If you want an audience for your stories that badly, write something original instead of in a universe the authors don’t want fic written in.
The argument that nobody’s making a profit from it? Arguable, because on fic sites there are advertisers who do make a profit, so I don’t know where to come down on that line. But presumably the fic author isn’t making money and the original author isn’t technically losing any, the argument goes who does it hurt? Well, perhaps nobody, but not hurting still doesn’t actually make it okay for people to post stories in a universe the authors have specifically asked them not to.
So what do I personally feel about fic? Well, look, I flipped out so gleefully over Faith Hunter‘s Jane Yellowrock that I wrote a fic of her world WITH MY OWN CHARACTER IN IT and sent it to her. And then we wrote an entire novella, proudly proclaimed as “fan fiction by the authors themselves”, and put it up for sale. Because we are the owners of those copyrights, and we’re allowed to play and profit in those worlds for that reason.
Back before URBAN SHAMAN was released, I admit I thought I was totally down with fic. Then URBAN SHAMAN came out and within weeks somebody asked if they could write a fic about (spoiler) Joanne’s son. I was like, DUDE. THAT’S BOOK EIGHT. BOOK ONE JUST FREAKING CAME OUT. GIVE ME A CHANCE!
The truth is, I don’t really care if people write, or even post, fic about my books. I don’t know if they have. Let me also emphasize this: I do not want to know if they have. If they love the worlds enough to write fic, I’m delighted. Am I afraid they’ll do better than I will? Not even vaguely. Am I afraid they’ll fuck up the characters beyond redemption? Eh, not really, because at the end of the day it’s a bit like Raymond Chandler said about movies: my words, my books, are still safe on the shelves. From my perspective, fic writers are not going to change that.
But ultimately, we are talking about intellectual properties, about the way authors make a living, and about their right to exercise their discretion regarding that intellectual property and their income in the way they choose. I say that it is bullshit for fic writers to claim that a writer does not have the right to say “This is not okay,” about fan fiction. The arrogance is appalling, and I can only conclude–hope, assume–that people who take that stance are very young indeed, and that they might someday grow up to be people who not only love an author’s work, but respect that author’s right to create boundaries around that work.
The old saying about liberals being conservatives who’ve never been mugged comes to mind. :)