The Way of the Word

3. January 2010


Filed under: general — jensaltmann @ 18:28
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I admit, I’m guilty of it myself. Not just once, but twice. Technically.

Once, as a teenager, I wrote a New Teen Titans novel. That was back when Dick Grayson was still Robin. I even went so far to send a copy to Marv Wolfman c/o DC Comics. (Marv was the series writer at the time.) I asked him recently, and he told me that he has no memory of receving it. Even if he had, he couldn’t have read it anyway. At the time, I didn’t know such things. (These days, I hold it that way myself.)

The other time was when I wrote a Knight Rider/Incredible Hulk crossover story. My grandmother was a big fan of both TV shows. I wrote the story as a birthday present. A few years after her death, I submitted it to a fanzine for crossover stories, and it was published.

These days, I no longer do fanfic. Or would I? The trick is, how do you define fanfic?

The official definition is:

Fiction written by fans as an extension of an admired work or series of works, especially a television show, often posted on the Internet or published in fanzines.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But where do you draw the line? For ages now, comic books have been created by people who entered the medium because they were fans of the series they now write. Does that make what they do fanfiction? Star Trek fans who now write official Star Trek novels, do they produce fanfic? When Philip José Farmer wrote several Doc Savage novels, was that fanfic?
It’s a very old debate: does it stop being fanfic if it’s officially sanctioned and the writer gets paid for it?
If I got a call or e-mail tomorrow inviting me to contribute to the Star Trek or Star Wars or James Bond series, I’d jump at the chance. (Don’t laugh. I’m confident that I can write a better Bond novel than Sebastian Faulks did.) I’m a professional writer, and I’d approach it professionally. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m a fan (at least of certain iterations of these franchises), and that would influence what I do. It would influence how I approach the characters, and I’d probably fall victim to the “wouldn’t it be cool”-syndrome.
To break the stream of thought, you probably wonder why I’m suddenly talking about this. It’s quite simple, really, if you’ve read this blog. I recently reviewed the fanseries Star Trek Phase II, and I’m currently reading Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy, which is Lawhead’s take on the Robin Hood legend. ST Phase II is pure fanfic, done for the love of the characters and concepts and not for profit. The King Raven trilogy has a commercial nature, it’s written by a professional writer, professionally published, and it makes everyone what I expect is a nice bit of money. In its own way, however, it’s as much fanfic as the Star Trek webseries.  Lawhead certainly wouldn’t have written a Robin Hood story if he weren’t a fan of the character.
As a reader, I’m less fond of professional fanfic. Just look at the bookstores. How many versions of the Robin Hood saga are out there? How many versions of the King Arthur legend? Of Dracula*, of Frankenstein? How many versions of each of these stories do you need? How many sequels to those classic stories are required? Does the world need Dracula 2, or a sequel to Oliver Twist? I’m not even counting the number of tie-in novels. I admit that I also have some Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Star Wars and Burn Notice novels on the shelf. I’ve become a bit more critical of them over the years, as they started to crown all-original works out of the bookstores, but they are a good way for a writer to increase audience awareness of their original work. And even if they are derivative, at least they tell new stories, instead of looking for a new way to retell an old story.
The years have made me a bit snobby about this. I used to have the complete Conan saga, not just the original stories (albeit edited) by Robert E. Howard, but also the official novels by other writers. I used to have numerous Zorro novels, beyond the stories by Johnston McCulley. I used to have Sherlock Holmes stories not written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Then one day, I decided that the originals were all I needed, and weeded all those fanfic books out.
Wow, did I get a lot of space on my bookshelf.
Don’t you wonder just what the point of all this rambling is? I confess that I’m not entirely sure myself. On the one hand, I wish that professional writers would stop writing fanfic, and leave that to the amateurs. On the other hand, I have enjoyed quite a few novels that I would now rate as fanfic. I still enjoy the occasional media tie-in, which is at the very least borderline fanfic. And I wouldn’t hestiate to write that kind of thing myself, so long as I got paid for it.
Did I ever tell you of my idea for a Burn Notice story where Michael Westen has to save Fi from a British secret agent who is clearly a James Bond analogue, but not so much so that they can sue? Urm… forget I said that. 🙂
Let’s talk about it. Where do you draw the line between fanfic and professional? What do you think of how professional writers and publishers mine old legends and stories?
*I admit to a double standard here: I enjoned Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula Tape a lot more than Bram Stoker’s original, but I do believe that he went overboard with the sequels.


  1. Nicely said, Jens. I agree with your assessment of Saberhagen’s stuff. I’ve never written fanfic, dunno why, but if I got the call I’d hop over in a heartbeat, too.

    Comment by Jason Arnett — 3. January 2010 @ 19:26

  2. Never tried fanfic. Closest I got was basing my story on an inspiring line from a song, which ended up having nothing to do with what the song was about no matter what way you looked at it.

    Comment by uninvoked — 3. January 2010 @ 19:38

  3. Jason, I sometimes think that writing fanfic is a phase a lot of people in the various fandoms go through. Some grow out of it, some consider it fun and continue, some move on to writing their own stuff, and some make a career out of it.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 3. January 2010 @ 21:18

  4. Uninvoked, my last published novel, Jahrmarkt des Grauens, was inspired by a song from Kiss: Psycho Circus. Just recently, I listened to Guilty Sky for the umpteenth time, only this time it gave me an idea for a pulpish action series. When I started to plan the series, I quickly moved away from most of the song, but it still inspires a lot of what the main character will be about. Taking inspiration from a song doesn’t count as fanfic.

    The one part I never understood about fanfic is “shipping.” Perhaps because my brain isn’t wired that way. I never wasted a single thought to the possible sexual relations between fictitious characters. So I’ve no interest at all in making up stories of various characters having sex, or reading about it, and I don’t understand that at all.

    Comment by jensaltmann — 3. January 2010 @ 21:26

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