post-Yuletide thinkiness

Yuletide being my first official foray* into fanfiction, I’d like to spend a little time thinking about it. Out loud, of course, because that’s what LJ is for.

(*Technically a lot of the stuff I made up in junior high was fanfiction, either of the “insert my own original character into this novel” or the “huh, I really like this setting, let me run amok in it with only passing references to the canon” varieties. But most of it never got written down, and none of it was really shared with anybody. Hence unofficial.)

I had to offer 4-8 different fandoms, and the ones I chose were: the Gabriel Knight computer games, K-20: The Fiend with Twenty Faces, Hard Boiled (the John Woo film with Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung), Into the Woods (the Sondheim musical), Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Norse mythology, and Francis James Child’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads.

How did I choose them, from a list of about four thousand? Well, I started by eliminating everything I didn’t know well enough to write (or had never heard of at all), which was quite a lot. But that still left me with an order of magnitude more possibilities than I could or should offer, so I needed to make some more blanket cuts.

I decided not to offer any novels. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with novel-based fanfic (I don’t), or because I thought all of those authors disapproved of people ficcing their works (some do, some don’t), but because . . . it felt weird. These people are my colleagues; some are friends, and others I might find myself at a dinner table with next World Fantasy. I knew I would feel awkward if I had written fanfic based on their stuff, so I scratched it off the list.

(This may also mean I don’t request novel sources in the future, either. Technically there are novelizations of the GK games, and of course Hogfather was a book before it was a miniseries, but Jane Jensen is primarily a game designer and I am unlikely to end up at dinner with Sir Pterry. If it happens, well, I’ll deal.)

Then I decided not to offer any historical periods. I had been looking through the 16th century list, thinking how many of the listed people I knew well enough to write, but then I realized it was feeling too much like work — especially since my brain defaults to processing those people through an Onyx Court lens. At some future point, that knee-jerk reflex will probably have faded, so this isn’t a permanent ban; but for this year, it seemed like a good idea to stay away.

I could easily have filled out my entire dance card with folkloric sources: fairy tales, different mythologies, Beowulf, etc. Weirdness crept in there, though, of a different sort; a short story of that kind is also a short story I could theoretically sell. It wouldn’t kill me to give one as a gift, of course, but I didn’t want that little voice in the back of my head yammering at me that this is my job, you know, and that means I ought to earn money where I can. In the end I compromised by making approximately half my offers folkloric, and half not.

Even after all of that, I still had quite a list. Here, at last, the requirements of Yuletide began to weigh upon me: whatever assignment I received, I would be contractually obligated to provide a minimum of one thousand words involving pre-determined characters, and socially obligated to make it the kind of story my recipient was looking for, if at all possible. My subconscious kept trying to look at the list of sources and think up kinds of stories it would be interested in writing, but I kept having to remind myself that it doesn’t work that way. Just because I had an idea for the fandom didn’t mean it would be my recipient’s idea. And if there seemed a high likelihood I might be asked for something I didn’t want to write, I shouldn’t offer. (I can’t remember if this was my specific reason for excluding Elfquest from my list, but it can serve as an example anyway: the Pinis may be on the record as saying Cutter/Skywise slash is canonical, but my brain doesn’t read those characters that way, and I would have a hard time writing such a story if asked for it. But when I saw a specific request I knew I could fulfill, I was happy to write it.)

Finally, I bore in mind the Dark Agenda challenge that runs concurrently with Yuletide, promoting more chromatism in the exchange. This helped tip both K-20 and Hard Boiled onto my list.

The final decisions were a bit random, as I still had something like twenty possibilities to choose from. I just asked myself what seemed like it would be fun, grabbed those, and called it a day.

(BTW, the irony I alluded to a while back was the very real possibility that I would both write and receive Gabriel Knight, as I’m told the matching algorithm often goes first for fandoms with very small numbers. Didn’t happen, though.)

Once assignments were received, I trolled through the list of people’s “Dear Yuletide Writer” letters to see what I might have been given; that’s how I ended up looking at the prompts that resulted in “The Basics of Being a Lady” and “More an Antique Roman.” (“Desert Rain” was, as I said before, a pinch-hit; that person’s assigned writer had defaulted, so I picked it up from the mailing list.) Those pieces were lower-stress, because I got to do exactly what my subconscious had been trying to do while browsing the original list: I came up with an idea, then committed to writing it. The ballad prompts, by contrast, didn’t spark anything especially shiny in my brain, so I shrugged and passed them by.

Ultimately — not that you could tell by the difficulty I had writing “Coyotaje” — I think this was very good practice for that hypothetical day when I start being invited to closed anthologies; there, again, I may be asked to write to some kind of theme or prompt, which isn’t something I have a lot of experience with doing. It was also boatloads of fun, because of the sheer joy and shared fannishness that Yuletide brings out. Here, the old canard holds very true; it’s just as much fun (if not moreso) to give than to receive. It’s social, in a way that writing so rarely is. I got more direct commentary on my Yuletide pieces than on most of the short stories I publish — no joke. The egoboo is non-trivial.

So yes, time permitting, I will do Yuletide again. Will I write more fanfic, outside the exchange? Maybe; I have some ideas bopping around my head, and it’s no bad thing to sometimes do writing that’s purely for fun. But for now, I’ve been a slacker long enough; it’s time to get back to some paying work.

0 Responses to “post-Yuletide thinkiness”

  1. rachelmanija

    I had a similar weeding-out process, though I do offer novels – just not ones written by people I already know personally.

    You can dodge pairings you don’t want to write by limiting the number of characters you offer – only one character, and you can’t be required to pair them with anyone.

    I love Yuletide. I do it every year, even if it’s the only fanfic I write all year.

  2. Marie Brennan

    Mostly it wasn’t specific pairings I had concerns about, although my example was of that kind. It was more “type of story” in general. I’m not real keen to write smut, for example, so if a fandom seemed likely to attract requests for really explicit fics, I figured I shouldn’t offer it. (Not that I can remember examples of which fandoms I thought that about. But I know there were some.)

  3. sartorias

    Yuletide is totally addictive!

    • Marie Brennan

      You didn’t write for it, did you? Or have you just been reading the products?

      • sartorias

        Been writing and reading it four years now, I just use another name, as several friends had expressed extreme dislike of fan fiction a few years back. It was easier this way, though I would never trespass on their creations; I mostly offer dead authors, a TV show or two, and a couple of living authors who have made it clear they approve of fanfic.

  4. anima_mecanique

    I got more direct commentary on my Yuletide pieces than on most of the short stories I publish — no joke. The egoboo is non-trivial.

    This, so much this. Fanfiction is as much about the community as it is about the writing. Writing fanfiction is a social activity in a way that writing original fiction often isn’t. That’s one of the reason I love it so much.

    For note, most people tend to be very flexible on what they actually want for Yuletide. Since everybody involved is writing as well as requesting, they tend to be pretty cognizant of what sorts of things people might not want to write. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone ask for smut without also saying that it’s OK if smut was not provided, and most people tend to give the writer a non-romantic option for pairings. So, if that makes you feel any better about picking up some fandoms next year.

    • Marie Brennan

      Conventions may legitimately be business expenses for professional writers, but they’re also a way to make our solitary work into a social one.

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone ask for smut without also saying that it’s OK if smut was not provided

      I saw that, but I also saw a number where they didn’t really say anything about what they would want if it weren’t smut. Which would leave me in a panic of uncertainty, not knowing which direction I should go in. (I’d probably e-mail the mods and get them to ask for more info.)

  5. Marie Brennan

    The flip side, of course, is that I saw some prompts for which my thought was “um, I’ve published a story like that.” In fact, I e-mailed a link for “The Gospel of Nachash” to somebody whose Bible request was along those lines, since it got posted in that free fiction sampler last week anyway. (Hopefully that didn’t come across as weird.)

  6. jehane_writes

    This is interesting, from the perspective of a profic writer and of my Yulegoat!

    Re: the latter, I realize I might have unwittingly worried you by waxing lyrical about the werewolf smut, but I prefaced my remarks with a, though I am a huge ol’ shipper I would adore the genfic my writer chose to make, and really, I’m pretty sure most fandom people would feel the same. (Supposedly, there is an apocryphal tale of someone asking for Care Bears kinky smut, but I suspect that is a story told to frighten unwary profic writers all over the world.) So: fear not!

    And re: the former – well, there are a couple of famous profic peeps who started off as acclaimed, popular fanfic writers; fewer who’ve done it your way round, seems like! The profic writer on my f-list sees fanfic as being very much of her fandom experience, I think, she wouldn’t stop just because she’s published. You’ve noted the instant, direct feedback aspect, but there’s other stuff as well – the rigorous beta process, the workshopping of works in progress amongst fans and fellow writers, the spreading of fandom excitement. Of course, there are intellectual property/plagiarism risks (IAAL, and am interested in this stuff), but on balance it seems profic writers find benefits to fanfic writing and hanging in fandom. As long as it doesn’t eat too much into paying work time, o’course.

    (Edited for sense. Far too late here, with court tomorrow.)

    • Marie Brennan

      Your prompt was fine; among other things, you gave me the Gabriel/Grace option, which I could have played six different ways. It’s the people whose letter is one line for each prompt, that line asking for smut, and then a passing “oh, but gen is okay, too.” I don’t disbelieve them about the gen, but I also don’t know where to start. And to my eye, since Yuletide is about doing your best to give the recipient what they want, I would feel bad if I ended up giving such a person something gen, since it’s clearly not where their interest lies.

      (I have read the Care Bears story, so the thing itself is clearly not apocryphal; I have no idea what the prompt that sparked it was, though. One thinks it must have mentioned kinky smut, though — or else the writer knew the recipient personally — because a Yuletider is highly unlikely to produce X-rated horror from a beloved childhood cartoon unless they knew the recipient would be amused.)

      Some professionals, of course, disapprove of fanfic, because of concerns about intellectual property or their feeling of ownership toward their characters, but I actually don’t think that’s the main reason, at least among the younger generations, that you get so few people in the pro-to-fan writer direction. Quite simply, we often can’t afford the time and energy. Most of us don’t earn enough money to write full-time (I can only do so because of my husband’s well-paying job), so writing is something that gets done early in the morning, late at night, on lunch breaks or during weekends, and that time really has to be saved for paying work. Plus it takes creative juice, and often there’s only so much of that to go around, especially if the day-job is mentally draining.

      For me, the big difference I see between the two groups is mostly about the squee. <g> Lots of pro writers workshop their stuff, or get beta readers to look it over; what you see on the shelves or in magazines is not necessarily the unadulterated product of our brains. (For one thing, some pro writers can’t spell for beans.) But we operate under a lot of constraints — for short stories, things like word count limits; for novels, what project would be a good follow-on, so our sales numbers don’t drop and our publishers don’t dump us; for both, the tastes of specific editors, whom we have to please if we’re going to ever get to the readers — so it’s more sedate, y’know? And we’re each off in our own little worlds, so while we may be (and often are) fans of each other’s writing, and might bounce up and down to see that has produced another Carter Hall story, we aren’t automatically starting from a position of shared enthusiasm.

      I would love to see more of the squee feed over into how people respond to pro fiction. Lots of online magazines have comment threads or message boards, but they get relatively little action compared to AO3. But I’m not sure how to get that to happen.

      • jehane_writes

        Oh dear, I fear I may have hoped it was apocryphal. *am now afraid to go looking*

        Ah, the squee factor must make a huge difference! I am still new to fandom, but it seems to me that there is an amount of circumspection as to how people give feedback to profic via “official” channels – they might well post in their elJay, “I read this great book today”, but not actively seek out the writer’s message board to leave a squeeful message.

        Further, some message boards are hit and miss – I participate/lurk at the Fables (clockworkstorybook) and the Guy Gavriel Kay (brightweavings) boards, which are populated by squeeing, articulate, kind people, but I have seen unpleasant/really inactive boards.

        Also: to what extent do writers want to interact with their readers in the message board setting? GGK seems to like to hang out with the denizens, and he’ll wade in to commend a particularly astute comment, but I’ve seen other writers wield a heavier stick, which can either provoke or stifle interaction.

        One way, I suppose, is if profic writers were to actively put themselves out there more? e.g. GNeil blogs, tweets, actively solicits feedback. From the little I’ve seen, it appears that for every random stranger that finds your fanfic story and leaves feedback, you’ll get two responses from folks who are your friends or whom you’ve seen in fandom – i.e. people tend to want to leave feedback for writers they feel they have a connection to, as opposed to strangers who might have written some stunning story but whom they don’t (feel as if they) connect with.

        Finally: in terms of workshopping, my profic writer friend has a novel-in-progress, which she is posting in chapters (actually 1,800 to 2,000 word snips) to a selected filter. She seems to have received much constructive feedback, and a strong reaction to a particular chapter triggered a much stronger, and fairly immediate, rewrite. Also, the squeeing does provide motivation? IDK. So I’ve seen that as a huge benefit to the interactive fandom approach.

        (Also, when your book gets here, you might get ready for some squee from me! πŸ˜‰ I’d suggest most readers actually just need a welcoming channel, and some indication that a writer won’t go suddenly apeshit on them.)

        • rachelmanija

          Slave Bear of Care-a-Lot. You’re welcome! πŸ˜‰ It was indeed in response to a prompt that invited something along those lines, though I recall that its actual content surpassed anything the prompter, or anyone else, could have ever imagined.

          Some pro writers (not Marie!) are prone to showing up for discussions and arguing with critical reviews – not even necessarily reviews which are overall negative, but reviews which criticize the works at all.

          This can have a chilling effect on both criticism and squee – once readers know the writers are prone to that, they may decide to not discuss their works publicly at all. There are writers I read but don’t ever discuss in public. Many of my friends have similar lists, and several have cut down on their book-blogging as a result. I think the paucity of discussion of written sf and fantasy online (compared to the enormous volume of discussion of, say, manga) is partly though not entirely due to that.

          So actually, having pro writers either put themselves out less, or at least descend to argue with their readers less, would probably help discussion.

          • jehane_writes

            Well. That last line will stay with me for some time! For which it would be polite to thank you. No, really πŸ˜‰

            The phenomenon of some pro writers charging in and participating in discussions was what I was trying to allude to when I said I’ve seen other writers wield a heavier stick? And it has almost always resulted in the chilling effect you describe. Arguing with readers seldom achieves desired results?

            Some folk seem to strike a happy medium – answering questions posted to a Q&A forum, blogging about reader interaction, showing up at cons and fan get-togethers – but not getting stuck in with the “You’re wrong about this aspect, and here’s why”.

            Maybe friend’s book-blogging works for her because her newbook-blogroll largely comprises folk she trusts, who knew her before she was published, and aren’t shy to argue their case with her? Not that she’s a contentious or confrontational sort, so that interactive feedback thing seems to work well for them.

            Okay, /monopolizing of Marie’s time πŸ˜‰

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