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.