Edwardville Blog

June 23rd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Note: This is the author blog that was posted on Edwardville on 6/22/10.

Inspiration, Transformation, & Ownership:
Fic for the Sake of Fic

I wasn’t sure if my face betrayed my shock, but I returned to gazing at the simple, ancient cross, just in case. I quickly did the mental math; the cross was over three hundred and seventy years old. The silence stretched on as I struggled to wrap my mind around the concept of so many years. “Are you all right?” He sounded worried.

“How old is Carlisle?” I asked quietly, ignoring his question, still standing up.

“He just celebrated his three hundred and sixty-second birthday,” Edward said.

Twilight, pp. 330-331

And that was it for me. That moment, when you see someone and you know at once they’re going to change your life. When your stomach drops, and your heart starts pounding and you suddenly feel antsy.

There was the rush of love at first sight for me the first time I read Twilight. But it wasn’t me inserting myself for Bella and falling for Edward. Oh, no. It was me, a writer since she could make letters, falling for the character of Carlisle Cullen. Three hundred and sixty-two, my mind said. All the things he’s seen! And he’s a doctor? As a vampire?

Now, I’ve written my whole life. There weren’t kids my age in my neighborhood, and as the little sister to two snarky teenaged brothers, I learned really fast that if I put my imaginary friends on paper, I could play with them all I wanted without being made fun of. Two decades’ worth of short stories, novels, and random scenes later, I have created dozens of characters of my own, and I’ve read enough books to have seen thousands more.

But no character has ever captured my imagination quite like Carlisle. In Carlisle I saw a magnificent, tortured soul, fighting to redeem himself for sins he’s never committed, and struggling to forgive himself for those he has. I saw endless possibility for this man and the family of broken people that he’s assembled around him. I loved Carlisle from the very beginning—I tore through four thick books just to get the occasional glimpse of him, and then, when it was all over, I began to write.

I posted my first story, “The Talk,” on Twilighted in mid-January 2009, about a week after I finished Breaking Dawn. And I started reading at once—looking for more of the characters I’d loved. I hate it when books end. If a story ends well, I get the sense that the characters are living on without me, and, well, I’m nosy. After I’ve been let so intimately into someone’s life, I don’t like having my access cut off. In fic I found the opportunity to keep prying into the lives of these fascinating immortal humans, to borrow Stephenie Meyer’s term, and their continued trials as a family.

And something bizarre happened. I went back to look at my story…and found that people had written back. They wanted to talk about what parts they’d enjoyed; what had made them laugh—and they wanted to talk about Carlisle. So I kept writing, kept reading, and began turning back layers of fandom, becoming more and more deeply involved.

As I did so, Carlisle moved himself off the page and into my world—a living, breathing person whose dreams and ambitions I carry just as surely as I do for any character of my own creation. I read works of others who included Carlisle, and each time my own perception of him was altered ever so slightly. I read reviews, both mine, and other authors’. I’ve often likened the process to turning a cube into a sphere: each new piece of information pulled from another or forged from my own understanding chops off one “edge” as it were, and as the edges are slowly chopped away, the character emerges rounder and rounder. By the process of reading and writing fic, we transform the characters and their world, and make them our own.

The brilliance, however, is that in this process of making Carlisle my own creation, Carlisle becomes less mine. I make no bones about the fact that I dislike the term “your Carlisle” (or “your” any other character). I welcome those who like the way I write Carlisle to say so (who doesn’t love compliments?), but he is certainly not mine, nor do I want him to be. My disclaimer says he belongs to Stephenie Meyer, but it is so much bigger than that.

When we write and read fic, we put ourselves in the midst of a giant conversation. When we re-imagine the characters to whom we were introduced originally, when we put them in new situations to see how they react, when we depict them as humans, when we transform them so that they feel as though they are coming more from us than from Stephenie, their value is increased exponentially beyond what they were in the original. Fic allows us to collectively reach into the cores of these characters we loved in the books and pull out those essences that we found so attractive so that we might grow to love and understand them even more, or to love and understand characters we never thought we would.

I love Carlisle. No question. But to pretend he is mine actually diminishes his worth. He is valuable to me only in as much as he is a manifestation of who you believe he is. Each time I explore him in writing, read your feedback about whether my portrayal meshes with what you think about him, each time I read someone else’s portrayal and leave a review about what I think of that portrayal, his value is strengthened.

Fic, for this reason, is of tremendous worth. More so, I would argue, than much of standard publishing. But it isn’t the writing, or the story, or anything that an individual writer does that gives it that worth. It is the ways which it re-imagines, transforms, and gives back to the community and the source which created it that make it what it is. You don’t need to pull it, change the names, and sell it; you don’t need to auction it off; you don’t even need to write it yourself, frankly. The mere act of participating in this conversation makes every work more valuable, without a cent exchanging hands.

People have been writing and reading works which derive from and transform other works for millennia. The Hours, Wide Saragasso Sea, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Grendel, The Canturbury Tales—I could go on and on. All these are nothing if not re-imagined versions of prior work. And like the ones we share, the values of these works are strengthened by the ways in which they respond to the original. In sharing the works we create, even in response to work of commercial fiction, we become part of this ancient folk art.

In our fandom, I often hear sentiments like, “It’s just fanfiction” or “Fic shouldn’t deal with that” or “I’m just here for fun.” It’s great to be here for fun, and I will be the first to tell you that the antics of fandom are generally not worth getting upset over. Our source material does, after all, contain benevolent, animal-drinking vampires who sparkle in the sun. But a dangerous side effect of this thinking is that we wind up undermining the inherent worth of what we do, and so authors run themselves ragged trying to publish, get the most reviews, or bring in the most money, all in an effort to gain value their fics already had simply by being fics.

Writing fanfiction can be good practice for writing original fiction. It can bolster an author’s confidence in her own work. It can be a way of bringing in tens of thousands of dollars for charity. And while each of these is terrific (and I use fic for all these things), fic need not do any of these things to be intrinsically worth doing.  That you read fic does not mean you are vapid or wasting time. That you write fic does not mean you’re incapable of producing something on your own (in fact, there’s a good argument that rendering a recognizable version of an existing character is by far the more difficult task). Throughout history, people of all ages, of all educational levels, and all levels of experience with writing have written and read transformative work. That you do it too makes you part of an incredibly rich literary tradition, one not based on an economy of ownership but rather on an economy where the more freely the goods are shared, the more valuable they become.

I write because for me, it’s like breathing. I can’t not do it for any great length of time. But I choose to write fanfiction because the process of sharing it is invaluable. It brings me closer to Carlisle, the character I loved originally, it immerses me in his world, and it puts me in conversation with others who feel the same way. The act of sharing it is itself is fulfilling, and no publishing contract, amount of money, or review count can make it more worthwhile than it already is.

So I’m issuing a challenge. Give yourself permission to take this seriously. Let yourself acknowledge that simplydoing those things gives them value. After all, none of us have more than twenty-four hours in our days. If you’re anything like me, you give up hours and hours that really aren’t “free” in order to do this.

Don’t you owe it to yourself to consider it worth your time?

Monday Musings: A Coming Out

May 17th, 2010 § 14 comments § permalink

On April 23, I gave myself the freedom to do something unusual.

I let myself be a Twilight fan.

Creation Entertainment, AKA The Official Twilight Convention came more or less to my backyard, a 10-minute jaunt over the Potomac. I found out about this almost a year ago, but I thought maybe I would avoid it. But when I found out that Peter was going to be there, I thought, “Maybe I should go.”

I was sufficiently ambivalent about it that I still put off buying tickets until the very last minute, and I didn’t really advertise in fandom that I was going to go, although I thankfully found out via Twitter that some other writers would be there (CullenBabe86, IngenueFic, Izzzyy, and TrixieTropical.) Nevertheless, as the day approached I let myself go a little bit more out. I bought a t-shirt (this is partially for Comic-Con, as well) which has the words “Team Carlisle” spelled out in international phonetic alphabet, and I went ahead with something I’d been planning to do—get printed copies of Ithaca.

Now, this was something I was already doing for my beta readers and my dad. But along the way, I thought…gosh. I could print one for Peter.

And I freaked out about it. The thing is, no one in the world of Twilight would be more pleased to get a copy than Peter, probably. I suspect he’s one of the few, if any, people who actually think as deeply and as constantly about the character of Carlisle Cullen than I do. And while Peter is attractive, I don’t think of him as Carlisle, nor am I really a fan of Peter himself, although I admire his work. I more view us as two people who are fans of the same fictional character.

But there’s a lot of stigma attached to fan work and its connection to the actors, and there’s a lot of feeling that the people in fandom who want to get their work into the actors’ hands somehow think there’s a direct connection between their fanfiction and the actors’ zippers. Now, I don’t know how true that actually is, but fearing that stigma, I really agonized over whether I should just be a normal fan and have Peter autograph a photo for me, or if I should give him something I thought he’d really like.

I went with the latter, and I’m glad I did.

The event itself was terribly fun. I met all the aforementioned people, as well as some new friends who happened to be seated near me. The fans there represented the whole range of Twilight fan ages. There were women in their fifties who came alone, women in their thirties who brought their mothers, young girls who wore Twilight bangles and Team Edward t-shirts. We played trivia. We screamed at the Eclipse trailer. We listened to the ladies from The Lexicon talk about their trips to Forks. We were just fans, sharing something we all enjoyed.

And we listened to Peter. He’s a rambler—you ask him a question and he runs off talking for ten minutes and then remembers he was supposed to be answering a question. He talks about his family a lot, which is so refreshing in this age of high-profile divorces. Perhaps it’s me projecting my reading of his character onto him, but I find it hard to see Peter as anything other than a husband and father. He takes those roles very seriously, and it’s wonderful. He loves talking to his fans, and he’s very earnest in person.

I chose not to buy photo-op tickets—they were expensive, and would have been in addition to my $25 autograph, so I opted out. Around 7, they started running autographs, with the “gold pass” holders first. There were several hundred of those folks. I didn’t get in to see Peter until almost 9:30, by which time he looked so haggard I kind of wanted to tell him to forget my autograph and go get some sleep.

When I got up there, he looked up at me from the table, nodded slightly and said, “I like your hair.” (I have a super-short style.) I thanked him, and had him sign my copy of Ithaca on the half-title page, since only authors get to sign the title. And then I handed him his copy, and said, “You know how you’re always saying that Carlisle didn’t get enough face time in the stories? At the moment, I’ve pretty much devoted my life to changing that.” I explained what the story was, why I was giving it to him, and the extent to which I research the character he plays.

And he lit up. There is no other way to describe what happened right then. He asked me more about it, what the book was about, what kinds of things I look at in Carlisle’s character. Then he insisted on a photo (which weren’t supposed to be taken, since they cost extra money), and also wouldn’t let me go until I had pointed out exactly where I’d autographed his copy, which still, almost a month later, makes me smile—I went in to get an autograph from Peter, and he insisted on having mine.

We talk a lot in this fandom about the distinction between being a “fan,” and we look down on those who “fangirl.” For some reason the term “Big Name Author” has become popular in our fandom where “Big Name Fan” is used in others, because people feel so strongly that they aren’t really associated with Twilight per se—call them a big name, but don’t call them a fan, please.

There were a lot of really wonderful things from that day. I made some new friends; people I knew already from online, and people I’d never met before. I learned a lot about Twilight—how much effort goes in to a lot of things that we scoff at (I even got new insight into Carlisle’s awful scarves). And most importantly, I let myself enjoy it. I put away for a second what fandom would think, this distant relationship we’re supposed to have with the canon, the way we’re supposed to look down our noses at the screaming “fangirls.” Because I was able to do that, to relax enough to say, “You know what, I’m going to give him this book, even though people will think it’s weird and fangirly,” I’m pretty sure I made Peter’s day.  He may never read the book, and if he does, I doubt I’ll ever hear from him. But in that moment, seeing his face, hearing his excitement that someone cared that much about the person he puts a lot of effort into becoming—it was worth it all. And I had a wonderful, refreshing, reviving time that reminded me why I do this in the first place.

Hi, my name is Jess, and I’m a Twilight fan.

Canon Fodder Challenge Winners

May 10th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Many, many, many thanks to all who participated in the Canon Fodder Challenge. Thank you to all who helped judge, including Ruby Wednesday, Elise Shaw, Scarlett71177, Justine Lark, Hoosier Mama, and TrainLindz. The winning stories, and all the other excellent entries, can be found at the contest page.

I’m still digging out from exams, which will be finished on Friday, 5/14. After that, expect to hear from me with a little article about the contest itself; why it was fun, what fics were my favorites, and why it’s restored my faith in fandom.

Rookie Category:

First Place: “Souls to Waste” by Kyrene once Blood Roses
Second Place: “The World According to Kate” by bonnysammy
Third Place: “Quiet Earthquake” by justaskalice
“Post Proelia Praemia” by fantasmeqrt
“One Night in Forks” by kittandchips
“Gifted” by la.tua.cantante.83

Veteran Category:

First Place: “Radiant Possibility” by Scarlett71177
Second Place: “We Who Are Left Behind” by Openhome
Third Place: “Rosalie’s Revenge” by javamomma0921

Judges’ Picks:

Rookie Category:
“Two Blushing Pilgrims” by carbrain

Veteran Category:
Close Your Eyes, Close Your Eyes and Relax” by lts29
“A Life Eternal” by CorinnaTFF
“Madonna and Child” by kimmydonn

Eddies, Bellies, Indies

February 28th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

A short reminder to all who read here that the deadline for voting in the Bellies and Eddies is TONIGHT at 9PM Eastern. Make sure your votes are in! http://www.thecatt.net/tw/Vote.aspx

Also, the Indies end on Tuesday, March 2. Don’t forget to vote there, either. http://theindietwificawards.com/

Please go cast votes for the fics you love! The more people participate in these awards, the more meaningful they are to the authors who are awarded.

Twilight Gift Exchange

February 25th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

As many of you know, I participated in the winter Twilight Gift Exchange. I wrote a fic based on the prompts given to me by another author (which may or may not mean it’s different from the things I usually write!). The fics will be revealed on Monday, but before then, if you’d like to try your hand at guessing which fic is mine, head over to www.fictionators.com for their “Name that Author” challenge. Or, alternatively, feel free to post your guesses here. Have fun!

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