I've never read Seanan McGuire's work (until this thread, anyway), but this tweet essay is fantastic, so I thought I'd take advantage of my sudden, inexplicable popularity to share this with the wider world.
I don't know where the paragraph breaks would be, so I'm breaking it off by tweet, except for where a sentence runs across two.
All right, y'all: we're going to take a moment to talk about my last retweet. Specifically Sarah saying "Every time I talk about writing fanfiction, I get hatemail." I am not tagging her in because I don't want to dogpile her mentions.
Buckle in. It's going to be long one.
I started writing fiction, so far as anyone can tell based on excavation of my old papers (Mom kept everything), around the age of six. In these stories, I went off to Ponyland to play with the Ponies and hang out with Megan. Everyone loved me, naturally. I got to ride unicorns.
Most of the kids I knew were making up the same stories; I was precocious only in that I was already writing them down. The boy three houses over had a very close relationship with the Care Bears. His sister was the best mechanic the Transformers had ever known.
Was most of it self-insert wish-fulfillment? Well, yeah. FUCK, YEAH. We were kids. We were learning how to make up stories, and the best stories were the ones that had a place for us in their centers.
As we got older, most of the boys I knew stopped telling–or at least stopped sharing–those stories. They had discovered that the majority of media centered boys exactly like them, which meant they could move from self-insertion to projection without a hiccup.
(Projection is also an important step in learning how to make believe. If you can't BE the main character, you can let them be your avatar, carrying your essence into the story. Here's the thing, though: it takes time to learn to "ride" avatars that you can't recognize.)
Everyone who grows up on a diet of Western media learns, on some level, to accept The Default as their avatar, because we historically haven't had much choice. Want to be the hero, instead of the love interest, the scrappy sidekick, or the villain? Embrace The Default.
Bit by bit, the number of girls* who would admit to making up their own stories also dropped off. The rest of us, well. We learned that "I had an adventure…" made people laugh at you. We started writing avatars. (*Parts of this thread are very binary, because they are based on my childhood experiences, and I grew up, as many of us did, in a very gender binary world. I am fascinated to see how these experiences with story change as we move into a more fluid and accepting world.)
Only writing avatars also got us laughed at, when people found out about it, got us accused of Mary Sue wish-fulfillment bullshit. We stopped making up original female characters. Many of us stopped making up characters at all.
If we used only existing characters as our avatars, we didn't get laughed at as much. If we used only existing MALE characters–characters we had all been trained to view as The Default, capable of anything, not just of being The Girl–well.
Suddenly we could write ANYTHING WE WANTED. Suddenly we were GODS OF THE FICTIONAL WORLD, and we could finally start telling the stories the shows and books didn't want to give us.
I honestly think that the reason so many fanfic writers are women/girls is a toxic combination of social stigma ("ew, fanfic is a GIRLY thing, ew, it's all PORN, and most of it is GAY PORN") and seeking a way to empathize with The Default.
So you have generations–literal, multiple GENERATIONS–of female authors growing up steeped in fanfic. Making our own stories from high school on, if not before. Trying to find our way to a schema of story that actually fits us.
(You also have generations of queer authors, trans authors, and gender-nonconforming authors, all going on their own journeys. My sexuality definitely influenced my attraction to fanfic, because finally, I wasn't being judged for it.)
This means that you have, again, GENERATIONS of female authors who have gone through the most rigorous writing school in existence, going pro and starting to publish.
Yes: THE most rigorous. FIGHT ME. Fanfic taught me pacing. Taught me dialog. Taught me scene, and structure, and what to do when a deadline attacks. Fanfic taught me to take critique, to be edited, to collaborate, to write to spec. FANFIC MADE ME.
An MFA takes three years. My path from fanfic newbie to published author took me more than a decade.
It's not a structured school. There aren't classes, or finals; you don't get a degree. How fast you learn is tied to how fast you listen, and you can stop whenever you find the place that makes you happy. "Going pro" is not the brass ring for every fanfic author.
A [considerable] number of us started writing fanfic because we wanted to live the stories that we loved, and then discovered that we loved telling stories. We wanted to do it always and forever and maybe…maybe we wanted to tell OUR OWN STORIES.
Maybe we wanted to CHANGE THE DEFAULT.
Can you imagine?
Graduates of a school that doesn't cost money, with a "student body" made of mostly women, CHANGING THE DEFAULT.
Because here's where I'm going to pivot a little, and tell you a filthy, filthy secret: men write fanfic too. They just call it "homage," or "public domain," or "licensed work," and get on with their bad selves.
FUZZY NATION? Fanfic.
Every X-Men comic written since Claremont stopped? Fanfic.
Your beloved HAMILTON? Real-person fanfic. Songfic, even.
When men write fanfic, there is a tendency for the media to report on it as "transformative" and "transgressive" and "a new take on a classic story."
When women do it, the same media goes "hee hee hee she wrote about dicks."
Am I blaming the men who tell the stories? Fuck, no. But when the conversation is always framed as "HE makes LITERATURE, SHE writes TRASH," that is the schema people seize upon. That is the narrative we live.
The Default, now, is that a man who writes fanfic is uplifting and transforming, showing us the pearl within the oyster, whereas all the woman wants to show us is the "pearl" in the "oyster," in the Victorian sense.
AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE VICTORIAN SENSE. But this is just an updated version of the "men write erotica, women write pornography" conversation that's been going on since I was a wee small Seanan sneaking my stepdad's Playboys.
Women who admit they wrote (or still write) fanfic get shit upon, over and over again, because we keep saying, and allowing the media to say, that fanfic is trash, and that by extension, we who write it are garbage people.
It gets used as a "gotcha." I have experienced it directly, the interviewer who drops their voice, leans in conspiratorially close, and asks if the rumors that I used to write…those stories…are true.
They always look so damn shocked when I respond with a cheerful, "Oh, yeah, my agent initially contacted me because she really enjoyed my BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER Faith/Buffy porn!"
[Cue Dayanara rolling her eyes on Seanan's behalf]
I am supposed to be ashamed of my past. I am supposed to repudiate the school where I learned to hold an audience; I am supposed to bury the bodies of all the girls who made me.
Fanfic is a natural human interaction with story. Children do it before they know its name. People who swear they would never do it all the time, retelling fairy tales and Shakespearean dramas and family anecdotes in new lights and new settings. FANFIC WILL NEVER DIE.
We need to acknowledge that fact: we need to accept that fanfic is never going away, and that it would suck a sack of wasps through a funnel if it did, because we need it. We need to center old stories in new ways, to update The Default, and yeah, to see some vampire peen.
So if you know someone who wrinkles their nose at fanfic, or who would tell a former fanfic author that their original fiction is somehow worth less because of their roots, or who is just generally an impacted asshole with legs, remember:
They are wrong.
Fanfic is beautiful.
Writing fanfic teaches you important storytelling skills.
I have a funnel and access to wasps.
Thank you for coming to today's episode of Seanan Gets Mad About Shit.
And thank you for accepting my choice to repost this.
Now I must go…my fingers hurt from the copypasta. 😛
Heard back from the President of Grape, who smirkingly claimed I was “threatening” him.
Since when is, “I know we can solve this quickly and easily and don’t have to get copyright attorneys involved” threatening?
Just to ensure we’re all on the same page, I said (in part):
Please tell me that you care enough about your site that I don’t have to file a lawsuit against you. I don’t want to spend the time and money on something that should be solved by a simple email.
“Please tell me” is a request; a simple desire to know that your users are…I don’t want to say “overzealous” because that might be misconstrued, but you get the idea. The next line is just a suggestion that the whole situation should be able to be solved quickly and painlessly, without getting out the big guns on either side. But this guy is too busy smirking like Martin Shkreli to realize that.
You know how when you accuse someone of raising their voice, they say, “that’s not yelling”, then raise their volume and say, “THIS IS YELLING!“? Here’s me actually yelling…er..threatening:
I was asking nicely, not threatening. But if you can’t tell the difference, it’s no wonder you permit copyright violations.
I’ve changed my mind about the lawsuit–I don’t want to see your smug face in court. I’d be too tempted to beat the stupid out of you and infantile minds like yours are not worth going to jail over.
“Copyright violations” is a touchy subject in this circumstance, especially since no one is actively using my work, and it would be more than mine (more about that in a minute). I don’t know if I would actually try to punch him in court since I’m a bit of a goody-goody, but he at least promoted himself to the rank of “I want to reach through the computer and strangle you”, so there is that.
As for “not my copyright”? No paper trail means no proof that the near-casting agreement ever existed. (Probably why I was angling so hard for a contract–besides the fact that I [naively] thought back then that contracts can hold people to their word.) Which means Disney would happily take me down for copyright violations. And if I go down, I’ll take President Grape’s smirking ass with me.
P.S.: You’re well aware that the books in question would essentially be fanfiction, right? They’d be books that tied into my debut novel, which is based on a tenuous agreement I had with Marvel pre-Disney. If I go down for copyright violations, everyone associated the least little bit with me goes down with me. I’d like to see you smirk your way out of it in front of Disney’s attorneys, but I imagine they wouldn’t allow me access to a television while in jail.
In the words of Katniss, if we burn, you burn with us.
Belated P.S.: as I was emptying my email trash, I discovered a quick note back: "Copyright isn't what you think it is–duplicate titles are allowed. Maybe you're thinking of trademarks?" Maybe you're so fucking dense that you missed "not even my copyright" and "I'm going to enjoy watching you squirm when Disney fries your ass alongside mine."
or: How My Decision was Made for Me
When I'm debating whether to get rid of a potential book (or two), I generally like to make the decision for myself. But sometimes things get so out of hand that you have no choice but to let it go.
There are quite a few book cataloging sites out there, with Goodreads probably being the most famous. One I haven't heard of until a few months ago (I'm going to call it "Grape" out of laziness) when someone on one of the Not Always sites told me about it. (I wish I could remember who it was, because it probably would've saved a lot of the drama I'm about to share!) It seemed pretty easy to join Grape and get my stuff listed, so I did, and was loosely involved in the site until yesterday.
When this person (let's call her "Amanda") found out about my work, she (helpfully) made a page for my debut novel, then made pages for two books I hadn't written yet–Emmeline and Elizabeth.
It didn't bother me at first. There was always the chance I'd write them myself, or pay for a ghostwriter to do them as I mentioned in Prequels, Sequels and Problems.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn't a good idea. It's one thing to make pages for books I'm fairly certain I'll write (Dark and Dirty Games is an excellent example); it's another to make pages for books that I've publicly stated are low on my priority list, as it's not likely they'll ever be written.
After poking around in Grape's FAQ section and its help pages, I decided to ask for help in the forums.
To summarize the responses, the pages can't be deleted, and it's not permissible to ask Amanda to delete them, either.1
"But it's my work and my intellectual property! I'm the one that has control over it, not Amanda!"
"It doesn't matter if they're your books," the users argued. "Amanda posted the pages, they're her work, you have no rights to them and no right to contact her and ask her to remove them." (One user said that Grape isn't a bibliography, it's a catalog of books belonging to people on the site. But that makes no sense, because how can you claim to own a book that's never been written?)2
While I'm sure copyright law doesn't protect books I haven't written, I do know that you can contact sites and ask them to take down pictures and information they have of yours–that's why services that clean up your web presence exist! Which means that the whole "you can't contact Amanda" premise is bullshit.
You're right–I can't contact Amanda, but I can contact "Lambda", who I believe owns the site!
I told Lambda what was going on, argued that I should have control over my intellectual property, and asked her nicely to remove the pages, as I didn't want to file a lawsuit over something that could be solved with a simple email.
Her response? [*crickets*]
While I would've preferred a short response along the lines of "sorry for all the problems–the pages are deleted", not getting one means I don't have to worry about my anxiety being triggered. (Not to mention not having money for an attorney, should it go that far.)
As for the dead books? Why should I write something with so much negativity attached to it?
(I was going to go into detail about the ideas I had for the dead books, but I don't have the energy anymore. I’m just glad this is all–pretty much–over.)
1I honestly don't care about Grape's etiquette–if Amanda wasn't listed as a private user (thereby rendering her unreachable), I would've contacted her and saved myself a headache or seven.
2One user actually had the gall to say, "No one is going to read your books after you threw a hissy fit like this!"
"Ooo, big fucking threat! No one reads my books anyway!"
(They might not read my books, but I noticed an uptick in visitors on my site! HA!)
Sorry for dropping this in here, but I felt like I ought to–despite the fact that it belongs in my diary and is sort of doing exactly what I despair.
I wish I could believe that the world is not going to end, but I cannot convince myself of that. The media and the backlash are so loud that I repeatedly forget that Barack Obama is still our president until approximately 11:59a on January 20¹. And that’s an incredible disservice to him, you know, for all the things he’s done for us and the love he’s shown us. It's a shame, really.
Would I still leave if I had the means to do so? Absolutely. Past Republican victories have been disappointing; this is on the order of signing a four-year lease to hell. More than that, I could hear myself think. After all, once I hear the latest decisions of the Dáil (or the Seanad)² and learn that it’s going to be a blissful 18°C tomorrow, what need have I for the international news?
Also, for those who missed it the other day, I said the following on Twitter:
I cried this morning because I'm afraid of losing Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. My disability victory is now in the trash. #NotMyPresident
And–although I loathe to give this loser space–some asshole had the audacity to retweet/reply:
I cheered this morning because now maybe the freeloaders abusing programs like Medicare and Social Security will be sent beyond The Wall.
Since I couldn't help but feel like that was directed specifically at me (and not necessarily entirely at illegal immigrants), I said the following just before I blocked him:
I wish you every bit of the abuse, depression, panic disorder and bullshit I have suffered since the age of twelve. You deserve it.
Then, to emphasize my point, I pinned the following to my feed (this is the Facebook version):
Somebody said earlier that he hopes Medicare and Social Security will be eliminated, so that "freeloaders" (like me) will be "sent over the wall".
Really? We're deporting seventh generation WHITE GIRLS now? That's news
But hey, I'll leave quietly…just pay for my plane ticket, hand me €5,000 and please ask PM Kenny to have my citizenship ready? Thanks, luv! •sarcastic kisses•
"PM Kenny" being Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny of Ireland, of course.
Do I really think I'm in danger of being deported? About as much as I think €5,000 is sufficient to start my new life! But you know me when I get angry…
¹ I have no idea when the oath is administered during the inauguration ceremony–I just put that in there because it's my diary and I didn't care to look it up!
² The Seanad is the Irish Senate and the Dáil Eireann is the Irish House.
I may be risking my ass by sharing this thought (as I understand that revenge is nothing new to those to whom I am about to refer), but it has been floating around in my head for about a week now, so I feel the need to say something.
There is a certain group (who shall remain unnamed) that seems to be the epitome of modern secret societies. Since it is an activist group, there is no surprise on my part that it took interest in a recent rape case. At any rate, some of the members of the aforementioned group decided to show up at the courthouse where one of the cases was being heard and start a picket line.
Now, I know that I don’t understand this group (and never will, because I think it’s safest to stay the hell away), but I was under the impression that the point of a secret society is to remain a secret. I realize that this group–like the Masons, for example–are what is referred to as an “open secret”. However, if I were in a secret society, I would “hide in plain sight”, as it were. I would certainly not don a mask and join a picket line! What a wonderful way to get caught!
I believe, from what little I know of the legal system, that as long as this group (at that and future protests) remains peaceful, law enforcement has no right to so much as detain them. Nevertheless, how hard would it be for the press (and some concerned citizens or what-have-you) to form a group, run up to the picket line and reveal their identities to the world? Perhaps I’ve been reading too many books lately, but it seems to me that if law enforcement really wanted to get some good leads, all they would have to do is unmask them, haul them in and have the FBI (or someone) question the hell out of them until they (the FBI) can reach the upper echelons, the members of which have caused so many so much trouble in the past.
But–again–I know nothing of this group, save for what I hear on the news. Perhaps part of their open secret is to not hide in plain sight at all, but to be brash and to stake their claim in the world. Me? If I were them, I’d continue to hide.