Fanfiction is fanfiction. Have fun.

To support the March Drive we asked a few members of our community to write a guest blog about their views on the OTW. Thank you to Jim Hines for contributing this post!

I’ve participated in many discussions about fanfiction, on my blog and elsewhere, and many times I walk away knowing less than I did going into the conversation. I’m no longer entirely certain I even know what fanfic is. My goblin books were very much a reaction to and satire of common fantasy tropes. I even threw in some Lord of the Rings jokes. Was that fanfic? What about my current series, which teams up Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty? Am I writing fairy tale fanfic?

I don’t know. One person whose opinions I respect said the distinction that matters is the legal one, and the old fairy tales are public domain. Fair enough. On the other hand, if I were to take a well-known genius from a show like, oh let’s say Criminal Minds, and turn him into a zombie, would that be fanfiction? Only if I failed to sufficiently file off the serial numbers, I suspect. (Coincidentally, my story “In the Line of Duty” recently came out in the anthology Zombiesque. I’m just saying…) But I have a hard time delineating any clear boundary between fanfiction and other, more “acceptable” derivative work.

I was speaking to another author at World Fantasy Con, and we were talking about Yoda’s fight scene in Attack of the Clones. The scene I like to call “Green Popcorn.” Both of us had mentally rewritten that scene. (For me, it was Yoda using his mastery of the force to simply crush his opponent’s lightsaber hilt.) We did it because we loved that character, and thought he deserved something better, a fight scene worthy of the Muppet we loved from Empire Strikes Back.

Don’t get me wrong. If I were to find someone selling Goblin King, an unauthorized sequel to Jim Hines’ Goblin War, I’d sic my publisher on them in a heartbeat. I’m rather protective of the career that helps to keep my family fed. But at the same time, I want people to wonder what happens next. I want them to care about the characters, to feel invested in their stories. And having been inspired plenty of times by reading or watching other people’s stories, who am I to judge where people draw their own inspiration from?

I’ve seen the whole spectrum of opinions, from “Fanfiction is the Devil’s Prose!” to “Fanfiction is so much better than that commercial dreck.” I don’t buy either view. Fanfiction is fanfiction. Some is brilliant. Some is abysmal. Fanfic authors sometimes get criticized for not writing commercially, but that makes as little sense as criticizing a fantasy author for not writing fortune cookies. For most of us, we write what we love, and we do it because we love it.

I do know that my publisher is uncomfortable with fanfiction. I can understand and respect that, given a rather messy legal situation they ran into years ago (and if your knowledge of that situation is anything like mine was, I can tell you the truth was messier).

For myself, I originally asked people not to write fanfiction of my work, but I changed that stance a while back. These days, my attitude is, “Have fun. Just don’t sell it, and please don’t be offended that, for a number of reasons, I prefer not to know about it.”

There’s an awful lot I don’t know. But I know this much. From time to time, Google Alerts will pull up a link to a fan-written story about Snow and Talia, or a piece of goblin artwork someone posted on their web site, and it makes me smile. Even though I don’t click through to read the story. Because I love these characters too.