The Unexpected, and a Confession

Apropos of last week, I finished the rough draft of the new Lord Yamada story yesterday. I am honestly surprised. I have to blame the Flash Fiction group, since I was looking at the trigger word for that week’s assignment and thought to myself…that’s a Yamada story.

No way.

Yes, way.

So first I wrote the flash, then went on to expand it to (to me) proper story length. It’s still short for a Yamada piece. Most of those were in the 5-7k range and many went to novelette, even excluding the actual novels. This one’s only about 3000 words. May get a little longer (or shorter) in the rewrite. We’ll see. If and when it’s published, I’ll be sure to let everyone who’s interested know. And even those who aren’t. Blogging is like that.

Now the confession, triggered by a twitter exchange I saw a few days ago. A writer I know was confessing to writing fan-fic when she was starting out. Several others chimed in to, sharing their confessions. Some were still writing it, long after they turned pro.

I found this all a bit fascinating, so herein is my confession: I have never written fan-fic.

For the one or two of you out there who don’t know what fan-fic is, it’s simply writing your own stories using someone else’s characters and set in their universe. Just for fun. Or because you think you could handle certain things better than they did.

But wait, Straw Man says. I know for a fact you’ve written stories featuring Beowulf, and Oedipus, Hera, and Eris, Goddess of Discord.  You didn’t invent them! Very true. And I will concede that, legendary or not, someone made them up at some point. Unless Eris or Hera takes offense at that categorization and I therefore humbly withdraw it. I don’t want either one mad at me. Regardless, in my mind there’s a very fine but definite distinction between writing a story based on legend and writing, say, a Harry Potter story. That distinction is the author.

That, to me, is the difference. Writing a story based on a legend and supplying my own slant on the story is being part of a conversation that we, as human beings, have been having with ourselves for a long time, and one that deserves to continue. Writing in a known author’s universe, otoh, is me playing in their sandbox, and I do not belong there. It’s not even about copyright, for the most part, since most fan-fic writers only publish in closed groups and aren’t trying to usurp the original author’s prerogative. Even in cases where the copyright has expired, I still can’t do it.

It’s not a moral position. I know other people don’t have this problem, and if you can do something interesting with a public domain work, go for it.

There have been times when I’ve wanted to, mind you. A few years ago someone was putting together a Fritz Leiber tribute anthology. At that point, Fafhrd and the Mouser were fair game, and  since Leiber was one of my favorite writers ever, I wanted in.

I couldn’t do it. I tried, but every word I put down on paper echoed in my head as the same word: wrong. And no matter what I told myself, or what I wrote, that word never changed.

I’ll always regret not having my work in that book. But I’ll never regret why.