More Shades of Grey

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A few weeks back I noted the rise and rise of a novel by Australian writer Amanda Hayward titled Fifty Shades of Grey.  As also mentioned John Birmingham stated that it was really just fan fiction, in this case Twilight fan fiction based on the vampire novels of Stephanie Meyer, with names changed to protect the "innocent".

This novel has started to cause a fair bit of comment, not least because it was picked up at auction by big US publisher Vintage for seven figures at auction.  That's enough to get the attention of most people in the publishing world.  In the wake of this attention Elizabeth Minkel has now written a piece about the book, and on fan fiction generally, on the weblog "The Millions". 

For those not sure about what this is all about it's best to start with a few definitions.

Back when I started in sf fandom in the mid-70s the term "fan fiction" referred to science fiction stories written by fans and published in small print-run magazines called "fanzines".  These stories were original, often poorly written, and never intended for publication to a wider audience.  The writers were basically just starting out and wanted to just see their names in print.  But the point was, they were original. At that time there weren't a lot of media fanzines in Australia - fanzines dedicated to discussing an sf film or television series: Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who etc - but as these started to increase in number it became clear that they were publishing sf stories using the characters from these films and tv series as the centre-pieces for their work.  And the definition of the term "fan fiction" slowly morphed into what it is deemed to be today.

By the way, don't confuse "fan fiction" with "faan fiction" which is rather different in that it uses the actual names of sf fans in sf parodies or comedies - see "Tuckerization" as an example.

So "fan fiction", and its strange off-spring "slash fiction", started in the media world, concentrating on the big and small screens for inspiration. And then, sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, it began to change and enlarge and look to books for source material.  The Harry Potter novels of J.K. Rowling may well have been the kick-off for this, though I'm sure there were instances of Tolkein and Anne McCaffrey fan fiction beforehand.  But Rowling's novels, the fenzy that surrounded them and the subsequent films, really kicked fan fiction into another world.  Stephanie Meyer's work, which always seemed to me to ride on the coat-tails of Rowling, merely continued the fan fiction trend in a similar way. 

All of which has brought us to where we are now - with a Twilight-inspired piece of fan fiction riding high in the publishing world.

Minkel raises the point that this is nothing new: citing Tom Stoppard's play Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, based on Hamlet; and Peter Carey's novel Jack Maggs, based on Dickens's Great Expectations. True, but the original works here were classics, way out of copyright and basically available to anyone to use.  The current crop of fan fiction relies on recent works, which are still under copyright, and there lies the major difference. 

Maybe I'm implying an injustice on Hayward that isn't fair.  Maybe, and it seems like this might be the case, she took her early Twilight-inspired fan fiction and morphed it into something similar but recognizably different. If so she has made the leap that she needed to make. I hope others that might be tempted to follow her success also follow that path.

There is nothing new under the sun in the field of literature; it's all in the author's intentions.  Homage is fine, theft is not.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 6, 2012 11:27 AM.

Matilda's Absence was the previous entry in this blog.

Combined Reviews: Spirit of Progress by Steven Carroll is the next entry in this blog.

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