A Return to Form

I started writing fanfic when I was 12. I don’t really know why; I always had an overactive imagination and a strong desire to escape the world I was in. It started, shockingly, with To Kill a Mockingbird because I guess I had some feelings to work out about a Southern boy and I quickly found myself inserting shades of myself into various narratives, mostly anime. The characters I created then were hollow; overpowered fantasies that were all beautiful, lily white and strong and always paired with whatever character I had some feelings about; that or they were some kind of estranged secret sister that never came up until now. We see these kinds of writings now and mock them but for formative youths, it was almost necessary to have a way to escape daily life. 

I did my school work and came home to write, then mostly on paper with pencil so I could always fix a mistake and I shared my work with almost no one. I was proud of my work but in the sort of way anyone is proud of a secret. It was something that I could keep to myself; a place that only I knew. 

I didn’t start sharing my work until I was 14 both physically with friends by sliding folders full of my unfettered musings between classes and on lunch breaks and later in the year online on sites like Quizilla and Xanga. I grew fairly popular because I was attached to a ship that was popular (mostly slash pairings with Envy from FMA and the occasional InuYasha piece). Typing made my work so much easier and I could spend hours in Notepad writing out my deepest desires for characters now in hindsight would start to shape nearly every part of me and my sexuality and orientation. Looking back, I had no idea what I was going; especially as I began to write out sex scene and explicit material. I was mimicking what others were writing; most of us also underage and hadn’t seen the anatomy of the other biological sex. We were all the blind being led by the blind but I don’t think we cared. We continued on as writers with the foundation we built together, as a community, and were prepared to go out into the sea with our headcanons, ships and shipping manifestos. 

I was 15 when I started my longest running fic, a Gravitation series I used to help work through some angst about my sexuality and gender and more importantly helped continue to hone in who I would become as a writer. Unreliable narrators, first person limited, lots of commentary from your main character and occasionally out of character behaviors but always rationalized and rooted with the canon lore of the series. This was also when I started writing to music, letting the beat and rhythm of each song carry my fingers along and focus the many noises in my already-filled brain. I’m listening to music now as I write this piece. I kept writing fanfic well through highschool, even writing some original fiction and taking commissions for pieces from friends where I was paid in favors, clout or money to write them a few chapters or scenes with a character they were particularly fond of with a character of their choosing either canon and original. I liked providing that for others, giving them an outlet, too, as I had given myself. 

When I graduated highschool, I gave up a lot of my anime and manga, assuming that I would grow out of this “phase” that had occupied nearly a decade of my life by then as my aunts had hoped. I didn’t. Within a year, I was back to writing and added roleplay to the mix. I thrived in large roleplay forums and with many partners in many series with OCs perfectly tailored for every situation. Again, this taught me a new skill: completing actions. RPs were based on making sure actions were closed and completed; if you left a door open within the RP, that open space could be used by anyone. You’ll notice that in my fiction that anytime a door is opened, someone closes it; if a product is brought into the scene, it is set down somewhere solid, rooms have depth and proportion and items because rooms aren’t blank slates and to this day I still draw out room layouts and home layouts for various works. 

I had a dedicated RP partner when I was in my third year of college; she was the most formative to my works and my continued dive into fanfiction. She was my muse, my everything. She helped me grow as a writer by giving me a challenge, something I rarely felt like I had. Not that I ever thought my skill was that grand but she was really someone who could keep up with me and could match my energy levels in a way that I could have only ever dreamed of. She continues to be my partner and I am grateful for that. 

I continued to roleplay and that kept me satiated as far as fiction came but it was when my then-girlfriend began to grow interested in my work that I returned to fanfic: picking up my Gravitation series as it was a series that helped bring us together. I would write mostly for her, because of her and at her behest and encouragement. I had a captive audience of one and it was more than enough motivation for me to continue to write. That strategy worked out perfectly until she broke my heart and left me. 

I lost my will to write. I lost my Raison d’être and I couldn’t stomach looking at my work again. While during that time I had another RP partner who kept me entertained from time to time, it was a time I mostly focused on non-fiction and getting this humble little blog up and running. My schedule then didn’t leave me with much time to think about fiction and my day job that also had me writing plenty didn’t leave me with the needed creativity once I returned home from work to want to write much else. 

It was in my late 20s that I decided that I was going to finish my Gravitation series mostly out of spite. I was tired of looking at the unfinished document and tired of feeling sorry for myself and my broken heart: I kept writing, sometimes manically and for hours on end late at night sitting on my bed in my shitty one-room apartment. I finished the series and was triumphant and elated; celebratory in a room to my own and then promptly began working on the sequel knowing that it was unlikely anyone else would see this work ever again. It was too personal, too old, too problematic and too close to my heart to share with others. It was my dirty little secret to be buried with me in death and rot with me for an eternity. 

It took me a long time to decide on posting fanfic publicly again: mostly a desire to reclaim a lost part of my youth and for the most part, my fiction slid under the radar. That was before I started working on a passion project: a MattxMello fic from Death Note that would later balloon to over 50,000 words and 40 chapters. For the first time since my teen years I had an audience, an upload schedule, comments and cliffhangers and fans. 

I had regained part of myself that I had shunned for years and now, it feels even better than ever to be back. 

How I Got Back to Writing Fanfic

It’s a love affair that started when I was at the tender age of 12. I started writing fanfiction of the series that meant a lot to me as a way to escape my tenuous reality and to further interact with the shows I had nearly encyclopedic knowledge of even at a young age. For the uninitiated, fanfic or fanfiction are works of fiction written by fans based on a popular series like a manga/anime, TV show or book series. You can write fanfic to anything and trust me, there is fanfic of it even if you think whatever show or series you’re into isn’t popular. For many, fanfic is a way to either self-insert into a narrative or right the wrongs established by canon. For many writers, writing fanfic can become a way to explore kink, sexuality and even gender; I know it did for me. I was able to self-insert and live out fantasies beyond my wildest dreams even if it was something outlandish as dating the main fictional character or having my own power fantasy. It was a love affair I kept up through high school even doing commissions for friends and patrons to make their favorite ships and scenarios happen. If you wanted a lemon slash fic with your OC and an MC: I was your smut peddler. I loved sharing with the audience I had, the friends I had and I loved reading other fanfic of pairings I liked. I cannot impress upon you enough how social early fanfic was back in the day. It was all about sharing, commenting and more.

Fanfic was and still is an important part of building your fanon and defending your ship in the fan world and being able to bolster your fic with canon and headcanons became a currency to fans. While many were worried about building shipping manifestos, others were more focused on just indulging in a world entirely built on making their dreams come true through fiction. I don’t really remember what it was that got me to stop publishing fanfic. Maybe it was the sites I used to love going down or just gaining a different friend group but steadily one day I just stopped sharing the fic I worked on. But the funny thing was that college and sites going down didn’t stop me from writing fanfic. I continued on, just not really sharing my work with anyone. Even after graduation and moving into my own place I kept on writing fanfic; sharing with at the time a very eager audience of one: my then girlfriend. She was a huge source of inspiration to keep writing, to keep going, to keep creating and even though I was sure that the works I was making would never see other eyes: each chapter I finished was another little love token I could give her and I was content to continue to share. When she broke up with me, for a while, I lost my reason to write. It took a year or two after the breakup to keep going but I did and I went back to writing in solitude, mostly out of spite. I finished a work I started in high school only to continue on writing in the same universe and I was able to indulge every desire I ever had for that work and in my life.

I kept my ability to create OCs and write both the vanilla and smutty arts: it truly is a skill that needs to be honed. All the while I roleplayed and edited and continued to work in fiction and toting my ability to write fiction but still was afraid to show all the years of work that I had hoarded away like a dragon protecting its gold. 

As sensibility changed I got scared of publishing because indeed the times are no longer what they were. In the early days of fanfic the word “problematic” didn’t exist and we reveled in just how much we could push the envelope or shock a reader with smut, filth, or just obscenity. It was rarely ever gratuitous: it always did serve the narrative but we cared very little for trigger or content warnings or for protecting readers from things that may be shocking or unsettling. The newer crowd is sensitive to those things and while I can empathize with wanting to be warned for things that could offend certain sensibilities I was worried that maybe, just maybe I should just go off into that good night; keep my work to myself and age out of fandom like all the new kids on the block assume I should. 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what possessed me to publish again. Maybe it was the influx of fanfic I’ve been reading as a means to pass the time during the pandemic. Maybe it was just the desire to share this part of myself again. Maybe, just maybe it was a desire for feedback and praise. I don’t know what it was that got me to do it: but I did it. And so far, I have no regrets. It’s wonderful getting comments on my work again, being seen again, and being out there again. Each new moment of praise spurs me on to keep going and while it is a little daunting to potentially have a fanfic schedule again as I did in my youth I am also excited to have a burgeoning little audience that seems to like my work. It’s like exercising a muscle that I had let atrophy and writing fiction once more has become social rather than selfish. I haven’t had to sacrifice anything that I want, I get to be myself and share what I’m passionate about with other people that are passionate about the same thing. 

That inherent social nature of fanfic is what drew me into this world decades ago and I didn’t realize how much I missed it when I took my years away to find myself. But the fanfic community has once more welcomed me back like an old friend and damn, it feels good to be home. 

Respecting the Bones of It

I have been writing fanfic since I was 12. Now, fanfic gets a bad rep because why not just write fiction on your own? Well, that’s hard. Creating entirely new worlds and new ideas is not easy to do and it’s beautiful when someone can create a sandbox that millions get to play in.

A sandbox is a great way to imagine a creative work. Since I firmly believe the author is dead, I imagine all works as being up for interpretation and reanimated as the reader so does wish. Now, can the author while still alive add to the work? Sure. I do think that’s possible but it is rare that truly something substantive can be added….wait, does anyone hear an elephant?

As soon as anyone mentions death of the author, we have to talk about Dear Auntie Jo. Now, if you read my column on Fangirl Nation then you know that my relationship with Jo Rowling is…icy. I have not found her Twitter musings helpful to the story though I am grateful to her giving me and countless others a fictional home in Hogwarts. Her recent transphobia made it even easier for me to like Napoleon claim ownership of this sandbox she built for us and I will continue to insist that Harry shouldn’t have married Ginny and that Draco has some feelings to work through when it comes to Potter. 

But while we’re on the topic of sandboxes and death of the author…I want to talk about a phenomena that I have recently been able to put words to that has been brewing in me for a while now as I continue my career as a proud fanfic writer. What do you do when you love the lore of a work but dislike almost every other part of it?

In an earlier post, I say that I write for revenge. Fundamentally, that’s what drives me as  fanfic writer. If I’m writing fanfic it’s because there’s a part of the world I want to see more of. I want more positive representation of Slytherins: so I write. I want to see a certain ship sail: so I write. I want to see a certain part of the galaxy that isn’t full of damn Skywalkers: so I write. 

And being a nerd: I love lore. I may not like Lord of the Rings but I love The Silmarillion. I’m not a huge fan of the Harry Potter books( I love the movies up until the 4th one) anymore but Pottermore is incredibly important to me. I love reading the Forbidden Jedi Texts and the expanded comics in Star Wars but real talk, I don’t want to watch the movies again…

Speaking of Star Wars…let’s drop a truth bomb. I used to be a soft prequel apologist but after finishing the most recent trilogy and the old trilogy; maybe…the movies aren’t good? I mean the old trilogy is a classic but to me is mostly old men hitting each other with light bulbs.  The prequels are of course a nightmare and the new trilogy is a genderbent romp through the old trilogy if you ignore The Last Jedi where Rian Johnson knocked over all of JJ Abrams’ toys in his sandbox. At least the prequels tried to expand the lore, albeit, badly. And the new trilogy seems entirely unconcerned about lore and far more concerned with intertextuality and nostalgia. 

But you have already heard me rant about Star Wars and you all certainly have heard me rant about Auntie Jo Rowling. But there is something new that I find I love the lore but hate the series execution of the lore and for those close to me, this is not a surprise or if you listen to my podcast. But if you aren’t in either of those categories: it’s Game of Thrones

Now, let me preface by saying this. Yes, I know the show is a hot mess and yes I know that the books are “better” and yes I know that it’s a popular thing but hear me out. I still don’t think I like the show. I think the show is little moments of meme-tastic brilliance with some fantastic casting but overall, I still have huge problems with how the show and the show’s source material handles race, gender, violence against women and rape as plot points. I know this stuff happened in history but it’s a choice to make it so prominently in a not fantasy fantasy novel. 

But as a lore nerd, I love the bones of Game of Thrones. I love learning house symbols and house mottos. I love house colors and aligning yourself to a house (which does feel a bit like a race to the bottom as really everyone is awful but on what scale). I love learning the history of the different lands and how the Dornish are so equal with sex and gender because of their strong ties to marriage and their lack of desire to bend to the ways of the West. I love knowing that everyone makes fun of the Tullys for their dumb fish. I love that we all agree the Greyjoys are awful and that if anyone voluntarily aligns themselves with Lannisters, you probably need to back away. 

All of these things I love without really liking the show and the show’s intense violence, racism and misogyny. 

So what do you do when you come across a series that you like in theory but not in practice? Well…study. Do what I did for Game of Thrones. I ingested hours of media and study about the show and watched episodes as I could stomach and was honest when I couldn’t stomach them. I watched video essays (actually it was Lindsay Ellis’ video series on GoT that got me to finally watch it). I watched the video series where each of the house heads talk about their land and their land’s mythology. 

Write. For the love of all that is good: write. If there is a fictional world that you love: study it, master it, make it yours. The author is dead, long live the author.

I think that may be one of the reasons I’m so perplexed by the people who get so angry at media being bad that they have to attack actors and actresses online (which is never the answer). If you don’t like the thing…make something new. That’s way more constructive than being a troll. I also didn’t like The Last Jedi, so what did I do? Went back and re-read the now non-canon book series and comic books.

It’s okay if you don’t like the way a creator or director has taken something you love. It’s okay if you don’t like how a show or movie ended. It’s okay if you don’t like a certain actor’s take on a role. What matters is what you do with that anger and in my opinion, it’s way more healthy and way more constructive to do something with that passion than simply to simmer in sisyphean anger.