Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fan Fiction for Beginners (or for snobs)

Years back (in June 2006, actually), I wrote a piece on my own blog called The Snape Theory, finally, wherein I correctly asserted before it was revealed at the end of the series that Snape was a double agent working for good, and that it was for the love of Harry's mother Lily.

Of course, getting the Snape Theory right by the end of the fifth Harry Potter (The Order of the Phoenix) was hardly a stretch for a romance writer, it being our business to discern and delineate secret smoldering passions. Still, it got me much cred with my then-eleven-year-old niece, who could horcrux me under the table when it came to minor Harry Potter details and characters, but hadn't figured out the Snape thing yet.

And it also got me a fascinating piece of fanmail, directing me to some down-and-dirty and really rather well-written Harry Potter BDSM fan fiction -- about an intellectual relationship that (just as she becomes chronologically old enough) becomes an erotic one between Snape and Hermione.

I kinda enjoyed it, and was grateful to be pointed to it. I liked the idea of Snape wearing tight black jeans under his robes (not what Rowling intended, of course, but certainly a compassionate compensation for that heart-rending scene in the pensieve at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). And everybody who plays for the smart girl team will be gladdened by Hermione having an erotic partner who matches her in intellect. And then there's the strange point, which I have never quite understood, but which I feel to be absolutely true -- that BDSM is a kink often preferred by wonky types (I'll write more on this someday, I promise, but if anybody has any ideas I'd love to hear them now).

Anyway, I searched around in this fan fiction site, and followed links for a while... but then I went back to the book I was trying to write at the time and didn't think of fan fiction again until recently. Partly I was reminded of it when I read this quip from the supersmart lit-and-culture blogger Caleb Crain, who said he couldn't claim "to have read much fan fiction, but I feel as if I've been reading academic papers about it since I was an undergrad."

It's true -- particularly in the 90s, hip lit critics adored fan fiction, because it seemed to point to new and interesting aspects of the reading-writing continuum -- and perhaps also to point to a truth not generally acknowledged about a certain kind of reading, the adoring fans' desire to imagine characters' untold stories. We like to give them the breaks their authors never gave them (for Snape, something a whole lot better under his robes than the "skinny, pallid legs" and "graying underpants" Rowling gave him in the pensieve scene).

Sometimes, in the romance world, minor characters get their own books (sometimes this is sincere, sometimes market-driven, c'est la vie capitaliste, I guess). Sometimes, perhaps, it's the urge to continue a job well begun -- read the tough-love justice meted out on the final page of Pride and Prejudice: perhaps (I suppose this series assumes) England would be a better place if Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were solving all the unsolved crimes and dispensing rewards and punishments a la Lord and Lady Peter Wimsey. (I haven't read any of those Darcy mysteries -- have any of you? -- but I'll confess to a real adolescent wonky romantic thing for Peter Wimsey.)

And sometimes, as in the case of our own Colette Gale, the ending of The Phantom of the Opera just can't hold without the real lovers getting together. Colette, of course, writes in a "classics retold" subgenre. Retold and re-eroticized. Or perhaps (this is the fan fiction connection, I think) picking up on hints of eroticism in the original...?

Sometimes the eroticism really is there in the original -- or almost. The first time I read about fan fiction, it was (possibly like Caleb Crain) in the 90s, in the work of literary scholar Constance Penley. I think the word was slash fiction -- though I'm not sure what that meant. But in any case, Penley was gaga (her word) over stories of sex between Kirk and Spock by Star Trek fans. And whereas I don't believe that Gene Roddenberry had intended a sexual relationship, certainly there's an erotic vibe between two polar modes of macho -- Kirk the impetuous and Spock the remote, repressed, and contemplative. Which probably has something to do with the popularity of m-m couplings today (crumpet strumpets who mine this vein, please comment!)

Which brings me to the real reason I'm writing about fan fiction, because what I'm playing with right now is my own retelling of a classic novel -- to tell the "real" story that it's my pleasure to propose that the author was too proper to reveal. Perhaps like Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead -- well, that's a literary and hifalutin example. Or perhaps more like fan fiction. Where are the boundaries?

Boundaries or not, right now for me it's a journey and a challenge. The sex parts are pure pleasure. Righting injustices that I perceive in the original is a delight. Knowing how much to reveal about the "original," ostensible plot is a headache -- because some readers will have read the original and others will not have. I want it to work for everybody.

And I also want to know what you think about this farrago of partially digested ideas. I know that at least one of the crumpets (Celia) has written fan fiction. And that others of you have written m-m erotica and classics retold stories. Readers, what do you think? Writers, what have been your experiences?


Sharon Page said...

A terrific, thought-inspiring post, Pam. I've included m-m in my vampire stories because it seemed a natural extension of a very passionate relatonship--based on love, trust, jealousy, anger, and a good dose of male posturing. And I've discovered many straight men have the fantasy (possibly a 'safe' on in marriage?), and like acting it out to some extent.
Interestingly some of my inspiration was Buffy fan fic involving erotic encounters between (Of course) Angel and Spike. Maybe at the core, there's that battle for domination that plays to our primitive instincts.

Had no idea there was BDSM Harry Potter fan fic, though.

Lil said...

I admit that I haven't read any fan-fic though I had heard about it. In truth I don't even know where to look.

However, I like having fairytales and classics retold. Have been meaning to search out the two by Colette Gale.

Am a relatively new reader regarding m/m romance and completely agree with Sharon's thoughts on the matter. Recently came across a rather elegant book called Phyllida and the Brotherhood Philander by Ann Herendeen. Impressed me. Featured a Regency setting and m/m as well as bi romance.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Sharon's answer makes sense. Perhaps romance authors take on m-m situations because our readers are tougher than they used to be, and can tolerated that much more testosterone. Or maybe because they've figured out that certain male behavior can be better settled in an m-m context, and that anyway, we like to watch (at least on the page).

Celia May Hart said...

When I was in the fanfic world (back in the day) there was a lot of m-m stuff (that's known as slash). I mean, pick a fandom and there it was. The Highlander fandom was packed with it. (I didn't write in that fandom, but I had a major crush on Methos.)

I have actually, pretty happily left the fanfic world behind.

Anyway, I often wondered if the slash aspect came out because there were very few female characters of note to hook up with. Kirk had his "shag of the week" (please note, I have watched very few of the the Star Trek series), for example.

It's like the C.S. Forester series (with Ioan Gryffud, drawing a blank on the name). They're all in the navy and they're all men, with the occasional female who will either betray them or need to be rescued, or both. Where on earth can you put the romance?