Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Snowman for Grammie

My grandmother lives in a dark, locked house that's crouched up against a hill. Last weekend, while shoveling her driveway, my parents and I decided to make a snowman. Some sticks and leaves, a few unidentified painted wooden pieces from the garage, and a hat that belonged to my deceased great uncle, and we were done.

But why did we orient it so it's facing her tiny kitchen window instead of the road? Why did we do that?

Now, every day, when my grandmother gets up, makes her cup of coffee, and cautiously pulls back the window blind to see what unspeakable things the hooligans or the mafia or the democrats have gotten up to during the night, she is met with the dispassionate, wall-eyed stare of the slowly melting horror across the driveway. The horror wearing my deceased great uncle's hat.

"Getting the mail today? I don't think so."

I would bash it with a baseball bat, but I don't dare. I just know it would only appear again outside my kitchen window. And I live on the second floor.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fan Fiction

Be honest, did the title of this post make you cringe? Did it make you think of excessive adverbs and exclamation points and ellipses? Did it conjure images you've stumbled upon in the black depths of the internetverse and can never, ever unsee?

There is no God.
Be not afraid. I have delved into literature's seedy underbelly, and have lived to tell the implausible and inappropriately sexual tale. I will share what I have learned, internet brethren. For I have written a fanfiction short story.

Celebrating with friends.
It came about because of a contest my favorite video game company was hosting -- write a short story that takes place in the universe of one of their game franchises. The winner gets a bunch of merchandise and a Skype date with the franchise's head writer.

The thing is, I had already started a piece about one of the characters in the fictional universe. Never in my wildest ale-quaffing dreams did I imagine other humans would ever see this piece. EVER. It was really a character study to satisfy my own curiosity.

No, not that kind of character study.
What is WRONG with you?
But when I heard about the contest, I thought, "OK. Why not?" So I whittled it down to 2500 words, added a main character from my very own brain, and sent it in. Will it win? Doubtful. These events draw gazillions of entries from folks who know a lot more about fictional lore than I do. Also, I'm not sure an exploration of the psychological impact of having one's friends incinerated by wizards is the type of theme the judges are really looking for. But maybe it is, who knows?

Anyway, it was a lot of fun to write.

I've written before about the mental barriers we put up -- I can't write this scene because XYZ. But the fanfiction barrier was one I had never crossed.

The question is why? Why don't "writers" write fan fiction?

There are many answers. One is that a lot of fan fiction can never be anything more; it is the creative use of someone else's intellectual property. You can't call up HarperCollins and say, "Hey! I wrote this kickass epic poem about the characters on Grey's Anatomy. What kind of advance can you offer?" And there are only so many official commissions for TV and movie novelizations.

Sigh . . . someday.
Also, we just don't have time to devote our creative energy to something that will never fully be our own and is destined to live in a drawer or on a fan site. There are articles to write, novels to finish, books to review, queries to construct, and other pet projects.

Like scrapbooking.
But perhaps the biggest issue is the company in which we imagine finding ourselves. Crazy, barely literate fangirls and fanboys spewing dreck at each other in a perpetual cycle of OMG UR STORYS SO KEWL LOL!!!!!, unaware that the real creative minds behind their fictional utopias regard them with nothing but scorn and pity -- if, as is doubtful, they are aware of them at all. Because real writers don't write fan fiction. Real writers never get inspired by someone else's story, or character, or universe, and use it as a basis for their own creative work. That would be nuts!

Or maybe they're on to something. Someone once said, "All fiction is fan fiction." And then a lot of other people said it too, so it makes it hard to credit that first someone with it. But he or she was right. We don't write in a vacuum. Our ideas are shaped by our experiences, and our experiences include other people's art. JK Rowling has read Roald Dahl and Diana Wynne Jones. John Williams has studied Beethoven, Saint-Saens, and Holst. Our creative brains like to absorb information and build on it. We like to ask, "What if?"

Granted, a lot of fan fiction answers the question, "What if?" with the equivalent of the Wolvercard (Wolveravier?) above, which I meticulously created for your enjoyment. (You're welcome.) But sometimes people just get immersed in another world. Sometimes people love a work of art so much, they want to add their own voice.

Fan fiction writers are "real writers." Writers are people who write. That's it. There's nothing in there about being famous, or not having another job, or being published, or even being good at writing.

I won't lie, though, a mustache helps.
And there are no rules regarding where inspiration comes from.

A lot of us like to play around with "story starters." I liked to have my junior high students pick a random book off the shelf, open to a random page, and use the first sentence they saw as the first line of a story. Using preexisting settings or characters is just another exercise in story starting.

For me, a lot of good things came out of writing this story. For one thing, there was a deadline, which is always good. But in a larger sense, it was freeing. At first, I felt like I was doing something naughty.

Me? Just -- just doing my taxes. GO AWAY, THEY'RE PRIVATE.
Part of the reason was, due to the nature of the contest's fictional universe, I was writing in a genre I'm not used to. Have you ever done that? I don't mean going from sci-fi to steampunk. I mean going from Ordinary People to Reign of Fire. It's very strange at first. But you get used to it, especially if you read a lot in your new genre.

The other reason this story was a challenge for me was because of the Editor. Everyone has a different name for it, but it's the voice in your head that tells you you suck. Normally, my Editor just says generic things, like you can't write and what's the point of any of this and yeah, those Junior Mints are REALLY going to help you finish this chapter. But over the course of this story, it added to its repertoire this isn't your genre, these aren't your characters and, because the story was for a contest, you have a snowball's chance. Not that the Editor was wrong. But I made myself crack down its barriers one by one.

Ultimately, you have to ask yourself: SO WHAT if this story sucks?

Really. SO WHAT?

WHO CARES what other people, who may exist within or outside the confines of your own head, think? Do you want to try another genre? Do you think it would be fun to experiment with an existing world?

If you've never delved into the world of fan fiction, why not try it? You probably won't publish your personal answer to the question, "What if Balki had been named Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper where Cousin Larry worked?" But maybe breaking the fan fiction barrier in your head will lead to other barrier breakdowns as well. Or maybe you'll just get sued have fun!