Nurtured, it can be a rising tide
Last week, Anna von Veh wrote of her love of the television show Castle, which has become the basis for a series of novels "written" by the fictional lead character. The success of the written work has inspired a host of fan-fiction imitators, some of whom von Veh found to be quite good.
Still, she started out a bit troubled:
Fanfic sits at the margins of mainstream creative endeavour, and interrogates established views of what it means to be a writer; the meaning of intellectual property, creativity, originality, ‘ownership’, boundaries, and the nature of ‘public’.
Over time, the writing of a once-anonymous fan fiction author drew von Veh in, and her firm, Say Books, is now planning to publish the writer's novel, Fences.
In a comment to von Veh's post, I noted that we sometimes forget as writers that we all started out as readers (credit to Richard Nash and William Patry there). We build our own voices by imitating others before striking off on our own.
There's some tension, of course, in situations where homage and practice feels like stealing. But even the original Castle books borrow from well-established writers and writing. The concepts are seldom new. At least in this fan-fiction case, a rising tide carried many boats.
My friend Jason Nolan explained to me that if we think of fan fic like music, it makes more sense. When you start playing an instrument, when you start a band, you play covers. No one expects any different. It may be many years, if at all, before you write any material of your own.
And in the even more exalted example—jazz—famous musicians may spend their entire careers playing their own variations of other people’s tunes.
In visual arts, people often spend formative years either copying or working on other artist’s stuff. In literature we have a problem with the idea of apprenticeship.. maybe it’s time we got over it.
I so totally agree. And, there’s an interesting side note ...
I met Anna last fall at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where she gave a presentation on publishing workflows she called “Improvising madly”. Her co-presenter had been unable to attend, and I joined Anna’s session as a bit of a “color commentator” on workflows (a minor role, for sure).
Anna used jazz as an example of how, once we learn the basics, we can create an almost endless set of variations that please, entertain and even challenge our understanding of what music is. She concludes with a bit of jazz, breaking down for her audience the structure and improvisation.
Thanks Brian. Yes, while I started off troubled by Fanfiction, I found it increasingly fascinating.
If one is interested in semiotics or the philosophy of literature etc, it plays out Derrida’s notions of ‘difference’ and post-structuralist notions of the Subject, and challenges the allied Romantic notion of the individual artist.
And then of course, Fanfiction exists in a digital universe that makes full use of all the matrix-like possibilities for social writing, reading and creative production. It is transmedia, trans’everything’, personified.
And best of all: fanfiction related to TV shows promotes reading of long-form fiction to an audience who might not have read much at all before.
As for Jazz, yes, I think it has a lot to say to us in publishing about how to think about creativity, and the relationship between formal structure, standards, and creative output.
As Saul Bellow said too (we quoted this in an earlier interview with our resident author, Zirk):
“A writer is a reader moved to emulation.”
Which seems very appropriate.