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Saturday Book Discussion: Fifty Shades of Fan Fiction



So, you have probably heard about this: Random House is publishing a series called Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, which is basically a ginormous BDSM stroke fic about billionaire Christian Grey and his virginal sub Anastasia Steele.

(Disclaimer: I have read neither. But that's never stopped me from mocking things before.)


"You don't need to knock — just go in." She smiles kindly.

I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet, and falling head first into the office.

Double crap — me and my two left feet! I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Mr. Grey's office, and gentle hands are around me helping me to stand. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness. I have to steel myself to glance up. Holy cow — he's so young.

"Miss Kavanaugh." He extends a long-fingered hand to me once I'm upright. "I'm Christian Grey. Are you all right? Would you like to sit?"

So young — and attractive, very attractive. He's tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt and black tie with unruly dark-copper-colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly. It takes a moment for me to find my voice.

"Um. Actually —" I mutter. If this guy is over thirty I'm a monkey's uncle. In a daze, I place my hand in his and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static. I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate.

"Miss Kavanaugh is indisposed, so she sent me. I hope you don't mind, Mr. Grey."

"And you are?" His voice is warm, possibly amused, but it's difficult to tell from his impassive expression. He looks mildly interested, but above all, polite.

"Anastasia Steele. I'm studying English Literature with Kate, um... Katherine... um.... Miss Kavanaugh at Washington State."

"I see," he says simply. I think I see the ghost of a smile in his expression, but I'm not sure.


Okay, so this is dire. Really, really dire writing. But so what?

Fan Fiction with the serial numbers filed off




Fifty Shades of Grey

BDSM for Dummies.


You have probably heard before the expression "Fan fiction with the serial numbers filed off." The idea being that someone writes a piece of fan fiction, then changes the trademarked names of the source material sufficiently to claim it's an original work and publishes it. Very few professional authors have done this and admitted it, though many more are suspected to have done so. Lois McMaster Bujold's highly-regarded Vorkosigan saga began life as Star Trek fan fiction, though her DS9 short story was edited to unrecognizability before it became the first book in her Vorkosigan series.

ETA: Ms. Bujold says not true. Okay, my bad for repeating fan legend. In my defense, I've only ever read one Vorkosigan book, and it wasn't the first one.

More recently, there is the fandom wank that will never die: Cassandra Clare and her Mortal Instruments series, which is often accused of rehashing most of the material from her Draco Trilogy.

But Fifty Shades of Grey takes things to a whole new level:


You don‘t need to knock – just go in,. she smiles at me, and I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet as usual and falling head first into the office.

I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Mr Cullen‘s office, and gentle hands are around me helping to pull me up. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness. I have to steel
myself to glance up. Holy Crow, he‘s so young…

Miss Hale... he extends a long-fingered hand to me, once I‘m stood. .I‘m Edward Cullen. Are you all right? Would you like to sit?.

He‘s so young… and attractive. Very attractive. Tall, dressed in a fine grey suit, white shirt and black tie with unruly bronze hair and intense, bright green eyes that regard me
shrewdly.

Err… actually,. It takes a moment for me to find my voice, and I think my mouth has plopped open in astonishment. If this guy is over thirty then I‘m a monkey‘s uncle… I extend my hand to him in a daze, and we shake. As our fingers touch I feel a strange current go through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, and I can feel myself blinking… rapidly, matching my heart rate.

Miss Hale is err… indisposed, so she sent me. I hope you don‘t mind, Mr Cullen..

And you are…?. His voice is warm, possibly amused but it‘s difficult to tell from his impassive expression. He looks mildly interested, but above all, polite.

Isabella Swan. I‘m studying English with Rose… err Rosalie… err Miss Hale at Washington State..

I see,. he says simply and I think I can see the ghost of a smile in his expression, but I‘m not sure. .


This is from the Twilight fan fic Masters of the Universe by Snowqueens Icedragon. Who is, of course, E.L. James.

That's right: Fifty Shades of Grey is literally a Twilight fan fic with "Edward Cullen" replaced by "Christian Grey" and "Bella Swan" replaced by "Anastasia Steele" and otherwise unchanged but for a little editing.

Unsurprisingly, Masters of the Universe is no longer posted on fanfiction.net. I'm sure it's not hard to find the complete story elsewhere on the Internet; I found an excerpt here; I quoted the Fifty Shades of Grey excerpt from the free Kindle preview at Amazon. You can also find the sequel, Masters of the Universe II, here, at least until the DMCA take-down notice arrives.

Is that legal?




Mickey � Mouse � is a trademark of the Disney � Corporation � All rights reserved � So help me God �

I will allow fan fiction,
but if you try writing that pervy shit,
my lawyers will strip the flesh from your bones.



Fan fiction itself exists in a sort of legal gray area under U.S. law — while it's widely claimed that it is a violation of copyright, this hasn't ever really been tested in court. There are arguments that non-commercial fan fiction falls under "fair use," but so far no fan fiction author or hosting site has been willing to spend money on lawyers, so cease & desist orders go unchallenged.

At present, fan fiction remains "quasi-legal" in the sense that most copyright holders make no attempt to suppress fan fiction, and some encourage it, so long as there is no attempt made to profit off of it or challenge the original creator's intellectual property rights. Individual authors vary widely in their attitudes towards fan fiction. Some cite fear of losing control over their intellectual property, others simply hate the idea of fans putting their grubby paws on their characters. The Marion Zimmer Bradley case is frequently cited regarding the first objection; Robin Hobb's epic rant is an example of the latter.

Corporations tend to be less tolerant than individual authors (you do not mess with the Mouse), but in general, even Disney and Paramount tend to look the other way where fan fiction is concerned.

However, one thing that will get lawyers involved in a hurry is when you try to make money off of fan fiction. The infamous Russet Noon saga is one of those things that authors who have anti-fan fiction policies point at as examples of clueless fan entitlement.

So, how is Fifty Shades of Grey being published? One assumes that Stephenie Meyer and her lawyers are fully apprised of the situation. One also assumes that Random House's lawyers have made very sure they are on firm legal ground. So, it's legal to do a search & replace on all canon names in your fan fiction and publish it as an original work?

I suspect that this is something Stephenie Meyer just doesn't feel is worth fighting, which doesn't surprise me. Why should she care, really? If she doesn't feel all that protective about her characters (and apparently, Masters of the Universe is an "all-human" fan fiction story; there are no vampires and the only resemblance to Twilight is the names and Bella's clumsiness and dishrag personality), then it's not like people are going to buy Fifty Shades of Grey instead of Twilight, or confuse the brands. Not every author is so litigious that they sue just because they can.

If Meyer had said "No, this is not cool," would Random House have killed the deal? Or would it have gone to court? I don't know. Interesting question. But I wouldn't assume that this precedent means that you can get away with doing the same thing.

But is it real writing?



Since this is LiveJournal, I would bet that the majority of people reading this have read fan fiction and a lot of you write it.

Many professional authors got their start writing fan fiction, and some are willing to admit it. There are a few (such as Naomi Novik) who even admit that they still write fan fic. Generally, though, once you go pro, it's expected that you'll either cease and desist any fan fiction activities or at least keep them on the down-low.

There are authors who are strongly anti-fan fiction and argue that it is at best "training wheels" for writers, and at worst, crippling and that using someone else's characters and world will in no way help one become a better writer.

Being a fan fiction writer myself, I expressed my thoughts on the subject in more detail in Fan fiction will not launch your writing career. While it would be great if J.K. Rowling would give me a license to publish my Alexandra Quick series as a Harry Potter spin-off (and while I'm dreaming, I'd like a side order of supermodels and Swiss villas), I have no desire to try filing the serial numbers off of my fan fiction and make it an original series - a real writer has no shortage of ideas and I can always write something else. But I'm not at all ashamed of my fan fiction and I do think it has helped me hone certain elements of the craft.

Fan fiction has a long, glorious history. Arguably most literature is "fan fiction" of older stories. But with the rise of self-publishing and the publication of works like Fifty Shades of Grey, the lines look like they may become even blurrier than before.

Poll #1827029 Fan fiction

Do you read fan fiction?

Yes, a lot!
76(51.7%)
I used to, but not so much any more.
41(27.9%)
I have read a little.
19(12.9%)
No, and I have no interest in it.
11(7.5%)

Do you write fan fiction?

Yes, a lot!
28(19.0%)
I used to, but not so much any more.
65(44.2%)
I once did, but would never do so now.
12(8.2%)
No, and I never will.
11(7.5%)
NA because I'm not a writer.
31(21.1%)

What do you think of fan fiction?

I love it, and think it's essentially the same as any other fiction.
35(23.8%)
Most fan fiction isn't good, but I enjoy a lot of it.
78(53.1%)
It doesn't interest me much, but I think it's basically harmless.
22(15.0%)
It can be fun, but real writers should leave it alone.
9(6.1%)
It's unethical and/or illegal and I want nothing to do with it.
3(2.0%)





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  • Burr, by Gore Vidal

    Aaron Burr in his own words... kind of. Random House, 1973, 430 pages Here is an extraordinary portrait of one of the most complicated -…

  • Aria: The Masterpiece, Volume 2

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