05 May 2012

Celebrating the Fan in All of Us

This month Beyond the Veil celebrates fans--in other words, all of us.

Readers are fans, especially when they wait for an author's new release with the kind of anticipation usually ascribed to a seven-year-old in the days before Christmas.  They write passionate letters to their idols, which can be both positive and negative, as when a devoted fan of the In Death futuristic mysteries Nora Roberts writes as J.D. Robb advised La Nora that she'd given a recurring character two different back stories.  Oops!

But the fan was right, and Nora inserted a scene in her next In Death book to resolve the conflict.  I suspect Nora responded so well, because she, too, is a fan.  After all, her "origin myth" has her starting to write in a snow storm, largely because she'd run out of romances to read.  And though she usually--usually--denies the resemblance, anyone who can't see the similarities between In Death's hero, Roarke, and the young Pierce Brosnan isn't paying attention.  Ditto the "coincidence" of series heroine Eve Dallas's love of long leather coats and diamonds, and the sartorial preferences of a certain brown-haired Maryland writer.

I've been hanging with and interviewing writers for years, and without exception, every single one I've interviewed can point to the single work that made them want to be a writer.  Notice, I said "work".  It isn't always a novel or short story.  The list of writers who wrote their first stories in an effort to continue Star Trek, the Original Series, or The Man From Uncle is too long and (sometimes) too embarrassed to mention. 

I grew up determined to become a reporter because my childhood heroes were Lois Lane and Brenda Starr.  The first short story I completed after high school was a fan fiction to obtain entry into the Highlander, the Series, fan group known as the Methos Harem.  Believe it or not, bestselling fantasy writer Rachel Caine was a member, too, under her fan girl pseudonym Julie Fortune. 

This was years before the Twilight fan fiction 50 Shades of Gray got a zillion-dollar advance from a Big Six New York publisher and a legal opinion that it was separate work from Stephanie Meyers' Twilight, despite the similarities of plot and expression.  (I still want to meet the lawyer who pulled that off.)  Fan fiction writers were told what we did was derivative and a danger to the originators' copyright.  We flew under the radar, handing off photocopied compilations of our stories at franchise conventions.  And never, ever, did we dare accept money for what we were doing.

Which isn't to say we didn't benefit.  Just being inspired enough to write and finish a story was a big deal to me back then.  The Methos Harem gave me my first taste of fan praise and criticism, both key to the growth of any writer.  In addition to many dear friends, I met my late writing partner Teri Smith in the group, and we embarked on what would become our first novel.  I also learned how volatile on-line groups can be, a key step in learning how to use the Internet.

The novel Teri and I wrote started life as a fan fiction.  When we split from the Harem, we decided to rewrite it into something totally original.  But the core themes remained: how fans can become friends, how fannish interests can lead to deeper connections, and how the connections forged in fandom can become life lines in the real world.

They did for me.  The novel/love letter to fandom Teri and I wrote together was With Nine You Get Vanyr.  She died suddenly two weeks before its initial release.  It was like losing a sister, and it took the sisterhood of fellow fans to get me through.

I'm a fan and proud of it.  What about you?

~Jean Marie Ward

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