CRAFT (sort of): Playing in FamousAuthor’s World–for money

I’ll need to make this quick, as this morning I had one of those “ocular migraines” (where you see a colored halo of sorts superimposed on your visual field), and my eyes are still sore. But I wanted to respond to a couple of questions out of the comment thread, and I figured this is a better venue, as many people don’t go back to read comment threads on older entries.

Someone asked how I felt about those who write a follow-up novel to someone else’s series (after the original author has stopped doing them) or who write in franchised worlds such as Trek. In other words, do I see that as fan fiction.

Well, if you have a contract, and you have the consent of the original author/estate and/or the “bible” of the franchised series, then obviously you’re not just writing as a fan, but are positioned as well as anyone can be. I would LOVE to do even work-for-hire, *if* it were characters I know well enough and *if* others agreed that I had nailed the characters well. I’d do it for the old “Donna Parker” teen mystery series, and I used-to-would’ve felt confident in doing it for the Bobbsey Twins series, but I’m now distanced so far from the Fab Four (BT) that I couldn’t do that. I never did feel that I could get properly into the heads of most other authors’ characters, though, so I doubt that I could do any others. *Maybe* Jessica Fletcher, but somebody else has that franchise nailed down.

I think it’s a very wise BUSINESS decision to write a follow-up or a series book (complete a trilogy or what-have-you) *if* you can get the go-ahead from the estate and publishing house and have their backing. This can be really lucrative and might get you a contract for your own work later–though I’m not so sure about that any more. An authorized follow-up could be great business-wise. Artistically, though, it might or might not be. I suppose that if fans of the series think that you have a good handle on it, then you’ve succeeded, but I would always be second-guessing myself as to “what would this guy REALLY do.” I used to play what-if games about what would this or that character do when I was acting (during school and into the second year of college), and very often I was cut off at the knees: “No, he DEFINITELY wouldn’t do that! Here’s what he would really do!” So I lost confidence in my own ability to predict what Character X created by Author Y might do. Your mileage may differ.

If you are doing it out of love . . . then do it. My former objections were based on a belief that any good story should get published, and that the objective in all writing should be to maximize those chances. I’ve recently recalibrated back to the way I was as a child, so now I say, if you want to write it, write it. If someone wants to read it, read it. Have fun with it.

I do think that writing follow-on books is in somewhat the same vein as fanfiction, but when the original author has given consent, you won’t have the author being upset about whatever you do . . . so there’s an advantage right there. Also, the editor and staff will be vetting your stuff to make sure that they believe you’ve done what fans expect, so you have someone on your side to keep you from making some kind of error that would turn fans away. Another advantage, as I see it. Thirdly, assuming you have this go-ahead, you have that built-in audience waiting for the books and expecting/hoping to love them . . . you won’t have to hear that your characters are passive, that they are unappealing, that people hate them, etc., and so it’s BETTER than doing your own stuff, in that sense. You might even have help with the plot and direction of the work, if the series books have an editor who is sort of in charge of leading the authors along. So it isn’t really the same as fanfiction that’s done out of love for the characters and world and is generally unpaid *and sometimes even seen as negative by the original authors, which can be uncomfortable*.

I’ve just never felt as if I could get inside someone else’s characters properly. It’s better for me if I say, “Here’s a person LIKE the persona of the actress Kathy Griffin and the character she played on ‘Just Shoot Me,” and then I start writing her scenes and I see/hear the actress playing the role, but soon enough I can even rename the character and she becomes enough different from the original I’m basing her on that she’s not really a copy or clone any more. Know what I mean, Vern? That works better for me. And if I have my own world that’s sort of like another writer’s world but isn’t it exactly, I can change things that I thought were illogical or unreasonable about the original and then it’ll work MY way. That’s one of the perks of playing God in your own books.

Even as a kid, I thought the later Oz books written by the other person after Baum quit got pretty bad, and the later Bobbsey Twins books that were farmed out were of variable quality. This isn’t the case nowadays, but that probably colored my feelings toward ME writing fan fiction. I adore Doctor Who, especially the Peter Davison incarnation, but I never presumed that I could write episodes or fanfic. I just don’t believe I could make proper words come out of their mouths. As children, my friends and I often played role-playing type pretend games, but when we played “The Monkees” or “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.” or whatnot, we inserted ourselves as new Mary Sue characters rather than trying to play existing characters. This is an odd quirk that you probably never wanted or needed to know about me.

Anyhow, I’m not trying to prescribe for someone else. Not any more. You see how well that has ever worked. I’m just hoping now to serve as a warning through being a bad example.

Thinking about it, I trace some of my fanfic attitudes towards events during my upbringing. I was always taught that when you write, you should never knowingly base any character or idea on someone else’s, but you had to “do your own stuff, as that is your contribution.” This was ingrained in me around fourth grade, when I tried to do a Narnia-set book/story for an assignment in school, and was hauled into the principal’s office and threatened with a charge of plagiarism (!) for just re-using Mr. Tumnus and some other characters and the setting of Narnia. ALL grown-ups at that time disapproved of any story or character that was not “original” or looked like a remix of older books and plots. They saw it as my ripping off someone else’s hard work, which they said was the nadir of anyone’s life. I was really timid about showing anyone any of my writing for a while after that. By junior high, I had a teacher who encouraged me to do little stories and other juvenilia, but even SHE would say, “This is too much like a Twilight Zone episode that I saw one time,” or “This character is too much like Samantha on ‘Bewitched’–you can do better if you make up your own character, and never EVER copy or recycle parts of others’ plots.” This attitude among most people has changed, as you can see by reading any how-to-write tome (and seeing that they sometimes teach you how to take apart other films and books and steal the good parts to make new stories–and they approve of this), but my childhood teachings have not.

If you can finish somebody’s trilogy and stay true to his voice/style and characters, that would be grand–and it’s done pretty often now. It would no longer be seen as a problem. But people in the industry would have to be the ones to hire you to do it, I suspect, and if that author’s backlist is not selling well today, they might not go for it.

After my recent reboot in regards to why my work doesn’t get picked up, I would encourage anyone to do this–fan fiction or pro fiction or whatnow–IF you feel you can be excited and enjoy doing the project, with no expectations. I can’t disconnect from my expectations of being able to publish and be validated (although this is obviously a pipe dream nowadays because of my lack of postmodern thinking), which is why I am so stressed out. You don’t need to be stressed. Life is stressful enough!

The 1970s stoners grew up and took over the world. You would think that they’d be more laid-back because of it. But they appear to have recovered completely from that love-one-another mentality. Now everything’s about money and business. I suppose it always was, underneath it all. So now my advice is do what you love . . . without thinking that any money will follow. Get a real job that you enjoy, and do the other stuff for love, be it writing, photography, or gardening. Then, if you have any success, it’ll be a pleasant surprise.

I used to mock my grandmother for saying, “Expect nothing, and you won’t get hurt–and sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” I thought she should be a visualizing optimist who could make things happen by working and wanting them. But anyhow, look how crappy that strategy has been for so many people. Maybe grandmother was right. She turned out to be right about that damn hot stove, too.

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Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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