Thursday, July 25, 2002

Fan Politics and the Repercussions of Being Opinionated

Well, the whole mess with the list moderator is over, because I've left the list.

Remember how I said that I knew people would take my rant the wrong way and be insulted? Yep. It happened. One charming example is the response to yesterday's rant in the "opinion" section. The other was an official message from the list mods saying that, due to the rant on my blog and the "threat" I made to go Chaotic Evil, my posts were now being hand-moderated. I'm apparently not allowed to complain on another forum where, far from naming names, I don't even name the fandom, without being branded a threat and a troublemaker. So I've just given up and left the list. I have had one member of the mod team contact me and tell me she wasn't involved and her opinion wasn't particularly asked. This is the same moderator who read my initial post on the list and correctly interpreted it as NOT being an attack or insult. I was VERY relieved to hear from her - if nothing else, it reassured me that it wasn't just me, and that a reasonable person could determine what I was actually saying by reading what I wrote (and that I hadn't suddenly been dumped in an alternate universe where the English I was using wasn't the same as the English they were using). She allowed my farewell message through intact, so I'm not going to post it here. The people who needed to see it, have. Perhaps it will make a few people on the list think.

I'm posting an appropriately edited version of my original post - the one that was interpreted as, simultaneously, an attack of the author and his/her work, and a stroking of my own ego, presumably because of my "own lack of imagination or a sence (sic) of self loathing that [I] must heap onto others." I'm still not naming names, and I've edited out all the fandom-specific cues. If you don't want to read any more about the situation, be assured that I'm still not king, and move on to the next part of your day. BTW - I'm going to refer to the author as 'him' in the generic sense. I'm not sure of the author's gender, so rather than wading through the impossible 'him/her' or the questionable 'they' (the acceptability of the singular form of 'they' is a discussion for another day), I'm just picking one. I am also only posting my own words, and paraphrasing what he said.


Warning: This is not a friendly, fuzzy response. I'm not into stroking someone's ego just because they're unhappy. I've never read "[Unfinished Story #1]" and "[Unfinished Story #2.]" This is not an attack on [the author] - or anybody, for that matter. This is my opinion, blunt and full-forced, and if you can't handle someone being brutally honest, best hit the delete key now, kiddies. That said...

Growl. This is why I don't read in-progress fics. I've been through far too many situations where I've been deeply involved in a story and the author suddenly went, "Oh, I don't feel like doing this any more" or "I have no idea where I'm going" or "I'm completely blocked and can't figure out how to solve the problem I've gotten my characters into." I decided I didn't want to do this to my readers, so I promised myself to never, never publish a work in progress.

[The author is responding to someone's question as to when the next chapters of the unfinished stories will be up, and says it might never happen. He explains how writer's block and a deep depression has prevented him from writing further, and, indeed, led to his removal of these stories from a site where they were archived. He denies being motivated by ego, but has noticed that neither of his stories have been nominated for awards.]

Let me get this straight. You have two stories, works in progress, that you're not going to finish because nobody nominated them for an award? For one thing - I, personally, wouldn't nominate a WIP for an award. It's not done, so I have no way of knowing whether it will continue with the same quality that has been established. Plenty of books (and movies) that had great beginnings have taken a Turn for the Lame before the end. Second - getting nominated for an award is an honor. It means that someone thinks your story is the *best* one they've read. Not just 'good,' but THE BEST. Deciding that because nobody thinks it's the best thing they've ever read, nobody actually likes it, is a logical fallacy of quite impressive proportions. I've never been nominated for an award in [another fandom I write in], despite the fact that there are *lots* of awards. Does this mean I'm a bad writer and should stop writing in [that universe]? Uh - no. It means I haven't produced something that somebody liked better than any other similar story. It gives me a goal to work towards. I've had [a small number of] fics nominated in [a smaller number of] categories in the [the awards he's complaining about not being nominated for] (you like me! you really, really like me!) out of the [total number of fics in this fandom] I've published. I am proud, I am honored, I am delighted. I am not depressed that none of the others made the cut (well, maybe one, but it's because I'm REALLY proud of it).

[He asks his readers whether he should continue or stop.]

That's up to you, son (the genderless 'son,' think [an older male character in a mentor role] saying it). If you're not writing for yourself - because it makes YOU happy, because YOU enjoy it, because the characters and situations are as YOU want to make them - then stop. Writing is work, hard work - but if you're not getting paid for it, there's no reason in the world to work on something that doesn't please you. I write, plain and simple, because I CAN'T STOP. If you can, if you can walk away from your characters, then do so. Don't throw yourself into this business of writing if you can possibly avoid
it. Artists are sadists and masochists, self-destructive and unstable, more than just a little disassociative and obsessive, and if you can avoid joining the club, DO SO. One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from Stephen King. Someone asked him, as people are wont to do, why he writes horror. Why he chooses to tell frightening, bloody, scary stories. And he turned to the questioner and asked, "What makes you think I have a choice?" If you have a choice, then, for your own health and sanity, choose to stop. Nobody should do this. Unless they can't not.

I can't not.

[The author asks for "honest and frank" opinions (and I AM quoting, because I don't want to be accused of putting words in his mouth) on the stories, whether they're any good, and whether the characterization is authentic. He promises not to be offended, because he sees others' opinions as "the truth," and the truth is what he's looking for.]

Like I said, I don't read works in progress (unless I'm a beta reader). Speaking of beta readers, these are questions you should have asked your beta before you published. And nobody's opinion is "the
truth." They're just opinions. [One list member likes a specific kind of story]. That doesn't mean everyone should include them in their story (sorry, [listmember] ;) ). I like deeply personal, involving stories with plenty of angst. That doesn't mean that all stories should be angsty. (Dear God, no!) I have strong opinions about what makes a work worth reading, but my opinion is hardly the be-all and end-all of fanfic truth. If it were, there'd be a lot less bad fic out there, and certain categories would cease to exist... but obviously there are people out there who like what I would consider badly written, and there are people who like the things that squick me. Hell, sometimes *I* like the things that squick me. I'm working on a piece right now that squicks the snot out of me, but I can't not write it.

[The author asks again whether he should continue with what he considers an exercise in futility.]

If that's how you feel about it? No.

But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.


Now, if I'm not mistaken, the worst thing I accused him of is committing a logical fallacy (namely, assuming that because he hasn't been nominated for an award, his work is bad). The only thing I said about his work is that I haven't read it. The only thing I said about him is if he's not happy, he should stop. I call myself, on the other hand, sadistic, masochistic, self-destructive, unstable, disassociative, and obsessive, and admit to writing a piece that makes me uncomfortable and kind of grosses me out. Who exactly is being insulted, here?

Maybe the girl who's still not king?

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Fanfic, Sex, and Other Forms of Expression

Moliere said, "Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, then for a few close friends, and then for money." He actually skipped one step - early exploration and masturbation - and it's an important one. One almost entirely eliminated by the ease of the Internet, unfortunately.

In the days before the Net, an aspiring writer would lock herself in a closet with a notebook and pen and write for hours on end. Most of what she produced would be crap, but it was okay, because nobody would see it. Compare this to a curious adolescent in the selfsame closet with a flashlight and a hand mirror. Once she gets past the initial identification section ("Here's my clitoris - wow, that was much easier to find than comedians would have me believe.") there is the process of experimentation. Initially, a lot of it will be bad. Masturbation goes faster than writing, though; if nothing else, the feedback cycle is much faster. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more.

So once the closeted adolescent figures out the basics of Good Touching, she is inspired to share her findings with someone else - generally her boyfriend, whom she loves dearly. (Yeah, yeah, this is the Idealized Days of Yore. Bear with me.) Our writer shows her story to her best friend, who gushes. Naturally, it's the best thing she's ever read. Never stop, best friend. Blah blah blah. The best friend (and the boyfriend) enjoy the awkward virgin fumblings, because they love her. Hey, they're not much more experienced - what do they know about writing or sex?

Our intrepid experimenter continues on, sharing her creative juices (all puns intended) with others - peers, maybe teachers if she lives in Japan, whoever. People laugh in her face; others rave. She works more, and improves. Eventually she shows her shining work to the wider world. Lots more face-laughing, door-slamming, rejection letters. More improvement. Finally, O Banner Day!, her story sells. Someone pays her what she loves to do. Eventually, perhaps, she makes the New York Times Bestseller List or wins a Pulitzer Prize or something. Good things.

Nowadays, the closeted adolescent takes her hours of initial hard work and dumps it on the internet for all and sundry to see. People cheer - because near-virgins always cheer. Along comes an actual, experienced adult, and criticizes. Wow! Instant bad guy.

Or am I?

I've never gotten involved in a fandom from the ground up before. Since I've been online, I've never managed to catch on to a wonderful show at the very beginning - someone always has to turn me on to it. Because of this, by the time I've gotten involved in a fandom, it's already undergone the adolescent growing pains and become a full-fledged, multifaceted fandom. Favorite pairings, favorite episodes, favorite characters - and places for those who love them - are already established. Everyone understands basic netiquette, the role of moderators, spoiler space, and Mary Sues.

What a shock it's been to find myself in the middle of a baby fic fandom. Nobody seems to know any of the things I take for granted; everything is praised, no matter how bad (or good); everybody's encouraged to write, no matter the reason - or even whether they should be. (I'll say for the record that this and the following isn't intended as an insult, veiled or otherwise, aimed at anybody. I'm getting really sick of people reading into what I say, damn it. I say exactly what I mean, and if I was going to insult someone, don't worry, I WOULD. Of course, the people who would construe it as an insult are going to miss the whole point, anyway, AND be insulted. But that's a rant for another day.)

Today, on my baby fandom list, someone asked for help naming their Shiny New [Character Type]. In a breathless email, said character was described. The words "similar to" and "related to" were both used. "Marty Sue," suggested I, to myself. Lo and behold, Meterological Event is based, in part - brace yourselves, boys and girls - on the author. Dear Lord, I was right. The Mary Sue has landed in my fandom.

That's what I get for making assumptions again - I had assumed that EVERYONE knew about Mary Sues and how horrifying they were. Mary Sues are the STDs of fanfic.

Apparently not. And I can't jump up on-list and explain this without becoming Instant Bad Guy yet again - a role I'm getting entirely tired of denying. They keep this up, maybe I will go Chaotic Evil.

And I'm having a fight with a moderator because I'm a snarky bitch who dares to suggest the world isn't a perfect, happy, ultrasupportive place. I'm Spike as a member of Harmony's "gang." I'm Daria to the mod team's Mr. DeMartino.

And I'm STILL not king!