Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fifty Shades of Fanfiction

I have a confession to make:  I like fanfiction.  Especially slash.

Why do I feel the need to use the word "confession", which implies that I'm ashamed?  Fanfiction is seen by a lot of people as slightly embarrassing; the kind of thing someone might write if they aren't good enough to write "real" fiction.  But lately it's been making big news, and making big money, and I wonder if people are starting to take it more seriously.

I've delved into fanfiction twice; the first time was in 1997.  I would come home from work and sit at my desk in my little one bedroom apartment, fire up my strawberry iMac, connect to the internet with AOL over my phone line, and read Star Trek Voyager fanfiction on a webring. Quite a few of them were terrible, but I found one woman who wrote Tuvok/Kim slash, and she was good.  This was my first experience with the designation "slash", which means a sexual relationship between two same-sex characters.  This writer had taken a few tv instances of Commaker Tuvok and Ensign Harry Kim playing Kal-toh late into the evening, and turned it into the beginning of a very sexy relationship.  It was well-written, and it was hot

And it did the one thing that makes fanfiction so very much fun, especially for the writer:  She completely threw out the fact that the whole relationship never happened on the show and was not likely to happen given the heterosexuality of both characters, and just reveled in making it up. She wanted Tuvok and Harry to get busy, so she wrote it, and as a reader I'm guessing she enjoyed the hell out of writing it.  I sure enjoyed reading it.

I poked around on other sites and found fanfiction that didn't appeal to me, and kind of forgot about the whole thing.  Then last year a friend mentioned finding some Harry Potter fanfiction that she really liked, and I signed up on to have a look around.

Okay, here's where it gets a teensy bit embarrassing.  I read Harry/Draco slash.  But the characters were adults, I wasn't reading about children, yikes.  This particular fanfiction author has written literally hundreds of short stories, novellas, and even full-length novels, a few more than 200,000 words, about adult Harry and Draco in various sexual relationships.  Some are sweet and romantic, some are dark and violent, some are funny.  Some are G rated, some are pretty much porn. 

As a writer, her style fascinated me.  During some of the sex scenes, she jumped point of view from Harry to Draco back to Harry and then to Draco again, all within the same scene.  She had peripheral characters that were so one-dimensional they were practically cardboard cutouts, only there out of a sense of necessity of continuing on the familiar story, then disposed of quickly because she wasn't interested in writing about them.  It was obvious that she was just doing what she wanted and disregarding whatever writing rule got in the way of her fun.  Despite the fact that writing rules are usually there for a good reason and sometimes her style was a tad confusing, it was genuinely fun to read.  Many of her stories seemed to have been written not only with playful abandon, but with joy.  I read a half-dozen or so of her novels and a bunch of short stories, and enjoyed them all.

And then I heard about Fifty Shades of Grey.  My goodness. Fifty Shades of Grey went from being the erotic Twilight fanfiction novel Masters of the Universe posted online by Snowqueens Icedragon, to a rewritten ebook Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James released by The Writer's Coffeeshop, to a trade paperback coming out next month from Vintage Books, to a movie being filmed by Universal Pictures.  People were talking about it all over the place online and on tv, it was even on the cover of Newsweek.  The viral marketing campaign even managed to spawn a new phrase: Mommy Porn.  Articles have been popping up everywhere, quoting women saying they told all their girlfriends to read this book:  "It'll make you want to have sex with your husband." 

I have conflicting emotions about the hoopla.  I'm genuinely glad to see a spotlight illuminating the existence of fanfiction, which has never gotten much respect.  I read Fifty Shades of Grey, and while it isn't especially well-written and it does break a few literary rules (like pretty much all fanfiction) it was a fun story.  The idea of a fanfiction author ending up so successful would, I'd think, have the potential to inspire a few literary agents and book publishers to give fanfiction a try, or possibly inspire fanfiction authors to shine up their work and look for an agent.  Maybe a couple of years from now we'll have a bunch of carefully disguised Harrys and Dracos on the top of the bestseller lists.  It occurred to me as I was reading them that some of the Harry/Draco novels could easily be stripped of their identifying details, edited, and published.  In fact, EL James said in an interview that her fanfiction readers had given her the idea to try publishing her novel, and many of the comments left on the Harry/Draco slash novels were encouraging that author to do the same.

On the other hand, Fifty Shades of Grey isn't great writing, and the disproportionately enthusiastic response from women about the sex scenes makes me wonder if they've ever read any erotica before.  The many, many, many reviews were largely critical.  The plot was appealing to me, but in a Mary Sue kind of way.  It's certainly not great literature, but does it matter?  No one even won the Pulitzer prize for fiction this year.  Maybe the author of Fifty Shades of Grey won a prize even better: Fame, the knowledge that she aroused and entertained a great number of people, and millions of dollars.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cleaning the Kitchen With Commander Tuvok

I have been updating my Movies page (link) and so far I'm up to 13 movies total, with 3 seen in the theater.  (I've also decided to stop spelling it "theatre" as I am not British, though I am overly fond of their spelling in this case.  I suppose if I am going to be a novelist I should stop spelling and punctuating according to my own pretentious whims.)

Really, 13 is not very many, I'm a little behind.  There are about 35 weeks left in the year, I still need to watch 39 movies to reach my goal of 52, so I need to get going.  I'm ahead on my goal to see at least 6 in the theater, especially since we are planning to go see The Avengers next month, that'll give me 4 out of 6.

Enough math!  The reason I've been watching fewer movies is because I've been watching more great shows on tv. Greg and I have discovered our DVR is big enough to hold many many hours of HD programming, so sometimes we hoard tv shows until the season is over and then watch the whole season all at once.  This is way better than having to wait a week, or longer, between each episode. We are currently hoarding Game of Thrones and The Killing, watching previously hoarded episodes of Shameless, and watching Savage U, Nurse Jackie and Girls "live". 

So far we've only seen the first two episodes of Girls, but it is tremendously original and impressive. Despite the dislike I have for the colloquial use of the word "girls" to describe women, it might be appropriate here, they really aren't behaving like women quite yet. Seeing these characters having pitiful sex with men who are idiots, saying amazingly stupid things in job interviews, doing drugs they know nothing about, yet being intensely focused on their friendship with each other makes me simultaneously glad and sorry I'm not 24 anymore.  There's a scene in the first episode where two characters are having a conversation, and they just happen to be in the bath: One is standing up shaving her legs, and the other is sitting in the tub eating a cupcake.  That just killed me, it's the exact kind of sweet comfortable thing 20 year old girls do, and I can't imagine doing it now.  But my goodness, I don't miss making bad romantic decisions with men, no, boys who are idiots.  

And I have been spending an awful lot of time lately comforting myself by watching Star Trek: Voyager.  I loved this show when it was originally aired in the 90s, back when I didn't have cable and only got 4 channels. I've always been a mid-grade Star Trek fan, the kind of fan who knows what a batleth is and what Captain Picard's borg name was and which episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation Ashley Judd stars in, but who doesn't go to cons or buy action figures.  I really liked ST: TNG and enjoyed ST: Voyager tremendously, but somehow have never watched a single episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9. 

Bat'leth:  Klingon weapon
Ashley Judd was an ensign in Darmok and The Game
Locutus of Borg

Voyager is awesome.  I love the strong female characters (the captain and the head engineer are both women) and the sexy, sensitive bad-boy first officer.

Captain Kathryn Janeway

Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres
Commander Chakotay

I find the whole Starfleet society very relaxing.  There is never any talk of money, money has been abolished by the 24th century.  So has religion:  In no episode of any Star Trek series (or any of the movies) is there any mention of the Starfleet characters being religious or even being aware of the concept of God.  No one even ever exclaims, "Oh my God" or "For God's sake".  Gene Roddenberry, who created Star Trek, was a pretty vocal atheist.  Commander Chakotay is Native American and occasionally mentions vision quests and medicine wheels and other aspects of his spirituality, which just adds poetry to his tattooed outlaw character.

Netflix is streaming all seven seasons, so I carry the laptop around with me and tell Greg that Captain Janeway and I are going to empty the dishwasher, or Chakotay and I are folding laundry in the bedroom.  I am just starting the fifth season, and I'm already dreading the day I run out of Voyager episodes to keep me company. 

Unfortunately there was never a Voyager movie, but there was a great Next Generation movie: First Contact.  Maybe I should re-watch that and add one to my movie total.

Commander Tuvok sez:  Live long and prosper!

Commander Tuvok

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Central Florida Romance Writers!

I knew about the Romance Writers of America group, but I didn't think I could join because their website is very clear about what constitutes romance: A man and a woman and an obstacle that they overcome and a wedding at the end.  My novel is not that at all, and who knows if I will ever write that, so I thought this group was not for me.

But no!  My friend Penny went to a meeting, and discovered all types of writers there. Well, all types of women writers. I wonder if a man has ever been a member?

I went, despite being pretty nervous and tremendously intimidated. I felt like I had to, after reading my bloggy cheerleaders' encouragement.  Having someone to walk in with made it easier, even though Penny and I hadn't seen each other for more than a year, and had never seen each other out of a salon context before.  We met when she cut my hair: I mentioned I was a writer, she was too, we hit it off and have been exchanging emails ever since.

CFRW meetings are held on the first Saturday of every month in the same conference room at a Hilton near the airport.  It was a nice room, with rows of long narrow tables set up to write on, and big dispensers of coffee, hot water (they also had tea bags), and ice water.  Someone brought coffee cake and croissants. There were around 20 women there, maybe a half-dozen were non-members (you can go to two meetings before you have to pay to join both the national organization and the local chapter).  They gave us newbies a packet of information and an official Central Florida Romance Writers pen. 

Things got started at 10am, everyone introduced themselves briefly.  Most of the members are published and a few are romance authors, but a lot aren't.  One said she writes science fiction, one women's fiction, one urban paranormal, there were even several women who were published authors of gay erotica. I am aware of the popularity of that genre, but that was still a bit of a surprise. 

Being me, it was a painful moment to have to say one sentence in front of 20 friendly women.  I wonder if people who aren't shy can ever really understand the inescapable, crushing nature of it.  I think I got my little introduction out well enough:  Hi, I'm ellen, I have written one novel, it's chick-lit, and I'm currently working on the second draft.

Then they had announcements. They explained that when you join you are given a charm bracelet and presented with charms when you achieve milestones, like publishing a book. One woman had just had a short story published and everyone applauded for her; one woman had gotten a rejection and was ceremoniously given a packet of tissues and some chocolate. The whole thing was excessively girly, but I loved it.

Then they interviewed a member who has been published multiple times and it was during the ensuing discussions about research, characterization, word counts, and plotting that I really started to feel it.  As a fledgling writer, I've had a lot of support; from my enthusiastic husband, my bloggy writer friends, and from various anonymous people on writer's forums.  But none of that can compare to sitting in a room full of people all talking about the concepts and techniques that are bustling around in my head every day.  Please excuse the cliche, but it really was like they were all speaking my language.


I got a little teary, to be honest. In a weird way, I feel more like a writer now, having connected with a writer's community. Published or not, I have the heart of a writer, and I see that now in a way that I didn't before.

Then one of the gay erotica authors gave a talk about point of view, which I loved.  I remember when I read the first pages of The Hunger Games, I went to Greg enthusing about the immediacy of writing in first person, present tense. It gives the writing such urgency, I said, excited, and it's fairly uncommon. He nodded, knowing what I was talking about, but not really caring, exactly.  A group of people talking about literary elements and style with the same amount of passion felt like a revelation.  The author's discussion about point of view evolved into talk about her books and the genre of gay erotica in general, and it was all just fascinating.

The whole thing lasted from 10am until after 1pm. When it was over and we were leaving, one of the members asked Penny and me if we would like to join their group for lunch.  We said no, having made plans of our own to have lunch together, but it was so nice to be asked.

When I got home, Greg sat me down on the couch and wanted me to tell him everything.  Seriously, if there is anything sweeter than having an exhilirating, fulfilling experience, it's having someone who is genuinely excited to hear all about it afterwards.

I brought the Central Florida Romance Writers pen with me to work, and I keep it on my desk. It makes me happy to look at it during the day. It reminds me that I'm a writer. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stabbing Anxiety < Blank and Fuzzy

Well, I still don't know what is going on at work, and last week I started to get anxious and upset almost to the point of panic. PMS made things worse, for sure. I tried to keep up with my cardio workouts in the mornings, and that made a big difference with the muscle tension creeping up my shoulders and neck.  I took a few Advil PM's to help me get enough sleep. Taking a few days off last week to celebrate Greg's birthday gave me a chance to get away from the office and have a little distance, both physically and emotionally.  And it might not be possible to cuddle a sweet, nuzzling kitten without being cheered up.

This week I'm back and I just feel sort of numb.  Every night I have weird stress dreams; like wandering through a huge pot-luck lunch full of strangers and platters full of delicious looking food that I don't want to eat because I don't know anyone.  I don't feel the stabbing anxiety anymore, but I don't feel good either. 

Of course I haven't been writing.  Other than taking a few pics of Alabama I haven't done anything at all creative.  A friend invited me to go to a local Romance Writers of America meeting.  It sounds inspiring and helpful, full of experienced writers who have been published, and she said that the fact that my chick-lit novel isn't technically "romance" wouldn't matter.  I'm planning to go with her on Saturday, and there's like a little piece of my brain that is excited about it, but mostly I just feel reluctant.  I feel intimidated by the writers and overwhelmed by everything, and just thinking about going makes me tired.

I am going to try to talk myself into going.  I haven't seen this friend in a long time, and we could go have lunch afterwards, and it would certainly be fun.  I feel like I ought to use writing to relieve all this angst, or to at least escape from it, but I don't know how to do that.  My mind feels blank and fuzzy, but maybe being with other writers would spark some inspiration.

We'll see.

Friday, April 6, 2012


She's here!  We brought her home after work on Wednesday.

We have a front sun room that has a sliding glass door and we set up her little kitten stuff out there, to keep her separated from Sydney.

Alabama exploring her new home

The next morning we took her to the vet.  Her mother was a 9 month old stray cat, so we were a little worried about feline leukemia and other scary diseases, but little Alabama checked out just fine.  She yowled a bit in the car, but did very good with the exam.

Alabama exploring the vet's office

She does have fleas, unfortunately, so we are keeping her in her own little room until we can make sure they are all gone.  She seems comfortable and happy.

Kittens don't need no stinkin' gravity!

She can be a bit talkative, which is interesting since Sydney, being a Siamese, talks a lot.  It could get pretty noisy up in here.

Did I hear someone say catnip?!

She seems very intelligent, and she's been energetic and playful and friendly. Sydney has hissed at her a few times from the other side of the sliding glass door, and she just calmly looks at Sydney like, What's up?  She ate her kitten food and drank her water and used her tiny litter box right away.  It was like she was just waiting for us to come and get her.

Overall it was a great birthday present for Greg, his heart is completely and utterly taken by this tiny little ball of fluff.