I’ve never been much into fanfiction. I have nothing against it, I don’t look down on people who create it and enjoy it, but I just never connected with it in a serious, significant way. That being said, fanfiction has played a role in my life, both as a writer and as a fan of multiple works of fiction. It was there from my earliest age even though I won’t actually find out there is such a thing as fanfiction until I’m in college.
The first thing I ever wrote was a fanfic.
Okay, the first thing I ever started writing was a fanfic. This was in the early nineties. I was eight or nine and I was a huge fan of a tv show called Santa Barbara. It was an American soap opera that was hugely popular in Croatia in a way TV shows simply aren’t popular any more. Everyone was watching it, everyone was talking about it – when Eden, a fan-favorite character ended up in a wheelchair because of an airplane crash, real life old ladies literally prayed for her to get better. They prayed for a fictional character’s health during Sunday mass. I am not making this up.
(also, shoutout to all the nineties kids reading this. Santa Barbara was a wild show, am I right guys?)
Santa Barbara had a huge cast and because of that it had multiple parallel storylines, which meant it also covered multiple genres. There was family drama, business drama, one character was a private detective so he’d be working various cases – and there was a married couple who were both lawyers, which allowed the show to also be a courtroom drama. Mason Capwell and Julia Wainwright – lawyers, district attorneys, on and off lovers and spouses.
(yes, I pulled these names from memory, without the aid of Wikipedia. Santa Barbara is probably the earliest tv show I can remember being a fan of – waiting eagerly for the next episode, watching with my parents. Although… considering this show had people being semi-regularly kidnapped, poisoned, bludgeoned to death and regularly abused in various ways – it even had a fan-favorite female characted raped, on screen – it’s pretty wild that our parents let us watch it)
Ever since I can remember, I loved lawyer shows. Cops shows too, and doctor shows. I mean, I loved science fiction and fantasy since childhood, don’t get me wrong, but I also devoured each and every of the former shows as well. In elementary and high school, if it was a show about saving lives in a hospital, catching bad guys, prosecuting bad guys or defending innocent people, I was watching.
This tiny digression was to say that out of the entirety of Santa Barbara, I loved the lawyer bits the most.
Which is why, when I felt the urge to write something, I started writing an episode of Santa Barbara. I took a school notebook – a small one – and put pencil to paper and wrote what I would about fifteen or so years later discover was called a “cold open”, the opening scene that precedes the titles/intro and sets up the story we’ll be watching unfold in the current episode.
I can still remember what the handwritten page and a half or maybe two pages were about: Mason and Julia were enjoying morning coffee on the terrace of a fancy downtown hotel. A man passes by, entering the hotel; Julia catches Mason watching, Mason tells her there’s something suspicious about the man, she says he always thinks there’s something suspicious, they go back to enjoying their coffee; and then there’s a scream and someone falls from either the roof or out of one of the hotel windows. Falls or was pushed?
I stopped writing after that. Honestly, considering the discipline needed to finish a story and the average attention span of an eight-year old child, I think it’s amazing I’d even gotten that far.
I have no idea what would have happened after. I know that back then I didn’t know either. And that was the reason I’d stopped writing – I’d had that entire scene in my head, very clear, very vivid and a total blank space after the body hit the pavement. Cut to opening titles – and that was it.
It will be years before I’ll try writing another piece of fiction. I’ve loved reading my entire life, but looking back I find it amusing that I’d really only started being interested in trying to write fiction in about seventh or eighth grade and that before, the only time I can remember being inspired to write wasn’t to write a short story or a novel but an episode of a TV show in the form of a prose story. It would take me about ten years to find out the name for that was tie-in fiction and that people could – still can? – make a pretty comfortable living doing only that.
The second time I ever wrote a fanfic was in high school.
By that time I was absolutely certain that I loved writing and that I wanted to be a writer. I just hadn’t developed the necessary discipline yet. I’d abandon any work after a few paragraphs. But boy, did I love writing detailed notes about the plot and characters, pages and pages of them. I was a keen worldbuilder and outliner. Actually, a bigger and keener than I am today, as a published author.
It was another TV show that inspired my fanfic, of course. It was a show that I really liked watching even though it was bad and I knew it was bad. It’s one of the few shows I can honestly say I liked watching because it was bad, but because it was also aware it was bad. It was cheesy and absolutely aware it was cheesy and milked it for all it was worth.
I was first or second year of high school. The show was VIP.
Now, it’s very likely that most of you have a huge question mark above your heads right now. The nineties were the era that gave us the, well the nineties action show. It was a special blend of action and humor and cheese that could only exist back then in its pure form, and today can only exist as a pastiche or homage that is actually not that easy to pull off. VIP was a very nineties action show. VIP stood for Valerie Irons Protection and it was about this model that became the boss of a bodyguard/private investigation agency (no, the two things couldn’t work together in real life; yes, VIP had the most tenuous of connections to reality). The plots were them handling everything from protecting rich and famous people to helping their friends or random strangers to tangling with spies and covert operatives and international crime organizations. It was wild.
It was a Pamela Anderson vehicle.
I… wasn’t a fan of Pamela Anderson. Never have been. I don’t hate her, I just wasn’t a fan of her as an actress or… well… she was the female face of Baywatch (talk about THE nineties action show) and also the shows… other female bits… if you catch my meaning… (there was no Internet back then in the way there’s been the Internet for the past twenty years; if you wanted to see boobs in motion, barely covered ones, you had to wait for them to appear on the TV screen, 99% of the time in a very PG way). Anywho, while the entire world seemed to be infatuated and obsessed with her, I as a kid, wasn’t – it felt a bit strange, to be honest and people sometimes wouldn’t believe me, but it was true.
(Now, Carmen Electra and Angelica Bridges? Ooof. But I digress.)
Anyways, VIP was cheesy and schlocky and bad but it was also unashamedly fun from start to finish. I remember watching the first episode by sheer accident and thinking okay this was dumb and ridiculous, I’m not wasting my time again. Then next week I sat down to watch because it can’t have been that dumb. It was. It was even worse. Come third week (it aired on Friday nights), yep, it’s dumb. It’s also fun.
I… grew to like the characters. I also had a crush on Tasha Dexter. She was an asskicker extraordinaire, slightly grumpy and always ready with a pre-asskicking one liner, tall and athletic and had this gorgeous red hair… Looking back, she’s probably the earliest example of me falling for the Amazon type.
I liked the characters and I loved the increasingly ridiculous plots… but from day one I felt that the show would be better without Pamela Anderson. She was, for me, killing the whole vibe of the show, both she as an actress and Valerie Irons as a character.
So one night I took out a notebook and started writing a story about the characters driving along a stretch of beautiful California beach and encountering a – it was either a shootout or a fistfight and getting involved and then a bunch of black vans surround them and it’s the CIA and they need their assistance (meaning our heroes don’t really have a choice in the matter). And also, there was no Valerie Irons because, as one of the characters mentions briefly at the very start of the cold open, Valerie went to Hawaii for a vacation and met the love of her life there and decided to stay and left the agency.
I never got past the cold open – again. I had a very clear idea what the cold open was and how it would go – again. And I had no idea what happens after the opening credits – again.
Years later, I’ll find out there’s a word for what I was doing here: fix fic. Rewriting a work so as to fix what the fanfic writer perceives as a “mistake” by the original author. I definitely felt like I was fixing VIP; making it a show it deserved to be. It’s silly 😀
Fourth year of high school is when I’ll finally have enough discipline to continue writing past the first few paragraphs. During the summer between high school and college I wrote 100 plus pages of a sprawling space opera novel (single spaced, 10pt font – yeah, I’d written a lot of words over the course of about a month). I’d stop after losing both the initial thrill but also after realizing that what I’d originally outlined for a single, standalone novel would require about, oh, judging by what I’d already written by that point and the amount of outline covered therein… carry the two… oh. About a thousand pages, give or take? Yeah, it wasn’t happening.
Fast forward to my fourth year of college.
I’d missed Firefly when it was originally airing on Croatian TV, sometime between 2003 and 2005. It was on a commercial terrestrial channel which meant a lot of commercials and I just couldn’t lose what felt like an hour and a half of my life to watch a 40 minute show but I was also in a phase of my life where I was a little burnt out on television and for a few years I wasn’t watching as much as before.
Then I caught a very late night rerun of the pilot (they showed it in the intended order) and was instantly hooked. How hooked? The rerun of the second episode was scheduled for something like 0545 on a Monday. I got up to watch it, then had a nap and went to my Monday morning class.
And after I’d seen the last episode, I wanted more.
Now, by this point I knew about fanfiction. So I went online, in search of a fix.
I found a few Firefly fics.
This was where I also first read a crossover fic. It was a rather ingenious one. A short, very atmospheric story about Miles Vorkosigan (of Lois McMaster Bujold’s amazing Vorkosigan Saga) looking for ships in a junkyard and coming upon Serenity (in this universe the Serenity Verse took place a couple of centuries before Miles’ time) and ended with Miles gazing appreciatively at the by that point ancient ship. It was touching.
And so, the third time I started writing a fanfic.
A crossover. Firefly and – The Dead Zone.
I loved The Dead Zone TV show. It’s way better than the movie and even though it became kinda boring after say season four, the first few seasons were great. It used the character’s psychic powers in interesting and sometimes ingenious ways because they really wanted to avoid becoming just “Johnny has visions of a horrible crime, tries to prevent it”. It actually has one of my favorite episodes of TV in general, involving Johnny having a blood transfusion and the blood coming from several strangers and him then experiencing visions about them – it’s an amazing example of live action storytelling where seemingly unconnected plotlines come together in a “butterfly effect” type of story.
The Dead Zone also had a very cool piece of worldbuilding – at one point Johnny was able to not only see but “visit” the future when another psychic from said future held the charred remains of Johnny’s walking cane and they could “swap places” temporarily.
Firefly’s River Tam was… psychic? Maybe? Kinda?
These things collided in my head and I started writing a story about Serenity’s crew going through a bunch of crates they were hired to steal, full of Earth-That-Was relics sought after by a very wealthy collector. River opens a crate and finds a broken and charred walking cane. Mal freaks out that she’s going to damage it. Simon is afraid she might hurt herself. Jayne says to Mal he can ‘deck ‘er before she does summat stupid’. Zoe tells him she’ll beat his ass if he does. Inara talks calmly to River, asking her to put the cane down. River looks at them all and says “Be nice to him” and then – vanishes. And in her place there is a blonde man in a coat, with a walking cane and a bewildered look on his face.
I never got past that part. I had a rough idea where the story was going, a few bits and pieces of later scenes – Johnny interacting with the crew, seeing what their future holds, struggling with telling them anything for fear of causing a time paradox (especially being disturbed by the fates of Wash and Book; Book would tell him what will happen, will happen and not to beat himself up over it, the universe having a plan and so on). But the story never clicked for me as a whole, so I abandoned it.
Fast Internet was at that point readily available in Croatia, which meant that a person was no longer reliant on terrestrial TV or… people with other means of access to live action content and CD burners… to watch the many, many shows currently airing.
Third year of college was also the year I was watching Threshold. Man, that was a great show about an alien invasion and a group of smart, capable, resourceful people trying to prevent it. It’s also one of my rare hipster moments: I was a fan of Peter Dinklage years before people would be amazed by his charisma and acting chops on Game of Thrones.
Threshold was also one of many shows from mid-2000s that were canceled fast, basically having the network pull the plug on them not because of their quality but because they were given wrong timeslots and weren’t instant, out of the gate monster hits the likes of LOST, which… TV execs don’t have any patience, man.
Threshold was my show. I loved it. It got only thirteen episodes.
I wanted to talk about it to people but very few people I knew watched it.
So online I went and found fanfiction.net and their Threshold forum, where I encountered a handful of fans discussing the show but also chatting in general and writing fanfic – well, talking about writing fanfic more than writing it, to be honest 😀 It was my first experience of interacting with fans of a geek thing that I didn’t know in real life. There were a couple of Americans, a guy from the UK, a girl from New Zealand. It was a fun place for the half a year or so that I was a regular there – no drama happened, the forum just wound down slowly because life stuff was happening to us all. The UK guy actually wrote a Threshold *novel*, tried to submit it for publication, got rejected by the rights holder – and then rewrote the thing and published it as original fiction.
I actually never read any Threshold fanfic, but I did start writing one. I never got past the first few lines because… I wanted to write it but I actually had no plot in mind. I just knew that I wanted to write a story (an episode in prose form) and I wanted to involve a romance between Molly, the main character played by Carla Gugino and Daphne, a guest character played by Catherine Bell that was supposed to become a series regular had the show lasted past episode 13! Argh. I really wasn’t feeling any of the potential love interests they seemed to have been setting up for Molly and I really liked the Daphne character and I thought Gugino and Bell had good on screen chemistry so I had this vague notion of exploring that.
So yes, it was supposed to be a slash fic that I never developed past the initial idea to write one because I couldn’t think of an interesting plot. Now, I was aware of slash fics existing but I wasn’t really a reader of them. Only years later will I be told – by people deeply involved in fanfic – that when writing slash fics, the plot is supposed to be a distant second to the pairing itself.
You live, you learn, folks 🙂
It will be another ten years or so before I try my hand at fanfiction again.
When I was a kid I really liked Star Wars – I’d seen the original trilogy in cinema in 1997 for its re-release and man, that opening shot of Episode IV on the big screen has stayed with me ever since – and I really liked Star Trek – Voyager was the shit when I was in elementary school.
Over the years I’ve swung hard one way and then the other between the two franchises. I really wasn’t impressed by the first SW two prequels and I spent my fourth year of high school and first two years of college watching all of Star Trek. I’m not kidding: Croatian national TV had bought all of the shows and all of the films that had been released up to that point. This was in 2002 and they were showing them chronologically, Monday to Thursday. It was an epic, years-long Star Trek marathon. The entire Original Series (and the black-and-white original pilot The Cage, later reworked into a regular episode of the show!), followed by the entire run of TNG, then DS9 (my favorite Star Trek show), then Voyager, then Enterprise (by the time we got to Enterprise the show had ended its run in the US) and then all the 9 movies (JJ was still a few years in the future at that point). That first space opera novel I tried writing was influenced by both Star Trek and Star Wars in various ways.
Then I kinda lost interest in Star Wars because there wasn’t any to watch (and I didn’t have access to novels and comics). Then I played a Star Wars d20 campaign in college and got a little obsessed by it and then there were rumblings about a new movie and then I’d seen Clone Wars in their entirety and read a lot of comics and some novels and –
And one night I opened up my laptop and started writing a Star Wars story.
I stopped after the cold open where, at the beginning of the Great Jedi Purge a heavily wounded Jedi Master sacrifices his life in a duel with a Jedi Hunter so that a Force-sensitive child could escape.
I had only a very vague idea what would happen next. By that point I was already a published author, I’d won some awards, I had some experience under my belt and so I knew that I should leave the story for later because I was obviously not feeling it at the moment.
About a year or so later, a very dear friend of mine sent me a writing prompt out of the blue. It was a youtube link to a recording of a woman singing this beautiful, haunting, ethereal song – no words to it, just vocalizations. It was called kulning and was yodeling’s elegant, beautiful sister. I accepted the challenge of using it as a writing prompt. I mulled it over in my head and then I realized what the singing reminded me of: there was a track on the soundtrack for season 4 of the Doctor Who revival that had a female singer vocalizing to a haunting melody and I remembered the composer saying he’d always imagined it was the Time Lady Romana singing into the Time Vortex and something clicked in my head and –
And I started writing a Doctor Who fanfic. And I immediately stopped after the first sentence. Something was off. I’d hit a wall immediately.
I was trying to write the wrong story. That is, the wrong Doctor. See, Eight, played by the amazing Paul McGann has always been my Doctor, with Ten a very, very close second. The TV film Eight was in is bad, but his Doctor was amazing. Big Finish got the rights to make Doctor Who audio plays featuring various pre-2005 Doctors and they did a ton of those featuring Eight and I listened to a lot of them and thus Eight became my Doctor.
And so naturally I wanted to write a story about him and his audio companion Charley.
The story, though, wasn’t having it.
Wrong protagonists. No go.
It was true. By that point I knew very well, from personal experience, that a story will only be what it wants to be, not what I’d like it to be. And so, I stopped trying to force Eight into the story and let another Doctor take his place and when I looked, there were Ten and Donna.
I wrote the entire short story in a single afternoon. I sat down, started typing and didn’t stop for hours. When I finally finished writing, I was shaking and my legs were a little numb and I really had to pee.
It was a story about the Doctor and Donna and a little village in Scandinavia and a kulning competition but also about the Time Vortex and saving lives and memories. I sent the story to my friend and she thanked me for making her laugh and cry. It’s really the best kind of reader feedback you can get.
It was my first finished fanfic.
About a year or so later, I found out that the aforementioned Big Finish was holding a short story competition. You could submit and if they choose your story, they’d turn it into a short audio play (they called these Short Trips). I submitted A Song to Remember. It was rejected. But the rejection note wasn’t generic. The editor wrote to me, saying that when a story gets really, really close to being accepted but in the end it’s not, they sometimes take the time to write a more personal rejection note – he told me what things he personally really liked about the pitch and the submitted excerpt and encouraged me not to give up writing. I had no intention to do so, but it was still a very nice piece of validation.
About two years later, I went back to the Star Wars one and also finished it in an afternoon. I felt the sudden urge to return to it, sat down, outlined a bit and then started typing and there it was.
By that point I was aware of AO3 existing, even though I wasn’t a member. But when I decided to go back to the SW story, I did so with – among other things – the intention of publishing it there. Why? I wanted to see what would happen. That was it.
I published it, marked it as “chapter one” (it was a standalone story set in an amalgam of old and new SW universes, about that Force-sensitive kid growing up and fighting the Empire and the Sith with the help of Antarean Rangers, but I had ideas about writing multiple adventures about the protagonists) and… that was it. So far I haven’t written a chapter two and I don’t think I will any time soon. It was an itch, I scratched it, and that was that. It’s still up there, has about 15 views, and I’ve never read a single AO3 fic 😀
And there it is. For a man who isn’t really into fanfiction, I seem to have covered the basics: from writing it in the first place, to doing a fix fic, to looking for fics because the show was over, to giving slash a try, to trying to get published and paid for my fanfic, to abandoning a fic. The only major things – at least from my perspective as an outsider -I actually haven’t done is done an self insert, caused/got involved in drama and wrote a popular fic 😀