I’ve never been a big fan of fan fiction. Even authorized or semi-authorized extensions don’t generally work as well as the original author’s work. I pick up the occasional tribute anthology, but generally I steer clear. Even, for example, Todd McCaffrey’s contributions to the Pern universe haven’t tempted me – they’re clearly written with Anne McCaffrey’s blessing and with unique access to the spirit and origin of Pern, but they’re still not hers. It’s with some surprise, then, that I realized I’ve written some fan fiction of my own.
I draw inspiration from a anywhere and everywhere. Often, music is a trigger – sometimes misheard music. I’ve written stories triggered by Deep Purple (“Blind”), the Brian Setzer Orchestra (“Drive Like Lightning…Crash Like Thunder”), Travis Edmonson (“For this Rich Earth”), Fred Eaglesmith (“Seven Shells”), Tony Carey (“Waiting for the Winter”), John Hiatt (“Start With Stones”), and I’m working now on one about Wolverton Mountain (“I Don’t Care about Clifton Clowers”). Generally, the music or lyrics just act as a catalyst. Every now and then, though, I’m inspired to draw on another prose writer’s work.
My efforts include stories inspired by or related to work by Douglas Adams (the experience of a bowl of petunias), Peter, Paul, & Mary (what happened to Puff?), Ursula Le Guin (how did Omelas come about?), T. H. White (another view of Lancelot and Guinevere, and a conversation between wizard and badger), Lewis Carroll (the truth about those tarts). Plus a couple of retellings of traditional stories. That’s quite a lot for someone who doesn’t care for fan fiction.
Of course, I don’t think of my stories as fan fiction – instead, they’re deliberate homage to fine writers. But what’s the difference, really? I’m taking others’ characters and settings, and using them to wrap my own stories around. Legally, they probably qualify as transformative works. Morally, it’s a harder question. With respect to recent or living writers, I’ve made no effort to sell the stories.I write them for my own satisfaction and put them away. In a few cases, I’ve reached out the the original authors to ask their permission. I’ve learned from these people; I’m not out to steal their work.
So, what’s the lesson from all this? First, of course, that ‘fan fiction’ is not just something written by other people; I’ve done it too. Second, that respecting the rights of the original author is key to feeling good about it; they’re the ones who did the hard work, after all. If that means my terrific story “The Path from l’Ome” has to wait for a Le Guin tribute anthology, so be it.
* I do think that a story about the life of a cooling fan would be quite interesting. Maybe I’ll write that next.