Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Jan

reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.

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Fan Fiction: A Personal Perspective

Fan Fiction: A Personal Perspective

Sunita talked a bit about why some people write fan fiction. I’d like to talk a bit about my perspective.

A little background: I’ve been a reader in many fandoms for about ten years, but I primarily write in one. I also run a fandom community. Legality of fan fics doesn’t really come into it for my fandom. It’s manga-based, and manga creators and their publishers know that a large excited fan base sells books.  They go out of their way to include characters that will draw the attention of those who like to create fan works. In the fandom for which I write, the author was herself a fan who did the same thing before she went pro.

To me the important thing about fan fic is that while a few people may write it in a solitary environment, from my experience it’s really a community-based activity. That’s both a good and bad thing, centered around the fact that fandom communities can be very insular.

It’s bad because it makes people lose perspective. There’s a balance that has to be reached within a community when it comes to fan fic.  Some people are practicing writing and want constructive criticism, emphasis on the constructive. Many get it through beta writers; some want it from readers.  They want to do it better.  Other fans don’t care about improving. They’re only writing to share things with other fans, their love of the original work and characters, their take on aspects of the original work, and sometimes more personal things. They don’t plan on writing outside of a fandom.

The balance is how much criticism do you allow in the community and how?  It can stifle fan participation until there’s next to none, and no one posts anything for the joy of it. On the other hand, without it, there’s a loss of a real sense of quality of work.  Personally, I don’t allow it on the groups I moderate unless writers are OK with it. It’s part of their fic header. That way, those who just want to have fun and throw out an idea can do so without worrying about people jumping down their throats, and those who want to improve can do so. I think fans feeling fun and safe is more important.

That can lead to a skewed perspective though. In fan fic stories tend to be graded on a scale, which means a lauded story in fandom could be great, but there’s no guarantee. And when they’re hit with a lot of praise, writers can forget that just because a fic is considered better doesn’t mean it’s good.

I think that’s responsible for situations like some we’ve seen recently where less-than-spectacular fan fic has the serial numbers filed off and is published simply because it had fan support. There’s a huge difference between fandom-ready and publication-ready, and that seems to be getting lost.

A loss of perspective can also be a problem when misinformation is perpetuated.  In m/m fandoms a lot of that centers around gay sex. We have some gay members, and fans are happy to ask questions, but the few guys just want to read fic and have fun, not necessarily be everyone’s Wiki.  BDSM is another problem area.  But I think that’s a problem whenever any small group of fans gets together. Not everyone is represented there, and not everyone is an expert. There are always Cliff Clavins.  But the fact that people are talking to begin with can also spread good information. I’ve had fans from isolated parts of the world post to talk about AIDS for example, and everyone learned something from that discussion.

And that leads to some of the best things about being in a fandom and writing fic.  The fact that the communities are insular tends to make them safe places to discuss a lot of topics, and fiction is a safe way for the members to express themselves on these topics without even really mentioning them if the aren’t able to.

Fan fic is certainly done solely out of love and fun for a number of fans. But for many others, the themes within reflect questions and issues within themselves, and they write to communicate these things and try to understand them.  Gender, sexuality, abuse are just a few among the topics explored in fan fic.  Some writers  take familiar characters and change their sex and try to figure out what that would mean to his character and relationship, or they make him pregnant while he’s still male (I think these fics are partly revenge-based).  Or maybe they subject him to rape, or uncertainty about his sexuality.

Other fans are incredibly supportive when discussions of these issues come up. Sexuality and experimentation are played with within fics and that’s celebrated.  95% of the members of one community I’m in are female, but over a third have said they don’t feel that way. Sexuality is represented in its many permutations. All of it is accepted. Abuse and negative situations are discussed and if people ‘testify’ they are supported.

Now I have to get a little personal. I’m a rape victim. It happened long ago, but for a long time it was something I had trouble addressing, at least up until I entered a particular BL manga fandom (I won’t talk about the differences between BL and Western m/m, which could fill a book; as Alton Brown says, that’s for another post). This particular manga contains rape and non-con situations between several men. Two of the men end up in a romantic relationship. It’s drawn in a beautiful style, aesthetically pleasing. It was something even I could look at, even though I didn’t understand why I would want to.

BL manga expects its readers to understand the rape tropes used within it.  Because of that, the manga for the most part doesn’t explore this. But fic writers do. It led me to start writing about the couple myself, the first writing I’d ever done in my life, exploring their dynamics, getting into their heads, and letting me explore my past and my feelings in a safe way.  These men were not me. They were not even female.  I could start there.

But even more important, I started noticing similarities in other stories, women exploring similar themes, and they reached out to me and I them, and we found ways to talk about what had happened to us using these characters. Readers began opening up to me because of what I was writing, some of them telling me I was the first person they’d ever told about their rapes. One friend actually took the manga and her fics into her therapy sessions and began discussing it for the first time ever.  And I began to talk about it openly.

Even though the characters and world used are someone else’s to start with, during the writing process it still becomes deeply personal to the one doing the writing.  These characters become a way to easily express joy, laughter, pain and any number of things that the writer could not express any other way.  I love the lighter side of fan fiction, but authors, if your characters have led to the easing of pain of others, isn’t that something to celebrate?

I’ve experienced this first hand in my favorite fandom. It is something I see in every fandom I read in: people with something awful happening in their lives or past, trying to talk about it through the fics they write. They go into a fandom because they love the original work. Most, including me, will never write well enough to publish anything and we don’t really want to. So we borrow the characters and places we love to help us say something important to us, in a place where we feel safe saying it.  Many writers never even notice that they’re doing it.

At first I was sad that so many people in fandom are injured in some way. But then I realized of course that these are the people who are now able to express it. And that’s a very good thing.

This isn’t how it is for all fic writers. Some do just have fun. Some just want to explore what’s not been explored to their satisfaction. Others want to work on their writing. It’s all good, so long as they remind themselves to keep some perspective.  But when you think about why fic writers write, remember that for some it’s not really what they keep the same as the original that’s interesting. It’s what they change. Because that’s where their story is, one they wouldn’t have been able to tell without fandoms and fan fiction.

REVIEW: [SFR Classics] Dragon Bones / Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs

REVIEW: [SFR Classics] Dragon Bones / Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs

Dragon BonesDear Ms. Briggs,

I always approach an old favorite with trepidation. So often they were favorites because of the person I was at that time in my life, and having changed, they no longer affect me as they once did. But sometimes I’m lucky and I find that it was something more timeless and I love the book as much as ever.

I’m a long-time lover of science fiction romance, and have been reading it since the 70s, even though I didn’t have any concept of the sub-genre at the time. I’m going to be revisiting some of the classics, those books considered must reads that I haven’t read in ages. I expect that I won’t love some as much as I once did. I’m happy to say that the first I chose, a favorite of both mine and Jane’s, is one of those timeless ones, your Dragon Bones / Dragon Blood.

Honestly, I was hard-pressed to come up with any criticism of this book. I sat down after re-reading it and tried to come up with something I’d have changed had I written it myself, and I couldn’t think of a thing. That’s the way it is with a book you see as a classic, I suppose. There are a couple of things that I think others might complain of though, so first I’ll describe why I love these books, and then what I think might give romance readers pause in reading them.

One thing I love is that, though this is a fantasy and a very original one, it feels very real. Ward, the main character, is someone I believed in, a real human being, and I was with him every step of the way. He’s a hero, but more of a hero that fell into his role. Ward is a natural leader – people respect him. Part is because of his noble blood line, part is because of his size and strength. But Ward has a problem. When he was young, his father beat him so severely it affected his brain and rendered him unable to anything but simplest magic, his ability to Find things. It also affected his thinking.

His father saw him as a rival, and didn’t want to be killed off the same way that he himself had killed his own father, so he’d attacked and rendered Ward harmless. Or so he and everyone thought. Ward still had some wits about him, and to protect himself played the harmless imbecile, though one powerful enough to hurt those who harmed the ones he cared for.

When the story opens, Ward’s father dies. Ward’s uncle is appointed guardian. We immediately start to question the motives of everyone around Ward, and we question Ward’s ability to see clearly. How much we can rely upon his observations is something we have to learn as the story progresses. Because most of the story is told first person from his point of view, we, like his people, have to come to know and trust him.

I loved that about the story. It brought all of it that much closer to the reader, because I was right in there with his companions, only with a slightly better seat. There were layers to this story that I needed to think through to arrive at the truth.

This carries over into the few chapters told from others’ points of view at the royal court. The king sees plots everywhere, possibly because many are, and he kills anyone whom he suspects, or else places them in an institution for the insane. He becomes convinced Ward is a threat and orders him committed.
Dragon Blood
Other things I liked: The pace of the book and how they spent time where it was needed to make it more realistic. Some books jump from one action scene to the next, forgetting that much of what we learn of characters, and their growth, take place between the action. Here you used things like periods of training during travel to allow characters to get to know each other and develop relationships that are all important. This made the book flow very naturally as well from one section to the next.

It also made their struggles more convincing. Their hell lasts and hurts, and their happiness and successes feel all the more deserved because of it.

I also liked the way new characters and scenes were brought in. First we learn about Ward via first person, then are introduced one by one to the players, remembering that while the portraits seem clear that we’re seeing through Ward’s eyes and those aren’t necessarily reliable.

The world building here was quite good as well. The society was complex and drawn with a sufficient number of interesting characters that it was convincing. Regarding the magic, while this is fantasy, the magic is minimal, especially in the first book. But the use of magic was consistent and had a price. People didn’t walk away unscathed from it. This also makes the world building more convincing, as does the way your world has echoes in ours. It’s not unlike the Renaissance. It reminded me of Italy under the Borgias.

What do I think people might complain about? I know some people just don’t like first person narration, especially where romance is involved. Ward’s chapters are all first person. I think it’s vital that they are for reasons stated above. Tisala’s, the heroine’s, are third person. This too feels right, because it gave you a chance to paint a broader picture, something important in the second book.

That leads me to something that might well drive romance readers nuts. Tisala appears only minimally in the first book, and in the second book, Tisala and Ward spend a fair amount of time apart. Someone looking for a romance-novel-like focus on their relationship would probably be disappointed. This is a fantasy containing romance, and while that romance and relationships are very important to the books, the romance isn’t the point of the books.

Even thought the two spent time apart, I found their relationship to be a convincing one. They both had trust and image issues to work around, and they spend enough time talking and interacting with each other that the feelings that grew between them, and we do see them grow, made sense. By the time the ending rolls around, where they end up is where you’ve been leading them.

And while I suppose some people would have liked more romance in the first book, or at least more participation from the heroine, I wouldn’t want it. There wasn’t room. Things had to be taken care of before Ward or Tisala could even think about anything else.

This all leads to what I love most about sfr: There are no boundaries to the romance. There is no box to step outside of. Everything is unexpected, so what happens tends to hit harder because you don’t have a guaranteed HEA. So when one comes along, it just feels more potent to me, especially in the hands of someone who can make us feel for her characters each step of the way.

Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood felt like classics to me when I first read them. I’m happy to say they still do. I’d recommend them not only to lovers of sfr, but to fantasy readers who enjoy a character based story with some political kick to it. And also to paranormal romance readers who want to try a story that while it contains romance, would immerse them in a world more thoroughly than most paranormals I’ve read.


Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood can be purchased in paperback at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony here and here or other etailers.