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Fan Fiction Author Roundtable: Cyndy Aleo, Tamara Allen, Jane Davitt, &...

As part of our fan fiction series, we asked four writers of both fan and original fiction to talk about their experiences. We had a wonderful email conversation that I’ve reluctantly chopped down to fit into a very long article. Rather than take up room with my words, here are brief biographies of the participants and their answers to the questions we posed.

Cyndy Aleo:  I’m a freelance writer and editor, seeking representation for my fiction (I’ve written two adult books: one magical realism and the other contemporary fantasy) and am currently writing my first young adult novel. I wrote fan fiction for the Twilight fandom under the names Algonquinrt and d0tpark3r from 2008 to 2010, and participate in several fandoms as a reader, including Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who. In other words, I am a giant nerd.

Jane Davitt: I’m 47, married with two daughters, and we moved from England to Canada in 1997. I was a civil servant back in England but I’m now a full-time writer with thirteen books and a dozen short stories in print and more in the pipeline. I write mostly m/m romances, sometimes with a BDSM background. My degree is in Politics and History and I’m an avid reader with over 4,000 books in the house.

Tamara Allen: I started writing original fiction in my teens and more seriously in my twenties. I didn’t write fan fiction until I was past thirty (unless you count Wizard of Oz fanfics when I was twelve.) Around the time I turned forty, a couple of real-life traumas brought me back to original fiction.

Jami Gold: After escaping a stalker who may or may not have sparkled, I moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where I could put my talent for making up stuff to good use.  Fueled by chocolate, I write paranormal romance and urban fantasy, and I’m seeking representation for two completed novels.  I started writing original fiction after my experience with fanfic proved I could finish a novel.


(1)  What motivated you to start writing fan fiction? How long have you been writing it? Were you a reader before you were a writer? In which fandoms have you been active?

Cyndy Aleo: I started writing fan fiction because I had two novels partially finished after NaNoWriMos (National Novel Writing Month) in 2007 and 2008 that I knew weren’t working, but I wasn’t sure why. I stumbled onto fan fiction looking for Stephenie Meyer’s Midnight Sun online, and realized there was a huge community of readers who were ready and willing to give feedback to writers. I took the one novel that was nearly complete, shoehorned it in to fitting established characters in an Alternate Universe, and there it was.

I read in several fandoms, including Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who, but I’ve only ever written for one fandom, Twilight, where I published under the pen names Algonquinrt and d0tpark3r for two years. I read for several months before I ever posted anything, and I continue to read even now that I no longer write and have removed my fics from

Jane Davitt: In 1997 we got our first computer and I discovered newsgroups. Soon I was reading several Buffy related groups, including one for people to post their Buffy fanfic. I read a few with a dawning sense of wonder. I’d always wanted to write a book. This seemed like the chance to try on a small scale. So I sat down in May 2002 and wrote ‘Another Tuesday Night in Sunnydale’ and posted it with a sick feeling not unlike those dreams when you’re naked and no one else is. That fic is dire. It creaks. I posted it with no spacing and was humbled to discover that a degree and an addiction to books didn’t mean I knew how to punctuate dialog correctly. I ended up hauling down the nearest book and seeing just where those pesky commas went. The group was kind, encouraging, and somehow before I knew it, ideas began pouring into my head and I had to, just had to write them down.

I’ve got 966 fics to my name, ranging from drabbles (100 words exactly, not counting title) to epics that are longer than Lord of the Rings (seriously). I’ve slowed down as pro writing takes up more of my time, but I haven’t stopped. Fanfic is too much fun to give up.

The main [fandoms], in chronological order, are Buffy/Angel, Stargate SG1/Stargate Atlantis, The Sentinel, the medium ones NCIS, Hawaii Five-0, Suits, Psych. My only claim to fannish fame is that I wrote the first Wincest (Dean/Sam) fic, the day after the pilot of Supernatural aired. I didn’t find out it was the first for a couple of years, then it got mentioned in a Wiki and people told me about it.

Tamara Allen: I’d read a little fan fiction a few months before trying to write it. The motivation to write it came when Quantum Leap ended without Sam Beckett making it home to Al. (Oh yeah—and to Donna.) In those days, I wrote gen fic. Then when I moved on to a couple of other small fandoms, I paired with another author (who went on to huge success with original fiction, herself) to write both gen and slash. I’ve written in Quantum Leap, Real Ghostbusters, Wild, Wild West (a very AU version based on the movie because the movie was such a huge disappointment), and, very briefly, Stargate Atlantis.

I haven’t written any strictly fan fiction since 2003. I do have a WIP (novel) I began a couple of years ago because I loved the real-life historical events I used in the WWW AU I wrote. But from the first sentence, the novel took on its own life with characters who found their own identities. I don’t believe they resemble either the WWW characters or my fan fiction characters. Their story is set in the real world, with none of the steampunk or bizarre characters that made WWW what it was. Still, if I ever finish it, I will acknowledge the inspiration and I won’t profit off the story.

Jami Gold: After finishing the fifth Harry Potter book, I was desperate for the release of book six.  While soaking up every scrap of online news about the release, I stumbled across the Harry Potter fanfic community.

Writing a fanfic had never occurred to me before.  Heck, the idea of writing a story hadn’t crossed my mind since several creative writing classes *mumble* years before.  But after five Harry Potter books, I felt like I knew these characters.  So I started writing my version of what I thought book seven would be.  Naturally, I was completely wrong about everything.  :)

I wrote only the one fanfic story.  For me, writing fanfic was more about getting out my nervous energy while I waited for book six, as well as making me feel confident in my ability to finish a novel. I read Harry Potter fanfics (as a lurker) before starting my own, but I never followed any specific fanfic writers. I lurked in the Harry Potter area for a while (long enough to get the gist of what fanfic was and how it worked), but I never posted my story.


(2) Describe your path to writing original fiction. How did your fan fiction experience help? Did it hinder you in any way? How difficult is it, creatively speaking, to keep the two separate?

Cyndy Aleo: Writing original fiction was something I did before I wrote fan fiction and something I’ve continued to do since I stopped. For me, there was never any confusion between the two. Writing fan fiction was incredibly helpful for me; I learned that I have a flair for comedy writing, which I never would have considered, and it also forced me to write some things I might not have tried before (like sexually explicit scenes).

It is an adjustment, though, after writing fan fiction. In fan fiction, the readers have an expectation of your characters. They know that Edward has reddish hair and had green eyes as a human and tends to be overly protective, overbearing, and likes making decisions for other people even as he’s second-guessing himself. There are personality traits and little quirks you don’t have to describe when writing fan fiction that you have to discover and relate to readers when you are writing original fic: what kind of fidgeting does your character do? What makes them tick? What’s their back story? That’s already done for you in fan fiction.

Jane Davitt: I’d written some non-fiction pieces for The Heinlein Journal between 2000-2003 and dipped my toes in that way, though the only payment was a copy of the magazine. Then I became a member of Live Journal in March 2003, back when you needed an invitation. My main focus was the Buffy fandom and my friends list grew, filled with fellow Buffy fans, most of whom were writing fanfic. Finding slash was my true lightbulb moment. I’d followed a link to a fic competition to get a Buffy/Spike fix. There were lots of categories and different pairings and one caught my eye: Spike/Xander.

My jaw dropped. Spike and Xander? Say what? I clicked and began to read. To quote from another Joss show, ‘I’ll be in my bunk.’ I’d never considered the possibility that reading about two guys getting together would work for me. The first fic I posted on LJ (again with the naked feeling making me go dizzy with stress) was a Spike/Xander fic that (I take big bites) was also a BDSM one. Now that I already knew turned me on…

Now addicted to slash, I started fangirling the authors of my favorite fics (one of whom I write with to this day) and they were kind enough to friend me back, sometimes co-write with me, beta for me, ask me to beta for them… Before long, I found out that some of them wrote original stories and had them published. The publisher in question was Torquere, who ran a competition with a small prize on the subject of safe sex, stories to be 1000 words. I entered and got an Honorable Mention. At the end of 2005, I subbed a short story to their Birthstones line — and it was accepted.

I was published. Someone had paid me to write something. Best feeling ever.

Without those years writing fic, I wouldn’t have been accepted. I wouldn’t have been good enough. I was lucky to have some stellar beta readers who pointed out kindly that I head-hopped, used ‘ing’ endings on my verbs too much, and a multitude of other no-nos. I learned how to move my characters in and out of a room, to have them speak naturally, how vital it was to keep track of events in a long fic, how hours of research could go into a single line. I learned how to tell a story.

I don’t find it difficult [to keep the two separate].  I’m not sure I give it much thought, really. They’re so different. Fanfic’s like me baking a cake for my daughter’s birthday party, original stories are me making a wedding cake for a customer. Taking an AU fic and selling it with the names tweaked? No. I mean I could. It’d be easy. I can think of three or four fics that would be perfect for that tweaking. But it’d feel like brushing my teeth with someone else’s toothbrush. I want the books out there with my name on it to be entirely mine from the characters to the plot.

Tamara Allen: Writing fan fiction was basically like taking an online creative writing class where the teachers were my fellow fan fiction writers (and nobody was particularly discouraging.) I learned from the terrible writers and I learned from the brilliant writers and it improved my own writing to the extent that I was able to write something publishable. I don’t believe writing fan fiction hindered me because it came at a time in my life when I needed a few years to learn more about writing. It provided an excellent way for me, personally, because I’m too shy to ever take a real-life writing class.

Keeping fan fiction separate from original fiction doesn’t require any effort. Fan fiction was fun. Original fiction demands more of me, emotionally and mentally; but it also gives back more than fan fiction ever could. I went back to original fiction in 2003 because I needed something that demanded more of me, to distract me and help me get through a bad time.

Jami Gold: My one fanfic story was enough to infect me with the writing bug.  As soon as I finished, I told my family that if I ever came up with my own characters and world to watch out.  A few months later, my muse showed up, and he overwhelmed me with original character, plot, and world-building ideas. Most importantly, the experience taught me that I could write a whole novel.  I was proud that I not only finished it, but also that it was a decent story with a strong plot and theme (and awful grammar, but let’s ignore that part).

The Harry Potter books don’t use a deep point of view, so when I first started my original fiction, I struggled to write “deep enough.”  Also, I never expected it would take so much thinking to create my characters and world from scratch. Fanfic is like playing chess, where the pieces and the board already exist.  Original fiction is like inventing your own game.  What kind of a game is it?  What are the rules of the game?  What’s the object of the game?  How does one win?  The answers to all those questions have to be invented from nothingness.  Fanfic authors don’t have to worry about that aspect.

I see commonalities between my fanfic story and my original fiction stories at a very high level (“love conquers all”).  Beyond that, I wouldn’t mix the two.  Besides, JK Rowling’s voice and characters don’t match mine.  :)


(3) What were the reader-writer communities like in your fandom(s)? How important was the community to your creative process? Do you think your work would have been different in a different community (if you write in more than one community, have you had that experience?)

Cyndy Aleo:  The community is EVERYTHING in writing fan fiction, which is why some of the latest developments have been so divisive in the Twilight fandom. Of all the fandoms I participate in, I chose to write in Twilight’s BECAUSE of the community: they read; they review more than any other fandom; and that feedback is what I feel like I needed.  I think the Twilight fandom is so incredibly enthusiastic that they really want to see their popular authors — and even favorite not-as-popular authors who write their personal favorites — find a larger audience, and the reviews that tell you to publish your fic make it very tempting to put it out there.

You get rejection after rejection from agents for your original work, and meanwhile, you have a fic with over 10,000 reviews out there, and people love it. But fan fiction is about being part of a community, and getting feedback from that community. The ethics of using that community input and good will and then asking those same people to pay for your work? To me, it would feel like using a sweat shop, because the readers give so much back. There’s a give-and-take with the community that’s symbiotic.

Jane Davitt:  I can’t say enough good things about how supportive and friendly all the fandoms I’ve been in are. If I need a beta reader, I know I’ll get one for the asking — and I still beta read for people, even in fandoms I’ve long since left. Pay it forward.  If I’ve had a research question, I’ve often asked my f-list knowing one of them will know the answer/live in that area/have a background in that skill.  Without that nurturing, supportive, intelligent atmosphere, I wouldn’t have been as eager to try for more.

Tamara Allen:  I was only ever in relatively small fandoms, but I think they were similar to the larger ones, with all the usual friends, fans, and occasional conflicts. Since I’m not naturally sociable, I only connected with one or two people in each fandom, but they were good friends. We were each others’ betas and we were not very hard on each other. All the same, I learned because I was able to watch the process of drafting and revising that good writers went through (and bad writers didn’t.)

Jami Gold: As someone outside the fanfic community and yet knowledgeable about fanfic in general, I see that each community has a unique feel and attitude (the Harry Potter group is different from the Twilight group, etc.).  Based off stories I’ve heard, I think some groups might be more critical and some more fawning, so that makes it difficult to lump all of fanfic into one set of expectations of what they’re like.


(4) One of the comments I’ve heard from anti-fan-fiction readers and authors is that a fan fiction author wouldn’t appreciate having her characters appropriated in the same way. Do you agree with this statement? Does writing fan fiction gives you a different perspective on authorship? 

Cyndy Aleo:  I think the majority of fan fiction authors are incredibly respectful of the original work. There was one author who was a favorite of mine who wrote what her version of Breaking Dawn would be, as well as an alternate New Moon (not a big favorite book in the Twilight community), and it became so real that I would often substitute it in my mind for the real books to the point that when I saw the movie New Moon, I thought something was wrong. I’d be incredibly flattered if people wrote about my characters and used them in such a way; it signifies an emotional connection that carries on past the pages of your books or movies or television shows, and you want those kinds of fans.

However, the writers I know who write original fiction tend to view pulling to publish as something that’s ethically and morally wrong, because those characters do belong to the author. Borrowing them to write fan fiction is one thing. Morphing them into something similar and then selling it is quite another. As a writer, I fall in love with my own characters, and become very possessive and protective of them. I think if people were publishing fiction that had originally been based on my characters, I’d be very upset.

Jane Davitt: I have to say, the thought of someone writing fic about my fic doesn’t sit well, but I’d never stop anyone doing it; it’d be hypocritical of me. Though maybe not that hypocritical; if I knew someone didn’t want me to do fic of their work, I’d respect that. It hasn’t come up for me because with two exceptions (and the authors have been dead for decades) I never write fic in book-based fandoms. All my fic is about TV shows, and the people running them, like Joss Whedon, usually tolerate or encourage fanfic.

When people have asked if they can write fic based on mine (and it’s only happened a couple of times) I’ve said yes, of course and the fics that resulted were wonderful and I’ve never regretted sharing my sandbox.

Tamara Allen: Would I like another author making money off characters I created? No, I don’t think I would. And I don’t believe having written fan fiction gives me a different perspective on authorship. If Margaret Sutton’s Judy Bolton mysteries inspired me to write a series about a girl detective, I wouldn’t consider it appropriating her work for my benefit. But if I make my detective red-haired and give her a pet black cat and a cute federal agent for a husband, that’s Margaret’s story, not mine. At that point, I’ve gone past acceptable and fully into unethical if I sell the story and make a profit.

Jami Gold:  Many fanfic stories throw canon out the window and don’t worry about out-of-character actions.  As a reader, I understand the freedom such an approach allows. As an author, I see things differently.  I’m one of those authors who talks to her characters, in a “they’re just as real to me as my friends” way.  But that sense of intimacy also means that hearing about some wild out-of-character exploits in a fanfic might damage the relationship I have with them.

I respect what fanfic does and explores.  On the other hand, I don’t like the direction some fanfic groups are heading, with publishing their fanfic.  It would take a lot more than just changing the name or other superficial details to erase the essence of the characters.  My personal belief is that until the essence of the character (history, family background, worldview, religious beliefs, moral code, self-image, self-delusions, strengths, flaws, goals, etc.) was changed, the characters in a fanfic still belong to the original author.


(5) What is the most important thing you want readers and writers outside the community to understand about fan fiction?

Cyndy Aleo:  There’s a huge stigma attached to it, even now. Especially having written in the Twilight community, there seems to be this stereotype that we are all sexually deprived moms reading a young adult book and reading/writing erotica about teen characters, which isn’t the case at all. I have zealously protected my privacy until now simply because I didn’t want it to impact my professional life in a negative way.

I think most of us were drawn to the size of the Twilight community, which has done a lot of great things most people aren’t aware of. There are regular fundraisers, which have benefitted everything from charities like Alex’s Lemonade Stand to those impacted by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Japan last year.

I want people to know that for most of us it’s a fun hobby, for many it’s a way to trial and error our writing, and that we are the same as any online community out there.

Jane Davitt: That it’s not something people do who can’t come up with characters/plots of their own. Please. Fics have scores of original characters in them and some stand out and shine. And the plots, the imagination, the sheer scope of vision is staggering. Canon is a narrow pathway with a beginning (first episode, first book) and an end; fanfic is a vast plain, stretching out to the horizon. Here Be Dragons. People are writing fic for shows that’ve been off the air for decades and still finding something new to say.

There are thousands of fic writers who are good enough at writing to be published. Some just don’t want to. That’s because fanfic is fun; unfettered, unrestricted, liberating fun. I can write ANYTHING in a fic. I can make up words, use experimental formats, go dark and kinky, light and fluffy. I’ve used fic to heal wounds, arouse, amuse, entertain — me, not just the readers. I’ve exposed myself in my fic in a way I couldn’t do in my novels. Fanfic’s taught me to be brave in my writing and though I rein it in for the novels, that foundation is still there, solid under my feet.

Tamara Allen:  Well, I wrote fan fiction in order to finish stories that were, for me, unfinished in the emotional sense. I don’t think fan fiction is something anyone should scoff at, because much that is positive and meaningful can come from the experience of being part of a community and sharing your love of stories. It helps new writers start to hone whatever talent they may have. Some of those writers will make the leap to original fiction and learn to cope with the challenges of a more complex and demanding publishing world (frank and sometimes brutal reviewers, unenthusiastic editors, the shocking realization that most readers hate head-hopping and some aren’t too fond of melodrama…)

Jami Gold:  Just as we want to tell our friends when we read a great book, some people want to share their passion a different way.  Fanfic can be a great way to explore characters and worlds we feel we know, and writing fanfic can give new writers confidence.

Writing fanfic also doesn’t mean that someone can’t write a “real” story.  For some authors, fanfic can bring out their muse after a writer’s block.  Writing fanfic can help authors analyze someone else’s writing style (what works and what doesn’t) and character psychology (what’s the subtext behind them and what makes them likable or unlikable).


Cyndy Aleo asked: The question I’d like to ask those in other fandoms is what you think will happen from here. There are authors — like J.R. Ward and Diana Gabaldon — who speak out against fan fiction and prohibit sites like FFn from allowing people to post work based on their books, and I’m seeing a bubble of authors on Twitter talking about how to protect themselves from what happened with 50 Shades. What do you think the future of fan fiction will be after this? Will we see more authors prohibit fanfic as a result? Do you think some of our fandoms will go back to passing fic back and forth via zines and other more underground methods?

Jane Davitt: I hope not. That was pre-Internet mostly and now that the Internet exists, there are just so many ways to share fic. They could shut down one site and another would spring up. And fandom’s worldwide. We’d find havens.

I’m a Firefly fan. “Can’t stop the signal” are words to live by.

Having said that, the relatively unchecked proliferation of fic is, I feel, partly due to to the ‘you shall make no money from it’ rule and that’s crumbling to dust before our eyes. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a test case that changed everything hitting the courts soon. Maybe Fifty Shades, maybe something else. It’s been coming for a while.

Tamara Allen: I know at least one NYC-pubbed author who doesn’t mind fan fiction writers writing stories based on her novels. She doesn’t read them, so she can’t be accused of mining them for ideas, but she gives the impression of not minding. She started in fan fic.

Personally, I think it would be tremendously cool to have other writers so excited about your work that they want to write stories based on your world and characters, just for the fun of it. But I can empathize with writers who feel protective of their work after the business with 50 Shades. It’ll be quite interesting to observe the fallout from this. But I can’t imagine it will suppress fan fiction much. It’s such a huge force of nature. It will go on as long as writers write. Hard to suppress creative forces, even with lawsuits.

Jami Gold: I think many authors, who were perhaps unaware of fanfic and/or the risks before recent events, might now create more restrictive policies.  I could see authors prohibiting fanfic because their exclusive right to their characters isn’t respected anymore.  If the fanfic community doesn’t respect the original author’s rights, why would the author respect the fanfic community?

I’d like to see a middle ground, where authors allow fanfic, perhaps under a policy that all stories labeled as fanfic of their books (and any money collected as a result of those stories) belong to the original author.  A policy like that would give fanfic writers freedom as long as they don’t try to make any money from it, and it would protect authors from a fanfic writer claiming the author stole their ideas (like what happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley).



Sunita has been reading romances almost as long as she has been reading. Her favorite genres these days are contemporary, category, and novels with romantic elements. She also reads SFF, mysteries, historical fiction, literary fiction, and the backs of cereal boxes. As of January 2015, all the books she reviews at Dear Author are from: (1) her massive TBR, (2) borrowed from the library, (3) received as gifts from friends/family, or (4) purchased with her own funds.


  1. AH
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 07:42:53

    Thanks for such an insightful conversation ladies. I’ve read a few of the fanfics mentioned above and I really enjoyed the comedic take on the original fic. I now see the ethical/legal considerations that fanfic authors need to take with regards to publishing. The way I see it, fanfic is a great place to hone your craft. A writer needs to have their own original work.

  2. Lauren Billings
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 08:14:16

    Oh wow. This is SO WONDERFUL to read. And honestly, I’m beyond proud of Alg/Cyndy because I know how private she’s been for so long. FanFiction is a wonderful way to learn to write fiction, and while some aspects of fic are very different than novels, I laughed out loud when Jane (I think it was Jane!) said that her degree and all the books in her house didn’t mean she knew how to punctuate dialogue. SAME HERE! My first story was…well, let’s just say it makes me a little wincy

  3. Lauren Billings
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 08:16:05

    stupid phone – hit send. I was going to say that although it’s definitely not my finest writing, I improved, I made friends and found crit partners and those stories DEFINITELY belong to the fandom. Not because they were BD or NM reworked, but because writing fic – and the way feedback is – is a community process. None of it really happens in the isolation of one author’s mind.

  4. SandyO
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 08:16:08

    Many years ago, some friends of mine and I dabbbled with fan fic on a small website. We diid it for the fun of it. One of the gals wanted to write, but up until then didn’t have the “courage” to do so. Now she has two completed novels and an agent (fingers crossed for her). Neither book in any way resembles the fan fic (or its base) that we wrote. Fan fic is a good way to experiment and get a little cred.

    Secondly, fan frustration. I can definitely understand the authors who feel fan fic is an intrusion and theft of intellectual property; but fan fic can arise out of the fans desire for more. I’ve never sought out any In Death ff,, but I did just finish JD Robb’s latest, and yes, it would be fun to know more about the secondary characters. After 30 some books, these characters are our friends. We know them. So I can see why people might want to write about Peabody and McNab, or Baxter or Morris, etc.

    Having never read either the Twilight series or Fifty Shades, it is difficult to comment on how much the two are similiar. But I think that is where the big issue is, where fan fic goes from practice, encouragement and challenge, to possible infringement.

  5. Cyndy
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 08:26:51

    @AH: I think there are some people who have truly written original fiction and just used the names. In those cases, I can understand pulling to publish, because maybe it never belonged as fan fiction. I’ve never been okay with it for my own work because I did borrow so much of the original characters and how they interact. It’s why my first fic was Carlisle/Esme and not Bella/Edward; my own original character fit in better with Esme’s personality and I wholesale borrowed Carlisle when I shoehorned it in: protector, doctor, etc.

  6. Cyndy
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 08:27:27

    @Lauren Billings: ::snuggles::

  7. Cyndy
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 08:32:08

    @SandyO: Your comment goes back to my response to AH, and is where I like Canadian copyright law better than U.S.: characters are included.

    My belief is that you can write what appears to be original fiction: all-human, alternate-universe, but if the core traits of the characters are the same, it’s not your sandbox. I mean, my most popular fic had an Edward who was the CEO of a Facebook-like company, and Bella was a free spirit bohemian kind of girl. On the surface, that would seem like original fic, right? But Edward still made decisions for Bella without talking to her and was wealthy and was adopted by at least one of his parents and Bella was insecure and poor and looked to Edward for answers, and, and, and…. That’s all borrowed, which makes it not mine. Add that in to the mutually dependent nature of fanfic author and audience, and it just becomes ethically and morally wrong to try to make money off that, even if the legalities in the U.S. aren’t there.

  8. Jane Davitt
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 08:47:53

    @Lauren Billings It was truly humbling, that discovery, but I got the hang of dialogue eventually. Then I got published and had to start using US spelling and the Oxford comma, after years of writing fic using the English spelling and grammar I was used to and I was back to square one again :-)

  9. Anne Jamison
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 09:18:39

    I just have to say that my class got *so much* out of engaging with Cyndy, whom they knew as d0tpark3r. Her presence, her intelligence, her *ahem* willingness to speak her mind, and her generosity with my students helped make the course the success it was. I myself learned a great deal from her, and I am so pleased to see this up! Thanks to all of you for posting. Part of the reason I taught fanfiction is that I think many of fandom’s reflective reading and writing practices are helpful for *all* students of writing. It’s a good model. I’ve long assigned alternative POV, alternative ending assignments in my classes–long before I knew fic existed. And I’ve often said, if I could get my students to pay as close attention to the texts we read as fan writers and readers do, my job would do itself.

  10. RR Kovar
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 10:07:11

    The first fan fiction I wrote was in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. He asked the fandom not to use any of his characters, because he wasn’t done with them, but original characters set in his world were fine. The stories were round-table, which made it more like an MMORPG – quite a challenge when you know where you want to go, but the other person takes the story somewhere else! Everyone in that group (and there were hundreds of us) was grateful for Jordan’s permission to play in his sandbox. I never would have considered breaking his trust. Also, when folks did that in other forums, he smote them.

    I did not write fan fiction again until after I finished my first novel (now safely in the trunk, never to emerge). I still wanted to write something, so my best friend told me to write her a fan fic set in J.K Rowling’s world. I did, and it was fun. Getting positive reviews was heady. Having the admins instruct me to fix my punctuation was educational. Moderated fan fic sites are excellent ways to improve writing skills, and also a study in how to respond graciously when your reviewers turn mean. While the gist of my story was entirely my own (physics and magic are only a hair apart, and both are dangerous), the world and the characters were not. Hence, while I could rework that story and expand it to a novel, I wouldn’t. I might take the concept of physics being magic disguised as science, because physics is fun to play with as a notion, but I would have to do something entirely different with it before I could consider publishing it.

    There are many good aspects to fan fiction, and I am glad some authors allow it. I hope the current trend in repurposing fic to publish, and pretending it was never fic, will not lead most authors to curtail fan fiction, but I cannot blame them if it does.

  11. Sunita
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 10:08:54

    I had such fun coordinating this post. All I had to do was get the ball rolling and get out of the way! The way you talk about how writing original and fan fiction, especially the differences, is really helping me clarify some points that have been opaque to me as a non-writer. Thanks again!

  12. Fanfic and me « Ros Clarke: romance writer
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 10:36:10

    […] is a really fascinating series of posts about fanfiction over at Dear Author at the moment. What’s most interesting to me is the variety of ways in which people have […]

  13. Sirius
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 13:25:00

    I do not have anything of substance to contribute right now, but I still wanted to let you guys know how much I enjoyed reading this conversation. Thank you.

  14. arfalcon
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 14:23:49

    This is an excellent, thoughtful discussion. I’m one of Cyndy’s many fans from her fanfic days, and I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in Anne Jamison’s classes. Cyndy understands the world better than most and her facility with language enables us to share her insights. Lauren is another very gifted writer, and I enjoyed reading the other authors’ views here as well. Many thanks for arranging this conversation.

  15. Estara
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 16:47:37

    First of all I want to echo Sirius comment – so it is clear that even as an outsider to most of this – [I have read fanfic but never with any persistence, I do read Yuletide stories from AnArchiveOfOurOwn (is the title, I think?) when LJ-friends link me to them each year – quite a few on my LJ-List read and write fanfiction and some of the published writers I know there do so as well, occasionally] I really enjoyed reading the various impressions.

    Extra special hello to Tamara, nice to see you show up outside your website ^^. Will there be a new story or book from you this year? Also congratulations to having made it to DABWAHA.

  16. Happy St Patty’s Day « Fairyblood's Happy Place
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  17. Merrian
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 19:53:37

    As I have been reading the posts and comments I have been thinking of my then 9 year old niece writing her Pokemon stories – of how her imagination and affections were engaged and how she wanted to immerse herself in their world. I am wondering if we risk seeing the copyright police banging on children’s and teenagers door and locking up imaginations.

    My personal experience of reading ff has always been of engagement with possibilities that ff is about ‘what ifs’ and passionate interest. I am a reader not a writer so I have loved sharing and talking about stories with other like minded folk.

    Thinking about the issues raised by the MOTU/Fifty situation and the discussions and points made in this series of posts on DA and the commentary I am wondering if the bigger issue is not the copyright one but the commodification of the fanfic community? As social media and online word of mouth becomes so much more important in making a novel successful and helping it to stand out in the crowd is it the demonstrated connection and engagement with the community that is the ‘saleable’ thing?

  18. Jami Gold
    Mar 17, 2012 @ 22:42:09

    @RR Kovar:

    “I might take the concept of physics being magic disguised as science, because physics is fun to play with as a notion, but I would have to do something entirely different with it before I could consider publishing it.

    Yes, THIS. I could have gone on with essays for so many of my answers. :) On thing I thought about saying was my opinion for the “right” way to convert fanfic to original fiction.

    My thought would be to take the premise (which is most likely original), the outline of plot points, and insert new characters. If we take the great idea that made us want to write the story to begin with and start over, our characters will have different thoughts, dialogue, actions/reactions, and make the story unique and original from the fanfic version.

  19. Cyndy
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 09:38:53

    @Anne Jamison: LOL. Thank you, Anne! Your students were an absolute pleasure that semester: very professional and serious about derivative works.

  20. Cyndy
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 09:43:48

    @arfalcon: Thank you! Anne is posting our email conversations on her blog, and a lot of my conversations with her class took place on Twitter under my old accounts. My blunt-to-a-fault nature is still well-preserved, and for those who still think my stance on pulling to publish is new or borne of jealousy, they can note that it’s documented in my conversations with Anne and her students. The number one rule of fanfic has ALWAYS been that you don’t profit from it.

  21. Cyndy
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 09:51:23

    @Merrian: I think it’s two separate issues, and I have more of a problem with one than the other. I think filing and publishing your fanfic is ethically and morally wrong, even if copyright law isn’t definite. I’m not sure how I feel about the other. Obviously, I had a following in the community. If those readers wanted to buy a book I’d published, is it wrong to do that?

    Everyone comes from somewhere, and if authors I thought were excellent in the ff community go on to publish original fiction, I’d be interested in reading it. I don’t view that as a bad thing; I don’t think anyone should continue to give their talents away for free forever, and as long as the initial relationship isn’t tainted, it’s like watching baby birds leave the nest to go on to OF, at least to me.

    But I do believe in that first rule of fandom, and selling your fic with the names changed, selling items relating to your fic — it’s all running against that, and fandoms have been around long before Twilight and will be around long after that stick to that belief.

  22. Tamara
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 11:36:11


    It’s nice to see you, too. I’m still hoping to have a book out this year (the last couple of months have been full of upsets that slowed me down. And I’m slow, anyway.)
    If I do finish one, it will most likely be self-published. Thank you for asking.

    As for DABWAHA, thank you! I got *crushed*–and was it ever fun. I hope sometime I’ll get to be in it again.

  23. kathy cole
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 12:42:05

    Thanks all for this discussion – never read any fan fiction (and I can’t write fiction worth anything), but these posts have been very eye-opening.

  24. Estara
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 15:44:11

    @Tamara: Real life happens *nod*. I’ll keep an eye out on GoodReads then, and on your site ^^

  25. On coming clean and on That Book « Shakespeare I Ain't
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  26. Sunita
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 19:11:50

    For me, the point that really stands out is that all of you differentiate so clearly and easily between your original and your fan fiction. I wasn’t expecting that, and it’s made me realize that as someone who doesn’t write fiction, I probably have a bunch of wrong assumptions about how authors work.

    It’s good to be able to chip away at the “you don’t know what you don’t know” problem. Live and learn.

  27. Stephanie/PurdueLiz
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 23:00:18

    Excellent discussion ladies, and always so fun to see where other fanfic writers are coming from. I was part of the Twi fandom, wrote a few stories and am now working on original stuff as well. It’s been a great jumping off point for me, because I hadn’t written any fiction since HS, which was way too long ago. Original is definitely harder for me, like one of you mentioned, figuring out exactly how your character reacts to things instead of say Bella or Hermione.

    I’ve found the whole 50 Shades thing to be very disheartening.

    Waves at Cyndy! So glad to see you working on original stuff, I will definitely keep my eye out.

  28. Tamara
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 23:47:30


    Is the reason you’re surprised due to the perception that certain authors apparently don’t recognize a difference between fan fiction and original fiction? :/ (Yes, that was somewhat facetious.)
    Seriously, I am curious to know why you’re surprised. An author may have the monetary incentive to blur the line between her fan fiction and work she created out of whole cloth, but I think she can see that line as clearly as the rest of us. It just serves her needs to ignore it. As long as the line remains an ethical one and not one with legal consequences, infringers like the woman who wrote the 50 Shades fan fiction will see only benefit to selling their fan fiction–mainly because there will be only benefit (at least to her warped sense of right and wrong.) The only negative so far–the disapproval of peers–seems to be irrelevant when the money starts flowing in.

  29. Cyndy
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 06:04:08

    @Stephanie/PurdueLiz: ::waves back:: and thank you!

    As for MOTU, it’s like someone cheating on a test and breaking the curve. Someone took the easy way while the rest of us are still studying.

  30. Sunita
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 09:56:42

    @Tamara: I was surprised not that you can keep the characters separate so well (your characters v. someone else’s), but rather that you described the processes as being so distinct. I wasn’t thinking of the ethical aspects so much as the creative ones.

    I don’t have anything in my writing that parallels what you’re talking about. I think the closest I can come is with theoretical formulations: If I’m testing someone else’s theory, I never forget it’s not mine. If I modify someone else’s theory, I’m always extremely aware of what the original theory was and what I contributed. It never turns into MY theory. I have a theoretical model that builds on previously developed, related theories. Over a decade after coming up with it (it was a joint endeavor with a colleague), I still describe it in terms of what was absent/missing in the literature and what we contributed. It’s never just “we invented this.”

    When I referred to wrong assumptions, what I was thinking about was my tendency to conflate repurposed fan fiction with possibly original work that is done in a fanfiction style. As I wrote in today’s post, some tropes from fanfiction have become ubiquitous in m/m. Oftentimes when I see them I think “this was fanfiction at some point.” But that may not be true at all; the author may just be using the same style of writing in original work. I hope that makes sense.

  31. Jen J. Danna
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 10:02:26

    Fascinating conversation, ladies! It’s great to see an honest and unbiased conversation around fanfic and how it can help writers move to original fiction. Well done!

  32. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 10:30:31

    @Tamara: I have seen the words “possibly new book this year” and this makes me so happy :) Sorry, I know it is off topic kind of :)

  33. Tamara
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 17:07:31


    Yes, indeed. I think it’s easy to keep original work and fan work separate creatively because the emotional investment is so much greater when the world and characters are your own. You’ve raised these characters from birth, so to speak, and watched them evolve from a little description and a handful of traits into people that live and breathe in your head and, you hope, on the page. You’re responsible for creating every aspect of their lives and relationships in ways that will (again you hope) make readers visualize them as fully as you do.

    Unlike fan fiction, your characters are an unknown factor when readers open your story. Introducing your world and characters feels very much like introducing yourself and laying your heart bare for examination. That, for me, is a far more complex and meaningful experience. Writing fan fiction was fun, interesting, challenging in its own way; but I never wrapped my heart and soul around it the way I do with original fiction.

    Writing from scratch (or what feels like scratch, taking into account the influence the world of books has on a writer from childhood on up) your ability is tested in new ways. And you don’t have a built-in audience ready to forgive a lot of sins to get the latest fiction on their favorite characters. You have to give them characters they may or may not come to love. And as with any more difficult and challenging road, success is that much sweeter and failure that much more painful.

    Under those circumstances, keeping fan fiction and original fiction separate is a breeze.

    @Estara and Sirius You two. :) Thank you. I really appreciate that.

  34. Using Google Search Terms for Fun and Education | Jami Gold, Paranormal Author
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  35. Cyndy Aleo
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 13:12:48


    Sunita, I think of my characters like children, and writing fanfic was more like babysitting. Each character has his or her own personality necessary for the story. When I’m first starting a draft, I don’t know them very well, but as I progress, I get to know them better, and while they may all have some similarities because they are mine, they are each distinct.

    It’s one of the things that’s crushing about having original fiction rejected that I never had when writing fanfic; I never got that attached to the characters because they weren’t mine. Rejections on original fiction are like someone telling you that your children are ugly, and I feel like I failed them if I don’t get them out there for other people to meet and make friends with and love as much as I do.

    Original fiction is a very emotional process that I can’t say was ever similar with fanfic.

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    Apr 04, 2012 @ 18:23:13

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