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Fan Fiction, Slash, and M/M Romance

Sarah: My experience with fanfiction comes from two different directions: as a Jane Austen scholar and as a reader of m/m romance.

I have to say from the start that I don’t willingly read fan fiction. I know that it can be a wonderful thing for writers and readers and fan communities, as Jan and Has so brilliantly attested. I certainly don’t think other people shouldn’t read it. It’s just not for me. RPS creeps me out and I’m uninterested in reading alternate or continuing storylines from fictional worlds and characters that I enjoy, whether TV, book, or film.

For me, it comes down to voice. I read primarily for voice and, in my opinion, it is incredibly difficult to replicate another author’s voice. I mean, yes, I read romance for the happy ending and the depth of characterization. But I read specific authors for their voice. I fall in love with characters because of the voice in which they are written. So I’m uninterested in Further Fan Fiction Adventures of favorite characters, because they will by definition be written in a different voice.

Sunita: As I said in my earlier post, I came to fan fiction through m/m romance. I didn’t know much about either when I started reading m/m, but as I read more and more, it became clear to me that there were certain characterization, setting, and relationship tropes that recurred far more often in the novels than they ever showed up in real life. Retrospectively that seems unsurprising: after all, romance is populated by billionaires and dukes, as well as feisty, beautiful heroines who want to save their families, and I don’t bat an eye. But I think that subconsciously I was expecting m/m to be more realistic. When I discovered its roots in slash, those tropes made much more sense.

While I notice and appreciate voice, especially that of favorite authors, it’s not the primary reason I read genre fiction. I pay more attention to characters and setting. So I’m not opposed to works that port characters to a different world, or new characters in the same setting. I read a lot of series and linked books, for that very reason.

Sarah: The first direction from which I encountered fan fiction was Jane Austen. I am an Austen scholar during my day job. Jane Austen’s books, of course, are out of copyright, so Austen fan fiction does not run into the issues that Fifty Shades of Grey does with appropriating someone else’s copyrighted characters. There is a LOT of Jane Austen-inspired fiction out there. (Twilight, of course, is famously one of them, ironically enough.) Since 1993, there have been about 100 books inspired by or continuing Pride and Prejudice alone, let alone Austen’s five and a half other books (Lady Susan being the half) and two unfinished novels. And of course, Austen herself has become a character in a lot of these modern books.

I’ll admit, I read and enjoyed Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice and I enjoyed Ann Herendeen’s slashy Pride/Prejudice for the intellectual exercise of the thing. And I adore the films (Pride and Prejudice: A Latter Day Comedy and Bride and Prejudice are my favorites). But in general, I find it VERY difficult to read any of the books that purport to continue Elizabeth and Darcy’s story or that tell the stories of other characters (Mary Bennet, Georgiana Darcy, etc.) because no matter how hard an author tries, she cannot replicate Austen’s voice and because she’s necessarily influenced by twenty-first century priorities, rather than those of the early nineteenth century. And, honestly, I enjoy leaving characters with their HEAs; I’m not interested in their Further Adventures. I like narrative closure and I prefer to leave it closed. YMMV.

Sunita: I have no interest whatsoever in Austen fanfics or retellings as novels. For one thing, they’re written in a modern voice, by modern writers. Austen isn’t historical fiction or historical romance; she was writing about her contemporary world. By definition, any work that continues those characters’ stories is going to be doing so through a modern lens. That’s a distortion I’m not interested in.

Sarah: This is precisely why I love Bridget Jones, both book and film, and P+P: A Latter Day Comedy and Clueless. (And the fabulous Easy A, a retelling of The Scarlet Letter)! They are modern, taking the plot and themes and having them comment on modern characters and settings.

Sunita: Out of that group, I really only like Clueless, but I agree with you that the modern retellings are more enjoyable. I tend to treat movies as a different kind of aesthetic and cultural experience. They’re showing me something (literally, since it’s a visual medium) that is not there in Austen but could be. Of course, they’re modern too (even the period, “authentic” ones), but somehow it doesn’t bother me as much. I guess I expect movies by definition to be different.

Sarah: And this is why I can enjoy the Keira Knightley/Matthew McFadyen P+P (with bonus Wuthering Heights ending), or the completely fictional “biography” of Austen, Becoming Jane: because I treat them solely as a movie with its own narrative and visual conventions.

Getting back to fan fiction: Almost all Austen fan- or repurposed- or real-person fiction makes a point of mentioning the Austen connection if it’s not obvious, precisely because of the cultural cachet it garners. This is precisely the opposite of most m/m romance that’s repurposed slash or fan fiction, which tries to hide its origins. And it’s that intellectual dishonesty and its repercussions for me as a reader that is the reason I try my hardest to avoid P2P books.

I have reviewed (and reviewed very well) a lot of m/m romance that I discovered later is fan fiction with the serial numbers filed off: Zero at the Bone (Brokeback Mountain), Shades of Gray (also Brokeback Mountain), and All’s Fair in Love and Advertising (some scifi show I know nothing about), at the very least (there was also intense speculation about I Just Play One on TV -– probably RPS). I’m sure people with more knowledge could find more among the books I review (part of my problem with fanfic is that I don’t watch TV and I don’t read fanfic, so I rarely know what to look for, or even THAT I should be looking).

As an aside: Alternate Universe (AU) fanfic seems to be the easiest to repurpose (like 50 Shades): the author has already created a different world, so all she needs to do is change the characters just slightly enough (names and looks), and it can look like original fic and people defend you by saying things like, “Twilight was about vampires, 50 Shades isn’t paranormal,” so obviously, they’re not the same at all.

Sunita: I see two ways in which fan fiction has influenced m/m. The first is this reworking — sometimes extensive, sometimes … not — of stories that had been previously published and disseminated on line for free. And m/m publishers have, to different degrees, been complicit in this process. Most of the well-known m/m publishers have published books that are lightly or heavily transformed fan fiction. If you look at a list of favorite m/m romances at GoodReads, Jessewave’s site, or our own yearly Best Of lists, you’ll see books that started as fan fiction. The main difference I see between the presses is that some of the older ones wanted fan fiction that was substantially reworked. Some of the newer ones seem to accept more work that comes close to the file-off-the-serial-numbers approach.

Unlike the current brouhaha around 50 Shades of Grey, many fans who were aware that published m/m novels had been reworked from fan fiction did not reveal the origins. I can understand why readers were quite annoyed to discover that the books they thought were original were not. Some are like you and don’t want to read repurposed fan fiction at all, no matter how different the new product is. Other readers don’t care. I have mixed feelings. But I think that disclosing provenance is important. Attribution to a previous source matters to me. At the same time, I’ve read and enjoyed books that turned out to have begun as fan fiction, and I’m glad I read them.

Sarah: I would not willingly have read these books, and certainly would not have reviewed them, if I’d known ahead of time that they were fan fiction. I personally feel that it’s intellectual theft and it’s lazy. Don’t get me wrong: when it’s written as fanfic, to be distributed for free, I think it’s a wonderful thing. But if an author pulls to publish, I think she’s disrespecting her readers, specifically the readers who don’t know that it’s formerly fan fiction.

Jami Gold said it the best for me in her post on “What Makes a Character Unique“:

Characters—good characters—go much deeper than their job, their human/non-human status, their name, number of siblings, where they live, etc. Real characters are born out of their history, family background, worldview, religious beliefs, moral code, self-image, self-delusions, strengths, flaws, goals, etc. They aren’t puppets fulfilling our goals for a plot.

Most fanfic stories—no matter how out-of-character the characters might act—still intend for their characters to evoke those of the original author. While superficial details might be different (especially if it’s an “alternate universe” fanfic story), most of those things I listed above would be similar to the original. In other words, not a unique character.

Someone wrote out an extensive list as a comment in another of Gold’s posts of the connections between Twilight and 50SoG. Ana is clumsy because Bella is clumsy, for example, not because E.L. James decided Ana is clumsy for reasons of her own. Or, in the case of Zero at the Bone, I commented in my original review (before I knew the book was BbM fanfic):

“D’s “dialect” is…slightly annoying. [...] It’s part of him. It’s perfectly sustained throughout the book. But it’s never explained by where he came from (either geography or class). And it slowed down my reading sometimes enough to be mildly irritating.

I didn’t know at the time, but D’s dialect comes from the fact that he’s actually Ennis Delmar from Brokeback Mountain and that’s how Ennis speaks. When ZatB was fan fiction, that doesn’t need to be explained. But in original fiction, the way a character speaks has to come from somewhere and the P2P author was, in this case, too close to her source to know to explain that when she was publishing it as original fiction.

The issue for me comes down to this: I believe that P2P disrespects its non-fanfic readers. This is the distinction for me between Austen fanfic and P2P fanfic that purports to be original. The fact that it’s Austen fanfic is the point and one is expected to read it, whether it’s canon-set or AU, with the knowledge that it’s Austen-based. It’s meant to be read as Austen-inspired and that fact is meant to heighten the reader’s pleasure in reading it. This is precisely the point of fanfic, no matter the provenance (out of copyright or not).

P2P fanfic that purports to be original is disavowing that layer of pleasure, claiming, in fact, that it doesn’t exist, but then still fails to explain vital character traits or plot points for the unsuspecting reader, because they didn’t need to be explained when the story was fanfic.

It’s that intellectual dishonesty towards the non-fanfic reader that makes me SO mad when I discover that a book I’ve enjoyed is P2P fanfic. I feel like the author’s pulling one over on me and it retroactively destroys all the pleasure I felt in the book when I read it.

Sunita: For me, the second way that fan fiction affects m/m as a genre is less ethically problematic but perhaps just as important in the growth and maturation of the genre. I’m talking about the adoption and immense popularity of certain types of stories, such as hurt/comfort, Gay4U, Out4U. Fan fiction writing experience is very helpful in developing certain aspects of a writer’s craft. Writers are often very good at character interaction. Good m/m romances have interesting characters, and the romantic relationships are carefully and compellingly written. But not all authors are as good at other components of a story that are necessary when moving into the world of original fiction.

Violetta Vane has an excellent post on the issues authors confront in moving between fan fiction and original fiction. She notes a number of weaknesses fan fiction writers have to overcome:

Setting detail. Most settings are already given to us by canon. They’re taken for granted. Describing setting takes time away from the stuff everyone wants to read: the characters interacting and having a rich inner life.

Character description. We know how the characters look already in canon. There’s no need to describe them all over again.

Original characters. There’s a frequent prejudice against original characters, especially female ones.

Plot. The major plot points are already given to us in canon.

Conflict and suspense. It’s very hard to introduce this in fanfic, because conflict and suspense rely on CHANGE, and fanfic writers 1) often don’t want to truly change the characters they love 2) even if they do, their audience may not accept the change.

Some authors are very good at these aspects, but many otherwise good writers struggle with some of them (and have remarked on it). And if publishers are not doing a lot of developmental and content editing, then those weaknesses aren’t going to be addressed in the book production process.

So for me, the relationship of fan fiction to the m/m genre is a mixed bag. It has given us many talented authors and wonderful books. But as long as the genre isn’t open and up-front about that relationship, the disadvantages that closeness brings are not likely to be addressed.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

146 Comments

  1. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 07:22:46

    I think Violetta makes some really astute observations. I’ve once reviewed a “historical” book for Speak Its Name (I now longer review, for several reasons), which ended up being the worst book I’ve read in a long while (I just checked, it was published by Dreamspinner).

    The characters were flat, the setting non-existent, the “conflict” never developed and then resolved by Deus Ex Machina on five pages, and the whole thing ended with one of the worst, purple sex scenes ever. I had a good rant about it to friends, and one of them said “oh, you didn’t know that this was originally Sean Bean/Orlando Bloom Real People Slash?”

    But even that really didn’t make sense. I don’t know either Bloom or Bean as people (and I really only like one of them as an actor), but that book just had so many things wrong with them that the fanfiction connection didn’t explain or excuse it. But it did have the issues that Violetta points out. Her full blog post is also quite interesting on that count.

    (And I say this as an author who got his break in Germany contributing to a “shared world” gaming property, which is like fanfiction for the original creators and paid.)

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  2. Angelia Sparrow
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 08:18:47

    RPS skeeves me. It skeeves a lot of us older fen. Something like “Visit to a Weird Planet” and “Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited,” where the crew of the Enterprise ends up on the TV set, and vice versa (collected in New Voyages 1 & 2) are fine. It’s when sex is introduced that things start getting too personal.

    A lot of us early m/m writers (2004 and before) came to it from fandom. I met one of the owners of Torquere through the old Master/Apprentice list (Star Wars, Qui-gon/Obi-wan)and was following her on LiveJournal when some of their first anthology call went out.

    You do make some excellent points.
    Aside from borrowing and adapting a few original scenes, I tend to leave my fanfic alone. It’s too closely tied to the universe it’s written for.

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  3. Jane Davitt
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 08:26:03

    @ Sarah I read primarily for voice and, in my opinion, it is incredibly difficult to replicate another author’s voice. I mean, yes, I read romance for the happy ending and the depth of characterization. But I read specific authors for their voice. I fall in love with characters because of the voice in which they are written. So I’m uninterested in Further Fan Fiction Adventures of favorite characters, because they will by definition be written in a different voice.

    I can see how that might be problematic in book-based fanfic when you’re pitting words against words, but I haven’t found it a problem in the fandoms I write for, which are TV show based. I think it’s because though a character can have verbal habits that a fanfic author needs to replicate in the fic for the character to ring true, what that character actually says is up to the author.

    I’ve participated in anonymous fic exchanges where after the fics are posted, people guess who wrote what. It’s often very easy because fanfic authors, like any writers, have a style, often indefinable, but still identifiable.

    I think someone writing, say, Harry Potter fic, wouldn’t necessarily be trying to sound like Rowling. To make the characters feel in character, yes, but they’d write with their own voice.

    I do agree that to a certain extent, when we write fic we’re starting a little farther on than square one on the board since we have the characters (the only constant; everything else, plot, setting is optional) — but it’s possible to have a thousand versions of in-character. I know that sounds impossible, but it is. Everyone who watches a show or reads a book forms a different picture of a character in their heads and you can guarantee there’s a writer out there whose fics match that picture exactly for that one reader. The most popular writers are the ones whose versions appeal across the board and ring true for many people.

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  4. DS
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 09:10:15

    O/T but discussing Jane Austen fanfic reminded me of this:

    I once had a set of small limp bound books that was given to me by a relative containing what I later figured out, after I read the originals, must have been pastiches of popular 18th-early 19th century fiction such as Lewis’ The Monk, Mysteries of Udolpho and Castle of Otranto. I had no idea who published them, how old they were or where the relative who gave them to me got them. (He is deceased so I can’t ask him.)

    Certainly not fan fiction in the modern sense but clearly shows that there was a market for re-writes of popular stories that people enjoyed and wanted to re-experience with some differences.

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  5. anatsuno
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 09:42:15

    Many fic writer give /amazing/ characters, and are starting from a canon so impoverished, characterisation-wise, that it absolutely cannot be said they’re copying canon on it. If the Stargate Atlantis fandom and the Inception fandom are so interesting, for example, it is in no small part because the canon characters are flimsy, thin, either transparent or opaque depending how you want to look at it (so thin you can see through them; opaque because we know so little about them). And I name-dropped two fandoms among thousands, but of course they’re far from the only ones like this. So I’m just saying, if characters is what you like/enjoy, fanfic can /absolutely/ deliver on that front, and there is no reason to spread the idea that all the characterisation is badly imitative or “stolen”. It can and very often is deeper, richer and more interesting, too.

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  6. GD
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 10:43:00

    There’s something I don’t understand here. If you enjoy a book, it probably means that characterization, plot, setting, style etc are good, right? How does knowing that the book started as fic change that? How can you *retroactively* lose your enjoyment of something? That, to me, sounds intellectually dishonest.

    I can’t shake the feeling, after reading this post and some of the comments, that what is being called for is some sort of “warning: fanfiction” label on re-purposed books so that readers can know to steer clear of them (or at least, know not to enjoy them if they do read them. Or if they still enjoyed them, not to say so in public by reviewing them positively). Which, incidentally, sheds light on the reasons why authors and publishers of said books might not be too keen on such a label… If there’s a stigma of bad writing/intellectual dishonesty attached to fanfic, you can’t logically expect the people who write and publish it to advertise its influence on the work.

    Does bad writing and lazy characterization exist in fanfic? Of course. Just like it does in some published “original” fiction. I just don’t think the objective quality of a product can be predicated on its origin.

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  7. lazaraspaste
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 11:25:53

    I know what Sarah means when she says that she feels like failure to disclose the origins of the book as fanfiction feels intellectually dishonest. I feel the same way. This is because in literature, generally, there is a long standing tradition of allusion: allusion to other texts, to stories, to influences. The idea being that, if you have read those other stories you will notice them as you read and they will enrich the text for you. By hiding the origins of book, its influences, it just feels like–well, first off, why? Why hide the origin/influence? I mean, I’m not talking about a label on the cover but why not allusions? I don’t get it. If there’s nothing wrong with fanfic, then why hide the story’s origins. If the story really has been changed, then there shouldn’t be legal ramifications. Right?

    So why hide? Why not embrace allusions, infuences, and homages? I mean, it worked for James Joyce, ya know?

    I’m also interested in this quote from Violetta Vane’s post: Original characters. There’s a frequent prejudice against original characters, especially female ones.

    So why the prejudice against female characters? I’ve noticed that even when reading non-slash fanfic, back when I used to read fanfic. I find it odd, especially considering the number of women who have this prejudice. Aside from Ye Olde Mary Sue, female characters, in my reading experience, often get shafted (ha!). Of course, I would argue this occurs in regular old romance fiction. I just think it is easier to see in ff or P2P. Mostly, I want to know what’s up with that?

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  8. LG
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 11:45:03

    @lazarapaste – “So why the prejudice against female characters? I’ve noticed that even when reading non-slash fanfic, back when I used to read fanfic. I find it odd, especially considering the number of women who have this prejudice.”

    Does the prejudice only exist when the fanfic author is female or guessed to be female? If so, then the prejudice may exist because the female original character is viewed to be little more than a stand-in for the author. The female original characters I’ve seen were paired up with male characters from the original series. I’ve seen enough fans arguing in comments about which male characters “belong” to them to guess that pairing an original female character with a canon male character probably incites some jealousy, if readers view it as the author pairing herself up with the character.

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  9. Sunita
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 12:14:40

    @GD: Well, obviously I don’t go back in time and change the enjoyment I had during the reading itself. But new information spoils the memory and affects my likelihood of rereading, recommending to others, and reading the author’s other works. I wonder how people who saw Mike Daisey’s monologue are feeling right now, for example.

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  10. Sunita
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 12:19:07

    @LG: In my experience, both male and female authors of m/m do this. I can think of at least two books written by male authors that have levels of casual misogyny I found difficult to stomach.

    I’ve also seen a newish, well-reviewed m/m author justify the use of female characters as villains or other unpleasant types because the book needed a villain. But in one of the books I read by her, there was no necessity to make the character as unsympathetic and near-villainous as she was in order to advance the plot, i.e., the plot twists could have been the same with a sympathetic character. The conflict could have been treated as structural rather than embodied in the character as written.

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  11. GD
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 12:24:38

    @lazaraspaste: Origin and influences are quite different, IMO. No one’s asking “original” fiction writers to state where they got their idea for the story, what book they were reading at the time, and where they wrote their first draft. That’s what “stating fanfic provenance” would imply, as far as I understand it.

    If there’s nothing wrong with fanfic, then why hide the story’s origins. Maybe because while the author might believe there is nothing wrong with fanfic, it’s not the case of the readers and reviewers? As long as fanfic is perceived by them as being “lesser than” or an indication of bad/inadequate writing or even just a guilty pleasure, there’s really no incentive for writers and publishers to advertise that origin, you know?

    Re:lack of female characters, it’s a problem that’s endemic in fandom, and not just about original characters. I can think (or recall from fan conversations) a number of possible reasons:

    1) There are usually (and sadly) few women in the canon (in movie or tv based media, in any case), and the ones that exist are often the “token female” or are limited to being the lead’s love interest or getting killed (or raped) as a plot point. Few women in a lot of the canon I’ve encountered have deep characterization of their own, which in turn makes it harder to construct interesting, nuanced characters when you’re writing.

    2) In m/m the two leads are by definition male, and as the stories center on them less attention is put on the women in their lives.

    3) Writing a Mary Sue – or a character readers perceive as a Mary Sue – is a capital offense in many fannish circles, and the easy way to make sure you’re not doing that is not to write female characters in the first place.

    4) It can be surprisingly hard for women – who are the majority of fanfiction authors – to write good female characters. This one I can say from experience. As a women, when writing female characters I feel (or imagine) constraints that are absent from my process when writing male characters. “Am I stereotyping? Am I being anti-feminist? Am I going too far in my efforts not to stereotype and actually making this character a dude with a girl’s name?” Whereas when writing male characters I have much more of an “anything goes” philosophy, because I feel there’s less stigma attached to male characters.

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  12. jan
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 12:28:21

    There’s a prejudice against female characters, possibly because they’re so crappily written? 95% of them are Mary Sue self inserts or the Evil Bitch trying to break up the m/m romance. I personally love trying to write women that my community will enjoy. But I feel the need to put warnings on stories where the women are having sex, because m/m fans can get irate about it.

    I see problems with setting and character in original fic, but not with plot and suspense. You have to know or learn how to craft the latter two to write any kind of decent fan fic. You just can’t use what’s in the book for that. As for OCs, my first fic was a lesson in how to write one. It taught me a lot about what’s involved in original writing.

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  13. Christine M.
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 13:03:08

    The one female protagonist/lead I loved reading in m/f setting when I was still involved with fandoms was Hermione Granger. But only if she was written in a fashion similar for Rowling’s, eg. brainy, slightly annoying, know-it-all and it’ll shove it in your face, Hermione. And only paired with Draco or Snape (i left the fandom shortly before book 6). In the hands of the right author, she was magnificent.

    As for the rest, I spent most of my ff days in slash realms. But the first fic I wrote had a female character, she looked like me and Tolkien’s Haldir and his two brother were fighting one another to end up with me her. And I think Aragorn was in love with her, too. ;) The fic is still hiding on a drive or a floppy disk somewhere (yep it was that long ago), incomplete and I’m not sure I want to lay my eyes on it, ever.

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  14. lazaraspaste
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 13:34:44

    @LG: That feels weirdly reminiscent of my days as a New Kid on the Block fan. (I keep referencing this because they were the only Boy Band I ever liked. It was formative.)

    @GD: I know you are just reporting common reasons, but they all kind of some weak to me. Like 1) just seems like a great opportunity for a writer to flesh out a transparent or token character and give them real depth and awesomeness. And honestly, if you can’t construct an interesting nuanced character because the orignal lacked those qualities, then I don’t really trust the writer full stop. It doesn’t give me a lot of confidence that they can really pull off a story. An orginial writer has to create a nuanced figure with deep characterization out of whole cloth. So while it may explain why writers aren’t interested in those characters enough to write about them, it doesn’t really make it harder to write them, IMHO.
    2) This would make more sense if women were not, as I understand it from Sunita’s comments, showing up as villainesses.
    3) I get this but I think that word is over-used. I mean, men can be Mary-Sues, too. Inserting some sort of author-like character into the story is not always a bad thing. Woody Allen does it all the time, as a broader example. Why is it that this is only a crime when it is women?
    4)I have to admit I’m somewhat appalled by this answer. I get it to a certain extent and I don’t want to sound like a bitch but to me this is a cop out. Writing is hard. Period. Balking at something because it is too hard to portray or there are issues you have to deal with that wouldn’t come up using other characters really seems like a double standard. I think good characters are difficult to write regardless of the sex of the character or their orientation. Or they ought to be. I realize that there is more baggage in the way women are portrayed. And, of course, there is baggage in the way minorities are portrayed. But this baggage should not be an excuse or a justification for terrible portrayals, or caricatures, or what have you. If you choose to portray a woman, then write her better–by which I mean, as a human. I think if writers had more of an anything goes attitude toward every character, instead of just dudes, then we’d actually see what we want to see: a broad, varied panoply of persons interacting in a story.

    Moreover, I find that this stigma is attached to female characters in ALL fiction, not just fanfic or m/m. And it is really troubling to me.

    @jan: I wonder. Does the prejudice come from the crappy writing? Or is the crappy writing a result of the prejudice?

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  15. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 14:10:29

    @Sunita: I apologize for somewhat OT response – women in mm romance only, but from my fanfiction reading days , I would say I am seeing lots of similarities. Totally agree, both male and female authors do that and I am just tired of it by now. Seeing so many horrible awful female characterizations, well just makes me not like the book and that would be an understatement. Yes, many (not all) mm fans would prefer not seeing any women in their stories, some are totally fine with female characters, but seeing those caricature characterizations, I totally get why people would prefer not having any. Heck, I am the reader, who is more then fine with interesting female characters in my mm romances, I mean, the guys do not leave in the world where women do not exist, right? So, I am totally okay with it, but if the woman’s characterizations goes only as far as Evil B, or cheerleading best friend, well, even I would rather not have a woman’s character in my story, if my choice is to have a caricature or none at all. I think I know which author you are talking about as well and totally agree with you. I can do without guys having sex with a woman, that is very true, but if one character is discovering that he is bisexual, I can deal with love triangle as well, just please do not make it a menage, please do not make it a menage. That I do not want to read in the book which is advertised as gay romance.

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  16. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 14:14:48

    @Sunita: Sunita – I don’t know which author you mean, but I assume that, when all the “big roles” are filled (MC1 and MC2, who are men), some authors suddenly realize that they should have a woman, and need a villain, and it’s convenient to put them both into one position. It very often takes the form of the Evil Ex-Wife (a trope so common I tend to close the book when I see it used yet again).

    I’m actually so fed up with it that it’s editorial policy at Riptide that we won’t accept the kind of book where all women are evil (some women can be evil, but if the only women are evil and there is casual misogeny, we don’t want to publish it). I do ask of Riptide authors to carefully consider whether the evil person/villain HAS to be the only female in the case. It’s the least we should do as authors – actually THINK about this.

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  17. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 14:19:30

    @Aleksandr Voinov: Another refreshing trend, Riptide seems to have so many of them :) Thank you. I remember reading a book where all, and I kid you not, all female characters were either evil (VERY) or silly (VERY). Why, please tell me why? Not you Alex. Of course there are evil women and evil men, but when all women are evil, or just carelessly portrayed, I cant help but go, why? Sorry, one of my big pet peeves lately.

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  18. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 14:40:12

    @Sirius: Hi Sirius – well, Riptide is very much a “don’t bitch about the darkness, light a godsdamned bonfire!” project for me (and the other owners) and hence a direct response to what we feel is going the wrong way in the genre. Yes, women, like men, can be evil, but there seems to be a pattern there – I see it in submissions, and I see it in books I read. And it pains me that a predominantly female genre is so casually misogynistic, and that few people seem to be asking these questions.

    Going back to Dark Soul – I’m not advertising the book, it’s just that that book is already drawing flack for Stefano’s wife, Donata, who I refused to “get rid of” – direct quote from a reader email I got, and hence it’s close to my heart right now – reader responses so far seem to indicate that readers forgive me everything in the book: criminals, murder, graphic violence, some pretty heavy D/s and power exchange, incest, messed-up characters doing messed-up things, casual mass-murder – but the one thing some (not all, but an outspoken minority) can’t forgive is a perfectly consensual, loving, accepting threesome involving one woman, despite the fact that both men are bisexual (and one of the men’s gender is even very firmly established as fluid).

    As a bisexual writer with a large number of bisexual characters, I feel the message in this genre is “you can be bisexual, but please do the girl bits stuff in private, I don’t want to see it.” Which, funnily, mirrors some responses bisexuals have been getting for ever. No,straight romance won’t have us, gay romance won’t have us – funny, that is *really* familiar.

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  19. GD
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 15:10:19

    @lazaraspaste: They ARE weak, I totally agree with you! I was trying to provide causes since you asked “why,” but they’re certainly not justifications. Of course writers should strive to write “human” women. A cast of compelling and varied (in all areas of identity) characters is one of the hallmarks of a good writer, be it in fanfic, published m/m or mainstream fiction, and I know a in my corner of fandom, there is certainly a concerted effort to have more good female characters in our stories.

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  20. Liz Mc2
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 15:38:43

    @GD: Well, here’s the thing about “labelling”: it’s clear (from the discussions here, for instance) that a lot of people (including readers, writers, and members of fandoms, though not all of any of those groups) feel profitting from fanfiction, at least when the source is in copyright, IS dishonest. And a lot of people assume that fanfiction is all badly written. If authors and publishers conceal a work’s fanfiction origins, how are we ever going to have the conversations that might change people’s minds about those things?

    I understand that small presses and self-published authors might be very wary of doing this because of possible legal implications. Maybe Vintage, with its relatively deep pockets, will provide a useful test case. To me, the dishonesty (and I do think that SOME authors/publishers, at least, have said dishonest things about a work’s origins, not just been silent about them) suggests that there is something to hide, and not just because readers are too judgemental of fanfiction.

    Like Sarah, I have read a lot of Austen spin-offs/sequels/reworkings for semi-professional reasons (also Sherlock Holmes). Some are derivative and totally dull because they lack Austen’s ironic, comic narrative voice. Some are clever and wonderful. But in every case, I KNEW what I was getting. As a reader or viewer, I could decide whether I thought this was a reworking that I’d enjoy, because the work openly acknowledged its source (by naming a character Mark Darcy; with titles like Jane Austen Book Club; in its marketing, like Clueless). Reviews, blurbs, etc. helped me to decide whether a work seemed too derivative to be interesting to me, or transformative and interesting (I actually LOVE many derivative works and think they can comment in interesting ways on the source material; I’ve taught courses based on pairing works like this). When publishers release books that were previously fanfiction without any discussion of the source, I don’t get a chance to make those informed decisions. And like Sarah and Sunita, I kind of feel that everyone involved tried to pull a fast one on me, and that makes me mad.

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  21. Sunita
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 15:58:21

    @Sirius: @Aleksandr Voinov: I didn’t mention any of the authors by name because I don’t think they are particularly unusual. It’s a common problem in the genre, and I mentioned that the one author is well-reviewed because this is something that is not limited to “bad” books.

    I understand that some readers don’t want to read about women in their m/m books. I don’t agree with it, but hey, we’re usually reading for enjoyment and emotional rewards, and readers throughout the romance genre(s) can get very specific about what they do and don’t want in a story. I also find it troubling that this particular issue doesn’t get that much discussion.

    I understand why, in slash, certain tropes dominated, and I get that there are perfectly legitimate reasons to have books that exclude women. But this strikes me as one of those carryovers from fan fiction that will hurt the genre in the long run.

    I also find it troubling that a genre that has so many women writing and reading it, and that sympathizes with marginalized and oppressed populations, produces so many female characters that are one-dimensional, and so often in a negative way. There are definitely authors who write interesting, nuanced women characters. But for every well-depicted woman character I’ve read, I’ve read 1+ women characters that are not nuanced, well-explained or non-stereotypical.

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  22. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 15:59:14

    @Liz Mc2: Totally agree about labelling – I love fanfiction and would never say that all fanfiction is bad, I have read some wonderful and a lot of horrible stuff too, I am sure every fanfiction reader did. And I will say more – AU fanfiction (VERY AU that is and I realize that the line may be different for every reader) is okay with me as being published. My personal taste is that if I do not recognise characters and settings and not just because the names were changed and characters’ mannerisms remain the same, to me this is the work that had been inspired by original source and is pretty much original work. But Sarah brought up one of the well known mm books which was discovered to be fanfiction after the fact – Zero to the Bone. I *loved* this book before I knew it was originally a fanfiction and I love it now. Have I recognised the characters? Not at all. But I was not involved in Brokeback mountain fandom and I have watched movie once and read the story only once, so maybe there were more similarities that I would have remembered. My point is, why hide that you are paying homage to Brokeback mountain if you think that what you are doing is ok? I guess I am contradicting myself, but the more I am thinking about it, the more I dont like that the writer made a secret out of it before being discovered. I still *love* the book, just not the writer’s behavior about it, if that makes sense. There is another mm book which I have read rather recently and which was marketed as “Brokeback mountain with happy ending”. I dont know about anybody else, but I thought the book was paying a homage to the story and at very early point became an original work and I did not find anything wrong with it. Disclaimer – I have no clue if it was originally published as fanfiction. I have to say that I keep thinking about the ethics of pull to publish and that to me is a separate can of worms, which I am not sure if I am ready to open for myself, except that it feels really wrong right now and I am not sure how I can reconcile it for myself with the idea that to me very AU fanfictions are okay to publish. Maybe if the writer was writing a work for publication and being inspired by another work I would be fine with it, but not if it was originally written for fandom? Not sure. Oh,I have read couple of Jane Austen’s based fanfictions, decided that nothing comes remotely close to the beauty of the originals and did not continue, but I want to recommend another mm book, which IMO beatifully paid homage to Pride and Prejudice and no, it is not a fanfiction, I guess the triangle revokes the associations with the original, but it is so well done IMO. It is called “The Love thing” by Chris Delyani and I am pretty sure that on the cover it is stated that he is paying homage to Jane Austen, I thought it was a perfect example of how to be inspired by the source.

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  23. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:01:48

    Okay, this is weird – please forgive the double post – I re-wrote my post when I thought the blog had eaten the first one. *hangs head*

    [Edited by Sunita: reference to a double post, one of which has since been deleted.]

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  24. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:03:42

    @Sunita: Oh absolutely, for every well crafted, nuanced female character, I can name ten stereotypical or one dimensional at least. I also want to stress that I am a reader who *wants* to see more well crafted female characters, not less, I was just saying that if I were to choose between badly crafted and no female characters, I would choose no female characters.

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  25. Sunita
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:12:05

    @Aleksandr Voinov: Oh, no worries! If you want me to delete the first one I can.

    One of the things that makes me so angry about the anti-Donata position is that she’s an integral part of the story. She’s a sympathetic figure from the beginning, and the fact that I’m convinced that Stefano loves her makes it more interesting, not less. I can completely understand that some readers are not going to want to read that storyline. But take out Donata and not only is it a different story, Stefano is a different person. It’s as if the reader wants the Stefano character to be exactly the same without Donata, but that’s not how it works. JMO.

    @Sirius: I agree with you. Just leave out women altogether if their only function is Sassy Best Friend, Unrequited and Pathetic Love Interest, or Villain.

    [Edited because I kept calling Stefano Silvio.]

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  26. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:14:03

    @Aleksandr Voinov: Well, I guess I will not be reading Dark soul after all lol. Seriously though, I applaud you and I will never say that you should be doing something that readers demand, but this is where I draw the line too and believe me, from my experiences I am willing to go way further that many mm readers in that direction. Actually, no scratch that, while I have read maybe four or five m/f/m menages all together amongst hundreds mm books I have read by now, I would have happily read the well written story where it is established from the beginning that the guys are attracted to each other and to the woman. I however would absolutely refuse to read a story where I would have think that I am reading about the establishing relationship between two men and at the end the woman is suddenly stuck between them. I have not read Dark soul, I made Sunita promise me to tell me if there is a happy ending and then I would have decided, so for all I know maybe you were establishing mutual attraction between men and woman all the way through, but NOT many mm readers are willing to do it (read what would end up m/f/m) and I am not surprised by the reaction unfortunately. Please also note that I would have the same reaction (and did have the same reaction many times) if I was reading a book which I thought was going to be MM book and suddenly at the end would be MMM menage. When however menage is established slowly and gradually as for example the one in JCP “Starving years”, I love it. Heh, and main reason I have not read Dark soul yet, despite that I love love your writing is because I am really not big on murderers (this is one of the very few flaws in characters I kind of find hard to forgive :)), so if it was establishing a menage along the way, I would have been totally fine.

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  27. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:19:44

    @Sirius: Sorry for replying to myself, but I forgot to address one point – I would never ever been upset if you would not get rid of strong, sympathetic female character. I was NOT writing the book, but if I were allowed my wish as a reader (and I would never tell writer what to do obviously), I would have wanted the woman in potential love triangle to find happiness all to herself heh ;). But I get that apparently Stefano is her happiness and she would rather share.

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  28. Violetta Vane
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:22:59

    I’m glad Sunita and other people find my post useful! It’s written from a very technical angle, mainly as advice for people moving from fanfiction to original writing.

    When it comes to female OCs, it’s a very complicated issue, but I’m also very dissatisfied with the argument “female characters are badly written, therefore I prefer not to read them.” It puts the effect as the cause.

    However, I also don’t want to point fingers at other women saying “it’s their fault for hating themselves.” Misogyny manifests in a lot of different ways, and often women have to make sort of unconscious strategic decisions, a sort of “I will feel less bad about myself as a woman if I choose the lesser of two evils.” In m/m and slash, women readers generally perform a kind of deep identification—imagining themselves into the bodies of men—and for some, having other women in the story interferes with that identification.

    As someone who enjoys slash and m/m, I can understand that principle in its basic form, but I also reject its most damaging expressions. I think as long as we write ourselves out of the story or dehumanize ourselves, in the long term we’re doing so much damage:

    - to ourselves
    - to other women
    - to bisexual men, whose sexuality is denied/rejected
    - to any other LGBTQ people who are hurt when femaleness or femininity is denied/rejected

    I also believe it’s ridiculously easy to write stories where the focus is on two men and their relationship, but women aren’t written out of the world or dehumanized. Ignoring 51% of the world is HARD. Longer novels especially live and die on the strength of their secondary characters, and the more three-dimensional these characters are, the richer their reactions with the main characters and the richer the main characters.

    As an example, my co-writer and I wrote a short story set in prison, which is about as an all-male environment as you can get, and we still ended up writing female characters! One of the MCs has a sister that means a lot to him, and a woman prison nurse makes a brief but memorable appearance.

    I think some of the reaction against female characters also grows out of rather juvenile fandom shipwar tendencies (a ship war is when two opposing camps fight each other about who is boffing who; often this is “slash” versus “het”). In this case, readers that grow out of a slash fandom might have been socialized into bashing the female character love interest. It’s really awful and stupid and juvenile, but really, it’s not worse than what a lot of predominantly male subcultures do (there’s a lot of the same point-scoring, “my tribe is better” “anything is justified” mentality). Except in the case of slash fandom bashing, it’s more clearly self-defeating to women as a whole.

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  29. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:23:41

    @Sunita: Sunita – yes, please, delete the first post. :)

    I think some of the problem with female character is that authors don’t treat them as “people first” but “women first”, and really focus on the sexual roles and gender conventions – and men just don’t come with that baggage (outside the “girly guy” discussion, which I believe we need to have at some point in depth). And this whole thing makes me want to write more women, not less. (But then, I’ve never really been a part of “fandom” or the fanfiction community, so I don’t know those rules and conventions at all.)

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  30. Sunita
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:28:22

    @Liz Mc2: If there weren’t systematic influences on m/m that are (to me) directly traceable to its slash roots, I would probably care less about the provenance (although I completely agree with you and Lazaraspaste about the cultural conversation issue). But Sarah’s point about ZatB illustrates an experience I’ve had as well: something in a book bothers me (a weakness, a particular trope that seems to have a significance I don’t understand, a non-standard pacing problem, whatever), and I can’t place what it is. Then I discover that it’s repurposed fan fiction, or that this is the author’s first non-fan fiction work, and I can think about whether that helps explain what I’m seeing.

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  31. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:31:39

    @Sunita: I agree. Stefano’s whole arch would be very different without Donata, and in my mind, shes just as strong, fierce and loyal as any of the men (but then, I’ve taken her straight from life based on some Italian women I got to meet in real life). I did consider other solutions to the arch, but this was the only one that was true to the characters, and my editor said “then run with it” when I told her that there will be some m/m readers that are going to crucify me – and many m/m blogs that won’t review Dark Soul based on one 3-page sex scene in, uhm, 300+.

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  32. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:37:13

    @Sirius: Sirius, the funny thing is, Dark Soul is no menage. There’s one threesome scene in there (yes, explicit), but there’s no doubt that Silvio and Donata don’t fall in love (but they are sexually compatible and respect each other). But the real relationships are Donata-Stefano and Stefano-Silvio – and Dark Soul is very much about Stefano and Silvio, which would make it still an m/m book with two bisexual men. But yes, I would have emailed you and told you that it’s most definitely not for you (like pretty much all of my recent work, and probably all my future work, unless you like gay WWII novels :) ). I fully accept that we’re all reading m/m for kinks and fun and fantasy, and I also accept that I’m sitting on the fence of that genre with many things I’m doing, so I’m not resentful about it, even. I’m just asking some questions that I’d be asking in any genre I was part of – or even half-part of. :) No hard feelings either way.

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  33. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:44:43

    @Aleksandr Voinov: I love gay WWII novels, love :). There are exceptions for every rule. In general I do not care for murderers in my stories, but several writers made me love them. I love Manna Francis’s Administration series, which I really should not love as much as I do, so I usually try not to generalize about my likes and dislikes except very few things. Ah and thanks for clarifying then Dark soul is absolutely not for me. Without reading the book, I have a very strong guess how I would react, I would probably think that Sylvio was given a short end of the stick and feel upset for him and angry at Stephano, who I would probably think as wanting to have his cake and eat it too.

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  34. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:47:26

    @Sirius: I don’t know how it follows that the bisexual guy not giving up his wife for his male lover means that the male lover gets the “short end of the stick”. 1-to-1 monogamy is not the only relationship model out there that works. :)

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  35. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:51:52

    @Aleksandr Voinov: As I said, I have not read the books, and making a guess based on your description, it has nothing to do with monogamy. I have read and loved mm books with open relationships in it, it has everything to do with and again, please do not castigate me, with me reacting badly as to I dont know, unfairness, I guess? It is very hard to discuss the work I have not read, but if Sylvio wanted and expected to have a relationship with his lover, I would have probably felt bad if such lover made him to have a relationship with him and his lover (male or female). If Sylvio expected that Stefano would not give up his wife, then it is a different story.

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  36. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:58:14

    @Sirius: GRRRR, and again replying to myself, but I think I got it now. One of my very hot button in any fiction are manipulative characters. I, to put it mildly, hate them with passion. As a Harry Potter fan, well I ended up wanting to kill Albus Dumbledore myself, hope that makes my position clearer. And what you described , again without reading your work, so I am probably very wrong, smacks of manipulation to me. Not by you, but by one character of another. If character’s free will is being taken away from him, in any story, romance or not (again, see Tigana by Gavriel Kay and me wanting the prince Alexan to die very painful death for what he did to wizard Erlein), well I tend to react viscerally and quite emotionally at that. If Sylvio would have preferred to have a relationship with Stefano alone, well, I may have end up hating Stefano for wanting to keep them both.

    Anyway, sorry for hijacking the thread, but it is so much fun, I will probably be back later, if I cant make myself sit on my fingers.

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  37. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 16:58:32

    @Sirius: No worries – and I didn’t mean it to come across as castigating. I’m honestly curious about some attitudes (because mine are so different and I’m trying to understand what’s going on). I do break some rules because I hate them, but sometimes I break rules because I didn’t know they existed in the first place. :) I understand that some people feel very strongly about certain things, and that’s fine. End of the day, I can’t write for everybody and need to follow my characters and my Muse, and readers follow their appetites, too. Sometimes those meet, and when they don’t, that’s perfectly valid, too.

    @ViolettaVane: You’re 100% correct. That negative pattern is pervasive and I believe it does real damage.

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  38. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 17:01:46

    @Aleksandr Voinov: You should follow your muse, and nothing else, IMO. I mean, if writer tries to please the readers, you may stamp your creativity and I would never wish it on any writer. Yep, there are some recent books of yours I cant follow, but some I love and I am sure will still love, but definitely let your audience find you and I think you have a pretty big one :)

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  39. Janine
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 17:20:38

    I spent today catching up on the fanfic series since I fell behind over the weekend. Love this discussion even though I only read a little m/m and no fanfic! It’s so interesting to think how books and movies inform other books. Thanks Sarah, Sunita and all the commenters.

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  40. Ducky
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 18:18:44

    Somebody up-thread said that mediocre source material can inspire terrific fan fic – that is so true. Some of the very best fan fic I ever read came from really crap and cheesy TV with characters that started out as empty ciphers. In those cases the fan fic writer really spun straw into gold.

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  41. Edward
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 18:27:27

    @Sirius: Wow, you expressed exactly what I find distasteful of polyamory stories wrongfully disguised as monogamy. I hate stories where I am deceived into reading a harem ending. Deceived being the operative word here because I do read and like some polyamory books, the manga ‘Ranma 1/2′ comes to my mind. I just want to know what I am getting into.

    Contrary to what the author may think, I would still considered his Dark Soul series as menage. It’s a menage with a strong emphasis on the m/m side of the relationship. I do not think it is as about breaking rules as it is about misleading readers.

    Readers don’t like to be deceived in reading a m/m story and then getting menage. Readers don’t like to be deceived in reading what they think is original fiction, and then finding out it’s fanfiction. There is absolutely nothing wrong with menage stories or fanfiction, the more the better imo. It is the act of deception that I have an issue with. I find this no different than purchasing an expensive novel and finding out it’s actually a short story and 2/3 of the book are excerpts from the author’s other work.

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  42. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 18:35:45

    @Edward: That’s why we make sure that we label everything we release carefully on the Riptide website and the reason for creating the, to my knowledge, most sophisticated warning/spoiler system of all GLBTQ publishers. I have absolutely no interest in deceiving my readers.

    @Sirius – I won’t hijack the thread explaining where I think there are wrong assumptions (there’s nothing about Silvio’s expectations, for example, that suggests he gets any less than he wants). All that’s leading a long way away from the original topic. I’m happy to take this to personal email if you’re interested.

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  43. Ann Somerville
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 18:38:03

    @GD:
    “There are usually (and sadly) few women in the canon (in movie or tv based media, in any case), and the ones that exist are often the “token female” or are limited to being the lead’s love interest or getting killed (or raped) as a plot point. ”

    And yet entire subfandoms are devoted to pairings between male characters who appear for less than a minute in canon, for one episode. Stargate Atlantis (which is the “scifi show I know nothing about” Sarah refers to) is notorious for ignoring or diminishing important (and importantly, non-white) characters like Teyla, in preference to reams of slash about some biologist and a soldier who were such minor characters they didn’t even have forenames.

    So the lack of good female charactered stories in fandom is very much to do with misogny (and often racism), and nothing to do with weak canonical development. Weak canonical development didn’t stop Rodney McKay becoming a demi-god to fans, and a strong and fascinating backstory and emotional profile didn’t stop fans largely ignoring character – who happen not to be white – like Ronon Dex.

    Sadly fanfiction, for all its acceptance of non-heteronormativity, and support for *some* damaged fans, largely reflects and even emphasises societal flaws like sexism, racism and classism.

    I’m somewhat surprised that misogny is the only real negative raised as a result of m/m’s debt to fanfiction. Fanfiction is a useful laboratory for developing young writers, but it also teaches them some appalling habits – like rambling plots, the urge to write pointless sequels to keep the characters in play, the ‘everyone is gay’ syndrome, the use of callouts/fan service and ‘tics’ instead of proper characterisation, the use of Grand Guignol plot devices, and most damaging, a shallow and offensive approach to gay sexuality which bears little resemblance to the way GLBT people think and act.

    Fandom also teaches authors some appalling personal habits. Jan said in her piece, “Personally, I don’t allow [criticism] 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.” Unfortunately, this is poor policy if you want to encourage good writing.

    There is a real division between the minority in fandom who relish quality writing, and the majority who are there for fun and squee. The minority are villianised and excluded, unless a superfan like Naomi Novil manages to make good writing an end in itself. Even the best writers in fandom are largely anti-crit and supersensitive to the least perceived criticism, and the mob mentality rules. Critics, however gentle, are screamed down and driven away, and characterised as haters. Criticising a fanwriter’s writing is widely considered to be an attack on the writer herself, and that’s a no-no in fandom.

    In the real world, the rules are – or should be – different. But guess what? A lot of the writers who came from fandom behave exactly the same way when they cross over to original writing.Ddisappointingly – as least as stopping criticism – it works. However, their writing never improves, and those readers who just wanted a good book, are cheated.

    Not saying that authors who develop their careers in the usual way, are immune to tantrums, but m/m suffers from a disproportionate number of wanky, badly behaving authors – and wanky fans.

    I wrote fanfiction, and enjoyed doing so. But I see it as my juvenile phase. I wouldn’t rewrite anything I wrote as fanfic for sale because, apart from the ethical issues which are the overriding concern, my writing just wasn’t that good compared to what it’s like now. Authors who constantly mine their fanfic instead of moving on, who never examine the tropes and bad habits of fanfiction writing, are cheating themselves as well as their readers.

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  44. Jez Morrow
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 18:39:33

    If there are a lot of women out there writing 2D, hateful, boring, female characters in fanfic, maybe the authors don’t feel good about themselves and CAN’T write a decent female character. It’s a thought. A sad one, but there you go.

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  45. Sunita
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 18:59:27

    @Jez Morrow: I don’t think there’s any obvious correspondence between feeling bad about yourself and not being able to write an interesting female character. Unlikeable people write great books and well-adjusted people write not-good books.

    Commenters in this thread have suggested some of the reasons why female characterization is frequently (or at least regularly) unsatisfying. As long as the readership isn’t demanding well-rounded and nuanced female characters (whether they are positive or negative portrayals of women), there’s not a lot of incentive for writers who aren’t specifically concerned about the portrayal of women in m/m to write them.

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  46. Ann Somerville
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 19:07:16

    @Jez Morrow:

    “maybe the authors don’t feel good about themselves ”

    How about you don’t pyschoanalyse complete strangers based on less than no evidence? This is well over the line of what is acceptable critique, and coming from another author, is disgusting.

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  47. SonomaLass
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 19:12:09

    I love a good inspired/homage/derivative/transformative work; I started as a Shakespeare scholar, and if you aren’t happy with derivation, that’s an unhappy place to be. I agree that knowing the connection to the original work enriches the experience, even if the new work transcends and surpasses the earlier work (there’s a chapter of my master’s thesis on Romeo and Juliet relevant here). And I’m another reader who feels that it’s dishonest to say that something written to be enjoyed as fanfiction can/should be distributed as original fiction if only minor changes have been made.

    I also love it when authors of original fiction share their inspiration. Sherry Thomas is terrific in that regard — see her interview today at Smart Bitches for an example. Of course nothing is created in a vacuum, and there are always influences at work in the creation of new books. I’d much rather have them mentioned up front than spot them and wonder, “was that deliberate?” Maybe that’s my academic background speaking, where it is always okay to borrow ideas as long as you attribute them.

    Fascinating discussion, lots of great ideas!

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  48. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 19:14:21

    @Sunita:

    something in a book bothers me (a weakness, a particular trope that seems to have a significance I don’t understand, a non-standard pacing problem, whatever), and I can’t place what it is. Then I discover that it’s repurposed fan fiction … and I can think about whether that helps explain what I’m seeing.

    This is what happened with me and Gabriel’s Inferno. I loved it, but there were weaknesses that didn’t make sense in the least: not from a reader’s standpoint, a writer’s standpoint, or an editor’s standpoint. It was the oddest little collection of minor missteps I’d ever seen. And then I found out it was fanfiction and it became clear.

    If those weaknesses hadn’t been there, I may not have cared. I might have, but I can’t say because the weaknesses did bother me and what bothered me more was that I couldn’t pin them down. The book would have had to be rewritten to fix them.

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  49. Sarah Frantz
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 19:20:20

    Sorry to have been absent today, folks. The EDJ must be attended to.

    @Jane Davitt: You make some great points. I guess I can see liking fanfic of TV shows or films. I think I’ve even read some Queer as Folk fanfic.

    @GD: I don’t think I (or even we) ever said that fanfic was necessarily bad writing. That’s honestly not something I believe. I’ve read too much great fanfic (published as original fic) to believe that. But I would prefer provenance to be maintained. I *would* prefer some indication of where something came from, not only as a way to keep people away who don’t want to read repurposed fanfic, but potentially as a way to attract an audience.

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  50. Violetta Vane
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 19:23:02

    I just wanted to add, I’m very personally invested in writing good women characters in m/m… but I also think m/m is not abnormal in its treatment of female characters. If we’re pointing the finger at m/m, we should point it at other genres, too (not speaking about this thread or this blog, which is obviously romance-focused, but just speaking in general). For example, a lot of the newer “grimdark” fantasy has horrendous issues with portrayal of women. Most of the people writing it are men, but I don’t think we should have lower standards because of that.

    M/m romance is a kind of hybrid genre to begin with, and I love that. There’s influence from traditionally male literary pulp genres like westerns, military sci-fi, police procedurals, Age of Sail stuff. And none of these predominantly male heterosexual+homosocial genres are known for good women characters, either. So there’s not really an established model of what a great m/m novel with great female characters is supposed to look like… there are great individual books in that respect, yes, but the genre is evolving and changing so rapidly that we’re all still sort of working it out.

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  51. Sarah Frantz
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 19:25:53

    @Violetta Vane: Hell, look at J.R. Ward’s systematic , excessive violence against women in her Black Dagger Brotherhood. When it got to Xhex and what she went through and what she made herself go through, I had to stop. Couldn’t take anymore. So it’s not just a m/m thing — definitely something romance deals with as well, despite the “kick-ass” heroines we see all over the place (Xhex supposedly being one of those herself).

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  52. Sirius
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 19:36:51

    @Aleksandr Voinov: Very interested, if you would be willing to give me as many spoilers as possible, I would be sooo very appreciative :)

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  53. Jan
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 19:38:27

    @Ann, I don’t care about encouraging good writing unless someone says that’s what they want. I *do* care about encouraging inclusiveness and making my community a place where people feel welcome to contribute. It’s a *fan* community, not a writing school. I also did create a sister writing community for the fandom where people can go for criticism if they want it. But not on the main comm. Frankly, people can find a place full of critics anywhere. But people can’t find a safe place so easily. I’d rather create the latter.

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  54. Ann Somerville
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 19:54:27

    @Jan:

    “It’s a *fan* community, not a writing school.”

    And that’s absolutely fine. You were quite clear, and I’m not saying you had or have any duty to nuture writers. I’m just pointing out that as far as learning the craft and furthering one’s career are concerned, if an author can’t distinguish between what’s appropriate for fandom and what’s appropriate when you’re trying to sell books in the ‘real’ world, then they will become a Badly Behaving Author. And they do. It’s the writer’s duty to pull on their big girl pants and realise fandom isn’t reality.

    I will also say that the concept of a ‘safe place’ in fandom turned out to be a phantom for many, many people. It’s not safe if the aversion to criticism means serious subjects like racism, homophobia, classism and the persistent, widespread misogny are simply swept under the table, and that’s what happened over and over and over again. The ‘safe places’ tended to be nasty little pressure cookers which exploded every time the real world intruded – and then you ended up with Jewish fans being called ‘kikes’, and fandoms eating their young because someone wrote a blatantly racist fic and the people who called it out were ostracised. That mentality is exactly the same in the m/m ‘community’ (a word I loathe – I prefer ‘insane asylum) – if a lousy, hateful fic or an author’s behaviour is criticised, the critic is the one to be attacked and expunged, not the bad writing or the bad behaviour. The ‘them or us’ mentality is not healthy.

    I always laugh bitterly at the idea of fandom as safe for anyone, actually. It was helpful for you, and I’m glad it was. For others like me – not so much. Picking up multiple crazed stalkers who are still at it nearly ten years on, isn’t my idea of ‘safety’.

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  55. Nialla
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 22:05:56

    @Ann Somerville: It’s obvious you had some horrible experience in whatever fandom(s) you were in, but surely you realize not all fandoms are the same? Even within a single fandom, there are certain fannish spaces or schools of thought which other fans view as total bat guano.

    Racism, homophobia, classism and misogyny are oft discussed topics in fandom and have been for decades. Yes, there are places where they’re swept under the rug or dismissed, but I generally class those under “total bat guano” and move on. I don’t need that in my life. No one does. Honestly, I’m getting tired of getting told I’m being misogynistic whenever I say I don’t like a particular female character. I like a lot of female characters, but dare to say you don’t like how one is being written or portrayed, and you get a giant “M” painted on you by some people. Why is it I can say I don’t like a male character (in both cases stating exactly why I feel that way) and it’s not treated the same way? Hmm.

    I’ve been involved in fandom for about 20 years now, back to the days when printed zines were much more prevalent than online sources. Fans behaving badly have always been there, but are often ostracized by the mainstream, but there is always going to be a clique tendency, even if it’s based on being hateful instead of enjoying the source material. Going online meant it was more open to anyone joining in, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s a lot harder to self-p0lice when there are more fans than back in the day, and they come from around the world with different expectations of what fandom is or should be, especially when there are so many ways and places to explore.

    You’re lumping together a widely varied experience down to your experience. Not to dismiss whatever happened to you, but fandom should be enjoyable, and if it’s not, the “fans” involved are doing it wrong. Personally, I think everyone should follow Wheaton’s Law online and in real life: “Don’t be a dick.” Would solve lots of problems.

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  56. Ann Somerville
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 23:05:18

    @Nialla:

    “surely you realize not all fandoms are the same? ”

    I don’t recall saying they were. Nor is that even the point of what I wrote.

    “there are places where they’re swept under the rug or dismissed”

    And those would be some of the biggest fandoms I’ve observed or been involved in. This kind of thing isn’t, as it happens, endemic to media or book fandoms. You get feral, insular fans in crocheting groups. It’s a product of human beings coming together and jostling for attention, not which One True Pairing you favour.

    “I’m getting tired of getting told I’m being misogynistic whenever I say I don’t like a particular female character. ”

    Hmmm. If you keep being told this, I would suspect there *is* something misogynistic behind your dislike. But assuming for a moment that you just happen to dislike a female character and her gender makes no difference, you are dismissing a very real problem in fandom in general, which is a problem that m/m has inherited – and that’s the weak, missing or malevolent portrayal of women. I’ll refer back to SGA fandom (with which I wasn’t involved but I read the fanfic and followed the rolling dramas.) The bile and criticism heaped upon the main female characters for being ‘boring’, ‘immoral’ (for authorising torture), ‘silly’, ‘desperate’ and the like, was very rarely repeated for the main male characters – including one who was actually about to carry out torture, one whose greed and cowardice put others at risk, and another widely praised as a genius because he played Sudoko in his spare time (while the female who spoke two languages and was an accomplished diplomat and leader of her people was ignored.) The difference in standards was quite shocking.

    In slash fanfic the female characters are routinely omitted, minimised or villainised. Even in fandoms with strong female characters, f/f is a minor interest. This is mirrored in the m/m sphere, where the dislike of vaginas in gay romance is a wellknown phenomenon. This isn’t something anyone’s inventing. It’s a real thing, and a shameful thing. And slash fandom encourages it.

    “You’re lumping together a widely varied experience down to your experience.”

    Actually, not just my experiences, but my observations and reading of other people’s experiences. And these aren’t minor fandoms – these were, at the time, some of the most popular and populous of the slash fandoms. I would say your experiences appear to be the exception, not the rule. However, just as in abusive families, different members will have extremely different memories of their experiences, the same is in fandom. I can assure you that I am not making up any of what I said or exaggerating it. I don’t have to do more than direct you to Fandom Wank for evidence.

    “Not to dismiss whatever happened to you, but fandom should be enjoyable, and if it’s not, the “fans” involved are doing it wrong.”

    Fans *are* the fandom. And just like humans, they frequently suck. Sucky fans are often the mainstay of big fandoms, because the sociopathy that makes them rotten human beings also makes them excellent at manipulating themselves into a position of influence (and at writing the kind of fiction which pushes all the right buttons and hooks the fannish readers – you can see them migrate from one big fandom to another, repeating the behaviour and the creation of button pushing fic.)

    This is getting off fanfiction, and perhaps is a discussion left to another time. Nothing you have said obviates my central point which is that fandom and fanfiction can lead to rotten authors and lousy writing.

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  57. Kaetrin
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 23:21:05

    @Aleksandr Voinov: I don’t mind m/m/f at all Aleksandr – when done well, I’m happy to read it. So there are at least some of us that welcome bisexual characters! :)

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  58. Kaetrin
    Mar 19, 2012 @ 23:37:54

    I read both Zero at the Bone and Shades of Grey (what is it with the Shades of Grey title and fanfic anyway??)

    I liked Shades of Grey much better – I felt it was well edited and told a complete story. I haven’t seen Brokeback mountain but I don’t recall any annoying language traits or anything which made me think of that movie at all (not that I can think of a reason why a book actually would). Zero at the Bone, for me, was good, but it kind of went wonky at the end – a bit like a Status Quo song – it didn’t end at the time when everything was sorted – it just kept on going with nothing really happening – that, to me, is the kind of thing the post refers to with the lack of conflict etc.

    For me, ZatB made more sense once I understood it was fanfic. For SoG, it didn’t make any difference at all. I believe the latter was more original and my impression (as a complete non-expert in this area) is that whatever it started off as, much more than serial numbers were filed off by the time I read it. It may explain why Brooke McKinley didn’t/doesn’t have a strong author presence on the web however.

    If I had known that SoG was BBM fanfic before I read it, I don’t think I would have read it at all and that would have been a shame because I enjoyed it greatly. I don’t know how much of the characters (as ended up in the book) were actually BBM characters as I haven’t seen the movie or read the book. Maybe its obvious to those who are familiar with it, but for me, it read fresh. I’m not sure what that adds to the discussion though! :)

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  59. Linette
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 00:23:17

    @ Kaetrin: Shades of Grey is the published version of an AU Twilight fanfic called Master of the Universe, not Brokeback Mountain. (It seems Sarah mistyped that.) The characters are all human with the BDSM aspect replacing the vampirism in Twilight. When it was pulled for publication, the names were changed to obfuscate its origins. But the core characterizations were not and so the characters are still Edward and Bella by other names.

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  60. Anne
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 02:54:38

    I came here expecting to read obnoxious posts by Ann Somerville after seeing her dissed in failfandomanon.

    Yet instead of the hefty anti-fanfic rants I expected, I see her arguing something I myself am very puzzled about and which lately has come to really gall my enjoyment of m/m. To a point that I am more and more turning towards LGBT literature rather than genre m/m.

    Bisexual erasure is alive and raging within m/m, misogyny as well. The trope of GFY is necessary to these “purists” because it is very needful for them to deny bisexuality and bisexual characters. That would mean you have to have some vaginas around as well, and not vilify them. Mind me, it’s not as if the LGBT sphere also did not often conveniently “forget” that bisexuality exists and is something else than 50:50 or cheating.

    The level of intolerance vs. one’s own gender as displayed by some if not most m/m readers is disheartening, disillusioning and taking from the better writers any chance at showing that there can be well-written female characters who don’t heed to the m/f romance tropes.

    Whether or not that originates with (fanfic) slash, rather than self-hatred is disputable. My personal opinion is that it is due both on pretty equal measures.

    Ann, I love what you’ve written here (even though I disagree with your other stance to fanfiction)!

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  61. Ann Somerville
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 03:07:46

    @Anne:

    “I came here expecting to read obnoxious posts by Ann Somerville after seeing her dissed in failfandomanon.”

    It must have been disappointing to find I was unaware of this fact – and will cheerfully remain ignorant of the ‘dissing’. I learned a long time ago if I didn’t read it, it can’t hurt me. But thanks for making sure the wank spreads as far as possible.

    “Yet instead of the hefty anti-fanfic rants I expected”

    I have no idea why you would expect that. I am not antifanfic in the slightest – I’ve written several million words of the stuff, have made clear statements that fanfic on my own writing is welcome, and I have friends still writing and reading the stuff. Fanfic is *fabulous*.

    What’s not fabulous is taking it, filing the numbers off, and passing off reheated writing as original. It’s a cheat on the readers and on the fandom. If you can do it with any success, you were either a lousy fanfic writer, or you’re a lousy original writer. Fanfic is bedded in the canon, supported by the fandom. It belongs there.

    “I disagree with your other stance to fanfiction”

    If this refers to what I’ve written above, as you can see, I’m in good company in objecting to it. My objections come from my respect for fanfiction, not from a hatred of it.

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  62. Kaetrin
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 03:31:51

    @Linette: I was referring to Shades of Grey by Brooke McKinley, which is a m/m romance (as I understand it from Sarah, it was originally BBM fan fic). 50 Shades of Grey by EL James is the Twilight fan fiction – different book altogether. :)

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  63. Anne
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 03:40:49

    “It must have been disappointing to find I was unaware of this fact ”

    Actually having just bought and having read/reading several of your books, and liking them quite a bit, I was mighty astonished finding your name cropping up there, along with the reference you were dissing fanfiction and behaving generally in an obnoxious manner. It’s not what I would have thought to follow from it. I couldn’t care less whether or not you already were aware of this though, it was me who hadn’t been aware of it and that was what was important for me: to find out this being incorrect.

    I agree with your take on m/m, female characters and misogyny, but yes, on the other hand I disagree with the criticism of filing of the serial numbers. To me it very much depends. SoG is a case of where too little has been filed off and not enough replaced and added. But there are fanfic turned into originals which do have my full support. So I do not see one as a logical consequence of the other. I have to concede that few of these fanfic came from book fandoms.

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  64. Mohini
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 03:55:00

    @Ann Somerville:

    I haven’t gone through all of the comments so maybe someone has pointed this out. It’s not just m/m in which women are treated as ‘icky’. In a lot of mainstream heterosexual romances any female apart from the heroine is made out to be a lying, cheating, stupid, immoral, [insert derogatory word of your choice].
    In mainstream action/adventure, if we have females at all, we have the Smurfette Principle (refer to: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheSmurfettePrinciple)
    In fantasy we have females mainly as the ‘damsel in distress’. Very rarely do we have the main or sole narrator as a girl.
    In my experience, apart from YA, ‘chick-lit’ and women’s literature (I sorta dislike those term) women consist of far less than 50% of the book’s population,.
    There are books that don’t do this but they are exceptions. All of this is my experience only of course, anyone who knows differently please feel free to correct me.
    ‘Fandom and fanfiction can lead to rotten writing’. True, I’m hoping that this article and the excellent link provided helps with that problem but you’ve got to remember Sturgeon’s Law. Rotten writing ultimately comes from rotten writers, fanfic by itself has nothing to do with it.
    I’m so sorry your experience of fandom sucked. ‘Crazed stalkers,’ made me wince. Will e-cookies help?

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  65. Ann Somerville
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 04:11:12

    @Mohini:
    “In a lot of mainstream heterosexual romances any female apart from the heroine is made out to be a lying, cheating, stupid, immoral, [insert derogatory word of your choice].”

    And then reviewers at DA and SBTB bounce the authors off a wall for it. In m/m, not so much. In fact, if you write a female who’s too nice, you get accused of creating someone who’s too perfect for realism. No one much cares if the blokes are implausibly sexy, charming or clever.

    “Rotten writing ultimately comes from rotten writers, fanfic by itself has nothing to do with it.”

    I have to disagree, if only because the tropes I see in much m/m writing come directly from fandom, and derive from the need to write fic which pushes particular buttons. If you push those buttons, your fic is guaranteed success. I see in reactions to certain m/m novels, a split between those to whom such tropes are familiar and welcome, and the readers unfamiliar with such tropes and have little patience with them.

    The other way fandom encourages bad writing is, as I said above, through the pervasive hostility to criticism. There are positive disincentives to trying to improve one’s craft within fandom, and unfortunately, popular but unskilled writers are imitated, even sometimes actively teach poor writing skills to their admirers. Some fandoms are well known to produce better writing than others and that’s usually because the stronger writers encourage better writing all around. That’s not universal, and whichever group of writers are most popular in a fandom or subfandom will often dictate the overall quality and writing habits for that fandom. One of the reasons I gravitated to slash was because that was where the best writers in my fandom at that time were. But many of those writers were also very hostile to crit, and their craft was far from perfect. Their influence was as much negative on my writing skills as positive, and there was a lot to unlearn. The beta reader custom is a wonderful thing in fandom and wonderfully encouraging, but it is a route for infecting new writers with dreadful writing habits. Because of the lack of critical response, such writers often never realise just how weak their betas are, and how lacking their own skills. It’s one of the reasons that moving to original writing is such a shock, when they run up against pro editors for the first time.

    Dreamspinner (as Torquere did before it), while actively encouraging writers from fandom, doesn’t shock them with real editors before sending the works out on the market. So sadly the bad habits persist, and the writers rarely learn better. Ultimately, that’s the real harm that ‘origifying’ fanfic does to the genre.

    “Will e-cookies help? ”

    I dunno – will they make me e-fatter? :)

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  66. Anne
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 04:21:11

    Well, put like in your last post I can understand a lot of what you criticise being true.

    “I have to disagree, if only because the tropes I see in much m/m writing come directly from fandom, and derive from the need to write fic which pushes particular buttons.”

    What are the tropes you are referring to here (apart from the dislike of females and the resulting characters/characterisations)? Where do you think they differ from gay lit?

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  67. Anne
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 04:27:59

    @Mohini:

    With regard to het romance I wonder who perpetuates those tropes? Aren’t they the publishers who insist on HEA and alpha-male heroes? Aren’t they the ones who enforce a certain type of heroine?

    At the same time I confess to being sick of the opposite tropes as well: the kick-ass warrior-style heroine who is more or less a man in skirts (if that) or the snarky feminist young woman so liberated that she doesn’t need or want anyone else but herself and a dildo for gratification.

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  68. Mohini
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 05:17:29

    @Anne:

    I heartily agree with you and raise you one-I dislike all stereotypes/stock characters. If you can explain them in one sentence- the author’s doing something wrong.
    Recent developments led to someone I know writing a tips for writing female characters in fanfic. It’s very well done and the opening paragraph follows: “Women are individuals. There are women of every personality trait that can be named, every talent or lack thereof, every culture, every dimension of every ethical system, every attitude toward politics, every attitude toward preferred language or trigger warnings. The set of all women is diverse, as the set of all men is diverse. There is no law against writing any kind of female character, only guidelines on how to do it better.”
    You’d think it was obvious, right?

    With regards to het romances- if publishers are perpetuating those stereotypes then it’s for a reason. Because the books sell. So it’s those readers perpetuating the stereotypes I suppose? My first Mills and Boons book was stunning, strong hero, strong heroine, strong plotline. Every other book I’ve read from them has made my blood boil with the sweet, pretty, helpless women who need saving.

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  69. Mohini
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 05:29:20

    @Anne:

    It was blueinkedpalm who wrote that by the way. It’s a short piece but worth reading. http://blueinkedpalm.livejournal.com/61669.html?thread=272101#t272357
    you can check it out yourself! :)

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  70. Anne
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 05:34:03

    @Mohini:

    I agree. I rail as much against the alpha-male stereotype, as I find that just as horrid to read. Especially when I set it against a realistic take of what constitutes an alpha-male in society (which is no nice thing to see or have around).

    But what does this tell us about readers then? Where does it leave those who think a book about (among other things) personal relationships and love among people (which is a romance to me) needn’t have any of the romance tropes, be they het or m/m ones?

    You will laugh, but I never was into Mills & Boon or romance books at all. I sailed in on the tail end of erotic literature, maybe that’s why I dislike these stereotypes. Stereotypes make boring unerotic, sex. ;-)

    What baffles me is the utter rejection of books which try to do better, in just about any direction.

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  71. Violetta Vane
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 07:07:41

    Hey, I’m not going to deny any of the bad things people say about fandom and fanfic—I’ve had some pretty horrible experiences there and been bashed by the huge anonymous crypto-racist community referred to above—but I’d like to represent the positive, as well. I never would have started writing in the first place if not for fanfic. It teaches bad habits, but good ones too. Its problems reflect society as a whole, and I really believe it’s no more or less safe than the greater environment. For example, there’s a lot of racism and underrepresentation of POC… and there are also groups and communities organized to try and redress that. One of my most popular fics (and my writing was not widely popular, because I didn’t write the most popular pairing) was a racebent fic where I recast the fandom’s leading white character as POC.

    Ideally, the weird and experimental and daring and fun stuff in fanfic gets translated over into original fic by influence, not by character. So maybe someone reads/writes something truly WTF in fanfic and thinks “hmm I wonder if I could go to a similar place in an original story with an original character” and they try it, and it works. The same way snippets of real life and other books and movies end up in fiction, really. Too many times, fanfic style and content can work as a limitation instead of inspiration, though, and that’s when we get all the hallmarks of bad original fiction that I talked about in the piece (my personal bugbear is too much internal monologue).

    There’s also more variety in sexuality and gender once you go the margins of fanfic than there is in published work, I think. There’s lot’s of menage and polyamory fiction, including the really plotty and psychologically complex stuff. There’s a niche for almost anything you can imagine, good and bad.

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  72. Anne
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 07:23:32

    @Violetta Vane:

    Hmm. Maybe I am misunderstanding you? I wasn’t moaning about what fanfiction contains. I meant original fiction which I so often find horribly lacking and steeped in nonsensical tropes with the niche-writers being told to go stuff it quite often.

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  73. Mohini
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 08:10:34

    @Violetta Vane:

    Was that during the revenge ficathon (after AtLA racefail)? Because I’d be very interested in knowing which one it was that you’d written.

    @Anne:

    I’m not sure you’re completely right about that. I do know books that have passed over the stereotypes and been successful precisely because of that. If you want a rec just let me know what sort of books you read (genre, pairing, etc) and I’ll let you know if I can find something.

    @Ann Somerville:
    Tbh, when I said ‘rotten writers’ I meant to include those who don’t realize how far from perfect their writing was and weren’t willing to improve. That said, I can see where you’re getting at with the post. It really does seem to be a vicious circle.
    My e-cookies are 100% guaranteed fat-free, and they’re also chocolate (yes, of course it’s possible, because I said so).

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  74. Violetta Vane
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 09:24:53

    @Mohini: Sure! It was the Battle of Songhu. I had so much fun with that.

    @Anne I was actually responding more to Ann Somerville’s comment. I’m not really into either attacking fanfic culture or defending it. I’ve sort of “moved on” in that I have no time left after original fiction to write fanfic, but I kind of wish I did… it really fills overlapping but different needs than original fiction.

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  75. Sunita
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 10:15:07

    @Ann Somerville: Thanks very much for that link. Not that I enjoyed reading it, but it summarizes perfectly the antipathy to women as sexual beings in m/m romance, as well as repeating the canard that there are no well-depicted heroines in m/f.

    No one should have to read anything they don’t want to when they’re reading for enjoyment. But the weirdly cheerful way in which m/m readers (and this link illustrates a much wider problem) slam vaginas, women, etc. is chilling to me. When one of the largest review sites for the genre refuses to review books that contain sex between men and women (not as the main relationship, just occurring anywhere in the book), and when authors and publishers are chastised for failing to issue warning labels so readers can avoid such books, it can’t help but affect what gets published in the genre.

    The slamming of het romance heroines is particularly ironic since there is a flourishing sub-genre within m/m that basically reproduces the good and bad hallmarks of category romance, but with male protagonists. I started keeping a bookmark folder with examples once I realized how pervasive they were. These books are reviewed positively and I’m pretty sure they sell reasonably well, too.

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  76. DS
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 12:43:21

    @Ann Somerville: I just read the link you posted and I’m shocked. In fact I need to think about this some before I say anything more.

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  77. Deee
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 12:43:27

    Question for Sunita regarding your statement that “I have no interest whatsoever in Austen fanfics or retellings as novels. For one thing, they’re written in a modern voice, by modern writers. Austen isn’t historical fiction or historical romance; she was writing about her contemporary world. By definition, any work that continues those characters’ stories is going to be doing so through a modern lens. That’s a distortion I’m not interested in.”

    Do you feel that way about everything pre-1900, including Sherlock? Or films based off of Austen novels such as Clueless?

    I’m curious about your thoughts on such adaptations.

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  78. Sunita
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 12:59:51

    @Deee: As I said in the post, I like Clueless, but that’s a modern interpretation, i.e., the characters are not performing The Continuing Adventures Of Emma And Knightley That Jane Forgot To Write About. Film adaptations of historical works (like the many modern versions of Shakespearean plays) are interesting to me and I often enjoy them, but I think that’s because there are usually clear critical and artistic reasons for relocating them. Same with modern versions of classic operas.

    This is just my personal preference, not something I think should be a universal law. Lots of people like and read Austen fanfiction, including my mother, who is a very well-read woman. I buy her those books all the time, I just don’t read them. But yes, I generally don’t read continuations of 19thC characters as written by 20th or 21stC authors. To me, they become different characters once they are “historical” rather than contemporary. I’d rather reread the original or move on to something else entirely.

    I’m not a big Sherlock Holmes fan. I’ve seen a couple of the new Cumberbatch/Freeman TV series episodes, and I enjoyed them, but if I never saw another one I could live. But again, these are modern interpretations of 19thC characters, and I think the medium matters. I’ve never intentionally read a recently-written Sherlock fanfic story that is set in the same era as the original.

    Mine isn’t a wholesale dislike of fan fiction, far from it. One of my favorite authors is Angela Thirkell, who took Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire universe and characters and recreated it in the 20thC with descendants of the original characters as well as many new ones. Strictly speaking, it’s pretty close to fan fiction. But again, the characters and the setting are updated. Thirkell wrote about her era, not Trollope’s. She just used the world.

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  79. Aleksandr Voinov
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 14:21:32

    @Sunita: Seconding this. I’ve read a LOT (a lot) of male m/m characters who are taken from exactly the same mold as the Too Stupid To Live m/f heroine, I’ve seen The Big Misunderstanding, I’ve seen just about every trope of m/f romance in m/m romance. I’m just not sure if the limitless flow of tears after sex and marriage after one night of steamy sex (and gazillions of tears) is quite as frequent in m/f as in m/m? But that’s a different discussion we should be having – gender stereotypes. I do believe those two lie close enough together at night to wake up with the same fleas.

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  80. Sirius
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 18:22:59

    @Sunita: The thing is though, to me there is a difference between having well rounded, interesting secondary female characters in mm book and having sex between man and a woman in that same book. Let me stress first that *I* personally have nothing against occasional m/f sex scene in mm book, where I as a my personal rule will draw the line is either having woman ending up in menage (there are exceptions to every rule as I said yesterday and I know few books where I liked it, but very very few) or if the book would end up as m/f story and the guy would have lost in the love triangle. Many mm readers would not even go as far as I will (I am sure there are some that will go further, I just do not personally know them). But I think Kassa raised a very good point and I would love to see a show of hands – how many readers of m/f romance would be happy to see mm storyline in their books? I am sure there are readers who read both, I mean I *met* on line such readers, but I also have seen readers of het romance swearing on line that they would never ever read mm romance. Why is such stance not a problem and the position of many mm readers is a problem? What were the names of the books which were reviewed here where vampire cheated on his Queen with the guy in the second book? I think the name of the writer was Dianne Sullivan? I have read the review of the second book here and remember it well and wanting to read it, I just forgot the title, and I was shaking my head about readers being so upset that she put cheating in and cheating with a guy. Disclaimer – well written cheating is another thing which does not bother me (of course as everything it has to be well written), but while I realize that many readers were upset as to infidelity per se, no matter with whom, I *have* seen the reviews on Amazon which were upset that the vampire turned out to be bisexual, not just a cheater and I remember that author did not handle criticism well, so I know people were upset about that as well. Is this a problem of the same caliber or not? Because to me, honestly neither one is a problem.

    Let me stress, that I absolutely see the problem when women are portrayed as one dimensional evil or cheerful beings in mm romance, I want nuanced and fun women characters in mm books, but does it really have to be het sex in mm books? Again, I am asking not for me, honestly, I would not even have a problem reading secondary mf love story, but I do not see the position of mm readers who do not want to see it in gay romances as problematic.

    I am one of those readers who run away from het romance many years ago and making very modest comeback since I discovered Dear Author. I probably mentioned before that I on average try to read one het book a month, simply because I want to be somewhat knowledgeable about it and see if I can enjoy the genre all over again, I had been doing this exercise for approximately two years now. Granted, it is a tiny tiny percentage of het romance out there (25-30 books that I have read during those two years in het romance constitute my average mm reading during two months), but do you guys want to know how many het romance books I truly enjoyed out of those 25-30? Two or three, thats it. Is it really surpising that I do not read mm romance to find out that it may morph into het romance? And the only het romance relationship which I truly love is in urban fantasy books – Kate Daniels and Curan rock my world :). Nobody else does unfortunately, no other het couple in any book I have read.

    So, I guess what I am trying to say that while I am not fully in sink with Kassa on this issue, I do not find her position problematic over all.

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  81. SarahF
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 18:27:51

    @Sirius: There are MANY authors of heterosexual romance who have positive gay subplots and characters: Suzanne Brockmann is the obvious one, but so is J.R. Ward. And Amanda Quick. And Louisa Edwards. I’m sure I’m missing more, but it’s becoming increasingly acceptable and accepted. And yes, an issue of contention, and those authors lose readers over their depictions, I’m sure, but at least then we can label those readers as homophobic. The heterophobia in m/m romance, where most of the readers are probably themselves heterosexual, is SO strange, SO conflicted and conflicting.

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  82. Sirius
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 18:32:41

    @Sirius:@Sunita: Chicks with Dicks are the problem for sure, but the thing is for every chick with dick book there are a lot which do not even come close, but I definitely agree with you that there are readers who love them, but plenty of readers who cannot stand them (like me and many others). Again though, as much as I think Chicks with bricks are the problem, I would never call the character like Cole from “Strawberries on desert” by Marie Sexton Chick with dick. I want more characters like him, not less, because sometimes (not always) when I read about two super manly men it feels as if this is the only model of gay men’s appearance and behavior (two alpha characters) which straight woman wants to portray, if that makes sense. Basically I hate so called male characters which behave as traditional het Regency romance heroines, not sure if you meant the same meaning, because people sometimes have different meanings for them. But if I were to go for the “type” (and I do not really have one, I will read about many different pairings), I would probably go for Tamara Allen’s ‘Whistling in he Dark” couple (haha no surprise here).

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  83. Sirius
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 18:34:37

    @SarahF: Oh sure, yes Susanne Brockman – love her books, but have you seen those reviews and how less popular last trouble shooters books seemed to be because of increasing attention on Robin and Jules?
    Amanda Quick wrote gay storyline? where? I used to love her, could you tell me which book please? Thanks :)

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  84. Moriah Jovan
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:16:54

    @SarahF:

    There are MANY authors of heterosexual romance who have positive gay subplots and characters: Suzanne Brockmann is the obvious one, but so is J.R. Ward. And Amanda Quick. And Louisa Edwards.

    I’ll be a whore and add my name to that list.

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  85. Sunita
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:19:05

    @Sirius: I find the unwillingness to have ANY non-preferred sex or romance in a book problematic, whether it’s by readers of het or of m/m or f/f romance. The attitudes of het readers has helped create the situation where all LGBT books are treated as erotica by several on-line retailers, including the big ones. I find ugly comments about the Jules/Robin pairing as off-putting as I find comments like “keep the vaginas out of my m/m romances.”

    The problem isn’t individual reader preferences. Everyone is entitled to their preferences and shouldn’t have to explain them. But private preferences turn into collective public proclamations of how disgusting the non-preferred stuff is. The “purity” of m/m is celebrated at big m/m romance review sites and sites like the Goodreads m/m boards. At that point I think we’ve taken preferences past private attitudes and into public arenas, where they have concrete ramifications.

    That RWA group was pilloried for not wanting to admit m/m books into their contest. But it’s OK for m/m sites not to review books if they have a scintilla of m/f action? I’m NOT talking about books that “morph into a het romance.” I’m talking about having a de facto ban on ANY het romance in a book that is marketed as m/m. Can you really say you don’t think that affects what authors and publishers think they can write and sell to the m/m crowd?

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  86. SarahF
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:22:46

    @Moriah Jovan: Yay! :) Thank you. For both adding your name here and for writing characters so that your name can be added.

    @Sirius: Amanda Quick has a lesbian couple in Deception. We see them kiss, I’m pretty sure. Emma Holly has a gay brother who gets his HEA in Beyond Innocence. And honestly, although I’ve read both books, I’m getting my information from the amazing essay by Kathleen Therrien in the volume I edited, New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction, called “Straight to the Edges: Gay and Lesbian Characters and Cultural Conflict in Popular Romance Fiction.”

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  87. Sunita
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:38:18

    @Moriah Jovan: Seconding SarahF’s Yay! and thanks.

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  88. Ann Somerville
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:42:08

    @Sunita:
    “The “purity” of m/m is celebrated at big m/m romance review sites and sites like the Goodreads m/m boards. At that point I think we’ve taken preferences past private attitudes and into public arenas, where they have concrete ramifications. ”

    And it’s long past time for this dirty little aspect of m/m to be exposed to the light and shown as the misogyny it is. I have no patience with the idea that m/m is about the woman reader’s desire and so we don’t want vaginas in our fantasy. For one, I’m perfectly capable of distinguishing my desire from the characters, and for two, I’m sick unto death of m/m being considered nothing but porn. I can read books like Tamara Allen’s, knowing in advance I’m not going to have to wade through boring and badly written sex, and still wallow in the emotional intensity of the love story.

    This hatred of women characters doesn’t just apply to women who might be love interests or sexual partners (and tough luck on any author who wants to show male bisexuality realistically, as Jeff Pearce did in Dragon Streets.) Mothers, sisters, exes, co-workers and friends are weakly portrayed if they are portrayed at all. They exist purely to add the primary romance, and if they aren’t with the primary couple, they must, of course, be portrayed as villains.

    I think it’s time m/m readers – and reviewers – grew the hell up and realise that gay men don’t live in a XX chromosome free bubble, and that women, gay, straight, bi and trans, play important roles in their lives. When something like 25% of gay men have had sex with women at some point, and 10% of American men identify as straight while occasionally having sex with other men, the refusal to accept or acknowledge heterosexual encounters and relationships in m/m is yet another way in which the genre ignores the reality of GLBT lives.

    I think some m/m writers – like me – write m/m because of a complicated relationship with their own gender, and as a reaction to patriarchal oppression (so we write men as they ought to be and acting as they should). But that doesn’t stop me writing female characters respectfully, and there simply is no excuse – and there should be no place – for misogyny in any genre whatsoever.

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  89. Kaetrin
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:47:31

    I enjoy all types of romance – there are some kinds I haven’t read yet but I’m open to it if a book which interests me crops up (excepting that involving animals and children). I like reading m/m and I like reading m/f. I like reading books where there is m/m and m/f and I like reading menage books too. I actually prefer in menage books where all the characters are sexually attracted to one another rather than only 2, no matter what their gender. I don’t have any problem whatsoever in het characters turning up in gay romance, or bisexuality being depicted. I’m more interested in a book being well written and the story taking me somewhere.

    I agree with Sunita that everyone is entitled to their own personal tastes and can choose to read whatever they like to read (just like anyone can post what they like on their own blog) but in this day and age, where gay equality is such an issue, it pleases me to see gay romance equal alongside straight romance in a book and personally, I think it should be encouraged.

    Sure some people dont’ want to read about Jules and Robin (personally I think they’re missing out big time!) but if there is more exposure in our culture to gay love as “normal” then it will be accepted as “normal” by more people more quickly. I say this from personal experience – I know I have become a more tolerant person as a result of reading m/m romance.

    *I use the word “normal” in quotes because (sadly) a lot of people think being gay is not normal, not because I think that myself.

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  90. Sirius
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:48:49

    @Sunita: I guess I do not agree on this then. Those same mm sites (or I can only speak about one mm site I review for, I rarely read any others besides this one) celebrate strong female characters (few as they are) in every mm book they actually exist, so no I do not think it influences authors and publishers much, since I do not see strong female characters in many mm books yet.

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  91. Sirius
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:51:34

    @Ann Somerville: Oh I loved Dragon streets – awesome example of the book I am more than willing to read. The bisexual character is portrayed very realistically, however had he chose the other person, I would have felt very differently towards the book. And the woman was awesome – I want to see more characters like hers.

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  92. Laura Vivanco
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:51:44

    There are MANY authors of heterosexual romance who have positive gay subplots and characters: Suzanne Brockmann is the obvious one, but so is J.R. Ward. And Amanda Quick. And Louisa Edwards. I’m sure I’m missing more, but it’s becoming increasingly acceptable and accepted.

    I listed a few at the end of this post.

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  93. Laura Vivanco
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:53:54

    Oh, and another, which hadn’t been published at the time I wrote that, is Rose Lerner’s A Lily Among Thorns.

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  94. Sunita
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 19:56:54

    @Sirius: I appreciate you’re fighting the good fight for strong women characters, and I am very glad you review m/m. Even when our tastes don’t match, I learn from your reviews and I respect your judgment a lot.

    It’s true that complaining about misogyny doesn’t seem to affect what is published. But there is a lot of misogyny that doesn’t get called out. As I said earlier, two books of 2011 had what *I* consider to be casual misogyny toward some (not all) of the female characters. But I saw almost no reviews that remarked on it, so either readers didn’t mind or didn’t agree that it was misogyny.

    I am willing to read pretty much anything and have, over the years, found that the more I venture out of my comfort zone, the more I find to enjoy. That makes it hard for me to understand the no-women rule in m/m. But again, I draw a difference between what YOU are comfortable reading (which you do not have to explain to anyone, ever), and the cumulative effect of insisting on m/m-only storylines and unironically using words like purity to describe that demand.

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  95. Ann Somerville
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 20:11:12

    @Sirius:
    “Those same mm sites (or I can only speak about one mm site I review for, I rarely read any others besides this one) celebrate strong female characters (few as they are) in every mm book they actually exist”

    And yet the owner of Reviews by Jessewave said:
    “I’m one of those M/M readers who objects strongly to M/F or menage (M/M/F or M/F/M) in M/M romances. Readers on my site also object to het pairings or females in a sexual role in their M/M books, and the reason they frequent the site is because they know that any book we recommend will be “pure” M/M. ”

    She even claimed to be speaking for all m/m readers in her comment on Kassa’s post:

    “I just replied to Lisabet’s post and basically told her that M/M readers don’t want women in sexual situations in M/M books. I’m not an author – he/she is at liberty to write what s/he wants, but I know what I want to read and if I buy an M/M book it’s not to read about het sex.”

    Wave has an enormous platform, and enormous (ridiculous) influence, and she uses it to promote the ‘no vaginas in my m/m’ prejudice. That’s not supporting female characters at *all*.

    I know you love good female characters, but you are, in fact, a rarity among readers who review.

    When I subbed Interstitial to Blind Eye Books, the first response from Nicole Kimberling was to the effect that they would take the book but they wanted me to cut out or reduce the role of the lead female, since they are a gay book publisher. I refused because the story was *about* a triangular and messy relationship. To take out the third person because she was female, would have reduced to the story to pretty boys fucking in space.

    I have seen nothing to indicate that this is a particularly unusual response from a publisher focussing on gay lit or m/m.

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  96. Sirius
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 20:22:10

    @Ann Somerville: I cant and wont speak for Wave, except that I personally remember reviews where she supported strong female characters (Mister President by Adam Fitzroy comes to mind right away), and sure yes, she does not want her site to review the books with het sex in it. I am bowing out of any further conversation about her in her absense. As I mentioned previously I am not a fan of mmf menages usually either. I read four or five and I liked a couple. I am not a big fan of mmm either, but I have read and loved quite a few (and hated quite a few) And I totally agree that Interstitual would have been much weaker story without female character in it, oh my goodness absolutely. But I will also be honest – as much as I thought the ending of Jerna was true to his character, I wanted him to be with Ria only. It is my personal preference as a reader.

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  97. Sirius
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 20:28:54

    @Sunita: Sure, sometimes not, totally agree, but as much as some situations are obvious mysogyny, some are difference of opinion.

    I remember well the review of Something Different here, I think, because I picked it up after this review. I consider this book to be the *most* mysogynistic mm story I have read last year – period. I was not just annoyed after reading this book, I was angry. I remember you mentioned the wife denying sex in the comments, but (and I could be wrong, I have not reread the review if so I apologize), I do not remember Sarah commenting on the portrayal of female characters at all, and I have to conclude that she does not think that it was mysogynistic and I have a totally different opinion.

    And thank you for the kind words, I do not believe I am nowhere close your level of reviewing (and it is my honest opinion, I am not fishing for further compliments) and I doubt I ever will be, but I appreciate it regardless.

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  98. Sirius
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 20:57:45

    @SarahF: Sorry missed your response. Ooooo, two aunts, do not remember them kissing, but you are totally right. I actually have to correct myself – I had been enjoying Amanda Quick’s books, she is almost the only exception amoungst het romance authors I did not stop reading, I did not like her last three or four though (that paranormal club stories). I will check out Emma Holly’s book as well.

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  99. Nialla
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 21:01:58

    @Ann Somerville:

    No, it’s simply that I don’t like that character, and I wouldn’t care about gender. In one specific instance, a show brought in a new male and a new female character at the same time. Didn’t care for either one and said so and why I felt that way, which was essentially that they were pointless and distracting from the core cast (one of which was ::gasp:: female and of color).

    People would jump on the dislike of the female character as misogynistic, but not a peep was said about not liking the male character for the same reasons. It’s part of the problem you’re discussing, but people don’t flip the switch and wonder why it’s OK to dislike a male character, but not OK to dislike a female character. For some, it’s due to misogyny, for many it’s just simply a dislike of the character. In the case of actors, I just might have a dislike of the performer that colors my view of the character. There are untold movies and TV shows I won’t watch because an actor makes me twitch.

    I want strong female characters, without a doubt, but TV shows and movies aren’t going to give them to us when they’re convinced the entire world revolves around 18-49 year old males. “Strong” often translates into “can fight in tight clothing and high heels” in that environment, even though many males in the preferred demographic do not like women only being portrayed that way.

    I’m actually one who prefers to know what type of pairings are going to be in a fanfic. It’s not much different from wanting to know if a romance is a romantic suspense or a Regency. Sometimes I’m in the mood for different types of reading material. It has nothing to do with shame or horror about having vaginas in m/m fiction.

    Back in the days when I first went online, slashers were essentially segregated at best, spat upon at worst. This was in the days of everything mostly being mailing list oriented. For a TV show, there was usually a list for general discussion, and another for fanfic, but strangely enough, slash fiction was not allowed on the fanfic list, and it was discouraged to even mention it on the general discussion list. No, there was a separate list for slash fans. It wasn’t like today when you could find a specific group that liked a particular OTP. I have often wondered if that history is a key reason why s0me slash readers want to read “pure” slash, even if that’s not all they read.

    “I would say your experiences appear to be the exception, not the rule. However, just as in abusive families, different members will have extremely different memories of their experiences, the same is in fandom. I can assure you that I am not making up any of what I said or exaggerating it. I don’t have to do more than direct you to Fandom Wank for evidence.”

    I do not doubt your experience at all, I know others who’ve had similar, but I know many more who have not, or at least beyond a single fandom, specific group, or a clique. No need to direct to Fandom Wank, because that stuff is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you’re doing a very good job of it yourself. The reference to different experiences in abusive families is a nice touch.

    “This is getting off fanfiction, and perhaps is a discussion left to another time.”

    It’s very apparent there will be no discussion to be had, I am meant to only listen and learn the error of my ways because we do not share the same tastes or opinions. I actually agree with you on some points to one degree or another, but the obnoxious manner of presentation defeats your purpose.

    “Nothing you have said obviates my central point which is that fandom and fanfiction can lead to rotten authors and lousy writing.”

    There are also many rotten authors and lousy writing that have no connection to fandom and fanfiction.

    Now, I’m going to go take my icky slash reading self and go read more the newest Kenyon book that doesn’t even have m/m in it. Does that make me a self-hating slasher too? I need to start a list of all the Internet diagnoses you’re handing out.

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  100. Ann Somerville
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 21:22:39

    @Nialla:

    “Didn’t care for either one and said so and why I felt that way, which was essentially that they were pointless and distracting from the core cast (one of which was ::gasp:: female and of color).”

    This kind of reaction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If we lived in a world where gender and race made no difference, then your belief that your opinion just ‘happened’ to be that way could be taken at face value.

    However we don’t live in such a world. And I strongly suspect that, just as every other person’s on the planet is, your opinion is shaped by prejudices, unconcious or otherwise.

    I suspect you claim not to see ‘colour’ either. And that, like any claim that gender is irrelevant, is bullshit.

    “not a peep was said about not liking the male character for the same reasons. ”

    You realise that misandry is a notion cooked up by misognists, right? Reverse sexism and reverse racism are nonsense concepts. The judgement of any character in the world we presently inhabit, can never be neutral. The difference is that females are judged more negatively, more often, on different criteria, than men are, with much more negative consequences.

    “I have often wondered if that history is a key reason why s0me slash readers want to read “pure” slash, even if that’s not all they read.”
    I highly doubt it since the segregation of slash from other fannish areas was pretty much a dead letter by the time I left fandom in 2002.

    You seem absolutely desperate to exempt misogyny as a cause of misogynistic reactions. I can’t imagine why.

    “The reference to different experiences in abusive families is a nice touch.”

    Why thank you. I certainly appreciate you dismissing my experience as a survivor of an abusive family as wank. Sorry if it’s an analogy very much on my mind at the moment for one reason or another.

    “I am meant to only listen and learn the error of my ways because we do not share the same tastes or opinions.”

    I can’t see how you’ve come to that conclusion.

    “I actually agree with you on some points to one degree or another, but the obnoxious manner of presentation defeats your purpose.”

    I’ve tried very hard to be polite. You don’t want to see me when I’m obnoxious.

    “There are also many rotten authors and lousy writing that have no connection to fandom and fanfiction.”

    And I never said otherwise. We are talking particularly about a subset of authors in a subgenre who come directly from fandom slash writing to m/m. I have delineated in detail why fandom can be a negative influence on writing. I also, though I haven’t explicitly stated it, agree most emphatically with Violette Vane’s comment “I never would have started writing in the first place if not for fanfic.” This is true for me too, and if for no other reason, I would think of fanfic fondly for that.

    There is some *stunningly* good fanfic out there – stuff as good as the best original books I’ve ever read. But that fanfic needs to be read in the context of fandom for full impact.

    “I’m going to go take my icky slash reading self and go read more the newest Kenyon book that doesn’t even have m/m in it.”

    I have no idea what you are trying to say here. You realise that this entire discussion is full of “icky slash readers”, me being among them. And like most of them, I read non m/m too.

    “Does that make me a self-hating slasher too?”

    It doesn’t make you anything at all.

    I don’t know why you are so angry and hostile towards me, when I’m saying things that other people have also said. But your issues aren’t my concern.

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  101. S.
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 21:40:58

    Very interesting post and intriguing comments. As a fan of both fandom and the published world, I have observed that fandom is as varied as the pro-fic world. Slash is only ONE subset of fandom. I’m not going to argue that there isn’t negative portrayal of females in slashfics because there is, but there is certainly just as much in published fiction. For instance, someone mentioned the Black Dagger series – and off the top of my head, the popular Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole which I could not finish past the 2nd book.

    Whether it’s m/m fics, fanfiction, or non-m/m published works, casually misogynistic depictions of female exists. It’s prevalent everywhere – just look at the romantic suspense series by Karen Rose and a ton more. It’s not just a phenomenon in the m/m world. It’s not to say that I’m defending the authors because I am not – I love strong female portrayals in any story – but to single m/m books or slash fics out is IMO a bit unfair.

    I wish I can find the Guardian article that actually addresses this issue – stupid me for not bookmarking. I’ll come back with the link if I find it again.

    I would never say m/m fiction needs to keep female characters out because I think that’s just wrong. However, I understand why people would want m/m fiction to heavily focus on male characters and keep the females as side characters – it’s the genre – and they want the m/f interaction to be only a subplot. To me, all of that is understandable and reasonable, though I’m quite sure everyone has a different perspective on that. Frankly speaking, I find the editing issues to be top priority for the m/m genre anyway, but that’s definitely neither here nor there.

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  102. Ann Somerville
    Mar 20, 2012 @ 21:54:16

    @S.:

    “It’s prevalent everywhere ”

    Yes. But *only* in m/m is it acceptable for female reviewers and Big Name Fans to proudly proclaim that they don’t want their reading cluttered up with wimmin, and the reaction to that to be nods of agreement and “me too” comments from *other* women.

    Misogyny is indeed everywhere. But it’s not *promoted as a positive* everywhere.

    The m/m genre claims to be GLBT positive and supportive, while at the same time, the ‘L’ is flat out not acceptable if there’s on-screen sex, the ‘B’ part of that is only acceptable if the bisexual doesn’t have sex with a woman, and the ‘T’ part presumably only gets a pass if the character is MtF and post-operative at that. So what it comes down to is that m/m, for a lot of readers and authors, isn’t about real gay people (because real gay people often have had het sex) and certainly isn’t about the rest of the sexual rainbow. I can’t see how that’s acceptance of any real kind.

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  103. Jill Sorenson
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 08:11:36

    @Ann Somerville: I’ve been enjoying this discussion in the way that I enjoy a lot of m/m discussions, with quiet weeping into my pillow that no one ever mentions f/f. I think your criticism of m/m is really smart, but the message is muted when you tear other commenters apart.

    I’m sorry you had a bad experience in fandom. I don’t read fanfic but I used to comment on the “First Page” critiques a lot, years ago. As did you. I remember you being overly harsh and quick to jump on anyone who disagreed with you. I stopped commenting on first pages for that reason.

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  104. Jane Davitt
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 09:28:51

    I wonder if the aversion of some readers and writers to het romances in an m/m or f/f book isn’t partly a subconscious desire to redress the balance? Untold thousands of het romances have been written over the years that even in relatively recent times didn’t so much as mention gays, as if they didn’t exist. If a character was coded that way, the stereotypes and distaste dripped off the page.

    To go from that to a time when we can not only see realistically well-rounded gay characters in books but also have novels where their love story is front and center is a heady change. It’s not hard to see why people would glut themselves after a famine and want to have what het romances had for so long; the story focused on the same-sex relationship to the exclusion of everything else.

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  105. Violetta Vane
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 11:09:40

    @Jane Davitt:

    It’s a somewhat logical argument, but I don’t think it’s the real base cause for the following reasons:

    1) Equating m/m and f/f doesn’t work that way. Men have a relationship of threat and power to lesbians that straight women do not have to gay men. All-female spaces are less problematic than all-male spaces, just like all-black spaces are less problematic than all-white spaces or… well, you get the idea.

    2) As far as I can tell, gay and bisexual men who write m/m tend to include more female characters and be more relaxed about the dreaded “purity” rules. Not to let them entirely off the hook, but that’s my impression. By and large it’s women who are enforcing these rigid limitations… the majority, straight women. So this is not about representing GB men’s lives more accurately.

    3) Gay and bisexual men often have significant relationships with the women in their lives. They have mothers, sisters, partners, friends, girlfriends, wives, ex-wives, etcetera. Cutting the women out reduces the characters and makes them less well-rounded. So it generally hurts the characters and the stories. I mean, there are also gay and bi men who are blatant sexist assholes and hate being around women, but do we really want them as romance heroes? I certainly don’t.

    4) It’s more anti-woman than pro-gay, or if it’s pro-gay, is that way only because it’s anti-woman. Take, for example, the common m/m trope of the evil wife/ex-wife standing in the way of true love. The reality is that in our present day in the US, closeted men in a loveless marriages are not woobie victims. They made a choice. As men, no matter what their private sexuality, they have much more political, economic and social power than the women they married. Turning all their wives/ex-wives into evil clinging homophobic bitches is fucking disgusting and sexist and harmful. In reality, many gay men get out of these marriages amicably, realize their own responsibility, and still maintain strong emotional relationships and deep friendships with these women. Or another common trope… the ex-wife or sister conveniently DIES or IS A TOTAL BITCH so that the men can raise a kid. If this happened just a few times, I could buy it, but when there are sooooo many of them that reduce women to convenient wombs that they make me want to cry, honestly.

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  106. Heidi Belleau
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 11:18:00

    @Violetta Vane:

    I don’t like the evil-ex trope and its variations, and I speak out against it whenever I see it, but nothing gives me full on chills like the “mother of the baby is conveniently dead” trope. It’s like some sort of horrible gay-flavoured Handmaid’s Tale.

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  107. Maili
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 12:15:09

    @Violetta Vane: I love, love, LOVE your comments under 3). So well put. Thank you.

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  108. _katiedidnt
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 13:00:34

    Sarah states in the above blog post:

    “I would not willingly have read these books, and certainly would not have reviewed them, if I’d known ahead of time that they were fan fiction.”

    This is said while also acknowledging that these were all books the reviewers enthusiastically liked. Yet, rather than reflecting on what contexts and beliefs might shape the instinctive reaction to have wanted to know so that the books could have been dismissed and left unreviewed, Sarah’s discussion sidesteps this and moves forward to discuss why fanfiction makes her uncomfortable.

    What’s left undiscussed, and what seems to need further reflection, is why stories which were once considered worthy of A level ratings are suddenly tainted. Their quality wasn’t under question until the context had changed. Now that the context has changed, suddenly these works don’t even warrant recognition and review. Their existence is threatened with erasure, due to their origins. The context, however, seems to be the element deserving of much further exploration than the time given to this fairly tired debate about the aesthetic value of fan vs. original fiction. There’s a conversation about copyright, creativity and ownership underlying all of the discussion happening in this post. The debate happening here connects with a much larger national and international debate currently taking place regarding these same issues of copyright, piracy, sharing, and creative production.

    Social networking, in conjunction with digital production and distribution have brought long-standing issues regarding notions of copyright and intellectual property to light. Issues that were not as visible in a print-production environment with heavy barriers to production and distribution. Remember, these are access barriers that privileged some and were insurmountable by many. Barriers that shaped the kinds of women authors who were able to gain publication and recognition, as well as shaping (and constraining) genres of fiction like romance. Social pressures, connected to law and economic power that have, over many decades, shored up institutional and social privilege and patriarchy.

    Sure, fan fiction makes some people uncomfortable. So does romance. Sure, people point to the absence of women in slash and homoerotic fiction as some indicator of misogyny. But there are also a lot of people who point to the sexualized moments of dominance, submission and power in heterosexual romances as a sign of something quite similar. Fan fiction may lead to stories that focus less on setting and that depart from the original authors voice (although, I suspect there are fans who would rush to disagree), however, romance is also heavily critiqued for its own stylistic quirks and narrative formulas (heaving bosoms, throbbing manhoods, and all). Each of the critiques I mention regarding romance are things I’m sure the readers and writers of this blog have eloquent and effective responses too. Just as fans have responses to the critiques made of fan fiction here.

    I bring these connections up not to build a divide between fan fiction’s romances and “original” romance/erotica, but to point out the connections between them. There is a common interest in representing and respecting the diversity of women’s romantic and erotic fantasies underlying both these communities. If what we really want to do is celebrate romance and support romantic erotica, as well as eliminating the stigma surrounding them, why are we letting ourselves get bogged down in a discussion over artistic purity or authenticity which works to silence authors and their work from circulating? Who and what structures of power does a discussion about copyright and authenticity actually serve?

    In my mind, it is no accident that there is a bleed through between romantic fan fiction and e-published romance fiction. It is because they have always been connected. It is these connections we should be exploring, not reinforcing divisions that help to silence and shame certain readers, sub-genres and kinks, while celebrating and reinforcing more traditional ones.

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  109. Mohini
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 13:43:18

    @Jill Sorenson:

    Oh Christ yes! And there’s not much neglected because in fandom f/f just has so little space!
    I hate that so so much. I think part of this is because the original texts the fanfic is derived from has so little space for women. Let’s take SGA since it’s already been brought up- the only people who appear in all the episodes are two men. Uptil S3 the only main women characters had very little screen time with each other. S3, one of them dies and is replaced.
    In SG-1, there was only one main woman character.
    My main fandom now is so misogynistic (the show), and has so little female presence, that we’re actually having a ’30 days for the women’ in protest. (The fandom- as you maybe can tell, is pretty awesome)

    I’m not sure how this works out into not having f/f published books though. I have one theory: from what I know most m/m is written by and for straight women. Since there is already a social prejudice against men reading romance novels, maybe the f/f that would be written by and for straight men simply isn’t? Or else it just goes to the online ‘erotica’ sites?

    @_katiedidnt:
    I don’t know about anyone else, but I would definitely pass over any book that was originally fanfic, then had the serial numbers filed off and published as ‘original fic’ because it is dishonest and disrespectful to the author who allowed you to play in their sandbox. Fanfic can be transformative and can be published as such, but then you have to publish it allowing everyone to know and let it stand or fall as it may. Something which has been written as a direct response to another author’s work can never be ‘original’ fiction in the sense of being stand-alone. It doesn’t have the same context. I hope I’m making sense.

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  110. Sirius
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 13:54:20

    @Mohini and katiedidn’t:

    I think there is a huge difference between the very valid comparison you made between similar tropes in fanfiction and romance and why knowing after the fact that Zero at the Bone and Shades of Grey (by Brooke McKinley one) were fanfictions made Sarah uncomfortable. I cannot speak for her of course, but to me that means that such work was more than inspired by the original work, it means that author took from original work way too much for her work to be considered truly original. I totally realize that the line is blurred sometimes, but surely there are things when we may agree that such line is overstepped? Like I personally still like Zero at the Bone, because I do not see original characters in the main characters, neither do I see the settings anywhere, but people who may have watched and rewatched the movie may have noticed those similarities easily (I only watched movie once).

    However, I reviewed two books in the past (yeah, by Dreamspinner), which I have had no clue whatsoever that they were fanfiction and after the fact I saw amazon reviews which said that when you know the show and the fandom, it is painfully easy (paraphrase) to recognise that this book was fanfiction. Was I angry after the fact? Of course I was. That to me showed that writer stole from original author without even bothering to hide such a fact and to me it is irrelevant that I may have liked the book before fact (I liked one of those books before I knew it was fanfiction and disliked second one for different reasons). JMO of course.

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  111. Sirius
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 14:06:38

    I also want to add that as I mentioned previously my fandom was and still somewhat is Harry Potter, and when I say it, I do not mean that I was involved in fanfiction discussion much, we mostly discussed the books, but I have read very widely in HP fanfiction and the more I think about it, the more all those swearings “no money is being made” with this story disclaimers make me wonder whether authors who are doing this decided that it is okay now. Inspiration is very fine by me (again, I know it is a blurry line where inspiration ends and more wide influence of the original source begins), but more than that? Only if it was a very unrecognisable AU in the first place. And I hated that authors were throwing temper tantrums about fanfiction back in the days (I read some other fandoms too on less regular basis) and was so sympathetic to the fanfic writers, who after all were only playing in somebody else’s sand box and were not making money out of it. While I am still not fond of temper tantrums, I understand those authors much better these days. I do not think fanfiction should stop, I do still love it a lot, but when all that writer does before publishing is taking off serial numbers, I dont know, for me there is something wrong with it. I am still thinking over this issue, and the discussions help a lot.

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  112. _katiedidnt
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 15:02:29

    @Mohini: @Mohini:

    Apologies, I’m running out the door so this is a rushed response:

    Fanfic can be transformative and can be published as such, but then you have to publish it allowing everyone to know and let it stand or fall as it may. Something which has been written as a direct response to another author’s work can never be ‘original’ fiction in the sense of being stand-alone.

    2 thoughts:
    1) The act of labeling and othering a set of work is going to inherently establish a stigma in and of itself. Which leads me to the issue of the stigma in the first place…

    2) Honestly, I just have a hard time hearing words like original work thrown around. I also hear the phrase “to the author who allowed you to play in their sandbox,” and wince in horror at the idea that anyone needs permission to imagine and create. Like I said earlier, this m/m romance debate is just one iteration of a much larger social/cultural debate about creative production, copyright, etc. and I’m sure everyone can sense from my comments that I’ve long chosen a side. I find the notion that anyone can allow or disallow creative work some what appalling. Remember, notions of permission and ownership are a relatively modern concept, linked to certain economic systems and models of power. I’m kind of trying to avoid rehashing that debate here since, honestly, I know how I feel and I’m sure some people here feel differently and are happy in their choices. Having said that, since the word “original” keeps getting thrown around, I’ll just quickly say:

    It is so sad to me that romance readers would ignore the wonderful role that transformative writing plays in the very fundamental nature of genre. All creative work is transformative, but particularly in the case of romance, the genre is fueled and energized by these acts of transformation. The different takes on what an alpha-male might be, the play with the feisty girl heroine and how she negotiates respect from her partner… those are just a few, perhaps more cliche examples. Then we have the experimentation with elements of romance (like the elements identified by Regis) and the play with common generic narrative structures. As one of my students once pointed out to me, outsiders to romance often say things like all romance is the same, but readers of romance see all the subtle distinctions and various takes on common ideas. I don’t see much difference between these acts of transformation and play and those engaged in by fans.

    However, I’m sure as some of you read this you are aghast and think what I’m saying is insane. I don’t really know what to do about that, other than asking people to reflect on what shapes their notion of the “original,” to look into the history of copyright law, and contemplate what structures of power that concept really serves. When faced with the wonderful and vital role that transformation and reiteration plays in all creative expression, I find the attempt to deny creative expression and stigmatize experimentation sad. But, this debate isn’t unique to romance, the same threads and tensions are present in debates about remix culture, SOPA, fan vidding, etc. So perhaps I should just end by returning again to the question of who and what structures we’re reinforcing when we attempt to act as gatekeepers to creative expression. As readers of romance who have so often seen the stigma that romance faces, and are aware of how connected that is to issues of gender and sexuality, is this a fight that helps us? I don’t think it is.

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  113. Sirius
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 15:16:33

    @_katiedidnt: I feel like we are talking about different things though. Let me be very blunt with my example and tell me if you think that this is something you would consider a work worthy of publication. Author produces a story which features boy wizard called Mark who was growing up with his abusive relatives (aunt and uncle? Lets make them distant cousins for variety) and his two best friends, incredibly smart girl and easy going boy wizard sidekick. The boy discovers that he is a wizard when he is 12 years old and he gets to get away from his relatives and go to the school of Magic every year. Oh and his parents were killed by evil wizard when the boy was little and it left lets say a tatoo on his leg. I mean, what does this have to do with forbidding creativity if I would scowl at this story and call it a fanfiction which should not have been published as original work?

    I mean, thats even putting aside the idea that people who do not like reading refurbished fanfiction (and I am personally not hundred percent sure how I feel about it) have any power to forbid anything, do you think that the example that I described needs to be encouraged? I just disagree if this is your argument.

    Now, if we are talking about the trope of three kids going on different adventures and those kids have completely different backgrounds, of course I will be happy to read such a story and I have read such a story and more than once. That to me means using a common trope and filling it with creative and original meaning. JKR after all was not the first writer who used such trope and will not be the last one. But I will be very surprised if you do not see the difference between two examples I described. IMO.

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  114. Sirius
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 15:20:53

    I also want to add that I guess my first example looks even more like plagiarism, since it has substantial similarities to the original, but you know what I meant, for the argument sake we can make up some original details or not, because really as long as it is fanfiction, it can be a story with small changes from original, just like writing exercise, right? But if it is published, it is likely to be a problem, so all I am saying is that there are extreme examples where original is easily recognisable.

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  115. Ann Somerville
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 16:29:30

    @Jill Sorenson:
    “the message is muted when you tear other commenters apart.”

    I haven’t torn anyone apart. Don’t be ridiculous. This comment is just a personal attack and adds nothing to the discussion. If you don’t like something I’ve said, then respond to it. Otherwise, move onto someone who doesn’t hurt your pwecious feefees. I won’t be offended if you spare me your personal observations.

    “I’m sorry you had a bad experience in fandom.”

    You clearly don’t read closely. Not just me. Others have explained how it’s not always roses and puppies. However, that’s not relevant to the discussion at hand, which is the effect of fanfction origins on writers and writing.

    “I stopped commenting on first pages for that reason.”

    Well then, you’ve had at least two years to get over your phobia, haven’t you? And what this has to do with the topic, I have no idea.

    Please leave me alone, Jill. I understand that you and other DA legends are sorry as hell to see Jane is allowing me to comment again, but I don’t intend to make a habit of it. I’m sure you’d love to goad me into a slanging match with you, but it’s not going to happen. I’m putting you on mental ‘ignore’ again, and I suggest you do the same for me.

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  116. Ann Somerville
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 16:42:11

    @Mohini:

    “Something which has been written as a direct response to another author’s work can never be ‘original’ fiction in the sense of being stand-alone. It doesn’t have the same context. I hope I’m making sense. ”

    It is original, but inspired by a known source, as is much fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that. For me the issue is the obfuscation of the story’s origins. Reading books like Wide Sargasso Sea is enhanced by the acknowledgement of the original, and our knowledge of that original text. If Lenore Black had said “All’s fair in love and advertising” started off as SGA fanfic, then it might have been a much more enjoyable read as the knowledgeable reader nodded and went ‘Oh, that’s so Rodney’. The reader who’s unaware of the canon wouldn’t care, but they wouldn’t be reading without informed consent. Given the state of copyright precedents, if Black had published with the names changed and the origins acknowledged, and since it’s an AU in the first place, I doubt she’d have had a legal issue.

    All Sarah wants, and all most readers want, is to *know* what they’re reading. Is it homage? Is it a ripoff? Did it start as an AU and morph? God knows there are AUs out there which can be read without a jot of knowledge of the canon, like this one, which work beautifully as romances in their own right. Does knowing it’s SGA fanfic matter in this case? It does if you’re a fan, and not if you aren’t.

    And there’s the not so small matter of acknowledging the support and free editing of fandom. Why should this hard work be ignored because the author wants to pretend she did it all on her own?

    If ex-fanficcers wrote something like “This story started out as a SGA fanfic AU, and while writing it I received much valuable assistance from my friends in fandom. I have made certain changes since then, but I thank the creators of SGA for their inspiration”, I think honour would be satisfied. Perhaps Jane could weigh in on the legal aspects.

    What I hated about Zero at the Bone was being cheated. I also hated that the author was too lazy even to change the names or the character tics that belonged to the movie canon incarnations. The lack of effort even to make it look original was mocking readers who weren’t in on the joke.

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  117. Ann Somerville
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 16:50:11

    @Violetta Vane:
    “the ex-wife or sister conveniently DIES or IS A TOTAL BITCH so that the men can raise a kid. ”

    You know what book handled that trope magnificently? (And the whole bisexual thing?) Butterfly Tattoo by Deirdre Knight. I am still in awe at how many ways this novel subverted standard tropes and assumptions, and the respectful way it treated the former same sex relationship. I would kill for an m/m story that handled family and women and children that well – the closest I’ve ever seen is that fanfiction I linked in my previous comment.

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  118. Julie
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 18:03:52

    Sticking my $0.02 in:

    I am a regular reader of Boys Love (Japanese m/m romance manga), and I’m mostly of the “no het please” persuasion. Here’s why, in the bluntest possible terms: I read BL to see beautiful men be passive/receptive. I’m perfectly happy with with m/f or m/m/f in BL as long as it involves toppy women (and ideally strap-ons), but very few authors go there; almost any het relationships in BL is going to have the typical “dominant penetrative man” dynamic, and occasions when I feel like that, I can get it, in spades, in the umpteen-billion het stories out there. When I’m buying BL, alpha-male m/f relationships and PIV heterosex is the exact opposite of what I’m paying to fantasize about. It’s a waste of space for me.

    I don’t think its misogynistic to ask that material that caters to a specific fantasy that is almost impossible to find anywhere else focus specifically on that fantasy rather than also including its inverse. It’s not like there’s shelffuls of het romance with passive/receptive men that I can turn to if a BL story is disappointing.

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  119. Ann Somerville
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 20:30:46

    @Julie:
    “I read BL to see beautiful men be passive/receptive. ”

    Unfortunately, this is a perfect example of the objectification of gay men for heterosexual pleasure. BL is admittedly not intended to be ‘gay fic’ and contains so many unrealistic scenarios and tropes that no one could mistake it for real gay stories. But when m/m panders to the same instincts, and readers are blatant about the fact they read it for sexual pleasure, then it’s nothing but straight privileged people using a demonised minority as their plaything. I can’t see how that’s remotely defensible in the 21st century, and I can’t see how people who claim to be GLBT positive can sustain an argument that their sexual fantasies are more important than a respectful reflection of gay men’s lives.

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  120. Mohini
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 00:25:29

    @Ann Somerville:
    I must have expressed myself very badly because I meant to say precisely what you responded with. That I object to people publishing transformative fanfic or a homage without admitting to it. As an aside- why on earth did she admit to it later then? I’m still not clear on that.

    “It is original, but inspired by a known source, as is much fiction. ”
    Indeed, instead of using ‘original’ from now on, I’ll use ‘stand-alone.’ It’ll make me sound pompous but oh, well, at least I’m understood.
    And thank you for the link, that story is an excellent example of stand-alone fiction which is enriched by its origins.

    @_katiedidnt:

    I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at but I’ll try to respond as accurately as possible-
    1. There is no stigma against fanfiction. Here (http://bookshop.livejournal.com/1044495.html) , Aja gives a massive list of published fiction which is transformative work, I’m not sure whether Neil Gaiman’s Narnia fanfic- ‘The Problem Of Susan’ or Jasper Fforde’s ‘Thursday’ books are included so I’m telling you separately that both are very much fanfiction (as fanfiction is generally understood) and published.
    The problem with ‘Zero At The Bone’ and ’50 SoG’ is the dishonesty and the gross misuse of trust. And the filing-off of serial numbers- you have no clue how much that infuriated me, it’s sloppy writing and sloppy editing and “the lack of effort even to make it look original was mocking readers who weren’t in on the joke.” to quote Ann.
    I’m not sure why you object to ‘to the author who allowed you to play in their sandbox,’ of course we don’t need permission to imagine or create but it certainly would be difficult if the authors (coughcoughAnneRicecough) created a fuss. Also, without the work that inspired it, we wouldn’t be able to imagine or create the fanworks, surely the author deserves respect?

    2. “It is so sad to me that romance readers would ignore the wonderful role that transformative writing plays in the very fundamental nature of genre. “- I’m not sure I understand where this is coming from. Transformative work only applies when you do not hide the origins of your (general ‘your,’ not you specifically) work. Sarah herself may dislike fanfiction for the reason she gave. A lot of people don’t. The role of transformative work on romance is not ignored. Not when we have ‘Clueless,’ and ‘Bride and Prejudice,’ and ‘Tangled’ and so on being famous. Not when we have about a dozen retellings of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
    Moreover, to be subversive does not necessarily require fanfiction. Megan Derr is subversive in her superhero series of books, her paranormal (the vampire one and Dance With the Devil specially) series because she takes the general trope/trend and upends it. Her ‘fairytales slashed’ books take common fairytales and give them a m/m spin, which is not by itself subversive necessarily, but the way she writes it is- the women are strong, and don’t need rescuing.
    I hope I’ve been able to answer at least a few of your concerns.

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  121. Jeff Pearce
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 00:34:16

    Reading over this, it’s soooo long, but maybe it’s better I go for one long stretch rather than taking up multiple bits of real estate.

    I can’t speak intelligently to the issues of fan fiction here as I never read fanfic, never have read fanfic, it’s just not my thing. My comments here are over the issues involving m/m and particularly female characters, pairings with male characters, etc.

    Even with two of what folks call m/m novels under my belt, I still feel very much an outsider to the genre, and some of the peculiarities and the issues still make me turn my head and go whaa…?

    It’s like this: I got my break writing erotic novels for a traditional publisher. This is not meant as a plug (trust me, the royalties have pretty much stopped so the plug won’t help), but the Teresa Knight books are me—the point is, the fans of those novels liked the strong, sassy heroine. While Ann above wrote that certain heroines can be more or less men in skirts, I hope to Christ that Teresa has never been that. I wanted her to be feminine, to be a WOMAN, with a woman’s thoughts and feelings and aspirations and sex drive and all that good stuff. And given that I know female karate black belts who can kick my ass around the block (and yours, trust me), I consider it entirely plausible to always have my girl in fighting form.

    I think if you’re a man, you better like women to write women, and I like women. I also happen to like some men. Maybe being bisexual meant I could possibly get into the head of how some women consider men, want them… or not. Or maybe I just listened properly to some female friends for a couple of days. Let’s face it, good intentions mean shit, it’s whether the work holds up on the page. So where am I going with this?

    In turning to m/m and coming from HET erotica, it never occurred to me not to try to have strong, hopefully 3D female characters, even if they’re in supportive roles because you sure as hell need fully developed females if you’re writing HET romances or in my case, erotic thrillers. And I don’t think I’m particularly fucking noble in this. From the comments Aleksandr has made here and on his own blog, I suspect he and I share some common ground. As he put it in his blog, practically any gay guy, even hardcore scene gays, have strong female relationships… so of course they should show up in narratives. Now whether the males have sex with the females… Okay, we’ll get to that.

    To her credit, Wave was willing to review Dragon Streets even though it has an m/f sex scene that’s critical to the plot and to the characters, while also letting me know this is the kind of thing that would usually bar reviews. So I am enormously grateful for that. Do I argue with Wave over the issue? Yep. Will I win? Nope. It’s her blog, and I have to respect her policy. But in the same way, Sirius reviewed my novel, Buddha on the Road, and brought an open mind to the fact that the novel is not a conventional m/m romance.

    So maybe this is the key: reviewers are in many ways the advance guard of letting readers know there are exciting things out there beyond the rut of their own ingrained reading habits, cool stuff to check out to take them out of stuffy familiarity. Good reviewers can be heroes this way. Just as Wave and Sirius had a big impact in terms of m/m for me, Anne Somerville was one of the first to sing praises over books I was doing last year in SF and horror.

    I stress the reviewers here, because frankly, reviews can be crucial. Christ and Allah and Buddha know that publishers can’t afford big marketing for mid-listers.

    But in the end, some of these issues, I doubt, will enter the brain when I or Aleksandr or others sit down to write. I want to tell a story. I can’t think in terms of literary politics, and what’s more, I really don’t want to. I want to tell a good cracking yarn, and it stands to reason it better have interesting people in it. They can be male. They can be female.
    There better be females as they are half the human race.

    As for the m/f and m/m/f and on we go with the alphabet soup. Sigh… Yes, this is a drag. But to be honest, pointless sex in novels period is a tremendous drag. I got blasted by Publisher’s Weekly and other places for multiple sex scenes in a novel when the U.S. reprint publisher nagged my Brit imprint and me to inject more in. Guess who gets to look like an idiot?

    So I am doing my best to treat the issue of female ickyness, etc. with a certain stoicism. It irks me, yes, that not everyone wants to come along for the journey that has the “best of both worlds,” but hey, I gave up on an Edmund White book—a book I had been enjoying because of White’s beautiful insight and cultural erudition—because he kept wandering into highly off-putting scatological depictions of gay sex which I really didn’t want. All gay sex is not the same. All bi sex is not the same. What rule can we go by? None, really. Except it would be nice if any sex scene was justified by the character development and the plot.

    I can appreciate certain fans wanting exactly what they’ve come to expect in m/m fiction, and in many ways, I and others can do our best to deliver. But in HET (more or less) erotic fiction, I still injected African politics, racism in Brazil and modern slavery discussion. My Brit publisher encouraged me. Try taking that to ahem, certain others, and you get told bluntly HEA rules. In Buddha on the Road, one reader whined about references to torture. Yes, what a pity torture has actually been used by a military dictatorship in a part of Southeast Asia… Sorry that offended you, but torture offends me. I suggest if you feel offended by descriptions of torture of pro-democracy activists, please write the junta.

    Sex is just one element in the equation to push the envelope, to make these books more interesting and relevant while still letting us enjoy a good read.

    And as for misogyny… We’re living in an age of transvaginal ultrasounds imposed by law and a time when a college student can be called a slut if she dare pose the entirely reasonable notion of contraception being covered by insurance. It’s a time when one of the moneybag backers of a serious candidate can joke about them good ol’ days when women supposedly put aspirin between their knees (as if). And lest anyone think I’m bashing America, it’s a time when a lobby group in my country for “so-called” real women gets TV air time as guest commentators when they’ve had rather sinister links to neo-Nazis. It’s an age when Moroccan rapists can intimidate families into agreeing to marriage of the victim so they can skip out of prosecutions.

    Oh, yes, there’s a lot of misogyny in fiction. There’s a hell of a lot misogyny out in the real world. If you’re reading an m/m novel or “gay fiction,” we don’t need to (or shouldn’t need to) preach liberal values to you. What I really want to see is these novels surpass their genre limitations and entertain you while also opening people’s eyes to other problems in the world.

    @Julie:

    “I’m perfectly happy with with m/f or m/m/f in BL as long as it involves toppy women (and ideally strap-ons), but very few authors go there.”

    I will go there. I want to go there. And hell, it’s one of the sexiest damn scenarios I can think of! :-) Screw revealing too much, since writers are exhibitionistic introverts, but it’s female girlfriends being dominant with me that finally led me to be more comfortable admitting I’m bi and at last hooking up again with men. It was a lovely woman who considers herself a lesbian but who was with me for nine months that helped me psychologically get there. And there’s a novel I want to tell. Only can it be told in m/m? Probably not. Will I still write it? Hopefully, yes. Because I want to and have to. And if anyone wants to read it, I won’t care if they’re an m/m fan or a “fan.”

    Finally, finally, finally…! Last week, an American sitcom dared at last to state the obvious: that you go to bed with a person, not a gender.

    The problem is with the genre itself. In reading m/m, we choose to go to bed with a gender, sometimes as the priority above all else, including story, including reality. Now there’s nothing wrong with that if you want to be a reader with those tastes. It’s just that as a writer, even if I’m writing about dragons or exotic, supernatural creepiness or over-the-top superheroes, I still want to tell you a truth about the human condition. And I fear I can’t keep doing that if you tell me who I can or can’t sleep with… in my books.

    I think I will just be writing books in the future, not m/m, not gay fiction, but books – novels. And if you want to come along for the ride, great.

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  122. Kaetrin
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 02:02:32

    @Jeff Pearce: I think I’d best check out your books Jeff! My only requirement is a HEA/HFN – everything else is pretty much up for grabs. Do your books have HEA/HFN?

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  123. Ann Somerville
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 02:17:04

    @Kaetrin:

    Both Dragon Streets and Buddha on the Road have HEA endings. They’re also both awesomely good.

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  124. Kaetrin
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 02:25:45

    Thx Ann. I’ll have to check them out.

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  125. etv13
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 02:39:29

    I’ve been troubled by the misogyny in m/m romances, but as somebody who often skims sex scenes as fast as I can turn the pages, the last thing I want to see in m/m or het romances is sex between secondary characters. For the primary couple, done well, sure. But I don’t think even the people who write pretty steamy sex scenes for their primary characters, like Liz Carlyle and Loretta Chase, ever do the same for secondary pairs, and frankly, I wouldn’t want them to. On the other hand, I have no problem with a secondary gay couple getting a happily-ever-after in a het romance, and I wouldn’t have a problem seeing a secondary het couple getting a happily-ever-after in a gay romance. Maybe it says something that I’ve seen the former, but not the latter (unless you count Adrien English’s mom and her second husband).

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  126. etv13
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 03:02:11

    Reverting to the bigger fan-fic picture: I think we ought to judge a book on its own merits. If Shades of Gray is good as a stand-alone, I dont’ give a damn if it happens to be a Brokeback Mountain fan-fic. If there are characterization problems, then I guess it’s interesting to know that those problems arose from the way the book was generated, but when I’m evaluating the book in front of me, a weakness is a weakness, and a good book is a good book, period.

    I don’t recall the acronym, but I gather there’s some kind of “fan-fiction” where people are writing fictionalized stories about actors or other real people, and that some people find that creepy. Do they also find The Lion in Winter, Beckett, and A Man for All Seasons creepy? What about Amadeus? The King’s Speech? (Please tell me there isn’t Colin Firth/Geoffrey Rush slash. Please.) But again, if you write a good book/play, I don’t give a damn how you came up with it. And if it’s bad, ditto.

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  127. Ann Somerville
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 03:25:37

    @etv13:

    “I gather there’s some kind of “fan-fiction” where people are writing fictionalized stories about actors or other real people, and that some people find that creepy”

    Real Person Fic or Real Person Slash (RPF/RPF). The reason it’s considered creepy is that some of the fans of this kind of thing can be technically known as ‘bugfuck crazy’. And intrusive, and downright vicious towards real life wives and girlfriends. Ironically, RPF is probably the most secure from a legal point of view, unless one is implying a married person is cheating on their spouse – it’s not a violation of copyright, obviously, and isn’t likely to be held to be defamatory except in certain circumstances. Simply stating that a particular actor is gay isn’t cause for a libel action in the UK or, I believe, in the states.

    But when fans give sex toys to actors at charity events, and stalk them, and generally behave like nasty little entitled toerags, it tends to skeeve people out. And decent fans worry about the children and spouses finding explicit sexual material concerning their parents/partners. For that reason it used to sail very much under cover.

    “(Please tell me there isn’t Colin Firth/Geoffrey Rush slash. Please.)”

    All right, I won’t :) However I draw your attention to Rule 34, and the very fact you have mentioned this pairing doubtless will have called it into existence, like the Hair Loss Fairy.

    Fictional portrayals of persons long dead aren’t an issue. When they’re still alive, as with ‘Game Change’ and Sarah Palin, it becomes more problematic. Not that this stops people making films like Game Change or The Iron Lady – it just makes the marketing more difficult, and potentially gives rise to lawsuits. When you write about people about whom so many have such vivid and unpleasant memories, it’s difficult to entice them to watch or read a fictional portrayal.

    You should be clear that fanfic->original fic is nothing whatsoever to do with writing real person fic. The issues are very different.

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  128. Jill Sorenson
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 07:53:27

    @Ann Somerville: I’m sorry you felt attacked. I have no problem with you commenting at DA and I think you have a lot to contribute. I brought up the first page issue because of the discussion upthread about fanfic writers being sensitive to criticism, and fandom being a safe place. It is relevant to this discussion. My feefees aren’t hurt.

    @Mohini: From what I’ve seen, male-authored f/f is not romantic. A lot of female-authored f/f is also sex-focused, with little or no attempt at authentic character portrayals. But I don’t think the issues with f/f are the same as m/m.

    I wrote an article about “girl cooties” a long time ago if anyone is interested.

    http://www.readreactreview.com/2010/08/11/sexuality-and-same-sex-romance-placeholders-power-dynamics-and-the-p-word/

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  129. anatsuno
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 08:10:30

    @_katiedidnt: Your amazing commentary brought tears to my eyes. So deftly said! A hundred times yes. Thank you for putting this across so clearly. I wish the problematic question of provenance retroactively making a story “unreadable” had been explored more thoroughly.

    Sort of relatedly, a friend of mine wrote this yesterday, which you might find interesting.

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  130. Julie
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 10:00:47

    @Ann Somerville:

    “But when m/m panders to the same instincts, and readers are blatant about the fact they read it for sexual pleasure”

    I am specifically not solely talking about sex. I am perfectly happy with nonsexual BL stories (although sex is a nice bonus if it happens). I want to see sweet, loving, fluffy romances with so-called “feminine”, passive/receptive men, where male femininity, male domesticity and male sexual passivity (which does not require explicit sex) is presented as positive, attractive, and desirable. BL gives me that. I’d love to get it from het romances too, but it doesn’t happen. I don’t read Western m/m because the little I’ve tried has been resolutely femiphobic, and I get plenty enough of that from everything else in our culture.

    “I can’t see how people who claim to be GLBT positive can sustain an argument that their sexual fantasies are more important than a respectful reflection of gay men’s lives.”

    I personally prefer to get real-world information from nonfiction; when I want to know about real gay men’s lives I read autobiography and such. I read fiction for things that are different from reality.

    Yes, BL is fantasy. BL is about gender, it is about femininity, it is about a schema of male desirability that does not model itself on stereotypical, hegemonic masculinity. BL is about women’s desires for and fantasies about men, not about men’s desires for men. I am not a man, why should I be required to desire in a man only what gay men desire in men? Why can I only fantasize about what gay men fantasize about?

    I personally find the tremendous femiphobia in the Western m/m community completely inexplicable. How can people who claim to be GLBT positive be so hostile to the depiction of men who are not stereotypically masculine, and to women who like them? Isn’t gender expression supposed to be one of the issues on the table, not just sexual orientation?

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  131. _katiedidnt
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 10:09:12

    @Sirius:

    I suspect it sounds like we’re talking about different things precisely because we were. My earlier reply was actually to another person. I’m guessing that’s the source of the confusion. :)

    Re. your Harry Potter clone scenario, that sounds like a fairly crude retelling of the HP stories. So when you ask me, “do you think that the example that I described needs to be encouraged?” Then, sure, I’m going to say that no, I’m not personally into reading a rote retelling of Harry Potter. I also don’t think such clone-like retellings are all that common in fan fiction. That certainly doesn’t reflect what’s popular and it doesn’t to my mind seem to be something that most fan fiction authors are interested in doing. However, given your follow up comment, I sense that you’re aware of this too and perhaps more interested in the issue of authors crudely filing the serial numbers off?

    To that, my response would be that my original comment to this post was not engaging in a debate over if/when a work of fan fiction might be transformed enough for commercial publication. Instead, I was focusing on Sarah’s comment: “I would not willingly have read these books, and certainly would not have reviewed them, if I’d known ahead of time that they were fan fiction.” My purpose was to encourage reflection on this reaction and the ways that several stories which once stood on their own and warranted A level reviews suddenly became unworthy of review or consideration simply because of their ties to fan fiction.

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  132. Jeff Pearce
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 10:14:27

    @Kaetrin: It’ll be great if you do, thanks! Always appreciate a new reader. As a general rule, I normally write HEA and HFN endings, simply because I like them myself. It’s just what I consider an HEA/HFN ending can be different and hopefully less predictable from what some editors think they are, and I sure as hell don’t like to be dictated by them how to end my novels. I find readers, or at least those who like my particular books, are far more open-minded than what some editors give them credit for.

    Buddha on the Road allegedly went through different test readers for a certain large, ahem, publisher who shall go nameless here before I chose to bring it out myself under Gallivant. I got idiotic feedback scolding and lecturing me over “Charlie Chan” portrayals and pidgin English… oblivious to the fact that calling characters of another Asian culture by such a PC term is itself perjorative, and the fact that many Burmese less fluent in English often don’t use articles, as no such articles exist in their language, which is why they speak that way in the novel. So sometimes you just can’t win.

    As it is, certain pronoun errors still cropped into the early pages of the Gallivant edition of that one, for which some Goodreads know-it-alls love to show off their backseat editing skills. So apologies up front if you get that one, Kaetrin. I may return to the novel one day and bring out a new, cleaned-up edition, but hopefully you’ll forgive me my trespasses. :-)

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  133. Maili
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 11:05:13

    @Julie: Let’s be fair: femiphobia is alive and kicking in BL manga & light novels and, most definitely, among some readers (regardless where they are). Some readers were seriously scary, especially when they openly wished death, torture, abuse and on female characters (mothers, sisters, classmates, colleagues).

    While not vocal, creators are just as bad. Examples: Riyu Yamakami, CJ Micheski (who seem to adore male rape as well), Shiuko Kano and Masara Minase (both are not as bad as before, though, as both have lately made an effort to portray female characters in positive light); Hiro Madarame, Sakurako Hanafubuki, Kou Fujisaki; Syuko Nishimura, You Higashino and Mika Sadahiro (hers are the worst. This is very odd as Sadahiro is also a josei creator under the other name which she uses to specialise in having her female protagonists railing against sexism and women haters. I also wanted to list Tsuta Suzuki, Mio Tennohji, Ayano Yamane and Youka Nitta, but I value my life too much to dare. :D)

    They are notorious for having quite a few male protagonists declaring themselves as women haters, or constantly portray female characters in negative light. Ranging from portraying them as extremely abusive mothers to callous, untrustworthy, gold-diggin’ and selfish girls while most secondary male characters are portrayed as trustworthy and sympathetic friends.

    Thank goodness, there are many others who don’t go down this route at all. Some – like Ai Hasukawa – opted not to have any female presence whatsoever in most of their works, which is fine. There are some who did portray female characters as villains, but they’ve also portrayed other female characters in positive light as well, e.g. Keiko Kinoshita, Hinako Takanaga, Toko Kawai, Kotetsuko Yamamoto, Keiko Konno, Makoto Tateno, Yugi Yamada, Shinri Fuwa, Kazuma Kodaka (although I’m not a Kodaka reader, I think she’s probably the best in portraying female characters as strong women and very much part of protagonists’ lives), BL light novelist Saki Aida, etc. It’s all about balance.

    But the point is, femiphobia does exist in BL manga and light novels. This issue has been discussed almost to death in manga-related scholarly and editorial articles in western and Asian media, though.

    [Side note: Mika Sadahiro - as Ruka Kirishima - did a manga adaptation of Diana Palmer's HQN romance Heartbreaker, which is currently available on Amazon in both Japanese and English. But I digress.]

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  134. Sirius
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 11:43:22

    @_katiedidnt: Oh I understood that you were initially replying to another person. What I was not quite clear on is what exactly you are objecting to, you know? I understand what you are objecting to now, I think . I also was not sure what stigma against fanfiction you were talking about, if so many commenters here (including myself) said how much they love fanfiction As to your point about books that previously earned A reviews and upset the reviewer when she learned that it was fanfiction, I also tried to illustrate it with the books I reviewed. For me those books sounded as original works, I did not recognise characters’ mannerisms, settings, BUT people who were familiar with the source recognised it right away. In other words author did not even try to write original work, work inspired by the source – she was playing “in somebody else’s sandbox” (sorry, I cannot find any better expression for what I feel was happening). How can I *not* be upset after the fact even if I liked one of those books before I knew it was a fanfiction? Author pulled a fast one over me, yay? I thought it was original work only because I was unfamiliar with the source which the work was really based on. I feel that author cheated me, and while I cannot and will not speak for Sarah, is it not possible that the reason why the books which she gave A reviews before she knew it was a fanfiction now leave the same bitter taste in her mouth and she may feel cheated too?

    Those books are still well written for her I would imagine (Sarah, please feel free to correct me if I am wrong), but she now realizes that characters are heavily based on somebody’s else characters and author did not even rework them sufficiently to disguise said fact. You dont think thats a reason to be annoyed? What is here to reflect about? I am not trying to be sarcastic, I am asking an honest question.

    Now, as I also mentioned before, I was not involved in Brokeback mountain fandom, I only watched movie once and I dont even remember them speak with the same accent as D did, but people who were involved in fandom supposedly watched it many times, discussed, dissected it, etc, same as we did with Harry Potter canon, if they tell me that they CAN easily recognize the characters, I still will depend on my recollection and like the book , but I can certainly see why they would be upset. IMO of course. I mean, if I can easily spot Harry, Ron and Hermione in the story and I would tell it to other person, I would think that such person deciding to be annoyed is a very valid choice, even if she never picked up Harry Potter books before hand. Hope I am making sense.

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  135. Julie
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 13:14:23

    @Maili:

    Hi Mali;

    I’m using femiphobia to mean, specifically, prejudice against male femininity. We already have the perfectly good words gynophobia and misogyny to describe prejudice against women.

    And I think that negative portrayals of women can come from places other than gynophobia; the fiancee who represents Japanese society’s traditional demand for compulsory heterosexual marriage, for instance. Men get the same role in yuri (f/f romance manga).

    Furthermore, as far as I’m concerned, rape fantasy has nothing to do with gynophobia in BL; it’s just as common in women’s het manga romance, and in gay men’s manga for that matter. I think it’s just a very common kink that Japanese publishers are more willing to cater to. We see it more in BL because there’s less translated “ladies’ comics” and gay mens’ manga; if you restrict yourself to legal channels there’s none of the latter in English. I’d kind of like to see the people who think BL rape fantasy is unforgivable try to take on Gengoroh Tagame’s manga. ;)

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  136. Franzeska
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 11:34:44

    As someone who likes slash, I can usually spot slash genre tropes in published m/m fiction, but I too would prefer to know what I’m getting ahead of time. I’m not outraged if I find out later about serial number filing that I couldn’t detect on my own, but it still feels like one of those situations where everyone’s laughing about an inside joke you don’t get. Whether it’s dishonest or not, it’s *uncomfortable*.

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  137. Anne
    Mar 25, 2012 @ 01:18:58

    Reading all that and getting back to the fanfiction part of this discussion, I wonder whether everyone is so very clear on what exactly that all can mean. Especially as someone here seemed to believe that fanfiction is taking the original and retelling it only slightly changed, as if fanfiction were plagiarism of the original story.

    Instead it’s using the characters and world of a book or show/movie to invent a *new* story with. So at least one part of what was rejected her isn’t true, in general, of being unoriginal about the story. Not everyone however even writes all or many or any of the characters, and simply uses the world or concept of that original. That way you can end up with a story set in the world of the expanded universe of Star Wars, with original characters and have Ben Kenobi or Han Solo merely mentioned, or seen from afar. Yet others, I’ve a friend who does that, pluck a character from a book or show and transplant it into our world and have them experience this setting. She also loves to add a twist by changing important facts of the canonical backstory to discover the changes, e.g. an Anakin Skywalker who never lost his mother.

    These stories have so much own inventing and thought brought into them, that I wouldn’t even call it filing off serial numbers when people change names and settings to turn them into an original. They already are very original and the “borrowed” part was little more than a crutch or a mental game of “what if”. Snubbing them for that is doing them quite some injustice. The only difference between them and e.g. Kody Keplinger using Lysistrata in what amounts to way more and in the direction of plagiarism is the expiration of copyright and the fact they use LESS of the original than many officially acknowledged stories like Keplinger’s.

    So, it’s really not as if everyone who wrote fanfiction and later decided to file of the serial numbers actually even is that close to the original material. I can see why, given the negative reaction, people want to downplay the connection. Things most likely would be very different if people and reviewers reacted positively to that.

    I doubt Shakespeare ever thought twice about this. Up until fairly recently authors loaned and were loaned from quite freely.

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  138. Anne
    Mar 25, 2012 @ 01:36:08

    @Mohini:

    Of course there are exceptions. There always are exceptions. But that’s not anywhere close to important enough to make a dent. I have my own preferred authors, and usually they do deliver what I am looking for, namely realistic LGBT literature that’s heavy on relationships and character development.

    I concur with Ann Somerville however most of the way, there *is* a rejection of women rampant within m/m which makes it largely a travesty when it comes to depicting homosexual men. Not to speak of completely negating that there’s a lot of bisexuality, probably way more than “pure” homosexuality. What people call themselves to fit in with their peer groups and the relevant peer pressure is something else.

    E.g. why don’t I read not just a bisexual character who doesn’t have a bitch of a wife, but instead is also grappling with the peer pressure from homosexual friends and lovers who’d prefer him to say he’s one hundred percent that, rather than bi. It’s really obnoxious to read straight female authors AND straight female readers (as in mainly, not exclusively) exerting the exact same peer pressure on fictive characters that causes so much pain and self-denial in reality.

    By the way, I do not buy the “we’ve read too much badly written het romance” as an excuse for that. Seriously not. An author thoughtful and liberated and willing enough to write bisexual/gay characters who don’t demonise the females in their lives, maybe even still have excellent relationships with them (yes, that includes OPEN partnerships too. Not everything is cheating!), should be trusted to be thoughtful and capable enough of writing het pairings which aren’t based on awful romance tropes. I so wished for a bit of fresh air within that area as well, and if not these authors, who would?

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  139. Mohini
    Mar 25, 2012 @ 02:44:40

    @Anne:

    In your comment where you said “These stories have so much own inventing and thought brought into them, that I wouldn’t even call it filing off serial numbers when people change names and settings to turn them into an original. They already are very original and the “borrowed” part was little more than a crutch or a mental game of “what if”. ”
    Yes, but the ‘what if’ might very well not have occurred unless the original author’s story existed. At the least an acknowledgment of that, ‘I thank (insert author) for inspiring me’ is necessary, in my opinion.

    “pluck a character from a book or show and transplant it into our world and have them experience this setting. She also loves to add a twist by changing important facts of the canonical backstory to discover the changes”- these characters wouldn’t exist unless the original author wrote them. This does deserve acknowledgment.

    “why don’t I read not just a bisexual character who doesn’t have a bitch of a wife, but instead is also grappling with the peer pressure from homosexual friends and lovers who’d prefer him to say he’s one hundred percent that, rather than bi.” I’ve read this, it was mainly the male lover who was doing it, but it happened. Bi-phobia is present and rampant and literature should deal with it.

    IMHO, most good, well-thought-out, pathbreaking literature is an exception. Refer to: Sturgeon’s Law.
    Who says people have to be liberated to write gay men? You have no clue how many yaoi authors I have seen who would despise lesbians. Granted, I wouldn’t call them people who would necessarily write the female characters well either so maybe I’m having a straw man argument here.

    Lynn Flewelling is, I think, an author who writes bisexuality and women very well.
    Diana Gabaldon also writes gay sex and het sex both. They can be trusted to. That someone would discriminate because vaginas in their m/m romance is astonishing to me, but it happens and has caused some outrage (here, in fact).

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  140. Anne
    Mar 25, 2012 @ 04:28:18

    @Mohini:

    There’s a difference between for instance saying “I thank (e.g.) Diana Gabaldon for inspiring me to write this story as it is” and saying “This story originally was a Diana Gabaldon fanfic.”

    The latter might actually mean being harangued by said author for stealing and end up in the book being retracted by the publisher, the first might be taken as a flattering acknowledgment. So far I was under the impression people here wanted the second type of acknowledgement – and as I said, I can see why people won’t do that and I also think if often enough is not justified. If all it took was saying “Thanks for the inspiration” I doubt many would baulk doing that.

    “Who says people have to be liberated to write gay men? ”

    A lot of those who write m/m and a lot of those who review m/m claim to be so. They indeed, as Ann Somerville pointed out quite correctly, claim close connection to LGBT issues and the LGBT faction. So all I am doing here is pointing out what they say they are. Mind me, many of them sure are just that, but I rarely find them among the group disliking m/f in m/m romance or outright biphobic.

    The whole GFY trope is a sorry joke really, as it’s also just another name for bisexuality. A lot of bisexual people surely would find it helpful to have that acknowledged. Yes I am aware that this means a sliver more than just that, but at the base it is a man or a woman who is bi. Bi takes just one single instance to be itself.

    However, both Flewelling and Gabaldon are already quite on a different level compared to your average m/m authors. It’s a bit unfair to compare them with what other authors don’t get away with, because they don’t have enough clout.

    As was pointed out further above, even willing authors hit a wall when they try to get this past an m/m publisher’s editor, and when prominent reviewers cateorically state they won’t even look at books which have m/f in them or are dealing with poly or open relationships, that’s pretty damning of any alleged “openmindedness”, wouldn’t you say?

    ReplyReply

  141. Mohini
    Mar 25, 2012 @ 05:08:07

    @Anne:

    OK, let’s see.
    1. In cases where you see an interesting character not used to the full amount and then take them and write fiction about them, an acknowledgment is ok. In cases where you have already posted your work as fanfiction, gotten reviews and help and editing done on that account, you DO NOT get to change your mind and say it’s stand-alone fiction. Pick one and stick with it.

    2. I dislike labelling people anyway. It’s like saying there are only 3 primary colours so we’re only going to use those 3 to describe every colour. No, thank you.
    So while the GFY trope is overused and I don’t find it fun- I am not going to tell people what to call themselves. No, it is not biphobic. There are people who say ‘straight for you.’ That is not biphobic either, biphobic is saying that bisexuality does not exist and/or bisexual people are in some way less worthy than anyone else. Anything else- is their choice. People do not have to come with disclaimers/labels.

    3. In any fight against discrimination, there will be people to whom you want to say- get off my side, you’re making us look foolish. I have problems with Republican feminists. That does not make all the fighters bad. That we are discussing this, that the DearAuthor people and other people here have said that they don’t like this, means that there is a fight for equality by people who read and/or write LGBT fiction.

    Since this is basically a discussion between the two of us now, if you’re going to reply- do you mind doing it at my e-mail, [email protected] ? I’m starting to feel a little guilty about clogging up the mail accounts of people who are subscribed here :).

    ReplyReply

  142. Hannah E.
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 10:24:58

    The firm where I work was knee-deep in a trial when this discussion was posted, so I’m pathetically late with my comment. I’m curious, however, about the vehemence of this statement:

    I would not willingly have read these books, and certainly would not have reviewed them, if I’d known ahead of time that they were fan fiction. I personally feel that it’s intellectual theft and it’s lazy.

    @ SarahF: I had the pleasure of meeting you when Sarah Wendell came to the Durham Southwest Branch Library in February to promote her book, and we got into an interesting discussion about this subject. Actually, it was that conversation with you that prompted me to start reading m/m fiction. I recently read Zero at the Bone, keeping our conversation in mind.

    I haven’t seen “Brokeback Mountain” yet, but I plan to watch it soon just so I can work out in my own mind whether the author crossed the line from inspiration/homage to, as you put it, “intellectual theft.” I have no problem with an author being inspired by a setting, a concept, or even a character, and reinterpreting it. I take it from this article, however, that that is not what you believe Seville did in this case.

    ReplyReply

  143. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Looks like spring in linkity land
    Apr 13, 2012 @ 19:13:55

    [...] Dear Author focused on fan fiction this week: Fan Fiction: A Tale of Fandom and Morality. Fan Fiction, Plagiarism, and Copyright. Are Fictional Characters Copyrightable? Fan fiction Q&A with a law professor. Fan fiction, Slash and M/M Romance. [...]

  144. Episode 30: Sex Positivity in Fandom « Slashcast 2.0
    May 01, 2012 @ 16:19:43

    [...] M/M tag on Dear Author BDSM tag on Dear Author Slash and M/M Romance [...]

  145. My One Hundred Things | The Bewildered Writer
    May 23, 2012 @ 13:32:23

    [...] a fan-fiction – There’s been a lot of talk in the last year about fanfic being turned into stand-alone works and I have to admit, I’m totally baffled unless we’re talking about fill-in-the-blanks [...]

  146. Mark
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 03:03:08

    “The difference is that females are judged more negatively, more often, on different criteria, than men are, with much more negative consequences.”

    Really? Where is your proof. Not one iota, just a blanket statement.

    Here’s a case for the exact opposite assertions: men are treated far more harshly than women. The difference is, I don’t just boldy assert it as if it were fact. I provide evidence.

    * Men are made to go to war or can be shamed into it. Men are often drafted – no choice in the matter. Women may choose to enrol in the military, but are under no compulsion, it’s their choice. Far more men die in wars than women.

    * It’s been proven in several studies that men are far more likely to be jailed than women for the same severity of the same crime, and when they do go to jail they are jailed for longer. They are far far more likely to be executed.

    * A damsel in distress gets sympathy and help. A man in distress is viewed as a wimp.

    * Non custodial fathers are more likely to be made to pay child support than non-custodial mothers. They are also made to pay more and are more likely to be jailed for default. Deadbeat mums are actually less likely to make their, lower payments if made to do so at all, and yet the media consistently singles out “deadbeat dads”.

    * A woman who beats her man can expect to see HIM arrested if he calls the police for help.

    * A woman almost always gets more sympathy in court and is awarded custody of the children almost exclusively. She has to be practically a drug dealing prostitute before the courts will consider the father as custodial parent.

    I could go on with more examples, I really could. But hey, it beats the zero examples that Ann Somerville used to prove HER assertions.

    Oh and despite Ann’s assertion that ” misandry is a notion cooked up by misognists (sic)”, the examples above ought to show that it is, sadly alive and well in today’s society.

    ReplyReply

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