Novelist Diana Gabaldon causes fanfic furor

Diana GabaldonUpdate, 5/10: One of the commenters points out that, since I originally posted this, Diana Gabaldon deleted first all comments on her two blog posts on fanfic, then the posts themselves. I suppose she was unprepared to handle the level of controversy she inadvertently generated. Perhaps fanfic fans can feel at least partially vindicated that Ms. Gabaldon realized she'd made an error (though it would have been better if she had posted something more on the order of an apology for her intemperate words), but it's also sad that the posts vanish from the historical record. (Though I suppose they may still exist in responses that quoted them in large part or in full so as to rebut them point by point.)

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, one of the earliest methods of “tele-reading” on the Internet was fan-written fiction, or fanfic. Fanfics were available electronically before most other books simply because they had to be, to be shared with other fans on the Internet. Already popular back when the Internet was inhabited by only a handful of college students, it positively explodedas the Internet grew. But it remains a bugaboo to a number of writers, and the most recent writer to poke the beehive is historical romance novelist Diana Gabaldon. Her original post starts out:
OK, my position on fan-fic is pretty clear: I think it’s immoral, I know it’s illegal, and it makes me want to barf whenever I’ve inadvertently encountered some of it involving my characters.
And it goes on from there. (She does post a somewhat more moderate follow-up, however.) The post elicited mentions from Charlie Stross (who does a pretty good job explaining why he has no problem with people writing fanfic of his work, as long as he doesn’t have to read any of it and it doesn’t mess with his ability to earn a living) and John Scalzi (who has a similar policy). Scalzi also linked to Fandom Wank’s writeup about the commotion, and an open letter from Kate Nepveu to published writers who dislike fanfic that is well worth reading.

Nepveu writes:

More fundamentally, if people are writing fanfic about your works, then their imagination has been sparked by your works; they have been moved by the same impulse to engage with a story that runs through all of human culture. People gossip about their favorite characters; become fascinated by unexplored characters, locations, histories, themes, implications; imagine what would happen next, or if, or instead; and critique every aspect of a work. Sometimes this takes the form of passing in-person conversations, sometimes of blog discussions, sometimes of scholarly works, and sometimes of stories. (Sometimes, even, of critically-acclaimed, award-winning, professionally-distributed stories.) I would be astonished to hear that your own writing never was influenced by this impulse—I say this not to suggest that you’ve been writing fanfic all along, but to point out the strength and universality of this impulse. (For an eloquent and lengthy discussion discovered just as I was about to hit “post,” see Jonathan Lethem’s “The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism” from a few years back.)

Nepveu also links to another LiveJournal poster, who points out that Gabaldon lives in an awfully glass house to be throwing stones.

Certainly, the issue of fanfic and intellectual property is a complicated one. Some professional authors allow fanfic, some insist on creative commons licensing for it, some are strongly against it, some—such as Mercedes Lackey—got their start writing fanfic, and still write it to this day along with their other pursuits. Making Light had a great discussion of it back in 2006, calling it a “force of nature”.

And it really is—or at least a force of human nature. We’ve had storytelling and retelling baked into our psyches since ancient times, when myths and legends were formed by storytellers building on what other storytellers had told before. It’s natural to us to want to make up our own stories about characters who profoundly affect us.

Of course, it may not be strictly legal—but then, the modern copyright system is a fairly recent development in terms of the span of human creativity. It’s not going to control the writer’s impulse. I’ve written plenty of fanfic myself.

I think fanfic will always be with us. The nature of the Internet is such that it can’t be eradicated—and any author who actually dares to sue over it, no matter how justified, will probably lose a significant portion of his fandom. (See also, Metallica vs. Napster.)

And authors, such as Gabaldon, who kick up a fuss about it will soon find themselves the center of Internet attention—not all of it good. By complaining about a pastime that so many fans enjoy, they risk arousing the ire of not just their own fanfic-writing fans, but fanfic-writers of anything.


39 Comments on Novelist Diana Gabaldon causes fanfic furor

  1. Common Sense // May 5, 2010 at 4:05 pm //

    I’m disappointed in Diana Gabaldon, she’s one of my mother’s favorite writers.

    I prefer the attitude of the late, great Marion Zimmer Bradley. She not only encouraged fanfic, she actively supported new writers with her collections of short stories they submitted to her, including editing and guidance. It’s how Mercedes Lackey, Jennifer Roberson, and many more got their start.

    Perhaps Diana Gabaldon needs to remember that those writing fanfic are her CUSTOMERS and it never pays to alienate them.

  2. Yep. Alas, Zimmer Bradley got stung in the end by it when one of those fan writers (allegedly) threatened to sue over a Darkover story concept similar to his own.

  3. Bill McHale // May 5, 2010 at 4:55 pm //

    To my mind, the legality and the morality of fan-fiction should be based on a simple question. Is anyone receiving financial reward from the fan-fiction. If the answer is yes, and it is without permission of the copyright holders and is not otherwise considered fair use (for example satire), then it should be illegal and it is immoral.

    If the answer is no, then I see no harm being done to the creator of the work. Indeed I think many readers who never put a word to page have created fan-fiction in their mind. How many fans have placed themselves in the stories they read, imagining helping the hero out? Is that creation immoral? If not, how does writing out that story and sharing it with friends make it immoral?

  4. Deran Ludd // May 5, 2010 at 5:31 pm //

    Thankfully, my novels are all too obscure to generate fanfic. It really is among the worse forms of “writing”. But, if you write in popular pulp genres, you have to expect this sort of thing. Best to cut it off immediately. That’s what leg-breakers are for.

  5. Fascinating stuff. Love the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books site for all things.

    Didn’t know about Marion Zimmer Bradley, Lackey and Roberson. That’s really a nice story, and I’m sure the benefits to Zimmer Bradley far outweighed the difficulties associated with the threat of a lawsuit.

    IMO, the ethics and legality of fanfic vis-a-vis intellectual property are far from clear. A simplistic, “It’s my property, dammit!” isn’t merely crass. It fails to appreciate the historical derivation of the conflicting rights and societal interests involved. Not to mention, as the first poster and the linked blogs say, ill-advised.

  6. She also compared fan fiction to committing robbery and rape. Never mind that you can’t make it through three pages of her books without tripping over attempted (or completed) rapes, or that the comparison of the treatment of fictional characters to real-life victims is NOT OKAY, NOT EVER.

    She has yet to apologize for insulting fan fiction writers or survivors of sexual assault.

    @Deran Ludd: Oh, please. Did you even read the links in question? Try this one:

    Shakespeare’s most famous works were, by definition, fan fiction AND plagiarism. Seriously. Google it. Derivative works have been the norm since the Bible, since the retellings of Arthurian legends made their way through Wales, Ireland, England, France, Germany, and Italy.

    If Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Lord Tennyson, James Joyce, J.R.R. Tolkien, Pulitzer Prize winners and literary icons are “among the worse forms of ‘writing,'” (Oh you cutie, you, putting ‘writing’ in scare quotes!) then ‘good writing’ does not exist.

  7. DensityDuck // May 5, 2010 at 8:10 pm //

    Fan fiction has been a part of genre fiction for a LONG time. Look up “Mary Sue” and “Slash Story”, or (depending on your historical and religious opinions) the Book of Mormon.

    @Persephone: See, there’s a difference between “inspired by a previous work” and the kind of shite Gabaldon is talking about. J.R.R. Tolkien using English mythology as the basis for a fantasy civilization is BY NO MEANS the same thing as an undersexed college girl writing a story where Edward and Bella get turned into those blue cat-people from Avatar and they both get their own pet dragons and fly off to have crazy sex on a deserted island.

  8. “Alas, Zimmer Bradley got stung in the end by it when one of those fan writers (allegedly) threatened to sue over a Darkover story concept similar to his own.”

    This abridged version of the story, often repeated by nervous authors and agents and editors, fails to note the complexity – and the conflicting accounts – of the case. See this and this, and there’s a long discussion about it in the comments of the Making Light thread you linked to. In Ms. Bradley’s account of the case, a fan threatened lawsuit after Ms. Bradley’s story idea just happened to coincide with the fan’s. The fan had a different take on what happened. Whichever account is right, everyone is in agreement that the problem arose, not because fan fiction was written, but because Marion Zimmer Bradley read the fan fiction.

    I too am very disappointed by Ms. Gabaldon’s nastily worded post (I say as someone who owns every book she has ever written). She expressed surprise in her second, more gracious post at learning that some fan fiction writers are motivated by love of the author’s works. This suggests that her original research of the topic was very shallow. It’s dangerous to post rants when you’ve done little research on your topic.

  9. Seems to me the answer is fairly obvious. Where writers and publishers give permission, fan fiction is fine. Where they don’t, it isn’t. If it’s helpful to our careers, we’ll give permission. Where we see it as destructive, we won’t. My wife, Karen, had one of her Harlequin Romances word-for-word converted into a General Hospital story (with the character names converted to names from the soap opera). The converter thought it was a flattering fan fiction. She thought it was theft. As lines are hard to draw, it seems easiest to go with a simple permission rule. If anyone wants to fanfic my science fiction or fantasy, I’ll be happy to grant permission.

    Rob Preece

  10. Felix Torres // May 6, 2010 at 8:52 am //

    Hmm, my take on fanfic is a bit different.
    Most FanFic I’ve seen distributed falls into two categories:
    1- Really good writing on a derivative work that is a waste of the writer’s time and talent that would be better deployed on an original work. Considering how little tweaking is needed to go from fanfic (ilegal as a comercial venture) to pastiche or homage (which are legal), the better writers are selling themselves short.

    2- The second category is stuff that is clearly substandard and shames both the writer (who make yet develop into a good writer) and the work it is derived from. This would be stuff shows not only a lack of skill but a lack of understanding and/or respect for the original work. (Most of the dreck in effect says; “I can do it as well or better.” That kind of adulation most writers can do without.)

    In other words: I see no reason for fanfic in a public venue. As a private writing exercise for a would-be writer, it might offer them some insight into what it takes to build a good story, but in general they would be better served devoting the same amount of time to crafting something new and personal.

    Writing is hard work. It takes time and effort to craft even a mediocre work. Time spent on derivative work is time the writer never gets back yet yields little value to them or society. Piggybacking on somebody else’s characters or millieau is either laziness or lack of respect.

    Fanfic writers are at best mislead by their enthuasiam for a particular work and at worst deluded. Either way, they should be encouraged to shift their attentions to trying to create their own characters, their own millieues, their own plots.
    Better to fail on your own than to “succeed” and achieve nothing of value.

    Now, the Bradley “fan-fics” are in a special category because it was a different era; the stuff wasn’t showing up all over the place but rather submitted to the creator herself. And, as she accepted and anthologized the stuff, it made Darkover something of a shared-universe project. (Rather like Eric Flint’s ongoing GRANTVILE project.) Which pretty much made the stuff authorized derivatives instead of fanfic. Do note that Lackey and Roberson may have gotten their start in the Darkover Anthologies but they promptly trasitioned into their own realms which are distinct and personal. They didn’t spent year upon year cranking out dozens of volumes of stories based on somebody else’s vision.

    Writing is personal.
    It *should* be personal to be distinctive and “good”.
    Fanfic can be personal, but the moment it gets out into the public arena it stops being personal and (unless explicitly authorized) it becomes trespassing. Well-intentioned or not.

    Publiicly-distributed fanfic?
    Overall, it is simply a bad idea.

  11. Can you please spare us the completely bullshit copyleftist talking point that Copyright Is So Recent We Really Shouldn’t Be Using It as a Limit on Human Creativity?

    The Statute of Anne wasn’t written last night over cocktails, and the point is irrelevant because we live in the here and now and we do have copyright.

  12. @Felix Torres:
    Really good writing on a derivative work that is a waste of the writer’s time and talent that would be better deployed on an original work.


    Fanfic writers are at best mislead by their enthuasiam for a particular work and at worst deluded.

    Words fail me. (Which is probably a good thing. Wouldn’t want to waste those apparently valuable words on a rant about the sheer arrogance, and apparent ignorance of the nature of the vast fan fiction communities “out there” on the internet, your comment displays.)

    I will say that not everyone WANTS to write profic and doesn’t consider fan fiction a waste of time.

  13. Writing fanfic, in itself, is moral. That author makes no rational case for the opposite.

    It is a question of how two things balance: one person’s freedom to act, and another’s abstract opinion on that act. That balance seems clear: direct freedom to act must have precedence over the abstract opinion of someone not even directly affected.

    We are not talking about incitement to do physical harm, or material that causes great distress and disturbance, we are talking about taste. We cannot will that some people be able to tell others what they can and cannot do, justified merely by preference.

    Fanfic can be generally immoral only indirectly, by not following copyright rules. But since copyright has been pretty much obsolesced and indeed debunked by the internet, complaints against fanfic rest on nothing of merit.

  14. @joe,

    not sure what you mean about “bullshit copyleftist talking point.” the statute of anne, early 1700s if memory serves, was intended to break the bookseller’s monopoly on information and thereby move information into the public domain for public use. modern copyright derivatives 😉 attempt to strike a balance between granting property interest in order for artists, authors, etc. to make a profit off their creation and the advancement of culture, science, technology served by sharing such information. Hence, copyright law around the time of the american revolution limited the monopoly control granted to seven years. later that was extended to fourteen years. with the digital millennium copyright act, that private control has been extended to life of the author plus, what?, seventy years. too long, imo. more so if the copyright holder is a corporation: 120 years. the only consolation is the fair use exemption, itself a complex balancing of these interests.

  15. DensityDuck // May 6, 2010 at 1:45 pm //

    @Ainsworth: Copyright has been “debunked” by the internet? Ha, yeah, just like the way that bolt cutters and lockpicks “debunked” the notion of property. Oh wait, no, that DIDN’T happen!

    @Peterson: Gabaldon’s post was only “nastily worded” if you consider slash-fic to be anything more than someone’s masturbations recorded on paper.

    Gabaldon makes an important point in her essay: That most of these fanfic communities are people who are just so desperately eager to “squee” over anything involving their Absolute Favoritest Characters that they’re read anything, absolutely ANYTHING, and insist that it’s good stuff and the author should do more.

  16. Some authors like Jim Butcher have a much more sensible attitude towards fanfic (see

  17. DensityDuck // May 7, 2010 at 12:06 pm //

    PS I love how there’s about 900 comments at Gabaldon’s site. They follow pretty much these two circuits:

    “Fanfic is stupid” / “No your stupid!” / “No, YOU’RE stupid!”

    “Diana called me a rapist pedophile!” / “No, she didn’t.” / “Yeah, but she sorta did!” / “No, she really didn’t!” / “Yeah, but she SORTA did!”

  18. It seems to me that there are two kinds of writers: those who believe that it’s only “real” writing if you get paid for it, and those who understand the concept of writing for love.

    I honestly pity the first lot, because best-sellers go out of print, and royalty checks go away, and if that’s the only sense of worth they get from their works, they’re in real trouble once their popularity wanes. More so if they help it along by spewing hatred at the very people who buy their stuff in the first place.

    Meanwhile, those nasty plagiarizing fanfic writers are taking their joy from the act of writing itself, from taking the what-ifs in their minds and spinning them into stories, and happily uncaring whether there’s a paycheck or even positive feedback from their peers.

    In which case is the integrity and motive of the writer the most pure? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

    Take into consideration the fact that those Evil Copyright Infringers are probably sitting at their desks surrounded by legally-purchased works by the author they’re Robbing Blind – most likely multiple copies of each book, the first release and the second release with the cool cover and the compilation box-set and the rare hardcover version from Ireland – and eagerly encouraging their friends to buy those same books, because they are Just So Awesome – and the entire debate becomes truly absurd.

    It’s a near-certainty, though, that Ms. Gabaldon’s ranting has dissuaded her fans from writing any more Evil Fanfic based on her works. I hope that pleases her, seeing as those same fans probably will not be buying any more of her books, ever. And that many of her fans who’ve never written or even read fanfic have come to feel the same way. And that there are whole legions of people who might have bought her books, but now will not, because her vitriol has been so grievously offensive. And that she is becoming quite widely known, not for the content or quality of her work, but for the content and quality of her hypocrisy and venom.

    Seeing as she is very apparently one of those writers who believes in a paycheck above all else, I’m thinking she really might not be happy at the way things work out for her in the end.

  19. “Seeing as she is very apparently one of those writers who believes in a paycheck above all else, I’m thinking she really might not be happy at the way things work out for her in the end.”

    You could not be more wrong. If you knew her, you’d realize just how far off that statement is.

    In fact, much of this furor surrounding her comments has been been blown entirely out of proportion, with goodly heapings of exaggeration and rumor to inflate it even further.

    She’s entitled to her opinion, and certainly she has the legal and moral right to disallow her characters to be publicly usurped without her permission.

  20. @ DensityDuck:

    “Gabaldon’s post was only “nastily worded” if you consider slash-fic to be anything more than someone’s masturbations recorded on paper.”

    Lee G*ldberg? Is that you? 😀

    If it were paper masturbation, so what?

    Also, I would humbly suggest you familiarize yourself with genre fiction, because if memory serves, authors write sex scenes in genre books. Lots of them.

    The Outlander series has attempted rapes every few chapters in the first book, I think at least three of the main characters are raped by book five, and in the first book, the villain nails the hero’s hand to a table and rapes him anally and orally. But that’s a-okay and says nothing whatsoever about the psychological state of the writer, because an ‘original author’ did it!

    [Personally, I try not to judge people’s state of minds from the actions of their characters. Otherwise, I would have to call the police on J.A. Konrath, John Grisham, Stephen King, James Patterson, Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth George, Tess Gerritsen…]

    By the by, erotic romance paved the way for the ebook industry as it operates today. Romance by itself is the most reliable and largest percentage of sales in the publishing industry.

    Just because you’re not comfortable with other people expressing their non-heteronormative fantasies and sharing them with other people doesn’t make them immoral or illegal.

    “Gabaldon makes an important point in her essay: That most of these fanfic communities are people who are just so desperately eager to “squee” over anything involving their Absolute Favoritest Characters that they’re read anything, absolutely ANYTHING, and insist that it’s good stuff and the author should do more.”

    Sure, I can see some Twilight fans desperate enough to read stuff with bad grammar. I also know that 90 percent of anything published, professionally or not, is crap. My returns and resales and bookshelves are anecdotal evidence of that. Dan Brown is evidence of that.

    Saying that all fan fiction is bad doesn’t make it so. I’m picky as hell about what I read, and that applies to everything I read, not just books with paper bindings and UPC codes.

    I once read a darkfic called “The Circles,” an alternate universe story about what would happen to Middle Earth if Sauron won. The two writers are still working on it, as far as I know, and I think they started the first volume in 2001. It is clear from the first chapter that they not only have read every single book by and about Tolkien ever published, but that they practically have the twelve supplemental volumes memorized. Their style/voice is so much like Tolkien’s that I wondered if they somehow had access to his unpublished work.

    They don’t have a large audience because the works are so dark (most popular Tolkien fanfic these days is slash, and this was/is more het/gen), so they’re not doing it entirely for the attention. They certainly aren’t doing it for the money, as they can never sell it.

    I don’t see why, regardless of the monetary aspect, they deserve less praise than people who adapt Phantom of the Opera into a musical or Peter Pan into an animated series with Tim Curry as Hook or any of the other countless derivative/transformative works that can be legally sold.

    If a painter shellacs a bunch of magazine clippings onto a wall to explore the ways in which women’s bodies are objectified in modern media publications, it’s art. If a writer explores what would have happened if Harry Potter had chosen to enter Slytherin House, it’s lazy writing or theft, no matter how well-written, researched, or original the plot and execution is.

    My guess is that most people who dismiss fan fiction stories so easily have never bothered to read any decent ones.

    I won’t even begin to unpack how offensive some of your comments are to women, especially female fans — there was a heated discussion on Mary Sues and the sexist way the term is applied on MetaFandom all of last week, and the ways in which male researchers have tried to simplify slash into some kind of penis envy and such bullshit have been discussed and debunked many times over. I’m sure you can Google. However, I will say this:

    If Gabaldon thinks her original opinion and post
    1) was not offensive and ignorant and
    2) that the blowback from this imbroglio will not have a culturally significant effect on her career or her place in cultural history,

    why did she
    1) make another post to apologize (granted, it was half-assed, but it was better than nothing), then
    2) bah-leet first all of the comments, then all of her posts on the mess?

  21. As long as it’s not done to generate money for the fan fic writer or a third party, I have no problem with it regarding anything I myself have already published.

    I draw the line at anyone else making money on my intellectual property, however. But other than that I’m okay with it.

    Even though I have no intention of reading any of it, should it ever be written. :)

  22. “You could not be more wrong. If you knew her, you’d realize just how far off that statement is.”

    Maybe we don’t know her, but she’s coming off as kind of a bitch.

    I’ve never written an Outlander fanfiction, but I have written some (Harry Potter, whooo!). Maybe what Gabaldon doesn’t realize is that when people write fanfics it’s because they love the books so much and they’re just anxiously awaiting the next one and in the meantime thinking about what they would like to see happen and putting it onto paper.

    I never made any money off of my HP fanfics but I got to hold onto HP for a little while longer and help some fellow friends hold onto it, too. I’m not stopping JK Rowling from getting millions of dollars in royalties by writing some silly little fanfiction. It’s strictly for me and other fans, so what’s the big deal?

    I can’t believe that someone as cold and arrogant as Gabaldon (read her blog, you’ll see what I mean) could come up with such amazing, lovable characters. It’s really a shame.

  23. DensityDuck // June 7, 2010 at 5:34 pm //

    “Maybe we don’t know her, but she’s coming off as kind of a bitch.”

    No, she really isn’t. What’s happening is that Diana Gabaldon said “don’t write fanfic with my characters, I don’t like it”, and a lot of self-entitled ninnies got all crazy over Someone Telling Me What To Do BLARRRGGGHHH. It’s like these people have no conception of social behavior, like they figure that because they are okay with something then everyone else should be okay with it too.

  24. No one here is saying that she has to like it. But she can say just that. “I don’t like it”. She didn’t have to go into the whole it makes me feel like vomitting/it’s like rape thing. You know how many rape/close-to-rape scenes are in her books? It’s a lot. You’d think she’d take it a bit more seriously and not just throw the word around willy nilly to describe a few over zealous fans having some fun while they wait for her next book to come out.
    By the way, I don’t think I said BLARRRGGGHHH once in my post — BLAGHA, maybe, but never BLARRRGGGHH. I’m not a barbarian.
    Also, no conception of social behavior? What, exactly, makes you say that? That phrase seems incredibly out of place here. It’s people taking some pre-made characters that they love and making them ride dragons or encounter ghosts or whatever it is. As long as they clearly state that their little fic is not Gabaldon’s (which it should be clear it’s not), then I don’t really see the problem.
    If Gabaldon wants to tell us she doesn’t happen to like or read fanfics by all means, please do so, but she REALLY needs to learn some good social behaviors. Especially when she’s talking to the people who keep her in that pretty Arizona house.

  25. I felt the need to chime in here and offer my two cents. I read Outlander and loved it. Read the second book, thought it was horrible. Bought some of the others anyway, didn’t finish any of them because she destroyed the characters as the books went on and the story became pointless. Then I went to her website to find out if she’s written anything else. From her tone, I discovered that Gabaldon is a bit full of herself and her fanfiction comment only further emphasizes that point. My theory is that Gabaldon is an insecure person who doesn’t want fanfiction written because she fears that other people might do a much better job at maintaining the purity of the original characters than she has done. Her later books (and her first book to a degree) demonstrate that Gabaldon is an extraordinarily disorganized writer who is in desperate need of a strict editor who can cut out the garbage and tangents and maintain some flow. Yet her ego seems to keep her from that. I think her ego also affects her views on fanfiction. She cannot stand to have anyone produce something better. In my opinion, it’s Gabaldon’s insecurity that causes her to gripe about fanfiction, not copyright, laws, money, or anything else. Heaven forbid someone should do it right. You can see from the reviews on Amazon that I’m clearly not the only person who thinks the later books are terrible. This is why, I believe, there is a desire for fanfiction. People wish the books were different and this fact is like a slap in the face to the author. So it is no surprise that she doesn’t like fanfiction.

  26. Funny, Diana talks about how these characters get into her head and basically write the book for her, and yet she doesn’t think the same thing happens to her readers. It is just sad that she takes such a hard line on what is just a product of love for her characters.

    I think if you write a fanfic and the author “steals” the idea, that is just what you get. Heck, I would be flattered if it happened (although I would hope to see a thanks in the notes).

  27. Many years ago I was involved in helping manage parts of a forum on CompuServe in the days before AOL bought and destroyed the service. One section in the forum was a place where new authors could ask for manuscript reviews and advice. Diana Gabaldon submitted chapters from Outlander as she wrote them, and essentially sought and received crowd-sourced feedback from a mix of professionals and enthusiastic readers. She received an enormous amount of help and advice. She also got attention from publishing people and agents. A lot of buzz developed, and the Outlander success story began.

    Rather than attack fanfic writers, it would be nice to see her return the help she got by encouraging the fanfic writers to create and write about their own characters.

  28. Tucson Astronomer // July 30, 2010 at 10:11 am //

    In his July 19th post at 7:35 pm, Ric says:
    “Rather than attack fanfic writers, it would be nice to see her return the help she got by encouraging the fanfic writers to create and write about their own characters.”

    Dr. Gabaldon IS very active in helping new writers, both formally at writing conferences; writer’s workshops; panels at sf and fantasy conventions; and informally as her time permits. She loves her fans; at the release party in Phoenix for her latest book, she stayed for hours to meet with people and sign all the books, in a line of more than 1,500 attendees.

    Authors should have the choice of whether others write and post fan fiction about their characters in public places.

  29. I write fanfic in the Tolkien fandom and have done so since 07. I had very little exposure to fanfiction before that, although in 20 years of reading Tolkien I wrote fanfic in my mind every day. :)

    I come from a family of bookworms; I love words, and year by year I become more disappointed with the majority of published works.

    And then I found Tolkien fanfiction. What can I say? The sheer quality of writing displayed by the best authors in that fandom should make 99% of published authors exceedingly embarrassed. No, I am not talking about 15 year old girls writing about marrying Legolas. I am a mature woman; I want to read stories written by mature people. I don’t believe any writing is wasted, however. Let these girls get on with it. It’s wish fulfillment and empowerment in an age where teen girls *have* to be beautiful and thin and popular to be anything at all, so let them write themselves as such. Those are not, however, the stories I read.

    I feel like some-one opened the door of a hidden treasury. Here are people – aerospace engineers, biochemists, surgeons, teachers, freelance writers, psychologists, and published authors too, who just happen to be incredible writers and want to write within all the ages of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Most of the published books I read and consider ‘classy’ come from 30 or more years ago, and for any author to hit that bar requires they be a true wordsmith.
    These fanfic authors write for love, and it is a peculiar and off-kilter world where so much sheer talent is read by only a minority and is not publishable. Their work is truly transformative, not simply a lazy rehashing of canon. They take one line in volume of the Silmarillion and write an Alternate Universe that is better than the original. Yes, some of them do write better than Tolkien. He was a world-builder and a story-teller, but some fanfic authors are far better writers.

    It incenses me that any-one who might have stumbled on some bad fanfic would dismiss it all as rubbish. I pick up 7 books at a time from the library with: ‘No-one does it better than…’ or ‘Superb, gritty drama.’ stamped on them, and ten pages in I wonder if there is such a dearth of talent that Publishers are forced to print any old thing.

    Apart from certain authors like Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, and Ellen Kushner, (who is pro fanfic) few publishers are giving me what I want, therefore I read fanfiction.

    @ Persephone Green. I have read Angmar and Elfhild’s ‘The Circles’ – it is a truly epic transformative work, and is on my recommended authors list. (It’s not a large list, but the writers are blue-bloods) I am working on a 100 Must Read Tolkien Fanfic stories for my webpage and asking my favorite authors for their own recommendations. It will be a list that oozes quality when it is published.

    So, there are these people, quietly writing away, posting their work for *love*. They agonize, they edit, ask for opinions, they are exacting, and humble and do it all for love of writing, not money or public recognition.

    Reviews are wonderful of course, seeing read-counts go up is nice, having one’s story favorited is terrific, and awards are thrilling. But we write because we love writing in a specific universe.

    People have told me that my series could quite easily be tweaked into o-fic, but they’re missing the point. I love the massive and tragic history of Middle-earth; I want to write in that. I have never had any ambition to be a published author, only to write. I gave up o-fic because all I would have done is create a version of Middle-earth. When I started writing fanfiction I could have laughed, because *that* was where I wanted to be, and for twenty years I had resisted it.

    Now, I will review a story and have to wrestle the superlatives into some kind of order. The characterizations, the use of language, the depth, the imagery in the best stories leave me humbled, breathless and greedy for more. How many published works have done that? I could count them on the fingers of one hand. I read good fanfiction because yes, it is better than the vast majority of published books, and fanfic authors are giving me what I want to read. If I had the money I would have their works made into non-profit films, pay for the books to be published myself and give them away; the writing is too good to be thought of as second best to *anything*. It is an lode that is mined by very few, and is incredibly rich.

    I have spent 3 years on my ongoing series, and people ask me permission to write within it, to use my original characters and plots. That is incredibly flattering.
    The fanfiction of my fanfiction enriches it, and does not change the original in any way. I am absolutely ecstatic when some-one finds my characters, AU and plot interesting enough to want to use. It’s the ultimate accolade. And yes, I have worked as hard on my series as any published author. Any misgivings would not be money-related, but rather would I wish to see my characters portrayed differently to the way I write them? The way I see it, it does not suddenly change my series, and as a fanfic writer, I can hardly complain, can I ? d;-)

  30. I wonder how an artist would feel if they walked away from their canvas and returned to find that a fan had taken up brush and added their bit. I wonder how a singer would feel to have an amateur tone deaf fan release an album of the same name with their version of the hit artists song. I wonder how you would feel if you were in the middle of a creative process and someone came along and ran with your baby…. I don’t think that I would like it very much.

  31. Duh … I don’t know .. but I can tell you how I felt when someone dredged up a year old article and proceeded to make an clueless follow up post….

  32. Janet, you need to work on your analogies. People make copies of famous paintings all the time, even variations on them. They don’t dab over the original work. Fan fiction doesn’t do anything to change the original work. I never even heard of fan fiction until a couple of years ago. I’m not aware that my reading of Lords of the Rings or any other popular novel was affected then or now by the existence of fan fiction. No fanfiction writer would produce a book or story with the same name as the original, and nobody, unless they were brain-dead, would put out an album with the same name as another album, with their own cover versions.

  33. changeling46 // May 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm //

    Ah… I dasn’t use her charecters in anything on the web.
    And my journal Ms. G?
    Or my fantasies?
    Gotta keep those royalties coming in.

  34. Janet, those were horrendous examples. People base their works off of others all of the time whether they are books, songs, paintings, etc…It’s the way of life.

    Personally, I don’t see what the problem is because as said, writing fanfic does not change the original work. It could change a person’s perspective on how the see the characters, but it could never change the work. How could a person not be complimented by a fan wanting to expand their universe because they love it so much? We, the fans, know we can’t make money off these works and do it for free because we love it so much. It has nothing to do with lack of originality or laziness, but because we want more of the work that someone has created.

    There are some well-written fics out there that can put various published authors to shame, including Stephanie Meyers herself–but not really a good example. These fans put time and work into it and I’ve even cried at some of them, which is not an easy feat. These writers can evoke emotion and recreate the original piece and some writers treated them as if they are thieves. I’m glad that the fandoms I participate in embraces the fanfic world–even included a writer’s character in an episode. Without the fans, where would the artist be?

  35. I agree with everyone who says she comes across in writing, as a cold, snotty, bitch.
    Maybe she’s not that way in real life, but I doubt it. People are usually more true-to-form when they’re writing, than when they’re face-to-face, and the “be polite” filter kicks in ..I’ve been following her blogs/comments, etc. for years now, going back to her Compuserve days, and have never noticed anything but snipey remarks ..

    . I love Outlander, it is a fantastic story — and it was kind of a letdown to find out that the author, is less than wonderful in real life… Can’t even correlate the story, with its maker. well, that’s life I suppose .. but if you read a work by someone, that blows you kind of really hope that the author is likeable as and learn :( I don’t read her books anymore; her attitude has spoiled the series for me.

  36. I still remember my shock at reading the ‘infamous’ blog post. This wasn’t a post about how the author doesn’t want to see any fanfiction based on her books, that was a generalised vitriolic attack on anyone who either reads or writes fanfiction.

    Any desire to even attempt to read “Outlander” series has been squelched and I suspect not just for me. The author loses out, not the reader. There are plenty of authors who prefer to write great books and can express their personal opinions without alienating their fans.

    I think what I’m trying to say is that fanfiction is here to stay on the Internet. Authors may hate it, ignore it or accept it, but they would not be able to eradicate it completely. I don’t know how I would react, if my original fiction was published and inspired people to write fanfiction. It’ll probably evoke the feelings of being very flattered and at the same time petrified that someone else is playing in my proverbial sandbox, even if they don’t make any money out of it. As a fanfic writer and reader I’d know that I can’t stop it. So why make enemies of people who love my work?

    P.S. Jim Butcher has a very sensible approach to fanfic, which many protesting authors should at least consider before descending into vitriolic ‘blog posts ala Gabaldon’.

  37. Gabaldon as a human being seems arrogant to me… My simple two cents is this: if as a writer you’ve got people interested in both reading and writing about your characters, then you should pat yourself on the back, not lambaste those fans who admire your work. They do say imitation is the greatest form of flattery for a reason. If I was ever fortunate enough to have fans of my writing I would feel beyond tickled if they wanted to write fanfic! I don’t think anyone’s becoming rich off of it. Have a heart, woman!

  38. I think it’s sad and unfortunate on her part that she thinks this, most of the people that write fanfiction are young adults which are most likely devastated by her opinion. As soon as I watched the first episode I was in love with the characters and wanted to read more since I didn’t find any fanfic I assumed the series was unpopular. I never would have dreamed an author would be against free publicity look at all the cult favorite books and shows that have fanfic (harry potter, twilight, naruto, inuyasha, bleach pretty little liars, vampire diaries the list goes on) I’m just dumbfounded and I think the whole thing is silly

  39. I think D. GABALDON forgot that she based the character of Jamie on a Dr. WHO character. That is fanfiction in my book. Terribly snobbish of this writer of one of my favourite books. But then I understand more how Claire’s annoying traits came about…

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