Spanked for Fanfic Rant

I raised the ire of the DorothyL moderator, Diane Kovacs, for the following exchange about fanfic which, as those of you who read my blog know, is one of my pet peeves. She sent me a warning saying she didn’t appreciate my comments and is now reviewing all my posts for appropriateness before deciding whether add them to the digest. Here are the exchanges that upset her (I’ve cobbled them together into one long post here). You be the judge. The first one, by the way, is a response to a comment of hers…

But, most of the fan fiction I’ve read is written for joy/practice/praise/ or because we want more of that author’s ideas.

How is appropriating an author’s characters “praising” his ideas? In fact, you’re doing the exact opposite… you’re showing your lack of respect for their ownership of their own creations by stealing them. Unless the author says you may use his characters, fanfic is indefensible.

I thought David Klass’s screenplay of James Patterson’s Kiss The Girls was much better than the novel. Stanley Kubrick made the Shining a classic movie even though Stephen King hated it and re-did it in 1997 which by all accounts was a ho-hum

As I’ve said before, there is a big difference between being hired to adapt an author’s work for another medium and stealing his characters for original “fanfic.” With an adaptation, the author is compensated for his work and has given his permission for its use in TV or film. There is no comparison between this and the odious practice of “fanfic.”

In the case of television, the way you get an assignment is to write a spec script… a sample episode of a series (We go into great detail about this in my book, Successful Television Writing… and what seperates a good spec from “fanfic”). Aspiring television writers (or should I say “pre-produced” ??)
need to write a spec episode because that’s how you audition. You have to show the writer/creator of a series that you can capture the voice of his characters and the tone of his show. The only people who sees these scripts are agents and producers.

Again, there is no comparison between this and “fanfic.” For one thing, they are entirely different mediums. And for another, you write a spec episodic script with the permission of the creators of the work for the sole purpose of obtaining an episodic assignment.

And exactly how many of Shakespeare’s plots were original?

Jim, you’re not REALLY comparing Shakespeare’s plays to “Babylon-5” fanfic are you??
You can’t possibily put “Buffy” and “Star Trek” fanfic on the same level with HAMLET. I wouldn’t put them on the same level as Hamburger Hamlet.

There’s good fanfic and there’s bad fan fic. Shakespeare’s stuff is often so good that we don’t even think of it as fanfic.

You know how much I respect you but…. there is no good fanfic. Yes, that’s a blanket statement and I stand by it.

Fanfic is the appropriation of someone else’s characters and using them in a story of your own without the permission of the author. Fanfic is also, by and large, hideous garbage… go to one of those fanfic websites and look at some of that slop, most of which involves characters who aren’t romanticall
involved in the TV series jumping each other’s bones (Spock & Capt. Kirk, Mulder & Scully, etc) or meeting characters from other TV shows and movies (Darth Vader vs the crew of the Enterprise).

Comparing this drivel, the appropriate of TV and movie characters in fan-written stories, to Shakespeare is nonsense.

Under the ground rules we’re discussing here, Laurie King’s wonderful Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels are fanfic. You can’t say they’re not fanfic just because they happen to be really good.

There’s also a big difference between fanfic and using characters that are in the public domain.
I don’t think we’d be having this discussion if it was about Elvis Cole, Inspector Rebus, or Kinsey Millhone fanfic… you would be as horrified by it as I am. But somehow, this intellectual property theft is okay if we’re talking about TV or movie characters.

There is no difference between Star Trek “fanfic” and Harry Bosch “fanfic.” They are equally wrong and indefensible, in my opinion.

What is happening now is that the fanfic is on the web, unedited and uncritiqued. You can find it easily enough via Google. There are a few conventions where fanfic is available in print format, but most of the venues where fanfic was distributed are gone… as are the fanzines. *sigh*

Good riddance… I wish the same would happen to online fanfic sites, which are disseminating fanfic far wider than fanzines ever did.

I remember, years ago, when I took some writer/producer friends of mine on “Beauty and the Beast” to a science fiction convention and showed them some of the abundant “B&B” fanfic fanzines. To say they were shocked, horrified… and sickened… is an understatement.

If your criterion for condemning fanfic is that it appropriates others’ ideas, then by reduction, that which appropriates others’ ideas is bad.

It’s not the ideas, my friend, it’s appropriating the actual characters, relationships and situations… that’s not just bad, it’s intellectual property theft and copyright infringement in the most blatant sense.

how is fanfic different from me writing #21 in my Brady Coyne series

How would you feel if somebody started writing Brady Coyne fanfic… maybe got him involved in an affair with Harry Bosch. Or decided he was into S&M… and disseminated their version of Brady Coyne on the Internet? I think in that situation, as the creator of Brady Coyne, you’d feel very differently about your comment:

and who’s to say what somebody should and should not write?

Before the exchanges above got Diane upset, a teacher posted that she encouraged her students to write fanfic. So I asked her what she thought her students could possibly learn from the experience:

Teaching them to walk before they can run? Teaching them how to work with a ready-made environment and ready-made characters that they are already familiar with so that they can concentrate on other aspects of technique, like how to write credible dialogue? Teaching them, above
all, the importance of consistency – that they have to be true to those characters?

If my daughter’s teacher used “fanfic” as an approach to teaching creative writing, I’d be enraged… and would not only talk to the teacher about it, but the principal as well. Teaching kids to write by having them use characters from a TV show or a movie doesn’t “teach them to walk before they can run,” it teaches them how to take short cuts, how to devalue another artists’ work, and how not to apply themselves creatively to a project. The “consistency” I want to teach my children doesn’t begin with using someone else’s work… it begins with having faith in your own powers of imagination.

A lot of the people who write fan-fiction scarely get round to reading books

I think that’s obvious… not only from how they write, but what they write. The last thing I would do as a teacher is encourage “fanfic” in any way, shape or form.

Chernuchin’s Book & Pilot Deal

Variety reports that former LAW & ORDER producer Michael Chernuchin has struck an unusual pilot deal at ABC. Not only has he landed a script order for “Expert Witness,” but a publishing contract, too.

“Expert Witness” is a sort of legal “CSI” that revolves around Roger Cleary, a thirtysomething coroner-turned-professional freelance forensic witness who works for both prosecution and defense cases. Cleary’s dad is in jail for killing his mom, and that crime inspires his career.

Interestingly, even before ABC decides whether to greenlightgreenlight the project to pilot, Chernuchin has already sealed a deal with book packager Alloy to write a series of novels based on the lead character in “Expert Witness.” Indeed, the book deal predated the ABC pactpact.

“We sold the project to TV faster than we thought,” he quipped.

This may be the first time where the “TV tie-in” novel was sold before the TV series. Chernuchin is also adapting the hit BBC series “Judge Deed” for NBC.

“Deed” focuses on a federal court justice in Washington, D.C., who is “totally moral in the courtroom by not so moral on the outside,” Chernuchin said.

“We’ve seen legal stories through almost everyone’s point of view but the judge’s,” he said. “When you see a judge on TV they’re usually just saying ‘sustained’ and ‘overruled.’ This gives me a whole different way to think about cases.”

I guess he doesn’t watch JUDGING AMY, either. And he missed THE COURT, FIRST MONDAY, and QUEENS SUPREME… just like most of America.

Boston Legal

I loved the last season of THE PRACTICE, which pitted amoral lawyer Alan Shore (James Spader) up against the dull, self-righteous, sanctimonious regular characters who survived David E. Kelley’s big cast purge. The last few episodes introduced William Shatner as pompous, egotistical, and perhaps demented lawyer Denny Crane. The episodes were funny, sharp and surprising. I wish I could say the same about the spin-off, BOSTON LEGAL. What made it work last season was the contrast/conflict between the deadly-serious old PRACTICE characters and Spader, who undercut them at every turn. But in this series, everybody is wacky and broad… there’s no one left for Spader to play off of. And without those “serious” characters to ground things, Shatner’s Denny Crane also loses most, if not all, of his comic punch. That said, I thought critic Robert Lloyd summed up the pleasures of watching Spader & Shatner at work…

Spader’s Alan Shore is a kind of happy, unflappable sociopath — perfect qualities for a trial lawyer, one might say — given to dumb smiles, soft-spoken barbs and an unhurried, deliberate way of moving. Whereas most television characters are constructed and played so that you know exactly what they’re thinking as they think it, and what they’re going to do before they do it, Shore (though you can at least expect him to do the right thing in the wrong way) remains enigmatic. By giving up so little, Spader makes him that much more interesting.

Spader’s appeal is peculiarly nonsexual; his real chemistry here is with Shatner. Indeed, there’s something sort of Kirk and Spock about them — Shatner puffed up like a blowfish, Spader deadpan and not quite of this Earth.

Aged an unbelievable 73, Shatner delivers a typically big performance, but one perfectly appropriate to a character who conceives of himself as larger than life. Yet at the same time, it’s his most modest work ever. Shatner has an unusual ability to play off his own pompousness, which makes him extremely likable, and for all kinds of reasons, not the least of them having to do with one’s memories of earlier Shatners, he is a joy to watch — that certain joy of watching the actor and the character at the same time.

West Hollywood Book Fair

I spent the day yesterday at the West Hollywood Book Fair and had a great time talking shop with my friends Steve Cannell, Gar Haywood, Ian Ogilvy, Nathan Walpow, Michael Mallory, John Morgan Wilson, Denise Hamilton, Gregg Hurwitz, Bill Fitzhugh, Jerrilyn Farmer, Bob Levinson, Barbara Seranella, Lee Lankford, Gary Phillips, Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier and Peter Lefcourt.

I also ate a couple of Joanne Fluke’s cookies and talked with lots of mystery fans.

That said, I think I sold a grand total of four books. Most of the other authors I talked to did about as well…or worse. It was strange…the fair was packed, but people just weren’t buying books. Several of the booksellers I talked to were also disappointed.

The only only authors who seemed to draw crowds were Clive Barker and Pamela Anderson’s breasts.


I’m gonna be scarce around these parts next week… I’m heading off to Bouchercon , the world mystery convention, in Toronto on Wednesday morning and will be staying up there until the 12th. Toronto is also where we shoot “Missing.”

If you’re attending, I’ll be on the Page & Screen Panel at 3-4 pm on Friday, Oct 8th I’ll also be attending the Mystery Writers of America reception at 5:30 pm. And I will be keynote speaker at the Sisters in Crime Breakfast benefitting Metro Toronto Literacy project at 7:30 am on Saturday, Oct. 9th, in room 107. Sara Paretsky will be the host.