Further thoughts on fan fiction…

Yup, I’m still talking about it. And this time we’re talking about sex and the id and freaky stuff, so be warned! Be afraid!

My readership seems to be largely divided between “Oh, god, NO!” and “Come to the dark side, we have cookies!” on the fan fic front. (Reading, writing, doesn’t matter.) I find that funny, but also largely comprehensible. A month ago, I would have rejected fan fic with a wave of the hand–then I actually read some, and now I am…well, I feel somewhat different.

No, I don’t really know why.

And yes. If someone wrote Digger fan fic, I would go “Hmm.” And I’d like to think I wouldn’t read it, because that’s the healthy thing to do, but I might anyway, and presumably they’d find me turned to a pillar of salt at the keyboard later.

But I think now I wouldn’t freak out. No, not about Gearworld fan fic, either, although I really wouldn’t read it. See, what I fear most about Gearworld is somebody else laying claim to it and my having to leave–as long as Gearworld remains my sanctuary, other people loving it or connecting to it don’t bother me. The thought of it getting commandeered makes me psychotic, but homages don’t bother me–except that I wouldn’t read them, because it’s a shaky enough place in my own head that it would be too easy for somebody else to put their stamp on it. But I realize now, I wouldn’t mind. As long as it said “This is Ursula Vernon’s Gearworld, and she owns it”–well, people, mi sandbox su sandbox.

Frankly, I could understand people writing fan fic of Gearworld much more easily than I could a lot of other things. A lot of fan fic, as I’m starting to understand it, is about the stuff that gets in your head and under your skin. And shit, Gearworld gets in my head and under my skin–I can hardly blame other people if they felt the same way.

Pong fan fic, now–that’s just weird.

Okay, that was a digression. Back to…err…my main digression!

I went for a walk the other day. I do this frequently, particularly when writing (which I haven’t been doing since the shit hit the fan–although I was clipping along at a blinding pace right up to that–which is probably another essay for another day.) because for whatever reason, I think best when I’m walking. I can sit down at the keyboard and my fingers will simply not know what to say–but I get up and walk, and the feet apparently know. If I walk around the lake behind the house, a two mile stretch, I simply listen to the characters argue in my head, and that’s good.

So I was walking, and I started remembering when I did this as a kid. I’d wander around the backyard and just daydream for hours. Complicated stories and scenarios, largely inspired by whatever I was reading at the time. It was fantasy, as purely distilled as I imagine I will ever be capable of. I was maybe nine or ten. I actually wore a track in the grass from pacing and dreaming.

This sounds all very sweet and idyllic and creative, but brother, I can remember just the edges of some of those daydreams, and holy shit on a cracker, that was some fucked-up stuff. It was what Teresa Nielsen Hayden once called “all the magic stuff: Sex, power issues, identity issues, physical or emotional violence, revelation, transformation, transcendence, violent catharsis, and whatever else is a high-tension power line for that writer.”

There was definitely a lot of stuff that boiled down to sex. Not explicit sex, since I had only an abstract notion of what was physically involved there, but let’s not kid ourselves. Kids think about sex a great deal. It’s hard-wired in our species, and we’re a little bit scared of it, and of course it’s going to underlay our fantasies. But a lot of other stuff, in there too–power and identity and violence and torture and rape (and now we’re back to sex) and all kinds of weird shit, all wrapped up in what were my metaphors, which were…well, Star Trek and Pern and Swiss Family Robinson and Dragonlance and The Hobbit and Watership Down and all the other stuff that is dumped into the brains of young geeks.

Which made sense. Life was a clam, and those were the tools I had to shuck it with. Of course that was what my fantasies were made up of. But oh man…the things I did with those tools… my adult self cringes back involuntarily, but my nine-year-old self was fearless and went stomping through those black pits of the id with Anne McCaffrey under one arm and Trek novels under the other.

I think it was Stephen King, in Eyes of the Dragon, who said that children’s minds are like deep wells of clear water. And this is probably true on some levels, but oh, man, there are things down at the bottom of the well with lots of eyes and tentacles and squidgy slippery bits, and some of them have teeth as long as your arm.

And here’s the thing.

It is possible that I am weird. Okay, yes, I know, my art is very peculiar, but you may note that it’s not all that scary. The vast majority of my art takes place in a world that is rather oddly kind. If there are laws to my art, it’s that the smaller you are, the tougher you are, and the bigger and scarier you are, the more likely you are to be shy and civilized. (And then there’s Gearworld, which is getting back to this freaky monster stuff, and even I don’t go there lightly or often.) I don’t think anybody thinks I’m a raging pervert–even my delving into furry erotica resulted in some very mild cheesecake at absolute worst, and these days, I’m more like a freaky Beatrix Potter than anything really scary.*

It is possible that I am weird. Maybe I was a sick and demented child, to have these monsters in that well–but I doubt it highly. I’d bet that there are the same monsters in most wells–probably a little different in the number of limbs and teeth, but close relatives. If I’m unusual in any regard, I’ll bet, it’s that I can still remember the edges of some of these daydreams. Not well. There’s so few of them, a half-handful of images, and they’re stuck down like a wet coaster on a table, and I keep trying to pry up the edges and see if I can actually get a grip on them.

Thing is…I read some books, and I get an echo of all those old, dangerous day dreams. All that magic stuff.

And here’s the funny thing–either I love those books and keep them on my shelf forever and re-read them when I’m really depressed–

Or I dismiss them as absolute crap, a load of tripe, cheesy, contrived, usually degrading to women in the process, etc. And part ofthat’s probably because I was nine, and of course it was all dreadfully weird wish-fulfillment that was cheesy and contrived and, had it been written, would have been inconceivably puerile. Mary Sue doesn’t just hail from that country, she owns it. I was a pre-teen girl, and nobody wants to read anything that reads like it was written by a pre-teen girl.

But. (I have a point. I’m gettin’ there. Bear with me a little longer.)

I read fan fiction, and holy crap, I recognize some of those monsters there. I know that one, or at least his cousin. I’ve lived with that one. I’ve–okay, no, that one, you’re on your own. But that one over there? Man, that one and I are like this.  It’s a whole bloody genre–largely, yes, populated by teenage girls, which probably explains it–that has an infinitely higher percentage of…of that stuff…those monsters in the well hauled out thrashing into the light…than published stuff.

There was a really good essay about this– http://ellen-fremedon.livejournal.com/325780.html –coupla years back. She called it the ID vortex, and suggested it was because fan fiction, particularly the freaky and occasionally slashy stuff, has made an agreement with itself to suspend shame. It knows that there are monsters, and it knows that those monsters will be approached–and that a helluva lot of ’em are about sex, frankly, it’s the mommy monster at the bottom of the well, with fifty lazily blinking eyes and muck settling across its back–and out of this agreement, derived a vocabulary to talk about the monsters and rate them and develop a critical structure and a lot of other useful stuff. That the reason some of this is good is because the fandom has agreed that we can talk about it and not be horribly embarassed, within these constraints, and thus writers actually practice and get better at writing about the monsters. (On the other hand, still be desperately ashamed of your grammar. Yes.)

I cannot say that this is untrue. I am not well-versed enough in the genre to make any kind of call. I have gazed into the abyss, and it held up a plate of cookies, but I don’t live down there yet.

I do know that reading fan fiction, much like reading romance novels, is desperately shameful and I am badly embarassed by it because I know that I should not enjoy it. Internal censors scream “The person you are should not like this!”

Unfortunately, the person that I am does like some of it. Rather a lot. Even as I cringe a lot of times, sometimes I recognize old friends. I know those monsters! My inner nine-year-old, who once wore a track in the backyard daydreaming about some rather shocking things, understands some of these things much, much better than I do. I can only approach them obliquely–scare me too bad and I close the window and jump away from the keyboard as if burned…and then generally come back and read more. (If I were Lot’s wife, I’d probably have turned to salt in thirty-second increments over the course of a couple of hours.)

This is a very very strange thing to discover when you’re reading things that are generally about 50% likely to devolve into gay porn, believe me. (And has little to do with it, oddly enough–I did not, at nine, actually comprehend on any kind of level that homosexuality was something real people did. Like every other girl of my generation, I figured that out from Mercedes Lackey books, and at one point put down the book and went, “Um. Whoa.” while the universe carefully re-aligned itself around my newly expanded brain.) 

Maybe what the censors are really screaming is “The person you should be shouldn’t like this!” and in that case, they can get bent.

I don’t know.

I do know that I can’t speak too ill of it. I feel odd about that–what a weird set-up, so much bad writing, and yet…and yet…my inner nine-year-old keeps kicking meand going “Remember that? Remember?”

I don’t know.

It’s interesting to meet some of those monsters again. The waters get murky as we age, and we stop seeing them, except for the occasional flicker of a fin or the flash of an eye. It’s…interesting. And a little alarming. (Okay, very alarming.)

Why was I never meeting these monsters? Where have they been been? Why the hell should I find them, here of all places, sandwiched between–god, Lord of the Rings/Spongebob Squarepants crossovers?** Of all the places for a freakily familiar corner of the soul to be located, why there?

I suppose that’s just one for the ages.

*Yes, okay, the rocks. I am aware of the rocks.

**Yes. And yes. No, I didn’t read it. No, I won’t link to it. No. Stop asking.

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