So, a couple of days ago, I got an email with this little story in it from GalleyCat, about a book deal worth seven figures for a work that started out as Twilight fan fiction (Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture, by Sylvain Reynard). And no, I’m not talking about Fifty Shades of Grey. If you haven’t heard about Fifty Shades of Grey (by E L James), where the heck have you been for the past few months? It also started out as a Twilight fan fiction piece, albeit one of erotica.
However, these two works of fan fiction are not your usual, run-of-the-mill, only-read-by-fans-on-some-website fan fiction. Fifty Shades of Grey has been phenomenally successful. According to Wikipedia, “On 1 August 2012, amazon.co.uk announced that they had sold more copies of Fifty Shades of Grey than they had of the entire Harry Potter series combined, making E. L. James their best-selling author ever, overtaking J.K. Rowling.” And according to Reynard’s blog yesterday, Gabriel’s Inferno is #35 on the New York Times Bestsellers List (Ebook/Fiction).
My initial reaction to these two pieces of information isn’t exactly printable, but it amounts to something along the lines of “Are you freaking kidding me?!” Fan fiction is, by definition (again, Wikipedia), “fan labor regarding stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator.” So, these two writers were such huge fans of the Twilight series and its characters that they went out and wrote their own stories about these characters/this world.
Okay. I can understand that. I understand loving characters and a world so much that you just can’t bear to let them go. I love The Dragonriders of Pern. I have no idea how many times I’ve read that series and wished I could be a dragonrider. I can’t even put into words how much I love Gone with the Wind (and for the record, I’ve read that something like upwards of 20 times). Scarlett kicks a**, even if she is kind of clueless sometimes and makes me a little angry (Yes, I still get mad every time I read that book. Who in their right mind would want Ashley when Rhett is right there?). But I’ve never written any sort of re-telling of the story, or written my preferred version of what happened between them.
So, again, are you kidding me? Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe every writer has the right to write whatever they want, whatever moves them, no matter what anyone else thinks of it. But it bothers me that these two authors are making a substantial amount of money off of works that are based on someone else’s creation. Maybe they changed the names/locations/plots to distance themselves. Maybe the books, in their current incarnations, aren’t anything remotely similar to their original versions (I really can’t say. Apart from the brief bits in the GalleyCat links above, I haven’t read either of them.). Maybe these authors were so inspired by Twilight that they realized their dreams of writing a novel. However….
Writing something based on someone else’s creation would feel like stealing to me. On a personal level, I couldn’t do it. Writing a piece of fan fiction strictly for yourself is one thing. Writing it and putting it out there for others to read, even if it’s made clear that it is based on someone else’s work, is another. Yes, maybe imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but still, you took someone else’s work, changed it up, and called it your own. I read Eragon, too, and it’s similarities to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars bothered me immensely, so maybe this is my own personal problem, but what does everyone else think about this?