Went to see “Twelfth Night” last night, as part of New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park theater productions. It was wonderful — Anne Hathaway did a phenomenal job as Viola/Cesario, the music was beautiful, and the whole production was side-splittingly hilarious. Considering that I had to get in line at 5 a.m. that morning to get tickets, and then didn’t get home ’til 2 a.m. after the play that night, the production was very much worth the lost sleep.
That said, though… as I watched the play, I found myself wanting to know more about the characters and their relationships — both the ones depicted and the ones that weren’t. What were Sebastian and Antonio up to all that time they were together after his rescue? Why did Duke Orsino take so quickly to the idea of Viola as a lover — even while she still looked enough like Sebastian to pass? Was Lady Olivia really fooled by Viola’s crossdressing, or was she genuinely interested in Viola as a boyish-looking woman? And poor Malvolio; what would’ve happened if Olivia had wanted him, given their differences in station?
Yeah, that’s right: I’ve got a hankering for Shakespeare fanfic.
Uh-oh; I’ve invoked the dreaded f-word. I’ve been a reader and writer of fanfiction for many years now, though most of mine was done waaaaay back in the 20th century, in fandoms that most Westerners have never heard of (Japanese anime, manga, and video games). I’m aware of the controversies regarding fanfiction in the English-language pro-writer sphere; a lot of professional authors regard fanfic as a threat to their copyrights, trademarks, etc., and have been quite vocal in denouncing it. And yeah, I’ve heard the cautionary tales, which are frequently raised whenever the f-word debate rolls around. Legal troubles are a legitimate danger — but then, there’s always danger of something like that in our litigious society. I could get sued for the way I spell a character’s name; it’s not likely to get very far in court, but I’d still be out a few grand in lawyers’ fees. No way to avoid that, so I’m not going to spend all my time looking over my shoulder.
My views on fanfic are pretty much in line with those of the OTW; I think derivative works of a certain nature — a fannish nature — are fair use. And more than that, I think they’re beneficial. If readers write fanfic based on my work, that means they’ll probably read my work. If they get it from a library or a bookstore, that means more money for me. And sure, they might get it by borrowing a book from a friend, buying it used, or downloading an illegal copy from somewhere, none of which nets me any income. But for every person who does that to write their fanfic, there will be others who are inspired — possibly by that fanfic, or simply by the existence of a fandom — to go and buy my book. It’s free publicity that will last long beyond any marketing push by my publisher, or the most successful self promotion I might do. It could help keep my book in print longer. It could make me a bestseller, or at least keep me out of the midlist death-spiral. I won’t ever read those fanfics (can’t avoid lawsuits, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to paste a target on my forehead) but I do hope readers write material based on my work. Frankly, I’d be flattered.
Because my own experience with fanfiction is that it grows out of particularly vivid characterization, worldbuilding, and/or plot development by the canonical author. The canon isn’t always Shakespearean in quality — frequently the exact opposite — but there’s still something compelling enough about the source material that it leaves readers hungering for more. Dreaming about it. Babbling to friends about what they would do if they lived in that world, or met those characters, or ended up in a situation like my plot. And yeah, the really compelling stuff isn’t always in the canon overtly, but instead appears as subtext — reading between the lines, so to speak. The stuff that’s hinted-at but not there. There’s no guarantee that any fan interpreting this subtext will come up with the same explanations for it that the original author would; their interpretation might actually annoy the hell out of the author. But that’s OK. Because the fan wonders, and cares enough to speculate, and thinks deeply enough about the material to come up with a plausible answer to that speculation.
The egogasm I would get from knowing readers are that caught up in my stuff would probably make me explode.
Unfortunately, I won’t find out whether my novel is compelling enough to inspire fanfic for quite a few months. In the meantime, I’m going to need to keep busy. So, uh, anybody got any good Shakespeare ‘fic recs? Send privately if you’re embarrassed. I won’t tell!