Thursday, July 10, 2014

J.K. Rowling, Fan Fiction, and Everything Authors Leave Out of Their Books; a guest blog by Paul Doiron

Kathy Reel is the winner of Anna Lee Huber's A Grave Matter! Kathy, please contact Anna at annaleehuber dot com.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  I don't have to say too much to introduce Paul Doiron, do I? He burst onto the mystery scene four years ago with The Poacher's Son, which introduced Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch and nabbed a brace of prestigious nominations and awards, including the Edgar and the Nero.  

Fast forward to today. The fifth Mike Bowditch novel, The Bone Orchard, launches next Tuesday to rave pre-pub reviews (I can add mine to them; Paul slipped me an ARC last month and I read it in one sitting. Really good stuff.) What's Paul going to talk about? Moose? Maine state parks? 

How about J.K. Rowling and fanfiction?

Like most authors, I probably think as much about the things I don’t put into my novels, as the things I do. My new book, The Bone Orchard, is the fifth in my series about headstrong but big-hearted Maine game warden Mike Bowditch, so I’ve come to know a lot about him, not all of which has yet made it into the stories themselves. With each new novel, I fill in a little more of Mike’s unwritten history. 

So for instance, in The Bone Orchard I flash back to his first year as a warden to give him a friend I’d never mentioned before—a young man Jimmy Gammon, who is on his way to Afghanistan as an MP with the Maine National Guard. He returns home badly wounded and suicidal (a very real crisis among our returning vets), and the violent confrontation he provokes at the beginning of the book is the catalyst that triggers everything that follows in the story.

In my notes about Mike, I have many details about his past, but no matter how many more books I write, I know I’ll never fill in all the gaps in his back story. And that’s the way it is with every fictional character. A single author can only write so much. 

The emergence of fan fiction is an organic response to this problem. Readers want more Bella and Edward and so they tell stories about them set in an alternate dimension of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight universe (and some of them get quite rich doing so). The same thing happens with movies (Star Wars) and TV shows (Star Trek). If you want to bring on a case of the vapors, Google “Kirk and Spock sex scene”—or better yet don’t. Poor Gene Roddenberry is already rolling in his grave. 

I’ve been thinking about fan fiction this week because of J.K. Rowling. Unless you’ve been holed up in a cabin deep in the Maine woods (and if so, I envy you), you’ve probably heard that the richest woman in England has come out with a new Harry Potter story. Like most sentient beings I am a Rowling fan (No, I won’t apologize for reading the Potter books as an adult. Nor will I begrudge Rowling’s recent forays into crime fiction under the pen name of Robert Galbreith.) The story itself — set sixteen years after The Deathly Hallows—didn’t do much for me, it was fun but forgettable, but I’ve been struck by the media response to it.

While many reviewers found it delightful, others responded with a collective “meh.” A few, including, Esther Breger writing for the New Republic, saw the story as part of an off-putting pattern of behavior with Rowling, in which she can’t help herself from continuing to fill in the holes she left in the original books:

Since ending the series, shes revealed that Dumbledore was gay, that Harry and his cousin Dudley reconciled, and that Harry and Voldemort were related by blood. You dont have to be a Barthesian grad student to chafe at Rowlings impulse to clarify the words on the page. When writers adopt the paratextual world of fanfic as their own, they both diminish their booksliterary authority and interfere with the freewheeling spirit of fan writing.”

The language in that paragraph takes me back to my comp-lit days at Yale, but I think it roughly translates to: “Rowling should either put this stuff in a new book or keep her mouth zipped because it’s confusing for readers to learn about a beloved character’s unexpected sexual orientation from an author’s offhand comment.”

Put another way: “This new story reads more like fan fiction than the work of the genius who created Hogwarts.”

What do you think about J.K. Rowling’s decision to keep adding back stories to the characters in her books? Should she leave more to the imagination of her readers, or are you grateful for any new tidbit about the world of Harry Potter? Do you think writers should keep explaining their books by filling in information that never made it onto the page? Or should they leave these holes to be filled in by the readers’ imaginations?

And for the Reds and my fellow authors out there: have you had anyone write fan fiction about your characters and if so, how did you feel about it?

No one has written fanfic about Mike Bowditch yet (that I know of, at least). If they ever do, I’m curious how I’ll respond to it. Will I feel possessive: like the fictional world I’ve created belongs entirely to me as the author? Or will I be open to letting my readers flesh it out with their own imaginings? I doubt I’ll know the answers myself until some fan writes a scene where Mike Bowditch and his beefy blond friend Billy Cronk get it on.


Paul will be giving a signed copy of The Bone Orchard to the commenter who provides the juiciest answer.

You can read more about the Mike Bowditch series, including excerpts from the books, at Paul’s website. Like his page on Facebook or follow him @pauldoiron on Twitter.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I heard on the news that J. K. Rowling had written a new Harry Potter story and posted it on her website . . . which promptly crashed as a result of too many fans trying to access the story . . . and heard her comment in an interview that she “hadn’t really gotten Harry out of her system, after all.” My immediate thought was that at least she was writing something . . . I find her propensity to tell about her characters in a conversation rather than in a book to be . . . well, annoying. These bits of revelation don’t necessarily mesh with how I’d viewed the characters from reading the books and, with no story to surround them, I find them more aggravating than insightful.

    I have mixed feelings about fan fiction --- it can be good, but it always runs the risk of alienating other fans. After several books, I have a set of expectations for the characters which I’ve developed from the author’s stories; when fan fiction is at odds with those expectations, it is difficult to accept, even if the writing itself is good.

    Congratulations on your new book . . . I’m looking forward to reading The Bone Orchard . . . .

  3. I haven't read the new Potter story yet but I don't mind that Rowling wrote it. I think it's kind of fun.

    I don't like fan fiction. I feel the characters are the author's and it's not right for others to give them life. I know several authors who won't go near fan fic. I'm curious as to what the Reds think.

    Have a good time in Boothbay this weekend and best of luck with the launch of THE BONE ORCHARD.

  4. Hi Paul, your post reminds me how much I enjoyed your first book--I'd better hurry to get caught up!

    Honestly, I've never read any fan fiction and I'm pretty sure none has been written about my characters:). I see it as a sign of great admiration, though I tend to agree with Joan and Marianne--how does someone else know what the writer had in mind? I think it must be a little like watching a movie based on your book.

    What do you think Hallie?

  5. Just interrupting to say
    I always love when people ask me about Jake and Jane--will they get together, they want to to know? ANd I have NO IDEA.

    It would be fun to read what someone else wrote about that..but kind of--bizarrely unreal. I mean--it's not authentic unless I write it.

  6. I heard about the Rowling story and read it. I don't care that she wrote it - but yes, just write a whole book. The "gossip column" approach wasn't my cup of tea. I'm romantic enough that I really don't like the snarky innuendos about characters I like when it can't be wrapped in something bigger. So meh from me as well - although like you, Paul, I am a Rowling fan and will not apologize for a yearly re-reading of the entire Potter series. And I'm still trying to get to her crime fiction.

    As for fanfic, well, needless to say I'm pretty sure that my characters are still my own. But in general, I tend to agree with Joan and Lucy/Roberta. It would be gratifying as an author if my characters resonated so much with readers that they felt compelled to "fill in the gaps," but they are MY characters. As you said, I know more about them than will probably ever be on the page and to read someone else's interpretation might be more than a little disconcerting.

  7. I have always felt that fan-fiction was fine as long as the writer is doing it for themselves (or a close circle of friends).

    Who among us never played as a child, acting out scenes from movies, tv shows, books, that never really happened, but that we connected with and wanted to explore further. Writing those stories is no different (and I do suspect that we'll see quite a few more future authors that have come from the fan-fic world). It's a way to hone the craft.

    I don't like the Internet access to this fan-fiction however. These characters still "belong" to the author who created them and I would prefer that they remain that way. At least while the author is still exploring those characters themselves.

    Most of the Holmes pastiches are really nothing more than well written fan-fiction after all. But Mr. Holmes is now in the public domain.

    (I stand by authors like Diana Gabaldon, who do not condone fan-fiction based on their work and have actively stated their feelings.)

  8. After I finished writing this post (nice illustrations by the way, Julia!), I came across this piece on Grantland comparing Rowling with George Lucas who has also had trouble letting his characters go. I can sympathize with both of them; I'd love to be able to go back to my books and tinker with them. But my philosophy is that you just learn your lessons and move onto the next one.

  9. I, too, am an unabashed JK Rowling fan. I'd like to add that her new 'story' was written as part of the content that she contributes to Pottermore, her online Harry Potter website in which players get sorted into houses at Hogwarts, go through the books chapter by chapter as interactive games, learn to do spells, mix potions, etc. So, that's the context--she's adding to the Harry Potter universe, if you will, not just creating these tidbits willy-nilly.

    As for fan fiction--is anyone familiar with Andre Norton's Witch World? I loved her original novels with this setting. (And many of her books with other characters and settings). Then a whole crop of new books came along, co-authored by a variety of names. They read like fan fiction and I didn't feel that any of these came close to the author's original vision of the characters.

    Spock and Jim sex scene??? O-kay, some things should stay in the fan's imagination!!!

    And how have I missed your series, Paul? Now, h-m-m-m, what if there was a plane crash in Mike's territory. And it was winter. And the survivors were three Swedish stewardesses.....

  10. Paul, I agree with your comment about learning lessons and moving on, but the temptation to keep tinkering is still there!

    My sister once wanted to spin off two of my characters into fan fiction. I did NOT like the idea! Maybe that has more to do with sibling rivalry...

  11. Hi Paul, and so interesting! I did read the story and thought it was a tease, the sort of things us less famous authors might do when we have a new book coming out. If she's thinking she might write more real Potter books, I'm okay with it. Otherwise it's "meh" and I always disliked the Reeta Skeeter voice.

    And I do wish she wouldn't "reveal" things about the characters. Write another book and put it in the story if you want readers to know it!!!!

    I have to admit I've never been tempted to read or write fan fiction. And although I suppose it would be flattering, I feel very uncomfortable with people messing about with my characters--at least people that I don't know and who don't have my legal permission.

  12. Juicy, juicy, juicy. (Is that juicy enough or do I need to add juicy a couple more times?)

    An author can do whatever they want with their creation. That includes a short story years later. Or a new book years later. I haven't read the new story yet, but I need to do so since I enjoyed the books and the movies.

    (This adult also reads middle grade books frequently, not just Harry Potter. There's some good stuff in that genre. Although I was late to the Harry Potter band wagon.)

    I'm not a writer, so no one has written fan fiction about my characters, however, I've written some. It's all been for the Trixie Belden series, a mystery series like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. I did do a cross over with the TV show Chuck as well. I've just done a few stories, but it's fun to visit the characters like that.

    I don't see myself writing fan fiction for much else. And Trixie has been out of print for so long, I don't see it being an issue. Do I worry about what the author had in mind? No! (For one thing, most of the series was written by ghost authors). I, and I think most fan fiction writers, write what they envision for the characters. It's one reason I'd never touch a series that is currently being written.


  13. I don't think JKR should write another HP book. It's over.

    What I think she is revealing is background or backstory info that didn't make it into the published stories. The insatiably curious readers who know they'll never get new Harry stories may have to settle for what she'll reveal from her character studies or left out scenes. I am fine with that--I actually find it interesting, as a writer, to read about her considerations and choices.

    What FChurch says about the new pieces it true--it's for the Pottermore site. More Potter. Consider it the equivalent of a blog post. And, for the record, JKR did not write that snarky piece, Rita Skeeter wrote that snarky piece. :-)

    As for the Kirk and Spock sex scene, DON'T Google twincest. Or Twimoms.

  14. Hi, Paul - I'm a huge fan. So glad to see you here...

    I confess, I ran right over to Pottermore when I heard about the Rita Skeeter "column." My little Potter fix. I take it where I can get it.

    There's a whole surge of books that pick up where long *dead* authors left off (Jane Austen, Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, RB Parker...) why can't living authors plunder their own works before death parts them from us? And what a gift that anyone cares!

  15. Fanfic. Oh, my, I cut my teeth on Star Trek fanfic. During the hiatus between the end of the original series and the first Star Trek movie (the one where they wore those white pajama uniforms), Gene Roddenberry encouraged fanfic as "the lifeblood of the movement" to bring the series back.

    In those days, there were fan conventions where people sold their fanzines (offset printed) in the dealers' room. (I made a bundle selling zine bags made out of brushed denim printed with Star Trek icons that someone had given me. People would buy so many zines they couldn't carry them, and were delighted to purchase my sturdy shoulder bags, designed to hold a large telephone book or multiple fanzines).

    There was a lot of "slash fiction" where certain groups of fans wrote about various combos of the crew getting it on. Uhura/Spock (that's actually part of the new prequel movies), Uhura/Sulu, Christine/Spock, and of course, Kirk/Spock, known as K/S. (There is also a subgenre of fanfic called hurt/comfort, where one character is wounded/blinded/maimed, and the other nurses him/her back to health, and love ensues-- and some K/S is crossover H/C).

    I got rid of all my fanzines decades ago. Most of the K/S porn (yeah, I guess there is no other word for some of it) was written by women. This was of course before you could find ANYTHING on the internet, so a lot of it came from their imaginations, and it was erotic as all get out, but it might not have been physically possible.

    The Lucasfilm folks came down on SOME but not all of the Star Wars fanfic created after the first movie, and it was only after we discovered that Luke and Leia were siblings that we realized that they were sending cease and desist letters to L/L love stories, but not to others.

    I represented a well-known science fiction author back in the Nineties (she's dead now), and one of the things she was concerned about was fans writing fanfic in her universe that might parallel a story she had in progress, and then the fan would complain about the author stealing their ideas or infringing their copyrights.

    Here's the thing about rights: As the creator of a work, one of the rights you own is the right to prepare derivative works based on the original work. BUT you do not own the copyright in the derivative work if you don't write it (or commission it). This creates a circumstance where the writer of the fanfic can't publish it without the original author's permission, but the author can't use the derivative work (or anything derived from it) without the fan's permission.

    Big bucks can be involved here, so as a copyright lawyer, I'd say don't allow any fanfic, and tell everyone you find writing it to cease and desist. On the other hand, the first Star Trek story I wrote got me my literary agent, and won high praise from people high up in the Star Trek hierarchy. So as a writer, I'd say, do what your heart tells you (but don't publish it without permission).

  16. I have no issues with Rowling doing whatever she wants. I try to imagine the business end of it for her. Her world has taken on a life of its own in the real world -- she couldn't entirely let it go if she tried, I bet. Revealing bits and pieces might simply be fun for her.

    As for fan-fiction ... I'm not sure how I feel about it. Aren't the characters essentially the original authors' intellectual property. Seems like an easy way for other writers to try to ride the coat tails of success (if they're marketing their books to the public).

  17. Hallie, Jane Austen is long enough dead that no one can stop the fanfic. But the Conan Doyle estate still goes after a percentage (and control over the content). (See my post above).

  18. Ramona, I see it your way, that it's interesting to have peeks into J.K. Rowling's mind concerning what she intended or imagines the future holds for her characters. I don't think another book is required explain her leftover musings. And, Lisa, I agree that Rowling would find it impossible to completely let go of Harry Potter due to the demand of interest, as evidenced by Pottermore. Hallie, I laughed when I read you virtually ran right to the Pottermore page to read it. I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read it yet, because I am such a huge Harry Potter fan, but I have it earmarked and plan on doing so this weekend.

    Paul, it's great to discover you here on the Reds, where it seems to be a regular occurrence to present fantastic authors whom I'm amazed I've yet to read. I visited your Web site to look at all of your books, and I was rewarded with the rest of your books having great titles and covers as The Bone Orchard does. I have some catching up to do. Oh, and you have my favorite kind of author Web site, with extras to compliment your books. Mike Bowditch's Maine, Maine Game Wardens, and a Character Guide are just a few of the pages to enjoy.

    Spock and Kirk? Just don't see the chemistry there. LOL! I could more imagine Spock and Dr. McCoy.

  19. Mark, very juicy comment! That was Paul's direction - I was tempted to change it to "The winner of THE BONE ORCHARD will be the commenter who writes the best first line of Mike Bowditch fanfic."

    I may be unique in this discussion in that there is, in fact, Russ/Clare fanfic out there on the internet. The Smithie found it for me back when she was herself writing fanfic on LiveJournal, and I would up linking to it at my own blog, ReaderSpace (Joan Emerson will remember that!)

    My thought? It's enormously flattering. As a writer, if I create characters so vivid they live on in others' imaginations, yay! I've done my job. I don't read it, for the reasons Ellen Kozak outlines above, but I encourage anyone who wants to play in Millers Kill to do so.

    I also think there's an important writing lesson in what Paul's saying today. A writer should know more about his or her characters than is revealed on the page. I believe that gives the characters more depth, in the same way that a method actor gives a more nuanced performance by understanding more of his or her character's back-story than is revealed onstage.

    What do the rest of you writers think about this?

  20. Kathy Reel,

    Don't worry, there's plenty of Spock/McCoy fanfic out there. Also Kirk/Spock/McCoy, Kirk/Spock/Uhura, Spock/Uhura/McCoy...basically any configuration you can think of.

  21. Hahaha! Truly there is fanfic for Spock and McCoy? And the three, too? So funny, Julia! And, fanfic for Russ and Clare? Hmm. I don't want my Russ and Clare stories coming from anybody but you.

  22. Julia,
    I discovered some Russ and Clare fanfic online and was so horrified by both the storyline and the terrible writing I've never gone back. I want to know how YOU develop your characters and plot. (Although if you ever want to discuss possibilities over coffee with teaspoon after teaspoon of sugar, I'm ready!)

    As for JKR, whatever fuels her creative process, I say "let it rip." The only books I've read more times than the Harry Potter series are Julia's and Little Women.

    Paul, I love your books and I'm delighted you have another coming out. I'm scheduled for a big heart operation so you should let me win so Mike can keep me company in the hospital. I'll come out of anesthesia faster just knowing your book is waiting for me!!!!! In fact, this could be a plot line: woman coming out of anesthesia calls repeatedly for Mike, but when she is fully awake has no memory of calling his name, or why.......

  23. Okay, here's my fanfic story which doesn't exactly fit the question you asked, Paul.

    As a long-time, true-blue fan of Trixie Belden, I never really accepted that Jim and Trixie were destined soulmates. I knew that by the time she hit 18, she'd realise the one, one man in the world for her (and me) would be ..... Regan. The groom. (In The Gatehouse Mystery, his age is given as 22, so that makes him within the right age range, just barely.)

    So for my own amusement I wrote fanfic getting them together.

    And then I wrote a romance based on that fanfic (never published) changing the names and settings, but keeping the essential personalities.

    And then another. Now published under my pen name, Susanna Stone. It's, um, erotic. But I'll freely admit the couple in Informed Consent owe their existence to Trixie and Regan.

    A third is in the works. I just can't help myself.

  24. Okay, now that I've taken the time to read all the other comments, I see, Mark, that you and I must be kindred spirits.

    (and who did YOU pair off together?)

  25. I only approve of fan fiction in cases where authors have gotten distracted and left their fans hanging in the middle of a series. Listen up, George R. R. Martin! Someone is going to finish "Song of Ice and Fire".

  26. Julia, I do indeed remember the LiveJournal Russ and Clare stories; unfortunately, they seem to have been taken down . . . .

    My biggest "grumble" with fan fiction is that sooner or later it seems as though its writers feel compelled to ignore the universe in which the characters live with their real author. That means the characters in their stories begin acting in uncharacteristic ways, doing things they would NEVER do in the author's books. And that frustrates me . . . while I enjoy the creativity of the stories, it's awfully hard to accept the characters behaving in a way that is totally opposite of how the author has written them in the first place.

  27. If you define "fan fiction" as "a story that uses somebody else's characters and premise to create a new story," the reality is that it's everywhere, but if it's good enough, nobody calls it by that (pejorative) term. A few examples: The New Yorker's summer fiction issue includes "Here's Your Story," by David Gilbert, a story which fleshes out a particular angle from "The Brady Bunch." Jon Clinch's "Finn" explores a character Mark Twain barely bothered with, Huck Finn's father. Tom Stoppard's play, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," is a missing scene from "Hamlet." John Updike's "Gertrude and Claudius" is another riff on "Hamlet," including backstory as well as missing scenes. And then there's a little musical you may have heard of--"Wicked", also known as "backstory/prequel for 'The Wizard of Oz'."

    The primary objections to fan fiction tend to fall into two categories. First is "they're my characters, and you can't use them." I know exactly how that feels, because I wouldn't want anybody using my characters to create a story I didn't choose to tell. On the other hand, it means my work, my characters, resonated so much that the reader wanted more, and when I didn't oblige, she created it herself. It's difficult to be too offended by that even though I strongly prefer to maintain control over the stories in which my characters participate. (Yes, I have teensy control issues. Deal with it.)

    The second category is "they're my characters, and you can't abuse them." That's a rule I have no problem with. For reasons I do not understand, there's a boatload of fan fiction writers who like to turn non-sexual character relationships into sexual/fetishist ones. No. No. Absolutely no. That crosses the line. If you want to write about a pair of brothers having sado-masochistic sex with each other and a goat, make up your own damned characters. Don't steal mine.

    (And yes, you can find fan fiction with Kirk/Spock sex scenes. Ditto for the brothers in "Supernatural". And I once stumbled onto a West Wing fan fiction where Leo was spanking Sam. There are some weird people out there.)

  28. I haven't read any fan fiction. I only heard of it when I was reading one of Donna Andrews's books. The characters who starred in a fantasy TV show were reading fanfic outloud to each other and dying laughing about it. And some of it was pretty funny. There is a series out where Jane Austen is a vampire, turned by Byron I believe. Anyway she is lamenting all the books being written in her style or with her as a character and she can't sue or collect royalties. I think the first book is Jane Bites Back.
    I've read your first two books, Paul, and really liked them. I've got to get caught up on them.

  29. Love your books, Paul, & so does my husband.

    I do not read or write fan fiction. The whole idea does not appeal to me. It was a bit creepy just seeing Strider and Faramir (I think?) with Star Wars baddies.

    The internet has provided a place for such writing to get a wide audience, but it isn't for me.

    I understand what Hallie is saying here:

    "There's a whole surge of books that pick up where long *dead* authors left off (Jane Austen, Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, RB Parker...) why can't living authors plunder their own works before death parts them from us? And what a gift that anyone cares!"

    ... and for the most part I agree. But there is a serpent and apple thing going on in some of those cases. Authors are selected by "literary executors" of the deceased and I'm guessing that there is a good deal of money to be made by all, not to mention that being selected must be flattering.

    The Parker estate has authors commissioned for each series. I am a fan of Ace Atkins so, personally, I'd rather read a new Ace Atkins book than a pseudo Spenser book, but the Spenser books sell and probably introduce Ace Atkins to a new audience.

    I hope that The Black-Eyed Blond was a one-off for Benjamin Black/John Banville. It was entertaining and did a good job of being Chandler-esque, but give me Quirke and Dublin any day!

    That said, I know I'll be looking for Jill Paton Walsh's new Peter Wimsey and Harriet book the next time I'm in a book shop. I've read all of the original books many times and the JPW books are the only way I'll visit those characters again.

    Oh well - not very consistent.


  30. Susan,

    I'm afraid I have nothing juicy to share. I've really only written less than a dozen Trixie fanfic stories, and most of them are just the characters as they are with little to no romance. The couple of exceptions to that were the traditional couples (Trixie/Jim, Brian/Honey, Mart/Di).

    However, I'm very involved in a couple of Trixie Belden communities with plenty of fan fiction, and there are a few members who are Trixie/Regan fans. One even writes fan fiction with that coupling. I don't think anyone else does. There are several Trixie/Dan fans who write stories.

  31. Sharon, regarding literary executors and their non-existence, please see the post of June 6th of this year.

  32. Does writing a poem in university that tells the leadup to The Last Duchess from another viewpoint count as fan fiction?

    I got 100 on that assignment.