Sorry for the radio silence lately.
The blogosphere was on fire yesterday with the news that apparently a piece of fanfiction (“Arcana” by Emily Brunson – the work has since been removed from the web) was on the long list for this year’s Tiptree Award (1). There are, of course, strong opinions on either side. Fanfic has been looked down upon for years – it’s a copyright violation (which is true), it’s not “real writing” (not quite so true), it takes no skill (untrue) and there’s a lot of crap out there (true of any art). The other side, well, they just argue the opposite. I (2) realized that there’s a fine line – if someone hires you to write, it’s no longer fanfic. But what’s the difference between a Star Wars fanfic and a Star Wars novel? Money, licensing, permission, and perhaps skill. I write professional fanfic when I write in established RPG worlds. I’ve written World of Warcraft fanfic and Exalted fanfic, technically.
However, the sticky situation comes up when you realize if the piece had won, then the author would have received things such as chocolate, a trip to the award ceremony at WisCon, and… money. That’s right. The author would have received money, making the “homage” copyright violation (something that’s usually accepted online) into a definite illegal commercial copyright violation.
People are questioning the credibility of the judges, as fanfic isn’t even considered “published”, was the piece good enough, should it be judged on writing or just gender exploration, etc. It’s an interesting situation. I have to admit that my opinion of fanfic has changed in the past years, but I’m still firmly in the camp that it should be seen as a hobby that hones writing skill and is fun to do, not something you can publish, no matter how good it is.
[EDIT- response from Debbie Notkin, chair of the Tiptree motherboard in the comments.]
(1) James Tiptree Jr. Award celebrates scifi that explores gender issues. The 2005 winner was “Air: Or, Have Not Have” by Geoff Ryman
(2)This was written by Mur, not Steve.