This is going to be embarrassing.
A few years ago, I got involved in a “course” regarding fan fiction. I wanted to see all about it. It was “taught” by a woman who was heavily and I mean heavily into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She had written a few novels based on one of the characters from that show (which I never liked) and had apparently won a few “awards” for her writing. There were other people in the course who wanted to write characters based on “Supernatural” and I believe one who wanted to do fiction based on “Dexter.” I’ve never seen those shows…I scarcely watch TV, but if I was going to partake of the experience I decided to do it on the one show I do watch…going back to my college days more than 35 years ago: Doctor Who.
Yes, I am a Doctor Who nerd of the first order…but that’s not the embarrassing part.
Anyway, I wrote a tale of the Doctor and his companion meeting up with Charles Chaplin in Hollywood and battling a horde of zombies who look like Chaplin. I thought it was an interesting idea–but it was lousy in execution and I darn well knew it. When I turned it in, the Deep Space Nine freak told me I didn’t seem to know much about writing fan fiction–and frankly, I’m not interested in writing fan fiction.
I’m not interested in writing about other people’s characters–I like my own–and frankly, writing adventures about characters you already know, worrying about “Canon” and “non-canon” and all of those things strikes me as literary necrophilia. Even worse are those who insist on writing pornographic tales, known as “slash” in fan fiction, aka Kirk and Spock get frisky in the biblical sense. Fan fiction is often amateurish and a bore–I can attest to that from my own experience in failing miserably at it. That’s not to say someone can’t make a good living on “reinterpreting” someone else’s inventions. Gregory Maguire has done well by taking Oz’s Witches and writing “Wicked” and turning it into a musical. As of late he’s taken Alice of “Alice in Wonderland” and written a “re-imagining” of “Through the Looking Glass” for another best seller. Still, I bet few authors care if they rob someone else’s grave if it pays off for them. I just think it intellectually dishonest. Yes, I do often use characters based on real people in my “silent movie stories,” but they were real people and not someone’s literally creations. I also don’t write “About” them, I write about people and events “around” them. I think it makes the work a bit more original than writing about Luke’s unknown half-brother who secretly aids him against the Empire. (Word has it that Disney will sic its lawyers on anyone who even attempts unauthorized fiction based on Star Wars characters.) My attempt at writing fan fiction didn’t work because I simply couldn’t take it seriously.
But that’s not the embarrassing part either.
The weird thing about fan fiction is its one commandment: Do not pull a “Mary Sue.” For those not in the know, a “Mary Sue” is a character in Star Trek fan fiction that is the central figure in the story instead of the established characters like Kirk or Picard; or a character that is somehow too perfect and lacks any weaknesses or shortcoming; or, most commonly an “avatar” for the author, allowing them to interject their own fantasy interactions with their fictional idols. As the vast majority of fan fiction authors are female, the character is known as “Mary Sue,” although there is a male counterpart: the “Gary Stu.” In fan fiction, writing a “Mary Sue” is the quickest way to lose any of your credibility as a writer.
Now for the embarrassing part: I have a Mary Sue/Gary Stu in my skeleton closet.
Not in the fan fiction sense, but plainly in the avatar sense. I wrote a draft of novel where the main character goes out to Hollywood and becomes involved with Pola Negri as friend and confidante during her rocky relationship with Charlie Chaplin. He pushes her towards Chaplin with the idea that the Tramp can help her career, then is appalled when they become engaged and schemes to break them up. Embarrassing to say I based that character on myself and what I would do and came up with ultimate Mary Sue.
The manuscript had its moments, but was overall poor, and worse, juvenile like a middle school love letter. I don’t show it to anyone lest I burn whatever credibility i have to the ground. Whenever I am tempted to write anything like it again, I try to remember how ghastly all it turned out. With all due respect to the Everly Brothers, do not lose your heart to a Mary Sue…or was it Runaround Sue?