Starting the obsession: Fanfic, the gateway drug to lesfic? by Kelly Aten
It doesn’t matter if you’re a gold star lesbian or a sensitive and insightful married father of two. No matter what flavor of person you are, if you love lesfic you got your start somewhere. Maybe you enjoyed your first taste perusing the back aisle of the local eclectic bookstore. Maybe you had a best friend who loaned you their favorite lesbian title, or someone in your gay social circle recommended Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.
As for myself, well my story was a little different. I was a reader early, voraciously tearing up anything I could find until my reading level started to exceed possible appropriateness for my age. That was how I got my very first taste of lady lit. Discovering my mother’s paper bags of sci-fi and fantasy books in her closet opened a completely new world of fiction for me. Those genres took me places that others were simply incapable of going. I was an awkward, nerdy girl and I reveled in the freedom that the written word could provide. It took me beyond the stars and far afield from the classics and the horse books I used to favor in elementary school. At the age of twelve, Robert Heinlein’s Friday was eye-opening and quickly became one of my favorite books. But sad to say I buried the initial Friday Baldwin girl/girl fascination until my twenties when I was given The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett. I was twenty-five and engaged to a man. <gasp> Oh yes, this butch geek girl had long hair and guy on her arm for about 7 years. So being given this book by a pretentious boss (who had no clue about what I actually liked to read) was probably the best thing to happen to me. I actually put it off for nearly six months before I read it. And I felt things that I’d never felt. The book became more that just special to me, it was sacred and I didn’t know why. It was just…something that touched me deeply.
So yes, I was ‘straight’ and lost, and more than vaguely dissatisfied and I had no idea why. I was from a small northern Michigan town and pretty clueless, and when I made it to a big bookstore I would take a typed list of my entire library to avoid buying a second copy of this book or that. Then I got injured and required knee surgery. That meant a month off work and four weeks of boredom. What was I to do? We had a local used book store so I started reading mystery books and some standard fiction when I became desperate for material. In a moment of starvation and randomness I discovered the internet. Let me say it again, I DISCOVERED THE INTERNET! No, not like Al Gore and all that business. I mean, I discovered the treasure trove of fiction mere seconds (Okay, minutes back in the day of dial-up) away from my fingertips. I found a few sites where I was able to read some sci-fi and fantasy. Some stories were good, and some were… just no. But see, that’s when things took a turn. My memory is a little fuzzy, but somehow I found my way onto a site that had fan fiction. I don’t even remember the site now, but I found comic book fanfic for comics that I collected at the time. (Sadly I am retired from such juvenile and awesome activities as comic collecting) And get this, you could choose any comic or character, any TV show or movie. You could look for sci-fi or fantasy stories, the world was unlimited! It was just a filter away from exactly what you felt like reading at the time.
That was when my world was shaken and left nearly unrecognizable, like the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius transformed the town of Pompeii. Everything I thought I knew was buried under a figurative layer of ash. I had my ‘before that moment’ and ‘after that moment’ memories. The ‘moment’ being the completion of my first story that had two female characters in a lesbian relationship. Nothing could have prepared me for the glowing incandescent light bulb that clicked on over my head. Suddenly my entire life made sense.
I scoured the web, tore through the fan fiction sites. I fell head first into Xena fanfic until I grew to love the characters and storyline and I had never even watched the show! I ended my relationship of 7 years, I started my life over, and I came to terms with being, and came out as, a lesbian. As I read more and more fan fiction, I got into something called ‘uber’ fanfic. That is the amazing thing where you take your favorite show characters (such as Xena and Gabrielle) and put them into other stories, situations, timelines, universes, etc. So just to put it plainly, I could choose ANY characters in ANY profession, with ANY plot design. It was like a build your own story for lesfic lovers. I even tried my own hand at writing the uber fan fiction and it was…not so good. (at least initially) But I made pen pals, I found other people who loved the same things that I did. And it was with those conversations and new connections that I was introduced to actual lesbian fiction books. Yes, Tipping the Velvet was one that was loaned to me, but I also began buying my own books. Works by the legends of lesfic, some of my first purchase were by Kate Calloway, Rita Mae Brown, Katherine V Forrest, Karin Kallmaker, and Marianne K Martin, just to name a few. And you wouldn’t think that it could get any better, but it did. Eventually, all those beloved X:WP (Xena) fanfic authors began publishing books themselves. All those wonderful uber tales were suddenly real and alive in my hands. They were little paper goddesses to be worshiped, smelled, with the corners folded and unfolded between my fingertips.
Now it has been nearly seventeen years since that initial ‘moment’ and all that came after. I’ve watched all the Xena episodes multiple times and actually own all six seasons on DVD so I’m no longer ‘faking’ it when I read or write fanfic. I finally topped out at one hundred and sixty-nine paper lesfic books (a mere 18% of my totally collection), but I’m at two hundred and fifty-one eBooks and counting. I’ve got easily thousands of fanfiction stories under my reading belt and I still frequent those sites as well. And it was fanfic that introduced me to my newest passion. I completed my first actual legit X:WP fan fiction tale, a post finale wrap up story. When I finished it I was shocked to see that it came in at just under sixty-seven thousands words and I said to myself, I can actually write! I was shocked, because it had been a long given up on dream. (Mostly because I sucked at it) But it was like that fan fiction story flipped some kind of switch inside of me and I’ve been writing ever since. In the past year and a half I’ve started writing my own books and have six full-length titles under my belt, and one novella. I’m aspiring though, and still searching for my ‘soul-mate’ publisher. A publisher who completes me and accepts me for who I am, and who I’m not. Looking back at my life, I was splashed a few times by this book or that, like sticking a toe in a deep pond. But fan fiction…oh it was the infinite and mutable universe of fanfic that really pulled me in and got me wet.
And the few things I learned in my journey from dipping to drenching are these:
- Feed the bard! If you like it, tell them. If you have suggestions for editing, tell them. We can’t get better without feedback.
- Review the books you love, and the ones you don’t love. For the same reason as number one.
- Share your love with all that you meet. Books should be shared around, loves should be learned and passed on, and lesfic should be revered for its ability to give voice to wide variety of women and their words.
I am a latecomer to the writing scene, only finishing my first novel in June of 2015. I am a reader more than a writer and juggle passion and responsibility every day. My writing style is as varied as my reading taste. But beneath it all, no matter the genre or setting, carry a core belief that good should triumph. I’m not afraid of pain or adversity, but I sure love a happy ending.
I have lived and worked in Michigan my entire life and I’m currently employed as a Technical Analyst at a large corporation.
“The true measure of success is in not being defined by your failures.”