Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Grey Area

It's the New York Times #1 best seller, Amazon #1 best seller, the film rights have been purchased for a cool 5 million dollars, it coined the term 'mommy porn' and no one can seem to shut up about this book. If you don't know the book I'm referencing you might be living under a rock.

Fifty Shades of Grey has become the fastest selling paperback of all time beating out the previous title holder Harry Potter. Now how the title of 'fastest selling' can jump from children's genre to erotic romance is beyond me but that's not what I want to talk about.

The really saucy chicks don't even try to hide it on their e-readers!

It's no secret that Fifty Shades of Grey (and it's sequels Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed) were once free online Twilight fan-fiction. Meaning in the original draft Christian Grey himself was once Mr. Edward Cullen and of course Anastasia Steele was Bella Swan. Confused yet? Fan-fiction is a tricky thing if you've never read it, been interested or written it. It's essentially found-object art. Taking something from someone else and finding a way to make it your own.

For instance, back in the day I used to write fan-fiction some of which was based on the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So the idea is I didn't create the characters of Buffy or Angel or Spike but I can use them to build my original idea into a new story. Sometimes Buffy would still be The Slayer, other times she was a regular girl with similar characteristics. Get it? It's all about taking and making.

So to me, the question Christian Grey just Edward Cullen in witness protection? From what I understand, very little of the original fan-fiction story Master of the Universe (aka Fifty Shades of Grey) was changed before it was published under it's new name. Maybe only character names and renaming Forks Seattle. Does E.L. James still think of Edward when she's talking about Christian? And if so, what does that mean for Stephanie Meyer.

I can't say that I have even the slightest of answers for any of the questions I'm bringing up but the whole thing has me wondering. How is it not considered stealing, even just barely? How about Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter? He was a real man...that's someone's real identity. He was the sixteenth President of the United States and yet when you Google 'Abra' the first thing to come up is Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Do you think if he had living descendants today that this book or film creating a false history for him would've even been looked at by a publisher? (Side note: I have this horrible vision of my future child trying to write a paper for school about Lincoln and including the heroic details of how he not only freed the slaves but he also saved us from the vampires! Sigh.)

Are you f&%@ing kidding me?

Am I saying that E.L. James owes Stephanie Meyer money or something? No, because if I said that then I would have to say Stephanie Meyer owes L.J. Smith (The Vampire Diaries). And if I said that...well, hell, every author would owe someone something and we'd all be in debt up to our eyeballs to Shakespeare. I suppose it just goes to show that the place between inspiration and thievery, allusion and plagiarism is definitely a grey area*.

*clearly the pun is intended. Gosh.


  1. I have no desire to read these books. Have you read them??

  2. I think it says something sad about our society that you google "abra" and a movie comes up instead of historical facts...

  3. I always enjoy the ongoing debates about fan fiction and fan derived art in general (this is Kate's sis, btw) - we were fannish types together. I wrote my first "fan fiction" in elementary school - a Sweet Valley High story that took one of my favorite novels to a much darker place than Francine Pascal ever did. I enjoy fan works for their own sake, but you are spot on, Kate, that the issue comes up when fan inspired work gets reworked and published.

    The author of AL:VH is the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Which I have also read. And enjoyed immensely. I also think that Jane Austen would have approved, but that's just me. I just started the audio of AL:VH and so far its actually hilarious and captivating. Having read many bios on Lincoln, its just wonderful to see the interweaving of fact and fiction. Is this fan fiction? Derivative art? Homage? Not sure.

    Then we have EL James and others like Cassandra Clare (City of Bones). I read all of Clare's fan fic (Cassie, we called her) which was Harry Potter based. Her City of Bones was not a fan fic per se, but like all her work, contains numerous tropes, archetypes and lifted lines from other works. She loves to paraphrase Buffy and borrows heavily from Star Wars. I know of other authors who have taken AU stories (Alternate Universe - these are characters you know, but not in the world you know them) and converted them into original pieces. Sometimes it works and you'd never know. But every so often, I'll read something and wonder if the heroine was originally Sookie Stackhouse, or if the hero was Leroy Gibbs in a former life.

    I know authors who support fanfic. Cory Doctorow is a major advocate for fan fic and has made great arguments that this is just a modern version of the oral tradition of hero tales. On the other hand, Orson Scott Card takes offense at the very idea. Is it plagairism? I don't believe so. I think its a new way of looking at archetype and a wonderful way to work out some writing muscles.

    As for 50 Shades? I don't avoid it because it was Twilight Fan fic, but because, from the few paragraphs I've read....its crap.:)