In which I talked about ejaculate at Princeton
This is going to be a post in two parts.
Part I ---
I was invited to speak with Anne Jamison's ENG 222 class on fan fiction at Princeton.
Yes, that Princeton. Yes, fan fiction.
Now, don't get me wrong; I loved my college experience. I loved my college and I loved my professors and I got to meet Gwendolyn Brooks. But when I went there it wasn't nationally ranked and it's a small liberal arts private school and, well, it wasn't PRINCETON.
And there I was, on a campus that smelled of Catholic church (Tiffany Reisz said marble and incense, but I always think "old stone, old wood, and fear") talking about why I found it necessary to use fan fiction to accurately describe a first experience of oral sex.
But we talked about what fan fiction is and isn't. I explained my very complicated distaste for Fifty Shades, not solely because of how it happened or that the writing is meh, but how much of it was cribbed from other fics. Fics that belonged to my friends. Fics that were better written. And that the irony of E.L. James so fiercely protecting something that was derivative in the first place -- not just of Twilight but of other fan fictions -- was forever a source of frustration.
The coolest thing about it is that I honestly feel like I learned more from the students than they learned from me. Two students interviewed me after class and asked some of the most insightful questions I've ever been asked about fan fiction. They were smart and asked things that were thoughtful, that showed an almost preternatural understanding of a publishing industry outside of fan fic that I struggle to grasp. What did I feel my responsibilities were as a fanfic author? What was it like being in fandom with a teen who was also in fandom? What did that bring to our parent/child relationship that isn't all that common?
What did it mean that the proliferation of published fanfic was het, when so much of the whole is slash? Where is the femmeslash? Most of the questions they asked had much larger ramifications in the larger world of media and what we consume and what we create. I hope they know these are conversations held at bars during cons and in DMs on Twitter. We want to know where the femmeslash is, too. We worry about who's reading our sex scenes and how much responsibility we have for those readers to be safe.
I know the intent was for me to share my experiences and my knowledge, but as many times as I've talked about and to the subject of fan fiction, this is the most visible it's felt. The most signifcant. And left me with the most to think about afterward.
I don't think it was just that I had a Guinness at a hotel bar where photos hang of alums like Justice Sotomayor and Michelle Obama. I think it was that people are taking us seriously. They're taking transformative works seriously. We're moving from the stereotype of angsty teens and repressed middle-aged moms into the real place in history. Shakespeare would not have existed without Marlowe. The New Testament would not exist without the Old. And whether you like it or not, the current state of the book industry would not be what it is -- for better or worse -- without Twilight fan fiction.
It's a very strange, and wonderful, place to be in.