Outlander, we have your woman!

Apparently it’s time for another edition of Authors Behaving Badly, this time starring romance author (only, don’t call her that, because she does not want to be shelved in the romance section) Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon, writer of the epic Outlander series, publicly clutched her pearls about fan fiction. And even before I clicked the link that was circulating all over the blogosphere, I thought, “Oh, this is NOT going to end well.”

Sure enough, a 300+ comment wankstorm awaited me, and while the passionate discussion therein is fascinating, it’s Gabaldon’s initial post that gave me pause.

…writing stories about characters whose creators are not only alive and kicking, but actively writing about those characters _themselves_…sorry, guys, it’s just not on.

Yes, Gabaldon thinks that if you write a derivative piece based on the work of someone still alive you are “abusing or offending the original author.” But, hey, if they’re dead and moldering in their graves, it’s TOTALLY FINE. She expands on this thought farther down in her post, explaining why the thought of Outlander fan fiction is so abhorrent…

I wouldn’t like people writing sex fantasies for public consumption about me or members of my family—why would I be all right with them doing it to the intimate creations of my imagination and personality?

You know what, there are many, many cases where authors interacting with their audience is just a bad idea. Where you just think, “Take a deep breath, step away from the computer, and go have this discussion with someone in ‘real life.'” This was one of those instances. Because Gabaldon managed to generalize, tarring fan fiction authors with a hugely presumptive brush, likening them to creepy stalkers and pervs…and, in the process, she reveals a lot about herself. “There’s a difference between someone dating red-haired men, and the same someone trying to seduce my husband,” she says. How on earth is someone writing about Jamie Fraser (the protagonist of Outlander) the same thing as seducing her husband? Unless, hey, she in fact based Jamie on her husband. But it’s actually been documented that she did model him on (and steal his name from) Jamie McCrimmon from Doctor Who. That says more about her “My Preeeeecious!”-esque attachment to her characters than any fan who would attempt to write in her universe.

And that is an assumption I, or any other potential reader, should not have to make about an author. Sometimes it’s just better when an author 1) Doesn’t engage or 2) Doesn’t go on and on about a topic she knows nothing about. Because, inevitably, opening a can of worms like this doesn’t make you look good. It makes you look incredibly foolish and uninformed.

I mean, if I write a missing scene from Much Ado About Nothing for a high school English class, am I seducing Anne Hathaway? (Shakespeare’s wife, folks, not the actress.) And does that make me a necrophiliac because she’s dead? Per Gabaldon’s logic, no. That’s okay. As is Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea (based on Jane Eyre) or Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. However, writing about Jamie and Claire is the equivalent of writing porn about Gabaldon’s family members. Huh?

I just wanted to face-palm while reading the entire thing. A two sentence statement about how she didn’t want fan fiction to be written about her work would have sufficed. There was no need for her to outline her inaccurate views of copyright law and the function of fan fiction.

I mean, it should be a Content Creator 101 lesson: Don’t alienate your audience. In this age of the Internet, there is such a thing as too much interaction. There needs to be a certain amount of distance…so writers can write and readers can read and fans can write fan fiction if they want to — without anyone fearing censure. Sure, Gabaldon’s core fans will stick by her, clutching their pearls about the mean, nasty fan fic writers who dog-piled on her, but aside from that…? Gabaldon also lost a lot of potential readers with this kerfuffle. And that’s just unfortunate. 

Also? Yes, I’m totally going to be running around all day randomly shouting, “Outlander, we have your woman!” because I can’t think about Gabaldon without thinking of Children of the Corn.

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