Fanfic for Profit, the Amazon gamble

Recently, Amazon has launched a ‘commercial platform’ for fanfiction, allowing users to download fics for a small sum. ‘Kindle Worlds’ will host fanfiction based on, at the start, three series: The Vampire DiariesGossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. Apparently, Amazon intends to announce more titles soon.

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That is NOT normal.

A percentage of the revenue generated from these downloads will go to the ‘original’ author and rights holder (I’m assuming the latter term covers both the author and the production house responsible for the TV show), the amount depending on the length of the work submitted. At first the platform will only host writing by already-published authors, but soon Amazon intends to make it accessible to more ‘traditional’ (read: unpublished save on the internet) fanfic writers as well.

What are my feelings on this? They are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I think it’s great that these writers, many of them very talented, are getting recognition and some form of reward (one hopes). I have read fanfiction that is better written and more vividly realized than canon (Harry Potter fandom, I’m looking at YOU), and often wished that these writers could be celebrated for their talent (how many times have I whined to a like-minded friend, ‘Why don’t these people write original stuff so I could publish them?’).

On the other hand, the act of creating fanfiction is, in my opinion, one of the most generous and loving gestures one can make to an author/director/creator of a universe. You’re telling them hey, what you have done really affected me, and I’m trying to say something of my own in this space you created and gain nothing from it myself but the ability to say that I too have done my bit to celebrate this world. I am writing because of you. I am putting myself out there because of you and your characters. That’s how much you mean to me.

The addition or promise of money to any enterprise, unfortunately, often makes any enterprise and motivations for its pursuit suspect. It’s the tragedy (or hard reality) of the age we live in. As a working person myself, I know that you need it, and a decent amount of it, and have learned the value of it in the short eleven months that I’ve held this job. And yes, I would love to be paid to do something I love, but I also know that it would make me question myself and my regard for said ‘something’ in my darker moods.

Also, would I really want to pay to read fanfiction? Especially when I know that there’s so much more of it out there for free? And who’s going to filter what goes onto this platform anyway, super-fans? But how can they decide whether it’s worth ‘e-publishing’ on the platform? The beauty of the fandom lies in its unquestioning and easy acceptance of reams of fanfiction (especially in a huge, sprawling mega-polis like the Potter fandom)–literally anyone can put up anything, as long as you abide by community standards and those nebulous terms and conditions that we all agree to but have never actually read.

Also, are authors going to get insecure? Imagine if you are shown hard, statistical proof that some ‘random’ hack’s work based on your work is more popular than your original product. Would it not dented the strongest ego? I can also see this going the other way around–would a fanfic writer whose writing is considered (by himself/herself/others) ‘better’ than the rights-holding author be happy with the idea that a good portion of his/her revenue was going to said rights-holder? I may be jumping ahead of myself and reading too much into a purely commercial venture, but as a fan-fic reader, these are some of the first questions that came to mind.

At the end of the day, I’m no economist or risk analyst. I’m just a fanfic reader who likes to think that she has something, however small, to say about a venture that will (ultimately) affect her and others like her. Luckily the Amazonian arm has not openly touched the fandom I read in, and honestly, I cannot see Potter falling within its reach any time soon. Famous last words, perhaps.

Your thoughts?

For the full article on the Amazon venture, click here.

Almost in sight!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by genius writer Neil Gaiman is almost here! In a rush of excitement (and Twitter-fueled love), I preordered and downloaded the sneak peek on my Kindle. The ‘preview’ includes a short story by Gaiman, ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’, previously published in Fragile Things and four short chapters from the upcoming novel.

Like any Gaiman book, it seems a little slow to start off, and there’s an atmosphere of something brewing, of forces greater than mortal ken can comprehend. I was hit with an American Gods flashback, actually, and you might see why when you read it.

It seems to be the done thing now, to release a sample chapter or two, toy with your readers and convince them that buying a piece of a book they are going to get anyway is the done thing. Tor did it with A Memory of Light, selling the Prologue for 2.99 dollars. And I will confess that I bought it, read the other two and a half chapters that were released a little later (for free) and then read everything again when the book was finally in my hands. So I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. It’s embarrassing, a little.

At least Gaiman’s tidbit is free. So you’ll feel no shame in taking a sneak peek. Unless, of course, you’re the kind of person who won’t be able to rest in peace afterwards and keeps wondering, wondering, wondering what’s going to happen.

But the titillation is so worth it. Go ahead and download away!

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Yes, along with being an amazingly talented writer, he’s handsome. The man has it all. ALL.

That’s Not All I Am

‘My voice sounds all tinny and fake. Like I don’t come from anywhere.’

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Riz Ahmed and Kate Hudson in TRF

And with those words, The Reluctant Fundamentalist stole my heart. Stole my heart so thoroughly that I didn’t mind seeing it twice in the space of two days.

I will be honest. I haven’t read the book and hence, cannot compare it to its cinematic adaptation. What I can do is give you my take on the movie and you can decide whether or not it is worth the same investment I made (twice).

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (based on the novel of the same name by Mohsin Hamid) is a Mira Nair film. That means it has lots of beautiful, sweeping shots of cities around the world and a pensive young man looking plaintively (and quite stunningly) for his roots. As you might have guessed by now, I am comparing TRF to The Namesake for both are, at their core, different versions of the same story. One, of course, is more politically charged than the other but when you look at their cores, they’re both about young men adrift in an adopted world that has suddenly and inexplicably turned alien and/or hostile, and it takes soul-searching (and father-finding) to set things on a new path. In TRF, Changez has it harder than Gogol ever did–not only is his name a strange sound on the lips of Americans, he happens to be of the wrong ethnicity at a completely wrong time.

Born into a culturally rich but economically parched family in Lahore, Pakistan (which, in the movie, looks suspiciously like Delhi. I wondered aloud about this and the innate similarities between India and Pakistan until my colleague assured me that they had indeed shot bits of the movie here in Delhi. Romanticism bust) Changez (portrayed by my new celebrity crush Riz Ahmed) makes the move to ‘where the money is’, the United States of America. Right after a magna-cum-laude graduation from Princeton, he joins the prestigious firm Underwood Samson and rises quickly in the ranks under the mentorship of his boss, Jim Cross (played by a deep drawling Kiefer Sutherland). He meets and falls in love with a ‘boho’ photgrapher-artist, Erica (a brunette Kate Hudson). During an assignment to Manila, he sees the news report on the WTC attack and knows that his life has been inexplicably, fundamentally changed. Nowhere, no one, he realizes, is ‘safe’ for him any longer.

Changez narrates his American dream to a foreign correspondent in Pakistan, Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schrieber). Bobby has come to him in the hope of information on the kidnapping of an American citizen. The question we are posed at the beginning of the film is whether or not Changez has anything to do with the kidnapping. The question at the end is a little bit bigger, and seems a lot more complex.

That’s all I’m going to tell you of the ‘plot’. What I can do now is tell you why you should see it.

TRF takes a complex, human story and weaves it seamlessly against the larger fabric of the War on Terror, the rise of fundamentalism as a political force/tool in South Asia and questions of identity. It uses one man’s story to encapsulate the confusion, loss and anger of a huge swathe of people affected by the events of 11 September 2001, and the manner in which the event has shaped lives in its aftermath. In the movie, Changez constantly asserts his individuality in the face of an official America that doesn’t seem to care: ‘Yes I am a Muslim. Yes, I am a Pakistani. But that’s not all I am.’ Despite his repeated claims, he gets taunts of ‘Osama’ and ‘Saddam’ and is taken into police custody at least twice, simply because he belongs to a certain community.

In a striking scene, a Turkish publisher talks to a wondering Changez about the janissary boys of the Ottoman empire, young Christian boys who were kidnapped from their homes in the opposing kingdoms and raised as soldiers for the ‘mighty Muslim army’. Once trained, the boys were sent back to their original homes to destroy and kill. The publisher, Nazmi Kemal, pauses significantly at this juncture and asks Changez ‘How old were you when you went to America?’ Upon hearing the answer he smiles sardonically and says, ‘Ah. Too old to be a janissary.’ The implication and parallel however, are very clear, fitting in and forming an echo to Changez’s early pronouncement on his own inability to recognize his voice, which sounds, to him, as though it’s speaker doesn’t ‘come from anywhere’.

The music of the movie is wonderful, and the acting great. It doesn’t hurt that Riz Ahmed is extremely easy on the eye, and can carry a scene with confidence (and his beautiful face). Literature afficionados might recognize Pakistani novelist Ali Sethi in a blink-and-you-miss-it role as a college student in Lahore. I thought it was him at first glance, and my hunch was  confirmed by the credits. It was fun to see him outside a Jaipuri tent, without his trademark scarf.

There have been movies, there have been novels and songs and plays about 9/11, but there is something special about TRF. If you want a movie that makes you think, that provides you good visuals coupled with good acting (although I didn’t really care for Dwayne Wright, who seemed to me the stereotype of the African American with his witty one-liners), go watch this. It’s about America, it’s about Pakistan, it’s about modern day janissaries, but that’s not all it’s about.

Americanah

A few months ago, the literary world suffered a great loss when Chinua Achebe, Nigerian author and wielder of words passed away. Achebe is remembered chiefly for having blazed a trail where few had dated to venture before him—he took on the task of representing ‘African history’ to an English-speaking (and hence, international) audience, putting forth a viewpoint that most of the world had never considered before. Africa, he attempted to say, was not the ‘dark continent’, the ‘heart of darkness’ in which Europe saw its primal, barbaric reflection. It was a continent made up of diverse peoples and cultures, with a rich history that its inheritors could and should be proud of.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie–an amazing literary talent

Achebe has left behind him, along with a rich legacy of work (of which I’m ashamed to say I have read only Things Fall Apart), successors who have taken up the mantle, bringing Africa’s voice to the rest of the world. Of those, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is among the most well-known and celebrated, thanks to her ability and choice of writing in the English language, as well as the hefty prizes she has scooped up early on in her career. Those prizes are very well deserved, and with her latest novel, Americanah, she proves once again that she is a formidable talent, a voice to be reckoned with on the literary stage.

 Americanah tells two stories: that of Ifemelu, the ‘Americanah’ the title refers to, and her one-time lover, Obinze. The novel starts with Ifemelu having decided to leave her cushy Princeton fellowship, close her extremely popular and hard hitting ‘race blog’ and return to her roots in Lagos, Nigeria. To prepare for her journey home, she goes to a new hair-braiding salon. As the hairdresser works on her braids, we are taken on an elliptical journey, tracing both her and Obinze’s lives from their childhood in Nigeria to where they are now. As the braid is woven, so their histories come together and fade apart, Ifemelu having cut off contact rather abruptly after a traumatic incident in Philadelphia.

The second half of the novel talks of Ifemelu’s arrival in Lagos, the disappointments and surprises she faces, and the manner in which she encounters Obinze, now a married and highly successful business head, one of the ‘big men’ of Nigerian society. The novel ends with their charting of a new relationship, hazy on the details of what exactly is to happen to the two one-time lovers. Is there hope for renewal and forward movement? Only time and the readers’ imaginations will tell.

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Read it!

The book, in my humble opinion, is brilliant. Adichie writes with a simplicity that cuts right to the bone, describing, first, Ifemelu’s prickly negotiations of a subject in America that she confesses she never had to think about growing up. Ifemelu discovers the curious dance of avoidance that hedges the subject of race in upper middle class American society and academia, her blog a response to the denial that she sees writ large over the majority of the (white) American population. Adichie refuses to be hackneyed in her presentation of ‘race’ and class questions, using the metaphor of hair to deliver her message. Black women, Ifemelu notes, seem to hate their hair, using products such as relaxers in order to tame its natural kinkiness. In order to score her first job in the U.S., Ifemelu heeds a friend’s well-meaning advice and uses a relaxer, subsequently deciding to never opt for such a step again. As she begins to claim her hair and see it as a mark of her own beauty and individuality, her acceptance of herself grows and she finally manages to throw off the vestiges of depression that life in America had foisted upon her.

Through Obinze, Adichie tells the story of thousands of illegal Nigerian immigrants, struggling to survive on the fringes of Western society (in Obinze’s case, London), plying hopeless, dead-end jobs in the long wait for security numbers and citizenship. She brings in the convenience marriage, having Obinze nearly marry an EU citizen in order to obtain his legal papers (that would allow him to work in the UK), but the operation is sadly shut down and he  is summarily deported to Nigeria. Adichie evokes beautifully the anxiety, fear and yet, almost bizarrely, the rays of hope that keep these workers alive and working in a society that seems little to want them. Iloba, Obinze’s friend in London, is an excellent example of a man who clings on to optimism in this world.

The characters that populate the novel, American, British, African, are amazingly real and well-drawn. The Lagos of Ifemelu’s childhood and the Lagos she returns to are both distinct, allowing even readers who have never been there (such as yours truly), to imagine vividly the vastly different sights and sounds that assault her as she re-enters a world she had left behind (and which many people wonder at her for returning to). Despite their many periods of darkness, and the trials they face, Adichie allows her readers to hope for the best for these characters. Perhaps they too, like the city, will find ‘small redemptions’, moving forward (like, Obinze would insist, the good Third-Worlders they are) from a ‘legacy of defeat’ to a future of slanting sunshine.

In short, go read it. You will definitely get more than your money’s worth.

Slashing the Text

I finished a long, wonderfully well written Harry/Draco fic last night, and caught myself wondering why, in the mad bad world of HP fanfiction, with its multitude of pairings, I read mostly slash.

And not just any slash. My favourite, as mentioned before, is Remus/Sirius slash. I have read the hell out of this pairing, and despaired for a time, thinking that I had read it ALL, but luckily the internet reminded me that it is a bottomless pit of time-wasting-but-super-entertaining literature, and threw a couple of gems my way. These have been bookmarked and categorized for a later time.

Apart from Sirius/Remus, I read Harry/Draco. I suppose this is because a) there is so much out there for this pairing, and again, you are unlikely to ever feel the crunch and lack of fics; b) one of my favourite fan fic SERIES, the Sacrifices Arc, revolves around this pairing and c) because it can be done so beautifully, requiring barely a flex of imaginative muscle for you to buy the premise, the mid-bits and indeed, the (usually) heart warming and knee-weakening conclusion.

When I read about Sirius’ confusion over his unanticipated feelings for Remus, about Draco’s nervous tingles when Harry’s fingers brush his arm, the lack of coordination and comprehension that haunts the characters as they fumble their way through the story, I’m not so much titillated as I am reminded of what it felt like to be a teenager and in love for the first time. I can recall the heady feelings that accompanied the eternal questions: ‘does he like me?’ ‘how will I know?’ ‘do I tell him?’ ‘am I too obvious?’. Yes, the non-slash romance fics also ask these questions, but given the social situation of most slash fics, the trepidation and anxiety is much more pressing.

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While the world around us ensures that coming out as homosexual is a much more fraught and (apparently) political act than to declare heterosexual desire, I cannot, with a clean conscience, stand up and say that yes, I understand the anxiety of these boys in fan-written literature, that I know what it is they feel and struggle with when they admit to desire for their male friends. I do not know, I cannot and possibly never will be in that situation, but I can sympathize as best I might. I am of the firm opinion that first ‘love’, or crush or whatever you want to call it is the same, or should be the same, no matter who the object of that desire is. In an ideal world, that would be the case.

Slash fics, often enough, create that ideal world. In the ‘Sacrifices Arc’ for instance, there are a multitude of gay pairings (both male and female), homosexuality being an accepted and institutionalized aspect of wizarding society. From what I’ve read (admittedly limited, given the ocean out there), Harry/Draco fics seem to have a more permissive feel to them than the Remus/Sirius ones, often because, I would assume, Harry and Draco have so much more than social homophobia to deal with. Adding this to the  mix would just be cruel, don’t you think?

Aw. Bookworm Harry is so endearing.

Aw. Bookworm Harry is so endearing.

 

But in Sirius/Remus fics, I see a lot more of the ‘real world’. Given that the two are already friends  (if the writers are following canon, however loosely), how does one introduce drama and tension into their (new) relationship? It often comes in the form of disapproval, of disowning (for Sirius), of a new layer of insecurity and self-hatred (for Remus). This delays the utterance of feelings, leading to more mind-games, more doubt and finally, more emotion for a truly spectacular catharsis at the close. Trust me, it can be done spectacularly. Reference the Shoebox Project if you have any doubts on that score.

I read slash fiction because it is eternally new, celebrating aspects of relationship and romance that transcend sexual orientation and pooh-poohing all those who call homosexuality ‘unnatural’. I read it because it is, quite simply, hot.  I read it because there are amazing writers out there who have seen fit to celebrate friendships that, in the book, formed naught more than a background to a larger battle. There is a definite statement in the creation of this fiction, yes, reminding authors that the commercial profits of their creations are theirs alone, but the world they created is the fans’ to rove in and plunder. Given the current fraught condition of that word–‘homosexuality’–the reading of it into a mass-market children’s series is certainly a political act. It’s a reminder that there’s nothing unwholesome about these relationships, that they can exist (we insist sometimes, quite vociferously that they exist) in a magical, ‘child-friendly’ world.