Fanatic Fiction: Q&A with the one fan fiction writer you’re missing out on

Someone on the internet that I have never met has ruined my life, and it has nothing to do with online dating or credit card fraud.

Online fan culture tends to use exaggeration when expressing emotions. To say someone ruined your life in this context means that they wrote a fan fiction that made you ugly cry into your keyboard.

A Canadian writer who works under the moniker of Footloose is the reason I have a soaked desktop. A scientist in her 30s, she is best known for a work called Loaded March – a 700,000-word story that takes characters from BBC’s Merlin and makes them the British SAS soldiers fighting terrorist warlocks.

Fan fiction existed before the internet, but has come into a new prominence since the publications of Fifty Shades of Grey and the Mortal Instruments series.

I interviewed Footloose in order to answers questions about how fan fiction fits in the context of both the literary and online worlds, and how a large online following and instant feedback affects a writer.

Chloe Smith: I know you don’t want to talk about anything too personal, as you are writing anonymously, but how would you describe yourself? Do you work? Are you student?

Footloose: I’d probably describe myself as an average person with a propensity for causing trouble when I’m bored. So I keep myself busy by writing, running, or writing. I was a student once upon a time – I have a graduate degree in science. I’m a slightly miffed (because I’m rarely angry) scientist by profession.

CS: When did you start writing, and why?

FL: I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and I wrote because I liked telling stories.That hasn’t changed. I liked coming up with new worlds and situations and characters and having them live their lives or survive an adventure.

I didn’t start writing fan fiction until a couple of years ago. I’d watched my first few episodes of a television show and there was something about the character dynamics that wouldn’t let me go. I wanted to know more about them and I wanted to see them interact in different settings, but it was going to be a while before there were new episodes of this show. I’m not patient, and when someone posted a link to a fan fiction story on their blog, I clicked. I read it, I read another story and I read yet another until I’d worked through everything that was in the search tag with that pairing and I’d run out of stories to read.

Anyone who writes has probably heard the usual tenets – write what you know, write for yourself, write the stories you want to read. And for me, when there are particularly interesting characters, it’s a case of wanting to see them in the stories I wanted to read. No one else would write them for me, so I did.

CS: Why use Footloose as your user name?

FL: This is where I laugh and admit that I’m awful at coming up with usernames. When it comes to some of the other usernames I’ve seen – and some of them are really clever – mine falls pretty flat. Footloose came from the phrase “footloose and fancy free,” which I thought was an apt description for a fan fiction writer – someone who would break a story’s convention, for example. It wasn’t until much later that I realized (with a groan) that I’d named myself after a famous movie. By that point, it was too late to change it, because I’d already written and posted a few stories under that username.

CS: Could you outline the average amount of work that goes into a story?

FL: For any of my stories, depending on the length, it could take me two to three months to complete. I’ll go through it and edit it myself, because no one should see the draft zero version. This could be a couple of weeks’ worth of work. From there, it goes to a second or third pair of eyes to read and review, to pick out any problems with spelling, grammar or continuity. I’ll go through it again, sometimes adding missing sections or rewriting chapters. That takes even more time. I try to treat my fan fiction the same way I would treat original fiction – original fiction goes through a lot of revisions and checks before it makes it to print.

CS: On the Loaded March Wiki page about you, your fans described you as “the Queen, Word of God and the Trolling One.” How would you describe your relationship with your readers?

FL: I’m going to say how incredible it is that one of the series I’ve written has a wiki. It’s completely fan-run, and I have nothing to do with it. Sometimes I can’t remember a detail and I head over there, because that’s a hugely useful resource and it’s more thorough than my own notes. The amount of work and time that went into putting the wiki together blows me away.

The description they have for me makes me smile (and shake my head a lot, because, what?  Word of God?  Really?). It’s funny. I keep saying I have no idea how to troll. I don’t like giving spoilers, but at one point I blandly described what was going on in a story and avoided any details – bare bone descriptions, for example, that could’ve applied to anything. A friend put them up on Tumblr, and it started a speculation frenzy, and that was when I realized, “Oh, that’s how you troll? I’m so sorry!”

I’d say I have a pretty good relationship with my readers. They give me wonderful feedback that I try to use to improve my writing. When things aren’t working well, I’m given encouragement to continue. I’ve “met” (as close as you can get to meeting someone over the Web) a few people and we’ve become close friends. Fandom gives an incredible sense of community and support that goes a very long way when you realize that writing is a very solitary activity.

CS: How does the instant feedback you receive from commenters affect you work?

FL: Positively. Definitely positively. I’ll admit that I get flustered a lot and I won’t know how to respond. It’s humbling, too, to know that people have enjoyed my stories so much that they’re moved to leave a comment.

A lot of times, I’ll read a comment and I’ll find myself overwhelmed and at a loss for words. A reader will have written a thoughtful and comprehensive review and I can tell that they’ve really thought about the story, that they’ve noticed all the little details that I’ve put in, and it makes me feel amazing because, yes. They get it. They saw the thing.

I’m not sure that I would receive the same sort of feedback if I wrote original fiction. Like I said, writing is a pretty lonely and sometimes thankless job. The fan fiction community changes that and makes it more inclusive, more supportive, and more rewarding.

CS: Most of your stories are based on BBC’s Merlin. What is it about that show and its characters inspires you?

FL: The setting and the mythology attracted me to the show. I don’t watch a lot of television series – not faithfully, anyway – but anything with history and fantasy blended together was guaranteed to lure me in, at least for a few episodes. The portrayal of the two main characters is what kept me watching. The banter and interaction between them was natural and easy.

Each character had their story, their struggles, and their obstacles to overcome. They weren’t two-dimensional cookie-cutter characters. For me, those are the fundamentals of a good story. It’ll make me keep turning the pages if it were a book; it’ll make me keep watching the episodes if it was television. More importantly, it makes me want to tell a better story.

CS: Shipping and writing characters in gay relationships has been considered a way to create representation for people who would not have those relatable characters. However, how do you feel about the fact that there is an overwhelming trend of these pairings been white men?

FL: Growing up, there weren’t a lot of characters that I could relate to, and yes, I agree that shipping and putting characters in different situations and relationships are a way of doing just that. However, I can’t comment on the trend for the pairings even if I’m guilty of doing it myself.  I didn’t start out to pair two white characters. I was fascinated with the character dynamics, interactions, and chemistry. The fact that they were the two main characters of the show probably had something to do with it, too.

CS: With the Mortal Instrument series and Fifty Shades of Grey being made in major motion pictures as well as bestsellers, how do you feel about modern fan-fiction being re-purposed this way?

FL:I have mixed feelings about it. Some of it has to do with those titles not being to my tastes, and some of it has to do with wishing that some of the fan fiction that I’ve read were published, because I would buy the books and follow the authors until the end of my days. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very difficult to break into publication, never mind into the movies. That some authors have managed to take their “frivolous” fan works and turn it into something more gives me hope that some of my favourites will make it big one day, too.

CS: Given that chance, would you re-work your stories in the same way in order to get them published? Why or why not?

FL: Absolutely not. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I wrote these stories because I wanted to write them, share them and hope that people will enjoy them – and when they do, that’s my payment. The second is that I have more ideas for stories than what I know to do with, and the majority are original fiction. I have been submitting my original fiction to agents and publishing houses since well before I wrote my first fan fiction story. Like I’ve said before, it’s a tough business to break into, and I would like to make it there on the merits of my original fiction and not the popularity of my fan fiction. I will say that many people have left comments to the effect that they would buy the book if it was turned into original fiction, and I can’t say that I’m not tempted, but I would prefer that my fan fiction stayed free.

CS: Fan-fiction has a reputation of being something “frivolous.” What can you say about that or to people who believe that?

FL: My knee-jerk answer is, “Are you kidding me?” I’ll try to be more diplomatic, though. I will say that everyone is entitled to their opinion and that I’m entitled to disagree.

There are people who would say that stamp collection is frivolous. Or collecting every pair of Converses is frivolous. Or that putting on costumes and cosplaying or acting out a historical event is frivolous. These are people’s hobbies. They’ve put in a lot of work at it. You could ask someone about a stamp and they could tell you the entire history behind it. Same goes for a pair of Converses that’s a limited edition series. The craft work that goes into making costumes takes a very high level of skills, and to act out a historical event requires a detailed knowledge of actual events.

Is it frivolous? No. It’s a person’s interest and it’s a person’s passion.

Fan fiction gives a new writer, a fledgling writer, even an experienced writer, the opportunity to go beyond merely developing their own style. It’s an opportunity to explore new settings, character traits and what-if scenarios. In the end, it takes time and commitment to write. And for people to post them to a public forum, where they might not get good feedback and have to bite their nails in the hopes that someone likes their stories? That takes courage, and that’s not frivolous at all.

Chloe Smith

Chloe Smith is a third-year journalism student who, instead of curbing her habit of mindlessly scrolling on the internet, is exploring why online culture matters.

1 Comment

  • Avatar
    Reply December 8, 2013

    Cindy St-Laurent

    Really interesting interview. I definitely learned a lot about fan fiction I didn’t know. I do believe that it must be hard to write fan fiction because you are taking characters people know and putting them in different situations, and people can react well to that or badly. I think that it is great that Footloose wants to get into writing on her won merit, I to hope one day I will have a book published but it isn’t easy and in the mean time I understand the joy of writing for myself and others.

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