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The Not-So-Secret Fun of Fanfiction

I started writing fanfiction as a tween, around 1997. My first big fandom was Scarecrow & Mrs. King, a TV series that aired from 1983-1985, though I also liked Designing Women, the Baby-sitters Club, and Law & Order fics and fandom. I shared some of my work online, mostly on fandom-or-ship-specific message boards, and with very few ‘real life’ friends, but kept the bulk of it to myself – even after I found fellow SMK writers and realized I was not alone.

I started writing Harry Potter fanfiction a few years later, as a junior in high school. It’s still my favorite fandom because there are so many wonderful minor characters to delve into. I especially like Minerva McGonagall, Severus Snape, Bellatrix Lestrange, and Narcissa Malfoy as protagonists. It’s an immersive world full of awesome witches, wizards, and Muggles, and even though I’m a grownup now it’s still part of my life, one I now readily confess to being part of, after decades of keeping it a secret. So secret, in fact, part of me can’t believe I’m sharing it here! (That said, no, I'll not reveal my secret identity!)

When I was in graduate school, I got to know a fellow KidLit student named D. On the day we met (at the end of semester gathering, right before leaving campus, which figured) we had an interesting conversation while riding in another student’s car. I can’t recall exactly what was said, but basically we both suspected the other was into fanfiction but rather than come right out and say, “ME TOO!” we spoke in a sort of dorky code until we were ready to reveal our usernames, much to the confusion of our driver friend. This started the two of us off down a path to friendship and mutual beta reading, secret story swapping and late night bonding over social justice issues, among other things.

Our first interaction was actually pretty funny, but when thinking about it later, I’m a little saddened that we felt we needed to keep our fanfic selves a secret, just because we were in a writing program where some students didn’t consider fanfics as having any value, and we were left to feel embarrassed by it (not that I’m trying to speak for D. They can speak for themselves just fine! But I got the definite impression the feeling was mutual). Later, we started coming up with prompts, emailing them to each other, then exchanging finished work. Our KidLit writing soon took over our time, though, and we haven’t done that in more than two years, but I loved having new challenges outside of class work, and writing for a fellow grown-up once in awhile.

Since I was in school, fanfiction has gotten a lot less embarrassing, or at least that’s how it feels. Rainbow Rowell wrote the amazing novel Fangirl, a YA about Cath, a college student obsessed with her fandom and still writing a very popular fic, trying to finish it before the end of the series on which it was based, and her twin sister who was outgrowing that world. I don’t know that I’ve ever related to a character so much even though Cath and I have almost nothing in common besides our love of fanfiction and the way we feel about it. I sobbed through so much of the book not because it was sad (though it did have sad moments) but because I could relate on such an intense level.

In 2015, Rainbow Rowell’s novel Carry On, Simon was released, based on the fictional story on which Cath based her fanfics. Which, basically, means Rainbow Rowell wrote a fanfic novel about her own novel about fanfiction. I quickly ordered a signed copy from a bookstore in Omaha and had it shipped to my mom’s house so I could give it to my teen cousin, Abi, as a Christmas gift. She, too, has a special place in her heart for fanfics (she wrote her first ones in sixth grade and I couldn’t have been more proud). She is also a big fan of Rainbow Rowell’s work. I was thrilled to give her that gift.

In addition to what Rainbow did for the fanfiction world with her novel, I’ve seen several authors on Twitter praising teen writers for their fanfiction. These authors are excited that readers want to write about their characters and, I suspect, a few are former fanfic writers themselves. Every “Wow, this is awesome!” response helps to lessen the stigma and I’m hoping the current generation of kids see it as something cool rather than “not real writing” (which is the message I used to hear at that age).

Another author who delved into a bit is Nora Raleigh Baskin, whose autistic protagonist in Anything But Typical writes original fiction but shares it to a site also popular for fanfics, and through that he meets a friend... a girl friend... and truly connects with another kid for the first time, which I think Abi, D, and I can all relate to, as can most, if not all, fanfic writers and devout members of various fandoms. Finding your fandom means finding your people. It's a truly incredible feeling.

Though I am not ashamed of my love of fanfiction now that I’m older and wiser, I still won’t share my old username with anyone because, frankly, no one needs to know how hard I ‘shipped’ Bellatrix and Voldemort... though I will brag for a second, because one of my Bella-centric stories has had over 50,000 views this month, and my longest Snape fic has had over 400,000 readers since July 2017. Much better than my stats back when I was writing Scarecrow & Mrs. King poetry back in 1999!

So I encourage kids and teens to read and write fanfiction. It’s a great way to develop your craft, to concentrate on plot and keeping in-character while deviating from canon where desired (Snape lives? Harry dies? Draco marries Hermione? Dumbledore floats off into the sunset on the back of the Giant Squid, who can suddenly fly for some reason? Sure, why not!) and it's a wonderful way to be introduced to critique in the form of reviews while building a community of people with similar interests - as long as underage writers and readers have permission from their parents before doing so.

Recently my favorite fanfiction author found me and reached out, so now I follow her on social media in real life and vice-versa. Her novel-length stories got me through some tough times and I’m happy to know she’s now concentrating on original fiction. Also recently, my goddaughter, a fifth grader, tried her hand at writing fanfiction for both the Harry Potter series and Nora Raleigh Baskin’s “Nine, Ten: A September 11th Story,” which I love. I hope she'll post it someday so I can leave a good review.

In conclusion (ha - that sounds so formal...) don’t hide your fanfics! Have fun with your favorite fandoms! If you’re a kid, come up with an idea and challenge your friends! If you’re a parent or teacher, develop writing prompts that allow students to write within the worlds they’ve been reading in class! A lot can be learned from fanfiction. And a lot of fun can be had, too.

But no flames.