(Oddly enough, I've been reading the debate on the sfwa forum on this topic with some interest and amusement. It must be railroading time.)
Now, it's no secret to me that a lot of people on my flist or in various fan communities I'm a part of write and consume vast quantities of fanfiction, and I know there are pro writers who write fanfiction under pseudonyms, and so forth. I'm pretty much clarified my feelings on the topic of fanfiction in other forums before, but we'll call this the definitive answer, since I can't seem to answer it at short length.
What I have to say on the subject will probably make me unpopular in certain quarters, but what the hell. Here we go.
Actually, I think debates about fanfiction are boring. And pointless. And such a waste of perfectly good time when people could be telling stories.
Everybody's entitled to their own opinion. *g* That said, here's mine:
I write pastiche. I write historical fantasy. I write homage. I write professional stories about Dick Feynman and Tycho Brahe and Elvis Presley and Irene Adler and characters who, if you squint at them not too closely, are obvious parodies of pop culture figures with the serial numbers filed about halfway off. I have a book that's a Tam Lin retelling and one that's a Thomas the Rhymer retelling and one that's heavily plotted around Shakespeare's sonnets.
Textual poaching is textual poaching, and it's a powerful tool in the right hands, (Shakespeare's? Marlowe's? Kelly Link's? Ben Rosenbaum's? Gregory Maguire's? Peg Kerr's? Pamela Dean's? I could go on and on and on.) and the difference between me writing a multi-volume fantasy series based on the Eddas and Cassie Clare's VSD is (1) I can sell mine for money (2) I have an ambition to sell mine for money (3) hers is a hell of a lot funnier.
There's also the issue of the modern obsession with 'originality,' and single-creators, which is, dude, like so 20th century. Shakespeare would have looked at you like you were nuts if you told him he should come up with his own characters and plots. But that's besides the point.
Actually, come to think of it, the Very Secret Diaries is probably protected as parody. But that's also besides the point. There's no *creative* difference in the process of Marlowe adapting Hero & Leander, Shakespeare adapting Romeo & Juliet, and a fanfiction writer adapting Harry Potter. It's the same process by which kids want to play make-believe in the universe of their favorite television shows and books, and by which blues musicians keep tacking on verses to "The House of the Rising Sun," and by which Tam Lin has grown to the absolute monster of variant versions it is today.
We don't like the way it is, so we tinker with it and claim it. It's called the folk process, and it exists in SF as the quote-unquote genre conversation. You can't have Bill the Galactic Hero until there's a Starship Troopers that somebody wants to shout I Refute Thee! at. You can't have The 7% Solution until somebody latches on to the fact that it's never addressed by Conan Doyle that Sherlock Holmes is a cocaine addict. And I realize I'm making enemies by saying that, but I see no difference in that process and in my process in writing a short story like "Old Leatherwings," which is essentially fanfiction based on the fairy tale "The Wild Swans" and the legend of the Old Leatherman.
Since my publications include riffs on historical personages, well known literary canon, and parodies of famous poets, I figure I don't have a leg to stand on, and it would be hypocritical of me to claim that fan fiction is somehow inferior to my riffing the hell out of Randall Garrett in my Abby Irene stories.
Especially when Cassie Clare is so goddamned much more funny than I will ever be. The difference between what she's doing and what Gregory Maguire is doing and what Robert Jordan is doing (because the Wheel of Time, let's be honest, is the unholy collision of Arthuriana with Tolkein... which is what Guy Kay did in his Fionavar books too, but Fionavar's so very, very much more to my taste)--well, I don't think there is a creative difference. At all. It's all textual poaching.
It's just we pros poach stuff that's in public domain, or we file the serial numbers off in such a way that what we do is legal.
Whether there's a moral difference, I leave as an exercise to the reader. It's a question which bores me, and I have no interest in getting involved in that debate. (My answer tends to be, if the owner of the property is fanfiction-friendly (like MZB, or J.K. Rowling, or whatever) then I don't see *any* moral issues with fanfiction. If the owner is opposed, it's impolite in the extreme to work in their universe.)
I just don't have those kind of control issues; it seems to me that people know the difference between a real honest to god canon Harry Potter novel, and whatever slash coupling is popular this week, and I don't see that the fanfiction hurts Rowling's bottom line any. And it makes her fans happy.
And how is that fanfiction any different than me going to Ambercon and playing in RPGs based on Zelazny's work?
Well, to my mind, it's not, you see. RP is fanfiction too; it's just ephemeral fanfic.
I'm also hip to the idea that some people want to write stuff because, you know, it's fun. Writing is fun! Big secret! I love my job! God is writing fun!
And writing fanfic is a way to find an audience for your writing, and have it read, and still treat that writing as a pleasurable hobby rather than the consuming vocation it has to be if you're going to be serious about publishing. I know whereof I speak: It's taken me seventeen years of working my butt off to get where I am in terms of publication. If you just like to write because you like to write and you want to be read, dude. It's nuts to do that kind of work.
Fanfic, if it's decent, will find an audience.
Actually, I suspect the fact that the approval is easier for fanfic writers to find is one of the reasons that some pro and neopro and wannabe pro writers hate it so damned much. How dare they have an easier time of it than we do?
Well, the answer is, their goals are different. So who cares if they have it easier? They're doing something different. And having fun! How dare they! While I Suffer For My Art!
As for people writing fanfiction based on any of my work? Well, I won't read it, so don't ask me to. I can't, because of the risk of problems like the ones MZB ran into (rumor has it that she died with a novel unpublished, because a fan whose fanfiction she read had treated the same period of Darkover history, and sued her, more or less.) But if anybody loves my work so much they want to play in that sandbox, so be it. I'm flattered that I've affected them on that level, and the best I can promise is an amused pretense at complete ignorance that any such thing even goes on around here.
If they're making any money on it, I want them to either file off the serial numbers enough so that I don't actually have to sue them, though. Or I want my cut. One of the two.
I think that's only fair.