Jocelyn's Other Desk

The writings of Jocelyn Smith, aspiring author, soon-to-be lawyer, once and future politician, all-around opinionated twentysomething.

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Location: Orlando, Florida, United States

I'm a lawyer in Florida, working on three novels, a screenplay, and half a dozen pieces of fanfiction at any given moment.

Friday, July 22, 2005

More on Sexuality in Fanfiction in the Harry Potter Context...

At risk of starting a whole new uproar, (or maybe for the purpose of starting a new one, it's very quiet around here lately!) I noticed a very interesting article posted on MuggleNet, (I think it is from Time Magazine) in which J.K. Rowling's taste in reading was discussed, specifically, her lack of previous strong interest in fantasy. She never finished Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, (oh well, nobody's perfect, I guess), and didn't like C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia very much.

But her reason for the latter I found most interesting. She is reportedly religious (what type I don't know, and it isn't really relevant) but her issue with Lewis was the way he treated religion versus sexuality. I've never read Chronicles of Narnia, but Jo had a problem with the fact that when a female character discovered lipstick (and through it, sexuality) she was no longer portrayed as "religious."

So now, the million-dollar question: How does J.K. Rowling react to the variety of...shall we say...more sexual expression in fanfiction?

I rather suspect she responds just as any reasonablely normal, intelligent adult would.

I'm not talking about pornfic. That's a whole different can of worms and sleaze. I'm talking about sexual content as part of a romantic plot.

On the whole, Rowling has been wonderfully supportive of fanwriters in general. I was surprised and amused to note a little sexual innuendo creeping its way into Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, to the point where I rather suspect she has adjusted her writing for her now-heavy adult readership.
  • At one point, the password to enter Gryffindor Tower is "abstinence," shortly after our various young heroes start pairing off. Subtle for young readers, but for us grown-ups...definitely giggle-worthy.

Given that, and the other attitudes she's expressed, I have a feeling she (as an individual, as opposed to the author/copyright owner advised by a small army of lawyers from agent and publishers) would not be too alarmed by stories in which our teenaged protagonists take their relationships to "the next level" (depending, of course, on whether the descriptions/discussions in the stories are gratuitous.)

As for stories involving the relationships of the adult characters...same standard probably applies. So long as the fanwriters aren't targeting kids with heavily sexual material and taking some efforts (ratings, segregating archive sections, etc) to warn of any adult content, I doubt Ms. Rowling will take serious issue with it.

But what about cross-generation relationships? One of the most popular pairings in the Harry Potter fandom is Severus Snape/Hermione Granger. (Yes, I know, people, keep your hair on; intellectual connection is one of the primary basis for May-December relationships.) It would depend, of course, on the way it's portrayed; many stories pair the two off after Hermione has graduated and returned to Hogwarts to teach or do research. So that doesn't really count.

All in all, so long as the "adult content" is not gratuitous and there are warnings for younger readers, I seriously doubt Rowling will be terribly alarmed.

Face it, friends: lots of adult and teenaged fans are interested in speculating and writing about what the characters will do after Hogwarts, and after Hogwarts, they will be adults.

Adults have sex. Kids grow up to be adults, get married, or don't get married, and make more kids.

Are we sensing a pattern here?

My point is: sex happens. Rowling knows this. Sexual content does not automatically render a story pornographic and corruptive. Rowling knows this too. Many writers consider sexual content a legitimate part of developing a romantic plot. Rowling knows this too.

Yes, the Harry Potter novels are primarily for children. But that doesn't mean all Harry Potter fanfiction is, or should be.

I think Jo Rowling is a rational, intelligent adult, and that she, along with her legal entourage, is aware that people who write stories about the characters as adults, doing adult things, are not an army of evil perverts. So it seems unlikely that she loses much sleep over ordinary fanfiction.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Witching Hour...

Yes, it's about Harry Potter.

As most who know me can well imagine, I wasn't about to wait until eight hours into July 16th to get my book, so I was one of those obnoxious geeks in line at Barnes & Noble at midnight. With my mother, no less.

We had a blast. Dunno what Midnight Magic Tod Goldberg went to (see his entry on the subject), but there was no erotic fanfiction being read at Colonial Plaza, Orlando. Maybe he should try a party on the East Coast, next time.

I first went to a Midnight Magic party back in 2003 for the Order of the Phoenix release on a whim. Yep, girl with nothing better to do in Washington, DC on a Friday night. Hey, I'd just moved there! Wandered into the Bethesda B&N (four stories of absolute paradise, I do love urban bookstores!) after an evening of window shopping, and stayed all evening, eating cheesecake in the cafe and watching kids play games and chatting with parents.

So this year, after Mum and I finished our fanfic magnum opus, Harry Potter and the Battle of Wills, I persuaded her that it would be an excellent "last hurrah" for us to meet up and hit the Book 6 party.

The newspaper reported the next day that there were 1600 people at our store--no wonder the air conditioning was overloaded! That was the only real downer; it was hot as hell in there.

We hung out in the Starbucks, drank IBC, worked on a mystery series that we've been toying with for years, bought some music, and watched people being silly. Silly is a highly underrated occupation. There were a few oddballs: I have no qualms about enjoying myself alone, did it before, but the person in full costume, by herself, about 15 years older than me who didn't appear to be having any fun seemed rather strange. And there were the two twelveish-year-olds dressed like streetwalkers and another skank bragging about dropping out of high school...yeah. But for the most part, the crowd was perfectly normal, just people hanging out and enjoying themselves and talking Potter.

So we got lined up, counted down, and there was much squealing. One singularly tacky female (mother/chaperone of one of the skanky teens, no less) actually held up our line for about ten minutes because there was another book she wanted to buy but didn't have and forced the poor cashier to go find it for her. (Insert epithet of choice here.) Mum and I along with several other prospective book-buyers imagined the various spells we might use upon her. Then we purchased our copies from a Slytherin bookseller (all the employees were in costume, about half were Slytherin. I wonder!)

We went home, Mum drove, and I ranted because it was too dark in the car to read. I'm hyper over a new book even on a normal occasion; I was quite obnoxious. Mum remarked on the lack of traffic in the downtown area, observing, "Time for witches and wizards to be out."

We got home and read for a couple of hours before going to bed. I finished my copy around noon the next day, with much whimpering, and predicted correctly a highly-agitated phone call from Mum when she finally finished hers.

Damn good book, though. As I like to remind readers who are inclined to praise my fanfic to the skies, "You can't beat the real thing." And Jo Rowling has Mum and me beat by miles with the "fist-to-the-gut" effect. Even the events that were somewhat expected (won't say which since I don't know how to hide spoilers on this blog), happened in a rather surprising--in some cases, shocking--way.

And then there's all the post-read hysteria among the fans on the Internet. Good old fandom_wank has been hopping with hilarious stories of people ranting because the book's plot wasn't what they expected or hoped for. It's highly amusing to read these people insisting that THEY understand the characters/plots better than the AUTHOR does! Stupid people are so entertaining.

Anyway, bottom line: yes, it's silly. Staying out till midnight for a book, going crazy over a book, writing stories based on the book... It's all silly. But it's fun.

(And of course, I'm already having muse attacks for post-HPB fanfiction.)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Law, How Do I Love Thee...

It's nice to have a productive Monday.

I had a rather melancholy weekend, having finally finished Battle of Wills, and suddenly finding myself feeling bereft and unsure of what to do with myself after the devoting an entire year and much emotion and effort into writing that fic. Still, I have two posts left before this weekend, and then the new book comes out.

But it was hard to concentrate on my academic freedom paper like a good little law student, especially when the material I was working on (academic freedom defenses for sexual harassment complaints) was exceedingly frustrating. Nothing drives me nuttier than not being able to decide what side I'm on.

Today is better. I have half a dozen brand-spanking-new projects, some of which are in areas of law I've never dealt with before. I love all phases of projects for different reasons, but Monday is a good day to start a project: to first pull out the "broad-range" books, the Annotated Statutes, the Digests, the legal encyclopedias, and start learning from scratch.

One such project brushes Entertainment Law. My part of the project doesn't really get into the Entertainment element, but lemme tell you, the background of that case is COOL! (Silly fangirl moment, forgive me.) And unlike the last couple of weeks, the latest round of projects I've been given all revolve around questions of law that have reasonably definitive answers. Not that I mind getting the tough ones (it saves the attorneys time and billable hours) but it's incredibly frustrating to go round and round from case to statute to case to statute and never the twain shall meet.

But today, I have found some answers. And I am happy.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

End Of An Era...

I'm just about finished with my longest fanfic to date, my Harry Potter story, and it looks as if I will get it done and fully posted before Book 6 comes out.

There's always a bit of nostalgia when a fanstory is done. And especially given the running debate with certain published authors, I've been contemplating how it will be different when I finish my first original story.

I think the biggest part will be that in fanwriting, we get reader reactions and "returns," so to speak, as we go. I'm posting multiple times a week these days, and the story, my most popular yet, has nearly 4000 reviews and over half a million hits. On top of that, there are the random reader emails who just want to say how much they love the fic, or want to ask a question about this or that plot point, or (whee!) want permission to make fanart or write a sidestory based on something in the fic.

But now that the story is finished, that will end. I'm working hard to get the thing posted completely several days before July 16, when The Half-Blood Prince comes out, so Mum (my co-author) and I can enjoy a few days of reader response before the whole Harry Potter fandom goes into hibernation to read the Real Thing (including me, I might add.) And even if the sixth book weren't coming out, when a fanwriter finishes a popular story, she enjoys a few days or weeks of reader response, but gradually that tapers off. Now and then I get a review or email about an old story, but not much. When it's over, it's over.

For a book, that will be different. Finishing the story is when the interactive process begins. The effort of getting it published (gah, that'll be an adventure!), and hopefully, getting some critiques and maybe a letter or email or two. Or better. Maybe.

Which is "better," we wonder: fanwriting and getting your goodies as you go, or published writing, where the fans don't appear, if at all, until you're done?

Who knows? I'll let you know when and if I'm published (although I'm pretty determined to be.) But I think in the end, both have their joys.

And although I've still got a lot of work to do on Talassia and my other novels and Potomac Fever, I wouldn't trade the past year for anything.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Price, Value, and Worth of Writing

I received a refreshingly nice comment from Tod Goldberg on a previous post, and he raised some interesting and polite points. I thought I would respond to him in a new post, since the issues he's referring to have come up in other debates.

I don't look down my nose at you. Rather, as a person who teaches creative writing in addition to writing it, I see a writer with potential who is wasting it on endeavors perhaps not worthy of her talents. I'm not here to debate the worth of fan fiction -- my opinion is perhaps less harsh than my older, uglier brother's, but suffice it to say, I think it's not the best route to go, but, hey, you're gonna do it, whatever -- but to say, look, instead of spending all these hours crafting your Harry Potter book, use that same due dilligence to create original fiction that might improve your chances of getting published if, indeed, that is your end goal.

Tod's quite right: being published is indeed my "end goal," so to speak, but as the old saying goes (more or less) it's not just the destination but the journey. And I do not consider a single moment I have spent writing fanfic "wasted," nor a shred of my creative energy, nor my (debatable) writing talent or potential.

Is there any creative endeavor "not worthy" of a writer's talent? Or any endeavor not worthy of any person's talent?

Instead of writing so much, should I have focused solely on school? Heaven knows, my grades would have been better. Who the heck is going to finish a novel at all in law school? Maybe I should have put all my ideas and outlines on the back burner for three years.

Should I not have participated in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society? I mean, moot court is one thing; it looks good on the resume. But a theatre extracurricular in law school? People may think it's "cool," but it doesn't exactly speak to my legal skills. Hours and hours of precious study time on rehearsals, cast parties, tech weekends, and performances...and the best friendships I have ever had, and the most happiness I have ever found in my experiences in higher education.

Is that truly a waste?

So when I read that you want to write all these novels and all these screenplays, I think: then do it. Write them. But when you say, First I need to finish my Harry Potter book, I think, oh, Jocelyn, channel your energy to the future.

No worries, Tod, I do that. My entire frigging existence is about the future. I've been in transit for five years, from undergrad to law school, from job to job, always moving forward, always moving from this temporary residence to that one. I can't wait to settle down.

On the other hand, my high school track coach told me when I graduated, "These will be the best four years of your life." (Meaning college.) I was a good little girl in college. At the number one party school in the country, I focused on school and the debate team. Nothing else. And I do mean NOTHING.

Naturally, those were NOT the best four years of my life.

And if there's one lesson I learned from my excellent GPA, debate medals, and mind-boggling boredom, it's that I refuse sacrifice the present for the sake of the future. The future is important; I don't deny that, and I always measure my decisions with my future plans in mind.

Look, write whatever you want to write. Castaneda said we make one choice, to be warriors or ordinary men, and I say, be a warrior. (On a purely teacherly level I'd also say: focus on one project at a time. Trust me.)

Well, perhaps it's just difference in work style. On a purely lawyerly perspective, I respond: two words: multi-task. (Well, one hyphenated word.)

Let me tell you about the "value" of my fanwriting. This is why I'm finishing my Harry Potter fanfic before I focus entirely on my books.

Last year, when I started the story, my mother started to read it, having recently become a Harry Potter fan herself. My family had taken a passing interest in my fanwriting before, but this was the first time any of them had followed it. Soon, she was reading it every day, nagging me for more just like my online readers. When I went away to London for a month, she told me she wanted to, "Pick up where I'd left off," while I was gone.

Thus began my first co-authorship. Mum and I are now closer than we've ever been. We read our reviews together and laugh, spend hours over the laptop when I'm home, writing away (that's our current plan for this weekend: to finish the story), and I've taught her the ins and outs of the Internet.

Where is the "waste" in that?

I've had readers tell me I've made the wait for Book 6 bearable. I've been told I match the "voice" of an author perfectly. I've had readers inform me that they are eagerly awaiting the arrival of my first novel, that no matter what it's about, they will buy it.

I've even met a few of them in person. Some have authored fanfics that I love, and we have gabbed over our plots and themes and plans over lunch. I've made some good friends.

There's more to the value of writing than dollars and publishing contracts.