I Wrote a Piece of Fan Fiction for 10 Years and Here’s What Happened…

Fan fiction gets a bad rap, and that’s mostly because of some of the more…strange products that end up on the internet. While we often see cringeworthy, oftentimes hilarious outcomes that freak out celebrities like James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, or even have entire Twitter accounts devoted to some of the more outlandish musings (and let’s not forget “My Immortal”), “fan fiction” is generally used as a derogative term that denotes something exceedingly derivative or poorly written. Even I thought ill of fan fiction at first.

 

This was before I published some.

…and no surprise, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean related.

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Let’s start at the beginning:

I was twelve years old, visiting the Disneyland Resort. This was in the months immediately preceding the release of Pirates 3, which everyone thought at the time would be the final installment of the franchise (oh how wrong they were). I liked the movies quite a bit, and was enchanted by the new additions to the park including Jack Sparrow and Barbossa animatronics inside the Pirates attraction, as well as the complete revamp of Tom Sawyer Island to Pirate’s Lair.

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And you can bet that I will absolutely be recreating this photo when the island reopens, given that the bone cage is still there.

Inside the Pirate-themed Pieces of Eight store in New Orleans Square, I bought a book called, Bring Me That Horizon, a compendium of cast and crew bios, on set and behind-the-scenes details, and exclusive set photos from unit publicist Michael Singer. It covered the entire trilogy, and as I had been interested in film from a young age, I was proud to have bought the book with my own money that I had earned from chores.

I started rifling through the book as soon as it was mine. I can clearly remember sitting at a waterside table at the Hungry Bear restaurant with it as I waited for my parents to bring back lunch. It was also at this table that I started thinking about a story. I wanted to write about a new character who was always a part of the Pirates stories, but was never seen, and I wanted her connected to my two favorite characters from the movies, Jack Sparrow and Tia Dalma.

The summer began with me seeing the third Pirates movie (which quickly became my favorite), getting a cat I named Calypso (because I had no self-control), and then spending the remainder of the season writing my story. I wrote on pieces of brightly colored construction paper and stuck them in all possible pages of the Singer book and carried it with me everywhere I went. So loved is that book, there are pages currently falling out of it.

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Myself and said hero, Michael Singer, along with a satchel gifted to him by Mr. Depp himself.

I named my original character Rose Hexfury, a name randomly generated for my player from the short-lived World of Warcraft-esque virtual game Pirates of the Caribbean Online. She was to be Jack’s half-sister and Tia Dalma would be her mentor. I wanted her to be a gypsy from France, interact with all of the characters in the franchise, and somehow have mystical powers by the end.

…sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it? I was twelve. Shut up.

Well, I agreed with you. Life moved on, and within a year, I was over it. My love for the Pirates movies continued to grow, but I felt silly writing this story, which I had devised into filling FIVE books (an ambitious little one, I was!). I wasn’t Ted Elliot or Terry Rossio, I was a preteen from Nevada without any writing experience whatsoever. What was the point of writing this story? Anyone who would ever read it would find it ridiculous, I thought. So I stopped. I put it down and intended to never return, and I never told anyone what I had been working so hard on that summer.

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Aforementioned well-loved book. Don’t judge it by its cover–it’s most definitely falling apart on the inside.

Word about a fourth film began years later, and at the age of fifteen, I saw the finished product of On Stranger Tides. Even though it had been years since I had written a word of Rose Hexfury’s story, I found myself worried that the movie would interfere with the canon of what I had planned. I remember feeling relieved that it hadn’t, and I even started thinking about how I could add Penelope Cruz’s character Angelica to my story. This newfound interest in picking it up again failed, however, as now I was midway through high school and really considered it childish.

I was just about to graduate from my senior year in high school when I found myself on the then still-untitled Pirates of the Caribbean 5 IMDb page. I nearly fell to the ground when my eyes drifted to the rumored cast list, which included Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush (obviously), as well as Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and GASP!…JACK DAVENPORT AS NORRINGTON! “But how?” I thought. “Norrington (who by that point had grown to become another favorite character of mine) died in Pirates 3!”

In considering ways in which this could be possible, I felt once again the familiar stir of my story begin to resurface. Even though the iteration of the script featuring Norrington’s return to the story would ultimately be rejected, I started trying to find a way to bring him into mine.

That’s when I realized that Rose Hexfury’s voice was still inside me, and somewhere deep down, a twelve-year-old version of myself refused to shut up until I finished the story. So, that summer after I graduated, I got to work, vowing to finish it once and for all. Would I publish it? Never. Would I tell anyone? DEFINITELY not. I still found the whole thing rather embarrassing. I just wanted it done so that I could print out the final product, stick it in a drawer somewhere and forget about it completely.

Then I came to college, and I began to meet people just as impassioned by film and television as I was. I met writers, nerds, fans, and fellow minds who were incredibly witty and creative. Many of these friends had dabbled in fan fiction, and one of them convinced me to put my work online via fanfiction.net at the start of 2015.

I will say, were it not for the Dead Men Tell No Tales release date tomorrow, I would have had no impetus to finish the story. But I can clearly see that the film’s plot threatens to completely destroy the ending of my now ten-year-old story. So with a hard deadline of May 26, 2017, I have finally completed Rose Hexfury’s journey, and my, how far it’s come. I can’t believe a decade-long project has finally come to a close.

This process has been absolutely invaluable to me, and I would like to tell you why:
  • The discovery that I can write! Not only that, but I like it. It’s been so interesting to go back through the old pieces of construction paper and map how my vocabulary and syntax has grown far more dynamic in the passing years. I now feel so much more certain of my abilities.
  • Learning to write in another’s voice. I tell you what, it’s surprisingly hard. It’s been so much fun but also such a challenge to visualize the performers of these established characters saying the words that I am penning. I give credit where credit is due to fan fiction writers who can do this well. It’s no easy feat.
  • Learning to keep true to another canon. My story attempts to be 100% canonically correct to ten full hours of a movie franchise, something I put down in 2007 and have stood by throughout the process. This has also proved challenging. I’ve had to know what I’m talking about, and still haven’t totally succeeded. After the storm passes, I will launch into edits to fix a few missteps, rogue typos, and inconsistencies, as I really want the story as airtight as possible.
  • Feedback. I am usually scared to death of criticism, but feedback from users of fanfiction.net has been absolutely key to my work and has helped me grow significantly. I now better know what an audience responds to, as well as times when I’m being far too vague or not giving a character enough attention.
  • The people. Branching off of this thought, I have learned to be far more open-minded about this facet of the internet. Fan fiction isn’t embarrassing. It’s not worthless or lesser, as I originally thought. People from all over the world contribute, and how amazing is it that that many people are so inspired by someone else’s work to write a continuation or a spinoff or a crossover with some other work? Yes, it most definitely can get weird, but for the most part, these sites are an epicenter of creativity and passion, and I think that deserves to be supported and treasured.
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My fic’s cover image. Phone filters these days…

My story is based on the work of Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, and Jeff Nathanson, the screenwriters who built such a wonderful world for me to play with, as well as everyone involved in the creative teams of the films and the Imagineers who designed the original 1967 Disneyland attraction. I further was inspired by the work of Robb Kidd, who did an amazing job with his Jack Sparrow and Brethren Court series, which I have also looped into my story several times.

I thank my friend for forcing me to put my work online for people to read, and the handful of people who ever knew it existed in the first place and the readers on fanfiction.net.

Ten years and 196,835 words later, I am finally embracing my work. I’m not ashamed anymore. In fact, I’m proud and relieved that it’s over. If you would like to read what I’ve done, below is the link. While you’re there, I encourage you to poke around the site find stories from your own favorite movies, books, television shows, games, and more. There’s so much out there, much of it very good.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11382703/1/The-Legend-of-Rose-Hexfury

All photos by author. Gifs from giphy.
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Never Trust a “Sold Out” Sign – Two Nights at the Auckland Writers Festival

Yesterday and today, I attended the 15th annual Auckland Writers Festival. Sadly, of the hundreds of lectures, signings, workshops and other events the Festival has going on, I could only attend two of the lectures, thanks in no small part to my student budget and crammed student schedule. But tonight, as I sit here thinking about the events I went to in retrospect, there was a pretty amazing lesson to be learned from both of them – comedy.

I am a professional procrastinator, and despite several gargantuan banners spread across the width of Queen Street, the busiest street in the Auckland CBD that I live one block away from, I still somehow managed to totally forget that it was going on. So the Monday before the Festival began, I hopped online to check out the events. To my delight, I found some awesome events that appealed to me!

…and were all sold out.

Begrudgingly, I moved along, digging further into the programming. BINGO. I came across the name “Paula Hawkins,” author of the massive bestselling murder-mystery thriller The Girl on the Train. A book like this was on my radar for several main reasons:

1) Psychological thrillers are my favorite genre. Give me a good Hitchcockian suspense, a “they were dead the whole time” twist ending, Johnny Depp in Secret Window, WHATEVER. I’ll take it all!

2) Written by woman, featuring three female protagonists. #feminism.

3) And the biggest reason of all, the fact that later this year, the film adaptation will be coming out, starring Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, and my main girl, Rebecca Ferguson.

I bought the book earlier this year back in the States, but it was hardcover and a bit bulky for my suitcase, so I sadly had to leave it behind when I made the trek over to Auckland. So I was a little hesitant when I realized that I was going to a book talk…about a book I hadn’t even cracked the cover of.

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A photo (albeit blurry) of Paula Hawkins at her talk at the Auckland Writers Festival. Photo by author.

However, all my apprehensions went out the window upon entering the beautiful ASB Theatre in the Aotea Centre (right off of Queen Street, where all those helpful banners that I ignore hang). For a very reasonable price, I got an amazing seat and got to listen to Hawkins detail the process of writing The Girl on the Train. Hawkins began her career as a journalist, and through her agent, was commissioned to write, “chick lit,” or romantic comedy novels. This was much to her own confusion. “I don’t find myself partiularly romantic or particularly funny,” Hawkins stated dryly. As she continued to write chick lit under the pseudonym Amy Silver, she noticed that the plot elements in these carefree stories began to get darker and darker. That’s when she took a turn in her writing, began using her own name to pen her novels, and ultimately landed at what would become The Girl on the Train, the story of a divorced alcoholic who has frequent blackouts and envisions lives of strangers she passes on her train commute every day. One day, she witnesses something on her commute that turns her into an amateur detective, but uncovers many more convuluted secrets the deeper into the mystery she gets.

To my disappointment, Hawkins had little to nothing to do with the film, and hasn’t even been able to see the finished product in its entirety. Rights to the film had already been sold by the time she had released the novel. Hawkins also was a bit surprised at the casting of Blunt as the main protagonist, Rachel, saying that Blunt’s sharp features were not what she had envisioned Rachel to be like at all.

After the lecture I bought another copy of The Girl on the Train, this time in paperback with some killer red pages (no pun intended)! I’ll have you know that I am already about a quarter of the way through, and it is absolutely living up to my expecatations. Let’s hope the movie can follow suit!

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My new copy of The Girl on the Train. …I really like red pages! Photo by author.

The second lecture I attended was Gloria Steinem, famous political and feminist activist and author of the book My Life on the Road. I am a bit ashamed to admit it, but the only reason why I had ever heard of Steinem was thanks to Emma Watson’s He For She movement and subsequent book club, “Our Shared Shelf.” Watson kicked off the monthly virtual book club in January with My Life on the Road. Once again…I…I got busy, okay?! To my credit, I read a great deal of the novel, but simply got away from it. But once I did begin to delve into the material, I was a bit shocked at our educational system that someone whose influence was so far-reaching and impactful seemed to be excluded from history, or at the very least, the history I was taught. Especially as a woman myself, I would have liked to have learned about a female entrepreneur, media leader and social rights activist. There was a bit of controversy earlier in the year regarding Steinem and former Secretary of the State Madeleine Albright that did rub me the wrong way when they spoke about feminism and how it should relate to voting for Hillary Clinton as President of the United States, although Steinem later retracted her statements. Despite this, I still retained interest in hearing from this influential and successful woman, particularly because of her resurgence with people even younger than me par Emma Watson’s suggestion.

This is where the title of my post comes into play: originally, there was large, bolded text across the webpage for Steinem’s talk that rather hostilly said, “THIS EVENT IS SOLD OUT.

BLAST! Foiled again! …unless…

I clicked on the Ticketmaster link to buy tickets, just as I had successfully done with Paula Hawkins not moments before. It let me through. …hmm… From then on out, I felt like I was carefully tinkering with a ticking bomb. Any move I made, I expected some angry red flashing text to yell at me:

“HEY DUMMY. ‘SOLD OUT’ MEANS ‘SOLD OUT.’ WE FIND IT HILARIOUS THAT YOU WANT TO ATTEND A WRITERS FESTIVAL, GIVEN THAT YOU OBVIOUSLY CAN’T READ!” 

But, as most hesitations I have in my life, my fears never came to fruition. Before I knew it, I had one balcony ticket all to myself! Even today, as I approached the theatre, I walked with mild trepidation. In moments of uncertainty in social situations, I always think of comedian Paul F. Tompkins’ stand up bit where he talks about his crippling “fear of getting yelled at.” 

“I am a grown man. I have a mustache! But any time I’m in any sort of a municipal building, a post office situation…I’ll be standing in line, a line I’ve stood in countless times. The whole time I’m in the line, my lizard brain is whispering to me, ‘You might be in the wrong line. And when you get up to the glass, the lady is going to yell at you.‘ Like, what I imagine is going to happen is I will get up there and state my needs, and the lady will go, ‘YOU’RE IN THE WRONG LINE. YOU RUINED IT FOR THE WHOLE POST OFFICE. GET TO THE BACK OF THE OTHER LINE! …OH. AND YOU’RE A BAD PERSON, JUST LIKE YOU KNEW YOU WERE.'”

– Paul F. Tompkins, “Laboring Under Delusions”

I have empathized with this bit for years, because it is basically the track which underscores my daily social interactions. So would there be someone tonight at the theatre waiting to yell at me? I held my breath as the usher scanned my ticket…

…no problem. Because of course there wouldn’t be a problem. Not ever when I expect it, that is.

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Gloria Steinem at her talk about My Life on the Road. Photo by author.

The theatre was absolutely packed for Gloria Steinem, and actually created a very interesting social discourse. During the Q&A session following her talk, deep, underlying issues in New Zealand politics came to the forefront. In a way, Steinem’s prescence alone created an open forum in the theatre about abortions, equal pay between the sexes, transgender rights, “feminism” vs. “equalism,” objectification of women, sex workers, prostitution, and (everyone’s favorite topic) American politics. It was so impressive to see how one memoir and one woman behind that memoir could inspire a room full of hundreds of very opinionated people to rise up and bring forward their thoughts, with Steinem serving as the moderator. There were tense moments, joyful moments, and ultimately it left me with a lot to think about regarding my own opinions on these controversial issues.

So if there’s one thing I’m taking out of my experience at the Auckland Writers Festival with these two awesome ladies who could not be more different at face value (be it in lifestyle or genre), that despite generally writing on topics that aren’t comedic in the slightest, they both are funny people and are capable of seeing and creating comedy in their lives and work. Something that I will forever hold in my heart was something Steinem said about laughter. She studied for a time in India, and recalled a lesson she learned while there about how “laughter is the only free emotion.” While humans can be made to feel fear that we are loved, no one can force you to laugh. Laughter arises organically, as it is a result of two ideas coming together and causing a physical response unique to only that individual.

That’s why I hold Charlie Chaplin’s “a day without laughter is a day wasted,” quote so dear. That’s why all of my creative material, and even this very blog, is branded with the name “Infinita Risus,” – limitless laughter. 

In final thought, we all need to read more books, be it fiction or non-fiction, never trust an angry, “SOLD OUT” icon, I will forever fear getting yelled at…

…and remember to laugh often and laugh always!