Francesca Coppa, “The Fanfiction Reader: Folk Tales for the Digital Age”

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Francesca Coppa, “The Fanfiction Reader: Folk Tales for the Digital Age”
Interviewer: questions by Mary Francis, conducted by Kathryn Beaton
Interviewee: Francesca Coppa
Date(s): August 29, 2017
Medium: online
Fandom(s): multi
External Links: Francesca Coppa, “The Fanfiction Reader: Folk Tales for the Digital Age”
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Francesca Coppa, “The Fanfiction Reader: Folk Tales for the Digital Age” is a 2017 interview conducted by Kathryn Beaton.

"Our author Francesca Coppa recently answered questions from our editorial director, Mary Francis, about her new book The Fanfiction Reader: Folk Tales for the Digital Age."

Some Topics Discussed

  • Coppa's book The Fanfiction Reader: Folk Tales for the Digital Age
  • how Coppa chose fic examples for the book
  • fandom has its own literary and critical languages, and fandom is a fully developed literary form and artworld
  • all culture is a culture of reuse
  • the use and value and freedom of pseuds
  • fandom and profit
  • mainstream culture co-opting fandom
  • "Consider how fandom has made grownups care about what are essentially stories for kids: Harry Potter, Captain America, Batman, Doctor Who, etc. Now grown-up fanboys like Stephen Moffat, Russell Davies, and J.J. Abrams are writing more adult versions of these stories for a grownup market."
  • "Many of us dwell on stories, or retell them in our heads to make them better; if we’re critics we write reviews and articles, we make interpretations and tease out subtext. Lots of people come out of a movie wondering what comes next? Fanfiction writers are just more committed than the average bear: they actually write the stories down and share them."
  • "Canon should just be the stories you like. While there are so-called BNFs (Big Name Fans) whose stories are broadly liked within a particular fandom, it’s a shibboleth that one fandom’s BNF is another fandom’s “Never heard of her.” Which is good, actually, because I think that it’s the sprawling, unregulated, defiantly amateur nature of fanfiction that makes people feel like they can just join in if they want to. It’s like a crazy dance floor: sure, probably some people dance better than others, but who cares? Get out there and shake your groove thing, yeah yeah. It’s a party not a performance."
  • "...there are dangers, too, and tradeoffs, to this new legitimacy. Fans – female fans in particular – should be wary of doing too much unpaid work for the entertainment industry."
  • "Some days I feel a bit depressed when I walk into a bookstore, or Hot Topic: like, wow, the mainstream commercial world is really rushing to catch up with this and commodify it. And I feel like a bitter old punk some days (or what fans call a BOFQ – a bitter old fandom queen). Like–yeah, okay, that TARDIS dress is cute and all, but you really should come down to the club and hear the bands play. Read this crackfic, look at that art with the tentacles. Pow!"

Some Excerpts

You do a lot of work on behalf of artists who transform existing materials into new art via your engagement with the Organization for Transformative Works; tell us something about why you think that is important for our society, for creative culture?

I just think that capitalism is telling some serious lies about how culture gets made! I mean, my job as an English professor is about tracking chains of influence and allusion – everybody makes stuff out of other stuff, whether it’s Virgil rewriting Homer or Kate Bush singing “Wuthering Heights” or Quentin Tarantino doing shot-for-shot remakes of the B-movies he loves. The Ramones wanted to be The Ronettes – just, who are these original artists who work in a vacuum, cutting new things from whole cloth? These ideas have nothing to do with culture-making, they’re about creating clear lines of ownership and profit. And they’re bad for art: culture is conversational. They’re also ruining the lives of regular people who want to be creative just as a way of being human–who want to sing, dance, paint, draw, tell stories, make movies, play in a band, without a waiver or a licence. I’m in favor of people doing as well as spectating, making as well as buying. Watch Dancing With The Stars, sure – but dance, too! Don’t just watch The Poker Channel–play a hand! Play baseball, read and write fiction, paint. Buy music, go to concerts–but don’t be afraid to be in a band or sing in the shower. You shouldn’t need a performance licence: what kind of songwriter wants people not to find their song catchy enough to sing?

There are a lot of stereotypes about fan fiction writers: which do you think are the worst, or the most unfair?

Well, the first is simply that “fan fiction” is bad: I hate it when someone says, “It’s like fan fiction!” when what they mean is, “This is sloppy or bad.” You know what’s like fan fiction? Hamilton: The Musical – which is a racebent alternative universe, as fan journalist Aja Romano nailed right off. You know what else is like fanfic? Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Ian McKellen’s 1995 Richard III where he sets the whole story in a 1930s-style fascist universe. Productions of The Importance Of Being Earnest where they cast Lady Bracknell as a man in drag. Books like Ahab’s Wife and Lo’s Diary and Wide Sargasso Sea–all the works where we take an old story that’s meaningful to us and use it to make a new story that’s meaningful to us.


Which brings me to my last unfair thing–not that fanfiction writers are teenage girls, because many fanfiction writers are indeed teenage girls (I’m tempted to quip that fanfiction writers are teenage girls of all ages, many of us in our thirties, forties, and older) – but that the writing of teenage girls is ipso facto bad. I have written so much feedback to young women writers telling them: hey, if I’d written as well as you at your age, I would RULE THE WORLD. That said – while there are teenage girls represented in The Fanfiction Reader: Folk Tales for the Digital Age – and while I hope that students will be inspired to try their hands at writing fic themselves – many of the writers in the book also write professionally because fanfic provides its own distinct pleasures.

The New Yorker article you just mentioned is one of a sequence of mainstream media pieces that have come out recently on fan cultures. Sometimes these strike me as a little safari-like (Those kids! What will they get up to next?); but is fandom going mainstream? Or is the point that fan cultures transcend categories like “mainstream”?

I actually don’t want fandom to get too mainstream! Fandom’s crazy, chaotic nature is part of what makes it special. It’s also what gives people the confidence to come in and make stuff: people think, hey, I could do that! I’m also not generally in favor of the commercialization of fanworks, mostly because I think people write different things for money than they do for love: that’s what amateur really means–amare means love. That said, I’m always happy to see fan writers, artists, and vidders celebrated and appreciated as artists.