rewriting -- it's NOT new, & other points

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Title: rewriting -- it's NOT new, & other points
Creator: Shoshanna
Date(s): November 22, 1996
Medium: online
Fandom: The Professionals
External Links:
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rewriting -- it's NOT new, & other points is a 1996 post by Shoshanna made to Virgule-L.

It is quoted on Fanlore with Shoshanna's permission.

For additional context, see Meta Essays, List Surveys and Notable Discussions on Virgule-L.

Some Topics Discussed

The Post

M. Fae asked for clarification and comment on a rumor she'd heard that someone had rewritten the ending of a Sebastian story (later identified as "Catharsis") and posted it to another list. Most reaction so far (but remember I get the digest) has been very negative.

[AM]. said, "That's just too plain rude. Not to mention astoundingly egotistical. Why would anyone do that, instead of just writing their own stories?"

Sandy, while noting that fanfic is often a conversation among its writers, identified this kind of story as the kind that should remain hidden in its writers' desk drawers, along with the actor slash.

[CH] said that rewriting and posting a story like this was incredibly rude to and disrespectful of Sebastian, and added to all fan writers: "I beg you to show enough respect to your own community, and to the writers in that community, not to blatantly steal their work, futz with it for your own pleasure, and disseminate it on the list." [T] declared such rewriting "wrong, wrong, WRONG!" and [E] basically agreed.

[MK] concluded that "technology is opening the door to new behaviors and situations. It's up to us as a community to decide what we think is acceptable, and to communicate that to the rest of the group. Obviously, many of us feel this is behavior we STRONGLY wish to discourage," and [L] seemed to similarly connect this event and the issue it raised with the advent of netfandom.

[J], on the other hand, noted that the rewrite was done in the context of a larger discussion of the story, and was not intended for indiscriminate ("circuit") distribution. She also said, "I don't think any of us owns any of what we do. ... The attitude that 'it's mine and you shouldn't do anything to it' seems rather out of place for a fanfic writer. If you're sincere in that belief you oughtn't be writing fanfic."

I thought it was time to interject a note of historical accuracy here. This isn't by any means the first time someone has done something like this; it's got nothing to do with the net (except for not having to retype, maybe; but somebody did have to retype most of "Catharsis"), and *as far as I know nobody objected before*!

I'm referring to [Jane C.]'s circuit story "Two-Up Truly Queered," which is a rewrite of Jane of Australia's circuit story "Two-Up." "Two-Up" is dated September 1986; "Two-Up Truly Queered" isn't dated, but I'm pretty sure I got my copy at least six or seven years ago. I'm going to first describe what Jane C. did, for people who haven't seen the original story/ies, and then I'm going to talk a bit about the larger issue, okay?

The original story, Jane of Australia's "Two-Up," is a first-time story in which Bodie and Doyle basically play a drunken game of strip coin-toss ("two-up") and discover that they're turning on to each other. After some heavy-duty smooching and admission that they both want to make love, Doyle announces "succinctly" that he's "had a hard day and want[s] to go to bed." Bodie accuses him of being a prick-tease, and Doyle absolutely explodes in rage, flinging Bodie down and sitting on him, yelling, "Don't you ever say that about me! I'm not gay, never was, don't intend to become gay, and the fact that I fancy you could have something to do with the fact that you're my best mate and you're just about the most beautiful physical specimen I've ever seen. Call me a fool, call me a clown, call me old and ugly, if you like, but if you have the idea I'm gay you're vastly mistaken and can go out through that front door and stay out." Bodie shamefacedly apologizes, admitting that he had thought Doyle was leading him on as a joke. Doyle explains that he meant he wanted to get laid in comfort, and they have the requisite great sex and happy ending.

I gather from "Two-Up Truly Queered" that [Jane C.] found the story grossly homophobic. (And she's not the only one.) She rewrote it, quoting and summarizing the original story in plain text while adding her own commentary in boldface. At the crucial moment of Doyle's explosion, she interrupted, summarized the story's ending as its author wrote it ("Jane from Australia thinks that Bodie apologized..." etc.), and concluded, "Well, she's wrong. It went this way--" She then provided her own version of the story's ending, in which Bodie reacts quite differently to Doyle's explosion and subsequent explanation.

So why did the rewrite of "Catharsis" prompt such a furious outburst, when the rewrite of "Two-Up" didn't? (Or did it, and I just never heard about it?) Here's where I'm going to talk about some wider issues.

For one thing, I think that the advent of the net has generally heightened tension about privacy, security, etc. across the board. But there are specific things at stake here. When we were having the thread about writing sequels to other people's stories, I said that one of the things that mattered greatly to me was that the correct writer always get credit (or blame, or whatever) for her own work and not for anyone else's. So there's a big difference between Fan 2 rewriting the ending of Fan 1's story and releasing the whole story under her own name, in which case Fan 2 is committing plagiarism; or under Fan 1's name, in which case Fan 2 is forcing the new ending onto Fan 1's reputation, if you see what I mean -- there isn't a name for this, but I consider it fully as abhorrent as plagiarism; or as "this is a story by Fan 1 of which I, Fan 2, have rewritten the ending from point X," which is what [Jane C] did. As far as I can tell from the way [J] reported the case, that's also what the person who rewrote the ending of "Catharsis" did. Note also that Jane released her rewrite to the circuit, which the person who rewrote "Catharsis" did not do (although a very good case could be made that sending something out to any mailing list virtually ensures that it will hit the electronic circuit eventually).

As long as the rewrite is *clearly* (*VERY* clearly) marked to show who wrote what, I don't see anything morally wrong with this. Marking it in that way means that Fan 2 is not "blatantly stealing" Fan 1's work, to use [CH]'s phrase. (But please understand that if the rewrite isn't VERY CLEARLY marked -- so that an idiot could tell who wrote what -- I find the action quite as reprehensible as [CH] does.) It's true that my first reflexive reaction was the same anger than [AM] and others felt. Then I remembered "Two-Up Truly Queered," and thought about the issues, and changed my mind.

Fanfic, as I said before and Sandy echoed, is conversation. In "Two-Up Truly Queered," [Jane C] was quite explicitly having a conversation with Jane of Australia -- or, if you prefer, she was debating her, before an audience of circuit readers. Rewriting a story as the person on the other list did isn't really "writing fanfiction" at all; it's engaging in literary criticism or in editorial work. ([Jane C] was engaging in a political dispute; she wasn't concerned with Jane of Australia's writing style.) I believe that once a story is released, it is fair game for analysis and commentary -- including commentary of the "it really didn't work, and here's why, and here's how I think it could have worked much better" variety. I think, however, that rewriting a chunk of the story isn't actually a very good way to make such a point, unless it is accompanied by a lot of authorial explanation from Fan 2, pointing out what Fan 1 did that she disagrees with and what she has done instead and why. Ultimately, the rewrite would merely serve to illustrate the critical discussion. The danger in the situation as [J] described it seems to me to be that the story may find its way onto a wider circuit outside the context of its generation, where credit for who wrote what may be lost, and where Fan 2's reason for doing the rewrite at all may be forgotten.

This danger is greatly increased if the re-writer posted the complete rewritten "Catharsis" to the list. I really can't see any need to do that, when her point about writing style, or characterization, or whatever she disliked about the story, could be made just with a few choice examples. But I don't know exactly what her point was, or what she wrote, or what she posted, or how she couched and presented and marked it.

Neither does anyone else who has spoken out so far (although remember I get the digest) except [J] , and [J] didn't give details. So I don't think I have enough info to say whether I think her act was unproblematic, rude but basically inconsequential, or abhorrent. But the latter sounds unlikely.

Can anyone who was highly active in Pros fandom in the mid- or late 80s tell us if there was any fannish reaction to "Two-Up Truly Queered" other than, "Oh, look, [Jane C]'s written a response to Jane of Australia," which was my reaction? I wanted to ask the same question during the sequels-to-other-people's-stories thread -- did anyone *at the time* condemn the actions of the people who were writing sequels to "Consequences" and "Endgame" and so on? For that matter, what did fandom of the time make of the action of the person who wrote "Starting Over," which bills itself -- quite properly, in my opinion -- as "an alternate sequel to the Adagio, Catharsis, Homecoming trilogy," but which gives no indication of whether the author contacted Sebastian before writing or circulating the story?

As of Friday morning's digest, I see that [Anne Higgins], the rewriter [of Cathyarsis], basically did everything I had said I thought she should have, although I am not on CI5 and don't know the exact wording, etc., of what was posted there. (Nor do I want them forwarded to me. I'm satisfied that no moral outrage was committed IMO and more interested now in discussing the larger questions.)

Clearly my point that posting something to a mailing list would "eventually" put it on the circuit was truer than I thought; it seems to have taken about thirty-six hours.

I think CI5's policy of not treating the stories of writers on that list this way is silly; it does indeed smack of "it's okay to say things behind their backs but not to their faces." If the goal is to avoid authorial whining, as I think the phrase was, then the solution is to convince or otherwise educate the whiners (or to decide to ignore them), not to shut up. If whining is worth paying attention to, then it's worth paying attention to no matter if the author's on the list or not.