Madison! I’m at A Room Of One’s Own TOMORROW, 4pm! Note the Time!

I’ll be doing a rare afternoon tour appearance tomorrow in Madison because at 6pm, A Room of One’s Own welcomes the Guests of Honor at Wiscon, the (completely fantastic) science fiction and fantasy convention. So if you’re coming at 4 o’clock to Room of One’s Own to see me, stick around afterward for the GoHs, which include last year’s Nebula and Hugo Award winner, Jo Walton. And if you’re coming at 6pm to see the guests of honor, why not come out a little bit early to see me? It’ll be more speculative fiction writers than you can shake the proverbial stick at.

So remember, Madison: Tomorrow (Thursday, May 23), A Room Of One’s Own, 4pm. Don’t be late! See you there.

Amazon’s Kindle Worlds: Instant Thoughts

The Twitters are abuzz today about Amazon’s new “Kindle Worlds” program, in which people are allowed to write and then sell through Amazon their fan fiction for certain properties owned by Alloy Entertainment, including Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, with more licenses expected soon. I’ve had a quick look at the program on Amazon’s site, and I have a couple of immediate thoughts on it. Be aware that these thoughts are very preliminary, i.e., I reserve the right to have possibly contradictory thoughts about the program later, when I think (and read) about it more. Also note that these are my personal thoughts and do not reflect the positions or policies of SFWA, of which I am (still but not for much longer) president.

1. The main knock on fan fiction from the rights-holders point of view — i.e., people are using their characters and situations in ways that probably violate copyright — is apparently not at all a problem here, since Alloy Entertainment is on board for allowing people to write what they want (within specific guidelines — more on that in a bit). Since that’s the case, there’s probably a technical argument here about whether this is precisely “fan fiction” or if it’s actually media tie-in writing done with intentionally low bars to participation (the true answer, I suspect, is that it’s both). Either way, if Alloy Entertainment’s on board, everything’s on the level, so why not.

2. So, on one hand it offers people who write fan fiction a chance to get paid for their writing in a way that doesn’t make the rightsholders angry, which is nice for the fan ficcers. On the other hand, as a writer, there are a number of things about the deal Amazon/Alloy are offering that raise red flags for me. Number one among these is this bit:

“We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”

i.e., that really cool creative idea you put in your story, or that awesome new character you made? If Alloy Entertainment likes it, they can take it and use it for their own purposes without paying you — which is to say they make money off your idea, lots of money, even, and all you get is the knowledge they liked your idea.

Essentially, this means that all the work in the Kindle Worlds arena is a work for hire that Alloy (and whomever else signs on) can mine with impunity. This is a very good deal for Alloy, et al — they’re getting story ideas! Free! — and less of a good deal for the actual writers themselves. I mean, the official media tie-in writers and script writers are doing work for hire, too, but they get advances and\or at least WGA minimum scale for their work.

Another red flag:

“Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.”

Which is to say, once Amazon has it, they have the right to do anything they want with it, including possibly using it in anthologies or selling it other languages, etc, without paying the author anything else for it, ever. Again, an excellent deal for Amazon; a less than excellent deal for the actual writer.

Note that on its page Amazon makes a show of saying that the writer owns the copyright on the original things that are copyrightable, but inasmuch as Amazon also acquires all rights for the length of the copyright and Alloy is given the right to exploit the new elements without further compensation, this show about you keeping your copyright appears to be just that: show.

The argument here could be, well, you know, people who were writing fan fiction weren’t getting paid or had rights to these characters and worlds anyway, so only getting paid for their work once is still better than what they would have gotten before. And that’s not an entirely bad argument on one level. But on another level, there’s a difference between writing fan fiction because you love the world and the characters on a personal level, and Amazon and Alloy actively exploiting that love for their corporate gain and throwing you a few coins for your trouble. So this should be an interesting argument for people to have in the real world.

3. If this sort of thing takes off, I’m interested to see what effect it will have on the media tie-in market, and on the professional writers who work in it. Obviously it has the potential to greatly shift how things are done. If you are a corporate rights holder, for example, would you bother with seeking out pro writers any more, and paying them advances and royalties and all of that business? Or would you just open up the gates to paid fan fiction, which you don’t have to pay anything for and yet still have total control over the commercial exploitation thereof? Again, this is interesting stuff to consider, and if I were a pro writer who primarily worked in media tie-in markets, I would have some real concerns.

4. This won’t spell the end of unauthorized fan fic, and I’m very sure of that. For one thing, the Kindle Worlds program says it won’t accept “pornography” which means all that slash out there will still be on the outside of the program (Edit: to note not all slash is porn, although I wonder if Amazon won’t simply default it as such); likewise crossover fan fic, so those “Vampire Diaries meet Dr Who” stories will be left out in the cold. And besides that, there will be people who a) have no interest in making money and/or b) don’t write well enough to be accepted into the Kindle Worlds program (there does seem that there will be some attempt at quality control, or at least, someone has to go through the stuff to make sure there’s nothing that’s contractually forbidden). So if this was an attempt to squash fan fic through other means, it’s doomed to failure. But I don’t suspect that’s the point.

5. Speaking as a writer, I wouldn’t do something like this; I don’t generally like writing in other people’s worlds in any event (and when I do, I go public domain — see Fuzzy Nation) and I don’t like the terms that are on offer here. And of course I have my own things to write. Likewise, I would caution anyone looking at this to be aware that overall this is not anywhere close to what I would call a good deal. Finally, on a philosophical level, I suspect this is yet another attempt in a series of long-term attempts to fundamentally change the landscape for purchasing and controlling the work of writers in such a manner that ultimately limits how writers are compensated for their work, which ultimately is not to the benefit of the writer. This will have far-reaching consequences that none of us really understand yet.

The thing that can be said for it is that it’s a better deal than you would otherwise get for writing fan fiction, i.e., no deal at all and possibly having to deal with a cranky rightsholder angry that you kids are playing in their yard. Is that enough for you? That’s on you to decide.

The Big Idea: Rhiannon Held

Readers often have default expectations when it comes to their reading — default expectations that we call “tropes.” But where do you go as a writer when the tropes don’t take you where your characters need to be? It’s a question that Rhiannon Held explores today as she writes about her new novel, Tarnished.


Tarnished is the second book in my series, and if I had to articulate an over-arcing big idea for the whole series, it’s that I love to explore emotional truths tied to situations that don’t come up in typical urban fantasy tropes. In the first book, Silver, those non-trope situations were born from the religion and culture that I created for my werewolves. In Tarnished, I decided I wanted to find the emotional resonance in non-trope leadership strategies, and romantic relationships.

At the end of Silver my two main characters, Andrew and Silver, were poised to challenge for leadership of the largest werewolf pack in North America. In the typical urban fantasy trope as I’ve encountered it, usually the protagonist’s resistance to being Grand Supernatural Poobah begins as internal: she wouldn’t be any good at it! No one would accept her! Then, when she agrees, the resistance switches to being external: the rock golems won’t listen to a meat bag! The shapeshifters won’t listen to anyone banging a golem!

But once they’ve set aside their initial internal objections, would protagonists really automatically be totally committed to leading? Obviously they have to learn how to win everyone over, but would the protagonists really be completely awesome at leading once everyone’s behind them? Book 1 ended with Andrew and Silver’s decision to try to lead, and I decided that Book 2 needed to explore exactly what it would take to get there. Do they have the self-confidence to do it? Is that self-confidence strong enough to withstand everyone else’s doubt? Can they make hard decisions and keep their cool when people question those decisions? Can they admit they were wrong when they make mistakes? Can they delegate and trust others to get things done?

And can they lead, as opposed to just shouting louder than everyone else? Often werewolf alphas are portrayed as being all about physical strength, or if not physical strength, at least strength of emotional bullying. Andrew is somewhat slight in stature and slow from previous injuries; Silver can’t shift and can’t use her left arm. If they want to win the alphaship, they have do something other than shout loudest and punch hardest: they have to court allies, they have to coax people, they have to lead by example. I really wanted to showcase different leadership strategies, because while stories are often about the underdog beating the muscle-bound alpha, the underdog too often uses mystical punching powers that beat the alpha’s physical punching abilities. Why does punching have to be the measure of success?

Tarnished also introduces a new POV: Susan. She’s human and has a child with John, the Seattle alpha. She also has her moments of going toe-to-toe in fights with stronger, faster werewolves, but with her I also wanted to explore a different kind of romantic relationship. In Book 1, Andrew and Silver were somewhat typical of urban fantasies: they met, they were attracted to each other, obstacles kept them apart, but they got together in the end. In Book 2, I show them working as a functioning, loving team, so the romantic tension switches over to Susan and John.

Whether in books, movies, or television, I’ve always wanted more opportunities to cheer a couple on to working out their problems. That’s what gets you through life, after all—not giving up after the first big fight. Work through the fight and the relationship often ends up stronger on the other side. Of course, that’s not to say that life isn’t also filled with truly irreconcilable differences or people who are assholes. Staying to try desperately to change things in those situations can make everyone miserable. The way I think of it is that you want to preserve and care for a precious connection between two people, rather than upholding some ideal of not splitting up for moral reasons even if you have no connection left at all.

The trouble is that in fiction, the relationships being “worked on” are usually only based on irreconcilable differences or assholery. In that case, of course you’re cheering for the couple to break up! That way, one can get with the other hot, passionate love interest introduced in this book who is clearly so much better for him or her. Or else you’re rolling your eyes while waiting for the couple who’s off-again every book to provide cheap romantic tension to get their laughable miscommunication straightened out so they can be on-again.

Susan and John are already together. They have a child. They love each other, but their relationship is on the rocks because John lets himself be ashamed of her and misguidedly tries to protect her by keeping her out of the werewolf world. That’s something that can be worked out—I hope it’s something the readers want to see worked out!—because why should love be sacrificed to social expectations? But reconciliation is something they both have to work hard to achieve.

Hopefully playing with non-trope situations can help knock aside a few of the most annoying tropes as well. If my characters can remind readers that natural charisma doesn’t mean you’re born knowing exactly how to lead; people who aren’t hot, single twenty-somethings fall in love; and protecting your love by keeping them in ignorance of the supernatural world is forgetting they’re a consenting adult… so much the better!


Tarnished: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.