Thursday, August 25, 2011

Analysis: Fan fiction, declarations of love, happily ever afters and the ultimate zipless fuck

@einfach_mich asked Wednesday morning:

(For the morning crowd) Twitter Poll: Do you have to have declarations of love and HEA in your smut fic? Think hard about what you read.

A little translation here for readers who may find that tweet cryptic: HEA is "Happily Ever After," the happy ending one might find at the end of a work of fiction. "Fic" is short for "fiction" and in this particular case likely refers to fan fiction based on characters based substantively on another popular fictional work.

If I have to explain "smut," I suggest exiting this post.

As a relative newbie to the world of fan fiction, I've had my eyes opened by some of the writing published online. There's an overwhelming demand for fan fiction which is not only well-written, but includes a dose of content focused on sexuality. The most popular content bends and twists characters' emotions and responses to all manner of situations, including relationships of all depths and the sex generated in the course of these relationships. This has been a feature of online fan fiction since it began; the relative anonymity of authors allows writers to submit content that is far more diverse including depth of sexuality than fiction published in print.

Twilight fan fiction is relatively unique in the genre, in terms of interest and demand, and in terms of authors'/readers' gender. The numbers of works posted at (FFn), the largest and oldest fan fiction publishing platform, under the Twilight saga show an interest level rivaling that of the Harry Potter saga. As of today, FFn shows total Twilight works published to date now number 186,943 while the Harry Potter category -- representing a franchise with more than twice the number of books, manifold number of characters and more than twice the number of released movies compared to the Twilight saga -- now contains 542,689 works published since 1999. That's a rough ratio of 35,000 Twilight fanfics per year to 45,000 Harry Potter fanfics per year.

And the last two movies of the Twilight franchise have yet to be released; one can only wonder at the growth potential for Twilight-based fanfics over the next two years.

According to content posted at FFn, Twilight fan fiction appears to be overwhelmingly female in terms of authors and readers; the Harry Potter constituency, in contrast, appears to be more evenly distributed between males and females. This is based on anecdotal evidence. The exact numbers are not readily available as FFn's site structure does not allow for much in the way of data mining. Other fan fiction publishing sites like and also appear to support the gender bias weighting toward females in Twilight fan fiction.

These numbers make the prevalence of M-rated mature content under the Twilight category at FFn rather exceptional among fan fiction communities. And yet the numbers confirm the observations made by Asst. Prof. Sharon Cumberland in her paper, Private Uses of Cyberspace: Women, Desire, and Fan Culture (MIT Communications Forum, 1999). Her thesis:

...the paradox of public access and private/anonymous identity has made it possible for women who have access to the internet to create permissive and transgressive spaces which have been, in the past, the traditional reserve of men's magazines and men's clubs.

Cumberland used fan fiction about the 1998 movie Zorro and the actor playing the lead role, Antonio Banderas, to explore this theory. She concluded,

...This pretty much sums up the slash and het genres, and acts as a metaphor for the phenomenon of women's erotica on fansites: high adventure, far-flung or historical settings, improbable sex, all within the safety of a non-judging, sympathetic, indeed, enthusiastic community. While the significance of this paradox of public access and private/anonymous identity will require much more analysis over time, it is clear that women who have access to the internet have created permissive and transgressive spaces which have been, in the past, the traditional reserve of men's magazines and men's clubs. Fan websites have, in effect, become women's clubs, where erotica can be safely explored without damage to the reputation, the career, or the domestic life. 

Which brings us to my first proposition: online smut written by women would be the ultimate in "zipless fucks." By "zipless fuck" I refer to the phrase coined by author Erica Jong in her 1973 work, Fear of Flying, referring to "a sexual encounter with an anonymous stranger that one will never meet again, and nobody one knows will ever know that it happened." (Wikipedia). In Jong's words,

The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game . The man is not "taking" and the woman is not "giving." No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one.

While Jong's main character, Isadora Wing, appears to vacillate about her expectations from life and her desires, Wing really wants it all. She doesn't want to be denied any of the choices her male counterparts have -- alone/involved, risk-taking/secure, single/married -- when it comes to relationships or to sex. Some may say character Wing feels guilty about the concept of the "zipless fuck," but choosing one means excluding another choice, cutting off her options and leaving her exposed to a notional loss.

In 1973 it would have been very easy even as a feminist of the time to feel some guilt, some loss through the exercise of choice. Choice then was being newly and quite literally shaped by the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court that year, establishing abortion's legality in the U.S. Choosing a "zipless fuck" was easier than ever in terms of dealing with unwanted pregnancy, but exercising a woman's choice of a "zipless fuck" like choosing abortion at that time would mean going against the body of American culture.

During the twenty-five year span after Fear of Flying's publication and before the emergence of fan fiction, casual sex became even more casual during the remainder of the 1970s and early 1980s. The pendulum swung back and hard as herpes and then HIV/AIDS became prevalent, causing sexually active adults to change their sexual behavior with a greater preference for monogamy and increased condom use to reduce exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. The resurgence of conservatism during the late 1990s also increased the public's sensitivity to abortion while promoting a return to more traditional roles for women. A "zipless fuck" seemed less possible and probable at the turn of the millenium.

Now nearly forty years later, choosing a "zipless fuck" is different phenomenon. While women no longer feel the same kinds of societal pressures they felt in 1973 about random sexual encounters, they also have newer and different avenues to explore their sexuality in privacy previously denied them. This brings me to my second proposition: women can now choose a "zipless fuck" either as a writer or a reader in the form of fan fiction, and a safe, STD-free experience at that. No one will know that you had a little dash of slash (homosexual fan fiction)  this morning before you went to work, rode on the train or before bed, and there will be no repercussions in the form of unwanted pregnancy, clumsy contraception or STD tests. Nor will it interfere with your climb up the corporate or social ladder. Women can even order sex toys for masturbation online, delivered anonymously, to increase our enjoyment of this "zipless fuck" -- no obligations save for the credit card bill.

But this is ultimately about choice; that's the real question about the nature of smut. It's about having options, just as it was in 1973. Women no longer need a declaration of love, commitment and happily ever after to make smut enjoyable. Having the option of a completely uninhibited no-strings-attached sexual encounter or the happily ever after is the real point. It's important that women have the choice. With online fiction women co-create, women ensure that choice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Self-Publishing: How to market children's books

@DavidGaughran asks on behalf of friend  Silvina De Vita who's recently published her first digital children's book,

I don’t have the first clue about how to market children’s books, and I don’t know many authors who write/illustrate books for young children. I presume you are marketing to the parents, but that’s about all I know.

I would really appreciate it if any of you guys could help give some advice to a self-publisher who is just starting out.

In the most basic terms, marketing is about the "4Ps" -- product, price, placement, promotion. The author in question has already determined the first two and possibly part of the third P; she's decided on a children's book (product) to be sold at a set price, with placement partially determined as 

I say partially as the author may decide to move to more or different download venues over time. Price, too, may be flexible over time as more copies are sold.

David's question is really about the fourth P -- promotion. Where does one promote a book for children?

Go where the parents are. And go where mothers are as they will make most buying decisions.

But the product is a digital product; outreach to a completely different constituency is necessary as these will be wired women who are comfortable with purchases of digital products over the internet. Where do these parents hang out?

If I were promoting this book, I'd start with immersion in the BlogHer community. I'd go so far as to consider blogging about the process of writing the book, the decision making process about self-publishing and going digital, asking that community for their feedback about the best approach to marketing. Make a commitment to that community by purchasing ad space from the BlogHer site. It's important that the author embraces the opportunity to communicate directly with her target audience; if she opens herself up to feedback, she must acknowledge hearing from her constituency or risk credibility.

I'd also encourage the author to read Pew Internet & American Life Project studies to identify where the digital parents are and how to reach them. Chances are very good that their research will provide insights about families' internet consumption which will shape promotional outreach.

Parents increasingly use social media to find content they want, and to filter out content they don't want. It's a time saver. What social media do wired parents use? The most obvious resources are Facebook and Twitter. The author should ensure that her book has a dedicated Facebook page, that she has one as an author, and that both the book and the author have Twitter accounts. The author should commit to sending out at least one update a day via each of the social media outlets she chooses, and make a point of connecting with people who are connectors in the target demographic. Is there a parent in the BlogHer community who blogs about children's books? Find them, friend them and follow them and be sure to engage authentically with them.

This is a lot to tackle all at once, but this is an essential difference between the traditional brick-and-mortar print publication process and digital self-publishing. The author will do a lot of work themselves, but they will have more control of their product and personal brand, and they will have a more authentic relationship with their audience.

Caveat here: I'm not a published author. I am, however, familiar with using social media to promote online content -- and I'm a mom who's bought a small fortune in books over more than 25 years.

Good luck! Buena Suerte!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Poll: What are the top 2 things you love/hate about fan fiction?

@einfach_mich takes a Twitter poll tonight, asking:

Tell me the TOP 2 things you HATE about Fan Fic & the TOP 2 things you LOVE about Fan Fic.

Fan fiction as a form of self-published online creative writing has been around for more than a decade; I first read about it at magazine in an article discussing the fan fiction following of Star Trek and the creation of slash themes that extended the original characters. It amused me but didn't capture my interest at the time.

I used to be a hardcore X-Files fan; I'd even hosted view-along chats on AOL as a community host back in the day. But for some reason it never dawned on me that X-Files might have been a relatively solid base for fan fiction.

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series has become the largest fan fiction franchise so far, but nothing about HP compelled me to participate.

It wasn't until I read Stephenie Meyers' entire Twilight saga this spring that something clicked; there was something far more compelling about these characters, the archetypal paper dolls that could be twisted into many shapes and positions. After years of nonfiction writing focused primarily on politics and technology, I've finally given free reign to my urge to write creatively by way of Twilight fan fiction.

Give my relatively recent move to fan fiction, here's my answer to the poll --

With regard to fan fiction as a whole:

I hate that the fan fiction community as a whole has not received the amount of credit it deserves for fostering creative writing as a hobby;
I hate that specific fan fiction communities like Harry Potter are spread so thin due to the massive popularity and fail to support their best writers for this reason.

I love that the public has learned to grab a new outlet for creativity and run with it so openly;
I love that the internet has been the catalyst for this phenomenon's rise.

With regard to Twilight fan fiction (TwiFic) specifically:

I hate that the TwiFic community can be so insular, tightly bounding itself around a Dunbar's number of tightly connected contributors;
I hate that so many contributors confuse their contributions with the kind of communications better suited to platforms like blogging;

I love that the TwiFic community is shameless, passionate and widely tolerant in its support of TwiFic contributions of all kinds;
I love that the TwiFic community is conscious of the need for better writing contributions and improved promotion, developing platforms of editors and promotion to support the community.

What about you? Did you take the poll?.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Take Down Notice: when your content has been plagiarized or reprinted without permission

As a website owner and online editor for several state and national sites, I've had to deal with plagiarism and unauthorized appropriation of content.

It's theft of intellectual property (IP), plain and simple, when someone uses your copyrighted original works without asking in advance for permission. (This includes unauthorized reprinting of translated versions of your content.)

Laws here in the U.S. protect your works; the first and most effective step in deal with such IP theft is asking the offender to take the content down. If they don't, then ask the service hosting them to do so.

Important caveat at this point: I am not a lawyer; in no way am I giving you legal advice. You should definitely consult an attorney if the IP theft is costing you money or cutting into your livelihood and hurting your personal or business brand. 

I am providing here, though, typical examples of Take Down Notices I have used in the past to successfully curtail IP thievery. Feel free to cut and paste for your personal use, consulting attorneys who specialized in IP theft as appropriate for your situation. (Examples after the jump, click on article title for more.)

One more important point: always indicate in your works that your content is copyrighted. It's just good practice.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Analysis: And yet more on Meyers' Twilight and secondary female characters

Good gravy, I'm still stewing on Derdriu oFaolain's campfire at regarding Twilight saga author Stephenie Meyer's treatment of secondary female characters, probably have yet another blog post in me on this.

There's so much in this series that cries out to be unpacked. The characters and story arcs are flawed, but hell, so are humans and their history past and future.


"La Petite Morte"

Upthread in the campfire at ADF there's a discussion of the two different reasons Edward gives for not wanting to have sex with Bella -- social norms and fear of hurting her -- offered individually at different times in the saga. The norms we grok readily given Meyers' mythology of vampire as frozen; once transformed, it's difficult for vampires to change their opinions and attitudes. 

The excuse of avoiding harm though, is a hint at an issue being dealt with at a much deeper level. Remember the old idiom, "la petite mort" or "little death," used as a metaphor or reference to human orgasm? If human sex generates a "little death," what does sex with an undead vampire yield? It must be a wholly different level of death, right? This nebulous threat of something more than injury hovers unarticulated in Eclipse and early BD.


Mother Nature's face and the primary directive

The more I think about Rosalie, the more I see a snapshot of our raw genomic forces at work. The primary directive underlying ALL genomes on this planet is to survive and replicate, rinse, repeat. We humans, like all other animal and plant life forms, are engineered by response to environment and resources and our demands on each other. The more pleasing fruit in terms of appearance and taste is plucked and eaten, its seed dispersed as a reward for its success. The most pleasing animal form -- ostensibly parallel to the form's success given the surrounding ecosystem -- is the one most likely to mate and reproduce.

Rosalie is the culmination of successful genomic expression. Her human family has a wealth of resources. She is beautiful, reflecting both her health and resources, and can attract an equally fit mate. She is the essence of Mother Nature at work -- and in this respect, Edward is right, Rosalie is very shallow. This is all she really is, the unfettered natural force of the primary directive to survive and reproduce, frozen and unrequited once Rosalie is transformed.

It's a stark beauty, how the force of nature works without much conscious intelligence. The beauty and power of this force is such that it bleeds through as an archetypal character in Meyers' saga. It can't be restrained, it needs no additional depth; it simply is.

~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~

Gads, how many more layers are there to this onion? This topic is keeping me awake.

Analysis, Redux: More Stephenie Meyers' treatment of Twilight Saga's secondary female characters

Jeebus, @DerdriuF, you really uncorked this.

So I'm already six layers deep and I remember a particularly important maxim from ethno-psychologist Clarissa Pinkola-Estes' "Women Who Run with the Wolves" --

A good mother knows when to bring death.

Pinkola-Estes uses the example of a wolf mother who must kill a sickly pup in order to preserve the health and well-being of the rest of her otherwise healthy litter. A pup which is suffering will cause all the other pups harm; the kindness and blessing of real motherhood is in bringing a merciful death.

Rosalie becomes the avenging angel; I think of J. Robert Oppenheimer's quote of the Bhagavad Gita, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." She brings the ultimate power of motherhood here, putting to death her vicious fiance and his evil cohort in direct retribution for killing her human procreative powers through their rape and abandonment of Rosalie unto her own death. She ends the waste that these sick pups represent.

But this exercise of the negative power of motherhood demands a positive counterbalance. This may be the unconscious reason why her baby-hunger remains so rabid in her vampiric life.

The wolf mother, having put down the sick pup, still has a litter to nurture, and Rosalie still demands hers.

This may also partially explain her terseness during the family vote on Bella's transformation. This dark side of motherhood is something we do not wish on any human being lightly. It's not just the taking of human reproductive choice from Bella, but the possibility that Bella might only be a bringer of death, a destroyer of worlds once transformed.

[cross-posted from]

Analysis: Stephenie Meyers' treatment of Twilight Saga's secondary female characters

Posting at, Derdriu oFaolain tackles Twilight saga author Stephenie Meyer's treatment of secondary female characters.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Twilight canon (strange, no?) and something's been bothering me - Stephenie Meyer's treatment of her secondary female characters. We've all debated Bella's behavior (Is she too traditional? Is she too passive? etc. etc.), but I'd like to talk about some of Twilight's other lovely ladies.

There's SO much to discuss here, but I'd like to point out Meyer's obsession with fertility. In canon, so much of a woman's happiness is wrapped up in reproduction. Now, I'm not saying this isn't true for many real women, but it's such a pervasive theme in these books, that it does make one wonder.

Excellent topic.

There's a lot of layers to this onion. It's not as simple as it seems. (I confess to having thought about this issue for some time now, bear with me as I brain dump.)

Layer 1: Meyers' personal background

She's a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, attended Brigham Young University and says openly that she's "strait-laced." This is a person who is not going to range too widely from the traditional roles of womanhood in our western culture; she's probably pushed her comfort level with Bella's and Rosalie's human characters as it is. Writers are most comfortable when they write what they know, and this is what Meyers knows best -- traditionally proscribed female roles which are shaped by their reproductive status.

Layer 2: Meyers' unconscious

The use of vampires and werewolves/shape-shifters offers Meyers a convenient device to range more widely than the strictures of her chosen culture because these characters are non-humans. Humans in her world simply aren't permitted to go much farther than the bounds of the faith and society in which she lives. Meyers is said to have dreamed up the characters and plot of Twilight, which suggests her unconscious wanted to stretch the roles of humans, devising the non-human/superhuman/transhuman roles to do so more freely.

I note that Meyers has received less strident protests about her work than J.K. Rowling did about her Harry Potter series. Note, though, that wizards are still human, just endowed with knowledge that is not common to average humans -- rather like the eating of Eden's apple, the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Vampires aren't human and therefore didn't eat that fruit, having attributes which are innate to their kind and embedded in their genes according to Meyers' mythology. The werewolves/shape-shifters of Meyers' mythology also possess attributes that are embedded in Quileute cultural and religious framework as well as their genes, as if they were Creator-granted. Somewhere deep in the group consciousness of our society, we've agreed in this divide between humans with too much knowledge/power and Creator-granted attributes. Perhaps Meyers' unconscious has tapped into and gives expression to this divide.

Which of course shapes her secondary female characters -- they wrestle with conflicts between their inherent human/Creator-granted attributes and the loss of the same (ex. childbearing and its loss, a la Rosalie, memory and its loss a la Alice, motherhood and its loss a la Esme).

Layer 3: The feminine unconscious and energy centers

As in Layer 2, Meyers may have tapped into our collective group unconscious wherein we agree that non-humans can do what humans cannot in terms of exploration.

But our collective unconscious as women may also be expressed in Meyers' secondary characters. Eastern cultures, particularly in India and ayurvedic medicine, focus on energy centers called chakras. Women's reproductive health is in the second chakra; disturbances to this energy center can affect the following mental and emotional issues:

  • Balanced drives in the outer world toward sex, money and relationships;
  • Capacity to co-create with others;
  • Fertility and generativity
  • Relationship dynamics including: dependency vs. independence, giving and taking, defined boundaries vs. poor boundaries, assertiveness vs. passivity

[source: Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom by Christian Northrup M.D.]

We can see that each of the secondary characters has relationship issues directly related to the kind of reproductive damage, and that each of them must tackle these relationship issues in order to heal (not cure) the damage to their second chakra.

Alice is a special case in that the damage to her second chakra is not direct and not seen as big a challenge as the damage to her sixth and seventh chakras evinced in memory loss.

We see in these secondary characters a range of responses to damaged second chakras:

  • Esme sublimates and compensates by assuming a matriarchal role of vampire-mother;
  • Rosalie becomes a secondary childbearer by protecting Bella and Renesmee;
  • Leah comes to terms with the limitations of her fertility as she comes to terms with the limitations of her relations with the members of her family and tribe.

One key correlation in Eastern medicine is the link between creativity and women's reproductive health. Each of these secondary female characters in some way has had their inherent creativity threatened through damage to their second chakra. Meyers unconsciously finds ways for these women to develop alternative centers of creativity (ex. Rosalie's mechanical skills, Alice's manipulation of her powers of foresight*, Esme's interior decorating).

Layer 4: The role of women over time

Most of the secondary characters presents a critical issue in women's roles in our society.

  • Esme becomes a vampire roughly about the time women win the right to vote for the first time;
  • Alice's memory is wiped and her identity lost at a time when women are beginning to be seen as something other than chattel;
  • Rosalie is raped at a time when even a fiance is perceived as being within his rights to do whatever he wants without repercussion;
  • Renee is a free spirit born of the 1960s, making choices for herself independent of others, but with repercussions on others.

Bella is both blessed and cursed with the learnings and rights acquired by women over time; she is our proxy as we wrestle with the mixed blessings we share as women in contemporary culture. Meyers uses Bella to work out some of these issues when not fully addressed by the challenges the secondary characters have faced (ex. Bella negotiating compromise between her contemporary perceptions of marriage and person autonomy and Edward's traditional legacy perceptions of marriage and men's roles in the same).

Layer 5: The universal attribute shared by women

Let's face it: what makes women different from men is that we bear children. Meyers is using this universal attribute in a range of approaches to hit a broad spectrum of women where they live. We're fertile, we're infertile, we've had a child, we've lost a child, we've had our fertility stolen from us or had a difficult pregnancy or even faced the issue of terminating one -- each of us who identify with one of these statuses will be able to relate in some way to one of the female characters in the Twilight saga.

Whether Meyers has done so consciously is an interesting question, but the results are still the same.

~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~ O ~ o ~

I'm sure if I sat down and talked this analysis through with a few more Twi-hards that I'd see another couple layers to this onion. Ultimately I can't fault Meyers' treatment of secondary characters. Given her background, it's rather incredible she was able to find a way to create characters deep enough, archetypal enough to tackle a plethora of women's issues. She overcame some pretty tight boundaries by way of her feminine creativity to do so.

# # #

* Damn, I realized after I hit publish that Alice not only expresses her feminine power in the alternate to reproduction through creative use of her foresight, but through her nurturing of both her mate Jasper and her enabling Edward (her collaborative application of foresight magnifies the impact of his mind reading skills).

Postscript --

And yet one more layer exists: every one of the female vampires and werewolves/shape-shifters has procreative ability. It's just not valued enough by Meyers to mention in any depth, or viewed negatively. All the female vampires can make more vampires - Victoria obviously does, Maria did, but this is cast in a negative light. Meyers appears to be wrestling internally with the fundamental question of dead/undead since she believes that vampires are genetically reproducible, but not alive in the sense that the spread of their genetic material is seen as creative. Leah as the lone female werewolf retains procreative powers, but she must give up phasing to restore them, and in reproduction will give birth to Quileute with the same shape-shifting potential. Again, this must not be valued as its not explored and fleshed out fully.

[cross-posted from]