I've never been ashamed of my writing roots. I started out writing classic Star Trek stories when I was a teenager. These days fanfic has a seedy reputation and, sad to say, rightly so. Writer and TV producer Lee Goldberg is very outspoken about it.
Way back when, I was heavily involved with "media" fandom. I wrote and produced my own fanzines, and edited stories from people who've gone on to have careers as professional writers. (I'd tell you who, but some of these people don't want to be outed, and I can respect that.)
What brings this to mind? My Writers Plot colleague (and friend of many years) Doranna Durgin talks about it in her post today on Writers Plot. Like Doranna, Lee Goldberg is also a member of IAMTW (the organization of media tie-in authors). Doranna has written books on Star Trek, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and a bunch more I can't offhand remember. Lee is well-known for his Diagnosis Murder and Monk books. These are professional authors who are paid to write books based on some of TV's (and movie's) favorite characters.
Fandom has changed a lot in the years since I left it. I was involved before the Worldwide Web emerged as the way to fanfic publication. In my day (and doesn't that make me feel old), we rewrote our stories, had them critiqued, had them edited, and THEN they were published. In many ways, we were serious about the craft. Now it seems these fan "authors" upload their first drafts.
Back in my day, distribution of these stories was small. A big print run was 200 copies. Now millions of people worldwide can peek at badly written fan stories from franchises that are still hot. I can't say I blame the writers/producers for objecting. I once had one of my fanzines "stolen." A "fannish" person removed the names of the authors from the stories in one of my zines (and my story as well) and sold hundreds, possibly a thousand copies of that fanzine at professionally run SF/Fantasy conferences.
That was my first taste of what copyright infringement feels like. I complained to the conference organizers, but since our stories were quite blatantly copyright infringement themselves, we didn't have a leg to stand on. Still, I hated the fact my work was stolen.
Did I make money on these fanzines? Yeah, enough to finance the next issue and buy another used mimeo or electrostencil machine every few years. (I eventually had three mimeos. They take up a LOT of space in the basement, but our knees aren't what they were and they're too heavy to get up the basement stairs to toss out.) And most of the shows I wrote about were off the air by the time I caught on to them. Our stories kept the characters alive until syndication and TVLand brought them back from the shadows.
Fandom was a good learning experience. I even got my job as a copy editor by showing one of my fanzines to my potential employer. And, I cultivated a friendship with a co-worker with artistic abilities. (And later, I married him.)
So in many ways, fandom was a terrific place for me to start my career as a writer.
That said, I'm glad those days are behind me. They were a trap. I didn't grow as a writer until I was challenged by professional writers (and a lot of unpublished writers) in my critique groups, with stories that used all my own characters.
Am I happy with where I am? Not exactly. I don't think any author is ever happy about where their career is. (Read some of thriller author Tess Gerritsen's blog posts. It's comforting to know I'm not the only one who feels as she often does.)
But do I ever miss working with another writer's characters?
Not a chance.