We’re thrilled to welcome one of our new regular contributors, Karina Rose!
If you’ve heard of the internet, or magazines, or television, or know a lonely female, then you’ve heard at least something about Fifty Shades of Grey, the Twilight fanfic turned best-selling novel that sold over 100 million copies, despite the fact that it is poorly written, misrepresents an entire subculture, enables suffering amongst female readers, and, I cannot emphasize this enough, is based off of Twilight fanfiction. I wish I were joking. The book itself has been called “a joke”. But I think it’s a joke that has been taken far too seriously. And I don’t mean the movie deal, I don’t mean the massive response/attention from the media, I don’t mean the SNL parodies or hours of collective news coverage of the film casting, and I don’t mean your coworker manically crying because of Christian Grey’s tragic past and undying lust for little Anastasia Steele. I mean the fact that now the literary world is slowly entering a Post-Fifty-Shades era.
Remember after Twilight came out and the YA world was suddenly shoving vampires everywhere they could and printing paranormal romances like no tomorrow? Remember the girls asking boys to bite them to be claimed as property? Remember when they ate their own blood!? Because they did. This actually happened. Undeniably, the YA world has a huge effect on pop culture and pop culture has a huge effect on impressionable YA audiences. Now we are no longer Post-Twilight; we are Post-Twilight-Fanfiction, with the trend of publishing popular online fanfictions to become best-selling series really taking off. The success of Fifty Shades has certainly increased the public’s and the publishing world’s interest in fanfiction, and soon former fanfics will be the new paranormal romances. We won’t be able to escape. And is this a good thing?
Certainly there are some astonishingly good fanfics. Some really well-written ones. Some with really diverse LGBT relationships. This should mean we will be seeing these on shelves soon too, right? But not yet. Right now, we get The After Series, which is being published in three volumes by Simon and Schuster and already has a movie deal booked for the not-too-distant future.
The After Series is summed up on Amazon as being about a girl who goes to college and meets a boy who is, and this is absolutely true, “rude—to the point of cruelty…” and whom the narrator should and does hate. That’s until, of course, “she finds herself alone with him in his room….” and “something about his dark mood grabs her, and when they kiss it ignites within her a passion she’s never known before.”
I know it’s not Fifty Shades exactly, but there’s a definite reitteration of themes going on here. And worse, this is targeted specifically at YA audiences. Like, the Y’est of A’s out there: One Direction fans. After is by Anna Todd, a celebrity among One Direction fans for her RPF (or, “real person fiction”) One Direction fanfiction. Like Fifty Shades, After is also a series, meaning there’s more adorable abuse to come. And if we keep naming these angsty, borderline abusive novels as cultural phenomenons, it’s not long before we are enabling horrible examples of “romance” to YA audiences. Fifty Shades and After fans most likely won’t be sucking blood or doing… whatever this is, but they will be reading, and seeing the films. And if these fans are hailing them as ideal, swoon-worthy love stories, these abusive relationships will be the new bloodsucking.
I know what you’re thinking: Where’s the gay in this? I know, I am too. It is very sad that I haven’t brought that up yet, I am aware. And here is what I’m saying:
There are hundreds, thousands, of amazing fanfiction works online. I’m not a huge reader of fanfiction but every one that I have read has been about a same sex couple in a healthy, non-abusive relationship that is well written, has a plausible yet addicting plot, and overall is a good read. These are not the ones being chosen by publishers and I don’t know why. One of the most talked about LGBT fanfiction works is Twist and Shout  . It is a Supernatural-inspired fanfiction with a huge fanbase. I attended a Supernatural convention this year where the mere unintentional reference to the fic by a cast member caused the whole room to erupt into (healthy) fandemonium rapture. We didn’t try to do this. And those who have yet to read the fic, or didn’t particularly enjoy it, didn’t get treated like, you know, this.
Twist and Shout does wonders exploring the risks gays took for love in the times of the Vietnam War, all the way to the heartache suffered by so many at the peak of the AIDS virus. It covers a wide range of issues, from homophobia in religion to homophobia in sports. It even goes as far as addressing addiction and mental illnesses. Bottom line, it’s more than just an amazing love story and more than just a gay love story. And… not gonna lie, it’s pretty hot without having to add aggressive tension or take away consensuality, or use phrases like, “I’d really like to claim your ass.”
Non-Supernatural fans to whom I’ve recommended Twist and Shout have loved it, and now get emotional whenever they hear Elvis (Yes, it will get you even then). It is now self-published, doing amazing in the reviews on Goodreads, and is promoting tolerance and healthy relationships while exploring themes rarely dealt with and handling them with care. And if you compare the After Goodreads reviews to those of Twist and Shout, it is mind-blowing when you think about which one is actually making its way in the media world right now. For non-straight readers, Twist and Shout is a massive comfort, aiding YA readers to not feel alone or ashamed because of hom they love. For straight readers it shows how real and powerful non-hetero relationships really are. And it is just sitting there. Waiting for Vintage Books, Simon and Schuster, anyone.
And it’s not like no one is talking about this book; it has its own fansite AND a support group for Castiel’s sake! Look up Twist and Shout on Tumblr. Those people have seen pain, they know struggle, but they will all recommend you read it in a heartbeat. God, and you thought The Fault In Our Stars was painful. Oh, just you wait…. The only thing worse than “Okay” is “I can dig Elvis.”
Twist and Shout may be one of the rare, incredible pieces out there in the world of fanfiction, but it is not a minority in the case of it being an LGBT piece. A vast majority of popular fanfiction follows the story of a same-sex or non-heterosexual couple. And so many of them are better than After and Fifty Shades. But Twist and Shout is still a minority in the world of fanfiction that actually receives huge book/film deals. And it’s not because it is poorly written. It’s not because it’s unpopular. It’s not because it’s offensive or wildly pornographic. It has to be something else. And it sucks to think of what it probably is.
There is no denying that the internet is giving a platform to great writers who otherwise wouldn’t have one. Fanfiction is adding new voices to the literary world, diversifying how we read, and probably providing J.J. Abrams with infinite material for his next Star Trek reboot. But with all that has happened with domestic violence lately on the news, do we really need more stories glorifying it when there are clearly much better options that are just as popular? With all that’s happened with progress the LGBT community has made with tolerance, why aren’t we seeing it reflected in the media? That’s what I’m trying to say: When it comes to fanfiction becoming a credible source for publishers to find the next big YA cultural phenomenon, why the angst? Where’s the gay?
Karina Rose and her ya/gay/nerdpunk novels are currently trying their luck in the publishing world. In the meantime, she hopes she is funny on twitter as @karinarosewhite, creepy on Tumblr as TheNightValePost, and as cool as she thinks in real life (Where, let’s be honest, she’s really not and probably just writing some more). She’s from a small beach town in Orange County, California which is why she’s so liberal and so broke.