Fanfiction: Is This Online Community the New Writer’s Workshop?

Every aspiring writer has been told to join a writer’s workshop at least once. The writer’s workshop is the much-touted space to share your work as well as give and receive constructive feedback from fellow writers. But the writer’s workshop can have its drawbacks. A workshopped piece can only get feedback from a small group of people. Plus, a writer’s workshop can have a heavy dose of…well. Snobbery. The writers that community attracts can have a deep disdain for anything they deem not to be “original” or “serious” enough for them. Writing may be an art form, but it’s also fun and entertaining; both to consume and create.

Is there a place for writers to get feedback on their work from hundreds of potential readers; a community for writers of all skill and commitment levels to share their work and experiment? There just might be, and it’s probably not where you expect.

What about

There’s long been a stigma about the readers and writers of fanfic that they don’t produce or appreciate “serious” work. That it’s a bunch of bubble-headed fangirls writing poor quality work with no social or cultural value. Well, I hate to break it to everyone, but this industry is full of poor quality works with no social or cultural value, and plenty of those works enjoy moderate to superb market success.

Fanfiction exists only for the purpose of entertainment and there are almost no barriers to enter or access. Writers of fanfic cannot be paid for their works—they write for the sake of writing and for fun. But they get something else out of it: the success of a piece of fan writing is measured by the engagement of its readers. Fanfic etiquette dictates that, as a reader, the way you compensate the writer for their labor is to give them feedback on their writing. Not just “I liked it!” or “I hated it,” though there’s room for that too. Writers ask their readers to comment on specific elements of their pieces and how they are working or not working. Writers receive live feedback from hundreds, if not thousands, of run-of-the-mill readers.

“But they don’t write anything original!” What is original? Plenty of fan works are continuations or alternate circumstances set in the universe of the work that inspired it, but that’s not the case with every piece. The categorization systems on sites like Archive of Our Own and have created genres unique to the fanfiction community, including the wildly popular AU or Alternate Universe. It’s exactly what it sounds like—characters from the original work existing in an entirely different setting than that of the original story. Chances are you’ve heard of one of these works already. 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James infamously began as a work of Twilight AU fanfiction. Someone thought that was original enough to publish. The “just change the names” approach, gaining popularity after the success of 50 Shades, allows writers to test the market for their work before it’s published—something incredibly valuable in an industry always looking for the next bestseller.

Why does everything someone writes have to be entirely original anyway? Writing is fun and it’s a craft one must practice to master. In her essay “Just Change The Names” for Anne Jamison’s anthology Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, Tiffany Reisz wrote that “writing a Harry Potter novel of my own felt like learning to ride a bike with training wheels on. I didn’t have to bother with the messy task of world building…I could focus on learning the art of suspense, of creating mystery and mood, of developing sexual tension, of using humor to humanize a character. I learned to write fast and leave damn good cliffhangers to keep the reader begging for more.” Tiffany Reisz started as a fanfiction writer. Now she is a USA Today bestselling romance author.

Online fanfiction communities might not make the traditional writer’s workshop obsolete any time soon, but it’s undeniable that they offer benefits to an aspiring writer that a workshop group can’t provide—wider opportunities to receive feedback from writers and readers alike in a culture that treats feedback as currency; opportunities to test the audience and market for your work before attempting publication; a low pressure environment to hone specific skills; as well as just a fun new way to engage with the world literary community. With so many incentives, maybe everyone should be writing fanfiction.

Ooligan Celebrates the Release of At the Waterline

Brian K. Friesen stands at the front of the crowded room, a microphone in one hand and a small orange notebook in the other. “The Attic” of the Buffalo Gap Saloon and Eatery is packed full of people to celebrate him and the release of his new book, At the Waterline. Of this fact, he is earnestly aware.

“I just want to say a few words about gratitude and thanks,” he begins. A spiralled stack of At the Waterline copies rests on the table next to him. Its publication is a testament to his craft, heart, and, as Brian notes, the community he immerses himself in.

This is the scene at the At the Waterlinerelease party. The air is joyous, communal, and honestly, a little bit wet. Before settling into the warm atmosphere at Buffalo Gap, a scavenger hunt sent teams all over Portland in search of local wares present in At the Waterline. Through the wind, hail, rain, and occasional sunshine, intrepid folk sought the same kinds of comfort and scenery present in Friesen’s book, which takes place just north of Portland in a ramshackle marina filled with characters as diverse as the items the teams were hunting for.

“How many ducks did you get,” a scavenger hunt judge asks a team in regard to their visit to local Portland craft shop Crafty Wonderland. “Did any of you manage to climb a tree?”

Teams were tasked with taking photos and getting all sorts of At the Waterline–related things from Portland mainstays like Ancestry Brewing, the Willamette Sailing Club, Portland Kayak Company, Pacific Pie Company, The Meadow, Daily Cafe, the Outdoor Program, Crafty Wonderland, and Nossa Familia Coffee, all of which also generously sponsored the event.

At the Waterline is, at its heart, deeply passionate about community. In that way it aligns with the Ooligan Press philosophy. The Press, like the scavenger hunt, is all about turning the literary lens inward, highlighting Oregon authors—like Brian, who lives in Tualatin—and showing the wider literary world what makes Oregon so vibrant.

The crowd at Buffalo Gap reflects this as well. Scavenger hunt teams ranged from Ooligan Press members (some of whom worked on the book), to friends of the author, to those who just want to support local literature. To ignore the communal nature of Ooligan Press is to belittle the multitude of outside contributors that make the dream of book publishing a reality.

As everyone enjoys plates of nachos or cold beer, Brian stands at the bar, scanning the scene. “It feels pretty damn good. Having everyone here, it’s great.”

Oh, and the winning scavenger hunt team? The Hot Ruddered Bums, of course. What’s more perfect than that?

Want to see what everyone was so excited about? Brian K Friesen’s At the Waterline, is available now on IndieBound and Amazon!

Striving for Diversity: Reinvigorating the Ideas Behind Ooligan’s Mission Statement

When asked about our press, we usually find ourselves reiterating the Ooligan mission statement. The section we tend to emphasize is, “We recognize the importance of diversity, particularly within the publishing industry, and are committed to building a literary community that includes traditionally underrepresented voices.” When we took on the role of the acquisitions editors this past summer, we both knew that we wanted to expand the role of diversity within our press and find the pieces of writing that would help to build the kind of literary community our mission statement exemplifies. We weren’t quite sure how to execute our grand ideas, but we were committed to finding a way. As the fall term came to a close, the kind of diverse writing we had been looking for fell into our laps.

Ooligan was approached by a fellow writer and editor who is involved in the Portland literary scene. As an attendee and a speaker of many reading events around town, he noticed that these kinds of events are too often filled by an entirely white audience. So where are the Asian, African American, Native American, and Latino writers he knows reside in this city?

He told us he decided to take the first step in breaking this racial barrier by seeking out these writers of color and asking them to contribute their writing to an anthology, which he would like to compile in collaboration with Ooligan. His hopes are that the conversation surrounding inclusion and diversity within the Portland literary community can gain some traction and that writers of color within this community might be given a platform in which to share their art. Luckily, he came to our press with this idea, and we both knew this was exactly what we had been looking for since the beginning.

The anthology itself is still in the raw stages. We are focused mostly on conversation and amalgamation. The writer has drawn some inspiration from fellow Portlander’s like Jenny Forrester, who hosts the Unchaste Readers Series and Stacey Tran, who has curated the Pure Surface poetry movement. They’ve provided opportunities to the Portland writing community and have given him inspiration to join the conversation and help with this vitally important work.

We’ve had some great discussion about where to start. Potentially we will focus this project on other Pacific Northwest cities as well as Portland. Genre has also been given some thought, and we are excited by the idea of not limiting artistic expression to solely essays or poetry; rather, this anthology could be home to short stories, excerpts of longer work, short plays, spoken word, etc.

We know that collaboration projects like this one provide the opportunity to stand in solidarity, embrace differences, and support the fact that the arts are a common thread running through many members of this community. Perhaps now, more than ever, the need to tell untold stories and give platforms to the silenced among us has become apparent. We anxiously await the submission of this project’s proposal package and hope we can be an integral and forward-facing part of this city-wide and national conversation.