For those not familiar with NaNoWriMo this is a global writing event that started out in the USA as the National Novel Writing Month and, simply put encourages writers and embryonic authors to pen a draft novel (which now has a word count of 50,000) in the 30 days of November every year.
I decided to have a go this year, as a way to get the juices flowing again for the WiP. I’m cheating a lot though as my novel is actually already half written as I’m putting together an anthology of previous short stories and fan fiction I’ve written over the last 10 years. That accounts for about half the required word count to become a winner (there are no formal prizes as such), so I’m going to have to do some judicious sewing together and write some new material to make up the balance before I beg Sue to do some editing for me…
Here’s 947 new words I knocked out over the weekend which explains the premise of the anthology which I’m provisionally naming A Freebooters Fantasy Almanac…
Fantasy Freebooting: a contemporary assay
Freebooting in its original definition is almost an archaic term these days, though its practice is both primeval and bang up to date, since its association with piracy of all kinds is much better understood. Pirates are an ambivalent bunch of course: at once reviled (as in modern day hostage-taking for ransom, whether monetary or political) and glamourized in popular culture, by virtue of scallywag portrayals by skilled and attractive actors, who also appear to embrace a buccaneering lifestyle when it comes to personal romance. In essence, freebooting has become an acceptably antagonistic, even aspirational activity, in the eyes of young and old alike, and its successful practice seen almost as a badge of honour.
In the field of fantasy, freebooters are, of course, the stuff of legend. Literally plunderers of the rich and powerful and the antithesis of moral rectitude in general. Despite being stereotypically out solely for their own interests or cause, one only has to browse through thesaurus definitions, to see how the status of a base criminal has been elevated to ‘adventurer’, corsair, outlaw, bandit, sell-sword or mercenary and been romanticised into a roguish hero. For the purposes of our assay however, the modern world of freebooting has taken its toll, as the internet is rife with acts of piracy of all persuasions, in pandemic proportions. As a genre, whether literary, cinematic, or personal, fantasy is a fecund hotbed and nowhere is this more apparent than in the generation of fan fiction. Works of past literary lions of fantasy are of course the mainspring sources that our bold buccaneers dip into incessantly and fruitfully, from Williams Blake and Morris, through George MacDonald, H.P. Lovecraft, Tolkien and Lewis, to Robert E. Howard, Le Guin, Pratchett and George R.R. Martin, among so many others: all providing endless inspiration and blueprints for post-modern regurgitation on a ubiquitous scale, made increasingly accessible in cyberspace through online communities. Fans of fantasy of all denominations with a yen for indulging their own talents in the creative field, glory in re-playing, exploring, extrapolating and otherwise ‘reinventing’ facets of their cult idols’ worlds, adventures and social circles on a massive, not to mention orgiastic scale: daring to venture into places and situations never intended or even contemplated by their original authors. And, yes, let’s make it absolutely clear that sci-fi and fantasy freebooting is predominantly rife with adventures of the lustful variety, that spawned a whole new cultural art-form in the fields of slash fiction, and martial or predatory roleplaying communities.
The more venerable the world, such as Middle Earth, or the Star Trek milieu, the more susceptible they appear to being translated into happy hunting grounds for the fantasy freebooting community, simply because of their popularity and exposure to impressionable youngsters. Fan fiction, in the hearts of the perpetrators (and I freely admit I am one such) is seen more as an act of homage than predation, and has become increasingly accepted as a valid preoccupation and honourable appreciation of the oeuvre of literary giants. In some fantasy bastions, fan fiction is now an established and legitimate theatre of celebration, especially for those based on television and film manifestations, where there’s no one perceived originator. I’m talking cult status series and movies here, such as Dr. Who and Star Wars naturally, which have an array of writing talents who were ‘only’ fans to start out with, churning out endless variations and retellings of their original object of fascination’s story, on a sanctioned and even financially permitted basis. Then you have the less obvious groupies like Stephanie Meyer (Twilight), Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire) and Charlaine Harris (True Blood) in the Vampire arena, who are seen as originators, rather than developers on a theme, by virtue of almost rehabilitating the sub-genre in comparatively contemporary settings.
Some living fantasy authors like J.K. Rowling are also open to embracing fan fiction, provided their copyright isn’t endangered or flouted. My personal hero, Terry Pratchett, until his untimely demise, was thoroughly enthusiastic and appreciatively supportive of all fan activity, particularly of cosplay when it came to sartorial interpretations of his celebrated Seamstress’ Guild, the ladies of negotiable affection on the rambunctious Discworld. Other best-selling authors, amongst whom is the aforementioned Ms. Rice, are vigorous in their opposition to fan ‘tribute’ and will be speed-dialing their legal advisers at the least incursion over their borders, especially when the writings are ‘adult-oriented’. In the end however, fan fiction as a manifestation of latter-day piracy, is virtually indestructible provided it doesn’t go commercial, or, for more litigious originators, published in any shape or form outside of their respective fan communities.
Which brings us to this little collection of fantasy shorts (well, shortish). Dreamless Roads has appeared in published form before, in another fantasy anthology by myself and various authors. This time around however, I’ve liberally illuminated it with the fan fiction and poetry I’ve produced over the years as a form of therapy, primarily for my own ‘original’ role-playing character, Janowyn – an elven bard with a rather human background and viewpoint and a sad tale to tell as a result. She literally saved my life and revived my appetite and aptitude for writing, and for the first time ever, my desire to write poems, a skill that had flat-lined long before I left grade school, such was the appalling approach to teaching it during my callow youth. I wrote an awful lot for Jano in her most active phase over ten years, which has increased the length of the story, but does illustrate the principle, purpose and pure joy of fan fiction, and transformed me into a very jolly old Freebooter indeed!