One of my pet theories is that literature is a kind of slow-motion conversation, in that texts tend to speak to what has gone before. This is very obvious in something like Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead or Maguire's Wicked, but can also be seen pretty clearly in generic fiction, in which key themes and cliches are used over and over.
Fanfiction is an interesting example of this conversation, because it happens in two directions (in response to canon, and in response to fandom), and also because, compared to print-based fiction, it is very, very fast.
This conversation intrigues me as a reader; that's a big part of why I recommend stories and take part in meta discussions. However, it's actually as a writer that I have the strongest reactions. That said, I really haven't previously tried to publicly analyse where my stories fit into the conversation because it feels so immodest, as though I'm trying to foist my work down people's throats in bringing the topic up. But as this conversation is so central to the way I negotiate fanfiction as both a reader and a writer, I feel it's time I bite the bullet and give it a try.
For a long time now, I've been wondering how influential my ideas actually are with the fannish circle I inhabit. At first, I just assumed I was posting into a void, and that there were so many voices, mine wouldn't be heard. That slowly started to change shortly after I began rec_room.
rec_room has a relatively small readership, because I've never officially pimped it in a high-profile place. So I always assumed it couldn't have much influence. What I found happening, though, was that I'd make a comment in one of my recs, such as, "The final part of this story is weaker than the other two, but it's still an enjoyable read," and then a day or so later, someone would start a meta discussion on the way that fanfics are often weakest in their final third, and why was that.
In response, I'd kind of blink, and go, "It can't have been triggered by *me*, it's just the fannish zeitgeist."
The thing is though, that it keeps on happening. The problem is, it's impossible to measure influence, so I really can't tell if it's starting with my posts or not; if I'm imagining the whole thing; if it's co-incidence; if I'm the one unwittingly passing on an influence I've picked up somewhere. There's just no real evidence! In addition, it's usually very subtle. Other people probably wouldn't even notice the trend, which means that saying anything kind of makes me look like I'm some insane egomaniac.
I'm going to put that issue aside for now, and make the daring assumption that perhaps some of what I say is influencing other people, because what I really want to discuss here is how to engage with the outward ripples of influence.
Let me give a concrete example of what I mean (I'm just picking this one because it's the most recent).
A couple of weeks ago I published an SGA story in which John gets covered in spaghetti (Overheard at Supper). Last night, I read seperis's latest story, in which there is a description of John having been covered in spaghetti the night before (situationally speaking).
See what I mean by subtle, though? It is entirely possible that Jenn came up with that independently of my story. But here's the thing: fanfiction is a conversation. Anyone who has read consistently in a single fandom will know that authors adopt ideas from canon/fanon/meta all the time. I'm not talking plagiarism here, I'm talking putting a new spin on what has already been floated in the communal ideas pool, seeing how that changes things.
It's what we do.
It's certainly what I do. For all that I try to come up with fresh plots, new takes on the characters, or spin cliches on their heads, I'm very aware that I'm writing in reaction to what has gone before. Take Mnemonic for example: these amnesia stories could not exist without all of the many riffs I've read on the theme in the past (especially the many stories in which amnesia leads to a re-evaluation of a relationship, or one person wrongly assuming a pre-existing sexual relationship with another--that theme was what I was most strongly trying to counter).
I even have some primitive proof of the way the fannish conversation works, with the Fanon Tracking Project. I began it to see if there was any pattern of influence happening with a specific meme (use of The Terminator in SGA fic), and you can see many of the uses do bunch together date-wise.
Given that, my dilemma is this: how do I engage with what I think may be a nod to my work?
As a reader I take great delight in spotting the connections between stories (or between stories and canon, or between meta and stories, or between meta and meta, or even between canon and fandom because the SGA writers seem like big geeks to me), and I'm happy to talk about the connections I think I see. But as an author, I feel so constrained by not making assumptions, or coming off as big-noting myself, or, you know, simple admiration for someone else's work.
I've never seen this discussed before, and I really want to know: what do you do if you see someone "referencing" your work in this way? Do you engage? Squee? Say nothing? Assume you are paranoid and it wasn't really anything to do with your work?
ETA: Thinking about it further, I have seen this discussed once before, but in a f-locked post, so I won't go into details here. But perhaps this conversation is actually going on very widely, it's just that it's located behind closed doors so I've not really come across it.
Talk to me.