An "Avatarian" Dilemma

It’s been more than two months since I first floated a trial balloon about a literary webzine to collect and publish stories with what I call an Avatarian slant — which is to say, they include elements to be found only in virtual worlds. This idea pounced me from out of nowhere, after I read Cubey Terra’s “The Oldbie”, and Pathfinder Lester’s response to it, “Jetpack”. It received much encouragement at the time… but little participation, since.

To this date (and not counting Path’s kind permission to reprint “Jetpack”), I have four submissions in hand… hardly adequate upon which to build a premier issue of a ‘zine, assuming all four are suitable for publication. I will be contacting each of the authors privately about their work, in that regard. I also hope to receive more… but, as you may agree, four in 10 weeks is not an inspiration for optimism.

Having re-evaluated the project in light of the above, I conclude that my original prospectus was far too ambitious. There will not (at least for the time being) be a separate ‘zine – instead, there will be the equivalent of guest columns in this blog under an “Avatarian” header. The other option is to abandon the project entirely, which I am not yet willing to do.

In the prospectus (first link above), I went to some length to try to explain the type of story I was looking for, and some of the type I was not. As it turns out, I omitted one from the latter category: fan fiction.

There are those who use the term fanfic solely as a pejorative for “amateurish”; I am not one. Fan fiction is simply stories written using characters and/or settings “borrowed” from another creator. I first came across it nearly 40 years ago, when the source material was the original Star Trek series, and I have no doubt that there is fanfic about every popular TV series, book, film, etc. to have come along since. (There may be a corollary to the famous Rule 34 in this, as well…)

While much of it is written by neophytes, and therefore of painfully lesser quality, not all of it is. If you also include the type of writing known as a pastiche — copying a well-known writer’s style, either in deliberate homage, or subconsciously, owing to strong influence — there are a number of works which might also be called “fanfic” in the broadest sense. For instance, the body of stories about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson not written by Conan Doyle, or — gods help us — the recent book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

(I have on my own shelves a book titled War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, a collection of stories by contemporary authors written in the style of well-known people who were alive at the time of H.G. Wells’ fictional Martian invasion, reporting related events from their own locations and perspectives. Some of them are excellent; some… not so much.)

I understand fan fiction’s legitimate place in the spectrum of written entertainments. That place, however, is not here. While it may be all well and good to tell a story (canonical or otherwise) involving people and places (imagined or real) that “everybody knows”, it is not the sort of thing that lasts. Fan fiction relies upon its readers having foreknowledge of the characters, settings and backstory, with the result of complete opacity to anyone not “in on it”. It leans on the popularity of someone else’s imagination, not the quality of one’s own effort… and because of that, it has a limited shelf-life, as well as limited appeal.

Literature, on the other hand, seeks to draw its readers in, including — or perhaps especially — those who may never have been exposed to the subject, the setting, or the kind of people to whom the story happens. It requires a great deal more work on the author’s part: “world building”, the science-fiction writers call it, as well as establishing characters the readers will care about, and whose existence on the page is not dependent upon their existence elsewhere.

Now comes the most difficult, and potentially most rewarding, part of being an editor: talking to the authors about their submissions.

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One response to “An "Avatarian" Dilemma

  1. Good points, Lalo! I think that “less is better” in the sense that good editorial management will result in a better product, if that means restricting the number of submissions, but ensuring that all of them are high quality.

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