Oh, you poor sweetie. Please don’t feel at all self-conscious about asking this question, because it’s totally fine, and I so appreciate you saying you like the books (and I would love to have a TV show!) but this is actually something that comes up a lot. This ask about my books is really nice, which is why I chose it, because people have told me they find hostile asks upsetting. I do myself.
Since this question DOES come up a lot, sometimes in not-so-nice ways, I figured maybe I could use this nice question and write some kind of Ultimate Tumblr Answer to all such questions so I wouldn’t have to answer it again.
This is going to be kind of a BIG answer and it might feel overwhelming, so check out of it any time after the simple answer, which is:
None. Zero. Zip. Nada.
There is no Supernatural in my books. I promise you.
I have only seen a few episodes of the first season of Supernatural, back maybe six years ago, and I didn’t enjoy it. (Which doesn’t mean that people can’t enjoy it. Many people cooler than me enjoy it. I have a brilliant lady astrophysicist friend who owns all the box sets!) I’m not going to go into why I didn’t enjoy it, because then people will come and argue with me about my judgy ways, and criticise all the stuff like Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf that I do like. Fair enough, people. Let us all like what we like, accept that we like different things, and everything will be lovely!
I always feel like I have to be careful talking about Supernatural: if any Supernatural fans read the Demon’s Lexicon series and think to themselves, ‘Hey, this contains some of the stuff what I like, i.e. demons and brothers (the only two things TDL and SPN have in common)’ - then fabulous. I want people to read my books, and whatever way they get to my books is wonderful.
But it’s also important to be clear and honest: I would not base a book series on a TV show I never saw much of, and which I didn’t enjoy. That would be a lot of time to devote to stuff I didn’t enjoy! I wouldn’t do it. (Why do people think I would? Well, we’ll get to that later.)
There are a lot of demon stories out there, and a lot of family stories out there, but here are some obvious dissimilarities between Supernatural and the Demon’s Lexicon series:
1. The brothers in Supernatural are actually blood related, while the brothers I wrote about are not blood related. They are not even the same species.
2. One of the brothers in Demon’s Lexicon is disabled.
3. Road-Trip-Through-Small-Town America is a very distinct aesthetic Supernatural seemed to be going for. Can’t be achieved when your setting is England. The magic system itself is rooted in American folklore—mine is totally different.
4. There are ladies in my series who are present in every book and important, whereas I do not believe the Supernatural series has a female lead present in every episode or indeed season.
5. There’s also a queer character present and important in every book, and I do not believe the Supernatural series has a queer character present in every episode. Or indeed season.
6. There are no angels in my world and I understand angels become pretty important in Supernatural. Obviously, they like angels and I like—other stuff.
This has come out seeming judgy of Supernatural after all. I understand that Supernatural now has a queer lady character played by Felicia Day, and that’s excellent. I don’t mean to bag on Supernatural. But it is a very different story to the story in my books, and its creators have very different priorities to me, and I think that’s pretty clear.
There’s something else to be discussed here, which is that people may say unto me: Why’d you write books about brothers and demons if you didn’t want people to think your books were fanfiction, you dumb jerk?
I have two answers to that.
1) I can write what I like and I think it’s gross to say that I can’t.
2) It wouldn’t have mattered what I wrote about. Every book I’ve ever written gets this. My books haven’t just been called Supernatural fanfiction. They get called Harry Potter fanfiction, too. Definitely! How would I have the ability to come up with my own characters?
No, the hero of Demon’s Lexicon is definitely Harry Potter. (Y’all remember that Harry Potter was an evil demon, right?) And Unspoken is definitely Harry Potter too. (Y’all remember that Harry Potter was a part-Japanese sassy girl detective? As well as being an evil demon. That Harry Potter. Such a multi-faceted individual.)
My books are also Twilight fanfiction. (What isn’t?) And Full Metal Alchemist fanfiction. Just ceaseless fanfiction. And that means of course that the books are very, very bad.
My books get called fanfiction all the time, I think, for two reasons:
a) I am a girl. Dudes get to write perceived-as-derivative/actually-derivative fiction all the time and it’s a HOMAGE, but girls can’t do either. People decide girls’ stuff is derivative and lousy all the time, whereas boys’ stuff is part of a literary tradition and an important conversation. This is sexist and terrible.
Neil Gaiman referenced Asimov in Neverwhere:
And G.K. Chesterton in Coraline:
And William Gibson in Neverwhere:
Yet I do not see Neil Gaiman getting chased around and called a plagiarist like I was this summer when I wrote three words which also appear in the Hunger Games! (And before that, as it turns out, in The Emperor’s New Groove. Llamas, sue the Hunger Games!)
I am very tired of seeing women insulted for things every dude in the world is allowed to do. It is not literary critique. It is violent misogyny.
b) I used to write fanfiction. (These two issues—sexism and fanfiction—are actually very closely intertwined, because writing fanfiction is something that mostly girls do, and thus like all things Associated With Ladies, such as sewing and pink, is treated as dumb and worthless. And fanfiction, as I’m going to discuss, provides people with a narrative that go ‘why this lady actually sucks’ and people love narratives which say that.)
For those who didn’t know I used to write fanfiction, it’s obviously irrelevant to your opinion of me, and honestly, you can cut out here. Definitely if the person who asked me about Supernatural this time around wants to cut out here… they should. I am about to get mad. It is not your fault. I have just got this too many times, and I have had it up to here.
When someone is traditionally published after writing fanfiction, they get treated like trash, both by people who think fanfiction is weird rubbish and by people who themselves like to write and read fanfiction.
This is the stuff that happened to me, because I used to write fanfiction and dared to publish some books:
1) Someone wrote an article about the AMAZING DISCOVERY of ‘how I got my book deal.’ It was not much of an amazing discovery, since I’d said on my blog where I wrote fanfiction ‘Hey, this is my real name, I got a book deal, I’m so happy!’ (Not as an evil ploy to make them buy my book, but because—it was my blog, and I thought some of them might like to know and be happy for me. I was young!) After that, people decided that was how I got my book deal, even though I’d—you know, written a book, which many editors read and seemed to like. It definitely wasn’t because the book was any good!
(This is literally the only conversation I ever had with my first editor about fanfiction.
MY FIRST EDITOR: So you wrote some of that stuff—like those stories about other books, yes? Did I get that right?
MY FIRST EDITOR: Uh, okay. Sure you want to tell people about it?
SARAH: Yep, already did.
MY FIRST EDITOR: Uh, okay.)
The idea was that I must be getting published because publishers thought my books would sell to the people liked my fanfiction! But—the Demon’s Lexicon came out, and most of the people who read my fanfiction were like ‘Well, we like to read fanfiction and this isn’t fanfiction so we don’t wanna read it.’ (Fair! Pretty predictable.) Yet the book got pretty good reviews. (My friends have now read this essay and told me I have to say I got three starred reviews. It was a book about a boy, I have to add, and that means more literary attention!)
Maybe it was an okay book, though? Maybe I got published because of that. People thought ‘Hey, it’s not bad, it might sell.’ That’s usually how books get published. Maybe some fanfic authors get published and are big hits, and some get published and aren’t. Just like happens with… any people who get published. (Also, ‘Here is a bunch of people who really like to write stories. Some of them turn out to want to write books. Some of those books will get published by sheer law of averages. Some will not. Some of these books will succeed. Some will not.’ I do not see why this is a mystery that needs to be solved. It is not a mystery at all. Nobody alert Miss Marple.)
The idea that my books would be mega-successful because I had a following from my fanfiction was proved not to be true when Demon’s Lexicon didn’t sell huge. And yet another publisher decided to publish the Lynburn Legacy. Another publisher decided to publish Team Human. Still another publisher decided to publish Tell the Wind and Fire. They cannot all have thought ‘By gum, that fanfiction thing is bound to pay off sometime!’ Somewhere along the line, some people must have decided that maybe I was an okay writer? Could be they were wrong! But at a certain point, it cannot have been all about the fanfiction.
The idea that I was ‘just published because of my fanfiction,’ while a dumb, nasty idea that hurt me and my career, was not the only problem. Allow me to proceed with my (incomplete) list of bad things that happened in my professional life because I used to write fanfiction.
2) Some people from the internet who didn’t like me (apparently!) deleted my whole blog, which I’d written for years, the day my first book was published.
3) Some lady wrote Harry Potter fanfiction in which Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy discussed how crappy my book was, and what a terrible person I am. (That was actually amazing, it was so weird. Not pleasant, but AMAZING.)
4) A reporter stated and then argued with me that I got my book deal because of my fanfiction despite the fact we were friendly at one time and she knew exactly how the process had gone for me. (I did tell people that I’d written fanfiction, because when you have a hobby people think is weird, you want to tell people yourself in case it becomes an issue. And you present it as a good thing - ‘hey I’m a nerd, I love to blog!’ because… why wouldn’t you?)
5) More than one person has come up to me at a book signing and told me, indicating my books with total scorn, ‘I’m not interested in THAT, but I read your FANFICTION, MAYA (the name I used when I was seventeen and worried people from the internet would come kill my cat),’ while glancing significantly to other authors I was signing with to see their reactions. Those people seemed pleased when I looked upset. Congratulations on making a stranger feel bad, randos… if that’s your thing.
6) People emailed the fanfiction to schools and appearances I was due to make were cancelled. (People also decided that I was garbage because I took my fanfiction off the internet. Yes… clearly leaving it up would’ve been an amazing move. I assume the schools were like ‘What is this weirdness!’ because sadly, the stories were pretty clean. A shame, because being able to write super exciting porn is clearly a valuable skill.)
7) I never got to have a first book experience, where people don’t judge you by your other work. People (some booksellers and librarians!) would either be like ‘Not as good as her fanfiction’ or ‘I heard she wrote fanfiction so I bet it sucks.’
8) When Unspoken came out, I was like ‘well—it’s a Gothic mystery, I discussed the works that inspired it extensively, http://sarahtales.livejournal.com/tag/gothic%20tuesday,
nobody can say it’s anything else, thank you God, the long misery is over.’
Immediately on a popular book blog, someone had to bring up that because the villain of the Gothic mystery had mysterious motivations and goals… the villain must be based on Lucius Malfoy (??) and have HIS motivations and goals.
Actually, since it’s a Gothic mystery trilogy, the villain’s mysterious motivations and goals are revealed in the third book. Spoiler: he’s not doing it because Lord Voldemort told him to.
… It is so strange that people who read and write fanfiction do this thing where they decide former fanfiction authors can’t be writing their own characters. Because that’s who’s saying this stuff. Nobody who has read my books but not my fanfiction has ever, ever suggested that I based my characters on other characters. Not because these readers haven’t read Harry Potter—who hasn’t?—but because why would it occur to them that Harry Potter is a girl detective, or Ginny Weasley is a pink-haired wannabe Goth, or Ron Weasley is an antisocial lesbian brunette with a flawless make-up game? They are obviously really different characters! These claims seem bizarre to anyone unfamiliar with the narrative of ‘this person used to write fanfiction and thus is a lousy writer who writes ripoffs.’
FANFICTION READER: This character is Harry Potter.
OTHER READER: But this character bears no resemblance to Harry Potter.
FANFICTION READER: It’s a version of Harry Potter that this author made up.
OTHER READER: So… this author made the character up, but the character is a ripoff. And they’re Harry Potter, but very different?
FANFICTION READER: Yes.
OTHER READER: Ooookay.
People do not often have conversations like this, as you can see this conversation is very confusing. Usually they go like this…
FANFICTION READER: This writer is a hack who rips off other stories.
OTHER READER: Wow, that seems bad!
What’s going on behind this? It’s probably a case of ‘Look at Sarah’s writing, which I have read some of before. This rings a bell. She’s often interested in exploring this aspect of characters, or how something like this could affect a character. I mean, she ripped this other writer off—that’s what has to be going on!’
But why is there this dedication to proving a writer is unworthy of being a ‘real’ writer—for doing things that many, many real writers do? Yes indeed, writers have commonalities that can be perceived in many of their stories. Writers remain, from book to book, the same people with the same interests. Writers also often use archetypes common to many stories—the flawed, grim antihero, for instance, is in a lot of stories. All those writers are not plagiarising Batman. People generally understand this—until suddenly, they don’t want to understand this.
Suddenly some readers are holding some writers to wildly different standards than others. Why IS that?
9) Some other lady informed me out of the blue on twitter that she had no interest in reading my books (thanks lady! you have a great day too!) and why didn’t I want to talk about my fanfiction instead, and later described me as a bitch (for not wanting to talk solely about my fanfiction, I assume, as I was polite to her) while discussing me… with a magazine editor. That happened in summer 2013.
10) The Barnes & Noble (the biggest bookstore chain in the US!) blog described my books as based on fanfiction.
This is the exact quote:
' The Demon’s Lexicon (Demon’s Lexicon Trilogy #1), by Sara Rees Brennan
I could keep listing Twilight fanfics that have been turned into their own franchises for years—but let’s toss another Harry Potter fanfic legend into the fray. Sara Rees Brennan’s tale of two magician brothers doing battle against forces of evil was inspired by her own forays into fandom. She has since tried to remove evidence of her past life as a ‘fic writer. “There’s still a bit of stigma attached,” she’s been reported as saying.’
a) Yeah, there IS a bit of a stigma attached, since this person just decided that my books were inspired by fandom(?), though it wasn’t true. I guess I was a HUNDRED PER CENT CORRECT THERE! Thanks for proving my point, lady.
b) Let’s examine another weird statement: I totally tried to remove evidence I was a ‘fic writer? Oh yes, all I do is try to remove evidence I was a fic writer. It is my endless quest. See, first I just disappeared and never told anybody my real name…
… wait, i didn’t do that.
Well, okay, I told people who read my fanfiction my real name, but after that misstep, I never ever talked about fanfiction again, because it’s a closely kept secret and I am a fanfiction ninja.
I never ever talked about it again.
I just kept it totally hush hush.
Secret agent lady:
I didn’t write this post you’re reading now. I never talk about it. Shhhhh!
… I am so smooth. SO SMOOTH.
c) Given that I am such a legend and my actions are watched so closely, just a tip: my name isn’t Sara, and the brothers in my TDL books weren’t magicians.
That last thing happened in September 2013. So this is not something that happened to me in the distant past. This is something that I have to deal with in my career, over and over again, always.
I think fanfiction is a really lovely idea. I think it’s cool that people love a story so much they want to write more stories spinning off it, what-ifs and could-have-beens, that they want to spend more time with the characters and in a world they love. They love the story so much they want to devote a lot of time and work to it. That is great.
And unrelatedly, I am very lucky to have my career. I know that. I’m very happy to have it. A few of my fanfiction readers did follow me over to my books, and they’ve been really nice to me, and I appreciate their support—as I appreciate the support of all my readers.
I don’t mean to present my life as a torment, or fandom as an Evil Place full of prowling evildoers. I still think fanfiction is lovely and fandom can be lovely.
But I’m troubled by the way people, inside and outside of fandom, consistently act like being a published writer who used to write fanfiction is something shameful that those writers should be punished for. Do the people who write fanfiction and who torment me about having written it think *they* should be ashamed of writing fanfiction too? Do they think they suck as well?
Is this another situation where a girl—who had a hobby which is overwhelmingly a hobby for women, and thus despised—is told by people that she’s awful, and everything she’s tried to achieve is awful? Don’t we know better than this by now?
It is as if I should have known I was committing a dark and midnight act. Picture this scene:
17 YEAR OLD SARAH, GUILTY OF NOTHING BUT BEING A BIG NERD: I think I shall put up a story where Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy kiss on fanfiction.net!!!
ANTI-FANFICTION ANGEL (descends from on high, waving anti-fanfiction sword): Sarah, stop.
17 YEAR OLD SARAH: But what I am doing is totally harmless.
ANTI-FANFICTION ANGEL: I know you want to be a writer, and you have wanted that since you were five, and you wrote your first book when you were seven. But if you do this, you will be treated forever as if you are incapable of ever writing anything original—as if you have never, ever had an original idea in your head.
17 YEAR OLD SARAH: But doing this doesn’t change the fact that I write all these other things… nor does it change the fact I love writing. In fact, it *shows* I love writing.
ANTI-FANFICTION ANGEL: Doesn’t matter. From now on, you’re going to be treated as if you did something sinful and like you’re a talentless jerk—often by people who also wrote fanfiction, and who read and liked yours.
17 YEAR OLD SARAH: Why would that be…?
ANTI-FANFICTION ANGEL: I don’t know, okay? Maybe they think your books are rubbish.
17 YEAR OLD SARAH: Okay, but that’s subjective…? Plus a lot of people write rubbish books, so why would I be a special target?
ANTI-FANFICTION ANGEL: Because if you do this, it means other people are going to decide you should feel bad about yourself, and they will treat you badly. You shouldn’t get to feel like you’ve written books that deserve to be published. You shouldn’t get to think your stories about your characters matter. You don’t get to think you created characters. If you think well of yourself, you should be corrected and put in your place.
17 YEAR OLD SARAH: That is a lot to put on a teenager uploading a story on a whim! … I think someone should be supervising my internet usage.
ANTI-FANFICTION ANGEL: You thought you were sharing a silly fun story for free but now you realise the true horror of your actions! You will be suffering the consequences of this decision for the next thirteen years! DO YOU OR DO YOU NOT WANT TO BE CONSIDERED A PIECE OF HUMAN GARBAGE?
Look, if the anti-fanfiction angel had appeared and told me that, I would never have put the fanfiction up. No anti-fanfiction angel appeared. I did not know the consequences of my actions.
It’d be nice if all the stuff the anti-fanfiction angel said wasn’t true, though.
I think it would be great if fandom wanted to celebrate its own a little more. I think this IS kind of cool: E.L. James came from Twilight fandom and she made some super kinky books EXTRAORDINARILY popular? Cassandra Clare came from Harry Potter and she had a YA fantasy film made with a queer character front and centre and on the poster—suck it, Ender’s Game? She and I and Maureen Johnson (not a fanfiction writer, DON’T H8 MAUREEN, she is innocent) wrote a book and the protagonist is a bisexual dude of colour and the e-stories that book is composed of hit the bestseller list. How many bisexual MOC protagonists are on the bestseller list? Go fanfiction! How about Naomi Novik, her adult dragon adventure books got optioned by Peter Jackson, she’s a rock star? Marissa Meyer wrote a bestselling racebent science fiction version of Cinderella, what an amazing babe! Karen Healey just got nominated for the Norton, she’s a genre princess! Have you guys heard about the Captive Prince? The list of published writers who used to be or still are fanfiction writers grows every year, and that’s a triumph that shows fandom is a community full of people who like writing (no surprise) and many of them are talented (no surprise), and some of them are going to find success?
I wish I saw happiness about that instead of hate and the desire to prove women unworthy of success.
Nobody has to like any of these flawed writers or their flawed writing (though please don’t write to me to tell me they are garbage or that I am garbage, because I have been told extensively already!) but it is quite a set of achievements and it’d be wonderful to see them celebrated. Or at least not insulted a bunch. Instead, someone’s going to see this and go ‘Wow, SRB thinks she should be celebrated, like fandom owes her anything, she’s awful.’
I don’t think I’m so great. I don’t think I’m awful, either. I wrote a ton of free stories for fun and if people enjoyed it they don’t owe me anything—except that I would truly appreciate it if they would just quit torturing me. It was years ago. I’m sorry I did it. So much bad stuff has happened to me because of it that it feels like I committed an awful crime. I know that’s not true, and I don’t want anyone who writes fanfiction to feel that way, but it’s how I feel. I’ll never do it again.
I believe that people shouldn’t torment other people, no matter what.
I would rather see celebration than constant hatred. But trust me: I understand I won’t get celebrated. I will take just not being hated and judged by different standards than other writers.
This why asking me if my books are based on other books or TV shows is a sensitive subject: because a metric ton of people have assumed they are and spoken of my books as lesser because of it.
I didn’t write any of my books based on Supernatural, or Harry Potter, or Teen Wolf, or Sailor Moon, or Highlander, or Avatar the Last Airbender or whatever. I don’t think it would be a big deal if I had—though I didn’t. I DO think it’s a big deal that people assume and assert that I definitely did, and say that I suck because of that assumption.
I don’t want teenage girls writing fanfiction now to feel that they’re doing something inherently terrible, which must be hidden if they ever want to be real writers. I don’t want the writers of the future to get it in the neck like I do.
We have got to stop treating women like garbage (especially when we are women).
We have got to stop treating women’s hobbies like garbage (especially when they are our hobbies).