Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Repost: On Being a Cover Band

There's been a bit of a curfluffle as there often is over on Good Reads, this time about 50 Shades of Grey. For those of you who don't follow literary circles (using the term loosely), the 50 Shades series is a trilogy of novels that follow a dominant man as he seduces an innocent, loving, young woman. The works are getting a great deal of attention in part due to the history of the work (it began as Twilight fan fiction) and because it's become the new guilty pleasure: A saucy kinky steamy romance complete with handcuffs and blindfolds.

And while a great deal can be said about the transitory nature of the book and how they've brought a good number of people out of their shells, or rather lead them to think thoughts that they thought only "those people" would think, I'd like to focus on the first of those two, the origin story of the novels.

But first, let's talk about Cover Bands and Harry Potter.

When I was in college, I had many friends who were in bands. Some were quite talented and some were, not so talented. But there seemed to be a wider line between them than the Talent/No Talent one. It was the Original vs Cover.

The cover bands always scoffed because they were the ones getting the paying gigs, getting the chance to be one stage with people shouting and dancing, and basically doing the "band thing". The original bands scoffed right back, as they gathered to brainstorm, compose, write, and create their own "art". Now to be fair, some were indeed talented songwriters and their music was pretty good. But if we're being honest, getting booked to play original music was incredibly hard in a college town when everyone and their sister was in a band of some sort.

"What does this have to do with Harry Potter?" I wager you're asking. Well, it has more to do with Fan Fiction than it does with Harry Potter himself.

Writing is a very challenging process all on it's own. Taking the images in your head and converting them into a meaningful, readable, context takes work, takes time and it does take some talent. It's a bit like writing original songs. Now, one thing you can do to focus on your prose and plot writing is to take an established world, with established characters and simply drop them in novel situations and then write. You're still writing, but you're doing it with ideas that are partially pre-formed. I don't have to define Hermione Granger's reactions to core wizarding concepts because I know them. I can simply write her honestly and let the story go where it shall. Quite a bit like not trying to write a power ballad but instead playing rocking rendition of "Any Way You Like It" and then letting my artistry come out in the way I play and sing.

And there are whole communities dedicated to writing, sharing, and consuming fan fiction.
They provide, like a cover band, a pre-set group of fans. If I like Queen, then a cover band with a solid rendition of Show Must Go On will get some good reviews from me. Or at the least I'll enjoy listening to it.

I bring up Harry Potter because once upon a time I had the idea for a RPG which I then worked into a rough novel outline: Harry Potter: Upon the Threshold. It was to be the story of a muggle girl, smuggled into Hogworts to hide during the 1940's and the expanding Nazi control of Europe. I wanted to play the themes of being a stranger in an even stranger land, with the wizarding world's reaction to Nazi-ism and the impending war, and perhaps even delve into the war itself as fought by wizards.

It's a writing project I never pursued. Part of was that it was, at the time, totally unsaleable. I could write it, maybe even get a name for myself, but at the end of the two years or so working on the manuscript I'd not only have no money in my pocket but nothing that I could exchange for money.

And so it was, to a degree, with 50 Shades of Grey. It was published online as Twilight Fan Fiction, which became incredibly popular. Eventually the author took it off the sites, changed many of the cosmetic details, but left the story and characters mostly the same, and then published it to great success.

And part of that success was from people who read it in Fan Fic form first, and wanted to own a copy in print form of that story, accepting that the Twilight characters had new names and locations. The community was very supportive of "One of its own" striking out and becoming a published author. And that was nothing but success.

Which gets me back to Harry Potter and the idea of doing time as a cover writer before trying to write my own stuff. Would I be better off after 10 years to have spent 3 or so just writing fan fiction to build up a name by riding on the coat-tails of another author? Given the popularity of the HP franchise I am quite certain I would a good number of eyes on page if I published (and was able to advertise) good fan fic. Then in a year or two I could come out with my own original work.

Perhaps that would have been a better course. Or a course I may still take once I've gotten through these other writing projects I seem to laying on myself.

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