I was introduced to fanfiction after The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, when I was around fifteen. This was long before the Internet, and fanfic was printed in fanzines, fan-produced magazines that were mimeographed or xeroxed, or if the editor could afford it, offset printed. But finding them, if you didn’t already know someone who knew about them, was nearly impossible.
As a lonely, feral, anxiety-ridden, teenage fan, my only connection to the fandom world at all was Starlog magazine. Back then, Starlog was a lifeline for me, and it not only featured articles and news about TV shows, movies, and books, but also fan groups and conventions. (I chose the university I went to because Starlog had an article that mentioned its student SF/F club and convention, but that’s another story.)
The magazine also had a section of small cheap personal ads in the back for fan-related merchandise. One issue, a fanzine called Facets, dedicated to fanfic about Harrison Ford’s various characters (mostly Han Solo and Indiana Jones) bought an ad, and I sent my money in (I don’t remember how much, probably less than $10) and bought a couple of small fanzines.
I was hooked. The back of each fanzine was filled with ads and flyers for other Star Wars fanzines, and I dived in and ordered more.
At their height of popularity in the 80s and early 90s, Star Wars fanzines were gorgeous productions. There were zines that were more than 300 pages long; with color covers and black and white illustrations; and filled with stories, poems, and cartoons. The best editors would copyedit the stories and some made suggestions and asked for revisions, helping the writers produce their best work.
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I’ve always had a problem with genre categories.
What I’ve seen over the years is that when you try to define a category in order to make it easier for readers to find the kind of books they like, publishers begin to tailor their marketing to that definition. Then people begin to write to that definition. The definition becomes increasingly narrow, and it makes stories that don’t fit that definition in every respect harder to sell.
When you do sell a book that doesn’t fit, you occasionally get a reader email demanding to know why something sold as a fantasy doesn’t have a bearded white guy with a sword as the main character, because the definition is now so narrow that your book (and a lot of others) has been squeezed out of it.
When I wrote The Cloud Roads, the first of the Books of the Raksura, I still felt it fell mostly under the category of sword and sorcery, despite there not being any swords, and the sorcery being internal and intrinsic to the characters. The books I read that I thought of as sword and sorcery usually had one (or two) loner characters, bumming along in a fantasy landscape as mercenaries, looking for treasure or opportunities to make a living. They had been outlaws in the past, or were fleeing accusations of something, or a past of slavery or powerlessness or something in their lives that they had to hide.
In The Cloud Roads, Moon was profoundly alone, even when he was living with other people. He was traveling in a fantasy landscape looking more for food and shelter than treasure, and he had something to hide.
But instead of a career as an outlaw or a failed rebel, he was hiding the fact that he was a flying shapeshifter whose other form resembled top-tier predators that were famous for destroying whole cities and eating their inhabitants. Instead of a sword, he had claws.
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