My brush with fandom has been limited, but enjoyable. When I wrote my column Midnight Musings with the Goth Goddess for the Central Texas entertainment mag The Edge Magazine, I was surprised to receive fan mail. I was writing about the scene I love (Goth/Industrial) and it was actually quite a bit of fun. To end up having people writing in to me to tell me how much they were enjoying my column was a surprise, but also quite reassuring. To find out I had an audience was actually a very nice feeling. I wasn't just writing for myself after all.
Fast forward to the original posting of "Tiny Fingers" (the first scene in As The World Dies) a year later and the immediate response I received from people wanting more. Again, I was a little floored. My FIRST FAN, as I like to call him, was nice enough to PM me and encourage me when along with the praise and requests for more, I got a few really snarky comments from old timers on the board. I kept writing and the emails and messages kept coming in. If not for that first batch of die hard fans, I'm not sure if I would have kept going. I never did see myself as a writer of zombie apocalyptic horror, so to end up writing what ended up to be a fairly epic story, shocked me. I give full credit to the fans that kept me going.
Which brings me to the most powerful fandom out there right now. The Twilighters. They are die hard, fanatical, devoted and passionate about the Twilight series. In fact, I was not going to read Twilight at all (though I thought the cover was amazing) until someone in my book club selected that book for the month of August. I picked the book up in WalMart while grocery shopping and ended up devouring it in three days as I rode the Capital Metro bus to work.
I have to say the book was like crack. I could not freaking put it down. And yet I was annoyed with quite a few things in the book, yet I kept reading. I couldn't stop reading. I wanted to finish and figure out what was going on. By the time I hit the last page, I was glad I had read Twilight, but I honestly didn't feel like reading the rest of the books.
If I had read this book in my teens or even early twenties, I am pretty sure I would have plowed through to the end of the series. It definitely is in the tradition of old romance novels and very appealing if you're hoping for a true, romantic love to show up in your life. I think Edward is definitely part of the tradition of the brooding, almost cruel hero from classic literature from Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I disliked him a good portion of the book, yet I sympathized with him. Bella came across like most teenage girls and she didn't really bother me at all.
I was disappointed to find out there were going to be three more books. I felt Twilight should have ended with Edward making Bella a vampire. Yet, I couldn't blame the fans for wanting more. I decided to check out of the series because I just couldn't see there being any possibility of a triangle that everyone was talking about (Bella was totally smitten with Edward). The last book, Breaking Dawn, recently came out and a lot of people have been disappointed in its resolution of a love triangle I found difficulty in even believing in after the first book.
Watching the posts flying back and forth between a lot of those who hated the last book and the ones who loved it, I couldn't help but wonder if the fandom had actually worked against their own writer and the series they loved.
What do I mean by that?
By the fans wanting more, the author may have stretched out the story too long. I believe strongly that a story should have a definitive arc to it that makes sense and doesn't feel forced. I believe that well-crafted characters need to operate within the structure of their personality. To force a character to do something that goes against their established nature just comes across as tampering and jarring. To force a story arc to last longer that it should makes the story seem long winded and watered down. And to break the rules of your established cannon, well, that's just wrong.
When you have a fan base, you definitely feel an obligation to give them what they want. Of course, you may take this in a wrong direction and give them what they literally want, point by point, and end up throwing off your own story. I remember The Lost World movie was a huge disappointment to many who had read the sequel to Jurassic Park and Steven Spielberg said he had basically filled the movie with scenes the fans wanted to see. The last of the Twilight series seemed to follow this pattern. One of the common complaints I read against the book was that the pregnancy of Bella and how she gets everything she wants with zero sacrifice, felt like fan fiction.
I adore my fans. I listen to my fans. But I also know what the characters and the story demand to make the books solid reads. Some fans lobbied hard for certain characters to stay alive in As the World Dies and I struggled with a few of the deaths. I'm a big ol' softie by nature, but I knew that certain characters were not making it to the end of the books. Their natural story arc would end in their deaths and to tamper with it would water down the overall story. It was HARD at times to write those deaths. I loved the characters. I loved their voices, but I knew I could not betray the world I had created.
Fans are a powerful force in the lives of a writer. They can lift you up when you're down and feeling overwhelmed. They can inspire you to keep going when you feel utterly burned out. But, I believe that a writer needs to not cater to the specific demands of a fan base, but do their best to give their fans the best damn story they can. No pulled punches. No easy outs.
I think the Twilighters are an amazing fan base. Devoted to a degree that is almost mind-boggling, but the disappointment of so many with the last book in the series did inspire me to deep introspection about my writing and my own fans.
I love you, guys and gals. I'll give you the best story I can. You just may not always be particularly happy with me.