50 Shades of Fanfic: E.L. James and Other Superstars of Fan Fiction

You may have shattered box office records, The Hunger Games, but E.L. James’ erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey is the new explosive literary phenom, with two sequels to the book already announced. You may have seen the Tumblrs devoted to it, or the SNL sketch. Your mother may have asked you about it in a conversation, which was probably really uncomfortable for everyone involved, and in which case, we are so sorry.

The fact that James has roots in fan fiction and Grey’s began as Twilight fanfic has led to quite a bit of well-written and interesting discourse about the nature of fan fiction, and whether or not operating in someone else’s universe actually makes us more creative. James is not the only one to make a name for herself in this literary style. Here are some other famous—and infamous—writers who got their start working with other people’s characters.

Meg Cabot: The young adult novelist best known for authoring the popular Princess Diaries series got her start writing Star Wars fan fiction, as she elaborates in a blog post on her website. Cabot recommends fan fiction as a way for budding young writers to get started in the trade. As she puts it, “The good thing about writing fan fiction is that the characters and basic plot are already set up, so new writers can concentrate on dialogue, or further plot development. Basically, the author has already created a world for the new writer to play around in, and that is a great way for new writers to learn the skills they will need in order to create their OWN universe.”

Cassandra Clare: Cassandra Clare is often mentioned in the same breath as E.L. James, and indeed the author has found great success with her own series of young adult sci-fi-meets-murder-mystery novels, The Mortal Instruments. But prior to Mortal, she wrote Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings fan fiction, most notably something called “The Draco Trilogy.”

Naomi Novik: Novik was nominated for the 2007 Hugo Award (the highest honor for a science fiction or fantasy title) for her book, His Majesty’s Dragon. When not working on her own fantasy series, which has been nominated for awards and Dragon optioned by the likes of Peter Jackson, she is a board member emeritus of the Organization for Transformative Works, a group which advances the cause of fanfiction writers and their art.

Anthony Russo:Russo is known for his work in the Star Wars universe, first with his assistance in developing the live-action adventure role-playing guide and then for contributing to the large network of fan fiction novels that exist expanding upon the house that George Lucas built. Russo’s first Star Wars-related short story, Blaze of Glory from the Tales of the Empire series, was published in 1997.

Arabella and Zsenya: These two authors, known primarily by their pseudonyms, are responsible for After the End, perhaps the most famous Harry Potter fanfic of all (save for My Immortal, and we’re getting to that). Their fan work takes place following the novels, and is the length of one itself at 43 chapters. We won’t reveal too much for the good viewers at home, but we will say it is one of the works of fan fiction Alyssa Rosenberg cites in her response to Wired (as a fan of After the Ending) and another Weasley sibling meets an unfortunate fate. 

“Tara Gillespie”/”Tara Gilesbie”: My Immortal is one of the best-known fanfics on the Internet and also one of the worst, and it’s not even clear whether or not the work is trying to be serious or just a magnificent blazing tower of online-lit trollgaze. Our money would be on the latter scenario, but if that is the case, then this writer is the trolling equivalent of that dude who edited a million Wikipedia entries, because not only is My Immortal a clear representation/lampooning of every horrible habit associated with the stereotypical fanfic writer, but the writer, who operated under the FanFiction.net username “xxxbloodyrists666,” also has a back story and IRL drama that seeps into the never-ending saga.

My Immortal itself can be read in various forms online, including a YouTube voiceover series and a comic book because of reasons, but for those who lack the time, the CliffsNotes version: author-avatar protagonist “Ebony” (a textbook Mary Sue) attends Hogwarts, where she gets with Draco Malfoy, Harry and Ron are now vampires and apparently Snape and Professor Lupin are into voyeurism. And Good Charlotte makes a gratuitous cameo. Examples of the most priceless lines [sic] include "I did sum advanced Biology work. I was turning a bloody pentagram into a black guitar. Suddenly the guitar turned to Draco!" and “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING YOU MOTHERFUKERS!” It was……………………………………………………Dumbledore!"Yep.

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