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 kind of too long to be a response to a post, but Sarah’s post should be seen. So tl;dr warning upfront!
It’s hard for me to think of what to say in response to this post of Sarah’s, because so much of it falls under the Code of Silence: things we just don’t ever talk about online because there’s no safe way of doing it.
“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?)”
I was in the same article, and the reporter claimed the same thing about me. We also were friendly once. Then we weren’t friendly, and she wrote an enormous blog post about how I was a terrible bitch. After I got my first book deal with Simon and Schuster, someone sent hundreds of physical copies of that blog post, which wasn’t about my writing but about her opinion that I was a bitch personally and a bad friend, to my publisher. Fortunately they were smart enough to recycle it all — publishers don’t really care about your personal life, but it was the first book deal I ever had, and I was so excited, and you can imagine how humiliating that was. (Maybe you can’t. But I can imagine you probably can.)
I (and Sarah) were sort of at the leading edge of fanfiction writers who sold original work and didn’t cover up that they’d written fanfiction. I got, and still get, a lot of vicious flak for not having changed my name when I sold my original work: I was told I was profiting off my fanfiction name. But there’s really no winning, because Sarah did change her name and I saw her get just as many comments saying she was trying to hide that she’d written it. (She wasn’t.) And I knew that even if I did change my name, there were enough photos of me around, and enough stuff known about me — like that I was friends with Holly Black — that it would be a very short time before people figured out that “Jezebel Smith” was actually me, and then it would be an issue of people trying to publicize it as much and as hard as they could, the same way people have tried to dig up and publicize my real name, my address, the directions to my wedding. I didn’t want to live in total terror of the day people found out, so I decided just to be open with it from the start, even though I knew it would be a different kind of awful.
"… 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?"
Well, that’s my Ron headcanon.
Joking aside, like Sarah, these are all experiences I’m very familiar with. The narrative about what you’ve done changes, but the narrative is always that if you wrote fanfiction you’re incapable of any originality. I’ve seen people try to bend themselves into pretzels attempting to somehow map my Shadowhunters books onto Harry Potter, though they share little in common except some basic fantasy tropes. Jem is Harry Potter, somehow (because he is nice…?) so I guess Harry Potter is a tall silver-haired Asian demon-fighter addicted to drugs and good at the violin. Who knew? Harry contains multitudes. Jace is Draco (blond!) and Magnus is — I don’t know who they think Magnus is. Dumbledore, maybe. Sexy Indonesian bisexual Dumbledore.
I spent years coming up with the magic system for the Shadowhunters books and it is bogglingly different from the Harry Potter magic system but Clary has red hair and Ginny has red hair so … they are the same.
But, anyway. What is so interesting about this stuff is that it does basically all come from people who are in fandom/write fanfiction. Never do I see anyone unaware of the fact that I wrote fanfic say that Jem reminds them of Harry Potter, or that Will Herondale is obviously Draco Malfoy. They just don’t, ever.
I will see people in the comments, I know, saying “But that is different, you see, because you are a terrible person/a self-plagiarist/a fanfiction plagiarist/a cyberbully/a person who deserves this treatment [as John Scalzi once said to someone on his blog who said I deserved the death threats I got because I had gotten people “banned from fandom” (not a thing you can do, fandom’s not a country): “Yeah, she shouldn’t have worn that dress.”]
Because that is how misogyny works —we divide women, we split them into good and bad women, we use some women’s behavior to shame other women, and we use the consequences meted out to them to terrify others. I can’t count the amount of times my friends have been contacted in order that people might inform them that they shouldn’t be friends with me because I am a terrible person, and that if they do not denounce me publicly they are bad women too. It’s part of a pattern of pitting women against each other than I often see reflected in the weird lies that turn up about me and my writer friends:
1) My publisher paid Holly Black and Sarah Rees Brennan to be friends with me. Which assumes a much higher level of organization on the part of publishing than exists. Also I was friends with them before I had a publisher.
2) Libba Bray hates me and got her husband, my former agent, to fire me. (Agents don’t actually fire you, agents work for you.) Except no, Libba and Barry and I are all friends.
3) Holly Black is is love with me. I am kind of into this one. But it does remind me of Mean Girls.
4) The Bane Chronicles are fanfiction when Sarah writes them but not when Maureen does
5) Holly wrote Magisterium all alone but apparently decided to pretend we cowrite it because she wants a blurb from me, despite already having a blurb from me
6) I continue to secretly write fanfiction under another name. I mean, that would be fine if I did, but I don’t. I regret having written fanfiction more than I regret anything else I have ever done. I can’t really read it or look at it without feeling a little shaky and frightened. I wind up remembering how when I went to DragonCon the year before my book came out they got so many threats about my presence that they were moved to assign me security, which I had never asked for. I remember leaving the country for the publication date of my book. I couldn’t stand to be there. I remember fandom spamming Amazon and Goodreads with bad reviews of City of Bones that contained admittals that they’d never read it. I remember people saying over and over that “everything would be okay if you just apologized” though I did apologize - groveled, even - dozens of times in fandom, a decade ago, and it never did help or make a difference.
As Sarah points out, writing fanfic is a largely female hobby/space, and therefore it is mocked and looked down on in that “hordes of scribbling women” way. And contempt for women and what they do, is as always, deeply felt and painful, and it becomes part of how women view themselves. A sort of “I’d never belong to a club that would have me” thing. I’ve been torn to pieces in tumblr comments for using the word “feels” because it proves that I am “fandomy” — by people in fandom …who also use the word feels.
Fanfic is only growing. More and more young women are coming up writing it. I get asked all the time about transitioning from fanfic writing to pro writing and a lot of times I don’t know what to say. “On my first book tour, people threatened to throw acid in my face and bookstores had to hire security”? “People from fandom dug up my grandfather’s phone number (he was 90) and called him up to tell him his granddaughter was a bitch whore?” (He died before I ever saw him again after that phone call.) “Okay but accept that people will assume your books are just your fanfic because apparently fanfic is like crack and once you start you physically can’t stop and will just sit in the corner going, OH GOD IF I COULD JUST RESIST DRACO MALFOY FOR FIVE MINUTES I COULD WRITE A BOOK BUT I CAN’T”?
I think probably I’m not the right person to ask for uplifting commentary :) I think I’ll close out with what Holly (who has lived through all of this with me, for a decade, just like Sarah) says on her journal:
This is a really important post, especially for all you young writers coming up now, because I have seen it happen to some of the smartest, most well-read writers I know, writers who care deeply about craft, who are generous and clever and good. And I have seen it happen over and over again…Writers who once wrote fanfiction are not some different breed of writer. They’re not less original. They’re not less good. They’re not less anything. They’re writers, full stop.
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