Part I: Given the ongoing debates I've had on this topic with friends and the fact that my opinions are starting to change ever so slightly, it makes more sense to break this topic up a bit.
If you know me at all, you know that I'm a fan of the low brow when it comes to movies but can get downright snooty about books. This doesn't mean I won't pick up an easy* read, but I am so much tougher when it comes to recommending a book and in discerning what I like and value. I'm not using this to explain away my thoughts on fanfic, but it does say a little bit about why I would be so obstinate on the topic. That said, I'm always open to being schooled (and that's pretty much what I got). Grab your book light and settle in for this back to school special.
I'm going to sound like a jerk, but I need to first tell you quickly why I've been so dismissive of fanfic. Honestly, I question the quality of anything self published. I've purchased a few self-pubbed titles over the last few years and have been burned. I know I shouldn't judge everything by the titles I've purchased, but it's left me with little more than respect for editors and a healthy dose of skepticism about the new self publishing craze**. I'm working on getting over it, but it's slow going.
My other issue with fanfic is the co-opting of characters that someone else has gone to the trouble to create. If I put the emotional and creative energy into breathing life into people/creatures/worlds, it makes me very uncomfortable angry that other people feel so entitled to take steal them for their own use. Trust me, I understand being cocky enough to think you can do it better. I'm just not sure I agree that you should***.
This does not keep my friend Ravena from trying to get me to see the light. She'll wax poetic about this author or that. We'll debate. It's a cycle. A couple of months ago I agreed to read a piece of fanfic if she'd agree to watch Outbreak (only one of my favorite movies and a genre she's generally resistant to).
Not one to back out of an agreement, I managed to hold off on buying any new titles, instead opting to click the link to what felt like a back alley market for verboten publishing. That back alley led to a site called Eric Iz Mine (yes, the iz is correct. sigh) and the world of True Blood fanfic. I took the plunge with Bored to Death, and I fought the story almost every step of the way. Most of you have never seen me read, but I'm not above rolling my eyes at the screen and snorting with derision. I wanted to hate this story and spent the first 16 chapters searching for things to get annoyed by (he uses the word brat too much...Eric would never say anything an unmanly as brat) and denying that I was entertained. Do you know what denying yourself looks like? It's that corner of your mouth that creeps upwards into a grin until you immediately force it back into the studied scowl. I finally said screw it halfway through chapter 17 and admitted to myself and the world that I was hooked. I was on the treadmill at the gym and refused to get off so that I could move on to weights because I needed to finish that chapter. I fucking hate the treadmill and am always looking for an excuse to stop, so you know this was serious.
Maybe I'm more forgiving because I never read any of the books by Charlaine Harris. I really don't think that it's though. I was more than entertained. The writing was solid and the story was tight. Yes, I found things to be annoyed by, but I can do that with anything. More than that, the author behind Eric Iz Mine is creative. She took the story of Eric and Sookie to a place I never would have dreamed and spun the story off in a such a unique way that I was forced to follow. I couldn't leave the world created in Bored to Death without following it through to Meanwhile. Your eyes do not deceive you. I was in deep enough to read a second story.
While I still hold on to a healthy amount of my skepticism, I'll admit to being wrong on certain accounts. Now I will never be able to say that I haven't enjoyed a bit of fan fiction.
*Let's agree that we'll each define easy in our own way.
**Fifteen pages do not a book make. Let's all just agree that you've written a brochure or pamphlet and move on.
***I'm happy to continue arguing these points in the comments but know that I've debated these out with friends. I've get where the other side is coming from.