By Domenica Di Piazza, Editorial Director of Twenty-First Century Books
I invited Francesca Davis DiPiazza to talk about Fandom: Fic Writers, Vidders, Gamers, Artists, and Cosplayers, her newest book for TFCB.
School Library Journal raves about it, saying the book has “enough information to make readers’ heads spin….[They will] appreciate the rich conversations on how race, gender, and sexuality are portrayed in fandom.” It’s “a must-have nonfiction purchase for libraries,” concludes SLJ.
A note from Francesca
Fandom is a personal book for me. I began researching this book in the 1970s, when, every day after school, I watched reruns of Star Trek (The Original Series) in syndication on my family’s black-and-white TV.
The show was incredibly important to me. I felt weird and ugly in a new school, my family was falling apart, the president of the United States was clearly unfit to serve, the country was in a seemingly unending and unwinnable war––and here was this crew, this all-species crew of both genders (only two, according to the times) that said another world, another way, is possible. Get on board.
At that time, I had almost no one with whom to share my fan love, art, and ideas. Today, teens can share online their passion for the stories they love. Of course there are problems. For me, isolation was the big one. And entering the fray can be scary, and possibly dangerous. But so is silence.
By 2008 it had been a couple decades since I’d even thought about Star Trek. However, I was reeling from my mother’s recent suicide. So I made an autobiographical vid, Star Trek, My Love. I subtitled screenshots from Star Trek with my story of being a sad teenager, and then a sad adult in 2008. I set it to Beatles music and related how the example of Kirk and Spock inspired and comforted me. When I posted my vid on YouTube, it got nothing but love. A lot of people let me know they felt the same way I did.
A couple years ago, I noticed that there are few print books on fandom. So my book for TFCB takes on fan-made writing (fic), videos (vids), games, visual arts, and cosplay. Trying to fit all that into a concise volume ended up feeling, as Bilbo says to Gandalf in Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring), “sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
So I decided to focus on a couple main ingredients. I wanted to show that fan writing is not an anomaly. Humans have always, always riffed on one another’s stories. Virgil lifted his hero Aeneas from Homer’s Iliad. Almost none of Shakespeare’s stories are original. Jane Austen got her start as a teenager writing parodies of the romance novels of her day. Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t a new story either. It started online as adult erotic fic based on the teen vampire Twilight romances.
I start the book with the fan-love for the musical play Hamilton as an example of a virtuous cycle. Fans love that the actors are people of color and that women play a prominent role. And it was fandom’s ongoing call for and support of work like Hamilton that helped bring about a world in which Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work could make it to Broadway, and beyond. And where Black Panther is not just a background character and Wonder Woman isn’t just “the other one” in the DC pantheon. In many ways, these mass media stories are inheritors of Star Trek and other fandoms’ vision of, as fans say, a sandbox where everybody gets to play.
Politics, social justice, personal sorrow, lust, and love, and plain old fun! Fandom has enough butter for all the bread. Writing this book allowed me to spend time with young fans, online and in personal interviews. They and their creativity and their love for stories, for romance, for justice, and for community have given me hope. I hope they (and we) take that hope and, as Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation says, make it so.