From Inside the Arrogant, Intimate, Free (double-meaning), Beautiful Land of Fanfics

by Phan Huynh

If asked to recommend a piece of writing, my first instinct would be to recommend love you in the dark by author “heaveninbusan.” This 60,000-words fiction about internalized homophobia and second chances, with rarely seen adult characters struggling with coming to terms with their sexual orientation, beautifully written in provocative contemporary language, is better than most queer books that are topping bestselling charts. 

To me, at least, that is. 

But the keywords here are “first instinct.” Because after a second thought, I would try to look for some published books with original characters instead. 

This is not to gate-keep. 

This is because, unless you are into the KPOP group ONEUS and the chemistry as well as characteristics of its two members Leedo and Seoho, who are the main characters to this work, it would be difficult for you to put this work into context and understand it to the extent that the author wanted it understood, having assumed that readers are familiar with the characters. Reading it as an outsider would be like starting from the 24th book in a series — not necessarily impossible, but awkward with its background information obscured from view. 

That way, fanfiction or fanfic — the kind of fiction based on existing people or fictional characters — is arrogant and intimate. Arrogant because, aforementioned, fanfics are not obligated to provide enough background information (especially for canon fanfics which are set in the actual setting, whether it’s the Harry Potter world or a KPOP boy group), physical descriptions of characters, or interpretations of characters’ actions — that is on you, dear readers, to figure out. Intimate because they are specifically dedicated to a circle, a bubble of readers who share knowledge and passion — judgment-free. 

Fanfics are also free. 

Free as in literally free-of-charge, and free as in free from censorship and boundaries since they’re self-published. Free-of-charge as authors are fueled by passion and the need to share.

As a fanfic translator myself, I can spend weeks translating my favorite 30,000-words fanfic for free but would question your sanity if you asked me to translate Animal Farm without compensation. (That is nothing in comparison to the dedication of “Nobody_TOK715,” author of the 6,666,666-words Terminator fanfic Future Shock, of course. Wild but admirable.)

But more importantly, fanfics are free of boundaries, capable of crossing borders mainstream writing can’t cross. For example, another favorite fanfic of mine, could i sum you up just by what i see by “heaveninbusan” (oh won’t you look at my favorite writer of all time) portrays the friends-to-lovers relationship between a camboy and his roommate, with heavily explicit sex scenes and a completely casual take on sex work. As sex-positive and progressive as the world is becoming, I have yet to encounter such fair and open portrayals of sex workers in mainstream media, as opposed to that in this work as well as several other fanfics I have read on Archive of Our Own.

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