A few months ago, we uncovered the Fifty Shades of Grey section on Fanfiction.net, which was soul-destroying enough: This Twilight fanfic had its own fanbase who wrote new adventures for Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele? It was like Inception with bad erotica. At the time, we joked about what if one of these fics reached the same notoriety as Fifty Shades, never guessing that we were actually predicting the bleak future of publishing.
One of my Twilight fandom tipsters directed me toward a new novel called Devil’s Brand, coming out in October of this year. At first glance, it seems to merely be inspired by E.L. James‘ bestseller with its questionable BDSM and lip-biting heroine. In fact, this protagonist Marci Lowe sounds like she might have some more agency than Anastasia since she’s a bankrupt heiress, so at one point in her old life she was maybe successful? Here’s the whole synopsis of what author Casea Major calls The Divine Portion Series:
When an old friend offers heiress on the run, Marci Lowe, a temp job working as the personal assistant to the reclusive banking magnate, Devon Brand, she jumps at the chance. At first, the opportunity seems like a dream come true, but Marci finds more than just mystery behind the locked doors of the charismatic man’s company.
Brand offers her a permanent position and, it seems, a place in his bed. But it soon becomes clear that what she first believed to be an indecent offer is something entirely different. He is something entirely different…
As his sinister nature is revealed, Marci’s life is sent into a tailspin and everything she believed about the world—and herself—is shaken to the foundations.
Now, she must unlock the secrets of her past and decide if she can align with the man she loves in an ancient war where they will stand in the coming battle between hell and all that is holy.
Here’s where I might be starting to lose you, where you think, So what if there’s a brooding businessman with a taste for BDSM? That’s not my Christian Grey. Wrong. Devil’s Brand began its life as The Darkest Shade, a Fifty Shades fanfic. Casea Major has of course deleted it from Fanfiction.net, but a quick Google search brings up this results page:
Click to enlarge. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t really cache anymore beyond a screenshot, but if you squint you can read the first few lines of The Darkest Shade Chapter 6, which matches up exactly with Devil’s Brand Chapter 6 on Casea’s blog (NSFW, as if I had to tell you by now). That’s right, she’s printed most of the book on her blog—and better yet, she’s actually tagged it as “Fifty Shades of Grey” and written in the headline “Welcome Fan Fic Friends”! Casea seems to have no qualms about acknowledging her novel’s origin as a piece of fanfiction. Making things even more confusing is that Casea also has the novel listed on her NaNoWriMo profile, presumably from National Novel Writing Month 2011 where she completed only 20,000 of the 50,000 words. But if she didn’t change any of the details from the fic, how are we to believe that she wrote anything new for Devil’s Brand?
The worst part is, it sounds like Casea has really come full circle and gone back to invoking Twilight with this “ancient war” and battle between heaven and hell mentioned in the blurb. A major argument in Fifty Shades‘ favor is that it’s not really fanfiction since E.L. James excised all of the supernatural elements from Bella and Edward’s relationship. (Of course, my argument is always going to be that readers automatically knew to read Christian and Ana’s dom/sub affair as Edward’s unwillingness to have sex with Bella. But I digress.)
So, here’s where we get into the hairy stuff. From the excerpts I’ve skimmed — it’s pretty awful, and not hot — I can gather that sometime in the last year or so Casea Major wrote a Fifty Shades AU (alternate universe) fanfic reimagining Anastasia Steele as a disgraced heiress instead of a hapless college senior. Christian Grey is still a business mogul, but now it’s banking. (Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what he did in the original, and it’s not relevant since readers care about him with his snazzy suits off, not on.) Anastasia is still in a submissive position to Christian, but in this story she’s not his only partner. The excerpts start at Chapter 6, but my impression is that Christian asks Ana to join his little harem of women in the “Dark Room,” one of whom is named Louise and administers her own paddlings of other women. In the last chapter Casea has shared with us, Ana has a vibrating butt plug in but decides that it’s below her standards to let Louise paddle her.
Oh, maybe at this point I should start using the characters’ new names, Marci and Devon. But seriously, she hasn’t changed a word from the original fanfic. So now readers know to read Marci/Devon in the context of Ana/Christian, which is itself Bella/Edward. SIGH. I just don’t understand why writers can’t take the extra effort to craft original characters instead of just changing the names over and over. And it’s not like Casea is inexperienced! Her Amazon page reveals that she’s published three erotic novels in the last year.
I love fanfiction. I think it’s a vital tool for any writer too shy or intimidated to write wholly original characters and plot on his/her first go. But eventually you have to take off the training wheels. To try and generate profit and/or a fanbase from someone else’s characters is lazy and dishonest. Even if it doesn’t make any money, fanfiction should stay online and not be printed like a real book.
No comment yet from E.L. James.