I have met Diana Gabaldon twice, both times when she was doing book promotion, so our verbal exchange was formal and consisted of me explaining how to spell my Mother's name correctly as she autographed books for me. I have never had the opportunity to have an informal chat with her, though I have listened to her discuss her books. I found her an opinionated and intelligent woman and I enjoyed her presentation.
When I've met a person, it becomes harder for me to dismiss them even when they are behaving--stupidly. So my reaction to Ms. Gabaldon's journal entries about her distaste for fan-fiction was shocking and puzzling rather then anger inducing. My surprise was her apparent lack of understanding about fan culture and how little she grasped the growing import of fan networks as vehicles for book promotion. Why didn't she know about us, certainly she has had years of meeting her fans, and certainly she understood how much her fans loved her characters? I wonder if her strange myopia is because she came into writing from outside of SF culture?
The event where I met her was at a fundraiser, with an expensive ticket price that would have deterred many fans. The average age of the audience was probably over fifty years old. At the time I assumed this was because the high price of admission deterred younger fans. But I am beginning to wonder if maybe her target audience is older readers. It is always dangerous to speculate about reader demographics and I usually shy away from that, but it could explain why she is so clueless about fan culture. If most of her fans are not SF fans, and if her fans are not members of organized fan networks then I begin to see how she might not understand the breath and depth of fan space and fan concerns. None of this of course excuses her ugly comments about fans or her hateful attitudes about fan writing, but I don't think she set out to intentionally insult me. But I can say with certainly that she doesn't understand me or my interests, and her grasp of her reader's landscape is very old school, and very behind the times.
Over the years I have encountered many fans and authors who share her views. she is old school in her attitudes toward ownership, but that assumes that the 'old school' had a correct understanding of copyright, and I'm not sure they ever did. I will also add that I not sure most authors today understand copyright. Copyright isa fluid and intentionally vague concept and fanfiction as a part of 'Fair Use' has never been validated in the US courts. I want fanfiction to be designated 'Fair Use' but I am not so sure that an eventual 'day of reckoning' in court will go our way. The legalistic arguments pro and con, are complex and will need to find balance among the rights of authors, individual readers and society.
I am following with much interest the efforts of all interested parties in redefining copyright in the most broad and inclusive terms. I think some of the anger directed at Gabaldon, is the knowledge that if all authors are forced to join her camp to protect their copyright licenses then fanfiction as we know it will be declared illegal. This is a separate frustration from Gabaldon's fan writer diatribe (that we fans are all a pack of talentless thieves). She annoyed me, but it is a secondary annoyance to a larger anger at the corporate interests who are turning their greedy eyes on the re-definition of literature, monopolization via copyright, destruction of publishers and the rerouting of book distribution onto tracks that pour money into corporate coffers at the expense of readers and writers. I feel very strongly that Gabaldon along with all writers (fan and pro) are struggling to come to terms with the challenges that digital publishing has unleashed and that in spite of her having tossed professional mud in my face I still recognize we are on the same side in the greater war. I wish there was some way I could make her see and understand that respect not theft is the guiding aesthetic behind fanfiction.