Some of my readers know I used to write fanfiction (still do on rare occasion). Fanfic is an excellent way for a writer to build their narrative muscles, explore their author voice, get feedback on what they’ve produced, and enjoy their favorite media with a like-minded community of fans.
More specifically, creating “non-canon” dialogue and scenes using an existing IP lets writers practice their craft without as much requisite world-building. For example, a Harry Potter fanfic doesn’t have to go into detail about what Hogwarts is, who Harry’s friends are, or how witches and wizards cast magic, if it doesn’t want to. Readers will, by and large, already know that information and can follow along as the fanfic author explores a newly imagined story line or scene set in the same “universe”. And because existing IPs already have an audience, one clamoring for more content, fanfic authors can post their work online and, supposedly, receive critique and encouragement in a greater amount than if they’d posted original work.
While some fanfic authors might write fanfic specifically because they intend to produce original, commercial work someday and want to improve their craft in the meantime, others write it simply because they, like fanfic readers, wanted more content and took it upon themselves to create it.
I fell into the latter group, but it would take a certain IP and the kind of romance-novel-devouring mindset of a college-age woman to get me not only to write fanfic but to post it online.
First, let me back up a bit. When I was in high school—centuries ago—I’d sometimes venture onto the local university campus either with my sister or my friends, and we found ourselves snagging fliers for the university’s anime club. At the time, the club had to resort to (often bootleg) VHS copies of shows like Yu Yu Hakusho, Magic Knight Rayearth, Sailor Moon, and Macross 7. I ended up attending this local university and joined the anime club as a freshman. I made a lot of friends, most of whom I still see regularly, and I eventually not only made some of those weekly fliers I once stole, I also became a club officer in my final year.
During my time in the anime club, which met every Saturday for four wonderful hours of bingeing the most popular shows in one of the science building’s lecture rooms, we watched Cardcaptor Sakura, Fushigi Yuugi, Marmalade Boy, Ghost in the Shell (I’m still mad about the whitewashing reboot), Initial D, Hellsing, Trigun, Vampire Hunter D, Cowboy Bebop, and dozens more.
I also got my hands on some rather adult anime—not pornographic specifically, but graphic all the same—one of which I only saw bits and pieces of in an anime music video. (Yes, I made those, too.) All I was able to learn about Ai no Kusabi, a two-episode anime OVA (Original Video Animation) based on a novel, came from a text summary on someone’s website (or perhaps their LiveJournal, I can’t recall). An older me is horrified by the many problematic plot points in Ai no Kusabi, specifically the kidnapping, humiliation, and repeated rape of the protagonist. But at the time, I was fascinated by the dystopian world-building: a caste system at the top of which were sterile, asexual, genetically engineered Elites, the highest ranked of which were “Blondies.”
Thus, one aspect of my fantasy world in Caught in the Devil’s Hand was a caste system based upon hair color. I kept “blondies,” assigning them a sort of “magical sterility,” one that ultimately proves to be their doom. Brown-haired people, colloquially known in-universe as “brownies,” have some magical ability. And black-haired people, known as “crows,” possess the strongest magical powers—though most don’t know it. (Red hair doesn’t exist naturally in the story…yet.)
As for more mainstream anime, one in particular captured me so strongly that I bought lots of its merchandise, made an insanely thorough fansite for it, and finally made the plunge into writing my own fanfic, one of which ended up as long as a mega-novel. That show was Inuyasha.
The basic plot of Inuyasha: a present-day high school girl named Kagome lives with her family at a Shinto shrine. By accident, she discovers that she can climb down the well within the shrine and time-travel to feudal Japan—or rather, a mythical version of it, one with every sort of monster, spirit, or any other supernatural creature one can find in Japanese folklore, plus quite a few that author Rumiko Takahashi created out of whole cloth. There, Kagome meets a half-demon named Inuyasha, and together they and a few other companions have various adventures over the interminable length of the show (and four movies, not to mention the even longer manga).
At this point, I could get into how Kagome is the reincarnation of Kikyou, the shrine priestess whom Inuyasha loved and who pinned him to a tree with a holy arrow (“killing” him) fifty years before Kagome discovered him, or how the overarching goal of the characters is to find and collect the shattered pieces of a MacGuffin called the Jewel of Four Souls, or how that goal repeatedly puts them up against the bad guy Naraku, but what really galvanized me into writing fanfic is the full-demon half-brother of Inuyasha, a morally ambivalent character named Sesshoumaru, whose loyalties are often rather mutable.
Sesshoumaru is, especially at first, an occasional antagonist in the show. His humanoid form retains some demonic features (pointed ears, sharp nails, markings on his face and hands, and long white hair), and he allows a lesser demon, an imp named Jaken, to follow him around and do his bidding. Then, 35 episodes in, Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha battle with their respective legendary swords. Sesshoumaru is gravely injured and forced to retreat. While recovering in the forest, he’s discovered by a young human girl named Rin, who tends to him. She’s later killed, and when Sesshoumaru discovers her body, his memory of her smile brings him to resurrect her using his sword’s life-granting powers. From then on, she becomes part of Sesshoumaru’s retinue, and despite Jaken’s initial protests, Sesshoumaru continues to protect her.
The idea of a human girl softening an ancient demon’s heart was like cocaine to me. I wrote fanfic of them falling in love (once she was considerably older, obviously) and having copious amounts of sex. (And then having babies, and then those children having their own love stories—I got deeply involved, okay?)
As my fanfic obsession with Sesshoumaru and Rin progressed, taking me beyond college, one of my usual readers asked if I would ever consider writing original fiction. Though I had once tried my hand at a time-travel historical—started when I was fifteen and left not quite satisfied by a certain romance novel that is now a Showtime series—the idea of drafting an entire book from scratch as an adult and submitting it to a publisher hadn’t really crossed my mind. To me, that was something a “real” writer did.
Even so, I sat down and gave it a shot. I was still in fantasy mode—and in demon mode—so I wrote about a somewhat ostracized young woman meeting a white-haired demon in the forest. Like Kagome, Shumei has a sort of “soul destiny,” but her magical abilities are decidedly arcane in nature rather than holy or divine. And, thanks to my love of Yuu Wastase’s Ayashi no Ceres, some of Shumei’s more powerful abilities are activated using magical circles rather than simple invocations. I also included a more limited variety of demons than what Takahashi used in her sprawling manga series, and you’ll find much of the same aesthetic and culture in Devil’s Hand as in the feudal-era segments of Inuyasha—from clothing to housing to food.
The only other thing that is a clear homage is my use of Japanese as the language of magic in Devil’s Hand. Its name, Mahou, means “magic” in Japanese, and whenever Mahou is used to cast magic, it’s romanized Japanese you’re reading. (I had a good friend of mine from Japan double-check my grammar, just in case you were wondering.)
Last but definitely not least, those familiar with Japanese names might notice that one character in Devil’s Hand, unlike all the others, does not have a Japanese name: white-haired sex demon Vallen.
That’s because his name is a slight alteration of one of my favorite romance options in a video game: Valen Shadowbreath from Neverwinter Nights—specifically, the Hordes of the Underdark (HotU) expansion. In HotU, your character ventures into the Underdark in order to stop an army of drow and other dark-loving creatures from invading the (mostly human) city on the surface. Eventually, you come across a faction of drow who are trying to stop the warring one, and their forces are led by a handsome tiefling named Valen. In D&D lore, tieflings are “planetouched,” meaning they’re basically half-fiend. (Sound familiar?) Some tieflings’ fiendish ancestor goes back many generations, but the taint remains, often giving them demonic traits such as horns, inhuman eye colors, and pointed ears.
When your character first meets Valen, he's skeptical of your loyalties and your abilities. Nevertheless, he becomes an optional party member (do it, because he hits like a Hulk), and as you complete quests and progress the plot, he grows more accepting of your motivations and your leadership. The more you unlock his trust, the more you learn about his childhood, the thirst for killing that his demonic taint forces upon him, and the reason why he joined the rebel drow.
When I first played HotU, taking every opportunity I could to flirt with Valen or learn about his past, I didn’t know he was a romance option. Only when we neared the climax of the story did he stop me to speak and “get something off his chest.” Though there wasn’t a pre-rendered cut-scene of avatars awkwardly kissing, the textual back and forth of him confessing his love and feeling overjoyed to have it returned was a touching moment I’ll never forget. Moreover, if your character takes the opportunity (and has the coin, which I did) to learn Valen’s “true name,” you can use it on him to free him from his demonic taint.
To find out whether the Vallen in Devil’s Hand has a similar happy ending, you’ll just have to read it, won’t you? See you next time!