Genre fiction and Tie-in Fiction – a conversation between Mark Charan Newton and Dan Abnett

SFF authors Mark Charan Newton and Dan Abnett had a conversation about tie-in fiction, work for hire, and original fiction, the stigmas associated, and why such snobbery only seems to exist in genre fiction. Newton hopes that they can change people’s opinions about what seems to be the black sheep of the literature family.

It's a very interesting conversation, one that most of you should find interesting. I told Mark to send me what he considers Abnett's best work my way, and I'll give it a shot in early 2010.

Here's an extract from their discussion:

Mark: It’s interesting you mention the money as a perceived incentive, and you’re quite right. But I suppose without naming names, there have been writers who have been strapped for cash and wanted to do tie-in fiction because they thought it was easy money. Hang around at a convention bar and you’ll hear those stories. So, as an aside – you’ve written both original fiction and tie-in fiction, so which do you find is easier?

Dan: I actually think it’s harder to write for franchises in many ways, as you’re constantly checking (or you damn well should be!) that you’re remaining true to the source, in terms of detail, fluff, character and style. It’s quite demanding to be so engaged, so ‘on’, permanently policing your actions within the boundaries of someone else’s property. In your own work, you only have to check with yourself about where the edges are. This labour is OF COURSE counter-balanced by the creative efforts involved in original invention – let me just say that before anyone has an indignant spasm. It is, however, worth pointing out that in many franchises (and Warhammer 40K is one of them) there is an immense amount of creative elbow-room for a hired gun, despite the quantity of IP already generated. I know I’ve generated as much new stuff, concepts and other fallout in my 40K books as I would have in an original piece of combat SF. Naturally, the same isn’t true of a very ‘tight’ franchise like Who or Trek. Maybe that creative variation is something we can come back to.

Anyway! What I’m basically saying is that if a hired gun’s doing his or her job properly and responsibly, it should be hard graft. You’re obliged to understand and work within an established universe, and create something that is both completely appropriate and sympathetic, while also being creative and innovative, without breaking the furniture or staining the carpet.

So people do that for money. It’s nice to be paid to write a Doctor Who story, but for many of us, it’s also nice to write a Doctor Who story. That’s a big part of the appeal, and perhaps one of the reasons that ‘named’ authors such as you mentioned at the start are drawn to this work. It’s fun. It’s cool. There’s a considerable geek thrill to be had from legitimately working on a franchise that you might have admired or even loved for years. You want to do a good job no matter what the level of remuneration (and, let’s be fair, the likes of Jodi and Jon probably got paid a better than scale rate for their work. Probably. I don’t know, I’m just guessing).

Isn’t it interesting how the top end is swinging around just now? In the last year, we’ve had a ‘new’ James Bond, a ‘new’ Hitchhiker’, a ‘new’ Pooh, and a ‘new’ Wild Things, all by writers who were hardly unheard of beforehand. What was it that appealed to them, do you think? Did they get that electric geek thrill of legitimate participation that said you’ve got to be part of this because you love it SO much, or were they hired guns in the bad old sense of the phrase? To paraphrase the classic Mrs Merton interview question, “What was it that first attracted you to the multi-gazillion selling franchise of Douglas Adams?”

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4 commentaires:

D-man said...


Thanks for sharing this piece! I'm a big fan of Dan Abnett's Marvel Universe work (Annihilation, Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, etc...), but I never realized he had written so many other works of fiction (especially in the Warhammer 40K Universe). I'll definitely be giving his prose a shot in the coming months!

Anonymous said...

Excellent find. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Abnett is very good. I can recommend the work he's done in the 40K universe to anyone who likes militaristic SF. The Eisenhorn trilogy would be a good place to start...

RobB said...

I've got a couple of Abnett's Warhammer books courtesy of Black Library and I'll be diving in pretty soon.