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In 1996, I wrote fanfiction.

As an author today, when I tell teenagers about my youthful predilection for stories set in other peoples’ world, they barely blink. Fanfic, if a little nerdy, is expected of people like me, people who wear big glasses and ironic t-shirts, people who make books. Teenagers might tell me that they write fanfiction, too — sheepishly rolling their eyes at their OTPs or giggling about how their favorite fandom is one centered around books they don’t even like anymore, though they did once, when they were ten, a lifetime ago.

On one level, that they have heard of fanfic at all never fails to surprise me. Because in 1996, when I was twelve, nobody wrote fanfiction. No one even knew what fanfic was. This was ancient history, when a middle schooler might get teased for reading three-inch thick fantasy novels, for reading. When we wrote fanfiction, we hid it from our friends, or had just one friend we shared it with. If we weren’t online, we didn’t even call it fanfiction. Maybe we were embarrassed about writing stories set in other worlds; maybe we hid those stories in special notebooks (leather dragon journals bought with our allowance at Borders, probably). If we were online, we found chatrooms full of weirdos on AOL. Enclaves of other dorks, who also hid their secret shame from friends at school. You have to understand that this was 1996. The term shipping had only recently been coined. …


Phoebe North

storyteller. sap. they/them pronouns.

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