What’s the difference between fan fiction and anthologies or collaboration? Well, one is for free without the author’s express permission, and the other is for pay, with the author’s express permission or active help.
Seems simple, right up until John Ringo starts writing MHI fanfic, and turns it into a 3-book deal. Well, by the time they are officially, formally published, they’ve undergone a thorough edit by Larry to make sure all events stay true to canon, and some extra background checking to make sure all details are correct. So things get a little blurry, right?
(Fun fact: when you are friends with authors and they think you’re an expert on a subject, you’re likely to get random emails out of the blue about completely wild and wacky improbabilities. The best response is: “What is your character trying to accomplish in this scene?” Then you can figure out something slightly more connected to reality. Random questions include, but are not limited to, mass production of holy water, mass evacuation on a primitive planet by helicopter, skydiving from a Cessna 172…)
Then there are anthologies. They’re a chance to play in another author’s world, with permission, and for pay! But they’re also a lot harder than they look, for the following reasons.
1.Worldbuilding: You can’t necessarily invent your way out of a pinch. If your character is going off the map that prior journeys walked, or interacting with the plants and wildlife in depth when the series author at most gave a brief paragraph to describe the entire forest… That requires double-checking to make sure you’re not constraining the original author with your worldbuilding, or that they didn’t stick conflicting description in some other episode, novella, or book you didn’t notice.
2. Characters: Much as you love the main story’s hero and heroine, the author probably has a planned character arc for them. While it seems obvious that you can’t make major changes (marrying them, burying them, or other major life events), there may be other things coming up in future books you didn’t even know you’d have to work around.
3: Timeline: Sometimes, they can’t be in Tiajuana fighting zombie college coeds because they’re going to be in Paris fighting demon-infested anarchists. Or because the zombie plague is cured by then. Or the planet wasn’t founded yet. Or it was blown up by the last emperor.
So, how do you do this? Well, the easiest way is to set a story in another part of the world, with new characters, especially at a different time period. Or to take minor side characters, or barely-mentioned background characters, and tell their story. If you set it in the past, somewhere completely different in the present, or the far future, then it’s not likely to change the current main-series plotline.
The Black Tide Rising anthology contained a lot of stories elsewhere, like Kacey Ezell’s story of cheerleaders and the team moms coming back from a competition when the outbreak hit. The Rogue One movie was spun out of the line “Many Bothans died to give us these plans.”
And then there’s Freehold: Forged in Blood.
Mad Mike opened up his world with the instructions that the story had to be tied to the sword that Kendra receives and uses in the original Freehold novel. This meant people could pick stories from the far distant past in Japan all the way to the far future, well beyond Kendra’s current timeline. He also picked the general time that he wanted each author to write – picking a guy who’s good at Japanese history for the sword’s origin story, picking my husband, who knows vicious predators and wild places to write one set in Grainne’s founding, and so on.
(To paraphrase Mad Mike, “Who do I know that’s dealt with combat vets, guns, and extremely vicious predators with no fear of men? Peter!”)
This was an interesting story for Peter to write, because it was set prior to any of Mike’s Current books in the series… but at the same time, he still had to read the series again on order to pick up the geography, geology, flora and fauna of the world, the arrangement of the solar system, the hints of what was founded where, when, and by whom.
Once he’d written the basic story, he sent it in to Mad Mike for a continuity & editing pass, and started in on typo-hunting as well as line-editing. Given he’s used to working with alpha & beta readers who come back with “your orbital math isn’t quite right here” and “this squad should be able to ambush that one at this point” and so on, it wasn’t that different to get back “this region actually has this and that as major predators and the biome is a little more like this…”, but it was new and amusing to get “and you’ll have to change this due to a book I haven’t written yet actually introducing this other thing instead.”
Still, after a couple passes, both authors were happy, and the story fit in very well with the rest of the anthology. Mad Mike has a good hand with the editing – in fact, one of the refrains in the reviews is that the stories work together so well that it reads like a novel, instead of an anthology. (This is a good thing!)
Here’s a snippet of Peter’s story:
After supper they watched with interest as Tom cleaned his sword, the first opportunity he’d had to do so since his field gear had been released from the secure baggage compartment before they disembarked. He drew a small wooden box from his pack and from it took three squares of paper, a little cloth ball on a short stick, and a bottle of oil. He wiped the sword with a sheet of paper, then dabbed it with the cloth ball up and down both sides of the patterned blade, leaving a faint trace of powder at each spot. This he spread carefully across the blade using a second sheet of paper.
“What’s that?” David asked.
“The paper’s called nuguigami. It’s soft, made of rice pulp for cleaning traditional Japanese swords with their folded-steel blades. In the old days, the powder in the silk ball would have been the residue from sharpening stones. Nowadays it’s a synthetic equivalent. It cleans and polishes the blade. This”—he nodded to the small bottle—“is choji oil—also synthetic; you can’t get the real stuff anymore. It keeps the steel in perfect condition.”
“Seems like you have to go to an awful lot of trouble. Wouldn’t a modern battle steel blade like Mika’s be easier to maintain?”
“Yes, but it wouldn’t have the history this one has.” Tom brushed off the last of the powder, placed a few drops of oil up and down the blade, then took the third sheet of paper and began to spread them. “My father asked an expert about it. He said it’s similar to museum specimens that are over five hundred years old. My grandfather came by it back on Sulawan.”
“I guess that makes it pretty special,” David said wistfully.
“It does to me. I hope I have a kid one day who’ll join the Army and inherit it from me.”
“And if none of your kids do?”
Tom shrugged. “Then I guess I’ll have to find a soldier worthy of it, who’ll agree to carry on the tradition in his own family when the time comes. This is a piece of history. It’s too important to be given to just anybody.”
At 0320 the next morning, Tom was jolted out of a sound sleep by a yell of alarm and a coughing, rasping snarl, seeming to come from right next to his shelter. Three shots sounded, rapid fire, and the snarl changed to a scream as something big and heavy slammed into the thin plasfiber wall, buckling it. As Tom and Mika frantically tried to get out of their sleeping bags, four razor-sharp claws slashed at the wall, tearing it open. A brindled head thrust through the gap.
Only halfway out of his sleeping bag, adrenaline coursing through his body, Tom grabbed the sword from next to his field cot. His left hand pulled the scabbard as his right tugged at the hilt. Flinging the scabbard away, he slashed one-handed at the head as it lunged toward him, jaws open to display a vicious set of teeth, its rank breath like a slap in the face. His blade cut right into the open mouth, severing part of the tongue and carving into the back of the jaw as he sliced across. The creature yowled in pain and tried to bite down on the blade as its mouth spouted blood, but the muscles and tendons that opened and closed its jaws were no longer working properly. More shots sounded from outside. Its body jerked and twitched as they struck home. It tried to back out through the tear in the wall, but Tom rolled onto his knees and thrust his sword two-handed up through the roof of its still-open mouth. With a final shudder, the beast collapsed.
Releasing his sword, Tom kicked off the sleeping bag and grabbed his carbine, lining it as he flicked off the safety; but the weapon wasn’t needed. The animal lay unmoving.
A shout came from outside. “Boss! You okay?” The voice was shrill, almost fearful.
Still shaken, Tom had to concentrate to keep his voice controlled and steady. “I’m all right. I’m coming out.”
He emerged to find his entire security detachment converging on the scene, carrying their weapons. One of the sentries on duty was waiting for him.
“I didn’t see it at all until it peered out from between your shelter and the next one, Boss. I reckon it musta snuck into camp behind the charging station, moving real quiet.” The guard nodded toward the serried ranks of capacitors from the construction vehicles’ power packs, being charged overnight by the camp’s mobile fusion microreactor. “I fired at it, but instead of running it turned and attacked your shelter.”
Tom nodded slowly, looking down at the dead animal in the beams of his team’s flashlights. He could see it was the same breed as the one that had snatched the body of the smaller predator that morning. “It nearly got me. Good shooting. I finished it with my sword.”
Read the rest, and stories by fellow MGC Jason Cordova, as well as Larry Correia, Tom Kratman, Michael Z Williamson, Kacey Ezell, and more by picking it up here on Amazon!