As I mentioned a few months back, I'm a writer, or I at least fancy myself to be one. I guess it depends on whether or not you define a writer as someone who gets paid to do so. If you do...well, then I'm just some dope that's deluding herself. But if you merely define it by talent and recognition of such, then I suppose that I've earned the title. I've got fans that eagerly wait for me to put out another story, and I've received notes from published authors that tell me to keep up the good work. But money? Actual dollar-amount compensation for all the time I put into the craft? I haven't made one thin dime yet, and some days I wonder if I ever will, seeing as how I've sent my 300-odd page manuscript off to roughly twenty different publishers and agents only to receive nothing but rejection slips in return. Yet if you put "Susan Hillwig" into a search engine, my name pops up all over the place, with most entries acknowledging me to be an author.
How the heck did such a dichotomy come about? Simple: I write fan fiction, a strange little offshoot of the usual sort of fan activity that genres like comics and movies tend to attract. It's not something that the non-fans hear much about (though TIME recently did an article about fanfic), and even some who are well-immersed in fandom don't pay it any mind at all. But it does exist, and for the past six years, as I've tried to get my original manuscript published, I've cranked out a score of stories that I cannot legally get paid for. The short explanation is that, since fan fiction utilizes characters owned by other people, it's considered "fair use" so long as no one makes any money off of said fan fiction. So I can write fics all the live-long day and be praised to high heaven for the results, but I can't make a living as a writer by doing so...at least not without getting sued.
You'd think the lack of monetary gain would scare off writers, but it doesn't. There's all sorts of crazy things that fans do simply for the love of the genre, and that's where my involvement comes in. I wanted to write a story that filled in a very large blank in a certain comic book character's history, namely Jonah Hex and his ill-advised trip to the future. I had a very solid idea, and I knew DC most likely would never resolve the problem of their own volition, so I stepped up to fill in the blank. The result was The Long Road Home, and it pretty much sealed my fate as it relates to fanfic. The overwhelmingly-positive response encouraged me to keep going with this thing, so I wrote another Hex-related fic, then expanded into other DC Western characters, and before I knew it, I'd made a name for myself in this non-business, one that now seems to be inexorably linked with Jonah Hex. I'm not complaining about that, mind you, but I don't think I really expected this outcome when I sat down to write my first fic. To be sure, I never expected this, either:
No, that's not some Photoshop trickery, it's an actual panel from Jonah Hex (vol. 2) #34, wherein Jonah decides to leave his old life behind and live under an assumed name...and Hex writers Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray decided to tip their hats in my direction by giving him the alias of "Hillwig". I just about fell off the couch when I read that panel, and my husband (who has no real love for the character) went about for a week or so occasionally muttering "Mister Hillwig" with a smile. That's not to say that other fans haven't gotten their names slipped into the series (I can think of about a half-dozen guys that I know fairly well who've been given that honor), but it's the way it was done here that tickles me so. Over seventy issues, J&J have had Jonah use an alias on two other occasions: once as "Albano" (who created Jonah Hex along with artist Tony DeZuniga) and later as "Fleisher" (who wrote Jonah for about 15 years straight and established almost his entire history). So forgive me if I'm reading too much into it, but having Jonah use my last name in such a way feels like J&J acknowledging me as a person who's contributed something of import to the character. It's not money, it's not a byline, but it's the closest I've ever gotten to payment for my work. Trust me, permanent enshrinement in the Jonah Hex mythos equals some serious coin in my heart of hearts.
Anyways, that's about all I have to say regarding "real fame" versus "Internet fame" and my place in it. I realize the latter may be fleeting, and it doesn't really mean a dang thing to the world at large, but I'm having fun with it while I can. And for those of you who are now interested and want to see what exactly I've been doing to earn things like name-drops in comic books, look over to the left and click on some of the entries under the heading "My Fan Fiction Work". I apologize in advance if reading any of it curtails your work productivity (I've been told I have this effect on some readers), but if you like it, please send me an email. Especially if you're a publishing agent, 'cause I've got something with a more profitable angle just sitting here collecting dust.