This article by Alexandra Alter originally appeared on The Wall Street Journal on 6/14/12.
What if Edward Cullen, the moody vampire heartthrob in Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling “Twilight” series, was an undercover cop? Or a baker who specializes in bachelor-party cakes? Or a kidnapper who takes Bella hostage?
It may sound like heresy to some “Twilight” fans. But those stories, published online, have thousands of dedicated readers. They were written by Randi Flanagan, a 35-year-old sales manager for a trade publishing company in Toronto.
Ms. Flanagan writes fan fiction—amateur works based on the characters and settings from novels, movies, television shows, plays, videogames or pop songs. Such stories, which take place in fictional worlds created by professional writers, are flourishing online and attracting millions of readers.
Ms. Flanagan started writing her own takes on “Twilight” three years ago, after devouring Ms. Meyer’s vampire books. She has since written 15 stories, including some that are as long as novels. In the process, she has gained groupies of her own. Some 1,500 readers subscribe to her account on fanfiction.net.
“A lot of people don’t understand why I would devote time to this,” says Ms. Flanagan, who writes at night after her young son goes to bed. “It’s just fun.”
Fan fiction has long existed under the radar in a sort of shadowy digital parallel universe. But the form has been bubbling up to the surface lately, as a growing number of fan writers break into the mainstream.