This is How I Fangirl: I Wrote a Novel

This is How I Fangirl: I Wrote a Novel

Twenty-five years ago, I fell truly, madly, and deeply in love with five guys from Orlando. Their names were J.C., Justin, Lance, Chris and Joey. My friends called them N'Sync, but I knew better than to reduce them to their job titles.

I bought their CDs with my lunch money and stalked the magazine aisle at Save-On to read the Tiger Beat issues with their faces plastered over the cover. I followed the gossip surrounding Justin and Brittany’s romance with the same zeal my Asian parents used to track where their friends’ kids went to college. I tape-recorded their songs from the radio when my lunch money ran out and their follow-up LP coincided with the season when Daddy lost his job and all my earthly possessions came from a nice lady at church (whose own teenage daughter was too cool to be my friend but deigned to give me her castoffs, which, alas, did not include No Strings Attached).

After college, there was a two-decade-long dry spell devoid of musical obsession. I blame it on graduate school, combined with marriage with small children, then life on the tenure track—all well-known for eating people alive. But three years ago, all that changed when I heard people calling into the radio, proclaiming their great love for this Korean Kpop group called Bangtan Sonyeondan. Curious at how a group of Koreans singing in their native tongue could convert so many Americans, I went home that day and googled “BTS.”

I watched and figured that I could resist, being older and wiser and much more preoccupied than my prepubescent self who once fretted over N’Sync. I was wrong.

One night, after my husband and children had gone to bed, I was on YouTube watching Jimin teach James Corden a highly simplified version of their highly complex dance choreography in front of a exercise class of middle-aged women who may or may not have recognized that they were in the presence of greatness. Within the week, I was catching up on the entire season of "American Hustle Life" and following the seven members of BTS navigate all my favorite spots in Redondo Beach. I spent the holidays trying to catch up on seven years of missed content, from their 2013 debut to the fateful day when I discovered them for the first time.

I didn’t succeed—even these days, every time I log on to Tiktok, I seem to run across some new footage of these members that I’ve never seen before, reposted by a fan more zealous than me. But I consumed enough to know that this wasn’t just any boy band; this was something else. Beyond the boys themselves, the fandom they inspired—i.e., A.R.M.Y.—struck me as a highly organized social movement whose dedication and strategic support was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Some people go to concerts or buy merch with their favorite musicians on it. Once upon a time, people allegedly even sent fan mail. But given my day job as a social psychologist and writer, I sublimated my fangirling into a debut novel replete with footnotes and social commentary on the nature of fandom, the state of race in the music industry, the divergent origin stories behind Kpop versus American pop, mental health in the era of social media and the internet, and the like.

I titled it The Band because I modeled the fictional music group after a singularity.

One reviewer on Goodreads called it thinly disguised fan fiction. She was only wrong about the first part—there is no disguising on my end, thin or otherwise, that 1.) I am a fan, and 2.) The Band is a work of fiction, albeit one packing its fair share of Easter eggs for those who know where to look. BTS is even one of the first people I thank in my acknowledgments, right after my editor and agent (and before my parents, sibling, friends, husband, and children).

Fan fiction, as a genre, may get a bad rap for being unserious literature that is more likely to be found floating around an online board than bound in hardcover in the aisle of a major retailer near you. Its distant (maybe not so distant) cousin, auto-fiction, also has been maligned in many of the same ways (i.e., as something presumed to be tacky, or catering to one gender).

But the way I see it, all fiction originates as fan fic in one way or another.

Fiction doesn’t write itself overnight—it takes months, if not years, to grow the initial germ of an idea into a full-blown baby. So to write a novel, you have to fall in love with your characters during the process because how else can you foster them into actualized people?

In that sense, birthing a novel is like birthing a child. Having done both, I can say with confidence that they’re not only comparable in terms of labor, but they also involve a similar amount of what appears to be magic: in both cases, if you spend enough time growing something inside you, you invariably end up falling madly, deeply, obsessively in love with these persons you’ve created. Frequently, these people are inspired by their doppelgängers in the real world.

Occasionally, authors will admit the sources of their inspiration and confirm that just as we’ve suspected, all fiction is also autofiction in one way or another.

If you think about it, autofiction is the logical end stage and natural conclusion of that old writing adage, “Write what you know.” But given the limitations of this genre and our own lived experiences, I think fan fiction actually offers a more helpful approach—instead of writing what we know, we could instead write about what we’re in love with, or obsessed about, or can’t get over.

Write about the things we’re most curious about.

Do it because we can, because we’re the only species gifted with both the internet (with which to do research) and counterfactual thinking (with which to fill in the gaps), of conjuring up alternate universes of our choosing that we can populate with whomever we wish—even idols that occasionally bear an uncanny resemblance to the world’s most famous Kpop band.

*Feature image The Band (Simon & Schuster)

Christine Ma-Kellams is a Pushcart-nominated writer and Harvard-trained psychologist. Her novel, The Band, follows a canceled Kpop idol whose escape to an U.S. McMansion disrupts the music industry.
More posts by Christine Ma-Kellams.
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