OTP: You and this reading list. I’ve wanted to share writing about fanfiction for some time. Fanfiction is often ridiculed (Why can’t the authors keep from inserting themselves into the story? Why is everyone having sex? Why does 50 Shades of Grey exist?!), but it’s a legitimate creative outlet. Fanfiction has played a small but significant role in my own life, and I’ll elaborate in my list. If you’re totally lost right now, check out Vulture’s beautiful, if patchy, primer (#3 on this list), and then plunge into these funny, fascinating stories about the world of fanfiction.

1. “Stories are Waves.” (Michelle Nijhuis, Aeon, July 2014)

I love–love–this essay from Aeon about a mother who gender-bends classic characters (meet Girl Bilbo!) at her daughter’s request. It’s advocacy for diversity and equality in literature, as well as the power of seeing yourself in a story–which fanfiction often provides.

2. “The Hows and Whys of Fanfiction.” (Jess Goodwin, Femsplain, February 2015)

Jess Goodwin touches on several of the reasons I started to read (but never write) fanfiction. As a self-conscious Christian teen, I was drawn to slash (same-sex) pairings of my favorite High School Musical characters. I never watched porn, but I read it, and that felt like a safer way to explore sexuality. Fanfiction brought my friends together, too. In college, we passed around links to the Shoebox Project (I cried at the end, full disclosure), and we sat at coffeeshop tables reading and laughing hysterically over My Immortal.

3. “Your Guide to the Fanfiction Explosion.” (Vulture, March 2015)

“Fans these days aren’t satisfied to just sit back and consume. They want to participate. They want to create. And they don’t want to wait for anyone else’s permission to do it.” Vulture takes you to the fan-based facets of moviemaking, writing, gaming and drawing.

4. “The Bizarre, Unsolved Mystery of ‘My Immortal’” (Vulture, 2014) and “The Worst Thing Ever Written” (The Verge, 2013)

How can there be debate about the author of a piece of fanfiction? Nothing’s really anonymous on the internet anymore, right? WRONG. “My Immortal” is an infamous, terrible Harry Potter/vampire fanfiction, ostensibly written by a goth teen named Tara. But did Tara ever exist? Was she trolling us all or was this an earnest attempt to write? As you’ll see in Vulture and The Verge, opinions vary but hideous spelling and grammar are universal. Enjoy.

(If you want to listen to the greatest dramatic reading of “My Immortal” ever made [hyperbole intended], one of my best friends sat down and recorded the entire thing, punctuation, misspellings and all, and it’s free on Bandcamp. I can’t recommend it enough. We used to make this friend read it aloud for us at parties and on random Friday nights.)

5. “How Fangirls Changed the Future of Publishing.” (Aja Romano, The Kernel, November 2014)

No fanfiction reading list would be complete without (begrudgingly) acknowledging the success of 50 Shades of Grey. But as you’ll see in this article, the network of women writing, publishing and profiting from fanfiction stretches far beyond one woman’s smashing success.