When Fictional Products Come To Life

From "Jane the Virgin" novels to Harry Potter athletics

This past November, the publisher Adams Media released a romance novel called Snow Falling. As far as romances go, it’s pretty standard fare: It’s set in Miami at the turn of the twentieth century and concerns a hotel worker, Josephine, who must decide between two suitors: her Pinkerton Agency detective fiancé or the dashing railroad magnate who owns the hotel. If there’s anything out-of-the-ordinary about Snow Falling, it’s the author, Jane Gloriana Villanueva. Villanueva is not actually the author of Snow Falling. In fact, she’s not a real person at all.

Snow Falling is, simply, a product tie-in: Jane Gloriana Villanueva is the fictional protagonist of the CW series Jane the Virgin, and Snow Falling is the book that Jane, an aspiring author, works on during the course of the show. The book (which is ghost-written by real-life romance author Caridad Piñeiro) was released on November 17, shortly after the episode aired in which Jane finally publishes the novel. It’s kind of like when the ghost girl Samara climbs out of the television in The Ring, only markedly more benign. A fictional book published on a fictional show is now available to that show’s fans in stores.

Snow Falling is hardly the first fictional product to come to life. In 1993, Tiger Toys created a real-life version of the voice-distorting gadget used by Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) in Home Alone 2.

Tiger Deluxe Talkboy | Television Commercial | 1994 | Home Alone 2

And in 1996, Paramount Pictures, the distributor of Forrest Gump, partnered with Rusty Pelican Restaurants to launch the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, a restaurant inspired by a storyline in the film.

In 2007, to promote the release of The Simpsons Movie, convenience store chain 7-11 briefly turned select locations into real life “Kwik-E-Marts,” stocked with “Krusty-O’s” cereal, copies of “Radioactive Man” comic books, and, naturally, Squishees...

More recently, in 2015, 21st Century Fox launched Duff Beer, the brew avidly consumed by the show’s main character, Homer Simpson. 

But what inspires a company to turn a fictional product into a reality in the first place? And what are the challenges inherent in honoring the source of inspiration?

Tara Gelsomino, executive editor at Adams Media, says Adams reached out to the Jane the Virgin team when they saw that a publishing storyline was “taking center stage” in Season Three of the series—and when they noticed the reaction to that storyline among audience members. “We saw the excitement from fans on social media who really wanted to read Jane’s book,” Gelsomino said.

Jane The Virgin 3x11 Extended Promo "Chapter Fifty-Five" (HD) Season 3 Episode 11 Extended Promo

In order to stay true to the fictional version of the novel, Adams Media worked with a staff writer on Jane the Virgin and consulted with CBS Studios (CBS is one of CW’s parent companies). “The show was always very clear that Jane’s first novel was a historical retelling of the love triangle featured in the early seasons, so obviously being 100% faithful to their vision was most important,” Gelsomino said. “We also were very mindful to include some echoes of the key relationships on the show outside of the love triangle, like [the] great scenes between the Villanueva women at home.”

For other producers of fictional products, staying faithful to the source material isn’t as easy, particularly when supernatural phenomena are involved. The International Quidditch Association (IQA), for example, faces the task of bringing to life the sport played by characters in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The part about teams and scoring is rather easy to adapt. The part about flying around on broomsticks is not.

Armand Cosseron, who heads communications for the IQA, said that, early on, players tried to hew as close to the sport as described in the books as possible, using capes, for example. (The real-life version of the sport was started at Middlebury College, in Vermont, in 2005; the IQA was formed in 2007.) With time, however, the IQA has refined its guidelines, which it lays out in a regularly updated rulebook, in response to feedback from players. The capes were nixed (too dangerous), and new features introduced, such as headbands to “identify the player’s position” and a new points system. With players unmagically rooted to the ground by gravity, the sport is something like a combination of rugby, handball, and dodgeball, Cosseron said.

Such pragmatic adaptations haven’t stopped the game from becoming enormously popular, or from being taken very seriously by its players. Cosseron said there are Quidditch teams all over the world, and that next year’s Quidditch World Cup, in Florence, Italy, will draw players from more than 30 countries. It’s a “very real sport,” Cosseron said. “The most competitive teams train several times each week.”

The IQA takes inspiration from Harry Potter on a deeper level, too. “There is a lot diversity” in the Harry Potter books, Cosseron said, and the IQA has sought to bring that focus on diversity to Quidditch. One of its rules is that teams (which usually consist of six or seven players) can have no more than four players of the same gender. “This is something that makes the sport more popular,” Cosseron said.

One of the paradoxical things about fictional products that come to life is that, ultimately, they have to stand on their own. Snow Falling may attract readers because of its connection to Jane the Virgin, but it has to provide a riveting reading experience in its own right (who will Josephine choose?!). And the International Quidditch Association may attract players because of its connection to the Harry Potter books, but it has to be an organized and demanding enough sport to keep players and fans hooked.

Ideally, a fictional product come to life will even outgrow its inspiration. There are more people playing Quidditch now than ever played it at Hogwarts. Bubba Gump Spring Company was one character’s dream in Forrest Gump; the chain now has 43 locations. And the folks at Adams Media are definitely open to another book from Villanueva. As Gelsomino said, “Here’s hoping Jane lands her second book deal!”