For My First Fan – Why I Write
For Michael Rumsey – on his birthday.
Writing is a strange business. There are so many reasons why authors write. For some it is because they have this burning sensation to get a story out there. Something that has germinated to the point of festering that if you don’t put it down on digital or physical paper then you’ll very likely go mad.
Madness is often a trait all writers share. We’re quirky people by nature. Mostly because we eye the world in a very particular way. Whether your write fiction or not, you job is to chronicle what we see and what we experience and what is possible in this world. We are stewards and documenters of the human condition in all its varied expressions – factional and fictional alike.
Some write because they hope they’ll hit the motherlode, the big pay-off and will be surrounded by the wealth and recognition that burning desire to write demands of their work. Actually, thinking upon it, that doesn’t apply to just some writers. I’d go so far to say that it goes for nearly 2/3, if not more, of the writing community that’s out there.
Recognition is nice. Money is nice (hell, money doesn’t hurt no matter what line of work you take on). All of those are very good reasons to write.
But that’s not why I do it.
Oh, to be sure, I have a burning inside to put a story (or seven at my current count) down in digital bytes and bits. That part is true for me. Their pseudo-fiction, too. While I weave stories with heightened drama, operatic in scope against a mundane landscape, the human elements are deeply rooted in real life experiences of my queer brothers (and sisters) that I’ve collected over the years.
It’s no small revelation. I’ve said as much before on the podcast, probably to the point of ad nauseum for some of our listeners (I do try to curb that, honestly).
I’ve even said as much in an earlier blog post. So none of what I’ve stated is new. What I have been asked (either by articles about the craft of writing that posed this question, or by other authors in our discussions on the WrotePodcast), is “who is your audience?”
That’s an interesting question. For me, the answer is far different I should think than my author pals I’ve come to know and respect. I write for gay men who, for one reason or another, are isolated from our community. That took me a while to sort out, too.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate other people who love what I do, because I do. But they are not my intended audience. I write for a fraction of a fraction of a readership. I am not aiming at the “sky’s the limit” stratosphere of recognition or wealth. I’d be nice, but I don’t kid myself that it’s going to happen.
My husband said early on:
“You know who you’re writing to. You’ve already figured it out, even if it hasn’t made itself known to you.”
He’s a retired psychiatrist (as well as a quantum mechanics physicist that worked for NASA and JPL) so he tends to give me Gandalf-like tidbits of wisdom when I least expect it.
What is different with this blog post is that today is the birthday of my very first fan.
Michael and I met via a website that was set up to foster those people, who, for one reason or another, felt disenfranchised or removed from the greater GLBT community (either by circumstance (they are still closeted or physically remote enough that finding others of our community is simply not possible). For the most part there are a lot of young people who populated the site. It’s a cool place and a valid resource as the moderators there try to keep people of our community connected to resources that can provide assistance and a place to congregate online so they feel a little less removed. This has always been a passion of mine, to connect with others who don’t feel connected. To say, “I see you. Let’s become friends.”
Michael was one of those men who joined the site.
I can’t say why I reached out to him. I think it was that I had reached a point writing Angels of Mercy where I wanted some feedback on the work and I opened it up in one of the forums on the site for queer people to inquire about it and to read it and give me feedback. Michael was the first to do so.
We struck up a casual conversation via the message board/forum and quickly migrated to email correspondence. Eventually this progressed to exchanging phone numbers because some of what we talked about just would’ve been easier over the phone rather than long winded emails.
When I met Michael he really felt the need to connect. To be honest, by his own admission, he hadn’t been a reader much in the years he spent in a hetero marriage, with kids, too. He’d gotten a divorce, moved to CA and spent some time getting to know some people in the GLBT community. Family matters brought him back to the country of Michigan (where he is when I met him and where he is now) and pretty much removed him from queer life. In many respects Michael needed contact. He needed to talk about stuff. But Michael was also intrigued by my work. So I gave it to him.
I waited and I sat on egg shells while he had it. He came back to me a couple of days later. I was on pins and needles (as the saying goes) to find out what he thought.
Because, you see, he was the first person outside of family and close friends who read the work as I worked on it. So his opinion mattered in so many ways. He fell in love with my boys from Mercy High. I was beyond elated. I’d made a connection. One that truly mattered because not only did he like what he read, but over time he’d progressed to reading quite a bit of queer fiction. I’d put books back into his life. That was truly the most awesome gift I could receive. Greater than any five star review, greater than all the blog posts and adulation my work could receive, that singular conversation after he’d read the work and wanted to talk about Elliot, Marco, Danny and the rest had me soaring for days after.
It was then that my husband’s words about the work before I’d handed it to anyone came back to me. I was writing for Michael. I write for those men who feel remote, removed and crave some reflection of their lives and loves.
I’ve been enriched by my continuing conversations with him. We’ve not had the pleasure to meet in person. It simply hasn’t been possible for quite a few reasons. But we stay connected. Whenever I am in doubt, I seek out his opinion on things. Over time he is not the only queer man who has come to me and said that Angels gave them something, made their world a little less remote. They felt connected to my boys, they talk about them as if they’re real. I know the feeling.
I even wrote a short story about werewolves during the NaNoWriMo event back in 2014, going so far as to write him in as one of the characters. Michael loves werewolves. It’s a series I started just for him. (Yeah, yeah, Michael, I know, I need to get the next one out there … I’m working on it!)
But Michael was the first. He is my goto whenever I want an opinion on something. I value his thoughts and his attentiveness to what I do.
So Michael, on your special day, I wanted to acknowledge that I see you, I am so proud to call you my friend. I am thankful for the conversations we’ve held – both book related and about life in general. I value each time you look my way and have something to say – even if it’s just “hey …”.
You’re a treasure, Michael. My first fan. My good friend. Happiest of birthdays. I wish you nothing but the best. And yes, one day we’ll find an Elliot to call your very own.
Count on it.
Until next time …
– SA C
How all the planning in your life can’t prepare you for the surprises your main character has in store for you…
It goes a little like this…
You never really know what surprises are in store when you write a novel (or a series – like I am). You can plan. You can outline to your heart’s content, but it never really sticks to the mold you’ve set when you have rich characters who organically want to say something in the moment.
I had one such moment a few days ago with one of my main characters (Marco Sforza) that came to me as an utter shock and knocked me for a loop (so much so that I had to step back for a few days just to absorb what it meant).
It wasn’t like it completely derailed what I wanted to do with my outline that I’d worked really hard on, but rather it was a small diversion that colored who he was and how he came to being the man he was becoming. It was significant enough that I couldn’t simply ignore it (for there are some writings that never make it into the book – I have to write them so I can be clear in my mind where things go – it’s not enough to just imagine them, they have to be down on digital paper so I can fully render them out).
Marco is proving to be a rather complicated young man. Far more than I’d realized when I started the series. Complicated is good; it drives the drama forward – of that I have no doubt. And it appears that I am often just along for the ride – a vessel for him to channel and breathe life into him. There are many times where I feel he is communing with me and not the other way around. It’s how it goes most of the time. I know their world, I know what’s going to happen down the road. What I don’t plan are the little diversions that they bring to me along the way.
Elliot (Donahey) had such a moment for me in Volume 1 of the series when Danny entered the picture. I had no plans for Danny Jericho. Not really. I mean, I knew that Elliot would find someone who was gay (other than Marco) who he could become close to. Greg (Elliot’s on and off sidekick) is great and all, but there are just some places he won’t go. And Greg loves Elliot too, just not in the whole I’ll go gaily down rainbow road with you sort of way. There are limits a cool, secure in his shit kinda straight boy that he has for Elliot.
I mean, Greg is the Cyrano to Marco’s Christian. So Greg’s had more than his fair share of involvement in getting my two boys together. For a straight guy, Greg is über cool. Clark Kent/Superman cool. And by the way, sidebar: Greg Lettau and his brother Kevin are really real people in my life. Greg was an über cool geek kid who was smarter than fuck. I miss him and wonder what he ever got to. So yeah, Greg is one of three characters who relate to real people in the real world.
But Danny’s different. Elliot needs a GBFF in a BIG ol’ way. Danny does that for him. In ways Marco can’t be because he’s too close. Danny is the balance in the passion that drives them. He’s their remote eye to all things Marco/Elliot. Plus I have the added discovery that while I love my main characters it is a couple of side characters that have really stolen my heart (I actually get a bit giddy when I get to write about them): Angus Carr and Nick Donahey.
Angus sort of just sprang up organically (in the moment – I wanted a BFF for Marco’s second phase of his life when he goes to college. Angus will take that role front and center in Marco’s life). Nick, on the other hand, is my true passion in this story. Elliot’s perceptions of his father couldn’t be further from the truth. His father’s love for him goes far deeper than Elliot is comfortable admitting.
It’s something that is proving to challenge me as I write volume 2 of my Angels of Mercy series. Marco Sforza is a character worth the challenge. He is a jock who never waivers in his devotion to the guy he loves – society be damned. He is fully committed – the whole enchilada. But it was in discovering what he had to say to me as I write him that became a journey in and of itself.
And there’s the fleshing out of Marco’s relationship with his twin brother – Pietro. Pietro is far more complex than any of the boys and in some ways far more simplistic. Pietro does see black and white where the rest only see grey. He has to. He has his brother’s happiness to consider. And Pietro has been quite the busy bee in Marco’s life. Even when Marco doesn’t fully realize it.
My boys are right pieces of work. But I love them. My beta readers have often commented on how real they seem to them. One of them is now beginning his search for his own Elliot to love and call his own. So in a real way Elliot has achieved benchmark status. I’m cool with that. Elliot is far from perfect.
But aren’t we all? And isn’t that why we read things like Angels of Mercy? To glean some understanding that we’re not alone in the world. That we have quite a bit more in common with one another than we realize or want to admit. This common thread of our humanity and the way we either cope with what life throws at us – or watch like an enormous train wreck when it all comes crashing around you.
Drama – it’s the stuff of life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.