The Problem With Time –
So I haven’t made any bones about the fact that my very first novel ends on a cliff hanger. Yeah, untested me putting out a book that is one of a series. And I’ve asked my readers to invest in a character that I absolutely love but put through a fucking ringer. It’s just how the story goes.
I know I also said that the story will be what it’s gonna be. No apologies, no regrets.
Yeah, here’s the deal: I still want it to be on its best possible feet. I want quality. While I am writing book two I’ve sort of realized that I am going to probably have book two right on the heels of the first book. It means that I might delay the release a bit so I can have book two right around the corner.
That’s sort of disappointing. But I think it might be the right thing to do to give my first baby the lift it needs to have best chance possible to reach and find its audience. I know that I said I wasn’t so concerned with sales. To a great degree that’s true. I’d rather have readers who absolutely love the work rather than pedestrian ‘meh’ reviews and following.
I am still tightening the first one. But here’s the current dilemma: each book is told from a different character. So how to tell an engaging story that goes incredibly dark but never loses its thread of hope that all will eventually work out, AND tell it in a manner where you are covering a story that is actually much larger than the first book presents.
It all has to do with time. And time in this case is not my friend.
“I know you think this is sudden, Els. But I’ve watched you for two years now. I know what people say; I’ve heard the rumors, too. But I can’t deny it any more; you do it for me, Donahey. Always have; from the moment I saw you on my first day at Mercy High.”
Those words from the football quarterback jock boyfriend, Marco Sforza, is what gives the story its depth. It is what gives it is weight, its history. Which is something else he also says to the love of his life, Elliot.
So when I approached the second book (told from Marco’s perspective) I had the dilemma of do I pick up right from where the cliff hanger ends in book one or do I do what I wanted to do and go back those two years before and actually give the reader what I think the story needs.
While I start out with Elliot starting the story, I always felt it was Marco’s tale to tell. I just wanted you to fall in love with the love of his life so that by the time you get to Marco’s voice, you already know why he loves the man he loves. As a reader, you’ve spent the first book wrapped up in Elliot’s head. If I’ve done my work right you’ll walk away from a very complex and topsy turvy world that Elliot must navigate just to make it to the next day.
The first book is chock full of sexual situations, I didn’t want to shy away from that because that’s how hormonally charged teenaged boys are. My work will always have that honesty in it. My men will always behave like men do. Sex, while not the whole story, when present it does advance the story. It is not there to titillate or make anyone blush. I made sure that the sexual situations had the boys growing from the experiences (good or bad) each time it occurs.
But yeah, time…
So the second book (as it currently stands) goes back two years rather than answer the question that would be on my readers minds. They’re gonna have to wait a bit to get there – why? Because it is important that Marco have his say as much as I know he needs to.
One of the major thrusts of the book is that I wanted the jock in the story to go against type. Marco never questions his love for Elliot (well, not by the time he makes his move anyway). BUT he does quite a bit of second guessing prior to making his move to bring Elliot into his life. Though even in that, it’s not in the way you would think. Marco questions his motives not because isn’t sure about his feelings for Elliot (because he’s actually quite sure about that from the first moment he sees him), but because of something in his own past that colors on whether he thinks he’s the best thing for Elliot – better to love from afar and not cause any damage, than to bust into his life and make a real mess of things. So Marco really is one of the good guys, but to see that you have to get his whole story and a good part of that is how he gets to that moment that starts in book one (where he seduces Elliot). So in a real way Marco’s part of the story is as much a commentary on how gay men (from all walks of life) come to the realization of what it means to be gay in a hetero-sexist world – of what it’s like to swim upstream your whole life.
And Marco is a character that seems to have it all going his way – he’s sexy, he’s gorgeous, he’s rich, he’s a jock – but we soon learn that his world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. Marco needs Elliot to give him balance in his own upside down world. These boys need each other. Only when they’re together is the world right for either of them.
But the romance is only a part of the whole deal. There’s the ever looming threat of homophobia, which is ever present in Elliot’s book, the threat of each boy failing the other – Homecoming is a night that everyone would rather forget and one where not everything is what it seems. A lot went on that night – far more than meets the eye.
But it’s a big story, a complex story. But one that I am finding so rewarding to write. I love my boys, I love the secondary characters (Nick and Angus are my absolute favorite characters that I never saw coming but just blossomed on the page before my eyes).
So yeah, it’s a risk – pulling the reader back from the brink of the cliff at the end of book one, then shoot back two years and retell it all from Marco’s POV. But i can’t think of doing it any other way that would work. I toyed with starting it on the same day as the cliff hanger from the first book and then retell the historical elements as flashbacks but that seemed too contrived. It just seemed like a sell out, a cheap way to do it.
The hubby said I should not concern myself with the wheres and whyfores – and just put it all down. So yeah, I’m taking his advice on this one. He’s my Marco anyway (played for Clemson back in the day – so yeah, I married a football player myself so Marco and Elliot are sort of rooted in my own world too). Maybe he’s right.
Only time will tell…
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.