On writing a serial and the same character for 20+ years…
That used to be a euphemism for a same sex partner, you know: “longtime companion.” Back in the days before same sex marriage, and before people could be open about their relationships. I titled this essay that because my “secret gay companion” who has been with me since I was a teenager is the main character of Daron’s Guitar Chronicles. I’ve literally been living with this character in my head since about 1983.
He was there for me to talk to when I was crushing on boys who ignored me, and he was there for me to talk to when I was crushing on girls and was afraid of what that “meant.” He was there when I got a job at a radio station, and when I studied music in college (though I didn’t major in it), and when I decided not to go into the music industry in favor of the book publishing industry.
And he was there when I decided to quit the job in publishing for a grad school MFA program in 1992, where the first class I took was a novel-writing workshop, and I started really writing Daron’s story “for real.” I got my masters in 1994 but didn’t “finish” Daron’s story until 1998 when I forced myself to stop writing at about 300,000 words. By then I was already a so-called successful fiction writer. I had already published a book of short stories with HarperCollins (!) and my fiction had been in Ms. Magazine. My agent read this giant behemoth of a manuscript, told me to cut it down to one-third the size, and then she would shop it around. I managed to savagely hack a third away. I collected glowing rejections from Little,Brown and Alyson and everywhere else we sent it. I hid the manuscript away in a trunk.
But over the next ten years, Daron never stopped talking to me. He and I kept up our internal conversations. The world was changing. We watched major celebrities begin to come out as gay and lesbian. We watched gay rights causes begin to win battles. We heard Obama coin the phrase “gay Americans” in a nationally televised political speech and burst into tears. Along the way, the Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War ended, the music industry was battered by new technology, and lo and behold the World Wide Web happened.
One day in 2009, Daron said to me, “Hey, so much has happened since the bad old days, you think anyone wants to hear about that stuff anymore?” And that’s when I realized, actually, the perfect time to tell his story of coming out and coming of age in the 1980s had arrived. Keeping the setting “historical” was a great way to highlight issues of homophobia. Despite all the progress, plenty of modern readers still suffer from the same oppression, microaggressions, and self-doubt.
Six years and eight volumes of ebooks later we’ve long since blown past the material I wrote in grad school. I now write two, sometimes three, chapters of Daron’s Guitar Chronicles per week. And Daron still talks to me. People who read Daron’s Guitar Chronicles tell me he talks to them, too. So many people describe him as a friend. Reading a new chapter is like reading his blog. People feel like they know him because they do. Over the course of his story he grows and changes just like any other friend going from age 19 to 23.
So what’s it like writing the same character for basically my entire life? It’s amazing. It’s exactly like having a longtime companion, someone I love unconditionally, who never stops amazing me. And if readers have at least a fraction of that experience of love and growth and understanding, that’s my greatest hope.
Cecilia Tan writes about a variety of passions and sexualities from her home in the Boston area. She is the winner of the RT Pioneer Award for Erotic Fiction and the RT Career Achievement Award in Erotic Romance. Her novel Slow Surrender won the RT Reviewers Choice award in 2013. Her other books include Black Feathers, The Prince’s Boy, Daron’s Guitar Chronicles, Edge Plays, and more. Her forthcoming BDSM rock star novel from Hachette/Forever, TAKING THE LEAD, will be out in January 2016. Join Cecilia’s email list, or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, Pinterest, or on her website.