Two Flavors in One Bite
I got my BA in Creative Writing from Cal State Long Beach. The last semester of my education was devoted entirely to the completion of a novel. I’d already completed the first draft of that work some time before entering this program, but I did my first comprehensive edit during that semester.
I worked with one professor the whole time, the magnificent Elliot Fried. One day he pulled me out of his novel writing class and we sat under a tree in the campus quad.
He said “few people ever get to make their living as novelists. You’ve got a good chance.”
I was twenty-three at the time—the same age as my younger main character in Arabesque—and that statement gave my wobbly artist’s confidence the shove it needed to soldier on. Of all the things Elliot did for me as my first writing mentor, I am most grateful for that initial push.
Elliot read my entire freshman novel (which I will refer to as “Giannetti” herein) through multiple rounds of edits. There were elements of the story he really liked and sections of the action he thought were amazingly described.
Most notable for him was a homoerotic scene between two straight characters. He actually sent this chapter to other professors to read because he thought my grasp of the male mindset was so incredible. How could a young woman know such things about the inner workings of men?
Even though Giannetti wasn’t a gay love story, it did have many layers of homoerotic subtext. As I mentioned before, the gay love story is the siren song of my rigid, irascible muse. Giannetti was a story of a small ring of professional thieves with an intense psychic connection to each other and their environment. The leads of that book were not lovers, but a special kind of life partners that made them entirely reliant on each other for survival.
The scene Elliot found so amazing was between two secondary characters, but that section turned the under-plot. Therefore, it couldn’t be taken out for objectionable content without weakening the overall storyline. Many people who read Giannetti suggested I do that to make it more palatable to the current market. But it was Elliot’s amazement at my ability to “access the male mind” that gave me the courage to leave it in.
On the third comprehensive edit of Giannetti, I started to see the cracks and gaps through which the latent love story might bubble up. I didn’t let it because that’s not what that story was about. Instead, I kept that element on the fringe of the main plot like a shadow seen in one’s peripheral vision. I thought I was being clever. The many agents who read that novel did not.
What I heard over and over from them were remarks like “this is two of best stories I’ve ever read. Pick one or the other to tell in this book, or break it into two books.”
:: blinks ::
But, it’s not two books; it’s one story, with two distinct elements. Did they expect me to eliminate the emotional element of the story and just tell the caper part? In my mind, doing that would thin out the guts of the caper part so much as to render it anemic. Ergo, I didn’t do it.
Giannetti still sits in the Library of Congress under my copyright, but I’m not planning to ‘break it into two books’ any time soon. I’m waiting for the market to come around—for the readers to desire more layered content. That’s already starting to happen, so I’m patiently observing the shift. My first born can chill out until the tide is safely turned.
During the early stages of writing Arabesque, I started noticing the very same pattern: two distinct, if not opposing, elements happening to the same characters at the same time. In Giannetti, it was the adventures of psychic thieves dealing with bi-curiosity. In Arabesque, it’s the trials of a middle-aged ballet star putting together his own company while managing a new romance and the demands of his SMBD club.
Does that sounds like “two books” to you? It doesn’t to me; nor did the log line for Giannetti. Sure, weird elements—maybe even clashing elements together, but not two separate stories. My real life is often a jumble of multiple subplots, so why is that not welcome in fiction? I just don’t think today’s readers are this simple or narrow minded.
Especially with the massive popularity of serial stories like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead—both of which have at least ten stories going at once, all crossing each other and all together in the same place. Just because no one has ever done this with a gay erotic romance, doesn’t mean it couldn’t work. Gay erotica doesn’t deserve the epic treatment?
Well, I think it does. So that’s what I’m doing.
I’ll be adding the first chapter of Arabesque to this blog in the coming weeks as a sample of the work for anyone stopping by who might be interested. The main story is set up therein, including most of the active characters. For you casual stoppers by, I’d love to know what you think of the “two stories in one place” concept and whether or not it’s a hindrance for you as a reader.
That would make for a very informative and helpful discussion. Yes, I will have comments enabled by then, I promise. Until then.