I finished the second book of Arabesque last week and have begun the third and final of the series. I have always known where this story was going, but it’s been my privilege as its teller to go on the same ride with the characters through the events. I love how this story has surprised me and even stunned me at times. As I’m now constructing its end, I’ve begun to feel the inevitable melancholy of completion.
Many writers have rituals they observe when they complete a project. Stephen King, who had long ago quit smoking, would have one cigarette when he finished a book. He even included this practice for the lead character in his novel Misery. I don’t have any rituals in place as yet, but then I’ve only written two novels. If you count my Queer as Folk fan fiction epic, then it would be three novels, but I can’t count that personally.
You see, fan fiction isn’t a lot of work. At least it never was for me. You ride the coat tails of another writer’s world and established characters; there’s no need to create backstory or even current story. Everything you need is already there. You just go in and start. I know that many fan fiction writers take great pains with their work and I don’t mean to disparage that or them—I can only speak to my own experience of doing it. I phoned it in. All the heavy lifting had been done by Russell T. Davies and Co. and there was nothing for me to do except come in and fluff the pillows. But fluffing the pillows was a ton of fun.
I was sad when Tenant of My Heart finished, though. The nature of fan fiction is an ongoing, real-time dialogue with the readers, who are usually quite invested in the progress of your story. It’s the writer’s equivalent of a one-man stage performance. The thrill of being ‘on’ while the story is alive is fiercely addicting. I was given so much support and encouragement during my QAF tenure that when I moved into two other fandoms afterward, I felt cheated by the silence of those readers. The feedback I did receive was less than a third of what I got in QAF.
The final fandom I wrote in was a bit more vocal, and I admit to using that readership as a testing ground for the general audience of gay erotica. Many of the consumers of this genre in the commercial marketplace come from the readers of fan fiction. I pushed those readers hard with very edgy content and then stood back to see when they would balk. I needed to know where they would draw their tolerance line. Just exactly how much dangerous content would they consume before they threw up their hands and cried uncle?
It didn’t surprise me that those readers took a considerable beating before they dug in their heels. I asked a great deal of them morally and yet they remained—at least until they could no longer. From them I got my gauge of the market and how far they were willing to slide down the rabbit hole of dicey situations in pursuit of a promising story and hot sex scenes.
I left the fan fiction community in 2006 with that very edgy series unfinished. I just ran out of steam on it. Its devotees wrote me for almost two years asking if I was ever going to finish it. I still get random emails to that effect. But I’d already started work on Arabesque and had decided not to return to fan fiction for the foreseeable future. It was encouraging that these readers were dismayed by that—that they actually missed my contributions and the stories I’d cooked up for that other writer’s characters.
That last fandom was "Supernatural". The premise of that show is a pair of dysfunctional brothers and their slightly insane father living in a fearsome fantasy world where they are the actual saviors of the planet. It’s very male-driven, which is why it appealed to me. The cast of the three Winchester men are all ridiculously handsome, which also appealed to me. (There was the first place I ever laid eyes on Jeffrey Dean Morgan, hubba-hubba.)
The brother relationship in the show left intentional pot holes where fans that were inclined in this direction could easily create an incest subplot. Many fans were so inclined. The fan fiction for "Supernatural" exploded in an unprecedented way with the vast majority of the work being incest porn between the two hot brothers. My stories were that, too, but I added a few ‘OC’s (Original Characters) to mix things up. The readers who found me fell in love with those characters—one in particular—and that allowed me to write a somewhat original series of stories in creator Eric Kripke’s universe.
While many fan fiction writers offered OCs, it was a rare writer that did it well. There was always the threat of said OC becoming a barely hidden version of the writer herself, thus allowing the writer to insert herself into the world of the beloved characters. This abomination became known as a Mary Sue (or sometimes Mary Jane). I have always preferred to write male characters, so the possibility of Mary Sue-ing myself into a story was moot. But I did play with the established characters through my OCs. I had fun with that in QAF, but I had the most fun in "Supernatural".
The OC I made in that series originated from collaboration with another very talented writer, but I ran with him and fleshed him out. The readers liked him. They related to him. They wanted to see more of him and that was good. One day, I hope to bring Caleb Marshall back in a different setting so he can run wild and free once more.
Since I didn’t actually finish that series, I never had that feeling of completion melancholy. I revisit those stories on occasion, but mostly to see how far I’ve come as a craftsman. I like to keep a close eye on my progress. It helps remind me that I’m on a journey here, not just entertaining myself and a few friends with a hobby.
Arabesque is an entirely original work and not related to any of my fan fiction projects, but like all fan fiction writers, I am still inspired by actors and artists for the visual images of my characters. My Elijah was inspired by a male model and an actor (two different people), who are whirred together in a blender in my mind to come up with the Elijah I see when I write him. Elijah is a little younger than the model and a little older than the actor, so somewhere in between is the sweet spot of my cobalt-eyed hero.
Reid has been a bumpier journey. He was originally inspired by a ballet dancer I’d seen perform but didn’t know his name. I never found out. And then he morphed into a version of Brad Pitt’s character in “Legends of the Fall” (again, hubba-hubba), even though Brad was too old. And then he took on the elements of that character the story killed off without asking me (see previous post about inspiration). And then he was peppered with one of the actors in "Supernatural". Now he’s peppered with another actor from a different show. Reid’s current incarnation is the best and strongest image I’ve ever had of him. I see his every smirk and frown (he tends to frown a lot). He is as real to me as he will ever be.
Not to offer any spoilers for future readers, but there is a third major character that comes in late in Book 2 and shakes everything up. He was born from a fleeting on-screen moment by an actor I didn’t know much about at the time. This character basically became because of that actor, and continues to flourish in his light. He isn’t based on this actor personally, nor on the character I saw him playing when the arrow shot through me—he is simply my character in this actor’s visage.
The problem with taking inspiration in this way is that if there were ever to be a film version made of Arabesque, this actor is the only person who could play the role. There would be no Plan B or back-up choice. Only he would do. Hollywood hates that shit. It's too inconvenient.
But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, should I? Let’s get it published first and then field adaptation offers later (yes, Netflix and Starz, I'm talking to you). ;)
For now, I’m enjoying the accomplished sadness of having completed the second section of this series. I know where it will end and how it will get there for the most part, but this story likes to twist and wriggle when least expected. That’s why I love it so. Arabesque has never once bored me or left me wondering why I was bothering to write it at all. This story loves me as much as I love it.
In light of that mutual affection, I go boldly on to do its ending proud. When I finally have to say goodbye to it, Arabesque will know the true depth of my gratitude that it chose me as its shepherd.