Some of you probably know me most from my erotic science fiction and fantasy writing. But I'm writing today about a different sort of fiction project, one that takes place in the real world. No vampires. No space ships. No telepaths. No wizards.
And yet writing Daron's Guitar Chronicles has been much more like writing a fantasy or science fiction epic than any "real world" fiction has a right to be. There are a number of reasons why.
The first is that although the story takes place in the real world--Providence, Boston, New York--it takes place within a realm that most readers only have passing familiarity with: the music business. Daron's Guitar Chronicles is a coming of age story where the main character is a guitarist trying to make it. His fate is going to hinge on the vagaries of a business that is fairly well divorced from what most people think of as "real life." I find it necessary to introduce the reader to various concepts they may not know, like the difference between and "A" tour and a "B" tour, how songs are chosen for radio play, and how one brand of guitar sounds different from another.
Just as with science fiction, I try not to rely on expository lumps, instead working the explanations into the plot and dialogue as (hopefully) painlessly as possible. When necessary, I'll have Daron rant about something to his best friend, or even to the reader, as the narration is in the confessional (first person, reminiscent) mode.
There are also social realities to convey. Daron is gay, but when the story begins he is deeply closeted. He feels like an alien or a vampire trying to hide among humans, trying to imitate their ways, but inevitably his hunger gets the better of him and he slips. He is a stranger in a strange land.
Then there is the fact that the story is set in the 1980s. Imagine: a world without cell phones, where being HIV positive is a death sentence, where people are skeptical that this newfangled Prozac stuff is going to work, where the First Lady's main contribution to the national conversation is "Just Say No" (to drugs). What a strange dystopia it sounds like, no? That must be a farcical alternate universe, right?
And that brings me to the point that makes Daron's Guitar Chronicles, at its heart, akin to science fiction. Melissa Scott wrote that science fiction was the literary genre in which the status quo is most challenged. It is necessary for the reader to accept from page one that the tale takes place outside the status quo (another planet, a world where magic is real, etc...) but also the internal status quo of the book's own universe must be challenged in the course of the book. I always rebelled against that concept, thinking to myself that surely that can't be true. There MUST be science fiction/fantasy books that create a whole internal world and keep it intact, right? But I went to my shelf and found that she was right. The fate of a planet or the human race or an entire way of life is nearly always in jeopardy, and the actions the main characters take will change things irrevocably. The status quo is neither maintained nor restored at the end of the book, but instead changed forever.
Why did I set Daron's Guitar Chronicles in the 1980s? Well, truth be told, I started writing back when it was the 1980s. I didn't finish it until the late 1990s, and then, well, I wasn't so much finished as I forced myself to stop writing when I'd reached 300,000 words and seek a publisher. Many publishers looked at it, a few even praised it highly, but all said the same thing: it's too long to publish profitably. After several rounds of that, I decided it was a "trunk novel" and hid it away. But another ten years went by, the 1980s suddenly seemed hip again, and I realized I could publish it online as a web serial. The serial launched in November 2010, and recently, having blown through all the pre-written material, I've begun writing new chapters, working toward the ending I originally intended way back when. I'm running a Kickstarter campaign to print the first volume of the book on actual paper, and I need supporters, so if this sounds intriguing to you, please check out the Kickstarter page here: http://kck.st/IlE7Bi
Anyway, about the 1980s and about science fiction challenging the status quo. I chose to set this story at the end of the 1980s for a reason, though my subconscious didn't clue me in why until recently. I thought at first it was just convenient to write about the era I lived through at the same age. While that's true, the reason the story has compelled me for so many years is that it is telling the story of when the status quo changed, not only for the music industry, which experienced the upheaval of "alternative" music becoming the mainstream, but for gay/queer culture and especially the way gay celebrities are seen and treated.
I recently saw George Takei speak at the Popular Culture Association national conference. He described being gay and being a well-known actor in the 1960s and '70s. "You'd go to a gay bar to cruise, and you'd see another actor there. And then you both had to act like you didn't recognize each other." That's not the case today, when Takei and his husband Brad are internationally known advocates for marriage equality. Takei has a regular gig as an out, gay man on the Howard Stern radio show, for pete's sake. If that isn't a sea change, a drastic upending of the way things were, I don't know what is.
Daron, being on a search for both fame and love, is at the intersection of these changes in his world. His world is our world, just long enough ago to seem like a fantasy, and a different enough piece of the world to seem like a different planet. It's not science fiction or fantasy, but it's just as much fun to write, and hopefully it's just as much fun to read.
[The Daron Kickstarter is running until May 22. If you're interested in pledging or finding out more, please check out the Kickstarter page here: http://kck.st/IlE7Bi -- and if you're just interested to start reading Daron's Guitar Chronicles, it's free, just start at chapter one, here: http://daron.ceciliatan.com/archives/1]
Daron's Guitar Chronicles free website: http://daron.ceciliatan.com
Daron's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/daronmoondog
Daron's Twitter account: @daron_moondog
Cecilia Tan's blog: http://blog.ceciliatan.com
Cecilia's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/thececiliatan
Cecilia's Twitter account: @ceciliatan
Cecilia Tan is "simply one of the most important writers, editors, and innovators in contemporary American erotic literature," according to Susie Bright. In 1992 Tan founded Circlet Press, a category-busting independent press that mixes science fiction/fantasy with erotica. Tan is the author of many books, including the romances Mind Games, The Prince's Boy, and the Magic University series. Her short stories have appeared in Ms. Magazine, Nerve, Best American Erotica, Asimov's Science Fiction, and tons of other places. She was inducted into the Saints & Sinners Hall of Fame for GLBT writers in 2010 and won the inaugural Rose & Bay Awards for crowdfunded fiction in 2010 for Daron's Guitar Chronicles. She lives in the Boston area with her lifelong partner corwin and three cats.
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