by Gillian Chisom
Almost two years ago, I was sitting in a bookstore café working on my embryonic vampire novel. Its premise, at that point, went something like this: 20-year-old Eric has a great life: budding career as a pianist, fiancée with whom he’s madly in love, etc. All of this changes when vampire Gregory waylays Eric on his way home from a rehearsal one night and turns him into a vampire. Eric struggles to adjust to his new life. Meanwhile, he and Gregory develop an intense, complicated relationship which includes some romantic tension, but that never develops into actual romance.
And then, Gregory kissed Eric, and Eric kissed him back. Without my permission. Without even having the courtesy to warn me.
Those of you who are writers can probably relate to the vertigo of that moment. I had reached that perfect zone in which the story flowed out of me without conscious thought. I almost was Eric. And then Eric told me that Gregory was about to kiss him. In all honesty, my reaction at that point was something along the lines of oh crap oh crap oh crap. Not because I was ideologically opposed to this development so much as because I felt that I was in way over my head. Even so, it didn’t occur to me not to write the kiss. The kiss had happened, and I couldn’t do anything about that. For my writing process to work, for me to feel that I have any integrity as an author, I have to get out of the way and let the story happen. This is not to say that I don’t think long and hard about the messages I might be sending with my fiction, but that kind of analysis and soul-searching usually happens later in the process. When I’m working on the first draft, I try to let the characters take me wherever they want to go. I write because the story demands that I tell it, and I realized pretty quickly that, in this case, the story I had to tell involved Gregory and Eric kissing.
If I had paid more attention, I might have seen the kiss coming. The story was already moving in that direction, with or without my knowledge or consent. Early on, though, I had considered the possibility of Eric and Gregory developing a romantic relationship and rejected it, ostensibly because I felt that mixing gayness and vampirism might read as a negative comment about gayness. In all honesty, though, the thought of writing gay characters terrified me. I instinctively felt that, as a straight person, I couldn’t write an authentic gay character, and that if I tried I would only offend people. Of course, I quickly realized that I had already gone well outside my comfort zone by writing a main character who was male and a vampire, and that there was no reason for me not to let Eric and Gregory be who they were, as long as I took care with how I handled their story.
As it turned out, Gregory and Eric’s romance saved the novel. They showed me that, in spite of the difficult circumstances that led to their intimacy, their love could grow into something beautiful and tender and unexpected. Telling their story stretched me, as a writer and as a person, in ways I never could have imagined. I am twenty-five years old and I’ve been attempting to write novels since I was fourteen, but until Gregory and Eric I had never felt so committed to a story, so convinced that it needed to be out in the world.
In retrospect, I know that this particular story found me when I was ready to tell it. At the time, I was part of a close-knit community that included a lot of GLBTQ folks, many of whom had become—and remain—dear friends. Knowing them helped me realize how much I take for granted as a straight person, and made me want to fight for a world in which everyone can live and love openly and without fear. I still wasn’t ready, though, to consciously write a story with gay characters, so Eric and Gregory had to smack me over the head when I wasn’t looking, and the experience of telling their story became the most fulfilling of my writing life thus far. Every time I catch myself worrying about getting negative feedback for writing a gay love story, I remind myself that any prejudice I might experience can’t begin to compare to what my friends in the GLBTQ community deal with every day of their lives.
I’m not going to say that I don’t worry about what will happen when I’m ready to send Eric and Gregory out into the world, but I worry about different things now than I did two years ago. I worry that people will have negative reactions to the their romance, but I worry more often that I won’t shock anyone out of his or her comfort zone, in which case I’ll feel that I’ve failed to do my job. Most of all, I worry that I’ll disappoint my friends in the GLBTQ community. I realize, though, that in most important ways it isn’t about me. It’s about the story, which is bigger than me, and deserves to have a life of its own. And it’s a story about love, plain and simple.
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