So, as I mentioned briefly in my last post, I’m working on a new fiction project, rather than either of the two things I was expecting to work on this summer.
The important thing is that I’m writing again — around thumb- and wrist-killing amounts of Hyrule Warriors Legends — and that I’m currently pretty excited about the project.
The down side is that the story takes place in a time period that I lived through and yet don’t actually remember: the early 1980s. (Before you criticize me for not remembering, let me ask you this: how much do you remember from when you were six?) Compound with that the fact that the genre is a twist on the romantic comedy (a type of movie I never watch), in first person narration by a man (already a problem) who’s a mostly-closeted homosexual. That last part would be a hard enough perspective for an essentially non-sexual woman even if the work was set in modern times, but in early 1982?
Layers upon layers of new complications.
Now, you may be wondering why I chose 1982, that being the case?
Well, there are a lot of reasons, most of them involving not wanting to let go of the characters’ original origins as dead backstory characters who survived Vietnam only to get killed in a case of mass hysteria during a tragic ski vacation. But there are reasons to hold to that backstory, even though the tragic ski vacation and horrible early death are now removed from it. For one thing, I don’t have to make up a new history for the characters. (As that’s one of my weaknesses, this is an important reason!) For another, of the same-sex couple, one has been gay since he was fifteen, and the other…well, he’s already in love with the other guy, he just don’t realize he is, so as far as he thinks of himself, he’s straight. (If that’s inaccurate to how reality works, I apologize. There’s not much I can do about it, though; that’s kind of at the crux of their story together.) The narrator — gonna switch to using names here to make it less awkward — Ashley, though he’s been aware of his feelings since he was fifteen, has tried to keep his number of sexual partners to a minimum. Not out of fear of diseases (that likely would never have crossed his mind!) but because he’s been in love with his best friend, Paddy, the whole time, and keeps wanting only to be with him, so the other men are more or less an aberration against his constant heart. (Or that’s the way he sees it, anyway.) The upshot of all this is that by leaving the story set in the early 1980s, I can give him that period of brief sexual experimentation without any risk of ruining their eventual happy ending by his having contracted AIDS; in the window between its introduction to the US and the public becoming aware of it, he had very few partners, and since he doesn’t live in one of the coastal cities where it first became prevalent, it’s not a stretch to imagine that he’s been spared thus far.
Now, I did a little cheating to help me get around my lack of concrete knowledge about 1982. It’s first person narration, but rather than random first person narration — where we don’t know why the person is telling the tale or to whom — Ashley is very up front in the first few pages about the fact that he’s writing this story into a book, and that the events (while “true”) took place more than twenty years earlier. So I can have his narration reference a movie that didn’t come out until 1993 if I want, because it’s the twenty+ years later Ashley talking, not the one from 1982.
But that only covers the narration. There’s still a lot more I need to research about the early 1980s. How did they dress? How did they talk? What were the prevailing stereotypes of the time about homosexuals?
The last one is the stumbling block, of course. It’s obviously of vital importance to Ashley what the stereotypes of the day were. Since he’s closeted from everyone except one female friend and the other men at the gay bar where he sometimes goes for drinks when Paddy’s busy, he can’t engage in any activity that’s earmarked as being stereotypically gay. He’d actively avoid those things, even if he wanted to take part in them, because he’d be afraid of being found out. (Though I suspect he wouldn’t want to take part in most of them anyway.) And more importantly for his narrative voice (as opposed to his actual behavior, since he’d never admit that he feared being outed) he’d be outraged at the offensive stereotypes being unjustly applied to him and those like him.
A certain amount of his outrage would transcend time, of course: since it’s his modern(?) voice narrating, he can be just as outraged at the stereotypes of the 2010s (or whenever) as at the stereotypes of the 1980s. But whenever someone else’s behavior would reflect the stereotypes of the time — he’s sort of falsely outed about halfway through the book — that’s going to have a big impact.
And that’s where it all falls down a bit. I went on Wikipedia to look up the movies of the early 1980s and very late 1970s, so I could pick a few to watch and get an idea of clothes and especially how people talked in that time period. (Most of my favorite movies from the late ’70s and early ’80s do not take place in the real world/present day, and are thus of no assistance.) As I was clicking on name links to get summaries, I was particularly paying attention to ones that sounded like they would have depictions of the stereotypes of the era.
The problem is that most of the ones that have massive depictions of the stereotypes are not available on Netflix for precisely that reason. They’re offensive, and so they’re not available streaming, and normally I’d be totally okay with that, because under normal circumstances I wouldn’t want to watch that, either. But now it’s research…and yet I’m not sure I could force myself to watch them even if they were available. (And I’m not about to request the DVDs from Netflix, since they’d be sent to my brother’s place…)
I don’t know; maybe I don’t even have to. Maybe the stereotypes haven’t changed that much. Or rather, maybe they didn’t change much from the early ’80s to the early ’90s. The stereotyping is finally beginning to lessen, so today’s stereotypes are slightly different, but I remember stuff from the ’90s well enough not to need any refresher course. Much of what I have planned is probably in line with the stereotypes of the day. (For example, after he’s falsely outed, one of Ashley’s students barges into his apartment to see for herself if he’s gay. When she finds a sparse, un-decorated apartment, a bit sloppy around the edges, and a fridge containing nothing but beer, she’s convinced that he’s not really gay, because his apartment is too much “like a man’s.”)
Changing gears a bit, let me go back and talk about that one female friend who knows Ashley’s gay. The original thought behind this project was to take the romantic comedy motif of the heroine’s “gay best friend” and tell the story from his perspective, while removing the negative stereotypes likely applied to him. Since I don’t actually watch romantic comedies (the most recent one I’ve seen is French Kiss, and I find the love story the weakest part of it) this is in itself somewhat problematic. I suspect this first draft is going to portray as completely flat both the characters who would be the leads of the romantic comedy. And at this stage of development, there’s probably not a lot I can do about that. (That’s what re-writes are for, right?) It doesn’t help that the narration is stilted, of course: Ashley may be her best friend, but she certainly isn’t his. In fact, he finds her a bit annoying.
Actually, I think everyone in the book is going to come off as flat, except maybe Ashley. So far, even Paddy’s not got much depth to him, despite how fleshed out he is in my head.
Ugh. Maybe I should just give up on taking my writing seriously. I’ll never write anything good enough to share with anyone else, so what does it matter?