Non-spoilery for those concerned. And this is a long post, so I apologize ahead of time.
So here we are, days away from the release of my third novel out on April 27th. Exciting times, right? Of course! Well, kind of.
Those that have been around for a while know that I never really had any intention of writing a sequel to Bear, Otter, and the Kid. I was going to let that last bad poem at the end of BOATK be my farewell to Bear and the boys and I was going to allow them to go about their lives as they would. I’d think fondly of them from time to time, I knew, and would wonder every so often what they were up to. But I wanted to move onto different things.
The best laid plans, and all that.
If there was to be a sequel, I told myself secretly, it would have to be a full fledge book. And if I wrote another full fledge book, it would have to be a complete story, not an extended epilogue. If I wrote another story, I would have to open up the world a bit, popping the bubble Bear, Otter, and the Kid lived in that summer. If, if, if.
Then BOATK exploded into something I never expected. It got big. Ish. A lot of people read it. It won awards. It was criticized. It was lauded. It was torn to shreds. People loved it, liked it, disliked it, hated it. I was accused of overwrought sentimentality and repetition. People wrote to me from all over the world and said it touched them like no other. I was accused of making the Kid so unrealistic that it detracted from the story. Parents told me the Kid was exactly like their gifted child. I was accused of plagiarism. Amazon.com said it was one of the top 10 best GLBT books published in 2011.
Do you have whiplash yet?
Me too. And yet, you know what?
I wouldn’t change a goddamn thing.
And even through all of that, somehow, someway, the sequel was written. And damn, if I’m not fucking proud of it.
Who We Are is a novel of strength and of weakness. It’s about what it means to think you finally have everything you’ve ever wanted, only to have that entire world threatened. It’s about just how fickle life can seem, and how unbending it really is. It’s about family and what it means, regardless of the blood flowing through your veins. Bear is still going to be Bear, warts and all. He’ll still hear a voice in his head and will let his emotions get the better of him. And fuck you if you think real men don’t cry. I’m a fucking dude and when I finally came out, I was an emotional wreck who didn’t know which way was up. The Kid is still made of glass and sounds like he’s forty. Mrs. Paquinn will still be dirty and Anna and Creed will both come to terms with Bear and themselves. And what about Otter? Well, Otter was the one person I wanted to focus on more. In BOATK, he was the rock, the strong one, the light at the end of the tunnel. Otter was also the enigma that I hadn’t quite figured out. How can someone like him be so strong all the time? Especially after everything he’d gone through? What if he can’t be strong all the time? What are his weaknesses? What is he scared of? What is the one thing that could tear him down? He’s the one I wanted to unravel and dig deeper on. By the end, I think I was finally able to see him for who he was.
And I cherished him.
Are you going to laugh? I think so. I did. Wait until you hear what Mrs. Paquinn has to say are other words that also mean “sex.” Will you want to throttle Bear? Undoubtedly. He is Bear, after all. Will the Kid read you a bad poem or two and sound far to mature for his age? You bet your ass he will. Will you cry? I think I’ve said before that I’m not a crier by any stretch of the imagination (unless I’m coming out to my family—good grief), but fuck did I bawl by the end. There’s one scene in particular that still gets to me now even just thinking about it. I was a mess when I wrote it and I was a mess going through the repeated edits. And no, this isn’t meant to scare you away, this isn’t meant for you to be thinking “Oh no, WHAT DID YOU DO!?!?!” It’s meant for you to understand that life is a beautifully fucked up tragic comedy and should be treated as such.
Who We Are is my love letter to all the fans who have stuck by me through thick and thin, the good times and the bad, over these past eight months (doesn’t it feel like so much longer?). It’s my way of saying thank you for allowing me to be an author and to tell my stories. It’s my way of letting you
know me better. Make sure you read the dedication and opening quotes in the book because it shows exactly how I feel.
And, as I completed this post initially a few days ago, it was also meant to be my way of saying so long to the publishing world.
You see, before I was published, I didn’t have Facebook. I didn’t have a blog. I didn’t know what Goodreads was. Never will you hear me complain (how could I, with so many awesome things that have happened in the past year?), but you need to understand I’m a bit tired. Three novels in eight months. That’s a lot, at least for me. I’m a slow writer. I work on one thing at a time.
The original ending of this post was going to let you all know that I was planning on taking a break from everything after WWA is published : writing, online interactions, blog posts, EVERYTHING, for an undetermined, but most likely indefinite, period of time. At the very least, I didn’t think I was going to write anymore. By now, Book II of the Elementally Evolved series should be finished, or close to finished. But it’s not. Not even close. I wanted to take a break to see if it was possible for me to find the story again, to not have it feel like it’s a chore every time I open that word doc. But I didn’t think that was going to be realistic and I figured I should just be done.
The plagiarism bullshit took a lot out of me, even though I tried to act like it didn’t. It was extraordinarily damaging to my confidence and caused these crazy waves of doubt to wash over me. I knew and still know I didn’t plagiarize a damn thing. But not only was it hurting me, it was hurting my name. My name is my business, at least in the writing world, and people were attempting to fuck with my business. I could have had a flame out, as I am sure some were hoping/expecting I would. I could have ranted and raved and railed against those people who I considered absolutely ridiculous. But I didn’t, instead choosing to reply with a somewhat bland statement that relied on humor which, as usual, is my defense mechanism, and one that I doubt I’ll ever be rid of. Which then led, of course, to DSP needing to defend itself and release personal details of my life that were nobody’s business but my own.
I am not saying any of this to garner sympathy in any form, so please don’t bother with comments as such. Nor am I saying this to incite anger towards any specific individual (seriously, let people comment as they will; everyone is entitled to their opinion and internet wars are stupid as it is. I know people feel the need to respond on my behalf since I typically do not, and while I appreciate it, it’s unnecessary and I am asking you not to).
So what changed my mind?
I wrote the initial retirement post on Monday with plans to publish it today. I received this email on Tuesday out of the blue:
TJ: You don't know me and I don't know you, but I felt like I needed to write you to thank you for writing Bear, Otter, and the Kid. I am a 22 year old gay male living in Utah. I was raised in an LDS (Mormon) environment with extremely conservative parents and family members. I was outed in high school by a former friend and was forced to drop out before I could graduate. I have since gotten my GED, will be graduating with a Bachelors degree this summer, and am going to put myself through graduate school. My family has never supported me or wanted a gay child. They tried to put me in a 'change' hospital when I was 18 and I moved to California briefly to get away. I've always wanted to write and have fiddled with the craft here and there throughout my teenage years and into young adulthood, but I never quite had the confidence that anyone would want to hear the story of a young gay mormon boy coming of age and learning to accept himself and his identity. Your story and characters inspired me to write, and they inspired my life. My mother didn't abandon me with a 7 year old to raise, but I was recently excommunicated from my church and kicked out of the house. I currently am living in my car (thank god its summer and warm) with my cat and finishing up school. Your story gave me hope. It have me something to hold onto. I know that it's just fiction and there aren't characters like Otter out there for everyone to come along and just hold you and build a life with you. I know that some people never find their other half, but your story gave me something that I felt I had lost. It gave me hope. It made me laugh. It made me smile and it gave me happiness. You made a difference in my life, even though we have never met. Please don't let discouragement stop you from writing. Your writing has saved my life and given me hope. Something to hold onto. Don't stop writing. We need people like you out there, writing stories for us and giving us hope for a brighter future.
This made every single thing I’ve ever been through in my writing career worth it. If I had to do it all over again, to go through the bullshit of false plagiarism charges, the highs and lows of the last eight months just to receive this email, I would. In a goddamn heartbeat, without a second thought.
So, it will take me some time to put myself back together, to clear my head and make sure that I’m still somewhat intact, but anytime I start feeling sorry for myself, anytime I’m being a morose jackass, I’ll remember this email, because dammit, it means I’ve done my fucking job and NO ONE can take that away from me. So while you may not see a new work from me after WWA for a while, just know that I will be starting up again soon.
But enough with the sentimental dramatics! Who We Are is almost here! And you know what? Fuck what I said earlier. You will laugh. You will cry. You’ll want to strangle Bear. You’ll want to hug the crap out of the Kid. You’ll sigh over the awesomeness that is Otter. Mrs. Paquinn, and Anna, and Creed, will do what they can to hold everyone together. You’ll meet Dominic. And Isaiah. And David. And Alice and Jerry Thompson. All the questions you had after BOATK will be answered, and by the end, you’ll be able to see that family is not always defined by blood. It’s defined by those that make us whole—those that make us who we are.