Posted in Mesmer series, Writing

The Mesmer series: two years of writing

I’ve wanted to celebrate this for a while, and I just go the idea to make three blog posts for each of the main characters. I want to say ‘short blog posts’, but I don’t trust myself. Anyway, come end May it will be two years since I started posting chapters for this series, and I started plotting the current version in March 2017 so…

With character drawings like these, I really have to give them all three a post, don’t I? I do.

Two years.

Life has changed since then. Including a house move which we signed for end June while I moaned about my characters needing attention and renovations that would be all-consuming but when life throws you a tree, you cling onto it. I love trees.

I love our friends too and being able to raise the kids in some green while still in biking distance from them was something we had to go for…

The divorce of my friend An, mother of my goddaughter, cut through fall like a knife. Much of my trust in love and friendship got a gnaw, but at the same time it became very much a fall and winter of friendship.

Our kids are older. They talk, they have friends, they have parties. They have, oh God, opinions.

Us becoming parents while my cousin and his partner opted out put us on potentially very different paths, and we all knew it would mean changes in how and how often we could meet. Which was, given that they are one of these very few people who always manage to make me laugh, something I feared.

But we’ve proven stronger and I’ve seen both An and my sister find love again. There are few joys like seeing the kids bond with all of them, and I truly believe these boys are blessed for the family they grow up in. A family that is bigger than their parents, and bigger than blood.

Online friendships have grown too.

I searched for some swords and sandals queer stories that lacked the typical seme-uke, yaoi flavour my Japan love threw at me and that were meant for a queer audience. No easy find in a Roman-Celtic setting (I blame you classicists!) and I stumbled upon Captive Prince from CS Pacat, which indeed captivated me, pulled me into the black hole that swallows you whole also known as Tumblr and that is where I met Carlo. I commented on one of his Captive Prince drawings, he sent a sweet reply, I discovered a Dragon Age fanart, squealed and have been talking his ears off ever since (for which I apologize).

One of my favourite moments these past years was when I finished ‘Cornelis’, which is actually the second book in my series because my head is all over the place. I sent a thank you to Lara, who was one of the sweetest and most enthusiastic fans of my fanfics and Phyllis. Her words encouraged me to keep writing. I reread them on some of the heavier moments when germs swarmed the house and sleep was nowhere to be seen.

Some of the fanfic readers I had were very religious. Some were into steam, but only provided it was straight. And I discovered most of that only once I paired Marcus and Cornelis up. So when Lara started reading ‘Phyllis’, which is very much a  friendship-oriented novel and she started throwing praise, I had the apprehension: will this too stop once she reaches the gay?

I’ve learned a lot from those moments. It’s easy to support you queer friends. They are there and you want to keep them near and to hell with the rest. But when the love is already there, and when someone already holds your heart, that’s scary. And for me, that was new.

Lara spotted one of the conversations Dan and I had about Marcus’s reactions throughout the story, mainly when the patrol visited an all-female brothel and there was lots of misinterpretation of his behaviour involved. That’s how she found out Marcus was gay, and she was overjoyed to see queer representation in my stories. We are now connected in Instagram and soon, I hope to meet her to gush over her favourite series in Frankfurt.

I didn’t want LGBT-related issues to be central to my plot, because I wanted to focus on the romance, (as we should all be able to do!). I have made some conscious decisions in setting up my Celtic society, which already included equal gender rights and same-sex marriage. But for Marcus, since the Romans loved themselves and their power, and I chose a very specific well-documented period in time, I knew he’d have to be careful in the army.

I could have altered history, especially since what we know about the Roman Empire has been interpreted over and over again, and definitely often by bigot historians and writers. One has to be careful reading about ancient history, since there is a lot of history in between. But eventually, an interview about Korra and Asami in Turf Wars convinced me to keep some bias in the story. Limited and in the background, but it’s there. Just like it’s there for all of us, and there is some connection between real life and fiction that way.

Lara’s reaction answered a lot for me. I want people to love Marcus, because I do, and I wanted to handle his coming out with care…

But Lara and I never discussed LGBTQ+ and we wrote back and forth for months…which led me to realize queer representation in the Mesmer series is not about Marcus and Cornelis at all. It’s about me. I was not her safe space for these discussions. I could perhaps have been, but she did not see that. Because I didn’t show her my colours. I married a straight guy I met at sixteen. (I married him at 28, so I gave it plenty thought, LOL). Gays ‘popping up’ all around me was something that happened when I was already dating, and I’ve always felt that gender wasn’t necessarily important to me, but that doesn’t show, and I have never taken it for a test drive either.

Straight or pan, it doesn’t show. And I’m so very happy where I am now, so I don’t think I will ever go looking for the answer. But as an author, an online friend, I didn’t want to ever miss chances again. Kayleigh and Anwynn married a few chapters later. I just introduced Kaeso. Phelan’s been panning the roof off since the very beginning, and I adore him and I want so much good for him. Perhaps one day I’ll make that sequel where Ryann kidnaps Bonny away from Mesmer for a while. But it is more likely I’ll save their chemistry for a different ship and a different story.

They’re just tiny moments, not all romance or plot-central. But those tiny moments, just like in real life, they are beacons. They are my rainbow flags. Marcus and Cornelis are my OTP and they are gonna get their happy ending and they will have, one day, their Celtic marriage and they will parent lots of kids and they are going to fuss over their friends like the daddies they are. But I don’t want anyone to be three books in before they know that’s where I’m headed.

Lara’s reaction took me back to the very reason I started binging own voice queer romances. Marcus and Cornelis as a pairing, that’s for me. But wanting to give them my very best shot, more than I have ever given a romance before, that’s not just for me. That’s for my non-reader cousin who keeps telling me to write porn (thanks Steven, I still have the hyperlinks and it’s not gonna happen. We don’t need these levels of awkward in our life). For Lara, who should not have had to wait to see my colours. For Carlo, who helps me shine them bright. For Dan, who is so British I drool over his every line, and who supports every move my characters make. (Especially if the moves are gay). For Eden whose stories inspired me to make Wattpad a platform. For Robbie, who learns us to play board games, whose Christmas decorations are superb, and who named Bert ‘The Hammer’ in group chat. For Mieke, and Sarah, my queer ladies at work who help me roll my eyes when the husband comments roll. For my kids, who I want never ever to worry about telling me anything.

Fiction is never really just fiction. These worlds, written and technicolour real, they are intertwined and over the past two year I’ve felt them reinforce each other on more occasions than I can count. For which I’m so happy. Thanks for being there, all of you.