Lenalena: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Cecilia. For the people that have wandered in here not knowing anything about Daron’s Guitar Chronicles, can you say a few things about how the chronicles came to be?
Cecilia Tan: I started writing Daron’s Guitar Chronicles when I was a teenager and didn’t know much about love, romance, or writing. Yet. Now I know a lot more and it all comes out in the story, which I’ve been serializing online since 2009.
LL: You weren’t a teenager in 2009, though.
CT: Nope, I was a teenager in the 1980s, which is when the story starts. Although we’ve progressed all the way to 1991 in the current volume.
LL: It being the 80s, it obviously wasn’t written as a web serial, because we had no web yet.
CT: I thought it was going to be a novel. Haha. I always envisioned it as a book that would have stuff in it like song lyrics and interviews with the characters that looked like they were clipped out of magazines. You know, Tolkien had maps and poetry and Elvish, I figured I could have some extra stuff, too. As it turns out, it’s way longer than a novel (as well as longer than The Lord of the Rings). And it’s still going. It was languishing in a drawer when I decided to try putting it up as a web serial. And now look at it go!
LL: The part you wrote as a teenager, the part that ended up in that drawer, was volume 1 through 3. When did you decide that you were going to keep going with volume 4, once you were done posting it online a couple of chapters a week?
CT: Actually, the parts I wrote as a teenager mostly went into deep storage. All of that was from other characters’ points of view, like Daron couldn’t even speak in his own voice until we’d both moved out of New Jersey and our parents’ houses. What exists now as Vols 1-3 I wrote in grad school in an MFA program. And it was shopped around by two different agents and turned down by a lot of publishers, large and small. It had been in the drawer about 10 years when I started serializing but I basically told myself when I started the web serial, if ANYONE reads this at all, they’re going to want to know what happens next. Because I hadn’t written an ending so much as forced myself to stop at the end of book 3. We’re just at a kind of emotional plateau right there. But as you know… it’s the plateau before a massive rollercoaster ride in books 4 and 5!
LL: Book 1 through 3 are the most difficult to read, as Daron is really struggling. Rollercoaster or no, he manages to cheer up a bit starting in book 4. Is that because you were different when started writing it again more than a decade later (and older)? Do you think that if you had kept going in grad school, the story would have gone differently?
CT: I’m not sure. I am following the general outline of “plot” I sketched out years ago, with some variations, but the big stuff–album, tour, etc.–are pretty much the same. I feel like the reason there’s a pause at the end of books one through three is that’s the point where Daron’s got enough of his head together to meet certain challenges head on. And then the challenges start hitting hard and fast as success mounts in books 4 and 5. The checklist of most of the people he needs to come out to is mostly done by the time we get to the end of book 3. In book 4 come the consequences.
LL: Is it hard not to write anachronisms, now you’re not writing ‘contemporary’ anymore?
CT: I want to say nah, it’s easy to pretend I’m in the Eighties again. But actually the tricky part is as time progresses having to look up, okay, what year would Carynne have gotten a “car phone” or a pager? And music and concert technology, too, was changing really fast in the time period we’ve covered. So I’ve had to go back and research when various things happened to try to keep it consistent to the dates. I’m sure I’ve messed up some things, but no one has called me on any of them yet…
The “easy” part for me is that Daron’s life parallels mine in a lot of ways. He gets email at the point where Colin introduces him to a local ISP here called the World, which was a lot like the Well in San Francisco, and you dial up to it or Telnet to it. I used to be able to check my World email from the library card catalog machines at most universities and public libraries because they didn’t realize they gave an unsecured Telnet prompt…. But now I’m really showing my age and geekery. Right around now in the story is when you’d be seeing Usenet and listserv lists popping up for Daron and Moondog Three fans.
LL: If Daron is your age (he’s only two years older than me, so hush with the ‘showing your age’!), can we consider him your alter ego?
CT: Oh, totally. Daron is completely my alter ego. He’s me if I was a neurotic gay man, which I think if I’d been born male, I probably would have been, even without the toxic masculinity of his childhood environment.
LL: One of the things that appealed to me about books one through three was how similar Daron’s personality was to my own in my late teens. I couldn’t communicate anything important to me, even if my life depended on it. Thank god he, and I, grew out of that. Was that you too?
That was only me in really difficult moments, but I think the reason why I was able to move past a lot of the fear of my own sexuality, of people’s opinions, of societal pressure, of the way conformity stifles self-knowledge, was because I balled it all up and made it into Daron. I put it onto the page and didn’t let it get me. It was like a processed a lot of my angst and fear by channelling it into his character, leaving me a much more confident and communicative person. Which wasn’t to say I wasn’t still cripplingly nonverbal at times and occasionally terrified about being the only bisexual on Earth except for David Bowie.
LL: At least you had David Bowie. Not the least of people to play for your team! So if Daron is you, who is Ziggy and Bart and the other people? Do they have real life counterparts?
CT: A reader in one of the really early online chats we did asked me if Daron and Ziggy were like two halves of my soul and the idea made a lightbulb go on in my head. I’ve always known Daron was this part of me, this repository for my angst and a constant companion, but Ziggy I only recognized much later as the other side of the coin: Ziggy’s what’s left after Daron’s processed the angst. Or put another way: Ziggy’s the process itself, perhaps, and Daron’s the result. I’m not sure if that made sense, but these days I’m much more aware of my coping mechanisms. Creating Daron in the first place as a teenager was a coping mechanism, but Ziggy’s representative of the machinery that makes the mechanism. That was way too deep, I know…
As for Bart and the rest, they all just sprang out of my head more or less fully formed. I’ve sometimes met people like them, but it’s usually in that order, rather than me meeting someone and then putting them in a book.
LL: Actually, that makes complete sense to me. My own non-verbality was ‘cured’ or rather, I was forced out of it, by a boyfriend who resembled Ziggy a lot, personality wise. With the charisma and the head games and everything. And I felt about him a lot like Daron felt about Ziggy: fucked over but powerless to leave, because I knew he was what I needed to get better, even if he ripped my heart to shreds every so often. So I can see that Ziggy is the process Daron goes through.
Now that we’ve reached book 8, what going on with this volume that makes it stand out from the previous ones. Can you say?
CT: I was just looking it over again: it’s slightly shorter than some of the other books because its arc came full circle in under 100,000 words for a change. There are always multiple threads entwining in the story and the three main ones are Daron and Ziggy’s relationship, Daron’s maturity as a creative artist, and Daron’s relationship to everyone else (Digger, Remo, et cetera). There’s movement constantly on all three fronts but books tend to start and end when more than one of those threads knots together with another, like the end of a sausage or something. People keep telling me it would be better marketing if I ended each book on a big cliffhanger. I just couldn’t do it with this series: each book needs to feel like a solid piece to me. Like songs on an album, maybe. Which still didn’t really answer the question. What’s the defining shape of book eight to you?
LL: I get the feeling that in book 8 what happens with Daron and Ziggy is mainly movement underground, like groundwork is laid for future emotional eruptions, but on the surface not much happens. This book to me is more about Daron’s musical future (since he’s been in limbo for two and half books now) and also about Daron and Remo’s relationship.
CT: Well, and it’s true that the seeds of what happens in each book are laid in the previous. What’s being posted right now is “book nine” and all that groundwork is starting to erupt, as you say. Daron comes right out and says it: the gig with Nomad is the musical equivalent of his relationship with Jonathan. When it’s good, it’s good, but is it really the right thing for him? When his heart is really wanting to be elsewhere?
LL: And just like with Jonathan (see book 6), he kind of knew that going in and does it anyway.
CT: Yeah. It’s like you said. Sometimes you realize the relationship is doomed, but you know there’s something there you need to learn, too. Daron’s trying very hard to make this work, too, just like the relationship with Jonathan. But the lessons are important.
I was just re-reading book six the other day–that’s what’s currently being posted on Wattpad–and wow, I had forgotten how twisted some of the angst-fest fights with Jonathan were. There were definitely some true life experiences of mine in there even though my actual relationship dynamics were totally different. Somehow the same kind of arguments and total lack of reasonable solutions no matter how hard you both try were in there.
LL: I love book 6 for that exact reason. So very painfully familiar. And hilarious at the same time: like the time Daron complains to Bart that being domestic at the laundromat shouldn’t be foreplay and Bart warns him to not take up that chore or he’ll be stuck doing it forever…
Yes! I had forgotten how heartbreaking it can be to see Daron trying so so hard to “do things right” in the relationship, when ultimately he and Jonathan have not only divergent expectations of a relationship but totally different needs. I’m not even sure they ever get all the way to figuring that out. Jonathan’s right about so many things, but he’s wrong about just as many.
LL: So the story you have outlined beyond book 9, which you are currently writing, is that a story arc with a bunch of external events that you are going to have happen or is it more of an emotional arc, in which you have planned what Daron needs to go through emotionally before he’s ‘done’?
CT: Both. It’s both. What I don’t always know is how the external stuff, like what happens with the record company, and the internal stuff like what Daron figures out about relationships, are going to affect each other. Ultimately they always match up somehow, though. Usually when one thing blows up, something else is, too. Like in real life, it’s never neat and orderly with one crisis at a time. That’s no fun.
That might be surprising to people who think a “serial” is one thing each episode, by the way. It’s really not like that at all. LOL.
LL: Yeah, then you might as well be writing . Which you do. How is that different? Besides most of those featuring heterosexual couples and BDSM?
CT: In my “regular” romances I feel like I’m barely getting to know the characters when I get to the end of the book. It’s like you just get them to the point where they’re really declaring unconditional love for each other and wham, that’s where the story is supposed to end. Big sex scene and that’s it. It’s emotionally satisfying in that you have your five course meal, your dessert, and then you move on, but with something like DGC, where we get to be with the characters for much longer, it’s more like we not only have the meal, we grew the vegetables ourselves, crushed the grapes for the wine, and made our own pottery to eat it from. It’s a much deeper level of involvement for me and for the readers, I think.
LL: Is it frustrating that those regular kind of books are commercially more successful? Do you write the one to play with the other, or is it not that simple?
CT: It’s not frustrating for me because I feel it’s apples and oranges. Or maybe apples and pipe wrenches: they’re not the same thing, really. My commercial romances from the big publishers are like the Wolfgang Puck restaurants in airports, while Daron is like the boutique restaurant that only seats a few people in the back of my house. They’re not really comparable. It’s very nice for me that both involve fiction writing, so I can make money with one and I can satisfy my soul with the other–but since they’re both writing there’s also a little bit of soul-satisfying in the “big” romances and there’s also a little bit of money from Daron. It’s a spectrum, I guess.
I confess it’d be very NICE if Daron suddenly got as wildly popular as my books that are being sold in Target. But if that never happens I won’t be surprised or disappointed by that.
LL: You’ve been writing this m/m romance for years now. Do you feel part of the m/m romance community? Do you hang out online, or real life, with other m/m romance writers?
CT: I have been writing LGBT fiction of many kinds since before “m/m” was a genre of its own, so I sometimes am a bit of a dinosaur compared to a lot of the young ‘uns. Ha. But I generally do hang out with a lot of m/m and also fanfic writers of all kinds, both slash and het. The slash writers I tend to know from Harry Potter, the BDSM writers and new adult het writers from Twific. I really believe fanfic is a fantastic way for a writer to learn crucial skills, and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than an MFA.
LL: Ever been to Gay Rom Lit?
CT: I have not made it to GRL yet, but you have to sign up, like, on the day it opens or bam, you miss it! It’s very tough to get in. I’ve spoken at a lot more of the gay/LGBT science fiction (Outlantacon, Gaylaxicon) and general fiction conferences (Saints & Sinners and OUTWrite) than at the gay romance cons. There is so much going on in romance, though, I could be at a new con every week, practically. And then I would never get any writing done, sigh. I hope to get to GRL one of these years, though. Maybe when DGC is “done” I’ll do a world tour with it.
LL: Well, that BEGS the question: when is DGC going to be done?! Time wise, book wise, any idea?
I do think there will be an ending and that we’ll know when we get there, but right now I can’t really predict. The story is so elastic in time: a two-month tour took the entirety of books 4 and 5 to tell, yet 8 months in Spain wasn’t even eight whole chapters. So it’s hard to say. I joked to someone recently that I was going to stop when it hit the length of Harry Potter (which is just over a million words). If that turns out to be prophetic, we’re only about 70% of the way there, I think? I should do the math…
Okay, I did the math, and at the end of book eight we are still only about 75% the length of Harry Potter. For anyone who’s intimidated by there being eight books: my eleven year old nephew can read Harry Potter, I promise you can read this.
LL: Truer words were never spoken. Thank you so much!