Jason Collins and Writing With Realism

Jason Collins’ announcement today in Sports Illustrated — the first active male pro athlete in one of the major US leagues to come out of the closet — is historic. It also highlights an interesting challenge I had when I was first developing Exeter and the characters — specifically, Dan Reilly.

If you’ve read any of the books, you know Dan is gay. He also was a football player, and in the mid-1990s, he was both openly gay and playing high school football. Dan’s just a year or so older than Jason Collins. Massachusetts is a fairly progressive state, but that’s so unusual as to be implausible, at least on the face of it.  Frankly, if I’d consciously built the character that way… Well, I probably wouldn’t have.

The original story I was trying to tell in what was supposed to be the first book had Dan as a main character, but not THE main character. Ellie was the main character, and at the time it takes place, she’s just moved to Exeter and ended a longtime relationship. I didn’t want readers thinking she and Dan were going to get together. And I read enough fanfiction to know that it often doesn’t matter what the author intends — readers will have their own opinions about character pairings. So I started thinking about the characters and my options.

I knew a lot about Dan at that point, but not his family. (Liz was not yet his cousin — she wasn’t even a townie.) Realistically, there were two options for putting him off-limits. He had to be happily married. Or he had to be gay. (As it turned out, he was both.) I first thought married. But I knew Dan well enough at that point to know that if he was married to a woman, he’d have a few kids by now. And I knew that wasn’t right. So I wondered if he was gay. It took about 30 seconds for me to realize that was the case — it was the missing piece that made the character come alive. Chris came to life later.

But that left me with an interesting dilemma, because I already had the football background in there. I knew enough about his personality to know that hiding something that big wasn’t in character. So then I had to figure out what would make a high school football player come out and play football — and make pretty much everybody else accept that. There’s been some commentary — and Collins himself alluded to it in his essay — making the point that Collins can come out in part because he is such a tough, ferocious player. He defies any stereotype. How does a high school kid get that rep? How did Dan earn enough respect that he could have plausibly done this?

I also knew at this point that the Irish mob was in Exeter. That ended up being the answer. Dan had taken on the mob and won — he’d earned respect from enough people that he wasn’t going to lose it by coming out. Today, a young, gay football player doesn’t need such an extreme situation. But this was in the early 1990s, more than 20 years ago. It had to be an extraordinary set of circumstances. The marsh mess also ended up explaining a great deal more about several other characters, things I hadn’t fully grappled with at that point.

Dan only exists in my head. Jason Collins is the man who actually took this step to come out while playing. I’m hoping what he sees going forward is as positive as the initial reactions. The fact that it took until 2013 for any male pro athlete in a major sport to do so, though, reminds me of why a fictional character had to face down the Irish mob to do something similar in 1991.

Blown Deadlines

As you’ve no doubt guessed, the craziness of the past few weeks has wreaked havoc on my schedule. So while Dan and Chris’ story still is coming, it’s not coming April 29. Breaking news, a generally high level of work insanity and a nasty cold have all combined to throw my writing schedule completely off track. I’m hoping to have an update by mid-week with a new release date.

We Are ExeterIt’s been so busy, in fact, that I never formally announced the latest Exeter release, the ebook-only “We Are Exeter.” It’s a collection of short profiles of all the characters, drawn from the pages of the Exeter Ledger. (That means, of course, no profile of Exeter Ledger editor CJ Jenkins. But he’s got a few comments at the beginning. If you like reading tea leaves, you might get some clues about future Exeter stories from him.)

A few of the profiles have been posted here at various points in the Exeter Ledger section of the site, but most are new to this book. You’ll learn more about characters you’ve met and discover some characters that haven’t yet appeared in the books.

If you’ve read it, please let me know which character you most enjoyed reading about, and which one you would love to know more about (if you had to pick just one).

Running Near Boston

For New Englanders, especially for those in Massachusetts, it’s hard to believe the Boston Marathon was just starting at this time a week ago. It feels like we’ve had weeks packed into the past seven days with all the events.

Last week, I wrote a column for my paper in Virginia trying to explain Marathon Monday to those who’ve never experienced it. But as the week played out, and as I drove up to Franklin for a planned visit home, I was reminded of a conversation Kyrie and I had while I was working on Thrown Out.

Kyrie was arguing it wasn’t realistic to have so many characters who run. She said most people don’t run. I disagreed, though I did concede Chris probably wasn’t a runner. Still, a lot of the characters in Exeter do run, or have run in the past. As I thought back over the insanity of the last week, I realized that the Marathon has a lot to do with that. Around here, more people do run. The Marathon and its influence gives running a higher profile than it has in other places. Its legendary status in the world of road running, thanks to the qualifying times, means that running Boston says something about a person. And that, in turn, means that when you grow up around Boston, you think about running the Marathon someday. To do that, you have to start running. And so we run.

 

 

Characters Drive Plot: We Are Exeter Update

If you’ve been watching the progress meter in the sidebar, you know I’m almost done profiling the selection of Exeter characters who will appear in We Are Exeter. 🙂 For me, there have been a lot of unexpected bonuses in doing these.

WAE listI knew I’d get a chance to dig into characters I’d thought of for various stories, such as another classmate of Dan, Evan and Liz who returns to Exeter. You’ll see her in a short story at some point this year.

I knew I’d have a chance to flesh out characters who will appear in Books 2, 3 and 4 but weren’t much more than a name before I sat down to work on this.

I didn’t realize that a character I thought I was done with would insist on showing me, through that character’s answers to the questions in the Q&A portion, that this character’s not done. Far from it. The repercussions of the role this character is demanding are going to resonate throughout Exeter.

I still have eight of the 27 profiles to polish off — my project for today, at least until it’s time to go enjoy corned beef and cabbage. (I must admit, I’ve never had them.) Who knows what surprises will show up in the remaining eight profiles?

Coming Soon: We Are Exeter

That mystery March release I mentioned the other day? As newsletter readers know, it’s We Are Exeter, a collection of profiles of the characters in Exeter, written by Exeter Ledger editor CJ Jenkins.

Some of these character profiles you might have seen: they’re in the Exeter Ledger section of this site. And you’ve met many of the characters in either Thrown Out, even though their profiles haven’t been available anywhere. But you’ll also get a chance to meet other characters who haven’t yet appeared in any published Exeter works. Yet, obviously, is the key word. If you like reading tea leaves — or devouring spoilers for your favorite shows — you’ll find some intriguing bits of information to speculate upon in many of these profiles. More details and the cover reveal will be coming soon. For now, I’m focusing on polishing off the last of the profiles.

Which Exeter characters are you looking forward to learning more about?

Keeping the Author Honest

I did some blog housekeeping today, and one of the things I’ve added is a progress meter for my various Exeter projects over in the right sidebar. You’ll notice the March one is deliberately vague — newsletter subscribers will find out the details Tuesday. Everybody else will find out in about 10 days. You’ll be able to buy it starting March 31.

The April story, though, is one I’ve already mentioned, so no secrets there. If you’ve been wondering exactly how Dan and Chris met, you’ll get your answer April 29. The biggest question mark on that one is the length. I put my best guess down there, but the last time I predicted a story would be 15,000 words, it was my first NCIS fanfic which ended up being novel-length. So we’ll see…

As I start digging into more projects, I’ll add more tickers so you can see how much progress I’m making. Heckling and nagging are always welcome. Now, off to the coffee shop to get some new words down on paper…

New Faces Coming to Exeter

I wrote about 3,000 words today on an Exeter project that should be available at the end of the month (ebook only). I knew this was going to involve a couple of characters who had only been referenced in unpublished pieces up to this point, and they weren’t much more than names. One of them just came to life as I was working on that section! So much so, in fact, that I’m pretty sure she’s going to end up taking a main role in a story at some point.

I’m digging back into the project now, and I’ll have more details about it coming in a week or two.

The deleted 1991 scenes I mentioned the other day will start going out this week, so if you’re not already on the mailing list, please take a minute and sign up. It’s the only way you’re going to get to read these “missing” All That Is Necessary scenes.

Also, while my fiction schedule is always subject to the demands of the paper — between state basketball playoffs and a rare March snowstorm, this was a particularly crazy news week — I have the next four Exeter releases scheduled, one per month in March, April, May and June. Newsletter subscribers will get a sneak peek at the March one with this week’s deleted scene. Everybody else will find out closer to the release date. (Yes, there are benefits to subscribing to the newsletter.)