Long-term Relationships: Web serials and love (guest blog by Cecilia Tan!)
A reader of mine once told me why she had switched from reading erotica (which is mostly short stories) to romance novels. "I'm tired of the one-night stand," she said. "I want more of a relationship from my fiction." And it's true. While the erotic short story often delivers a panty-soaking fantasy--at least when I write them--the novel gives the reader a chance to get to know the characters and become emotionally engaged with them. More importantly, readers can become emotionally invested.
But a novel can still be over in a night, if you read fast. Where does a reader turn for a real "long-term relationship" in fiction? One choice is the multi-book series. Was it a blessing or a curse to get hooked on the Harry Potter series and wait between volumes to find out what would happen? Or what about George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire which has been going on since 1996 and has had gaps of three to six years between books? That might be a long-term relationship, but it's also like a long-distance relationship where you only see each other once in a blue moon.
This is one reason I think many readers have fallen in love with the web serial as a form. One gets to enjoy the long-term emotional engagement with the characters while at the same time receiving regular updates on the story.
The web serial that I am writing right now, Daron's Guitar Chronicles, is my longest term relationship yet. I started writing about Daron when I was a teenager in the 1980s. I wrote about him on and off all through college and started part of what became the serial while in grad school getting a masters in writing. But I didn't jump into serializing until 2010, when I had given up finding a traditional publisher for the ever-growing monstrosity that was the manuscript. It simply was not a novel, and still isn't. It was always a long story told in snippets rather than a traditional novel told in chapters. The serial form suits it very well.
So does the subject matter, if one considers the emotional life of the characters to be the main thing the readers of a long-term project care about. Daron's Guitar Chronicles is a love story, but it's not a simple one. It tells the story of a young guitar player in the 1980s who is in the closet about being gay. It's an era of upheaval both in music and in the sexual politics of the US, and our character's journey is nothing if not a search for happiness in a tumultuous world.
It has been amazing, gratifying, and fun, to see how readers have become friends with and fallen in love with Daron over the years I've been posting the serial. He answers comments directed at him on the site, giving web readers an experience that a reader of a novel wouldn't have.
(Um, not that we wouldn't love to have a printed edition of the book for those who enjoy paper. In fact, we're running a Kickstarter through noon Eastern on May 22 to raise the funds to do a paperback edition of the serial-to-date. Please check it out at : http://kck.st/IlE7Bi)
There is an end to Daron's story, or at least I do have a stopping point in mind, (but for now, we're not terribly close to it). Daron and the people around him have a lot to learn about love and happiness before they can reach a point of satisfaction. And you can bet I won't be stopping until we've reached such a point. After spending all this time with me and my characters, I am quite certain readers expect to be treated as well as any other long-term relationship partners would! And I have always done my best to meet my partners' needs.
My only worry about bringing a story that I've literally been writing for over 30 years to an end is that I will be leaving some Daron-addicts high and dry. Yes, reading a serial can be highly addictive, and no one likes to go cold turkey. But a serial shouldn't go on merely for the sake of perpetuating itself. How many multi-book series can you name where it feels like the writer ran out of ideas, but kept getting contracts for more books? (I think I made it to the 6th Xanth book by Piers Anthony...) That's the equivalent of the relationship where the love is gone, but you soldier on. I promise not to let it be like that.
Who knows? Maybe this really is my "forever" relationship. I've been writing about Daron since we were both teenagers. Maybe as time goes on I will continue to find ways to serve that muse, and serve the many fans that he has gained in various media. In addition to the serial, multiple volumes have been packaged as ebooks, we're running a Kickstarter to get a print book out, and an audiobook is forthcoming from Audible.com, too. Maybe in the future the relationship will just have new forms of love.
Cecilia Tan is "simply one of the most important writers, editors, and innovators in contemporary American erotic literature," according to Susie Bright. In 1992 Tan founded Circlet Press, a category-busting independent press that mixes science fiction/fantasy with erotica, and which added an erotic romance line, Clasp Editions, in 2011. Tan is the author of many books, including the romances Mind Games, The Hot Streak, and the Magic University series. Her short stories have appeared in Ms. Magazine, Nerve, Best American Erotica, Asimov's Science Fiction, and tons of other places. She was inducted into the Saints & Sinners Hall of Fame for GLBT writers in 2010 and won the inaugural Rose & Bay Awards for crowdfunded fiction in 2010 for Daron's Guitar Chronicles. She lives in the Boston area with her lifelong partner corwin and three cats.