The Henry and Nolan story that wasn’t

In Behind Closed Doors, there’s a story about Henry having to spend a daylong road trip with the sullen, brooding Nolan. I loved the way this story turned out. Too bad it was supposed to be a full-length novel.

In the M/M genre, authors release books in quick succession. The best authors release a book every few months. I wanted to keep up with that pace, and I thought I could. In the original backmatter of Out in the Open, I said the next book was coming in spring 2015.

I planned to write a novel from Henry’s point-of-view. Henry was introduced briefly in Out in the Open. He wasn’t planted to be the protagonist of a future book. He just showed up the story. I turned to him when thinking about expanding the Browerton universe, but the problem was that I had already given him traits and a backstory. In Out in the Open, he tells Ethan that he’s been dating a guy in the closet for a few months, and hasn’t even told his friends.

That was canon. And I had to try to build off that. How do you write a story about a guy with a secret boyfriend that’s still fresh and different from your first book? At the same time, I had recently watched this phenomenal film called Weekend. It followed 2 guys over the course of a, um, weekend. They have sex, talk, have sex, talk, connect. It was like watching a play. I wanted to do something like that with Henry’s story.

I came up with a story about Henry going home for Thanksgiving break and trying to deal with his boyfriend and family. He rides back with Nolan, and the two characters intersect over the weekend. (Weekend, go figure)

The story sounded good in my head, but when I tried to write it, it was a slog. I struggled to write a complete novel. There wasn’t enough plot. The worst part was that it was dark. Henry’s relationship with his boyfriend was effed up. Nolan’s sullenness stemmed from an effed relationship with a high school friend. There was a suicide, sexual assault, cheating, depression, anger, breakdowns, jails. Happy Holidays?

Plus, Nolan and Henry weren’t intersecting enough. So I was writing 2 separate stories, in effect, and both were downers.

Now, I have no issue with dramatic stories. But things weren’t clicking on this one. And I realized that my books have humor, heart and hot guys. I was missing humor. This was not the type of story I was meant to write. Meanwhile, I had this self-imposed spring 2015 deadline breathing down my neck, which was effecting my writing and making me second-guess everything.

That’s when I decided to chuck the novel. This was not the Henry story I wanted to write. I turned my attention to short stories as a way to get my writing groove back. I had some ideas for stories with Browerton characters, and I just went for it, not worrying about spring 2015.

One of the stories revolved around Henry and his closeted boyfriend. What if I could write a story exploring that relationship? I had a great idea for a story that only took place in Henry’s boyfriend’s bedroom. Like a play. It was hard to reconcile how Henry could be in this relationship for so long. And why did he tell Ethan but not his friends? And yet again, Henry’s story went dark.

It was claustrophobic and seriously effed up. There are plenty of great stories with that criteria, but with Henry’s story, there was always something missing. The final piece of a puzzle. Just like with the full-length novel I trashed. It didn’t have the spark of the other stories. Is this the story I wanted to saddle Henry with? He wasn’t a bad guy. He didn’t deserve this. I felt like he wouldn’t be able to interact with other Browerton characters after going through what happened in this short story.

So I trashed it.

I was frustrated. Kicking myself, literally and figuratively. Why couldn’t I write this kid’s story? There was plenty of really interesting elements I had come up with, but the finished product wasn’t coming together. I gave it serious thought. What did I want to say? What did I like about Henry’s story? Well, I loved the road trip aspect. I love the idea of two strangers getting to know each other over one day. Maybe I could write Henry and Nolan’s story on the roadtrip and leave out what happens after they arrive. The journey could be the destination in this case.

Two and a half days later, I had written their story, Road Trip Cone of Silence. It poured out of me. I was smiling to myself as I typed. This was it. I knew it. I felt it.

I had finally cracked Henry’s story. It took me 70,000 words to get there, but it was worth it. You learn more about yourself from what you get wrong than what you get right. I learned what I wanted in my stories.

This was a trying experience, but ultimately invaluable. It’s not the gold standard of how a writer should act, frankly. Maybe I should’ve stuck it out with the novel or the first short story. I doubt I’m the first writer this has happened, too. In the future, I may try to push through. With humor, though. I can’t write without humor. Overall, I’m proud of myself for seeing it through Henry’s story.

So if you’re curious why there was such a long wait between books, and an even longer wait between novels, here you go. Trust that I have been writing. I’m not perfect. I’m just a working writer.

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