Fun fact: I haven’t seen that movie, but I really want to. It looks like one of those movies that’s going to break my heart.
Where do I even begin?
This blog is so that I can give insight into at least one writer’s insane mind, but I kind of messed up with the Pen boys and Alex. I decided to do this after I was already well into their stories, so the beginning nervousness and freak outs aren’t really documented for these two. However, I wrote a blog talking about the beginning of the Pen boys, however belated, and I’m going to give Alex the same space. Warning: this may
will be long.
Alex’s story starts in 2005.
Good grief, that was twelve years ago. I was thirteen, I think, and in the seventh grade. I’d been writing Harry Potter fanfiction for a year already, all of it terrible and most of it gone from the Internet now. My music taste hadn’t yet evolved. I was still listening to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, but then, purely by accident, I was watching MTV, and this music video came on. It was Good Charlotte, and it was probably Predictable. I watched it because I was curious, and it wasn’t horrible. In fact, it was pretty good. After one listen, I wanted more. I convinced my mom to take me to Best Buy, and buy their second album, Young and the Hopeless. Oh man, that album. I still listen to it today. And if you don’t believe me, I can remember the last time I listened to it in full–last Sunday, on the way home from hiking. That album was the beginning of everything.
Over the next few months, I started going to Best Buy every Tuesday for new music. On the jacket of one of Good Charlotte’s albums, there was a thank you to a band called Mest. I looked them up on YouTube (fun fact: I used to spend every single morning watching music videos before school), and found that Benji was featured in one of their songs. I was immediately hooked. I watched the video over and over and over again, turning up the volume when Benji was singing. The following Tuesday, I went to buy their self-titled album, the one with Jaded on it, and found out it was an explicit content album. This was not something I’d listened to before. I begged and pleaded, and my mom finally agreed. In the car, she asked for the CD jacket, and made me promise I would never listen to the first song since that’s where all the swears were. Confession: I listened to it on the ride home because I thought I was a punk ass kid. Sorry, mom. Shortly after, I bought my second explicit content album, Getting Away with Murder by Papa Roach, though this was at Newbury Comics when it was still on 114, and I snuck it in with a bunch of other CDs so she wouldn’t notice. Read: punk ass kid.
With this new influx of music, my wardrobe started to change, too. I wanted to wear band t-shirts, and I remember, very distinctly, that I thought Sonny Moore was so cool when he was still in From First to Last in their video for Ride the Wings of Pestilence, so I wanted a plain black t-shirt. That was definitely not happening, so I started turning my shirts inside out. If this sounds completely crazy to you, it’s because it was, and also, Alex’s boyfriend does the same exact thing. I also remember that a lot of those idiots back then (Sonny, Syn Gates, Ronnie Radke to name a few) were always wearing two belts? Who the hell knows why, but they did it, so I used to wear a plain one as an actual belt, and then cross the other one, a pyramid stud one, diagonally on top of it while I rode my bike around the neighborhood in my black jeans and inside out shirt.
oh my god
(I’m laughing so hard right now. Why was I so weird, what the actual heck? Right now, I’m wearing Lauren Conrad flats, salmon colored capris, and a white lace top. Like? What? Where did that person go? Spoiler: she’s still there. I’m listening to Escape the Fate’s 2014 album, Hate Me, right now.)
I swear, all of this has a point, but you have to understand who I was at the time to understand Alex because he is me. I don’t often put myself so wholly into my characters. There will be pieces of them. Mason is a fire elemental, I’m an Aries. Oliver is in love with magic, and I just want magic to be real. Ronan is fierce and formidable, and I’d like to think some of his strength is mine. But Alex–well, aside from the drugs, Alex is me. 100%. There is no way I can deny it, particularly when so many of his stories–Ronnie Radke walks by him at Warped, and he freaks out so bad that he falls and skins his knee. It wasn’t Ronnie when it happened to me, but Jordan Witzigreuter from The Ready Set–actually happened in my life.
So, imagine 13-year-old Mary in the seventh grade, spewing Good Charlotte facts to literally anyone that will listen, desperately trying to convince my parents to let me wear Tripp pants, and finally realizing that there was a massive online community for other freaks like me. I found GCFanfics and Good Charlotte Online (holy goodness, GCO was both the best and actual worst thing that ever happened to me) at the same time, and immediately created accounts for both. I even remember my username for GCFF, though I’m never telling anyone because it’s still active, and you can still find those stories. I shudder just at the thought of that.
Now, at the time, I hadn’t yet discovered slash fanfiction. For those of you who just went, uh what?, slash fanfiction is male/male. And for those of you who just got squicked, and want to run away, go right ahead, but this is your official warning that almost every single one of my novels has a gay protagonist, and it started a long time ago. Back in 2005, I was writing mostly self-inserts, and they were just–I don’t even want to talk about them. They were so bad. Oh god, I had this one, High School Sucks (yes, that was the real title), and it literally followed GC through high school and the formation of their band before continuing on for several years after high school. I really didn’t know how to end a story yet.
But first, backtrack to seventh grade. I spent the first half of it writing self-inserts and little oneshots, and then, finally, I accidentally stumbled upon something different. Probably one of the twins paired with Billy, though I’m honestly not sure. And it occurred to me that well, this could be fun. It was really little at first when I tried it, and it was pretty awful. However, I do remember every single detail of it because it was the first time I met Alex. I didn’t want to pair Billy with any of the other GC guys for whatever reason, so I made up an OC (original character) for him. They were in a fairly unhealthy relationship, and it ended after about 6 or 7 chapters, but something stuck with me.
Back then, his name was spelled Alaxzander (again, punk ass kid), but not a whole lot else changed. His last name is still Hart, he’s still short, and he still sings. His band is still named Convoluted, and their story is still titled Walk Among Us. Sound familiar? It’s a Misfits song. Alex and Billy’s song is You Belong to Me, originally done by Jo Stafford and made famous by Patsy Cline, but redone by the Misfits. That’s their band.
It’s 2005. Alex Hart has just been created. For the next year or so, I would go on to work on other things. I would leave Good Charlotte fanfiction behind to spend several years in the Avenged Sevenfold community, where I would play briefly with other Orange County bands. I would keep writing Harry Potter fanfiction, though not as diligently. I would slowly start to discover Livejournal, and then the world started to open up. I started making lifelong friends (hi, Nicole and Dan) that, while I wouldn’t talk to as frequently as I had in the eighth grade and high school, I would always have a connection to. I had found my people.
In the eighth grade, right before Ronan became a thing, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at writing Alex’s story for real. Over the course of two years, I wrote 44 chapters that spanned about 20 years of his life, and never finished it. I brought it to a workshop once, and ignored pretty much all of the edits I was given. My attention was waning. Ronan was being born, and I had dragons on the brain. And so, for the next eleven years, I left Alex behind.
There is a vital piece missing to this story. It doesn’t look like it on the outside, but for nearly thirteen years, I had a partner in crime. We once co-wrote a Good Charlotte fanfiction together. We laid on each other’s floors listening to music and not talking. We learned how to play the guitar and bass, respectively, and then learned the entirety of Green Day’s American Idiot so we could jam together. We started working on our separate novels, always exchanging them for edits. We went to Warped Tour together, we saw Breathe Carolina seven times together, we nearly died in the Atreyu crowd at Taste of Chaos. We went to high school together, did daring things with piercings and hair dye together, listened to the same music, obsessed over Harry Potter together, and promised nothing would change when we went to college. It didn’t, either. We Skyped during college, we sent each other book recommendations, and we hung out on breaks. After college, when we were living on separate coasts, in different timezones, we started a book club, and then later, a writing club. We talked about the new albums we were listening to, we talked about what was going on in our lives, and we made plans for what we would do together when we were both back on the same coast.
If you’ve read any of Mason’s blogs, you’ll know that I’m no longer speaking to this person. And while I don’t want to open up a still fairly recent wound, Alex’s story cannot be told without this person. Because Alex’s story wouldn’t have happened a second time without them. After I finished writing the first draft of Mason, which was terrifying in itself because it was the first time I had ever written something that wasn’t Ronan, and thus I had literally no concept of whether or not it was good, and after I received overwhelmingly positive things about it, I decided it was time. Mason needed a lot of work still, and it was only a first draft, but it had let me know that I could do it. I was capable of writing something that wasn’t Ronan. And though I left Alex behind eleven years ago, he’s been a constant in my life. He is always a breath away from taking over my thoughts, always someone I turn to when I’m not sure where I’m going in life. He is me. So, I thought, well, if Mason went so well, I’m going to hold off on edits for a second draft and instead start the story I’ve always wanted to write.
That was in December. Four months later, in April of this year, my best friend told me that I was a terrible friend and a worse writer, and that they never wanted to speak to me again or be involved in my writing process again. They told me that Mason was one of the worst things they’d ever read, and that they had grown to despise it so much that they were relieved when they were finally finished with it.
I was blindsided.
I had received nothing but encouragement and positive criticism. (I keep trying to write constructive criticism, but when I look back now, the only negative notes I got where entire paragraphs crossed out with no notes, and that’s just not constructive or helpful.) I had no idea it wasn’t good. This was the first time I’d written something that wasn’t Ronan, a character who I’d been struggling with for over a decade. It was the first time in twelve years that I had tried to write something new, that I had tried to create new characters, that I had tried my hand at a new plot and new adventures.
You can imagine how I felt, after weeks of being told it was wonderful, and it was headed in a great direction, and that it could really turn into something, that it was the worst thing someone had ever read. I didn’t know how to respond at the time. Now, looking back, I’m mad at myself for not asking, “Why did you never tell me? Why am I so surprised by this? Why did you tell me it was good if it wasn’t? What did I do wrong?”
When I give out my novels for edits, I am trusting my readers, often times my friends, to be honest with me. I am trusting them to tell me when things aren’t working, or when things just need to be scrapped and reworked entirely. I am trusting them to help me create something beautiful.
I stopped writing.
It was the first time in my life that I actively put away my words, and refused to create.
There was no space in me for magic.
I was hollow.
Truthfully, I only spent a few weeks like this, but they were some of the worst weeks of my life. I didn’t want to write, didn’t want to read. I watched TV because I didn’t want to fall behind on my shows, but I didn’t enjoy it. I sat on Tumblr, I played Solitaire, and I reread old fanfiction, trying to see how terrible it probably was. I was ready to give up. What was the point in writing if I was horrible at it, if I couldn’t even trust my own friends to be honest with me about it? It didn’t matter that other friends were telling me this wasn’t true. It didn’t matter that there are over 1300 bookmarks for my spideypool series. It didn’t matter that my superhusbands college au had over 18,000 hits and 840 comments. It didn’t matter that there was overwhelmingly support against one person’s opinion. They had been reading my writing since I was thirteen. They had to be right.
Well, Alex begged to differ.
The thing about Alex is that he sneaks his way into my soul when I’m least expecting him. I’ll be driving home, listening to the radio, and something will tell me that I should be listening to Escape the Fate instead. I’ll be in a line outside of a venue waiting for a show, and something will make me smile. I’ll be lying in bed, nearly asleep, and something will make me wonder what he’s up to right now. The thing about Alex is that, for me, he’s about 27 right now. I’ve been growing up with him all this time. He’s always been there, lurking in the shadows, stepping forward in moments of uncertainty or a lull in writing. He’s always goading me to do something new, something more. He cheered the first time I dyed my hair, danced the first time I pierced my nose, was sitting right next to me the first time I got a tattoo. For me, his story never ended. It’s been writing itself all this time, this shorter, darker, angrier version of me living his own life inside my head. The thing about Alex is that I felt like I was done writing, that there was no point, but I’d already started his story a few weeks earlier, and he’s a stubborn asshole.
Alex represents hope to me. His story is not a light one. He’s addicted to heroin when we first meet him, he refuses to accept help from anyone, he’s in an abusive home, and he’s falling apart at the seams. His mom is crazy, his dad is in jail for murder, his boyfriend’s parents hate him, and he’s just one smart comment away from getting the snot beat out of him from a bully. He works three jobs, and doesn’t sleep well even when he’s not working, he does plenty more than heroin, and he keeps toeing the line of surviving and dying. He is an absolute mess. And yet, he’s still alive. Throughout the course of the story, he gets clean, his father is released from prison, he leaves his abusive home, he makes things right with Billy’s parents, his band finds success, and he steps over the line and into living. Despite all the odds stacked up against him, Alex finds a way out of the darkness.
And so, it should come as no surprise that when I was done, when I was ready to give up, he barreled right in and said, “Are you sure?” It was like a little flare of defiance. Something dark opened up inside of me, and swallowed the anger, the fear, the uncertainty. Oh, so I’m a terrible writer? We’ll see about that.
Four months later, I’ve written the entirety of Pen boys, and I’m finally back to Alex. His story is currently at 95k, and I’ve only got two chapters left to write. There are six other chapters that I need to add in to make the story complete, but I’m finally finishing his story. This time, it’s 50 chapters, and it only covers one year of his life, but it’s almost done, and it happened how it was always supposed to, how it always has–just me and him against the world.
Here’s to you, 13-year-old Mary. You did it. You defied all the odds, and you came out on top. And here’s to every single terrified, anxious, uncertain, angry, sad, rage against the machine teenager just trying to figure out why the world sucks so much. This story is for you. You got this.