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Living Loz
Writer's Notes - The Changes Series 
27th-Apr-2011 08:11 pm
Life on Mars (Sam & Gene hold hands)
Writer's Notes - The Changes Series



It started a while ago, really. In 2006 I decided to myself that Sam had played guitar as a youth. In early 2008 I wrote 'with a circus mind that's running wild' around the premise that Gene might want to visit a young Sam playing in a club, after his own Sam had died.

I don't actually know why I decided to write the same premise again, two years later. I usually don't. Most of the time I am decidedly of the 'I've written that now, I never have to again' persuasion.

... Well, I do know one thing. The video footage of John Simm at sixteen was definitely inspiration. I was enthralled by how similar and disparate the teenaged version of Simm was. You could see everything that would make him who he would become, but it was as if looking through a coloured filter or Vaseline-smeared lens. The same, but different.

My mind immediately jumped to, 'holy fuck, that would make a great story! Actually getting to see young Sam? Do it. Do eeeeeet!' And when it does that, it doesn't shut up. I get the characters speaking to one another endlessly. I get cinematic shots of the action. I get an itch to write, write, write.

I didn't expect that this story would be the one to grab me and bring me back to those halcyon days of 'must write. Must write now.' It had been a long time since I had felt that way, and to have it be with a premise that would likely squick me out were it written by anyone else was confusing. Feeling that necessity to write again was a magical kind of brilliant. To know that people were interested in reading the products of that compulsion was the icing and the cherry on top.

I was initially going to keep never caught a glimpse as a stand-alone. It had been well-received and I am also not usually someone who likes to do sequels. But within a very short time of posting, I wrote about the story on my journal, and this is what I said: I don't want to write more fic where Gene observes Sam from afar and tries to intervene when he thinks intervention is necessary, and can't really help himself in wanting to touch, even if it earns him a punch, because a punch is a kiss is a declaration of love with these two. I really don't want to write stalker!Gene fic. Except, of course, that I really, really do.

It would take another two months before I would gather up the courage. Two months of getting streams of dialogue. Some of the earliest dialogue I was attacked with was actually some of the latest in the story, so I am not only imitating Matthew Graham when I say that the ending to the series was always my original intention.

What wasn't my original intention was how I got there, or how I wanted people to respond. Sam was supposed to be voiceless but ever present for far more of it than he ended up being. But, no. No, Sam? He had a mind of his own. Where I had initially thought I'd have scenes of Gene feeling like a creepy stalker watching from afar, Sam would pop up and chat to him.

"You're not meant to be there, talking!" I would say, and then faithfully type whatever he was yammering on about.

Because, to be perfectly honest? My initial ending was meant to feel darker. Yes, it was the same plot, but when I first started, I had these ideas of leaving audiences uncomfortable and confused. I wanted the morality of the piece to be more ambiguous, with less justification and more of a mind-screw. This changed approximately half-way into the taste was not so sweet.

I don't mind at all if it still does strike people that way, if there's concern there, because I think you should probably be at least a little 'wow, there's a huge age difference and all kinds of moral questions posed', but it became obvious to me early on that Sam wanted this relationship to be co-dependent. Gene didn't want to lie. These characters wanted it to be something far more equal than I had wanted at the start. They wanted honesty and true love and happiness. Not healthiness, admittedly not healthiness, but they didn't seem to care about that.

I had never really had characters run away from me before. This was new. The conversations were normal, but for these conversations to take the characters in directions I hadn't anticipated was not. So, yes, there's a lot of wish fulfilment in this story, but very little of it ever felt like it was coming from me. The subconscious is a wonderful thing.

Because the characters changed things for me, I had to do a lot of thinking about justification. Why was Sam being this way? I said I didn't know at first, but when I thought about it, I actually did. I knew characterisation-wise and plot-wise. This surprised me too. All I had to do next was put enough of that justification into the actual story. The story is approximately 21,000 words (5 parts) longer because of these realisations.

There remain questions I don't know the answers to. Did Sam version 1.0 set Gene and Sam version 2.0's relationship up deliberately? Subconsciously? Was it all a happy accident? Did it never even occur to him?

Would Ruth ever come to grips with Gene's relationship with her son? (Should she?)

Had Annie loved Sam v. 1.0 the way Gene had?

So. Time travel. Can Sam v. 2.0 do that too? How? Why?

I know what I believe, but I am not willing to say that my views are the truth. I leave these questions open for a reason.

If you desperately want to know my opinion on the first point, though: I err more on the side of it being unconscious motivation on Sam v. 1.0's part, because I have always felt that Sam is self-involved, but very self-unaware. He spoke to his young counterpart two years into having decided to stay in the 70s. He had only just begun his sexual/romantic relationship with Gene at that point. Perhaps it was new love speaking. Maybe he wanted to give young Sam the same reassurance he had never felt he'd had before, but had now. As to his motivations five years later, in asking Gene to go and talk to Sam v. 2.0 --- I'd like to say he thought it would help Gene deal with his absence, that it was a strange form of altruism. I'd like to say that, but the darker part of me says that wasn't it. I've also always felt that Sam is a tad selfish.

But, you know, I think it's important to stress that it is very much the reader's decision as to whether Sam v. 1.0's intentions were honourable. I am not going to dictate that anything is an absolute certainty.

Things I am rather happy about in this series:

1. This is by far my longest Life on Mars fic (and, in fact, my longest fic for any fandom. My longest self-contained piece of writing.) It took me a year to write, but it was also a year of consistent, constant writing. Yes, I am slow. There's basically no way I could ever successfully do NaNoWriMo.
2. There's a romance A-plot and there are subplots, and they all actually impact one another with cause and effect. I have, for the first time in ever, written a complex narrative as opposed to merely writing a simple narrative with complex characterisation. People who do plot all the time have no idea how immensely thrilled I am by this. I also set up my ending appropriately and didn't merely smash-cut into it. THIS IS AMAZING.
3. I looooved writing Sam and Gene and Ruth and Annie serious amounts. And I also looooved all the OCs. And Ray's cameo. Hearts for eyes, in short. Hearts for eyes.
4. I especially loved Annie and Ruth, actually. I felt it was incredibly important to have them be just as interesting and well-drawn as the men, and I think they were. There are a few little moments of win that I cherish.
5. There are some lines in this series that I am crazy proud of. Not only in the dialogue, but in the narration. I'm getting better at description and sharing thought processes and emotions.
6. The themes explored in this story fascinate me and I have no problems admitting as such. The questions surrounding identity and destiny are so very interesting to me.
7. The titles are all amazingly apt and David Bowie is the genius here, but, God, I love that I can remember what happens in each chapter because the titles are so spot-on.

Things that could use improvement:

1. My pacing was a bit weird, as per usual. There are a couple of sections that, in retrospect, I wish I had expanded on. Sam in London the first time around, for instance. To this end, the conclusion is a little Lord of the Rings (minus Tom Bombadil), but I actually sort of like that.
2. There's some unwanted repetition of phrases that I think probably offset the intentional repetition. I have my own 'perfect ten's and 'god is in the details'. This is partly the danger of writing in a series as opposed to all in one go.
3. There's also unwanted repetition in terms of Gene's feelings. "Oh no, I can't be with Sam because he's so young!" I hang a lantern on it in the final chapter because, dude, how many times can you complain about someone's age or lack there-of? If you're Gene? Apparently, a damn lot.
4. A quarter-way into the series, I purposefully refrained from flashbacking to Gene's time with Sam v.1.0 because I wanted to stress that Gene had stopped making comparisons between the two Sams. I am not sure if I went about that the right way.


It's over and I am going to miss it, miss them so much, but I have enjoyed this experience immensely. It's been invigorating working with different versions of these characters that I feel I know so well. An introspective Gene. A Sam who has not had the same experiences. Characters who have 'had nooks and crannies removed from their lives, bumps added.' I almost always want everything I write to require little suspension of disbelief, and in many, many ways this did not fulfil that criterion. But the crunchy kind of interesting was giving it the illusion that it did.

If you have any questions, I am always happy to ramble on further.

Comments 
27th-Apr-2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
It's glorious, and I find it amazing to read your pontificating. I will be rereading the whole thing, now that it IS a whole thing, and when I've got questions I'll poke you with them...

I'm so glad that they all kept talking in your head! Yes, Annie and Ruth rocked the house.
28th-Apr-2011 09:18 am (UTC)
Thanks so much ♥
(Deleted comment)
28th-Apr-2011 09:20 am (UTC)
Yeah, that sense of a spectre was precisely why I stopped the flashbacks. Hmm.

Thank you :D
28th-Apr-2011 12:22 pm (UTC)
It's always interesting reading someone else's musings on the things she feels she needs to balance out in a long piece.
28th-Apr-2011 12:34 pm (UTC)
I love dvd commentaries and the suchlike, so I agree immensely. Thanks!
30th-Apr-2011 02:53 pm (UTC)
I love that you write these notes after a big fic - of course, I sometimes mourn the loss of ambiguity, because I like to wonder what the author was thinking at certain points. But then sometimes that bugs the hell out of me and I'd rather just know, so, yay notes!

I think with this story, what I'm most impressed about is the way you clearly plotted and structured it. These are not easy things to do well! But like I said to you in PM, you set up the ending well, and you did it unobtrusively, making Carlton a plot point that Sam had to deal with early on. The fact that it came back to bite him in the arse is a very nice way of rounding it off. And of course, the development of Sam and Gene's relationship was wonderful. It's so good that you didn't make it too easy. I'm torn between liking the way you subtley had Gene feeling too old for him; you didn't overkill it - but at the same time, I couldn't help thinking that at some point, he'd just say, 'look, I'm thirty/forty years older than you, and you're making me feel like a pervert'.

I also would have liked to see addressed the other side of the coin, because it was always there for me and it niggles me still - the fact that Gene is going to do what Sam v. 1.0 did, and die, and leave Sam v. 2.0 alone for a long time. That's natural, of course. Everyone dies sometime - but in this story, I think it would have figured a bit more prominently in Gene's mind, because he'd be subjecting Sam to exactly the same agony that he had to endure, and I don't know if he'd be cool with that. On the other hand, this story shows them both brave enough to just go with how they feel, so it works. I just would have liked to see mention of it, I think.

I fully intend to read the whole thing through in one sitting at some point, when I get the time, and then I'll leave a more comprehensive review at the end of it. Because I have thoughts on the arc of it now but I don't know if they're coloured by the fact it's been a long time since I read the beginning. So I wouldn't like to mention them with a skewed perspective. Mainly, at this point, I just want to say well done! It's a fabulous story, wonderfully written, and I hope you're dead proud of it. :)
2nd-May-2011 11:29 am (UTC)
I'm not going to lie: that avoidance was deliberate for a few reasons.

1. I'm almost always going to rely on the reader, and there was a lot of implication, so I really don't think it ever had to be explicitly said. There's mentions of senior cards/centres, Gene thinking he's rust-filled, etc.

2. Death is figuring prominently in Gene's mind, but it acts in reverse to how it probably should. That realisation that he's mortal, combined with Sam's conviction, breaks down his last defences. He's a little bit selfish occasionally, a little bit weak.

3. I'd really like to think that after having many happy years with Gene, Sam could get on with the rest of his life. But. Also. Sam 2.0 may or may not be able to time travel, and this story uses the idea of divergent time-lines. Make of that what you will. (For those who are of the "omg, obsessive epic love forever" camp, that's my solution. For those with differing frames of mind: Sam hopefully grows up and out of his stalkerish/"can't-live-without-Gene" tendencies. La la la!)

As for why Gene didn't tell Sam he felt like a pervert: he actually never really did. He felt he should. He knew others would. But he, himself? Not so much. He always sort of thinks he's telling Sam the truth, even though he's sometimes not. So, he could say as much to Ruth, but he couldn't do that to Sam --- not this time around. He had enough of that the first time (in 'how the others must see the faker' it's stated that it took three weeks before he and Sam 1.0 could talk to one another after their first kiss, so, there was a fair amount of that kind of angst then.)

Oh, dear. I am exactly like Matthew Graham in that I want to explain away all the criticism with, "no, really, this is how it is!"/"I didn't do anything wrong!" I take your kind words of constructive criticism and I'll keep them in mind for next time. Thank you ♥
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