Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Red Rain: Goodbye Dani, Hello Gideon

When I wrote the first draft of Red Rain, I ended it by committing a pretty serious writing foul - I gave in to my fans and their shippers' demands. At the time, the most popular ship among my Wattpad and Goodreads fanbase (this was back when I put my stories on GR as well, although I've long since taken those atrocious early drafts down) was Danex - that is, Dani Cabrera and Alex Snow. So I gave the fans what they wanted by pairing these young angels first. After writing about ten chapters of Blue Monday, I decided that the chemistry between Dani and Alex was sorely lacking, and I wasn't feeling it. So I took a break from Blue Monday. When I came back to that first draft, I also went into Red Rain and changed its ending so Alex would get together instead with Rachel (who's since been renamed Juliet), and I paired Dani with Luca, who's established from the get-go to have a huge crush on her.

And yet, I still wasn't satisfied with the chemistry I was cooking up for Dani and Luca. First and foremost, the way I put them together at the end of Red Rain is, frankly, awful, because I've shoehorned them together and passed it off as Alex playing matchmaker in-universe. Even when looking at their improved, more seasoned relationship dynamic in Blue Monday, something about Dani and Luca being together still bothered me. This only increased when I changed Dani's appearance to match not so much Shailene Woodley playing MJ Watson (which is what you can still see in the drafts published on Wattpad) as Shailene Woodley playing Tris Prior in Insurgent. Especially with the super-short hair, which Woodley wore very well in that movie, IMHO. It suits her, just like it suits Dani and makes her look more beautiful. Luca agreed with me, too. ;)

But making Dani more androgynous opened up another line of thoughts in my head. Is she a girl, a cisgender female? Or is she something else? For a while, I considered the possibility of her having a non-binary gender identity. One of my best friends has a few connections within this community - a number of her Twitter friends, I've noticed, publicly identify as agender, prefer "they" pronouns, etc. I considered asking her to help introduce me to these friends of hers so I could ask them research questions, but ultimately this never happened.

I think the main reason for that was because I found another alternative that, in my brain, suited Dani's identity much better.

Last year, one of my favorite authors came out as transgender. Since then, Zac Brewer has made a few videos talking about his transition process (among other important news), which I've watched with interest. You can watch one of those videos below. (grab some popcorn if you wanna watch the whole thing, it's over half an hour long!)

More recently, I got into the works of Laura Lam, and after following her on Twitter, I eventually discovered - through one of her retweets, as I remember - the profile of trans author Elliot Wake. If you don't follow him on Twitter or Instagram, you should - he's quite the character.

Looking into these accounts of trans life made me realize the truth about my character, the one who was the original Red Rain protagonist, the one who divided opinions most sharply.

Dani Cabrera is transgender too.

And, starting today, I'm finally making the much-needed edits to Red Rain to incorporate this storyline after so many months of it percolating in my head. These edits will have a massive snowball effect on the sequels, to the point where I'll need to severely edit those as well very soon, especially if I plan to put the first draft of the fourth and final novel in the series, Black Mirror, on Wattpad. For one thing, the Luca/Dani ship will be no more, because both of them prefer girls and after the end of Red Rain, Dani will no longer identify as a girl. He'll begin transitioning, changing his pronouns to match, and he'll also change his name to Gideon Cabrera. (For most of Red Rain, however, he'll continue to use his original name and pronouns, until he publicly comes out near the end of the book.) He'll continue to have POV chapters in Blue Monday, but with far less focus on his love life and far more focus on the positive impact of his transition. I'm also considering writing a novella set between Red Rain and Blue Monday in which Gideon details his transition more greatly, but that's just a glimmer in my mind yet, and I won't be able to write it without further research anyway.

Gideon's gender identity will also form an essential part of his story, with his mother's refusal to accept him for who he is (and his frustration at being forced to live as a girl) helping provide the impetus for him running away to Heaven. At first, he'll be afraid that, in a conservative angel culture, he'll be shunned and bullied for daring to live as a trans boy. But Gideon goes to school in a town on the border between Heaven and Hell, and he lives in the Bay Area, which in Heaven is every bit as LGBT-friendly as its Earthen counterpart. He'll have no problem being accepted by his peers - and his father, who's much less devoutly religious than his (estranged) wife, will support him wholeheartedly.

As for Gideon's mother, Leah Cabrera (who's already universally loathed by my readers, and for good reason), her politically-incorrect treatment of Gabe in Blue Monday (where she refuses to refer to him as anything but "[Alex's] boy-fucking brother") will take on a whole new dimension now. Her anti-LGBT bigotry will be fueled by not only her conservative mindset, but also her own visceral rejection of Gideon - whom, when she eventually meets him, she won't even recognize, nor will she acknowledge that he's her child when he tells her to her face who he is.

I'm not trans myself, so the biggest responsibility for me is to ensure that I write Gideon with the utmost respect towards the trans community. That's a job I'm sure I can perform admirably, because for me, it's not just about Gideon's gender identity. At its core, this new story direction is about the freedom of being yourself - and the best version of yourself you can be. Or, looking at yourself in the mirror and saying to yourself, as Elliot Wake might, "This isn't even my final form."

To cap this all off, I'll give you a set of freshly-made Rinmaru avatars to illustrate the change.

Dani Cabrera, pre-transition.

Gideon Cabrera, being himself.

While Dani goes the bleached-blonde route, Gideon wears his hair in its natural color. The subtle skin tone difference is the result of Red Rain taking place in autumn and winter while Blue Monday takes place in spring and early summer. As for the difference in wing size, Dani, having lived on Earth and having been forced to hide her wings, isn't used to flight. Gideon, on the other hand, is free to work out - and that includes building up his wing muscles.

With all that in mind, I'm going forward on this mission, giving Gideon the development he needs.

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

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