So, this week, I finished Mutual Benefits Chapter 12. It’s the longest chapter yet by word count and yet… I can’t can’t but feel my dialogue-heavy style means I can’t include many events in a chapter like I used to. Perhaps I should look at cutting my dialogue down a tad.
At any rate, I didn’t feel like delaying my Q&A a week to announce that, so you get both this week! I’ll talk about the chapter next week, but for now, I have a promise to fulfill. A lot of you gave me some questions about Being More Social, so let me answer them with full honesty, no longer hiding behind the “As the author I can’t decide these things” excuse (though, for the record, don’t let my interpretation ruin yours – enjoy the story in any capacity you want).
Q: What’s happening with the sequel?
Funny story about that – I was planning for the story to come out in Season Three, but a Patreon patron recently pledged the amount that allowed them to switch a story’s season and ship it out sooner, so it’ll be coming out in Season 2 instead. Truthfully, I’m a tad bummed – part of the reason for having it in Season 3 was so that certain themes could get teased in some stories and revealed in others, but, fair is fair, I made it an option. So, if you’re donating even $1 to my Patreon, starting tomorrow, you can vote for the sequel (named ‘Consequences’) to be the piece I work on next! It looks like Mutual Benefits will have some stiff competition.
Q: Is the character of Nicole based on a person you know (or knew) in real life?
I can’t imagine she wasn’t. All of my characters have traits or characteristics lifted from other people, then my imagination takes it from there. Some people, like Mr. Salvador, were pretty blatant. Nicole wasn’t based purely off of one person but in hindsight I can see a lot of her traits both in certain people I grew up with, as well as the type of go-getter person I always wanted to be.
Q: What was that with Nicole calling Megan little nicknames? She didn’t do that for anyone else.
Nicole is a person of fixations; take that as you will. She sees Megan as this cute lil’ ball of fun, and in an endearing way, just had fun with Megan’s very name. I’ve seen people, myself included, do this with someone they’re not particularly close to, just as a fun little quirky thing. I took it for granted that people do this a lot, so this question was particularly cool to see, because it reminded me of how strange that might be for some people when it seemed almost common for me.
Q: Was it ever explained why Nicole could, to Adam at least, seemingly get dressed or undressed in the blink of an eye?
I’ve been dodging this question for who knows how long. As far as I know, only one reader ever figured it out. (Be warned, this will occur in the sequel too, so if you don’t want mild spoilers for themes, skip to the next question now!) Get ready to roll your eyes if you hate contrived answers, but this is what I planned from the first time this happened: it’s subtext. A big theme of Being More Social and its surrounding pieces has been how intent and events get distorted when they’re only seen and interpreted by one person, especially a teenager that tends to exaggerate things. Without Adam’s POV, Nicole may have been slightly faster or better at some things, but especially since Adam idolizes her and this story is clearly told in past tense, it’s Adam’s brain fooling itself into exaggerating the story and seeing Nicole as way more impressive than she was. The better she was at something, the more his brain exaggerated. Note that in Only If You Want, the more grounded story coming from an older POV, Nicole is much more of a normal, flawed person, not a superhero.
Q: Sometimes it seems characters are rather shallow in attempts of mutual understanding within dialogues. Is it intentional, regarding the age, being shallow teenagers?
It is 100% intentional. I understand that my dialogues may confuse readers at times, but, truth be told, not confusing readers is an issue I have with books (my own included). People always say what they mean, there’s no stuttering, people are much more self-reflecting than they should be, it’s clear what everyone’s intent is. I wanted to portray people as shallow and confusing because high schoolers are shallow and confusing. My erotica tries to capture the feeling of high school more than anything. To be frank, actual high schoolers are not attractive. They’re not self-aware, they aren’t charming at all, and they lack development, both emotionally and physically. That said, we all had raging hormones in high school. I’d like to believe when we read erotica about high school, we’re fantasizing about what could have been in our own adolescence, not sexualizing adolescence itself to our current selves. I’m trying to do a tightrope balancing act where I keep up themes of hopeful sexiness while also making high schoolers realistically awkward, self-loathing, oblivious, vengeful, and immature. It’s tough, and I fail at times, but it’s worth it to attempt portray high school as realistically as possible, rather than making it “adults having adult conversations about sex, but let’s pretend they’re 14 for some reason.”
Q: There is an absence of school events in Being More Social – sports events, music events, etc – these events are often integral to high school stories and high school in general. Why are they so absent in Being More Social?
Oh boy, I’m really going to have to out myself as an antisocial nerd for this one. In terms of big events like sports and concerts, I actually made Adam’s high school life much more exciting than my own. In all of high school, I went to one party and one concert. I went to exactly zero sports events (I also became a writer and not a quarterback). I don’t want to bullshit people by writing what I don’t know, which is probably why none of my protagonists have been the school’s sports star, especially in an unsporty school like Hazelwood. Weekly karate, weekly student council, bi-daily gym sessions, two parties and a school dance would have exhausted freshman me.
I’ll also say, each event that was shown had a direct relevance to the characters of Being More Social. I believe in a later chapter, it was alluded to that Adam and Nicole went to another school dance but quickly dipped and went back to his place. If I could see that Adam went to a concert, even with several of his friends, and all of them enjoyed the concert and went home with no meaningful interactions, I wouldn’t have bothered to include it anyway. I think I talked about needless fluff in an earlier blog post – that’s needless fluff.
To be frank, at least in North American culture, sports games with bleachers filled with people and concerts and school dances are featured in YA novels and movies about the American high school experience, but I think it itself is very distant from reality. I think high school in reality for a lot of kids, like myself, was just about doing school, going home, and maybe hanging out with friends. I believe the person who asked this question called Adam’s life a “social vacuum,” but with the level of constant friends and communications he had going on, I’m not so sure I agree.
Q: While it was cool to see Adam’s POV for the story, it left readers in the dark about other characters’ motives. Did you ever consider writing BMS from a 3rd-person perspective or switching POVs?
Not for a second.
If people were confused, I’m happy to hear that. It means I succeeded in my goals. Adam will never get to know certain things about his friends, and neither will the viewer. See what I said above about having an issue with books – people should almost never be easy to figure out. Too many book characters, mine included, are comically open about their motives. It’s boring.
Q: May, her background, attitude, reasoning and POV remain a big mystery. Will you ever do a story about her side of all this? If not, will you at least comment about it?
I don’t know if I’ll ever touch her as a character again. I certainly won’t explain ‘her side’ in another piece, it defeats the purpose of any of the ambiguity. If I ever pick up her character, perhaps it’ll be later in life. But if you wanted me to comment on it…
Q: So wait, did Phil assault May or not?
Phil and May got involved in a situation where both parties misunderstood the other and assumed the worst. In their haste to tell their side of the story first and better than the other, both stretched the truth, since both were fundamentally selfish people that wanted their way. Neither person’s exact version of the story is true, to the extent where no one – not even Phil or May themselves – will ever truly know if Phil did assault May or not. People thought I revealed that May lied in Phil’s story, but no, I just revealed what Phil believed to be the truth. The truth is, you’re Adam in this situation. I came to you with two conflicting stories, and I didn’t give you enough evidence to make a call. Isn’t that frustrating? Isn’t that hell?
Imagine how Adam must have felt about it.
Some readers will not accept this, and just say “well he says that, but it’s clear Phil did it,” or “Well he says that, but it’s obvious May lied.” And the fact they refuse to accept an unresolved ending says more than my best story ever could.
Q: What’s your reasoning behind names? Why “Nicole” and not “Jenny” or something?
This is a good question because I don’t think I have an answer. Sometimes the person feels right to the character I’m writing (“Aaron,” “Molly” and “Daisy” from GBM come to mind) but to be honest, if I remember correctly, the name ‘Nicole’ was on my mind a lot. At the time, a few people on the forums of the sex story site I frequented jokingly made “the Nicole theory” – the theory that every girl named Nicole in every sex story on the website was the exact same girl (a thought exercise to see how plausible it could be). So I think I just pettily used the name Nicole and gave her a few traits that contradicted other popular stories with Nicoles in them at the time.
Q: You said in a previous Q&A that you had a teacher like Salvador who hated you. Why did he hate you?
Look at you, doing your homework.
This leaves the story and gets into my personal life if I get too specific, so I’ll be vague. I was like Paul in the story – I got high marks in drama class but my year didn’t have a leader and “Salvador” was disappointed I didn’t step up to initiate, which I saw as unfair because I was going through a family crisis at the time; he of course saw me pointing that out as “excuses.” Salvador to me symbolizes the “intense” teacher who makes students his own passion projects and favorites if they meet his expectations and preferences.
Q: You write about sexual assault a lot in Being More Social. Have you been assaulted before?
Yes. Not the most tasteful question to ask, but I suppose I opened myself up to it.
Q: Why was Chris trying to hit on Nicole near the end of BMS? I thought you made it clear in GBM that he was super gay.
Clearly I didn’t make it clear enough!
He wasn’t hitting on Nicole. It’s just another “this is what Adam saw and interpreted” moment.
Q: In the final edit, what made you so compelled to change Jenna’s ending and no one else’s?
This is a great question.
In Being More Social I wrote about a lot of different types of people who had good intentions and lost themselves along the way. Almost every major character got a redemption arc or at least some kind of closure. While I don’t regret writing the character of Jenna on a whole (a lot of high schoolers will fight passionately for what they believe in before fully understanding it, so the man-hating feminist Jenna existed as much as, say, the fascist Phil), she had no closure. Reading over Being More Social again, it struck me that the only character that got zero closure was Jenna. Even the worst monsters in the story got to be redeemed somewhat. What would it have looked like if I said, with my story, “Every person, no matter how awful, has a good side, except the feminist“? Especially since I would call myself a feminist, the piece accidentally reads like edgelord garbage from 2012 that just makes “haha feminism” the butt of the joke. It was unfair to Jenna, and could make an impression on some of my readers that I don’t want to make.
Q: Did you enjoy writing BMS or did you hate it?
I honestly loved it. A big part of loving it was from the characters I discovered, and a big part of it was from the support and care from you all.
Those were all the questions I received, though if it turns out your email was buried or something, I’ll gladly edit this post and include it. Have fun reading the next chapter of Mutual Benefits, and as always, I’ll talk to you all next week.