NOTE: I started this in April. I recalled it several times, but decided to finish it today with the internet swirling with false sequel rumors.
I am so sorry. I never thought I would be one of those people. I never thought I would be one of those people who bought 2 wedding dresses either, but that's beside the point. I have been meaning to write this note for years, and I suppose today is the day.
I had some young teen friends over today and we started talking about fan fiction. They are about 15, the same age I was when I started Persephone. I'm 27. I looked up my story because when one mentioned her 20,000 word count, I wanted a reference for my word count.
They have never gotten any reviews. They were shocked that I had reviews at all.
And I found all the reviews and personal messages I haven't seen since I stopped using my high school email. And then I hacked myself back into and Hotmail—thank heaven for repeated passwords when you need them—so that I could write to you as I promised long ago that I would. I feel terrible.
This letter is in three sections. First, my inexcusable excuses. Then, how I broke my own story, my problems with 99% of J/S ships, what I was trying to prove, and my outline for those who wish to know the end.
Excuses and my up-and-down life
I started including notes about my health problems as my chapters grew further and further apart. At the time of my last chapter, I'd had only the first hip surgery. I think I got my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome diagnosis. In a nutshell, EDS is a connective tissue disorder marked by fragile, hypermobile joints, choronic pain, headaches, GI issues, and a whole grab bag of fun symptoms. My case is quite mild, but my whole life changed. Since my last chapter was posted in 2009, I've had 3 additional joint surgeries and spent a year on bed rest convulsing from a tic disorder from a drug interaction that will never fully go away. Since I wrote the first draft of this in April, we're up to a total of 5 joint surgeries, one 2 weeks ago.
Everything about "a normal life" is different now. . Last June, I was fine, tripped going down a hill, and am still recovering from surgery to put that ankle back together. Mostly, there are just fewer hours in the day since I need 10 hours of sleep to function, instead of the 6 I got away with in the first years of Persephone. I can't not expect a major set back, but while I'm well, I need to get strong and enjoy life as much as possible. My problems go up and down dramatically. I have to expect days when I can't walk, or type, or speak, might come again at any moment and manage life to avoid that as much as possible. I also have to not expect it or create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
My life is going relatively well now and I'm working towards making this patch last a long time. I'm getting married in August to crazy-awesome guy who deals with me warts and all. (October update: We're married! And I danced on my wedding day and went hiking on my honeymoon and busted my ankle again 3 weeks after we got home. ) My husband carries wheelchairs and ice packs and even me when I need him to. He also coaches me through gentle hikes and athletic adventures when I can do that. We also have great fun, in good times and in bad, and will be together for 7 years in November. I have a very understanding job that allows me to work from home and set my own hours. I have many critters and garden plants. I am getting my freedom back and starting to drive again…again...again.
Unfortunately, I not pursued writing anything seriously in the last several years.
Partially, I don't write now because I only have enough energy to get work and other essential stuff done during the day. I have ongoing hand and jaw-for dictation software issues. I also can't stand to look at the computer any more when I'm done for the day. I envy my best friend and writing partner who has finished 2.5 original manuscript and got herself an agent because I always thought I'd be there with her by now. I also can't get Persephone out of my head. Part of me hopes that writing this may allow me to move on. I have many original stories, romance novels, and others, swirling in my head, but haven't been able to commit to them. In many ways, because my heart is here.
How I broke it
As life got crazier and my chapters spaced out, I started realizing that I had broken my own story. As it stands, I feel that I have pushed Jareth past the point of redemption. I still have an amazing idea that I haven't even hinted at, and story arc wise, this is only about 40% done. But I made him do things that I can't forgive him for, and I don't think Sarah, or any woman, should either.
Even at 15 when I started, I was aware of the very scary abusive-relationship-as-romantic problem with lots of writing for girls and women, especially in fan fiction, and especially in Jareth and Sarah ships.
My favorite example of this problem fan reaction to The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom is the romantic character. We secretly, or not-so-secretly want Christine to wise-up and love him because HE LOVES HER SO MUCH. Even though he 1) controls her actions, 2) controls whom she sees and talks to, 3) threatens her and others to get his way, and 4) kills people to get his way. But he's MISUNDERSTOOD, the fangirls cry—and I'm one of them—HE DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO LOVE.
Maybe true, but not an excuse. And certainly not a reason, that Christine or Sarah should fall into waiting, controlling, domineering arms. At least the Phantom, who is probably a virgin, doesn't also hold all of the sexual power; Jareth, as usually written, does. Most the J/S and all Phantom/Christine relationships are ABUSIVE. We are writing stories that romanticize abusive relationships.
I find something very intriguing and arousing about relationships with strange power dynamics and age gaps, which are often seen together. I am drawn to these stories. But the lines between romanticism and abuse and harassment are far too purposefully blurred. My Jareth is emotionally controlling and abusive. He also sexually harasses Sarah. I knew I was writing one of those stories. But I wanted to make Jareth push Sarah to the breaking point, break her, try to change himself, and…we'll get there.
The nature of fan fiction is that everything is dulled. I imagine the same phenomenon occurred with Dickens and other serial writers, with accounting for the sheer number of other stories readers read. Like me, Dickens certainly could have used an editor! If I read one chapter each month, and I read several other stories about the same characters, the emotional response gets diluted. Unless you always read each chapter up to where you left off, you lose the feeling of the previous chapters to some degree. This problem also affects the writer, which is why I had such a hard time making time move and why I made so much of each tiny emotional change.
A recent reviewer wrote essentially, that she hates him in the beginning, and she still hates him, so why did I read this? It's a good point. Writing and reading spaced-out means that I rehashed the same stuff over and over again, with very minor changes, because the timeline spread out in my head. I think this dilution affects our horror at abuses by characters much more than romantic moments. The romance is still enjoyable, while the oppression of abuse after abuse doesn't build up in your mind as it should.
I broke my story because I wanted to post just one chapter where no one would review to say that Sarah should just give in and love Jareth because Jareth loves her, no matter how he treats her. No one would be "sick of her attitude." I mean, no one should ever tell a kidnap victim, or an abuse victim, to make the best of it because their abuser loves them. I don't care if he doesn't know how.
It never happened.
When they didn't, I made him push her further.
And eventually, way to late, I gave up.
By the time I moved on anyway, I didn't think I could redeem him. When I go back and read the story as a whole, I understand that he's trying to figure out love, been misunderstood, had no good examples, and I sympathize with him, but I can't imagine Sarah coming to a point where she accepts his feelings.
Someone recently reviewed: "Oh, my. I have so many mixed feelings. You've got me tangled inside about Jareth. He's very contrite, obviously, but... I mean... wow. It'll be brilliant to see how Jareth gets Sarah's trust back. If he can. I assume he will." It's a romance, so he's supposed to, but I stopped when real life got in the way, and I wasn't sure I could fix it even if I wasn't so physically limited in writing.
I have one other major problem with this story. My characters told me exactly what they wanted to say…and gave me very little idea as to why. Xander started out as a stereotypical "Jareth needs a friend" character, present in many J/S fanfic and most romance novels. He developed into so much more.
I really enjoyed the world creating—the prison idea came very early as I was thinking of Knossos and the minotaur. But I think I created the illusion that I knew what was going on. My characters did and they talked intelligently about it…but as a fan fiction is usually a permanent first draft, I didn't get to go back and force them clue me in. Which is a nice way of saying I was lazy and didn't demand it of them—fanfiction is often the sandbox where we play and learn to write. So where I left off, rebellion and revolution need to start, but I don't know how to make it happen in a way that will satisfy me, because the details of Navarre and its court are very well hinted at, but I don't know how it works.
I've also changed so much in my feelings about romantic and sexual relationships, as one would expect between 15 when I started and the best writing when I was 18, and now, at 27. I was raised in a liberal, but Catholic family. My morality was very black and white, and I thought the best thing for everyone was to have one sexual partner, ever. I bought into the value of virginity and one lover in a life time. Now, I feel that there are many options for healthy sexual and romantic relationships. At the time, I enjoyed playing with Adele and Alexander's deep connection, but couldn't imagine writing an infidelity story or really imagine a sexual component to their relationship. Now, I'm very intrigued by the idea about the sexual component, but believe that Adele also loves her husband, but connects to him differently. As I said, I didn't interrogate my characters as one does in multiple drafts. I also was grappling with how Sarah's sexual life would end up in the story.
The ending…or rather, the last two thirds.
There's a very small chance that I may write some of this in semi-related one shots. But its remote, so if you want to know the plan, I suggest reading it anyway. And if I write those one-shots, they will be about emotions more than plot, so no real spoilers if it ever happens.
So, the main problem with Persephone is that the pacing is atrocious. Its over 100,000 words and the story arc is less than half done. Jareth has just freed Sarah, although he's still trying to control her. I have a piece of a chapter in a computer somewhere with her homecoming—this is generous, Jareth might say, but still dictated by him.
I wanted to write a story in which Jareth makes all the mistakes—I even have a cliché sexy bath intruder scene early on—and really learns. To me, really learning means that he lets her go…completely. She doesn't immediately return.
At first, he tries to teach her himself and let her visit home, as if she's away at boarding school, but he realizes that she is not free and will always resent his control. Although I really wanted to write him teaching her Latin and Calculus with all their existent issues, despite his changed behavior. Sarah has to control her whole life. Over time, she is granted the freedom to return to the Labyrinth without going through him. She gets a key to the kingdom and can transport between worlds as she wishes. He gets to deal with knowing she's underground, and going nowhere near him. He gets to deal with jealousy that she's visiting others, without wanting anything to do with him.
The idea, from my summary, that they are soul-mates in the wrong life-time come in here.
So he really, truly, lets her go with no strings attached. She lives a full life aboveground, in which they form a new relationship. Granted a key to the kingdom, as it were. Gets to go to college. Possibly to eventually marry and have a family-although my romantic ideals still aren't sure what to do with that because for all my views have changed, I want her to just be with him in this lifetime and the next. He too, might try another relationship, only to decide he'd rather wait for her—because he's more-or-less immortal and already in the correct lifetime to be her soul mate.
And they have a new shot at a sexually charged, but not sexual, relationship in which both people have real agency, like Adele and Alexander. For some time, they would ignore each other before exploring this relationship in their own time.
I imagine him in the back row of her star performance as Eliza in My Fair Lady—Pygmalion is ripe with parallels to how you cannot make a love object, which they can discuss. Brings her flowers at the end of the performance, but they don't speak until she runs into him underground months later.
He pleads with her to come underground to sleep before a test instead of pulling an all-nighter aboveground, but doesn't demand it. She sees this as cheating and doesn't give in, which he respects despite itching to sweep her away while she's sleeping and will never know.
He turns up at a club, and they dance. She does not tell her friends who this scary-hot dude, who disappears and won't come out for drinks is. But maybe eventually, he does awkwardly come out for drinks, because after his turn, the whole point is that this relationship becomes healthy and real. For inspiration for this scene, if you're not afraid of curse words and (metaphorically?) violent sexual lyrics, check out the self-titled She Wants Revenge—I can't listen to them anymore because I get too conflicted about this story and many other Labyrinth ideas.
He has let her go enough to have a full life aboveground, including a husband and children—I never quite decided if she would, but the decision would be up to her, which is the point. Meanwhile, when she visits the Labyrinth, she is essentially immortal and continues becoming part of that world, not really aging, while she ages aboveground. They become friends who do not try to control each other. Friends who are incredibly supportive—with a bit of unresolved sexual tension.
And with Sarah's support, and Lindel, Adele, Xander, and some other characters. Jareth overthrows Draco and becomes High King. But I have no idea how that was going to work because I don't understand the world I created enough. There's some sort of war or coup d'etat. It's a big deal. See my problem?
And then, finally, the ending, which really, is just the last turn. Before a little fluffy falling action. Or honestly, a whole new story.
I can't get over, and maybe will someday write, the scene in which, after Jareth asks her several times over the last 20 years, Sarah agrees to come to the Labyrinth and try a real relationship with Jareth again. She's 90 years old and has fulfilled her aboveground life, while becoming more and more important in the underground. I imagine her suffering old age or cancer aboveground, and him being loathe to return her to that pain when she can be quasi-immortal below. But she has grandkids that she wants to spend more time with.
Finally, no strings attached, but full of hope that this time, with all they have been through, and learned in both worlds, their romantic relationship will blossom. And just before she dies, he takes her underground, where they now have the trust, understanding, respect, and support of going through challenges together. In a way, they have both entered a new life. They court, fall in love, and are at last equals, and soul mates in this new lifetime.
I need about 200,000 more words.
I need to be more consistently healthy.
And honestly, if I get to a point where I can write with any consistency, I'd like to work on one of my other outlines that are original that I could publish. I have so many. And I would have the chance to fix problems before they became too big to fix.
Because I need, really, an editor and to start-over.
I miss this world that I shaped but don't quite understand. I want to write the J/S story that starts out abusive and really, truly, changes. I want to write a story where both Jareth and Sarah win, because she never gives in, but they arrive at a choice together. Instead, I've only gotten as far as glorifying abusive, power-dynamic romance.
I am so proud of parts of this story and prouder of my goals. I am so grateful for the fanfiction world and the many generous reviewers who helped me become a better writer. It's painful to say this will never be done, but I don't think it ever will be, at least not how I intended.
To those who read…
And my deep, heartfelt thanks.