WWED Versus WWJD
When You Emulate Blackstone But You Think Goldberg
This may be some surprise to those of you reading, but to others it’ll be a (hopefully) fond memory. Starting in September 2013, I began a journey as the human behind the 100% independent, fan-fiction, online roleplay @EJ_Blackstone twitter account. I documented how and why I chose to do that and if you followed the account, you already know this information. If you don’t follow that account, you can see the information in the pinned tweet on that account’s profile page using the web-based twitter application (Pinned tweets don’t show up on most mobile twitter apps). No, I'm not going to link to it directly. If you want to read it, make an effort. (Not very Blackstone of me, I suppose, but Goldberg would agree people need to make an effort.)
Suffice to say, my reasons for starting that Blackstone account were for much more than jollys. I was exploring an alternative method of therapeutic management of my post-traumatic stress. No one was more surprised that it was via a trilogy of erotic romance novels than I was, but that is what spoke to me at the time. Or rather, who spoke to me through the books my sister threw my way like darts to the head.
I met Raine Miller’s invincible Mr. Ethan James Blackstone. The character is well-built. So well-built in fact that he could stand up with pride across several genres. Ms. Miller has crafted a multi-layered character with personality depth enough that 1,000 other stories could spring from the main well of who is Blackstone. Ethan is egotistical, strongly opinionated, extremely sarcastic, charming, witty, dedicated, driven, intense. And… capable of killing to protect what/who he loves. I've written fan fiction in which the focus isn't erotic HEA romance (not that there’s anything wrong with that, so sheath your arrows, ladies), but darker themes of security-crimesolving-protection, murder mysteries, gaming scandals, cult worship, and BDSM. Blackstone is a brilliantly flawed, fictional Renaissance Man that women are drawn toward like moths to a flame and men stand chagrined in awe of and wonder how to emulate.
I spent a substantial amount of real time pulling myself out of my recurring post-traumatic stress black holes by asking myself “What Would Ethan Do?” He was a great motivator, he was direct, in fact in my head, he was blunt. And by roleplaying him, I learned to interact once more with people in a social (albeit online) setting as a simulation to face-to-face social situations. How reassuring it felt to think like and emulate a fictional character when my own reality seemed impossible to handle. He was smart, he was sexy, he was strong, he was vulnerable, he made the right choices even when he made the wrong choices, he laughed, he joked, he fell in love. And he was incredible to roleplay.
But Blackstone’s HEA belonged to him and his fans alone. A love gift from Ms. Miller to her fans. I admired his HEA. I coveted his HEA even as I knew I might walk the rest of my life without my own HEA. It was all right for Ethan to have all he wanted. He was, after all, a fictional character. Time for Thom to put on his David Gandy pants (size L, by the way, ladies), and live his own life again. HEA or no HEA.
And it was time for me to start writing again. Less fan fiction and more born of my original ideas and imagination. Just for fun, I put together Alpha Male Sub. I had no idea it was a term in the LBGT community, that I would stir up old memories of friends, or how writing it would come to change my day-to-day life. I just wanted to give my follower friends something to read. Again, low expectations received massive emotional payout.
And then I read a book in my favourite genre: Crime, Thrillers & Mystery > Thrillers: You, by Caroline Kepnes (and subsequently Hidden Bodies). And fucking hell, I met a character: Joe Goldberg. And Goldberg was larger than life. Like Blackstone. One-of-a-kind based on a mold of others before him perhaps, but blowing the competition away as fresh, different, and genre-bending. Joe Goldberg is egotistical, strongly opinionated, extremely sarcastic, charming, witty, dedicated, driven, intense. And… capable of killing to protect what/who he loves. Hmm, sound familiar? Of course… there’s one minor-yet-major bit more about Joe: He is a serial killer (Not a spoiler. This is on the jacket cover as well as in reviews of these books). Well, a retired one.
Imagine my surprise then when I felt entirely connected to him. His biting commentary on social media and society’s lust for pop culture. His inability to let go of his past entirely. His rationale for his actions or non-actions. His self-centred, vain, myopic, self-created world. Wow. And ouch. And wait. Hold the fuck up. What the fuck does that mean? Is that me? Am I Joe? Or am I just like most of the men my age right now in this snapshot of time? And then at the conclusion of Hidden Bodies, I spontaneously imploded, detonated by a slight (all right, fuck it, much more than slight) writer-envy-induced mental fracture at the realisation that I feel more like Goldberg on most of my days than I felt like Blackstone ever. Side note writer’s goal: Make a reader of mine feel like that about a character some day.
That was a sit-the-fuck-down-and-think-about-your-life moment/day/weekend/week. No, I’m not a serial killer. Fuck, I’m not even a lady killer. I read back through You and Hidden Bodies (hello, by the way, Amazon UK and Simon & Schuster UK, where the fuck is the audio version of Hidden Bodies? Don’t we count?) and created a running tally of when I agreed with Joe versus when I disagreed with Joe; when Joe expressed a feeling that felt comfortable to me versus when Joe expressed a feeling that made me shake my head in disapproval; when the storyline felt entirely plausible to me versus when it went off the fucking rails. I did this to justify my ready acceptance of a connection with a fictional serial killer. What in the actual fuck. I’d say that’s some grand character.
Although I'm keeping the tallied results to myself, I will share one important detail about my non-fictional, all-too-real life that stands as a stark contrast to my “Am I Just Like Joe?” deep, dark narcissistic introspection: I like to laugh. Really laugh. Grinning ear-to-ear, side-splitting, belly-aching, can’t-catch-breath laughter. Much more than Goldberg. A bit more like Blackstone. But mostly, just like Thomas.