I was talking to a friend the other night about the writing of The Decadence Papers, how it came about in the first place and what my motivations were and are WRT it as a piece of literature, and i thought perhaps i might share some of that here in the blog as a backstory post.
See, when i first wrote the first draft of it, i really only wanted to see if i COULD write a novel. I’d written short stories and essays, but nothing long-form. A friend of mine, Trystan L. Bass, had just turned 30 and shared a goal-list she’d made at 20, entitled “Things to Do Before I’m 30.” It was a fun idea and made me wish i’d made such a list. Trystan had done a lot of the things on hers, but one thing that jumped out at me was “Write a novel.” And i thought to myself, “I may not have made a long list to work on, but i do want to write a novel before i’m 30.”
I had no idea how, or really what it was going to be, but i’d been writing these little short stories and character sketches based on people i knew in the clubs, and the novel developed from there. I figured i should “write what i knew,” and since at the time i DJed several nights a week at goth/fetish/gay nights around Boston, what i knew was club culture.
I did finish it before i turned 30, and then i put it aside. I could tell that it needed major revisions and rewrites, but i had no clue how to do such a thing, so i just walked away from it. I started taking writing classes. I went to grad school. I wrote a bunch more short stories, essays, three more first drafts of other novels, and a masters thesis. And then, like i said in a prior blog post, Lou Reed died, and i reread my draft of The Decadence Papers, and yeah, it needed major work, but I also felt driven to do that work.
See, something that had struck me in the intervening years was the dearth of any fiction that actually depicted what went on in goth clubs at the turn of the century. That whole nightlife subculture was so vital and so fascinating. As the goth scene grew and expanded and transformed, it began to overlap into other nightlife cultures—goth nights at fetish clubs, goth nights at gay bars, goth nights in drag-show venues. And it struck me that no one had written that world from the inside in long-form fiction, except as convenient set-dressing.
Sure, you can find a whole host of novels in which there are random characters who are “the goth one,” though they are usually characters who are still in high school, and the generic goth club has practically become a cliche setting for genre pulp and supposedly-edgy paranormal YA. But it’s as if the whole subculture, in literary terms, exists only as a backdrop against which OTHER dramas play out.
Vampires fight werewolves…in a goth club!
A misunderstood teen discovers she has magic powers and must fight the forces of darkness…in a goth club!
A sadistic serial killer stalks sexy artist chicks…in a goth club!
But the clubs i DJed in for years and years? Well, maybe some LARPers played out games in them in which “vampires” fought “werewolves” using Rock-Paper-Scissors, but really, the clubgoers weren’t overwrought teenagers or murdering sickos—they were fascinating people with actual human dramas and problems and loves.
In the cultural soup of a goth club like Manray in Cambridge or Neo in Chicago, you could find astrophysicists hanging out with high school dropouts, and they might be discussing Nietzsche or they might be telling fart jokes. You’d meet people of every conceivable sexual orientation and gender identity, and ranging in age from late teens to retirees. People of many different cultural and ethnic and religious background mixed freely in those places, and folks who’d grown up dirt-poor became the friend or lover of someone with significant wealth.
And where was THAT in a novel? Because if that’s not a pretty amazing playground for fiction-writing, i don’t know what is. Sure, i’m down for reading a paranormal romance in a goth club, or a schlock horror pulp in a goth club. But i wanted to write about the reality of those places.
When your social life becomes your job, how do you cultivate meaningful friendships? When your biology doesn’t reflect your gender identity, how do you share that fact with your new girlfriend? When you move in a subculture that celebrates death, how do you legitimately grieve the overdose of a lover?
These are some of the things my characters struggle with. They might spend their lazy afternoons reading about the predatory vampires of Anne Rice or the Endless of the Sandman universe, but really, they put their boots on just like everyone else—one foot at a time.