Pencil and paper in hand, a much younger and geekier Elyssa sprawls in a maple tree’s cool shade while her fellow summer campers splash in the waves farther down shore. She isn’t much of an artist but is determined to master this “chibi” style popular among her equally geeky friends and so beneath the graphite a stranger is coming to life in hesitant strokes. She draws a line; erases; tries again; satisfied, moves on to the next. Over and over, perfecting, at least to her mediocre talents, her finest portrait yet. Once she deems it complete she holds the picture out to take in her new creation. As she stares at the boy smiling back from the page, a name comes to mind: Tanim.
She flips the paper over and takes pencil in hand again. He needs a friend.
Lounging in the shade that warm summer afternoon, my fourteen year old self could never have imagined that the characters she doodled to pass the time would eventually transform every aspect of her life and become an all-consuming passion. Today I’m proud to say that as of this August I have been writing about my ill-fated lovers, Tanim and Daren, for ten years. Where other creations have come and gone, brief players in momentarily amusing tales, these two have remained steadfast in my life, their vivid voices impossible to ignore. They bullied their way to the forefront of my mind and refuse to yield ground to anyone else now. I can’t say it bothers me, though. I feel honored to work with such complex, challenging characters and to bring their thoughts and experiences to life through my writing.
The most rewarding part of the last ten years has been watching Tanim and Daren change and grow as characters. Looking back, you’d be hard pressed to correlate those original characters with their current versions – and that’s a very good thing. I’ll admit Tanim and Daren’s earliest incarnations were heavily influenced by my love of terrible anime and cheesy fantasy novels. First, they were young; late teens instead of early to mid thirties. Second, their personalities were fairly two dimensional, a flaw I attribute primarily to my inexperience as a writer. Tanim was the happy, outgoing, popular one of the Best-Friends-Forever duo; Daren was quiet, introverted, and tragically unlucky. Third, and most embarrassing to my older self, their story was riddled with every anime cliché possible. I won’t go into details but suffice it to say they would have been right at home in any poorly dubbed Saturday morning anime like Card Captors and Yu-gi-oh. Also, Daren may have had magic powers. (Don’t worry, I cringe looking back on that too. Every writer has to start somewhere, though, right?)
Of course, Tanim and Daren are nothing like those original characters now. They’re older, more realistic and relatable, and blessedly magic free (most of the time). The basics of their personalities remain – Tanim’s kindness and humor, Daren’s cold exterior and troubled past – but they are far more nuanced. Both are burdened by different yet equally complicated issues that have slowly shaped them into the flawed, struggling men they are now. All of these changes have occurred organically over the years, most of them unexpected though always intriguing. I don’t control the story; the characters do. I only sit back and let the narrative unfold and try to keep up with my pen. It was Tanim and Daren, not myself, who chose to take the leap from friends to lovers, a decision which forever altered the very nature of their shared existence. As silly as it might sound, I’m so proud of the men Tanim and Daren have become. They are entirely their own creatures, as imperfect and unique as any of us.
To commemorate this anniversary I commissioned three portraits of Tanim and Daren from Megan Engel, an incredibly talented artist who captured their likenesses and personalities perfectly. The first of the three portraits is below (click for a higher resolution), the others forthcoming because I want to space them out. I’m so delighted with these pictures; no matter how much I write, it’s still nice to have something visual as accompaniment. A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words. Plus, doesn’t Daren look like he could totally fuck you up?
Lastly, I’d just like to thank everyone who has supported my writing over the years. It’s been a rough road and I wouldn’t be at the level I am now without the friends, both in real life and online, who encouraged my passion through a genuine interest in my characters. And by “encouraged” I of course mean allowing me to babble for hours like a proud mother… or perhaps an especially enthusiastic stalker. Writers can’t afford to live in a bubble; we need others to rant at, to commiserate with us, and off whom to bounce ideas both terrible and brilliant. I’m blessed to have friends willing to put up with all three, and everything else Tanim and Daren throw my way.
The past ten years have been one hell of a ride. Today I’m lifting my glass in toast to the next ten. May they bring me as many surprises, joys, sorrows, frustrations, and laughter as their predecessors.