On tumblr, boydbaeulieu had some questions about ICoS, mostly related to Afterimage and Fade. The questions/answers are SPOILERS for people who haven’t read at least midway through Fade. So I’m putting everything behind a cut, just in case. Also because, as usual, I wrote THE LONGEST ANSWERS EVER.
If you want to read bae’s whole question post, you can here: http://boydbaeulieu.tumblr.com/post/131304627515/all-right-ais-thanks-for-giving-me-the-green 🙂 For this post, I tried to summarize the questions in order for my answer to make sense to other people, but definitely read her whole post if you want the full context 🙂 Especially in case I accidentally misrepresented anything. I am directly addressing bae in a lot of this when answering so that’s what all the “you”s are for the most part, unless it’s a generic ‘you’ anywhere.
I ended up putting this only on my blog instead of tumblr because the answer became SO LONG that it felt like it would just look utterly insane on tumblr 😄 Plus this way I got to use pretty colors and various sizes 😀
FIRST, A NOTE FROM ME 🙂
First, I wanted to say it’s awesome that you care so much about the series and also put so much thought into everything! 😀 I know you worried you might sound angry in your post but you didn’t–you sounded passionate and frustrated by not understanding. There’s nothing bad about that 🙂
Just to be super clear, I’m also not angry at all! I love it when people ask questions and I love answering those questions and I’m super wordy inherently. So please don’t at all think the length of this (or the choice of any words, in case I somehow choose weird words somewhere) is in any way me feeling negatively about anything. It’s more like me getting interested in having an academic discussion about this 🙂
Also, wherever I talk about my own opinions or feelings on a topic, it should be super clear from the start: my opinion is not going to match everyone else’s opinion and that’s totally cool. I’m only explaining my viewpoint on things but no one should feel like my opinion or view somehow discounts theirs. Whatever you feel or think, it’s perfectly valid and my view on it shouldn’t overcome yours 🙂 It doesn’t matter that I co-wrote the book you’re talking about, because an experience of a story is very personal and important and I am NEVER going to tell people how they have to feel when reading something I wrote. But since you were wondering about all this, I’m answering to the best of my ability from my perspective 🙂
Second, for both questions I wanted to mention something ahead of time that might give better context for my answers 🙂 I personally think it’s very important to acknowledge the difference between what a writer thinks, and what is going on in a character’s head/the context of the story.
In my opinion, a good story has nothing of the Authorial God Voice in it. Reading it, a reader should have no idea what the author’s view is on a specific topic, because the story should solely focus on what the characters think, or what the situation is in the world, and more.
As a reader, I feel like nothing ruins a story faster than when I get into a world and then the fourth wall is broken when I start to feel the author pressing down on me, speaking to me out of the narration or dialogue; forcing situations where they can be on a soapbox talking about this or that topic/theme, which oftentimes also ends up making it feel really OOC for the characters/plot/story world in general. Same with actions; if a character wouldn’t normally take a certain action but the author wants to force some sort of morality or theme or whatever into the series, if they force a character to do something that they wouldn’t normally do it feels really wrong to me as a reader and it really upsets me. Way more than if they’d left things fucked up and broken from the start.
I can think of several series offhand that didn’t start out with the authorial god forcing things but ended that way, and it sort of ruins the series for me. I can still love the beginning of the series, but I always feel like there’s a pall over the end of it, and as a result it will never be a favorite series for me. Because all I can remember is how angry or upset I was as a reader, feeling betrayed by the change in story tone just for the sake of the author’s edification.
So, from my view, a good story could very easily have disturbing content which isn’t lambasted in the narration or dialogue or actions by characters unless that’s what those characters would say/do. If they wouldn’t say that or think that, then it shouldn’t be added because that’s the author speaking, not the character. So, in some cases, it’s the reader who understands on their own term how fucked up things are, and that should help inform them even more how skewed the view is of the characters or organizations in a world– without the book having to spell it out saying it as well, unless that is something that naturally fits in the book. I can think of a couple of examples of series that are written this way, and unsurprisingly they are some of my favorite books.
In ICoS, there are multiple characters who reference/experience topics that are objectively fucked up, but which they discuss/reference in ways where it shows the situation is totally okay to them. This doesn’t mean it should be okay to readers or okay in real life. The book isn’t telling readers what to think. It’s only saying what the characters think. What readers think should be something they determine on their own based on the information from all the skewed and biased views.
In this way, ICoS is filled with unreliable narrators.
Of course, someone could argue that a book shouldn’t be written this way; that if an author has an issue with a topic then they should make sure they make it clear in the story that this topic is an issue. But since as a reader I really appreciate being able to come to my own conclusions rather than having conclusions forced on me (because I’m different than mainstream a lot of times so the conclusions that would likely be forced on me are ones I would find to be alienating and frustrating)– and since I only started writing because as a reader I couldn’t find the stories I wanted to read– then as a writer, I know I for sure (and I think Sonny too) write a story with the top priority being that it should be natural for the character, no matter which twists or turns that may lead to; that the characters should lead the plot, and never the plot leading the characters.
In that way, in ICoS nothing that happens should be seen as us authors “making” it happen; it was more like, we knew generally how the series would end but the characters/plot had a life of their own (as cliche as that sounds) and we went along with tangents to see where it would lead. In some places there were some unexpected things we realized the characters would do or say, but we weren’t going to stop it because that would be silencing the character and it would very quickly make the series and characters feel inauthentic.
As a reader (and as a writer), nothing bugs me more in stories than when I see a plot or topic be brought up in the story only for the author to apparently be too cautious to deal with it properly, and then just letting it drop as soon as it gets inconvenient or not PC enough. I feel like if you’re going to add something in a story, then take that seriously and go with it 100%, no matter where that leads; otherwise don’t have it there at all because adding and dropping is obnoxious and makes the story feel really superficial to me. And, again, gives me a feeling of Authorial God.
That’s how I feel as a reader, so that informs how I feel as a writer.
As a result, no matter what I write, it never has anything at all to do with what I personally think about something. What I believe or think as an individual human being is 100% irrelevant, in my opinion. The only relevance is what is accurate for the character, the setting, and the world. I go solely based on what makes sense to me psychologically speaking for the characters, and not at all what I would psychologically think or do in their situation. If I ever consider my own feelings on it and extraneously add that to the story, then I fail completely as a writer. But along with that, I also don’t believe in adding things for shock value without taking the topic seriously and really considering the context of it and integrating it into the story so it has a greater meaning. Otherwise, it’s doing a disservice to that topic, to the story, and to the readers.
That’s just how I feel. Probably not everybody would agree 🙂
Also, it’s always possible that in places we haven’t edited as hardcore, there is something that’s remained in the wording of narration or dialogue that gives a certain impression we didn’t mean to give, that I have completely forgotten is there because it’s been years since we wrote it. So some of those things would be fixed in editing. The point I’m coming from in my answer is the psychological points of the characters that should have gotten across, and if it didn’t then that was possibly a failure on our part as writers at that time (or something we just accidentally missed/overlooked) and which should ideally be addressed in editing. So, if anything I’m talking about doesn’t match with what you read, that could be why.
Ok that’s an overview of one aspect I wanted to explain first so that the rest of this makes a little more sense.
QUESTION ONE FROM BAE: Afterimage spoilers primarily
1) Why did Ann and Hsin sleep together in Afterimage, when you consider how disturbing the context of the situation was with her being his psychiatrist, and why did no one call it out as sexual abuse in the story other than, briefly, Carhart who was dismissed because he’d “done worse”? (She also talked about how upsetting it was to her to see that plot in the book, especially given Hsin’s history of being sexually abused by others, including by Ann’s own twin– and to be clear she was not having a problem with Hsin sleeping with someone else or it being seen as betrayal etc, it was solely related to the concept of psychiatrist/patient and how people responded in story)
This actually really confused me and I’m still SUPER CONFUSED. Probably not for the reason you’re thinking, though. I’ll explain in a bit 🙂
First, if you’re asking me, personally–not as one of the writers of ICoS but me, personally, as Ais– if I see that whole situation with Ann/Hsin as being disturbing, very dubious morally, and a level of sexual abuse or dub-con– then yep, I agree with you completely. As my own person (not as a writer but as me), I think it’s wrong. I know that Hsin was okay with it but he was in a vulnerable state of mind, and frankly no matter what the situation is, no psychiatrist should ever sleep with their patient. Ever. In my personal view there is absolutely no way for that to be 100% consensual because inherent to their relationship is a power differential which makes the patient feel beholden to, or dependent on, the psychiatrist. No truly good psychiatrist should ever do anything like that. It should be grounds for some serious consequences, and I personally think they should lose their license if they ever do that.
If there is any sort of legitimate and mutual attraction between a patient and psychiatrist then I believe that they should only ever act on it when the psychiatrist has dropped the other person as their patient and they take a break from each other for a long enough time period to be able to really contemplate the situation and identify whether their feelings remain as real outside of that one-sided relationship. If they both feel exactly the same as they did before, then it may be a mutual and consensual relationship and at that point I personally don’t see a problem with anything they do because they are no longer in a power differential situation.
That’s how I feel as my own person, regarding this topic in context of the real world.
But your question is related to something else entirely, because of the fact that what happened with Ann and Hsin is not in the real world. It isn’t in a normal context. It’s set in the Agency which is morally grey at best (and very twisted at worst), told from the viewpoint of unreliable narrators who, themselves, have very skewed views on what is acceptable and what makes sense to do and what is okay once it happens.
As I said before, the thing about ICoS is it’s a series told by unreliable narrators. And when your narrators are people with some really traumatic or messed up backgrounds, with a skewed view of the world compared to the “normal” civilian’s, there are a lot of things that may seem like it’s perfectly a-okay to them that isn’t a-okay in reality. But since the POVs are told from their perspective, the topic will be presented however it seems to them. It has nothing to do with us as authors saying this or that is okay– one of the things that I find to be most upsetting is sex/human trafficking, as well as sexual abuse/rape, but as you saw it happened in the series. That’s because that’s what would have happened realistically based on the way the story would have unfolded and based on various characters’ actions and more. Not because we approve of it or I was like “Heck yeah I wanna get some psychologically torturous gangrape in! :D” …just saying that as sort of a joking line right there is super disturbing to me.
From the Agency’s perspective, Ann was useful for Hsin because she got him more stable mentally; she was the first one to get him to cooperate and take his meds and all that. So even though from anyone else’s (more normal) view that whole thing really should seem fucked up, in the context of the Agency and the unreliable narrators who populated it, they wouldn’t question it.
The only person who would have been truly horrified was Boyd, because of his love for psychiatry/psychology (he probably would have become a psychiatrist if he’d never joined the Agency), and his love for (and over-protectiveness of) Hsin, and because he’s still very much of a civilian background, and civilian mindset, compared to pretty much everyone else in the Agency. And Carhart but as you saw, Carhart had spent so much time at the Agency that he becomes kind of shut down on its BS sometimes.
Which gets me to why I’m SO CONFUSED RIGHT NOW. Does it SERIOUSLY not say ANYWHERE in the series that Boyd was horrified/bothered by that????? wtf! How did we manage to edit that out completely from Afterimage and Interludes???? I don’t understand. I swear it used to be mentioned in Boyd’s narration, repeatedly, which is this:
Boyd would agree with you 100%. The BIGGEST reason he was so angry and upset and horrified by the whole thing was that it was Ann of all people that Hsin slept with. I mean, he would have been upset no matter who it was with so a huge part was that he realized they were completely at odds with each other in terms of their view of the relationship and how co-dependent they were and etc etc. But the fact that it was Ann made it even worse to him than it would have been with pretty much anyone else.
The reason for that was Boyd thought Ann was disgusting for taking advantage of Hsin that way. Even if it felt 100% consensual from Hsin’s mind, even if Hsin went into it making a choice on his own (which was very upsetting for Boyd in and of itself), either way Boyd felt that Ann was a failure of a psychiatrist for suggesting it or going with it or any of that. He was very upset about this because he wanted to be a psychiatrist in another life, and so he knows how important it is for the patient-doctor relationship to remain professional with very specific boundaries. So, no matter how Hsin was acting or no matter what Hsin said (because Boyd didn’t know the details of how things occurred) he felt like Ann should never have allowed anything to go further because she should know better.
And in going further, he felt she took advantage of Hsin. He was also annoyed that the Connors family kept fucking everything up for them; like, Hsin visiting Lydia was adding to his depression and all that, which is partially what caused Hsin to pull away from Boyd, which is what caused Boyd to not understand what was happening, which is what caused Hsin to sleep with Ann, which is what caused them to break up, which is what caused Boyd to be in a position to be with Kassian, which is what caused Hsin to attack Boyd, which is what caused Hsin to be in a bad situation, and so on. Like all of Afterimage and Interludes started with the Connors fucking things up in the Boyd and Hsin world. I mean it isn’t all direct causations but there’s definitely an aspect of some pieces leading to (or building with) other events.
Also, I don’t think he ever found out how Ann made Hsin cut up her husband but he would have been fucking furious with her if he had. He would have seen her as being a completely disgusting human being who mercilessly used other people and didn’t deserve the degree she had.
I swear it had that in narration in some version of Afterimage and Interludes, and I have no idea how that isn’t there anywhere at all anymore. We haven’t done a full edit of either Afterimage or Interludes… so the only thing I can guess is maybe, when we edited individual scenes along the way, we accidentally removed it from where it first was mentioned — and then any future spot-editing, we thought it had already been mentioned so in an effort to cut out repetition we removed it elsewhere as well? And didn’t realize it was taken out everywhere? I really don’t know.
But anyway, I’m glad you mentioned it because that honestly was in there originally for Boyd, because that was his genuine reaction to that happening specifically with Ann while she was Hsin’s psychiatrist. So when we edit I’ll keep an eye out to make sure that comes up somewhere.
Also I want to be really clear: I’m not saying that because I’m retroactively trying to claim this or that, or because you commented on it and I want to seem PC and agree with everything. I’m saying that because that is how Boyd would feel naturally as a character. If he naturally wouldn’t have felt that way, I would have left this answer at “Well, the Agency is fucked up so that’s why no one questions it” and not said anything about someone like Boyd being wtf over it. I just didn’t want that to seem like I was backtracking.
As I said, since ICoS is filled with unreliable narrators, everyone else didn’t see a problem with things because of the messed up context that the Agency represents. There’s a lot I could say about the Agency and the weird views people have there (in context to our real world) but I’ll leave it at that for now because this already got really long 🙂
QUESTION TWO FROM BAE: Fade spoilers included
2) Why was everyone so obsessed with sex in the series, with so many crappy things happening as a result of someone having sex; why couldn’t they just keep it in their pants sometimes? (She mentioned a number of examples, including Boyd/Kassian, Boyd/Emilio, Vivienne/Carhart — and also mentioned ace aspects like viewing Viv as one and feeling kind of betrayed/upset when V/C happened — and also mentioned how sex-normative ICoS felt and that it wasn’t as representative of all LGBT as it could be)
So, like you said– I’m also ace, like you are. As an ace, I totally get the general frustration of everything always having to be tied back to sex. Actually, I really hate it when stories force this boy + girl = LOVE + SEX AND/OR BABIES thing in general in any series — although that’s unrelated to this. But to me it’s all about if something is understandable in context or not; as in, if an author has to turn people OOC just to force characters into a particular endpoint just for them to have sex/babies, I get ALL THE RAGE. (There’s one series in particular where this happened with two of my favorite characters who were also killed as a result of that subplot and I can’t even when I think about it; I always end up ranting lol Like seriously, right now I had to stop myself from being like FOR EXAMPLE LET ME RANT ABOUT HOW ANGRY THIS MADE ME OMG)
So I totally get how you could feel really frustrated if you felt like things in ICoS were being forced solely for sex. And part of that will probably always feel subjective to the reader. So, just so you know, this answer isn’t me being like OH BUT YOU MISUNDERSTOOD THE STORY YOU’RE SO WRONG. I’m just explaining the background in case it helps 🙂 As I said earlier, whatever you feel is whatever you feel, and you shouldn’t ever be made to feel wrong or self-conscious for your natural, visceral reaction to something. You feel that way for a reason and nobody else can tell you that your personal reasons are less valid than theirs.
Oh by the way where I use quotation marks around words in this, that isn’t like a sarcastic/snarky/asshole usage trying to dismiss you lol It’s more like, differentiating concepts or for whatever other reason in context.
REPRESENTATION & ACE THINGS
Ok so about representation– it’s possible it didn’t feel like it was that “representative” because that wasn’t at all any sort of goal. We didn’t go into ICoS specifically making it LGBT, or trying to make it be super inclusive, or specifically doing any sort of political thing to make sure it’s perfectly representative/etc. We went into it like, “Hey we have these characters, who happen to be these things; let’s write about them! :D”
I actually, personally, think it’s extremely problematic when writers go into stories thinking, “And now I’m going to add a transgender person and then I should throw in a gay and then maybe an asexual because I keep seeing people use that term.” Someone could do that if they wanted to be really “representative” and “inclusive” and on the face of it, it would be– but I personally find it to be intensely problematic because populating a story based solely on boxes to check off a list makes it way too easy to stereotype characters into being a one-dimensional portrayal of the single thing that’s thought to make them “other.” And in doing so, it discounts the depth of the character as a human being, and reduces them to a joke or token bit.
When Sonny and I both make characters, we don’t start with the person’s sexuality or even race or gender identity or anything else and then specifically design a character to be that Token Something. Instead, we start with who they are as a person, inside, and then it builds from there. Why do they have this fear? Why do they have this attitude? What was it in their life that led them to this point? Those reasons may have something to do with their sexuality or gender identity or etc, because their interactions with other people on that point might have informed the way they interact with others. But we don’t start with that sexuality/gender identity/whatever; we start with the person and personality, realize they would naturally be whatever sexuality/identity/etc, and then go from there.
For example, with Boyd and Hsin, when they were first created we thought Boyd was gay and assumed Hsin was straight. (Because they were RPG characters from completely different RPGs and completely different worlds, and that was their sexualities in those contexts) They were never going to be a couple and weren’t even going to be the main characters in the story. But in the first interactions we wrote of them together, we realized they had chemistry and that they would totally have a thing for each other and fall in love.
So, rather than saying, “But no! Hsin can’t be bi because we had him as the straight one! Won’t happen! We’ll just force it so that doesn’t happen.” we went, “Oh, they have a thing for each other? Ok let’s start the story over taking that into account and see where it goes.”
Because that’s how we both operate, it means there’s a lot that happens that’s a little bit difficult to categorize or, at times, may seem unpredictable. It’s all related to what the individual characters would naturally do, and then when you add up all the individual things different people would do, one person’s actions could complicate another person’s story and repercussions can be felt on everyone and it could keep going from there.
In regards to who is/isn’t ace: I feel like I don’t even know the answer to that, including if Viv would be. Even though I can see why you saw her as that, I can say that I don’t think she would at all identify as ace. Whether or not outwardly she fits the parameters is different than how she sees herself. Sometimes people identify as things that they don’t always seemingly represent outwardly, and vice versa.
What I do want to mention is to keep in mind that even the ace spectrum is pretty wide. There’s a huge difference, for example, between someone who is sex-positive as an ace and someone who isn’t. There are some aces who have sex and others who never have sex. The actual act of having sex should never be seen as a reason of dismissing whether or not someone could be ace or even dismissing who they are as a person in their integrity, because that’s as unfair to them as it is to aces like us who can be dismissed for not being on board the sex train.
With Vivienne and Carhart, it wasn’t out of nowhere internally for Vivienne. But you never see her POV, and only see Carhart’s. Actually, to properly explain this I need to go into the next part of this answer.
(Oh, before I forget, someone else asked me before how there was so much sex in a story co-written by an ace, and I never thought before about how interesting or odd that might seem to people so it’s good you asked because other people might wonder similar things :))
BUT SERIOUSLY WHY ALL THE SEX
I know that you and I are ace, but most people aren’t. That’s just the truth of the matter. Also, I’m totally not trying to put any words in your mouth on this so please don’t see this as any sort of personal attack or anything like that–I’m just kind of talking/thinking aloud regarding a general topic. The idea of any complex story being labeled sex-normative because it includes a lot of sex (and that term having the connotation that it makes the story problematic) feels, to me, a little like saying sex is bad — which, to me personally, I don’t believe. I don’t personally assign any sort of negative connotations solely to people having sex. I simply am completely uninterested in the topic for my personal life. But to me, if it’s in someone else’s character to have sex for this or that reason, I see nothing wrong with it. I only see something wrong when it’s forced on some character in a super OOC way because then I get upset/angry. (As I mentioned before lol let’s once again not let me get started on THAT rantmobile XD) That’s just how I view things, and doesn’t mean it’s better/worse than anyone else. But that does affect a bit the way we viewed sex in ICoS.
The thing about sex in ICoS is that it’s basically all informed by what the characters would do. And the characters are largely people who are cool with sex. Some of them are people who have tied sex into their psychology– most notably Hsin, Boyd and Emilio. Actually, you could argue the same for Kassian. That’s four of the main characters in the series, so there’s going to inherently be sex involved in a number of the situations that occur.
In fact, I would argue that the reason there’s so much sex in ICoS is because it’s a legitimate part of the character arcs and development of various characters, because that’s how it naturally would have been for them as people and not because we were like, “What are we supposed to add in a story now? Oh, I guess sex. Let’s completely randomly add one to check it off a box.” Which would be intensely problematic, IMO, because at that point it’s making it solely a physical thing and divorcing it from the psychology of the characters involved. But in ICoS, every sex scene we added had a reason it was there, for character development, for the overall book plot or series plot, or for a variety of other reasons. If it didn’t have a legit reason to be there, it pretty much didn’t happen or it happened off screen.
Trust me, as an ace, I do have a problem with completely unnecessary, super OOC sex scenes that totally fuck up a character just to force sex in there. I would never want to write that because such a thing would annoy the hell out of me.
Getting back to the psychology of those characters…. Sonny may say I’m a bit off on this so you’d have to ask him to get the best answer, but in general I feel like this works as an okay overall comment: Hsin uses sex as a way to escape mental distress in some places. Kassian uses sex in place of commitment. Emilio uses sex as his default way to have fun/interact with people, and at times also uses it to escape.
With Boyd, I’ve talked WAY more in depth about it elsewhere (and let me know if you’re curious to read it because I can try to find it and link it to you :)) but from the Boyd side of what you mentioned as examples (Boyd/Kassian, Boyd/Emilio), you can never exempt Boyd’s mental state from the sex that he has. Boyd in and of himself is very monogamous, which may sound odd since you see him with different people in the series. But it’s always because of very specific reasons, and people he is close to who he completely trusts (or thinks he can trust), aside from things he has to do for his job. Any decision he made was influenced by that.
The super short overview of Boyd’s psychology is that he has always intensely wanted to be loved and accepted and desired and needed, but equally as intensely he’s always believed he doesn’t deserve it and he’s inherently incapable of being loved/accepted/desired/needed. So a lot of his instability or variations of responses come back to that. As a result, a lot of his life, a lot of his psychology, is all about control. His greatest fears are about losing that control and it being used against him. His greatest hope is to not have to always be in that constant state of control; to find a moment where he can be secure and not have to guard himself from a world that rejects him.
For someone like him, the reason he becomes so enamored of sex with Hsin is because that’s the only place he feels like he can completely let go. There, he’s in a vulnerable place, with a person who could destroy him in a second if he felt like it, but who doesn’t. Hsin constantly reinforces to Boyd over and over in their sex life that Hsin loves him, desires him, accepts him, needs him, and he doesn’t use that vulnerability against Boyd, he doesn’t hurt Boyd the way Boyd’s been hurt by his vulnerabilities before. So, sex is the place where all his tension can be released; where he can give his control over to someone else and completely let go, and he can trust that he won’t be taken advantage of for it, and he knows it will feel really good so he’ll also get endorphins, and in that way it makes him feel his reactions even more intensely. It’s hard to explain how important and intense that whole thing is for Boyd because of how different it is for him.
Boyd loves the everloving hell out of Hsin and has since the moment he fell for him. No matter their partnership status was at various points in the series he loved Hsin just as intensely; but it was all a question of how close he felt they could be based on how healthy their relationship was for them as individuals, or business partners, or as a couple.
So that’s about Hsin (which I know you didn’t ask about but I thought was important to establish ahead of time) — and now I’ll address your specific concerns 🙂
With Kassian, what should be taken into account is it was a freedom Boyd had never had before. It wasn’t like, “Oh let’s just throw them together for s&g and absolutely zero legitimacy for it in the characters.” In the context of Boyd’s life, not only did he always have to be guarded and in control, but he also always had to take everything in context. Think ahead. Constantly strive to do the best of everything, try his hardest at everything, be as good as he possibly could because anything less was failure, and anything less meant he as a person was meaningless and worthless. He put a lot of weight on the idea of achievement and success, and that’s a stressful place to constantly be in your life internally, especially since he was thrown into such a crazy ass world like the Agency, at a massive disadvantage by having no background whatsoever in anything, which put him constantly in a situation where it was more likely he would fail rather than succeed.
Kassian was someone who saw Boyd as his own person (not as Hsin’s partner or Vivienne’s son, but as Boyd himself), and saw him for all his flaws and merits, and had zero expectations of him. He didn’t want a thing out of Boyd. Even Hsin (for all that Boyd loves him SO MUCH) had expectations of Boyd; even Hsin unknowingly put a lot of weight on Boyd’s shoulders in order to be the relatively stable one in their relationship up until that point, always ready to forgive and forget and be “normal.” But Boyd isn’t a stable person, and he really didn’t have a “normal” childhood even though relative to Hsin it seemed he did, and he couldn’t live up to the responsibility of protecting someone else’s mind when that person was having legitimate mental illness issues and when he didn’t share any of the information with Boyd.
Having a friendship with Kassian was important to Boyd. If Kassian had never been interested in Boyd, that’s all it ever would have been. But Kassian was interested in Boyd, not to the exclusion of all else–just a curiosity in addition to friendship. And Boyd became curious about Kassian.
Them having sex wasn’t very often; they hung out platonically more often than not, even after they first had sex. But it was the first and only time Boyd was with anyone who had zero expectations of him, who he also knew wouldn’t hurt him, and who he didn’t have to worry about developing any feelings for at all. It was a sense of freedom he’d never had before, and at that moment in his life when he felt like he’d never had the chance to be his own person, make his own decisions, for his own life and his own body, without extra expectations or responsibilities or requirements involved, when he was dealing with a lot of stressful and intense things in training, and figuring out himself in the Agency out of context as Hsin’s partner and Hsin’s shadow… it was a freedom he really needed, psychologically.
With Emilio, I’m using your alternate example in this 🙂 In context of the story, in all honesty it would have been completely unrealistic to imagine that they would just cuddle (or something else) and that would be what happened — not when they were both completely emotionally devastated and vulnerable, and so drunk they were utterly out of their minds, and not when Boyd missed Hsin so intensely he lost all view of reality, not when Emilio looks pretty much exactly like Hsin, not when Boyd was still dealing with repercussions of the instability and addiction from the Aleixo mission, and not when Emilio uses sex as a way of forgetting the difficulties in his life. There was just no way for that scene to have anything other than sex in it, not unless we wanted to super OOCly force the characters into a situation that would otherwise not have happened.
I mean, truthfully it would have been the easier route to leave the sex out of it, because it wouldn’t later have felt like a betrayal to Hsin. But we couldn’t do a disservice to the massive fucking break of their minds mutually over the death of Hsin. That scene should be a way of showing just how devastated and fucked up they both felt– the extent to which Hsin’s absence changed them, and the poor decisions people can make in visceral moments of grief– and not seem like some random throwaway sex scene like we just felt like adding it because we were bored and wanted to spice it up.
I mean, we did joke about an Emilio/Boyd scene after the whole Vega Sandwich comment came up and amused us so much. But we never would have forced it into there just to have it there, especially not if it made no actual sense. I will never write a sex scene just for shock value or drama. It always has to have a reason psychologically for it to occur in the first place, even if it’s a fucked up psychological reason. If it doesn’t have a true place in that character’s heart, in their mind, in their story, then to me it will never be in there because it’s forcing something OOCly on them. So the reason that E/B did actually happen and wasn’t just a joke we mentioned, was because we realized something like that would occur as a result of how fucked they felt.
Now, in a total 180, back to Vivienne. The thing is, Vivienne isn’t anti-sex. She has zero problems with sex. She just has a problem with meaningless sex. She will never have sex with someone she has not first developed some sort of genuine emotional attraction to, which is why after Cedrick she spent 17 years not being interested in anyone at all. Most people (in world) completely dismiss her as a 3-dimensional person, and hate her for her personality.
In one way, Vivienne and Boyd are similar: they are all about control, and they see sex as a vulnerability which can be used against them because it inherently forces them to give up some portion of control by getting that close to someone in the first place. But where Boyd yearns for love and a connection and seeks release in the contrast of not being hurt despite being vulnerable, Vivienne gives precisely zero fucks whether or not anyone wants, likes, desires, or needs her. She’s the sort of person who could see the world burn to ash around her with every human being on the planet perishing, and she would be like, “Well, at least this makes my life a lot easier.”
If anything, she is highly suspicious of people who purport to like her/want to be around her, because she figures they must have some serious fucking ulterior motives going on for it to get to that point, based on her entire life of people seeing her like she’s some sort of monster (including her grandmother who raised her, who really reinforced to her that this is a harsh world full of assholes who will break her down if she doesn’t control them and herself first). Cedrick was the sole exception for most of her life; the one person who truly had no ulterior motives; who saw the harshness of her personality and loved her for it. Who truly, honestly wanted her, in all possible ways. He loved her, and she was unaccustomed to love except as a young child, and she loved him with everything she had in return because of that love and acceptance he showed her.
She never thought she would find anyone else like Cedrick, but in the many years she came to know Carhart she realized he, like Cedrick, was a good man at heart. He cared about other people (even though he had totally different reactions than Ced would have on some topics, but Ced was from a completely different context). Most importantly, Carhart was literally the only person after Cedrick who she felt had no ulterior motives with her; no expectations. Who seemed to honestly, truly, like her as a person. Who honestly, truly, was willing to see her as a 3-dimensional person. They had years of becoming accustomed to each other’s personality, and months of really getting to know each other better, but that all happens offscreen.
That is something we will probably look at in editing–expanding the lead up to that whole thing more because, with the pace of the plot, I can see how it might feel more throwaway to someone because we didn’t have a ton of time to spend on it. But just know that it wasn’t random internally, psychologically for Viv 🙂 And probably that will come up in her backstory book, Domino.
Incidentally, I forgot to say this earlier but it’s very interesting to me to think of Viv in an ace context. I never thought about it before. In considering it now, I think that if you wanted to view Vivienne as anything ace, she would probably be demisexual– someone who only is ever interested in sex if they first have developed a close relationship with the person. Which is exactly what happened with Carhart. So even if you wanted to see Vivienne as ace, her interaction with Carhart shouldn’t be seen as dismissive of any ace tendencies. That is literally the only person she slept with since Cedrick died.
If she should be lambasted for having sex a couple of times with one man, who she truly liked and who she knew very well and who she had a lot of psychological reasons to feel was special to her because literally every other person treats her like a pariah, and this is only the second time she’s been with someone in 17 years, then that’s actually really sad. And kind of gets at why, as an ace, I don’t like that people put SO much weight on sex– whether in the having of it, or the lack of having it– and especially for women.
It’s really interesting to me, though, because you’re the first person who was upset about Carhart/Vivienne more on Vivienne’s behalf, because of you seeing her as ace. Most people were upset because they hated Vivienne and thought she should die for daring to touch Carhart when they felt he should only be with Emilio. (Which is sort of funny, when you consider how highly NOT monogamous those two are with Emilio sleeping with everyone under the sun). Interestingly, Vivienne is the only one blamed in that context; not Carhart, who is the one who showed interest in her and sort of pursued her, and despite the fact that it was mutual for them.
Anyway I guess I just wanted to say– even with the Carhart thing, if you saw Viv as ace she’d still be ace. Outwardly she seems to decently fits the parameters/definition of the demisexual ace definition; especially considering the fact that the moment she realized she had the sort of feelings for Carhart that would develop into love eventually, and that Carhart would never be interested in an emotional/monogamous relationship with her, she completely stopped any physical/intimate part of their relationship.
It may seem confusing to say that, since she said that she was okay with sleeping with him because he saw her as a woman and at first she thought it could be a no strings attached thing — but in all honesty, whether or not she realized it internally, the ONLY way it could even get to a point like that was first for her to have a very close relationship with him, to already trust him completely, to already care about him as a person, and to feel reverberations within him of the only man she had ever loved so deeply, so resoundingly, that she gave up her entire life for him just so they could be together: Cedrick. Including giving up millions of dollars and status and a home and everything. She threw it all away for love, despite being someone who’s very logical/sort of cynical/a harsh realist on her own.
In a much smaller way than with Cedrick, with Carhart she was willing to take a much smaller leap– giving herself a chance, briefly, to see herself as a person who someone actually liked and not someone who was only reviled. And when it became clear to her that this was something that would lead to an imbalanced power between them in the future, she dropped it without question.
So, the tl;dr of all of the above is that these things happened because they were natural for the characters or made sense in some significant way for the series as a whole. And the majority of the characters happened to be people who experience or seek out sex for various reasons which are personal and/or important to them, which then informs what will happen in the story itself.
Now, all that being said, if those are concerns of yours in general when reading a story then you may like some of the books I’m working on currently, because most of the worlds/characters are in such different settings that sex isn’t as central.
In one of the fantasy books I’m working on, there’s a wide range of sexualities (including possibly two asexuals, one of whom is agender); a police procedural I’m working on will have probably next to no sex in it or if it does it won’t be between the main characters (also that’s a lesbian book); another fantasy book I am working on may or may not have sex in it but it won’t be that central to the plot, and where it does show up will be significant for those characters… and so on.
I’m not going into these books with specific goals on anything other than to tell the stories of those characters, so it’s possible things will change in the process of writing everything. But definitely there will be at least one, if not multiple, books from me in the future that don’t have sex as such a central part of it, and every single one of the books I mentioned has LGBTQIA characters. So hopefully that will help in the future too, if you’re looking for more things like that with my writing style attached 🙂 (Obviously, you could check other awesome writers in the meantime; I just wanted to mention that for now in case it helps 🙂 )