Light Up the Lamp: The Book That Isn't
This Light Up the Lamp isn't the actual Light Up the Lamp. Or, rather, perhaps the way to put it is: the version that exists in my head can never, and will never, be a novel you hold in your own hands, because of the wild and twisting path this story has taken from my imagination through to publication.
Once upon a time, so very many years ago, I got a sudden, vivid idea for a story: a guy (we'll call him Person B) laying naked in a messy bed. Another guy (Person A) getting dressed because he has to get to his sports ball game. Our Persons are not a couple, not really friends, but very much sleeping together regularly. Person A is a famous sports star, Person B couldn't care less about sports, and he makes sure to inform Person A of this fact all the time (are they flirting? yes, they're flirting). Person A is continually astounded that anyone could 1) not know who he is, b) not care, and c) not like sports? how?? So Person A yet again invites Person B to come watch his game, Person B is like: absolutely not... and from there I guess they fall in love?
Or at least they were supposed to. Because in my head, this became an epic romance story, in which Person A finds the one man who sees him as a human and not as a sports ball star, and Person B finds someone he can finally open up to, and he might hate sports but he loves Person A so of course he ends up at a game and even enjoys it, though he denies that fact, and they live happily ever after the end.
As I chewed over this idea, I settled on the sport in question being hockey, because I've played hockey since I was a little tyke and have been a huge Bruins fan for ages, so writing about the sport was not just easy, but really incredibly fun. And, once I had hockey in mind, it was a small leap to make Person A a goalie, since it's a really easily identifiable position to folks not familiar with the sport, and from there he got a name: Hal. Person B earned a name too (Aaron), and I wrote the beginning of their book.
It was complete trash. So I stopped, gave up, and put it in the vault of 'stories that should have worked and really, really didn't'. But, unlike some of the other aborted novels in there, Hal and Aaron kept bugging me. Every time I went to hockey practice, I'd think of them. In my head, I'd make up little stories about what might be going on in their lives, who Aaron was, Hal's backstory, how the hockey season was going, and the fact they probably eventually adopt a dog and it runs around on the ice and chases pucks.
It was clear enough that I wasn't done with these characters. I had the title in hand, Light Up the Lamp, I had these two guys who were smitten with each other, I had the setting in San Francisco, I had the team name, I just didn't have a plot. So back to the drawing board with a fresh set of eyes, and...
I still couldn't get a good story to produce itself.
Fine. Whatever. I didn't care. (I cared a lot).
And by caring a lot I backed myself into the corner of: I've thought SO MUCH about this story that now I had terrible writers block and absolutely couldn't work on it. In my head, the book was absolutely perfect, the platonic ideal of a romance novel, and yet every time I sat down to write it, garbage showed up on the page.
Onwards to Plan B. Realizing I was too into Hal and Aaron, I needed to step back from them. What if I wrote about some of their teammates? At this point, I'd spent so long living with the two of them in my head that I knew the roster pretty well. Gil existed nearly fully formed as the team captain: a very serious, very intense sort of guy who lived and breathed hockey, so why not start with him?
And if I was going to write a book about him, why not think of some more stories to write in this same world? Why not create an entire series?
A genius idea? Or a way to continue procrastinating Hal and Aaron?
Yes, both, and I have no regrets.
So Gil was promoted to main character, but up until this point, I'd just pictured him as existing in Hal's orbit, not a person in his own right. If he's going to drive the start of this whole series, what's the most compelling way to do that? What character arc/plot/dynamic have I not written recently, or at all? Perfectionist is a favorite type of character for me, so let's run with that. And who's the absolute most hilarious person he could end up dating?
A referee, of course.
That's how I come up with most of my story ideas: what's the way to make this the funniest scenario? What's going to make me chuckle, what's going to make my characters gripe and groan, and what's the absolutely most ridiculous avenue I can take a story down? Captain of a team and a league referee seemed so, so perfect. Rife with tension, opportunities for comedic errors, and a delicious tightrope of duty versus forbidden love.
The more I thought about it, the captain of a team would know all the refs. Players are familiar with them, and Gil would have been around the league for a while, so the premise wouldn't really work. He wouldn't knowingly sleep with a ref, and if he were so serious about his career, he'd keep himself from even getting too friendly with one.
So Gil's out for a ref romance, we would need a rookie for that. Yes, perfect, so a rookie got invented and we shall call him Jay and he shall have all of the anxiety a person could have.
Except. I couldn't make the player/ref plot work. I wrote the beginning of a story where Jay hooks up with who he thinks is a random guy, only to get on the ice the next day and whoops that guy is reffing his game. A cute premise, lots of fun to be had, but realistically one of them would have to quit their jobs to make a relationship work. So the ref (I named him, but I can't remember it now and am unsure I can even find this file in the junkyard of my writing archive) quit reffing at the end of the story and reader, I hated that turn of events. What is a sports romance if the sport itself isn't held as the truest, shining example of love? I'm not going to write a series where someone has to give up hockey to get to have love in their life. No, they get to play their hockey and have their relationship, too. I guess this guy could have sidestepped from reffing to coaching, but even then, if anyone found out Jay was sleeping with him when he was still a ref, it would be complicated and bad, and not at all like the lighthearted romance I wanted to write.
So fine, Jay can't fall in love with this referee either, so we'll set him aside too. Back to Hal and Aaron? No, way too scary. Back to Gil, because there has to be a compelling story sitting within this too-serious, too-committed man.
Years and years ago, right after completing my first draft of The Place Between, I'd written another book featuring meet-again-as-exes. The story ended up in the graveyard of my Dropbox, which is too bad. Poor Jack and Hugh, I desperately hope you two get to see the light of day at some point. I really loved the second-chance romance aspect, but the world building had escaped me, leaving that story dead in the water.
But a second chance at second chances (yes, yes, I know)? Why not.
Sebastian was easy enough to conjure up as Gil's opposite, and given the trajectories of hockey careers, it made sense that they played together in college before Gil left for the NHL. Why not take the premise a step further and make them childhood friends as well, just to ensure the pining and old memories could pack as much punch as possible?
Finally, for once, the story started to flow. Best friends who played hockey together, who grew into inseparable teenagers and then college students oh-so-conveniently sharing a dorm room with all the privacy that entailed. This first version of their relationship didn't survive Gil's call-up to the pros, and all the poor communication of teenagers not entirely sure what to do with their enormous feelings, plus inexperience in relationships in general, left them on opposite sides of ten years of silence. Sprinkle in some father-issues, a chance meeting, and of course a dog, and I finally had something I could work with.
Hal and Aaron are upcoming, because Hal is too delicious a character to leave on the sidelines. Plus, the two of them deserve their happiness after the years they've spent clogging up my brain. Jack and Hugh do too, but I'm less clear on what to do about them. And the rest of the San Francisco Sea Lions? Well, clearly we need someone to step in and buy the team (wonder who that could be?), and we need Bloomer to resolve his issues around teammates dating, and Pezer and Lomsy need to either kiss or shut up, so I think things are finally moving along. It only took several years, a lot of unfinished drafts, and many mornings on the hockey rink as I skated around, wondering what to do with these men and myself. Though, as Gil teaches us, if you're going to have an existential crisis, you might as well do it at the rink, cause at least you're playing hockey.