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SPOILER ALERT for Surrender the Past! (Which you can buy early here!)
Let’s talk about Nick.
The first scene I ever wrote with Nick Coates still exists, in only slightly-altered form, in The Scientific Method. Hugh, desperately avoiding any actual feelings he might have for Will, flees to the arms of a fuck buddy, who also happens to be a real buddy. Nick calls him out, just like Lucy does, and the three of them are the nucleus of the family that predates all of these stories.
In many ways, Hugh, Nick, and Lucy are the family of origin. We see Hugh move gradually toward the family he forms as a grown-up, a family less connected to his adolescent insecurities and early misadventures, during the course of the Scientific Method series. The Nick and Bernie book is how Nick moves toward his own grown-up family. (One could argue it’s part of Lucy’s journey, but only a very small part of Lucy’s journey. I suspect we have a Lucy book to look forward to in the future, folks. I can sense only the barest shadow it casts, but it’s there.)
For the record, I love “Hugh Gets a Gym Membership”. Probably in the same vein as my love for origin stories, now that I’m thinking about it. I love awkward, self-loathing Hugh and air-of-unshakable-confidence Nick, especially when he lets the mask slip a little.
Masks show up a lot in the Nick and Bernie book. So do shadows. Also, before we go further: here there be spoilers.
Bernie appeared as a strange sideline in “Lucy Wins a Bet (#2)”, and I couldn’t shake him. I wanted to know who the hell he was, and why Nick was so drawn toward him and so repelled by him simultaneously. Bernie didn’t exist in the first draft of The Boyfriends Tie the Knot, but showed up in the second draft seamlessly, as if he’d been there always. Of course Nick has this hardcore, low-voiced dude. (My favorite moment, the moment I’d want everyone to read as an introduction to Bernie, is from Molly’s perspective, watching this guy come on all impervious, like he could care less about social niceties, right up until Will says, “I follow you on Twitter.” Molly didn’t even bother trying to hide how amusing it was that Will totally disarmed this super-serious dude by talking about Twitter.)
I don’t generally get off on the idea of “the one”. It’s a concept that forms a solid core around which my culture winds movies and novels and television shows, but it doesn’t really do much for me. Logistically, it fails. Rationally, it fails. And I don’t have a monogamy kink, so on a personal level, it fails.
Nick and Bernie? Might be the closest thing I can come, because while I could probably write Hugh with someone other than Truman (or Will), and Will with someone other than Molly (or the boyfriends), I can only see Nick and Bernie together or apart. (Rory and Geo are similar. Geo could only definitely be with Rory. Roar could probably find someone else, but he’d always wish he was with Geo.)
And then there’s Lucy’s boys, whom Nick refers to throughout as Romeo and Juliet.
Did I mention about spoilers? Because seriously.
One of my favorite parts of going back to the same characters again and again is discovery. I didn’t know, going into this book, that Bernie’s desire would hinge on taking care of Nick. I wrote about three quarters of it before I worked that out. But, magically, when I read back through those first sixty thousand words or so, the seeds were already planted. We see the way Nick interacts with other people. We see the way he guards himself with them while offering them a safe space for honesty.
Then I read back, and that’s all over Nick in every scene, long before I knew that’s the character I was writing. I don’t do complicated character sheets. I know a little bit about a character’s motivation, I can hear their voice and their thoughts, but I don’t plan this shit out consciously. I’ve been imagining characters since I was a little kid, dreaming up imaginary friends. The oldest chronological mention of Nick is how he befriends Hugh Reynolds during a dark moment, and maintains lightness like it’s his job. We see him offer coffee and pep talks when Hugh loses his nerve with Will. We see him put Will at ease in the middle of the back yard at Hugh and Truman’s rehearsal dinner. (Rehearsal lunch?) We see him tease Ally in The New Born Year while also being the steady presence with whom she starts all of her mornings.
We see all that and we think, Hey, Nick’s a nice guy. Bit of an edge when he wants, but mostly a nice guy, good at talking to people. Bernie sees that and thinks, Nick’s going to suffocate under all those masks if I don’t find a way to take him down.
And the best part? Nick’s pretty clever. Bernie’s gonna have to be fucking agile, if he’s gonna keep serving Nick. Yeah. I see some short glimpses into this relationship in the future.
For the comments: go on, tell me what scene you want me to write. I know General Wendy’s got a whole fuckin’ list of missing scenes that go along with this book. Shoot ’em in the comments section, y’all, and I’ll throw them into a Control the Smutwriter.