15 OCT Update: These chapters were published back on May 4th, just BEFORE the epic “I Can’t” post-surgery kiss. As I have time I’m planning on backfilling Author’s Notes. I am backdating them to the original chapter(s) publication date so they show up correctly in chronological/chapter order without my going through conniptions. I’ll post links to the new notes as they are published to make them easier to find.
In general, any author’s notes that contains spoilers for the accompanying chapters will be hidden behind a collapsible header and are intended to be read after the chapters.
Chapters 1-3 were originally published on May 4th, with a cliffhanger at the end of Chapter 3. Chapters 4 & 5 followed the next day, with Chapters 6-8 a week later. These were the notes that accompanied the first chapters:
Hi, everyone – maybe this should be an addition to the "You know you’re addicted when…" thread. That is, "…when you are compelled to do something to stay engaged in between episodes." Okay, so now I’ve moved on from my first fanvid (now two!) to my first fanfic.
So far it’s a little more happily-ever-after then I had in my mind, but I couldn’t help it – I want to see them happy. I’m not sure I believe this would ever happen, but a girl can dream! Definitely very much not complete yet, so constructive feedback is especially welcome!
Not sure how long this will play out – probably another 3-5 chapters. I have the main story arc in my head, but the journey has been as much fun as getting to the destination. Feedback, please!
Thanks for reading!
You can see I initially thought the story would be 6-8 chapters long – LOL! I clearly have no idea how long this will be, but it’s starting to shape up like an ongoing serial in my mind – both in terms of how it’s developing, the plot points, and some of the “filler,” it actually feels like….a soap opera. We’ll see where it takes us.
Notes with spoilers for Chapters 1-6 follow. As always, don’t read if you don’t want to hear the mindless babbling that went behind the chapter. These notes focus on the genesis of both Reid’s and Luke’s gifts.
As with the fan videos, when I started writing this, it was like I was compelled – I couldn’t help myself. The ideas wanted desperately to get down on e-paper. Though I’ve written thousands of pages for work (memos, presentations, training documents, manuals, etc etc) over the last *ahem* lots of years, it’s been decades since I’ve done any creative writing, and probably even more decades (as in, junior high school) since I’ve dabbled in fiction. So Simple Gifts is not just a first fanfic, it’s really out on a limb for me creatively!
I had probably dozens of shorter, missing scene fanfics (the Dallas plane rides for starters) stories that came to mind, but somehow this is the one that jumped to the front of the line.
At this point I can’t remember which came first – the idea of sending Luke away, or Christmas, but the core of this story began when I settled on Reid’s gift. The way Luke and Reid started on the show really made me (and Reid!) awfully paranoid about it being a bounceback relationship for Luke, so I really wanted Luke to have some time alone to develop some perspective and for him to ACTIVELY choose Reid.
That being said, it never occurred to me that I would be writing dozens of chapters of romantic fiction where the protagonists are in different states! And that people would read it!
The first time I posted chapters of this fic, chapter 3 left off with the cliffhanger: “A round-trip coach class plane ticket to Iowa?” At the time, I had several people comment, “I bet I know why!” I had already decided on the destination, so it was fun to read the speculation.
The most common guess was that was where Reid’s family was. I had a momentary panic that it had been mentioned on the show, but that was a definite no. The second guess was that they were going to get married there. After I chose Iowa, I did some Googling and discovered that gay marriages are recognized there, but at Christmastime, I felt it was WAY to premature to consider. Both were interesting guesses, but I wanted to explore their time apart.
Why Iowa Writers’ Workshop?
I have had several people ask me along the way about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, whether I attended, and how it was chosen. The answer to whether I attended is a definitive NO. I was a math major! But as for how it was chosen, the answer is multi-part.
I think I decided to send Luke away first, and the idea for a writers’ retreat followed fairly quickly. I felt (and still feel) that next to actively choosing Reid, the next most critical character development point for Luke was for him to find his own purpose in life. When I was pondering all this, I happened to have been watching a lot of old Luke episodes and among them were the first “Luke meets Noah” episodes where he was doing a lot of writing (to channel his unrequited crush on Noah), and at least Maddie seemed to think he was pretty good. So a writers’ retreat seemed like a good place to send Luke. (Incidentally, I have a bunch of the pre-Reid highlights stored in a playlist on my YouTube channel called “Luke Snyder: This is Your (Love) Life”).
The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea, since a writing workshop would give Luke lots of opportunity to explore his demons. Once I decided to send Luke to a writers’ retreat, Iowa Writers’ Workshop was the obvious choice for me.
The main reason is that I’ve known about it for a very long time. My best friend from junior high school had family in Iowa, and got her master’s from IWW and is now a fairly well-known writer. I greatly admired her courage standing up to bullies in our teens, so it was in part in her honor.
The second reason was proximity. I wanted Luke to be far enough away from Oakdale to be isolated, but not so far away that there would be major flights and travel logistics involved if I wanted to bring them together at some point during Luke’s absence (not saying yet whether I will or won’t).
I also happen to agree with Reid. I did not want Luke to go to some stuffy formal literary course (and Reid, having attended a stuffy East Coast institution, would certainly know all about them!). I also didn’t want Luke to go to some random correspondence course to give him some credit for his talent (which I choose to believe he has). Iowa, though not well known outside of writers’ circles, I believe is very well respected in the community.
And last, it just kind of sounds cool!
The (Real) Iowa Writers’ Workshop
In truth, the only thing I know and used about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is that it’s based in Iowa City at the University of Iowa. I also knew that it offered MFA degrees, though I conveniently ignored that point. Everything else is pretty much completely made up.
Here’s what I know. Despite the “workshop” name, they are famous for their master’s degree program. That was NOT the kind of program I wanted to send Luke to! However, after a little research, I found that they do offer more retreat-like workshops like I had in mind, but it seems, only in the summer. Unfortunately, that didn’t jibe with my story timeline. I ultimately decided that the cool name and location trumped reality, and creative license won out.
I have no idea which campus of University of Iowa (if they even have multiple campuses), IWW is located on, but again, thanks to Google, I knew U of I was located in Iowa City, and from Google Maps it looks like the campus straddles the Iowa River. That sounded like a good place to set a writers’ retreat, so that’s how it was set.
Beyond that, everything else is made up. The conference center lobby is largely designed after the University of Chicago Booth School of Business campus in London (the classroom building I’ve most recently visited). The classroom partially resembles a converted mill corporate headquarters that overlooks a river in my home town in the US.
The classroom was named by Googling famous U of I/IWW alumni writers. I started with the "heavy hitters” – including Robert Penn Warren, John Cheever, and Wallace Stegner. Wallace Stegner was the frontrunner for awhile because it reminds me of a friend who recommended Crossing to Safety.
But somewhere along the line, I stumbled into Mildred Wirt Benson, who was the first Carolyn Keene (a.k.a. author of the Nancy Drew series). I ADORED the Nancy Drew series as a girl – I remember reading every yellow hardback I could find and watched the super-cheesy Glen Larson series in the ‘70s (yes, I’m dating myself). But Nancy Drew fed both my incipient feminism and my love of reading. So even though the room didn’t really need a name, I loved the idea of naming something after the woman who initially gave Nancy life (and Wallace Stegner instead makes a cameo as Lily’s gift in Chapters 3-5).
As for the cottages and the format of classes, they were based on a combination of memories of my last (non-fiction) creative writing class (which dates back to sophomore year in college), a Google search on writers’ retreats, and my conception of a writers’ workshop that I would love to attend if I could ditch my family for a week….or four. The writing prompts were stolen/adapted from a writing website (maybe Writers’ Digest?).
So what is the real Iowa Writers’ Workshop (or Summer Festival) like? I have absolutely no idea!
Ironically, though Reid is the one struggling for a gift idea in the story, Luke’s gift was the one I found hard to come up with. I needed Luke’s gift to be sentimental and not material, since his family is so rich, he could buy anything and Reid still wouldn’t appreciate it.
I also had in mind that I wanted it to have something to do with a memory of his early awareness of his sexuality, as that was the most meaningful sentimentality that I could think of. I’m not sure if that came across, but I had in mind that it was associated with Luke’s first clear memory of being attracted to a boy, at a time when he might not have been able to put words/feelings around it (that is, he knew he wanted to spend time with this boy, but wouldn’t know to call it “attraction”).
I remember having a crush on a boy as early as first or second grade, and finding excuses even that early on to be near him. I also remember interminable family camp trips to the beach (east coast, though) where I daydreamed about meeting some cute guy to fall for (the result of watching too many soap operas, I guess!), though it never happened.
I can’t recall at this point the exact origin of the glass, but I do know that they were inspired by both Jake’s and Eric’s eyes, and my concluding that Luke must have a thing for men with blue eyes.
I also have some blue beach glass jewelry (mostly turquoises and ocean blues) that I picked up in the Caribbean – it’s fake (tumbled) beach glass, but I love the colors in it. The necklace and the blue eyes collided and eventually Luke’s gift emerged.
Reid and Christmas
I squeed out loud when Reid said (July 26th, “Play Doctor” episode) that he would work through Christmases. My family was not religious growing up, and my dad (a no-nonsense healthcare professional) indeed often volunteered to work on holidays so other people could spend time with their families. So it seemed obvious to me that Reid (pre-Luke) would work through Christmas – so I was glad to see that the writers agreed!