TRICIA STEWART SHIU

Tricia Stewart Shiu

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    The Day Sarah Marks Came Out

    Sarah Marks came out to me on a sunny Tuesday afternoon as I was driving back to the office after lunch.

    It had been a long and circuitous journey with Sarah and I thought I knew everything about her. To say I was surprised is putting it mildly. At first I didn’t believe her. She was making it up to get attention. Then I felt protective. I didn’t want people making fun or shunning her. As is the case in the complicated relationship between author and character, sometimes everything isn’t known up front and the mysteries lie in the subtleties. PLEASE HOLD was supposed to be a New Adult, Romance about the world of high-level, Hollywood studio executive assistants. A quirky tale about one women’s struggle to divine guidance.

    So, with turning signal blinking in the left-hand lane, waiting for the red arrow to turn green, I had some time to think.

    Why now? When Sarah and I started this journey together around nine years ago she was most certainly heterosexual. As a writer, I pride myself in knowing all there is to know about my characters, especially the protagonists. How could I have missed such an important detail?

    Our journey together started with a massive and jubilant download of 28 pages written in one session. From there the story flowed beautifully and for several years progressed nicely. Then I hit a wall and, try as I might, nothing seemed to help the movement of the characters or the story. Finally, I put the book down and I wrote and published an award-winning Young Adult, Science-Fiction series called the MOA books.

    It bugged me to have to put PLEASE HOLD down but, as the Moa Series began to gather steam with awards and publicity, I let go of finishing the book—at least for the time being.

    Five years later, I felt a calling to begin writing PLEASE HOLD again and, up until the coming out at the streetlight moment, I wasn’t sure why.

    Stopped at the intersection, red left turn arrow barring me from any forward movement, I retraced my mental steps over the previous nine years in writing PLEASE HOLD. There were very subtle hints and the more I explored and investigated, the more I realize the information had been there all along.

    The minute the light turned green, I ran back to my desk ready to begin the arduous task of heavy editing. However, as I pored over the story, I discovered something incredible. Very little was different about Sarah Marks. The relationship that I’d written was, if anything, more intimate and honest. Nothing about her trials or story or any of the other characters needed changing. Not one single bit. The more I read, the prouder I became of Sarah. It was as if her world opened up something beautiful about human nature that I’d been trying to express in PLEASE HOLD and now that message was clear. Human is human. Love is love.

    The next step came when I gave the manuscript to a gay male friend of mine to read. I wanted to make sure that I captured the world appropriately, kindly and as inoffensively as possible. Although the visceral descriptions were born from first-hand experience during my work at Fox Studio, I am a heterosexual and wanted to make sure I was writing in an authentic way.

    “You know, after reading this people are going to think you’re a lesbian, right?” He said as he patted the manuscript gently.

    In that moment, I realized something about myself and about Sarah. She had given me such a gift in allowing me to write a story that portrays a woman who hides nothing of herself and, at the same time, struggles with her turbulent past and challenges at work. Sarah showed me that nothing precludes you from being human.

    I nodded to my friend and said, “I don't care.”

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