Today on the site we welcome C.L. Beaumont, author of Names of the Dawn, a contemporary m/m romance starring a trans man that released last month from Carnation Books. C.L. discovered his own identity while writing the book, and is here to share more about that experience! But first, the book:
Seasoned Park Ranger Will Avery has found his home in the Denali wilderness, cherishing his solitary routines for the decade leading up to 1991. The trade-off that no one knows of his identity as a transgender man feels worth it for the comforting assurance he finds in the towering glaciers.
Until Will discovers an unexpected passenger in his truck—the visiting wolf biologist everyone in the Park is ecstatic to meet—Nikhil Rajawat.
Nikhil doesn’t return his new colleagues’ fervor. He’s dreamt of Denali for one reason: the pinnacle of his research, and it isn’t anyone’s business that this is the last year he’ll get to chase the wolves. He doesn’t expect to fall for the grisled Ranger who forces him to carry bear spray in the backcountry. Just as Will doesn’t expect to ask Nikhil to share his bed.
But when their dreamlike summer comes to an end, and Nikhil resolutely leaves on a plane bound for India, a devastated Will pretends he didn’t just plead for Nikhil to stay. And one year later, when Nikhil suddenly re-appears in Denali without explanation, Will must decide if Alaska is his solitary refuge—or if perhaps there’s a home somewhere in the world for two.
Buy it: Amazon
And here’s the post!
Denali was a place of many firsts for me. Almost five years ago, I spent a week there visiting my partner who was working as a seasonal Ranger. Even after years of hiking together, it was the first place I ever backpacked off trail (the mileage of which resulted in me not being able to walk normally for days). It was the first time I encountered a grizzly at close range, and the first (and thankfully, last) time I was ever chased by a moose.
On the train ride back to Fairbanks, trying not to cry over the fact it would be months before I saw my partner again, I leaned hard into the ‘romantic train travel’ aesthetic and started jotting down ideas for a potential story on the back of my park map. Denali had stunned me. I’d always been a nervous person, and yet we had ventured into that bear-infested land with only a compass. I knew it would make an incredible setting for a story: the drama of the changing seasons alongside the comfort of animal migrations, long-traveled routes by the Koyukan people who’d given the mountain its rightful name. The simplicity of life versus death, and the complexity of no certainties once we ventured beyond the sole park road.
And as I wrote, I realized that my Ranger was a trans man.
I had no idea what made me picture my main character in that way. My brief previous experience including a trans character in a story had felt like taking a picture of someone’s life and merely recording it as the writer. This felt like I was in mortal danger of falling into the photograph I was supposed to have taken.
But over the next year, I wrote the entire first draft of Names for the Dawn without even realizing I was transgender. I felt guilt, in fact, for writing from that perspective without it being my own experience. I wondered if I was allowed to write the story of Will Avery, or if I could somehow earn that right. I would have said to anyone who asked that I was a cis woman writing this story of a trans man from the perspective of a queer ally, digging into research so I could do his story justice. What I didn’t admit was that so many of his fears were uncharted whispers I’d been shutting down for twenty-five years, somehow made safer to think about if they were Will’s thoughts instead of my own. How could I have written 100,000 words of a trans man’s inner thoughts and not known?
During my second draft, once I had made the decision to turn the story into a full-on novel, I found myself in an online forum to learn more about what chest binding could have looked like for Will. A week later, my own binder arrived in the mail. Not long after that, I made a spur-of-the-moment appointment after work and cut my hair. Tiny steps that I told myself were aesthetic explorations, nothing more.
By the time I started on my third draft of the novel, I had started seeing a therapist who specialized in gender identity. I had since realized that my confusion was coming from far more than just writing this book, and yet I still feared I had over-identified with my own character, somehow brainwashing myself. It didn’t occur to me then that perhaps this writing process felt so raw and all-consuming because these were thoughts I’d had for long before I ever typed the name Will Avery.
The fourth draft, and I had come out to everyone I knew. I now understood the wave of self-doubt and vulnerability that comes with such a step. After the loneliness of silently questioning, there was now a certain type of loneliness in being seen, even though I was lucky to have supportive people in my life. I found myself thinking back to Denali as I agonized over how to describe the landscape. I had felt that same unique loneliness there among the mountains. Alone, and yet surrounded by vibrant life.
I began my fifth draft just after I started taking testosterone. Again, my entire understanding of the book had shifted. The scenes where Will gives himself his shot didn’t change, but they felt more intimate now, not purely medical. I understood the subtle shame that comes with having to pierce yourself to bring who you are to the surface where everyone can see. I felt I should have been scared of such a seemingly permanent or drastic step, and yet I felt no fear.
A year later, I completed the last major rewrites while recovering from my own top surgery. It was the aspect of Will’s life that had felt the most unbelievable to me when I first wrote it — the fact that someone was allowed to just do that. And there I was, editing passages that I knew were first written by a hand that had absolutely no idea that same operating room was on my own horizon. I added in a scene where Will takes his shirt off outside for the first time. It was perhaps the first detail where it felt like I knew something my own character didn’t, finally allowing myself to be the expert of my own experience.
I struggled for a long time with my decision to continue working on this book. It felt like my earliest drafts were a lie, both to myself and to future readers. Or like maybe I should have moved on from this book a long time ago, treating it as a tool that had helped me when I needed it most. It feels strange now to be in the same category — as the world sees it — as my protagonist.
But as I prepare to send this book out into the world, I look back at the moment I first stepped off the bus into the Denali landscape. That same trust in myself accompanied me to my first therapy session, the first day with my new name tag at work, the day I told the people I love who I really was. It doesn’t feel devastating to recognize that it’s finally time to leave Denali behind. Perhaps these past five years haven’t really been about transitioning while writing a trans character. Rather, they’ve been about how I can write a story of a Ranger in Alaska.
C. L. Beaumont received his B.A. in South Asian Linguistics and Art History from the University of California, Berkeley, and now volunteers as a crisis line counselor while he delves into his true love: writing. When he isn’t hiking or checking another National Park off his list, he enjoys devouring crime fiction, cooking new vegetarian recipes, and working on way too many cross stitch projects at once. C. L. Beaumont lives in Montana with his gorgeous partner and their chickens.