Rock star Damen Warner has been screaming in Gwydhar Gebien’s ear since 2005. As the protagonist of Gebien’s Enfant Terrible books, Damen has undergone many transformations in the years since he first opened his mouth. He’s been imagined as both the star of a graphic novel and a screenplay, but his story finally came to fruition as a trilogy of novels. Damen’s journey will now end in June with the release of Enfant Terrible: Showstopper.

Born in New Mexico but raised in Chicago, Gebien felt drawn to art, theater, and film early on, particularly dramas. She counts Star Wars: Renaissance and Macbeth among her influences. Having graduated from Wesleyan in 2004 with a theater degree, Gebien spent years writing and producing short films. But Damen was always there, forcing his chaotic world into story development. In 2012, Gebien moved to Los Angeles, enrolling in USC’s Cinematic Arts program the following year. She continues to live in LA, working as a project manager for Skydance Animation.

“I was [always] interested in what art could do, storytelling through art, and visual storytelling, which is how I got into film. Then I realized it’s the characters in the story that I really enjoy, which translates into writing. Then Damen took over, as he does,” she says with a laugh, calling him “a character you force through…the ringer to get them to reach the growth point.” 

Gebien finally committed to putting Damen on the page in 2016. Her primary motivator? Spite. After an older, esteemed writer rebuffed her attempts at friendship, Gebien’s mental health spiraled, much like Damen’s. After years of therapy and healing, Gebien also received two diagnoses: She’s on the autism spectrum and has ADD. But she wasn’t alone—Damen and his story were right there to help her process her diagnoses, although he dealt with his neurodivergence with far more alcohol, controlled substances, and yelling. 

In Damen, readers see many of their worst fears about self-image, belonging, and success turned up to an 11. He’s a hardcore musician sliding into the scarlet letter of rock stars: “washed up.” It becomes clear that the “mental health issues [that] have been plaguing him that he never recognized, [come] to the surface. It gives him perspective. I wrote it before I had such an experience myself,” says Gebien. “But going into therapy and treatment…being able to get the diagnosis, I’m like, Oh, that’s how I always felt a little bit outside; that’s why I always felt a little bit different.”

Drawing on her theater and film knowledge, Gebien structures chapters like scenes, using dialogue deftly to show how Damen’s abrasive, self-sabotaging nature affects those around him. By Gebien’s own count, there are 309 instances of the word fuck and 92 uses of shit. But the book’s heart comes from the anguish of Damen’s internal monologue. Gebien warns in a foreword that the book contains dark themes such as addiction, abuse, and mental health crises. But this is how Damen reveals his most resonant feelings, such as a night drinking absinthe with his girlfriend, Melody, and the epiphanies of its hallucinatory effects:

She pinned me down and dug her fingernails into my skin, peeling it back, layer by layer to see what was underneath. I expected it to hurt, but each wound sent waves of pleasure through me. She sifted through my vitals, pulling them out one by one and tasting the ones that interested her—liver, kidneys, lungs. Then she pulled out my heart and held it in her hands, a fragile thing made of tissue paper, torn in half, taped together, frayed, and crumpled at the edges. 

When readers meet Damen in Showstopper, he knows something’s gotta give, and that something is him. A death in his family has created new tensions about wills and inheritances between him and his estranged siblings and parents. Melody, a single mother, has grown weary of his chaotic, vodka-soaked lifestyle and self-destructive behavior. Potential redemption in the form of a new album with his band looms over their heads. And someone keeps throwing eggs at him. He messes up—a lot—but he also does just enough good deeds to remain endearing, including saving a neglected dog and stepping up to care for Melody’s young daughter, Victoria, when her mother cannot.

Kirkus Reviews notes of the trilogy’s second book, Headliner, that “Damen’s narrative voice is distinct, raw, and cynical…from the very first page.” This voice is on full volume in Showstopper as he grapples with throwing in life’s proverbial towel or truly embracing sobriety and turning his life around. The review of Headliner also mentions that “he doesn’t make much music throughout the course of the book,” which Gebien rectifies in Showstopper, peering into the band’s creative process and how Damen’s recent experiences shape the songs. But nothing good that happens in the book, as one can imagine, comes easily.

Despite the heavy subject matter, Gebien doesn’t intend to twist the knife. Damen’s journey is arduous and winding, but it has an ending he has earned. Without Damen’s persistent nagging, Gebien is now thinking of making a science-fiction children’s book inspired by the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl. As she’s learned on her own mental health journey, you never stop needing to grow and benefit from change.

“The takeaway I hope people get is that it’s worth addressing your mental health straight on. Who you’ve always been doesn’t mean it’s who you always have to be.”


Amelia Williams is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.