• But you used to…

    (I know some people would say an author should keep their blog all writing-related. If you’re one of those, skip this post.)

    Three years ago today, one of the lovely medical professionals at the University of Washington Adult Autism Centre confirmed that I was on the spectrum. In three years, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve gotten to know myself better thanks to this new self-knowledge, and I think I’ve changed my attitude and thoughts about Autism and disabilities for the better.

    Liz Lemon gives herself a high five

    Mostly, just like allistic people (aka people who aren’t Autistic), I find that my brain wiring presents me with good stuff and challenges. And, whilst I don’t love the challenges (which come from my brain but also from society), I wouldn’t want to stop being Autistic. I’m glad I’m an Autistic person.

    As I’ve thought what I might post to recognise today, and as I’ve pondered maybe doing more regular, nakedly honest posts about how Autism plays out in my life (since every Autistic person is unique), there’s one topic that’s come to mind over and over, probably because it comes up in conversations over and over (I even occasionally post a shorter form of this on FB when there’s been a rash of unhappiness thrown my way). A thing that, at least to me, also seems most relevant in the harmonious function of my relationships with others. It’s also a topic that isn’t unique to my Autistic experience. I have seen it come up with all sorts of people who have life changes, especially ones related to mental or physical health or function.

    I don’t speak for all those other people; this post is about me. But maybe it can also help you consider a different perspective with others as well.

    The issue can best be summed up by the phrase most often uttered at me in regards to said issue: But you used to…

    Before I had a diagnosis to tell me that my brain was wired a way that wasn’t typical, I just assumed that life and interaction felt this way to everyone. I assumed (and had been told) that maybe I was “too sensitive” and just needed to suck it up. I, frankly, showed myself mainly strict, sometimes brutal, insistence on doing what “normal” people did and mostly didn’t even consider applying self-compassion. Even though I had decades of lived experience, of trying to make myself just get used to things, of failing to get used to things, I didn’t stop pushing. Even though others didn’t appear to have some of the difficulties and discomforts I have, I just kept pushing because maybe, like me, they were all hiding the same discomforts and upsets. I adjusted slightly as I learned more about what it meant to be an introvert (which I am), but only very, very slightly. Not enough.

    Here’s a metaphor I like to use to explain:

    Let’s say you have grown up in a home where your parents always put food on the plate for you rather than you doing it yourself. From the time you were too little to remember, they have lovingly heaped a plate with too much food and given it to you at every meal. They don’t know this is too much, and so they insist you eat every bite. You grow up assuming that eating just involves discomfort. (You know that discomfort after, say, American Thanksgiving or a really lovely Christmas dinner? Imagine you feel that after every meal, so you assume it’s normal.)

    A table heaped with every imaginable holiday dinner food

    You know your parents love you (and the food tastes good), and you know they’ve got years more of lived experience than you, so you don’t have any reason to question it. This is how one must eat, and this discomfort is just a part of life. When you move out, you just keep feeding yourself those same portions. That’s typical (aka normal), right?

    But then you get in a relationship, and they want to cook you a meal. When they bring you a plate, there’s less food. You don’t want to be rude, so you just go with it. The food is good and the intentions are great and…Oh, you don’t feel discomfort after. And you also don’t feel hungry. Interesting. So, you go home and you try making those smaller portions your new normal. You start to pay attention to other people and portion sizes. You realise that, in fact, the typical feeling after a meal isn’t discomfort.

    Maybe you occasionally humour your parents when you go back for a visit, or you still occasionally over-eat when something is just so good you decide the consequences are worth it this time. But, overall, you honour your body’s actual needs and capacity and, while you used to eat whole large pizzas in one sitting on your own (a thing I used to do both actually and metaphorically), you don’t do that anymore.

    I went with food, because many in Western societies can understand and because this assumes no ill intentions, no villains. But you can probably also do something similar relating it to the sleep dep one gets used to at certain points in life or the way some of us adjust to abusive situations. You just don’t know, or you forget, that what you’re living and feeling isn’t actually the way it has to be, isn’t “normal.”

    When I got my diagnosis, I went and I did some research. I stopped looking at what life was like for allistic people, what the neurotypical experience was, stopped trying to forces myself to be or to at least appear like that. I started reading about what this differently wired brain of mine might mean, what sort of experiences might be typical for the neurodivergent. I started to learn that typical people didn’t feel and react like I did in many situations, but that I was also well within typical for someone on the spectrum. I’m Autistic, so I have a different “appetite” than you do. And that’s okay.

    side-by-side image of what is normally served us (whole burger and chips) vs actual healthy portion size (half burger and half as much chips)

    I started to try to only “feed” myself what my brain and body could handle. And the change has been great. Far fewer meltdowns. Far fewer instances of sensory overload. Less discomfort. Less misery. And, at least for me, the things my Autistic brain excels at are now, uh, more excel-y.

    Some people might be thinking, “But you didn’t ever complain before.”

    You’re right; I didn’t. Why should I when I assumed we were both pushing through these same things? Why should I when, the few times I ventured to tell people how I was feeling, I was mocked or treated unkindly? (Not by you, maybe, but also I maybe didn’t tell you because I’d been sufficiently shamed into silence, into assuming I was just broken, before I even met you.)

    I also generally hesitate to mention this sort of thing because some of you find it hard not to take my changes personally. Or, if I don’t mention them in a broad and public way like this, you might wonder if I’m only saying this is broadly applicable to spare your feelings.

    The fact is:

    • I have sensory processing issues. Noises and sights (including lighting) that are totally nothing to you can quickly flip my brain into overload. Touch is another big one, and that includes things like temperature. (I’ve also got some taste sensitivities, but I’m usually not licking you…). I think smell might be the one sense where I’m close to typical…
    • I have some innate anxiety that also complicates anything to do with human interaction. I’m not shy or scared of interaction (which is a thing often cited against me when people don’t believe I’m an introvert); it’s more that my brain’s survival instincts involve a strong aversion to doing anything incorrectly or imperfectly lest I die or be cast out of the protection of the tribe. (I’ve never managed to convince my brain that there are no longer sabre-toothed tigers in the shadows.)
      Screencap from Skyrim of a woman fighting a sabre-toothed tiger
    • If I don’t get hours of solitude a day (sleep and, when applicable, time spent doing a day job don’t suffice), my brain starts to spool up and break down. I suspect, at the very least, that’s because the solitude is a break from sensory and anxiety issues.

    So, yes, I used to “over eat,” metaphorically speaking, ignoring the many consequences that came from not honouring the things in those bullet points, and so I used to live with a higher level of constant discomfort. And, sure, the food was sometimes so good. But I’m now living a life that keeps me as close as I can manage to “eating proper portions” for me. Or trying to. There are some things that still keep me a little over-fed that I can’t seem to shake yet. And there are some times I choose to over-eat a little because I just love you or an experience enough that I justify a little misery, as an exception, just this once.

    I know that my family and my true friends (and probably hosts of well-intentioned strangers) wouldn’t want to make me miserable. I also know that most, if not all, of them are trying hard to be understanding of the changes. (Thank you!!) And that there have been some things going on the last year or so that have made it so I couldn’t even, if you will, eat as much of them as I’d like and could safely do.

    I hope this helps you understand me (or others in your life) a little better and maybe feel a little less hurt, frustration, etc as we stop doing things we used to do in pursuit of good health.

    Yes, I used to, but I don’t anymore.


  • The Road to Dystopia

    If a utopia is a society/world where everybody gets to be happy and free, a dystopia is a society/world where nobody (except the person or tiny group of people at the top) gets to be truly happy and free.

    The 4 main characters from Mean GirlsMaybe we all spend a few years in a dystopia…

    A lot of times, an apocalyptic event is a great excuse for some person or group to set up their dystopia. The founders of dystopic societies aren’t picky, either. Any apocalypse they have survived and that has put them into a position to enact their bad ideas will do.

    Sometimes, the post-apocalyptic dystopic society is the result of the fact that humans can be really stupid, so they think they’re setting up a utopia and, oh, never mind…It’s all horrible now.

    A lot of the dystopias we’ve seen lately in popular books (and the films based on them) are post-apocalyptic. Which, sure, I get. An apocalypse wipes the slate clean (and, hey, as a writer I can’t hate the apparent freedom from “nobody would do that” that comes from a society that’s been wiped like that), and makes room for big and obvious changes. And I’m not here to hate on that. I’m even open to the argument that most societies in post-apocalyptic settings are dystopias, and that that is necessary for dramatic tension and plot to exist. I haven’t read All The Books though, so I’m not here to talk about that either.

    Because as much as a massive natural disaster or a man-made apocalyptic event can be enjoyable, it’s those dystopias that have less epic roots that really get at me. Those times where you find yourself looking at the world around you, the real one, and seeing the hints that, oh my stars, we could be headed there.

    I don’t think I read any dystopian books before I was a teenager, which seems weird to me…But, I also don’t know if I would have really noticed them if I had read them before my teen years, so, maybe I did? But as a teen…Starting to notice the things that are crap, unfair, dangerous about the world…Idealism in full bloom, in the heady and gorgeous way that mostly seems reserved for adolescents…Having had a little time to simmer on the distrust of government that Ender’s Game woke in me…I picked up 1984 and began to paranoidly fancy dystopian fictions, whilst also worrying that they weren’t just fictional. That we were headed that way.

    Slogans from 1984: "Big Brother Is Watching You" and "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength"I weep…

    I managed to not let the dread kindled by dystopian novels drive me. I managed to keep it locked in a tiny cupboard inside me, to be pulled out when it was strongly merited. But, quietly, my subconscious was looking for the warning signs that we were headed for a dystopia about which I’d already read or for one that no writer had thought to warn us about.

    In my early 20s, I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale. No, I have no idea why it took me that long. Some failing of adults and supposed good influences in my life, no doubt. Heh.

    Drawing of two women in loose red cloaks and white head coveringsThe mandatory fashion isn’t the only thing terrifying in this one…

    That woke me back up, pulled the dread and paranoia out of the cupboard and dusted the whole lot off. That one, as we started to learn how that world came to be, seemed (still seems) far too possible and real. And that’s when I realised that it’s not just the story of the dystopia that matters, not even if there’s a part where someone escapes or overthrows the dystopia (causing me to take note, lest I find myself trying to survive a dystopic scenario). No, if the author lets us see it, the road to the dystopia is just as important. But I’m one of those people who thinks that truth hides in fiction and we shouldn’t treat fiction as unimportant.

    So, the road to dystopia…

    It was The Handmaid’s Tale that made me wonder if we would notice a dystopia creeping up on us. Because, sure, a terrorist group (or a fanatical religious group pretending to be another kind of terrorists) shot the government. But, you know, we’ll recover. We’ll sort it out. Humanity can totally come back from stuff like that. Oh, limiting of rights? Listen, it’s just temporary and isn’t a temporary sacrifice of rights worth it for freedom? But I’m not here to dissect our current world or modern events in Western countries.

    I always felt like dystopian fiction overlapped well with my enjoyment of cyberpunk, because I could so easily see the worlds, regimes, societies, ambitious antagonists in cyberpunk stories being the road to dystopias. There are other reasons I like cyberpunk and other noteworthy points, but we’re talking the road to dystopia today, poppets. I’m not here to praise cyberpunk things.

    Ready for me to pull this together? I’m exhausted as I write, so let’s all hope real hard as I jump into the next paragraph.

    I accidentally wrote a cyberpunk novel. I accidentally wrote a novel that is, arguably, an origin story for a dystopia. A road to dystopia.

    I just thought I was writing sci fi. That’s all I was trying to do with Peace Fire by the time I sat down to pour out the words.

    Text: Peace Fire (Your Brain Needs a Firewall). Beside the text is the Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shapeEven my own cover art didn’t tip me off…

    When somebody sent back notes and called it cyberpunk, I blinked. Oh, okay, sure…I can see that. Okay. Yes! It’s cyberpunk! I like cyberpunk. Somewhere in non-linear time, teen me was suddenly really pleased and she didn’t know why.

    And then I had a conversation with a friend. She’s one of those people who is quite smart, who reads loads, and who happens to do marketing so thinks about how to classify things. She kept using the word “dystopia” when talking about my book. If you read the stuff that came before this paragraph, you’ll know that this didn’t make me unhappy. But, I didn’t see it.

    And, when she pointed it out…when she helped me see that this scenario is a road to dystopia…when my brain imagined the dystopia that this book could dump everyone into…Oh.

    Suddenly, I was wondering when my dystopia-induced paranoia got dulled…Or maybe it was just no longer as loud. Had it been whispering warnings to me from the little cupboard in which I keep it, nudging my fingers as I told this story? Or maybe it was the lack of an apocalyptic event, now that those are so closely linked in the popular imagination…Or did I not see it as dystopian because I just assumed that you know you’re writing dystopic fiction when you write it? Just like you might assume you’d know if your real world was on the road to dystopia.

    I don’t think this will change the sequels. I’m currently working on draft 2 of book 2 and have book 3 outlined (including the ending), and I think I’ve got it right. But now that I see the dystopia on the horizon, it’s like I’m at the optometrist and they’re asking whether things look clearer through lens 1 or lens 2. And I was pretty sure it was lens 1, but lens 2 came down and I wasn’t even aware the world could be so sharp.


  • Hack the Playlist!

    It’s a Wednesday, and I’ve gotten used to Wednesday posts, so here’s one more.

    If you’ve been paying attention, you know Peace Fire came out yesterday. You might also know that music is really important to me. And that’s why I can’t feel like I’ve done this whole endeavour justice without blatantly injecting some music into it.

    When I write, I have soundtracks in my head (and usually on my speakers) that set the tone, and my first mental images of Peace Fire were more like music videos. I think music helped me build a sense of atmosphere, an idea of cool outside of what Hollywood tells me it is. Music, my own and others’, also helped me accept that a non-stop, butterfly-filled utopia isn’t actually the kind of place from which creations that connect with me tend to come. Not unless someone has at least been letting some moths in…

    I wrote about music and how I write, specifically talking about the role of music in Peace Fire, in a guest post for someone else’s blog, so keep your eyes on my social media. I’ll post the link and you can read that post if this topic interests you. I’m not planning to duplicate information 😉

    For this post, I’m keeping it kind of simple. After all, I’m still nursing a sugar hangover from yesterday’s book launch celebration. I haven’t been so reckless in my cupcake consumption since the horrifying “Valentine’s Cupcake Gorging” of 2015 for the Most Worlds blog. Which is why my most-practised form of moderation is abstinence. Ha!

    Simple and musical? That means it’s playlist time!

    My knee-jerk idea for this was to make a playlist of what the characters would listen to, but my characters are young and cool and live in the future. Any song I could put on a playlist is at least 34 years in their past, making it officially an oldie. The characters aren’t too cool for oldies, but let’s adjust focus for my sanity.

    I thought of making a playlist of songs I listened to whilst writing, but that’s a lot of hours and multiple moods (each of which could have its own long playlist).

    So, I present to you a playlist of songs that the main character’s grandmother would have made if you’d told her that her granddaughter was going to be a hacker. Consider this something like backstory on the grandmother…Seriously…

    And consider this your “Mature Content” warning. This is not the Radio Edit playlist; some of these songs have the swears and the sexual themes. (The only editing of content here was the painful process of cutting it down from a 3 hour playlist to something closer to 90 minutes…y’know, as if Gran had made a mix tape…)

    Oh, and probably another warning that I meant this to be quick and then spent way more time on it than I should have…And I still don’t have all the volume levels equalised between songs. Ugh. I’m so sorry. I hate that. If I get more time soon (cue hysterical laughter) I will totally replace this file with something where I’ve manually adjusted everything. Anyway…

    Without further explanation or comment on the individual songs:

    Hack the Playlist!

    Animated gif: A CD fragmenting in a microwave

    1. Sound Clip (from Hackers): Hack the planet!
    2. The Cassandra Complex – Nice Work (If You Can Get It)
    3. Nitzer Ebb – Join in the Chant
    4. Welle:Erdball – Starfighter F-104G
    5. Sound Clip (Iggy Pop from Hardware): Good Morning Amerika
    6. Front 242 – Headhunter v1.0
    7. Front Line Assembly – Mindphaser (Single Mix)
    8. TheProdigy – Firestarter
    9. Eon – Fear: The Mind Killer (Altered Edit)
    10. Sound Clip (from Dune): It is by will alone I set my mind in motion
    11. Underworld – Cowgirl
    12. Varnish – Tied to my Chair
    13. Sigue Sigue Sputnik – 21st Century Boy
    14. Placebo – Infra-Red (Hotel Persona Remix)
    15. Sound Clip (from Max Headroom): This is the future: people translated as data.
    16. Orgy – Fiction (Dream in Digital)
    17. IAMX – Cold Red Light
    18. Tubeway Army – Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
    19. The Boomtown Rats – I Don’t Like Mondays
    20. Sound Clip (from Hardware): Everything. Is under. Control.
    21. Massive Attack – Future Proof
    22. Anne Clark – Sleeper in Metropolis
    23. Visage – Fade to Grey
    24. Shriekback – Faded Flowers
    25. Sound Clip (from Blade Runner): Roy’s “Tears in Rain” monologue

    Only one of these tracks is mine. If you like what you hear, go buy the song or the film and own another piece of happiness.

    Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape

    Amazon.com logo

    Barnes&Noble logo


  • Support Your Artist!

    This post goes along with this vlog I posted today. I’ve basically duplicated the vlog content and expanded on the things. Please add your own ideas via comments!

    Heya!

    You probably know that I’ve got my first book, Peace Fire, coming out in less than a week (11 October! Squee!), so this seemed like a good time to talk about how to support artists you like, even if you’re broke. Even if they aren’t me. I’ve made sure to include a section, right up top, on free and easy ways to show your love. You can scroll down to find new info, including a bulleted list of ideas if you’ve already watched the vlog.

    Now, I know it’s cheesy, but acronyms help us remember things, so…Quickly, here’s how you can be a STAR fan. If that’s too cheesy, I guess you could scramble it up to be RATS or add some other way I don’t mention and somehow make yourself TRASH…But most of you already know I’m a fan of stars and I think you’re better than rats (however cute) or trash, so…

    S is for social media.

    Following your artist on social media is great (do it!), but we’d also love you to interact with us. We enjoy it, but also, for sites like Facebook and Instagram that don’t show everything to everyone who follows an artist, your likes and comments and shares help us be seen.

    T is for tell the world.

    Talk about our stuff when you get a chance, recommend us to other people, post about your love online, link to us on your own web site, use something to do with us as your user pic or banner, wear our merch outside your house, read our books in public, put our songs on playlists or play them when other people are around…Basically, be the cool friend that, someday, your other friend credits for introducing them to the book or song or whatever that they love. I know those people in my life are the best!

    A is for art or act on inspiration.

    If our stuff inspires you to create—whether original stuff or straight up fan art—that stuff is so great. We love it when you feel inspired by us and when you share what you made with us. I mean, obviously, please don’t plagiarise or try to make pennies off of someone else’s copyright, but we’re pretty sure that most of you are just excited and want to share your love.

    R is for reviews.

    This might be the last letter, but it’s definitely not the least of ways to support artists. Sites that let you review our stuff usually use your reviews to determine whether other people get to see our stuff. For instance, last I heard, Amazon is way, waaaaaay more likely to let someone find a book after it gets 50 reviews. You don’t have to be eloquent or witty. Even just “I liked it!” counts. Plus, we get happy tingles when you leave 5 star reviews.

    Bonus Thoughts and Bullet Points

    Before I give you a list of all the ways I can think of to be supportive (already mentioned in this post and otherwise), I want to include a personal thought for people who are family and friends of artists. You can support us in ways that strangers can’t.

    You can keep checking out new projects or even most recent works. Really, anyone can do that, but friends and family are most likely to know about early drafts or past projects. We promise we are trying to be better than the story or song we wrote when we were 12. It’s very normal for artists to evolve and change over time. We do different things and/or we get better. You might be pleasantly surprised, and we’ll be super grateful.

    Also, being understanding about the time we have to spend alone to make this stuff is awesome. Most artists I know or know about need solitude to work their magic. Even if they’re in a band (which means they also need time with just their bandmates), there’s still work to be done in solitude. Hours of it. (For instance, a novel is at least 40,000 words long. Peace Fire is around 120,000. 1,000 words an hour is a pretty healthy writing speed. So, there’s at least 40 hours alone for a novel in general, 120 for Peace Fire. Throw in at least as many hours for even one edit—but expect more edits—and the time to work out the plot, do any research, and ponder details…You get the idea.)

     

    A long and partly funny list of ways to support an author

    Now, here are some bullets, some action items, in case you’d rather skim and get right to the point. Though, obviously, I’m also going to second the stuff Ed Yong suggested for how to support his book. Totally do this with mine. Just let me know where to find my ziggurat…

    Things that cost no money

    • Leave reviews of our stuff on web sites. Really important. (This can be free if you borrowed our stuff from a friend or the library.)
    • Follow us on social media.
    • Interact with us on social media (comment, share, like, re-blog, re-tweet, etc).
    • Make art if our stuff inspires you (original or fan art) and share it.
    • Talk about our stuff when you get a chance.
    • Recommend us to other people.
    • Hook us up with any connections you might have.
    • Post about your love for our stuff online.
    • Link to us from your own web site.
    • Use something to do with us as your user pic or banner.
    • Request our stuff at the appropriate place (radio stations, book stores, etc).
    • Bring your friends to our events. (Technically, if they pay for themselves, this isn’t costing you money, right?)
    • Come to free events (readings, signings, etc).
    • Indicate your interest when possible. For example, with my book, you could go to my Goodreads page and indicate simply that you want to read my book. That easy act can make a positive difference in how people perceive the things we make.

    Things that are free after you’ve already spent money on other things

    • Read our books in public. (This could be free if you borrow it from a friend or library.)
    • Put our songs on playlists or play them when other people are around.
    • Related: If your friend asks about the song, don’t play cool; enthuse!
    • Wear our merch in public.
    • Post pictures online of you enjoying what we do or wearing our merch.
    • Stand up front and interact at events. (If we do music, you dancing and singing is magic!)
    • If you get pics or video of our events, share those online and/or with your artist friend (so they can share them on their social media pages).

    Things that cost money

    • Buy our creations (e.g. albums, books, paintings, etc).
    • Buy our merch (e.g. t-shirts, stickers, badges/buttons, etc).
    • Come to our paid events (e.g. shows, non-free readings, conventions, etc).
    • Give our stuff as gifts (creations or merch or entrance to events).
    • Support our crowdfunding efforts.
    • Buy us gear, studio time, and other things that let us do our art better.

    Go be a STAR fan to an artist you love, okay?

    Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape
    Peace Fire is out 11 October!
    Pre-order your Kindle edition here.
    Sale price until 10 October


  • The Enemies of Art

    Even if you don’t write, you’ve probably noticed there are a lot of essays out there about how hard it is to just make yourself write. Fortunately, I generally find that I’d rather be creating than doing anything else, and I’m really good about clearing every other possible thing off my calendar to make that happen. I believe that talents and inspiration are divine responsibilities, and I’ve been known to be “too responsible.”

    But that didn’t mean that writing Peace Fire was an easy sprint from start to finish line, an unbroken journey. Oh, no. There were bumps in that road, unnecessary detours, slowdowns. Most of which are just ridiculous, which is why I’ve compensated with a dramatic post title. I’m going to share three of them.

    Most those articles about writing will talk about clearing away distractions and, at least the modern ones, will include resisting the allure of your phone or social media. Yeah, I’m reclusive and have no problem ignoring most people. Though one of you, and you know who you are, is so irresistible that I did lose some time to you. Ugh. You’re lucky you’re awesome.

    I am also able to resist the call of the wild. It’s not just that I’m an indoorsy girl, because I really do think nature is full of beauty. It’s more that this flat’s windows are all on one side, and that side looks out on a concrete courtyard and faces the other tower of this building. I am pretty sure that one or two stray leaves or the neighbours’ toddler don’t count as nature. No, no matter what a wild beast the child might sound like some days…

    My top distraction was another beast. Yes, the cat. The thing is my big, surly boy is not generally cuddly. We’re into bodily autonomy in this household, and that means that, even if he weren’t a mass of teeth and claws, I wouldn’t be into forcing pets and cuddles on him. He is also a master of inconvenient timing. So it’s no surprise that, almost any day that I had a hard time getting into the writing flow, he could sense when I was finally hitting my stride. That was his clue to “need” to be on my lap and get love. And he’s a big boy, so I couldn’t easily work around his formidable fluff. I absolutely cannot keep up a 1000 word an hour pace when pecking things out with just one hand. I told you my hurdles were ridiculous.

    My big, fluffy cat and his stuffed kicker toy, pretending to be innocent and adorableThe fluffy offender

    Ridiculous hurdle the second: Music! Okay, you’ll hear me say loads of other times and places that music is important and part of my process and so forth. But there’s another side to this magical music thing. You see there are songs I totally can’t resist singing along to or even having spontaneous dance parties to. They have such power over me that I will, for instance, have both feet out the door as I’m leaving a club but dash back in if one of them comes on because I. Must. Dance. Seriously. And if I’m home? Even if I can keep my butt in the seat and keep typing, I’m slowed down. Singing along and chair dancing impede typing.

    Wee me with headphonesThe problem started early

    Finally, food. Oh, food…How I love thee! And if I haven’t spent quality time with you recently enough, it is hard for me to think about other things. Like the story I’m writing. Okay, so, get up, go to the kitchen, and…and then stare at the options…If I’m lucky, my body and brain will agree that, this time, cereal is a great idea. If it doesn’t, I’m about helpless to spend the time necessary to make whatever it is that body and brain want. Some days, I felt like all I did was make and eat food. I love you, food, but you are sooooo needy sometimes. Ugh.

    Me with my mouth between a burger and a mic, sticking my tongue out like it's such a burden to want those thingsUgh. Food. And music. I’m tortured.

    Those are the things that tripped me up, slowed me down, kept me from writing a book in…I’m estimating I could have done it in 5 minutes if not for cats, music, and food. Yeah, that sounds like a legitimate estimate.

    Now, back to writing, lest I have to add “blogging” to my list next time I’m counting my ridiculous distractions.

    Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape
    Peace Fire is out 11 October!
    Pre-order your Kindle edition here.
    Sale price until 10 October


  • Autistic (2 Year Update)

    If you haven’t already, please read the introduction post. That will give you context for this page.


    Note: This wasn’t on the original list, but it seemed like a necessary update to the topic.

    As of today, it’s now 2 years since I was diagnosed as being autistic. I’ve been meaning to write an updated post for my Not Ashamed series, but I’ve been so busy. And, even today, I should be writing things for my upcoming blog tour, so this will be shorter and less detailed than it could have been.

    I wanted to write because I’ve learnt a lot since my diagnosis and because I no longer want to hold back on details of the reality of my own autistic experience and challenges. Frankly, if you don’t want to know me or work with me because of that, then it’s just best for us all if you don’t. (Not that I have time to enumerate my particular autistic traits right now…)

    I’ve learnt a lot about autism in general, about ableism (because, with the current structure and expectations of society, autism is a disability), about the difference of being a woman or girl on the spectrum instead of a boy or man.

    A lot about myself and what it means to be me and be autistic. A lot about how it feels to admit that I am disabled in the context of this society in which I live. A lot about how much less disabled I am online.

    I’ve read so much, trying to keep up as the new studies roll in and as the neurodiversity movement helps frame better ways of talking and thinking about autism and other forms of neurodiversity.

    I’ve been infantalised by people who should know better once they learn I’m autistic. I’ve tried to process the best ways to respond to people’s unintentionally rude, ableist, and hurtful behaviours and comments. How to gracefully educate (or encourage them to find other autistic voices with which to educate themselves) parents and other neurotypical people who have reasons to have opinions about how to help (often “help”) and care about someone on the spectrum.

    I’ve had opportunities to explore and try to snuff out my own internalised ableism. As with any time spent processing one’s prejudices, it has been uncomfortable but important and, ultimately, rewarding.

    I’ve posted a bajillion articles about autism on a couple of my social media accounts, resulting in some annoyed people and some appreciative people. I’m trying to help people who care about me understand my reality and to spread the new knowledge I have. But I’m also coming to have one more realm in which I understand that it is not the job of the minority to educate everyone, especially when people have access to the same resources I do.

    It’s been an intense and enlightening couple years. I’ve had great experiences and horrible ones. I have no doubt there’s still more for me to learn and still more “opportunities” ahead for me to try to not end up hitting anyone for insensitive or uninformed comments.

    So, before I get back to writing about my book, here are some quick thoughts and statements.

    I still regularly discover ways in which my autism has shaped me and my experiences, and I appreciate the friends and family who have believed me when I have said who I am and what I need. We should do that for people in general, non?

    I love how much nicer it feels to be me now that I recognise and honour the ways that I need to function and structure my life. I have, for so long, thought that everyone else felt and experienced life very much like I do and that I was just being weak to let it bother me so.

    That said, there are things that are important to me, that I’m choosing not to give up, that are difficult. That, having discovered how non-difficult some things can be now that I know how to better care for myself (or what to cut out), I am acutely aware of the difficulty of. I do what I can to mitigate the discomfort and I have very little, if any, patience for people who criticise or prevent those efforts.

    Autism Speaks is a pretty problematic organisation. If you truly care about someone autistic, including yourself, please don’t listen to them. Please find places like the ASAN or Autism Women’s Network to start or continue/improve your learning. (And if you want to know why adult autistic people have been saying Autism Speaks is terrible, this is a great opportunity for you to take your education into your own hands and google that.)

    Here’s a handy post someone made about how to understand what it means when we talk about autism being a spectrum.

    You might also want to consider how that better understanding of a spectrum informs the reason that many of us eschew “high function” and “low function” labels. (Hint: You can be highly functional in one way but not in another, and get labelled based on which trait a person or society puts more emphasis on. And because people will use that label to determine your overall capability and, sadly, your worth, that’s a pretty crap approach.)

    If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met…one autistic person. There are so many ways we can differ from each other that you can’t just assume your past experiences have totally prepared you for me. (But, really, that’s always been true when it comes to me. Ha!)

    Anyway, I need to get back to writing things about my book, and the two links I gave you are great starting points if you want to better understand autism from an informed perspective that involves autistic people in the conversation. (A lot of my best learning has come from things posted by the Autism Women’s Network.)

    Two years from now, I should be back with some kind of militant autism manifesto. Woohoo!

    I am not ashamed to be autistic. In fact, if given the opportunity to not be autistic, I wouldn’t take it.

    xx

    Cross-posted to the Not Ashamed section of my site (so that it’s all tidy).


  • Tied to My Trailer

    Good thing my band Varnish wrote the theme song for Peace Fire, non? That made the plan for the book trailer easy and took an edge off the part where I have been dying to have a video for this song.

    Music: Tied To My Chair (Single version) by Varnish

    Tools:

    Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape
    Peace Fire is out 11 October!
    Pre-order your Kindle edition here.
    Sale price until 10 October


  • Strangers When (and If) We Meet

    As you very likely know, the world lost the incredible David Bowie in January of this year. Soon after, Will Brooker asked if I’d like to put together a cover of a Bowie song with him to use over the credits of a documentary he was making about research he did whilst writing his book on Bowie (due out January 2017). Please head over to Forever Stardust to learn more about that. The book and the documentary should be quite good if his previous works are any indication.

    I wanted to say a few words about this project, especially given I know some of us felt like touching a Bowie song was stepping on hallowed ground. Did we dare? Eventually, obviously, we did. And we can only hope that we’ll get lumped in with all those covers we heard come out the last 8 months (it’s 8 months and 1 day now since we lost Bowie) that are considered good, rather than the ones that made us cringe or shrug. But I suppose that I have that hope with everything I release into the world…

    Why did I do it?

    • I like a good collaboration, and I reckoned that Will’s and my voices would sound good together. (I still think that and hope we sort out our ideas for future collaborations.)
    • Like many, I was gutted by Bowie’s death and, in some ways, getting to submerge myself in this was therapeutic. It didn’t take the sorrow away (it’s still there), but I find that working on someone else’s creation gives me a sense of seeing them a bit better, which took the edge off my loss.
    • I liked the fact that distance is a theme in the song and we were going to build this song around people who were both physically distant and strangers to each other. There are people I’ve never met who worked on this track, to whom I felt a sort of creative closeness whilst working, but who will still be strangers when, and if, we meet. (I’m pretty sure I owe drinks to at least half of them, so surely that means it’s a “when” and not an “if.”)
    • I love this song. I think the album is under-appreciated, and even others I know who love Bowie aren’t familiar with this song. Whereas I actually recall clearly the emotional impact this song had on me the first time I heard it, years ago (and how I replayed it a dozen times in a row once I’d finished listening to the album). Whatever you think of our cover, go listen to the original. It’s a dense and complicated piece that, in true Bowie style, sounds simple in the best possible way.

    This was a project that hit a lot of hurdles, so I definitely want to give yet another massive thanks to everyone who ended up making the time, giving their best, and (in some cases) and stretching their capabilities to make this happen. Literally each name on the list below (after the embed) is someone who had to give extra to do what they did or who was a last-minute save. Bless!

    Put your headphones on (really…this song is best with headphones or good speakers that let you hear the panning and such) and give it a listen. Hope you enjoy!

    Written by David Bowie
    Vocals: Amber Bird, Will Brooker
    Guitar: Joe Brooker, Jason Cope
    Bass: Taylor McCarrey
    Keyboard: Cat McCarrey
    Drums: Euan Rodger
    Mixing/production: Amber Bird, Joe Brooker
    Additional engineering: Oliver Betts


  • First Time Is Novel

    There came a point where I decided I was no longer a writer and would not have a book published.

    Some stuff was going on in my head and with my chemistry and I wasn’t doing anything creative other than my makeup. (And even that was mostly just doing things I’d done before…Yeah, not my most vibrant era…)

    When that stuff got sorted, I poured out a mass of rough material for possible books, a few poems, and began a torrent of lyrics that has me with lyrics for over 250 songs now. Yeah!

    Then came the next point where I decided I was no longer a writer (well, except for lyrics…and then blogs…) and would not have a book published.

    I had started a band and realised that I LOVED making music (it let me combine writing and performing and it was MUSIC) and that I only had time for one creative endeavour until such time as I ceased to have to work a day job or until I somehow became a person who could live on way less sleep than I actually need. I chose music. (I 99% don’t regret it.)

    When the way that things work with my day job shifted so that I started having long periods where I was between projects…Okay, to be honest, I just spent all that extra time and energy on music-related things. Because music was doing things for me that writing hadn’t (and probably at least partly because I hadn’t put in the effort on writing).

    And, listen, a lot of people consider themselves aspiring writers and never get around to writing. They’d like to write a book, they dream of writing a book, but they don’t. There are plenty of reasons for that, and I’m sure that a few were in play in my situation. Plus, I had stopped thinking of myself as a writer…

    Me posing with a guitar, a laptop, and a plastic laser pistol in front of music gear and a poster of Buckaroo Banzai

    Trying hard to make it up to Buckaroo these days…

    Then, my buddy Ernie Cline basically gave me a deadline. And not a “far in the future” deadline, but a “write a book in a month” sort of deadline. (I suspect he didn’t realise the situation and had generously given me the benefit of the doubt, had assumed I was working on it all along like I should have been.) A book that would be good enough that he wouldn’t regret spending the time on me. And here are a few things I learned by finally writing my first novel and following it through to the end:

    • If I spend all my possible free brain time (you know, where I don’t have to use my brain to do other stuff, like when I’m showering) telling myself the story in great detail before I write, I can write it at a speed that shocks me. Every time. I expect it won’t always work like that, so I’m savouring this whilst it’s working for me.
    • If I didn’t pause to edit whilst I wrote, if I just let it flow out of me without analysing it, that was the key. I’m a perfectionist and it kind of killed me to write like that initially. But it also freed me to just get the story out. Because, as I reminded myself constantly, everybody has to do edit passes or re-writing. I wasn’t saving myself that step if I agonised over every word as I put it on the page, I was just making the most enjoyable part of the writing process less enjoyable.
    • On a related note to those first two things, I learned not to stop myself when I suddenly realised I was writing scenes I didn’t expect or plan whilst in my writing flow. I’ve heard about people who say that their characters speak to them or make the choices so that the stories write themselves…I definitely found that knowing the characters well meant I didn’t have to spend time deciding what they would do. But the closest I got to stories writing themselves was times I got lost in the flow and it was obvious to me what the results of all the variables would be. Flow is the best!
    • The joy of even just finishing writing that first draft was enough to make me dance around the flat, loudly proclaiming my potency. Quest completed! Achievement unlocked! And then I finished editing and it was totally done. More dancing and proclamations. And then there was cover art and there were physical proofs in my hand and…Listen, even just hitting a daily word quota can be a rush for me now. I can’t believe I deprived myself of this.

    My computer screen, showing the word count of a document at almost 110,000 words

    I Instagram my word count like you do your food

    So, what was it like to write my first novel? It was terrifying and exhilarating and satisfying. It was hard work (brutal hours and much aching finger/hand/arm time) and enjoyable. (If I was a seeker of fun, I might even call it that…) And then it was incredible to realise that I was, indeed, a person who could write a whole novel. A novel that didn’t suck. Oh my stars!

    I think I had a unique experience. I know full well that novels don’t usually go this way. But I guess the only way to find out whether this is how novels go for me is to keep writing them. I’ve had worse obligations…

    Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape
    Peace Fire is out 11 October!
    Pre-order your Kindle edition here.
    Sale price until 10 October


  • It’s Probably Not You

    You might recall that, in my last post, I said this:

    Someone asked if there were things I worried about with my book. And, yes, there definitely are. Some are, I think, pretty universal artist concerns. I also had two specific worries that, whilst not unique to me, are less universal. You see, my book has bracing quantities of swearing and has characters with names that you might think are yours. In this post, I’m going to talk about the first. There will be another post for the other later on.

    Well, today is “later on,” so I’m here to talk about names. Or, to keep it not-too-long, character names in Peace Fire. This is one of those that I hope everybody who has ever known me reads, because I’d like to not have to say a million times that, no, that character isn’t named after the person you think.

    A toddler furiously reads a bookYou can probably just relax whilst you read

    Even before I had a band, back in the murky reaches of my teen years, I started pulling together the ideas that would become Peace Fire. That process is a whole other post, but I’m trying to lay out a timeline, so it’s worth mentioning.

    The year before I actually did form a band, I sat down and wrote out the roughest of rough drafts. It read something like the version you’d get if you didn’t care about spoilers and asked me to tell you the story on a lunch break. I did this in spite of being pretty sure I would never manage to follow through and write it out as an actual book.

    Spock pets a black cat and raises an eyebrow to indicate that you are talking rubbishI know , Spock…I know…I was ridiculous…

    One of the things on which I spent huge amounts of time was character names. I think names are really important, and I find it a painstaking task to choose a name for anything I care about. I wanted to find names that both fit the character and that would spare me from false accusations that I’d named a character after someone I knew. Fortunately for me, there were appropriate names for all the main characters, some of them appropriately common enough names to not make this a ridiculous affair, that fit both criteria. Hurrah!

    In fact, in that initial draft, in the section with notes for another story that might happen in the same universe, there was only one name that was a purposeful “naming after.” But she isn’t in this book. (Don’t worry, curious kittens, I’ll say more about that below.) Though, for the record, the outlines for the ideas that became the next two books in the series were done enough that I can probably just post this or point to this for them too. And, if some new character pops up when I do my next drafts, because I already have one draft of book 2 and the outline of book 3…And if I happen to grab the name of someone I know for that character…Well, chances are good that I’ll drop you a note, like I did for the other people who I can still find whose names I stole. If it’s about you, you’ll know.

    Now, fast-forward to 2015. Years after that initial work I did. I picked up my notes and my bits of scenes…and I realized that I now definitely had been social with some people whose names were like my characters’ names. In fact, for reasons there’s no need to go into, I felt pretty sure that certain groups of people would be positive I’d named particular characters after people in those groups. Oh, the drama! And I really hate drama.

    And I really felt (and still feel) sure that those people wouldn’t believe me when I told them that those characters weren’t named for them. Ugh.

    My initial instinct was to do a massive re-naming. I spent a whole day trying to do that for just one character. And then slapped myself. I know the truth; all I can do is tell it. In the end, I decided that it would be ridiculous to undo the careful work I’d done.

    Drawing of an angel holding a man's hands. Text on picture: And the angel said to him, "Stop hitting yourself!" But he could not stop, for the angel was hitting him with his own hands.Dramatic recreation

    So, instead of changing names, I’m writing this post. I’m pointing out the timeline. I’m trying to make it clear that, with the exception I’m going to list below, if you met me after I started making music, this definitely isn’t about you. If anything, naming the characters after people I know would have made it harder to stay true to the true characters of those characters. (Yeah, I know, that’s a bit of a tangled sentence.)

    I did actually change one name. By some horrific consequence, there was a real-life parallel involving someone with a character’s name that was a little too spot-on. Even knowing better, I felt uncomfortable and felt sure the real-life person would see it as an attack.The character was…not unimportant, but not one of the absolute core crew, which made it easier.

    Now, here’s the list of characters who are named after people I know, and notes enough that the people I know will know it’s them (even if I no longer know how to find them and send them a note to tell them I used their name):

    Sarah! I actually have more than one amazing friend called Sarah. I’d kind of like to get you lot in a room together because I suspect just watching you talk all night would be magical. One of you actually met me post-band formation, but there’s no way you don’t know you are one of my inspirations. You are the exception to my “all namesakes are pre-band people,” and you bloody deserve the honour. I love you Sarahs so much.

    Scott! But a particular Scott. And it’s your first name, not your last. Scott S. Scott with two Ts. Scott who used to dance with me every weekend. (At MachineWerks and other places…Oh, man, I miss those nights!) Scott who….well, a lot of things. I thought you’d appreciate being a doctor and wouldn’t fuss over being a woman. I should also note that Scott is why I know how awesome it is to let someone else scrub out your wounds.

    Me glaring over my shoulder at someone at a dance club. Pale skin, long dark hair, black makeup and clothesPortrait of the author as a dancing queen (aka me at MachineWerks)

    Paul? Paul! This is one of two people I’m not still in touch with. And I might be remembering incorrectly. Basically, when I needed to name a bouncer, I immediately thought of a bouncer I really liked back in those days when I was always out with Scott. I am pretty sure he was called Paul. But, hey, MachineWerks bouncer on Saturday nights, with your shaved head and ready smile, you deserved to be name-checked this way. Even if I maybe got the name wrong…(Updated to add the ! version of his name and to note that Scott has confirmed my memory is not entirely faulty. Whee!)

    Marleina! You won’t meet her in Peace Fire, but I don’t want to write this blog, which should cover all the books, and not mention Marleina. What you can’t see is the way my eyes become hearts when I think of Marleina. Sadly, she is also one of the people I lost touch with. But you’ll know if you’re her, because you would have lived in the same building with me on Capitol Hill (you got me that flat, actually) and have danced with me at MachineWerks. (I guess there’s a theme here, isn’t there?) I’m glad we were friends enough that I got to call you Mina, and I hope you read my books and wonder if it’s about you. (It is! Though you are way cooler than the character. I just didn’t figure I could describe her like you and have people not consider it way too fictional to even include in fiction.)

    And if you’re a friend who wonders why your name didn’t show up or why I won’t let you claim that the character is named for you…Don’t fret, my pet. You don’t need that to happen to be a loved or worthwhile person. Plus, how will you feel when that character I named after you dies or worse? Trust me; I’ve seen some really uncomfortable moments caused by well-intentioned authors naming characters for family or friends.

    (And if you’re someone who wants to argue and accuse me of lying, please send those notes to youarewrong@iwouldnotwastethetime.com. Heh!)

    Being reclusive decreases the number of people I know well enough that they might actually think a character is named after them, but it looks like I haven’t been consistently reclusive enough. I’ll try harder 😉

    Peace Fire cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape
    Peace Fire is out 11 October!
    Pre-order your Kindle edition here.
    Sale price until 10 October