• Category Archives artist’s life
  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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


  • I Swear…

    A friend once noted that a film about my life would get an adult rating due to casual swearing, to which I replied that there is nothing casual about my swearing. And I actually mean that. And, because of that, I’m writing this post especially for my friends and family who don’t like swearing in their books or who don’t mind it for themselves but do mind it for their offspring.

    The short version: There is definitely swearing in my book. There is also a version I made just for you without it. You’ll have to scroll (or read) to the end for information about that. (Pre-order that version here at a discounted price.)

    The long version…

    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.

    I was raised in a strictly “no swearing” home. The only time I recall swearing as a child, I didn’t know that the “f-word” an older kid gleefully taught me whilst walking home was one of the fabled “bad words” that weren’t allowed in our home. So, being chased about with a bar of soap to wash out my mouth when I used my new word at dinner that night was…unexpected. After that, I made it through my teens and into my 20s without swearing. (There was one time and it kind of slipped out and I was mortified. Mortified. By that point, I’d bought into the belief—that I now think is incorrect—that swearing showed laziness and/or a poor vocabulary.)

    Lighting gel called "Bastard Amber"
    When I did lighting for theatre, this oft-used colour gel was the bane of my existence

    I won’t name names, but I was once shocked (shocked!) when someone I respect, someone who was in the anti-swearing camp, shared a short story of theirs in which a character swore. (Just once. And a pretty minor word. But you better believe my world was rocked.) When I asked them about it, they said that you have to stay true to your characters. And that’s what I did here. Which resulted in some pretty bracing swearing.

    When I started swearing, it was after a long and logical conversation with myself. I chose to swear. And I won’t try to convince you non-swearers to swear (though one of my reasons for the choice shows up later in terms of a choice I made about edits). In fact, most of you non-swearers haven’t heard me swear. You might be shocked. (Or you might, because you were small-minded and stereotyped me based on appearance, feel vindicated in believing I was the kind of person who’d swear…Whatever gets you out of bed in the morning….)

    After I wrote my book, I had conversations about this with assorted people who held all kinds of opinions. In the end, I absolutely believe that the swearing is a more authentic approach. I absolutely believe that the normal version of my book is the better version, but…

    I understand that there are friends and family who’d like to support me, that there are parents out there who’d love to put this story in their offsprings’ hands, and probably some groups of people I haven’t thought of, people for whom the swearing is a deal breaker. No judgement; I get it.

    Instead of judgement, I wanted to consider options for letting you anti-swear folks read my book. Some of you have been vocally excited about the book, and I’m trying not to let you down.

    Before I tell you what I’ve done, I want to be clear about two things:

    1. This is all the discussion I’m really interested in having with anyone who judges me for the swearing. I won’t be engaging if you ask for a private explanation. Please understand that I will be ending such conversations as quickly and gracefully as I can manage.
    2. I am not at all ashamed of my normal version of the book. If I were ashamed, the version I’m about to describe would be the normal one and the one with swears would be the Swear Jar Edit (that would get sold secretly).

    A jar labelled "swear jar" and filled with large denominations of money and a credit card

    I had the chance to discuss this with one of my anti-swear people about whose opinion I was actually worried. They took it in stride, so I’m counting on the rest of you who don’t have nearly the stake in me they do to do the same. I believe in you!

    Final bit of information before I tell you about the edited version. See, I suspect some of you might underestimate what I mean when I say the swearing is “bracing,” so I’m going to give you some numbers (whilst using enough censorship that this post stays swear-free). In my 340 pages of story, the following words (or conjugations thereof) show up the number of times listed here:

    • F-word: 111
    • S-word: 105
    • D-word: 60
    • H-word: 52 (but some might be in words like “shell” because I used Find to do a word count, which introduced some uncertainty for some of these)
    • Rude words related to male genitals: 4 (all uses of one variation show up in uses like “cocky” or “cocked the gun,” so that’s not included here)
    • A-word: Whether you spell it the “usual” way or the variant that includes an R, it’s the sort of thing that might show up in words like “parse,” “assume,” “password,” etc, so there’s no easy way to get an accurate count. But those of you who didn’t run away after the f-bomb count can probably handle this…
    • B-words: 10 of one and 12 of the other
    • Shockingly, any other words I might have used, including the c-word (which makes my US English friends particularly uncomfortable), didn’t show up when I searched for them. I was surprised, but, there you go…
    • Because it is of special concern to some of you, whether you read the normal or edited version, I want to note that I did not use the Lord’s name in vain.

    So, plan to run into an f-bomb about once every three pages. Same for the s-word. And, if you make it through one page with no swears, there’s a good bet it’s just clustered up somewhere else. The total of all the sweary words used comes out at over a swear per page.

    Bracing.

    That swear jar in the picture up there is now starting to look a little less imaginary to you, isn’t it?

    Now, this other version…May I introduce you to the Radio Edit.

    Peace Fire (Radio Edit) cover: a silhouette with a red flare in the middle, in front of and a large, round, metallic shape. Red stamp on cover with text "Radio Edit"

    I called it the Radio Edit because, as most of you probably know, music is a massive part in my life. When I think about voluntarily censoring something I’ve created, my mind immediately goes to radio edits of songs. Though I could totally use words on the radio that I’ve taken out of the Radio Edit. I could also have way more sexiness on the radio than you’ll find in the Radio Edit.

    Because it’s the culture in which the story takes place (and, yes, what counts as swearing varies based on which English-speaking country you’re in), I did the edit based on US English swearing. It should be good for you non-swearing folks in general, given my experience has been that, overall, US English is the most limiting variation. Unless you have a problem with words like “crap,” “piss,” and “jerk,” in which case I really can’t scale it back enough for you. (I also left in phrases like “the evidence was damning” because there are non-swearing uses of words that US English considers swears in other contexts.)

    Actually, here’s a count like the list above:

    • Bloody – 6 times, some of which had to do with actual blood. Left in because I opted for US English ideas of swearing, and it’s not even seen as a remotely rude word at all in the US as far as I can tell.
    • Crap – Whilst it shows up only 8 times in the regular version, it shows up 70 times in the Radio Edit. Left in or used as a replacement for the same reason as “bloody.”
    • Piss – 11 times, but…listen, I hear some of you non-swear folks say you’re “pissed off,” so I feel pretty okay about this. After all, you’re not giving this book to your kids. “Piss” seems like a pretty reasonable non-swear rude word these days.

    The swearing was not removed just by using the Find and Replace function. (For instance, I did not just, as one friend suggested, replace every f-bomb with “frick.”) That would have left a massively inferior book (instead of one that I just feel isn’t as authentic sounding). What actually happened is that I made a list of every swear word I could think of and a few extra-rude words, and then I used Find to locate them. (If I missed anything, please accept my most sincere apologies. The cost of a full line edit and the impact on timelines was not something we could work out.) I then made changes on a case-by-case basis. (Which only confirmed my belief that swear words serve particular purposes and carry their own, unique connotations and nuances. But this edit isn’t about me; it’s about you. So, I did my best for you, all things considered.)

    If the Radio Edit does well enough, it will be part of the plan from the start to do it for the books I write after this. If it does well enough and enough interest is shown, we can totally look at the option of print copies later on. For now, because it’s not the way things are normally done and due to the cost (in terms of time, money, and energy), it will only be an ebook. Currently, Amazon is the only place I’ve confirmed it will be available for pre-order. (If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app to your computer or device. That’s what I use!) I’m working to make it available more widely, and should at least have it available through Barnes and Noble (as an ebook). If you search for Peace Fire at your preferred ebook supplier, unless the cover is the one you see above (with the Radio Edit stamp on it) and the description notes that it has been edited for swearing, I can’t guarantee that’s what you’re getting. Shop carefully!

    xxx

    Peace Fire (Radio Edit) is now available for pre-order here at a discounted price


  • Why I Sci-Fi

    In assorted ways, not all of which are insulting, I get asked on a regular basis about why I write sci-fi. This is attempt #6 to write this blog in a way I don’t hate. Because this is tied tightly to my tastes in media, and, like any other taste (why do you like your favourite food or preferred musical genre or fave Ghostbuster?), there’s some aspect of “it just hits my brain/heart/taste buds right.” But “I write sci-fi cos I love it” doesn’t really seem like enough answer. So, list! Because I find refuge in bullet points. I’m going to give you five. Five is a nice number.

    I write sci-fi because:

    • I love it. Heh.
    • I was raised on it, so the inside of my head is basically a multi-verse of all the realities and worlds I’ve experienced via books, films, and TV. And I wouldn’t change that.
    • It can be a non-threatening way to let people consider issues (political, social, environmental, etc) and experience points of view that differ from their own. That’s super important.
    • It’s not constrained by reality, not if you can find a way to justify or kind of explain a thing. So, even if those people who say there are only a certain number of actual plots are right, you have in sci-fi an infinite number of places, people, and props to use for those stories.
    • The real world has often been a place where I was treated unkindly, belittled, told to give up on my dreams. Why wouldn’t I want to take breaks from that to, among other things, ride Shai Hulud, wield a light sabre, or fight Lectroids after putting on a rock show? (After I publish this, I’m going to be upset at all the fictional worlds I didn’t mention here…I’m noting that in order to have this place to tell myself “PUT DOWN THE KEYS; this is fine.”) I might be a poor kid who can’t afford to go to the cinema or on a holiday, but I have always been able to leave this planet or time behind.

    Amber and a friend in cheap silver costumes, making silly duck faces and throwing peace signs in front of a picture of space. A filter makes their colouring look alien.Remember that I am a serious space explorer. Is this how Earth girls selfie? (Sorry, Cat.)

    So-called literary stories usually leave me depressed. Horror, unless it’s sci-fi horror, often leaves me unimpressed or laughing at things I’m not supposed to. Fantasy often leaves me pining for the past (where all the elves and dragons lived…though there are also some incredible fantasy stories that make it my second favourite genre, many of which happen other places or in the present). But sci-fi…Yeah, it might make me pine, but it also lets me escape, lets me be amazed, and, most importantly, gives me hope.

    I write sci-fi because it got me through and still does. (Frank Herbert and the mantra against fear would deserve my first born if he were still alive and if I had kids.) Sci-fi made me a more thinking, compassionate, open person. If I’m going to consume resources on this planet, the least I can do is try to pass that on to someone else.

    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


  • Warming Up the Blogging Machine

    Hello, strangers. After a streak of weekly posts, I’ve been quiet (too quiet?) the last 6 months. Did you miss me? Did you wonder how I could forsake writing?

    I’ll just assume you’ve answered “yes” to both. But! I come with news. You see, I wasn’t forsaking writing. Not at all. In fact, my first sci-fi novel will be published in a few months. See? Totally busy with writing things.

    Now, I know you’re all still due an updated entry on autism, now that it’s been over 18 months (close to 21 months, actually) since my diagnosis and I’ve had time to educate myself and process and so forth. And I swear that that is on my list; it is going to happen. But I think you can see how the impending publication of a book is kind of a massive deal to me. So, I’m going to get back to more regular blogs. Because writing a book is a journey and I have Thoughts.

    We’re about a week out from a cover reveal, but what I can reveal is this:

    The book is called Peace Fire, and the awesome Ernie Cline, bestselling author of Ready Player One, had this to say about it:

    White text on a dark background: "A smart, fun, fierce tale of geek revolution and high-stakes adventure." -Ernest Cline, Bestselling Author of Ready Player One

    So, keep an eye out! In addition to reading blogs here, you can follow me on Facebook. There should be a steady trickle (that will increase to a torrent!) of content for the next little while.

    xxx


  • Not Ashamed Addendum: Isolation

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


    (Relevant to bi-polar, autistic, musician, writer, introvert, reclusive, but also to “my own biggest fan”)

    Stepping out of the flow of existing topics for this addendum, because it seems like an important one for people who care about me and are reading along.

    I was talking to one of my sisters the other day, and she made a comment about how depression is isolating. Which is true. Feeling isolated and alone is a very common part of the depression experience for most (all?) sufferers. Which got me thinking about me and solitude (and also the fact that I think my sister was trying to carefully express worry about me and solitude given the fact that depression is isolating).

    Now, I’m in a rush to get some things done, so I’m not going to google it, but…It seems like depression is isolating because:

    • Depression seems to be tangled up with the lying voice of low self-esteem, so you isolate yourself because you are pretty sure you don’t deserve friends or good times and that your friends probably actually hate you.
    • You have no energy or desire to do anything but lie in bed or binge watch TV or something like that.
    • You don’t want to be judged for being depressed, and the best way to avoid judgement is to avoid people.
    • Other people can be weird or uncomfortable around you when you’re depressed, so they stop inviting you around or you get tired of that and you stop accepting invitations.

    There might be more reasons, but those are the ones that seem to be the main issues.

    If you look at the list of labels you could apply to me (as laid out in my Not Ashamed posts), you’ll see that figuring out my own situation (am I isolated by depression?) is complicated by other things. In addition to being bi-polar (which, for me, is where the regular depression is seated), I am:

    • Autistic. Autism can be isolating for all the causes noted up in that first list, but also because of social awkwardness, sensory overwhelm issues, and how much work it can be to try to appear “normal.”
    • A musician and writer.Setting aside the oft-noted isolation of a touring musician…For me, and for every creative I know, alone time is essential for actually creating. Time to process, to try things out, to do the actual work.
    • An introvert. I won’t waste time dispelling misunderstandings of that term. The internet is full of that. But the root of what an introvert actually is is this: whilst extraverts are charged by being around other people, introverts need alone time to recharge. For me, I need hours every day—and sleep doesn’t count—to recharge from interacting with other humans. When I’m super worn out, that also includes avoiding online or on-phone interactions.
    • Reclusive. For reasons of pure preference, not due to any of the stuff on the first list or the rest of this list, I just really love solitude and enjoy being away from humans.

    In a case like me, it would be hard to tell if depression were isolating me, because so many other things in me either need or lend themselves towards isolation. So, to maybe relieve some concern from others, I want to address the usual reasons for isolation that I put in the first list.

    • Low self-esteem: This definitely used to be the case. As noted in another Not Ashamed essay, I have known the grip of self loathing. But, these days, I’m my own biggest fan. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s good cos I can barely manage the friendships of those who do love the taste of me. And I’ve pretty much stopped spending time with people that I think actually hate me. So, nope. This one isn’t an issue.
    • No energy or desire: This happens. It sure does. But I’m never lying in bed and weeping because I wish I had the energy or desire to hang out with someone. And I know that, if I didn’t want to be alone in that, I have friends who would happily, quietly sit with me. Really, given my introvert nature, it is a relief to me to be alone on such days. Being around another human would only sap what little energy I might have.
    • Don’t want to be judged: I’m pretty lucky here. In addition to caring less and less with every passing year what others think, I happen to be mainly engaged with people outside the mainstream. One awesome thing about that is that such people don’t stigmatise depression. They don’t judge me; they feel compassion and—in some cases—empathy for me. Basically, I am totally blessed that my friends are awesome and not “normal.” (Again, see how I am Not Ashamed about my depression, so not even general societal stigmas can isolate me. Rar!)
    • Not invited cos I’m a bummer: As noted, I have great friends. I’ve always been very blessed with good people in my life. Even when I was a raging mess as a teen, my friends (again, not mainstream kinds of kids) invited me and welcomed me. We tried to support each other and care for each other and, at the very least, learn to work with each others’ messiness. These days, I think that I manage to keep my messiest bits out of the fun social times (which is something that is made easier by the lovely solitude I need, I want, I take for myself). And, even when I don’t, my friends aren’t weird about it but are thoroughly supportive and sweet.

    I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging. I wrote all that with an immense sense of gratitude. And I sincerely wish that everyone could feel so blessed as I do. And, if you are struggling with something and feel isolated for whatever reason, I truly hope you can find friends and resources to help you have as little solitude as you want.

    But no worries about me. I don’t feel isolated, and I know there are people I can easily turn to if I ever did feel isolated. (And thanks for those of you who have felt loving concern over this. I hope this eased your minds.)

    xx

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