• Category Archives inspirations & influences
  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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


  • Not Ashamed: Intense

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


    I think intensity has some complications. As with other things on my Not Ashamed list, I’m not claiming that the things are all easy or good or whatever.

    For instance, a good percentage of the people I’ve thought of as intense in my life have also turned out to be drama-magnets. Nay, not drama magnets, but massive drama generators. And the worst of my bad romantic relationships were with people whose intensity I found attractive, until it turned out that they were too easily inclined towards darker emotions (or “thrilling” behaviours like stalking or abuse).

    And I suppose that one reason I get accused of flirting when I’m definitely not is that people are just so used to those who aren’t intense. I don’t want to spend time on small talk (I really loathe it) or with someone who isn’t interesting. Which means I don’t tend to go for light topics, and I try to pay attention to the person I’m talking to (sometimes just because I’m trying to figure out if I want to keep talking). So, you find yourself in the eye of my intense storm and you wonder…But, for 99.99% of you, you really shouldn’t.

    But I think of my intensity as quality. Condensed goodness. Fuel for my art. Not just for my art, but it’s also fuelling the fires behind my emotions, my devotions.

    I guess, if you’re used to only those who aren’t intense, maybe that can be frightening.

    I guess, if you’ve only interacted with intense people who turned out to be manufacturers of drama and chaos and unpleasantness, any intense person can be frightening.

    I guess, if it makes you have to look deeper in yourself because maybe now you wonder if you might also, buried in your core, have such intense emotions…or you look and see you can’t match mine (in romance or friendship or bandmate-ing) and you’re afraid telling me will hurt my feelings or make me angry, maybe that can be frightening.

    And I’m not going to judge you for preferring…less (nor assume that, in an objective sense, that is the same as lesser). There’s a world full of people for you, and I hope that you find the best non-intense friends and romantic partners and so forth.

    But I’m never going to be ashamed of being intense, and I’m going to treasure those few who can dig on my intensity…and those who have some of their own without going mental on me.

    I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m a rather strong cup. But I’d drink me (and so would a few, delightful others).

    p.s. I balance out my intensi-tea with a propensity for silliness and an inclination to laugh. Call it my sugar, my milk, whatever it is makes your tea something more than bracing.

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


  • Not Ashamed: Ridiculously Musically Eclectic

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


    Of all the things on my list, this is probably one of the top 5 I’m most hesitant to post. You see, I am a musician. The best thing, in my opinion, that I have put out into the world is songs. And musicians are judged more harshly than most anyone else when it comes to their musical tastes.

    Now, I completely own up to the fact that my opinions of people are influenced by their musical tastes. I love people who, in my opinion, have seriously questionable musical tastes. But I also see that almost all of my closest friends share many of my favourite bands and musicians. And the thought of being in close relationships with people who hate the music I find most important makes me cringe. (Been there, done that, never going back.) So I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t factor in the musical tastes of others when forming opinions. I honestly believe that a person’s musical favourites say a lot about them.

    That said…

    I was raised in a home that was full of music. We all grew up wanting our own stereos and then played music non-stop on whatever we had access to. We all loved music, though most my family didn’t all love the same music. Plus, my dad and eldest brother were (are) pretty eclectic themselves. And then most, if not all, my friends loved music. There was more overlap there than there was in the music family members loved, but it still wasn’t complete overlap. Which means I had access and exposure to a wide range of music. Lucky me!

    With the internet, I also had access to music nobody I knew was listening to. Access to All The Music!!! Lucky, lucky me!

    Wee me with headphones
    Pretty sure the stereo was the nicest, most magical thing we owned.

    Like most creative teenagers, my friends were vocally and strongly opinionated about music. So there were whole swaths of music that I either avoided completely or that I wouldn’t admit that I enjoyed. It was risky even to say, “I don’t like their music, but they’re clearly talented.” Nope. Just keep your mouth shut.

    Which is to say that I was not always not ashamed of my musical tastes.

    But, sometime around age 21, I started to care a whole lot less about other people’s opinions of my tastes and looks and actions. I also started hanging out with more musicians and realising that, as much as people judge us strongly for our tastes, it’s a good thing for us to be atypically eclectic. The broader my tastes, the broader the influences on my own music. Even if you don’t hear it, there are bits of songs that occurred to me to approach in particular ways because of some song or genre you might not expect me to enjoy.

    People talk a lot about guilty pleasures. I’m not going to claim that all pleasures are okay; there are a lot of questionable people with even more questionable pleasures. But I absolutely refuse to have musical guilty pleasures. Why bring shame in to taint my enjoyment of a song? Not going to happen.

    As a bonus, I learned years ago that the quickest way to get certain kinds of boys who were hitting on me to leave me alone was to be forthright about the music I loved that they considered crap. “Yes, I see you posturing there. Do you see me skanking during the song you’re mad the DJ is playing or bobbing my head to Public Enemy as I chat with my friend? Oh, you’re leaving? Such a shame…”

    Me glaring at someone at a club
    It wasn’t like I was an inviting person to start with…

    I’m not claiming I love all music. Though, so far, I’ve found that there’s usually a song or two of the types I’ve heard that I enjoy. And not just obscure things. I’m sure I lose my punk card, my goth card, my alternative card, and an assortment of other cool kid membership cards when I gleefully sing along to Taylor Swift or have kitchen dance parties with Jay-Z and Rihanna. When I put on some Genesis or Dire Straits or Fleetwood Mac on purpose. When I don’t protest if my guitarist says I have to check out the new JT (that’s Justin Timberlake, cool kids) album. And I know plenty of rock kids who don’t get it when I spend a night listening to nothing but Chopin’s piano pieces or won’t let them switch albums until I’m done with the whole Salt-N-Pepa album I’m in the middle of. And so on and so forth.

    Please also note that I’m not claiming to be an expert on everyone I like to listen to. Not at all. I haven’t had the luxury (of time or of memory) for that since I was about 15. Even then, I always felt a little obnoxious trying to prove I was a super-fan via knowledge of trivia. Because that’s not what it’s about.

    I love wallowing in songs I’ve enjoyed for ages. I love hearing new things I enjoy. I love to lose myself in a song, an album, a playlist. I love songs that make me cry and songs that make me dance and songs that make me want to grab someone pretty and do scandalous things.

    Me dancing whilst I sing
    Wallowing in my own music, hoping for scandal

    If we’re listening to music from my collection and it’s on shuffle and I warn you that you will probably end up disappointed in me, that’s not an apology. Not at all.

    If we’re listening and something shuffles up that I skip, it’s not shame. It might be that I know you’ll be offended and I’m sparing you or it might be something added to my massive collection by a friend or partner that I have yet to clear out.

    If I explain that I know a song I love is kind of lame but there’s this particular emotional context. I’m not ashamed of loving the song. I’m just acknowledging that some of my tastes have more to do with emotions than with the actual song.

    But my own ridiculously eclectic musical tastes are not something of which I’m ashamed. And I sincerely believe they make me a better musician. Rawr!

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


  • Not Ashamed: Daydreamer

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


    “Your head’s in the clouds again, isn’t it?”

    From a young age, it was clear that my daydreaming was problematic.

    Daydreamers don’t pay enough attention to adults.

    Daydreamers don’t concentrate enough on grown up things.

    Daydreamers rudely live in a world that others can’t access.

    Daydreamers are impractical.

    Daydreamers are too easily distracted.

    Shame on us!

    Shame on us?

    picture of space (Two galaxies: NGC 2207 and IC 2163)

    I don’t think so.

    Daydreamers don’t stay needlessly trapped in a mundane world.

    Daydreamers are the visionaries who change our world with their innovations and inventions.

    Daydreamers are the ones who push on for big goals because that daydreaming helped them grow deep roots that would let them survive trials.

    Daydreamers are the artists, able to transport even the non-daydreamers to other worlds because they (the daydreamers) have spent time in those worlds though their bodies are trapped in this one.

    Daydreamers are accessing a little more magic and, therefore, a little more joy, even if that joy isn’t what you see as joy.

    So, yes, indeed, I am unabashedly a daydreamer. And the older and busier I get, the more decadent and nourishing my daydream time is. I wallow in that as often as possible. And I’m not inclined to apologise, much less feel ashamed. I love my inner world too much to sully it with unnecessary shame.

    p.s. My head isn’t in the clouds; it’s in the stars and in entirely other worlds.

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


  • Vampires, Evil, and Sunlight

    I’m foregoing a clever title for this. I think names of people, places, things, or ideas are important. And, when it comes to the act of naming, I either immediately know the name or I spend loads of time working one out. It is literally taking me less time to tell you why I’m not giving this a clever title than it would probably take to come up with that clever title. This matters to me because, at the moment, I’m fitting in loads and loads of creative endeavours. Music, poems, books, and blogs, to name a few.

    One of those other blogs is Most Worlds, a blog I’m doing with my talented arts writer friend, Cat. This month, we’re writing on one of our favourite themes: vampires. Which is how I finally had a chance to really understand that different people “need” different things to find a vampire story satisfying. And that is how I ended up writing Cat an email about a realisation I had dealing with vampires and evil and why I don’t particularly favour vampires who must be evil. Which, in turn, is how I ended up standing in the shower contemplating vampires, evil, and sunlight until the water got cold. Obviously, that meant a blog. (I’ve already got my posts for Most Worlds written for the month, so this is supplemental reading that I might just link to…)

    First, I’m going to tell you two things about me that will be relevant here.

    Thing One: When I was about 13, my class to a trip to a park where I knew I was going to end up riding a rollercoaster. Now, for those who enjoy any sort of thrill ride, what seems to be happening at a subconscious level is that your brain sees danger, the brain chemicals that deal with danger are released (a heady mix), and then you evade danger over and over (cue more brain chemicals), and you walk away feeling victorious. Yay! Your brain is quick to let you know that, hey, this makes thrills enjoyable. HAVE MORE! For those who don’t enjoy thrill rides, the brain doesn’t seem to get past the chemicals that deal with danger, it doesn’t seem to give you the achievement for evading death.

    When I rode the rollercoaster (as when I’ve been faced with other things meant to provide entertainment via the titillation of fear and thrills), my brain shrieked over the danger, but then it told itself that was rubbish as there was plenty of evidence that there was little to no actual danger. Which, my brain noted, was good because danger leads to fear, and fear is actually not a pleasant feeling. My brain then confirmed that we had paid to give our control to a random stranger so that we could be slammed around in cars with shrieking other strangers. Yeah, yeah we had. Well, my brain was bored, not titillated, and not impressed with my choices.

    So, no, I don’t enjoy thrill rides or anything else that works on the fear = titillation equation. If, on the other hand, your horror film has a riveting plot or can engage emotions other than fear, there’s hope. That is why I read and watch horror anyway, because I’m intrigued by stories of how humans might behave in unusual circumstances or I’m really curious about the traits of monsters. This is why, in spite of my fear of heights, I have been known to enjoy the borderline-thrill-sport of rappelling, because I’ve always done it somewhere where my physical location (hanging on a rope, high above nature) allows me to seem some breathtaking beauty that wasn’t part of my usual experience.

    Thing One in summary: I get no pleasure from fear. I am probably an android.

    Thing Two: Part of the beliefs that make up my spiritual path is that no human will be forced to be good or to be evil. Every human has a choice, even in the face of whatever feelings or urges or circumstances might be pushing them one way or the other. And, should one make choices that could be considered evil, there is always a chance at redemption. Moral agency and the chance at redemption are big catalysts and supports behind my core life values and motivators of love and light.

    Yes, we can talk about vampires now. But first I want to assure you that I am quite capable of both distinguishing fiction from reality and of suspending my disbelief for the sake of enjoyment.

    From what I can tell and what I’ve read, around the time the vampire really entered the public mind via the novel Dracula, the vampire was an awesome and symbolic way to address Victorian sexual standards (among other things). That Dracula was a being who just was evil and had no motivation other than being evil was frightening. Even more frightening was that he could make poor Lucy into a vampire against her will and, therefore, make her evil against her will. The sexual titillation (though admittedly rape-y if we stop to think about it and definitely based in norms and standards that have changed), the exploration of the then-new modern woman via Mina, and the intriguing look at gender norms especially in the face of huge emotion work for me. The fear-based titillation, as you can guess, did not. Does not.

    Worse, whilst I can set aside that these are different times and the things that do work for me aren’t nearly as relevant to my emotional or mental experience of the story as they probably ought to be, and whilst I can suspend disbelief enough to go along with fantastic things like vampires, I hit a massive wall when it comes to setting aside my belief in moral agency or in the only redemption being death. If vampires are real, I’d expect that there’d be a different moral code applied to them from On High, and that they’d be evil not for being vampires or for drinking blood but for the way in which they obtained and drank that blood.

    This applies to all vampire things. Even as I stopped to point out to myself vampire stories I enjoy that don’t involve an angelic vampire, I realised that those stories still had room for the struggle to be good. For the ability to cling to what was left of their humanity. For example, I love Lost Boys, but those are vampires who are clearly evil and, it’s implied, were made evil by become vampires. But then I realised that, via the half-vampires, my precious moral agency and chance for redemption before death still existed. Michael and Star and Laddie could still fight what they were. They might have been tricked into drinking Max’s blood, but they were resisting the last step that would seal their fate.

    Perhaps you’ve realised that one of the allures of the vampire who is evil and can’t help it is the chance for the reader or viewer to imagine a life where they can do all the immoral and unethical things that tempt them as humans without having to take any responsibility. I mean, if you’re an evil vampire, can you really help yourself? And if you know me, you might expect me to totally buy into that particular allure. But I have accepted the responsibility of my actions (the good or bad, the times I didn’t get a thing I wanted because I stuck to my morals and ethics) and I am a staunch believer in the value of personal responsibility. Even when it sucks. (From a darker angle, I’ve had plenty of chances to remind myself and others that, for instance, someone being drunk did not excuse them being a crap friend, a jerk, an abuser, a rapist, etc.)

    Now, sunlight…

    Often, in media where things are symbolic (which certainly includes at least the original vampire stories), the sun is symbolic of Christ and its light is symbolic of the light of Christ. When the sunlight weakens or kills a vampire, we are supposed to see it as symbolic of Christ destroying evil. Even setting aside Christianity, there are plenty of spiritual paths that will get behind the power of light to purge and purify, to cast out what is bad or evil. And, sure, I can get behind that, but…

    If you read my Most Worlds posts this month, you’ll see I’m a fan of the vampire being able to go out in sunlight. (That’s actually one of the things I treasure in the original Dracula novel.) In my original draft, at the first instance of mentioning such vampires and my pleasure at that trait, I’d quickly and thoughtlessly written that was because removing the safety of sunlight made for more tasty fear. I’ve since revised that sentence, because, as we’ve established, I don’t actually find fear titillating or in any way enjoyable.

    Before I get to the “real” thing I want to say here, I want to admit two lesser reasons I like it when vampires can go in sunlight:

    • I’m a pale person. Very pale. Careful efforts to get my skin to have a little colour (so that I’d be pale and not actually translucent and, therefore, less prone to quick damage) all ended painfully. And I like my paleness just fine, but I watch my cat nap in a sunbeam or see what appears to be lazy and languorous joy in sunbathers and I get a little jealous. Just a little. I am not a vampire and the sun sensitivity can be a drag. I can easily extrapolate to imagining how, for instance, you’ll never again see the beauty of a landscape in sunlight. Sadness!
    • We now live in a world with electricity, 24 hour markets and restaurants, and an apparently declining belief in Christianity. So limiting a vampire to darkness doesn’t really do much anymore in terms of adding an interesting logistic to work around. And the initial intended symbol of the sunlight as the light of Christ burning out evil is now more of an empty trope, an easy answer at the end of a story.

    But here’s the thing that really matters…Because I can’t believe in the vampire who is, simply by virtue of being a vampire, evil…and because the harm done by sunlight is supposed to be symbolic of Christ burning that evil away (or at least weakening it)…that symbol isn’t powerful to me. Whereas, because I know that symbol exists, a vampire who can walk in the sunlight suggests to my brain, even if the writer thoroughly doesn’t think so, that this is a creature who has moral agency and, even she does choose evil, a chance at redemption.

    Which isn’t to say I’m against sunlight harming or killing vampires. Looking at my top films, 3/5 of them show vampires who are negatively impacted by the sun. If it just weakens them, it offers an interesting plot complication. If it kills them…well, as long as it doesn’t look like a lazy writer just leaned on that, sure. I’m offended by lazy writing, not by sunlight killing vampires. I just have a special soft spot for the times it doesn’t. I am a sucker for hope.


  • Explain Yourself!

    As observant readers know, I don’t talk about the meaning behind the lyrics I write. I’ve been thinking lately about explaining myself, explaining why I don’t explain myself, via blog. I was almost derailed, though, as I read the introduction to a book of lyrics by one of my favourite artists (Brian Molko of Placebo). Brian doesn’t even like to have his lyrics written out for people to read and, whilst I don’t share that particular dislike, the reasons he provided made sense. Suddenly, I felt like I’d already put so much out there just by providing lyrics…But here I am, explaining myself. Oddly, the thing that has me finally writing up what I hope will be a comprehensive guide to why I don’t like to explain what/whom lyrics are about is the decision to actually do a little explaining as part of the release of my band’s Each to Each EP. No, I know, it doesn’t make sense. Welcome to the chaos of my brain!

    Loki's brain is a cat in a box

    Now, without further preface:

    Why I Don’t Like To Explain My Lyrics

    (A list I scribbled whilst on the tube)

    1. I can’t be the only person who loved a song and found meaning in it and then read or heard the band talking about what they meant by it and was completely put off the song or confused…and it ceased to be meaningful to me. Sometimes, for the sake of being fed by art, it’s better we don’t understand what the artist intended.
    2. Lyrics ought to stand on their own, in the context of a song, without need for explanation. Writing them without intent to explain them keeps me from taking sloppy shortcuts. Because…
    3. In an ideal world, my songs are all over the place and people are hearing them without explanation. And…
    4. People are finding their own connection to the lyrics, their own meaning. Mine matters and there’s something to be said for authorial intent, but who am I to deny you the meaning you find? People are, I believe, most likely to find a meaning that speaks to their understanding and their context or to find, in those things that they connect with that are outside their context, a way to open their minds and hearts.
    5. Sometimes, the feelings that are captured in lyrics are fleeting. They might last only as long as it takes me to write. They might even be mostly worked out but just a pushy ghost whispering words in my heart by the time I have a moment to write. If I was hurt by you or doubted you for one brief moment, there’s no reason to have you feel hurt or upset every time you hear a song that was written in that moment.

      Bowie turns his back on you

      On a related note…

    6. Lyrics, like other art forms, sometimes dramatise a feeling or an experience. We’re trying to help evoke a massive emotion in just a few minutes; we don’t have years of building up the emotional context. (Or maybe I realised the best words to get the emotion and the rhyme/metre is to use a word that’s a bit more than things strictly, literally were. Ah, artistic license…)

      Little girl pounds at a window...text: FEELINGS

      This leads to two reasons I don’t want to tell you the story behind a song:

      1. Yes, it’s an authentic emotion I’m describing, but it doesn’t mean that every moment of whatever we were doing was this massively horrible or amazing. I don’t want anyone taking it the wrong way.
      2. I don’t want people who care about me to know that something is really that massively big because they would worry. They don’t need to worry. Better they assume it’s just dramatised. (I promise, if I need help, I’ll reach out.)
    7. Whilst the feelings or my side of a story are mine to share, I don’t necessarily want to cast aspersions on or cause discomfort in the other person(s) involved. Especially if I was being a bit dramatic. Even if I wasn’t, I’m not actually hateful and I hope that even those who’ve done the worst to me have gone on to become better people and have happy lives. (I’ve actually had more than one person who quite sincerely apologised to me, years after the fact, when they realised how horrid they’d been.)
    8. I don’t want to feed anyone’s egos. I don’t want to make famous (or infamous) people who did me ache. The only way in which I let them linger in my life is by turning them into something good (lyrics, poems, characters in stories, art!). If the worst they did was break my heart by not returning a feeling, my emotions are still not here for their egos. They need to go find some other girl or boy to help them feel that, someone to whom they return the feeling so that it’s a healthy situation. (And, whilst some people think they know which songs are about them, I’ve had some of my closest friends guess incorrectly about a song’s inspiration. So, if someone tells you I wrote it about them, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about…)
    9. Often, I’ve used the song to process through and be mostly done with an emotion or a dark moment. If we’re performing, I’m willing to put myself back in that emotion to give you a good show (I am a fan of emotional authenticity). Outside that context, however, I want to be done with the feeling. (Why dwell on an old hurt when life delivers new hurts?) And some things will creep back in far too easily if I tell you what the song was about. I try to have the same policy with emotional self harm as I do with physical, which is to say I avoid it these days.
    10. The meanings of the songs evolve, even for me. You know how sometimes you hear a song and it means one thing, and then you live a little more and the song evolves to mean something else? There are a few of my songs where that’s what’s happened. (Bruise Me, for instance…and I swear I intend to write about that in the tidbit I’m going to post about Bruise Me in the days after the album release, so read that for a concrete example.)

    Having told you all that, and feeling pretty sure I’ve covered all my reasons (nine is a good number), I’m going to go write some tidbits about the songs on the album…give you a little peek at what’s behind some of the songs.

    Crowley (from Supernatural) pulls out a list and says, "Let me tell you about my feels."

    Of course, whilst I prefer not to talk about the meanings, I’m always interested in hearing what the songs mean to someone else. Even if, as occasionally happens, what someone hears in them is so far from my truth when I wrote them that I get confused. It gives me a chance to discover nuances and consider other perspectives. So do keep finding meaning. For me, if people are connecting and finding meaning, the songs are doing what they’re meant to do, and that means my life has been worth living…worth singing about.

    xx