Just poking my head out of my little bunker of work and of fighting despair to think out loud a little. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how events since about late 2016 have impacted what I create and what I consume for pleasure. And I’ve been alive and watching the world and dealing with depression long enough to know that this isn’t normal for me.
I’m not going to list the events that are influencing me; you and I live in the same world and can see the same news items and current events. I’m not trying to say that the world is worse than it’s ever been…Though I’m not trying to not say that.
But what I am trying to say is that it’s all changed what I want to read and watch and write. I can no longer bear the grim post-apocalyptic or dystopian stories that I used to love. I am hungry for happy endings and journeys to them that aren’t too rough. I comfort watch and read and listen even more than I used to, leaning into characters who feel enough like me that I have a sense of being even less alone in what hurts. I unexpectedly weep when there are loads of marginalised characters in something…and I get even crankier (by which I mean, yikes, do I do a lot of snarling into the air) at bad representations of marginalised people or at stories heavily dominated by non-queer, non-disabled, white men.
On the other hand, with how much I cannot get enough of grim poems, unhappy songs, and dancing like I think I can exorcise the despair in me? I’ve always been this way, but haven’t been so very much this way since I was a teen.
Anyway, the world is a very hard place and I have no shame about the changes I’m making to all this in the name of self-compassion. After all—and this is for you too—the parts of my time and mind that I don’t have to give over to barely surviving in this capitalist dumpster fire? Those are mine and I am not going to feel bad about using them to build joy, hope, recovery.
(I should have made this a post about the importance of art for how we cope with and survive life, but I just don’t have it in me to do that topic justice today. And plenty of others are constantly writing about that, so you probably already know.)
Whilst it’s been months since the last of the Peaceforger books was published, I’m still processing their impact on my life. I think that the value of doing creative things is often under-realised, and I want everyone—even if not for money or fame and regardless of talent—to have the goodness of doing creative things. So, to inspire you to go do creative things, here is a list in no particular order of…
5 unexpected ways writing the Peaceforger books has made my everyday life better
Katja was pretty good at placing blame where it belonged instead of letting guilt that wasn’t hers hang around. Writing her let me practise that enough that her voice now lives in my head…And now I’m better at applying that to my own life. Sorry (not sorry), corporations and capitalism and other structures and people that profited off me not realising the guilt was theirs.
I watched people support me and I witnessed one beta reader bravely trust our friendship as she overcame fears about ruining our friendship to give me complete and honest feedback. The end result was that the beta readers and those who supported me created stronger relationships with me.
With multiple reasons to consider what makes someone a person, I got the fun of pondering philosophical topics, a few new writing ideas, and a chance to explore common societal biases most of us don’t recognise, which I hope has helped me cleanse some biases I didn’t notice from my brain.
I learned more about how my brain works and about what things I actually do have loads of capacity and capability to do. Knowing this is great for planning self-care but also for having something to counter the negativity when I am made to feel bad because of things for which I have little to no capacity and/or capability.
I gained more faith in myself as a writer because…1) Finishing one book is a lot, but it’s a whole other thing to pen a sequel and then to finish a trilogy…and 2) I ended up with a different process for each book, leaving me more open to a variety of approaches. Now, I stress less when things that worked before don’t work now. I know I can do this if I just keep poking at things.
I could make similar lists, each with unique items, for writing poetry, making music, acting, making videos, and all my other creative endeavours (including the ones I’m not at all good at).
What unexpected goodness have you gotten by doing creative things?
A smattering of other things (including, but not limited to, bookmarks, blogs, and bookplates).
Is this wrap-up causing some Feelings? Definitely. These characters and their stories have been part of my mental landscape since I was 15, so I’m kind of melancholy that this part of that relationship is over. And it just feels unreal and kind of weird and uncomfortable, because there are lots of ways that moving on will change what fills my head and my hours. But I’m also rocking some celebratory feelings and am proud of myself, especially as I think of all the people who struggle to finish even one book. High five, self!
Plus, I’m excited to work on my next thing, because it too—at least the “it” that I’m currently working on that I think will be the next thing—has been part of my mental landscape since I was 15. (Not all my friendship choices were bad when I was 15…Heh!)
So, what is next? I’m glad you asked. Except that I’m also not going to give you too many details yet.
Currently, if I get no new ideas ever (which I used to fear but now think is unlikely)…
I’ve got at least 6 more sci-fi novels lined up (1 is near-ish past, 4 are near-ish future, and 1 is faaaaaaaaaaaar future and might become a trilogy). Of them, 3 of the near-ish future ones have been in my head since I was 15 and the faaaaaaaaaaaar future one(s) arguably started putting down roots in my brain when I was maybe as young as 5 or 6. But I promise that they’ve all grown up with me, so they shouldn’t seem like that time your nibling told you long, rambling stories that let you practise your “fixed smile to prevent accidental hurt feelings.”
I’ve got 2 novels that I’d categorise as fantasy-ish, though both also definitely have some sci-fi to them. Actually, I’d be more likely to categorise one of those as sci-fi with some fantasy to it. Both are present or very-near-future. The idea/full plot for one of those is years old and the ideas and bits for the other just started assaulting my brain this year, though both are rooted in things I’ve loved since I was a kid. (Don’t worry; I was a weird kid who had interests that were beyond my years. And that just means I’ve had extra time to think about how to make good use of those things. Fingers crossed that I actually do make good use…)
And, of course, I’ve still got ambitions and bits of work going on around my poetry and music, even if life makes it hard for me to do All The Things at once. Not to mention some other creative ideas and projects that have been pushing for my attention. Obviously, I’ll also continue to look for excuses to make videos.
I just hope I can get enough of these things out of my head and into the world in a good way before the dark future takes me out. Or make peace with being just another artist who never gets to it all…
Today is the day! Peace State, the final book in the Peaceforgers trilogy, is out today. I hope you will agree with beta readers and find it a satisfying conclusion to the story.
If you donâ€™t have your copy, you should be able to find it (or have them order a copy for you) wherever books are sold. And, just in case you prefer to buy online and donâ€™t feel like searching, here are some links to the most usual of suspects:
Cramming a few posts into one! If you care about the Radio Edit, you’re looking for the Cussing section.
Itâ€™s less than a month until Peace State is out. Youâ€™ve still got time to pre-order your own copy! For those of you who want the version that is truly chock-full of swears, hereâ€™s a wee link roundup if youâ€™d like to pre-order the ebook at the bigger Usual Suspects:
But I also know itâ€™s being sold through smaller (aka I donâ€™t really know them) outlets, and the paperback should also be available everywhere. Eventually. At the very least, once itâ€™s out, you should be able to ask your fav indie bookshop to order it for you!
Here’s the trailer, which Iâ€™m using to celebrate having passed the one month mark:
And hereâ€™s the cover for that version, in case you havenâ€™t seen it.
You have probably already guess that, like the first two books in this trilogy, Peace State is Really Quite Sweary. Really.
The short version: Whist there is less swearing in this book than the last, thereâ€™s more than in the first book. Which, please believe me, is still more than those of you who donâ€™t like swearing think. But I have also made a Radio Edit version, just for you anti-swearing people, where Iâ€™ve removed the cussing but not all the rude words. (Pre-order that version here.)
The long versionâ€¦
Actually, Iâ€™m going to refer you back to the swearing post for Peace Fire for all the context and thoughts and such. Here, Iâ€™m going to tell you the numbers (whilst using enough censorship that this post stays swear-free). You know, in case youâ€™re skipping the other swearing post and so still underestimate just how swear-y this sequel is.
Letâ€™s pull out ye olde swear jar and calculate the damage. In my 329 pages of story, the following words (or variations thereof) show up the number of times listed here:
H-word: 50 (This is after subtracting false positives, because this also returned words like â€œshellâ€ and â€œhelloâ€)
Rude words related to male genitals: 3 (but only when used in that sense, because, for instance, one can be cocky or be pricked by a needle and thatâ€™s not rude)
A-word: 79 (Spelled the â€œusualâ€ way or the variant that includes an R. This is after subtracting false positives, because this also returned words like â€œparse,â€ â€œassume,â€ â€œpassword,â€ etc. In fact, there were about 165 of those false positives, and I am paranoidly sure I missed something in my edits. Apologies in advance if thatâ€™s so.)
B-words: 31 of one and 25 of the other (Plus once instance of â€œbastardized,â€ which research tells me isnâ€™t a swear, so I left it in.)
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 Lordâ€™s name in vain.
But, as promised when I made the first one happen, Peace State gets a Radio Edit version as well. (And now Iâ€™m going to pretty much repeat what was in the first post. If you just re-read that, unless you need to know the other, less-likely to offend US English people words in there, you now know everything! Well, everything covered by this post.)
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 Iâ€™ve created, my mind immediately goes to radio edits of songs. Though I could totally use words on the radio that Iâ€™ve taken out of the Radio Edit. I could also have way more sexiness on the radio than youâ€™ll find in the Radio Edit.
Because itâ€™s the culture in which the story takes place (and, yes, what counts as swearing varies based on which English-speaking country youâ€™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 â€œcrap,â€ â€œpiss,â€ and â€œjerk,â€ in which case I really canâ€™t scale it back enough for you. (I also left in phrases like â€œthe evidence was damningâ€ because there are non-swearing uses of words that US English considers swears in other contexts.)
Actually, hereâ€™s list of words that are something like those mentioned in the last paragraph that are not edited out or were actively used to replace actual swears:
The swearing was not removed by just using the Find and Replace function. (For instance, I did not just replace every f-bomb with the same word.) That would have left a massively inferior book (instead of one that I just feel isnâ€™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 isnâ€™t about me; itâ€™s about you. So, I did my best for you, all things considered.)
Because itâ€™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 Iâ€™ve confirmed it will be available for pre-order. (If you donâ€™t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app to your computer or device. Thatâ€™s what I use!) If you search for Peace State 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 canâ€™t guarantee thatâ€™s what youâ€™re getting. Shop carefully!
Peace State (Radio Edit) is now available for pre-order here
In January, 5 months ago exactly, when I made my â€œHappy birthday, David Bowieâ€ tweet, I said someday Iâ€™d have to find time to post about how David Bowie was â€œa massive part of how I didnâ€™t lose–and learned to love–my authentic, Autistic self in the face of normal societal pressures and some of the wiring that is typical if one is AFAB and Autistic.â€
And today itâ€™s someday.
It’s an incomplete list and all bullet points, but that’s because Iâ€™m attempting to keep it short, because I know I can go on when itâ€™s a topic I care a lot about. Trying to pretend I can play it as cool as he did…
He saved me from forming silly typical rules in my brain about gender things.
He gave me a different view on sexuality so, even when I only knew one could be gay or not-gay, I didnâ€™t think I was imagining that I fancied all sorts of people.
He helped me see that there was something glorious in not being like everyone elseâ€”not mirroring the h*ck out of mainstream aesthetics.
He made me believe I didnâ€™t need to be like everyone else to be successful and beloved.
He made music I could love enough that it led me to connect more to music in general and connected me to all the music that has saved me.
His personas and knowing he used personas for public things helped me engage more in the acting that helped me do performative neurotypical-ness. Iâ€™m not ashamed of being Autistic and wouldnâ€™t change how I am, but the world sure would. And performing emotions and socialising the typical way has been sadly necessary in this world.
And his personas and how he used them also helped me sort out how to do my creative stuff more healthily and somehow also with a little more authenticity. (Like Oscar Wilde said: Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.)
Iâ€™m lucky to have grown up in a home where I was introduced to him when I was still a toddler. Even if my parents were nowhere near as outside the norm as he was, my brain cleverly latched onto his appearance and his vibeâ€¦And I was able to believe I was who I felt like I was, and not who the world told me I was supposed to be. Forever and ever, Iâ€™m a Blackstar.
ps Keep your eyes open. I have it on good authority that bits about my next creative release will start trickling out later this month.
Weâ€™re closing in on a year since the governor the state where I live told people to stay home in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Like many of you, Iâ€™m grateful for the science and technology that made it easier to stay home and still (kind of) do most things I was doing before. But, surprising no one, I donâ€™t want this to be one more place where we forget to also be grateful for art.
Even in the before times, I thought a lot about the art we took for granted. And a lot of what I read about how people were coping with the pandemic times made it clear how much more crucial art was for better lives. So, hereâ€™s to all the art, the creative endeavours, that make life better. Like…
All the books and poetry and stories and music and TV and movies that are filling your hours, hopefully making things at least easier to tolerate.
All the opera, ballet, plays, concerts of assorted kinds, livestreaming club DJs, and other â€œliveâ€ performance, even when itâ€™s just streamed online.
All the architecture and interior design that make the places weâ€™re in (or that we see on our walks and drives) nicer to look at and better fits for us.
All the clothing design (yes, a designer was behind even that cheap t-shirt you love) that means Iâ€™m not doing all this whilst wearing, I donâ€™t know, a burlap sack or something.
All the photos and paintings and sculpture and other such art, whether itâ€™s on my walls or online.
All the makeupâ€”and some of you are wildly creative and talentedâ€”that proves a face can be a great canvas.
The TikTok videos and comedy shows and Tumblr â€œcooperative storytellingâ€ posts that keep the laughs coming.
And also the creativity poured into well-decorated desserts. Or the simple art that is encouraging quotes put on top of a drawing and posted online.
And the fan stuff…the fanfic and fanvids and fan art. I am definitely not one of those snobs who say it has no value.
And the crayon-on-paper masterpieces lovingly made by inexpert hands. Things donâ€™t have to be marketable to have value and to make life better, even for a moment.
And, yes, the creative endeavours we take part inâ€”even if we totally suck at them and would never share with others or they seem super minorâ€”to pass the time, to try a new thing, to get some enjoyment.
Etc etc etc.
Seriously, if something is aesthetically pleasing or evoking emotions or distracting you, it might count as art. (Not everything that meets one or more of those criteria is art, but a lot of things are the product of creative work, are art, that people donâ€™t realise.)
So, yes, be grateful you can do video calls and stream things and get vaccinated and so forth (that stuff is awesome!), but donâ€™t forget that science and technology arenâ€™t the only things making life better. Art is also how we survive…and definitely how we thrive.
Before I get into the meat (haha) of this post…Iâ€™m still sorting the cadence, and it could vary if something comes up, but Iâ€™m probably going to move to doing blogs and sending messages to my mailing list on a quarterly basis for a while. With the writing and editing wrapped up on the last Peaceforger book, my mind wants to dive into the next book after that. To that end, I want to maximise time spent working on the book. And, since you are more likely to be following me for my books than my life-changing blogs (heh!), I suspect youâ€™ll appreciate that as well. Okay, onto the good stuff!
As promised when I first posted the playlist for Peace Maker, hereâ€™s a quick explanation of which place each song in the playlist is about. Iâ€™m posting the playlist again here so that thereâ€™s a bit of a buffer between this and the MANY SPOILERS in the explanations. (I mean, Iâ€™m hoping that keeping them short helps reduce spoilers, but, seriously, SPOILERS.)
Okay, last warning: SPOILERS!
Public Image Ltd â€“ Seattle is, well, for Seattle.
Depeche Mode â€“ Pipeline, from the Construction Time Again album, is for the construction equipment office where they interrogate Zane.
The Weirdos â€“ The Hideout is for the warehouse thatâ€™s their main hideout, cos I couldnâ€™t think of warehouse songs and the ones with that in the title werenâ€™t right.
The Cure â€“ Jumping Someone Elseâ€™s Train is for the train station where Katja meets Lex.
Placebo â€“ Burger Queen is for the burger joint where they eat with Lex and Marleina.
The Geto Boys â€“ Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta, from the Office Space soundtrack, is for the empty office where they meet Zane in the middle of the night that one time.
Emily Haines & the Soft Skeletons â€“ Doctor Blind is for Dr. Scottâ€™s office.
Manufacture â€“ Many Machines is for the plant, and gets extra points for Dune samples. RIP MindKiller!
Sneaker Pimps â€“ 6 Underground is for the Seattle underground.
The Refreshments â€“ Banditos is for the Mexican place where Katja sees Engalls.
The Prodigy â€“ Fuel My Fire is for the fueling station, with extra points because it has relevant themes.
The highest number of correct or close-to-correct guesses came from Iris A. Nice work!
Greetings from the end of the dumpster fire of a year that was 2020, a year in which Too Much happened. A year that many writers of books and scripts will point to when someone gives feedback like, â€œIt seems super improbable that these things would happen.â€ A year that was approximately the 4th in a row filled with things that seemed unbelievable. (Please enjoy just a few of the many images I found looking for one for this post. They’ll help you remember that, mainly, the news was full of said dumpster fire.)
And, of course, when I wrote the first draft of Peace Maker, it was still early 2016 (a whole year before the delightful photo of me at the top of this post, where it looks like I did know what was coming…) and much of what was going to happen after that draft was done would still have sounded too unreal to ever happen.
So, Iâ€™d like make it clear that I was trying to write with some amount of restraint, some amount of realism. I was imagining what sort of things the future might hold. IMAGINING.
Now, you might read Peace Maker and think some of it was surely written this year and was not, in fact, just me imagining as Iâ€™ve claimed above.
As the release date approached, I suddenly saw my story as one might if one had not been the writer, had not been living with it for years. And, when you read it, youâ€™ll wonder why I didnâ€™t realise what you might think until sometime in September; it will be pretty obvious what I think youâ€™ll think I wrote this year. You may well doubt me.
But my beta readers can tell you that the version they got in January 2018 had this same plot and all the same things in it. Which means I have witnesses. Which means Iâ€™m doing better with this bookâ€™s disclaimer post than with the one I made for Peace Fire.
For Peace Fire, I had to clarify that I hadnâ€™t used a real â€œwho.â€ For Peace Maker, itâ€™s that I didnâ€™t take any real â€œwhat.â€
I canâ€™t see any suspicions about me not creating the â€œwhenâ€ (I mean, 2050 is a real year that will happen, if we donâ€™t destroy ourselves, so I wonâ€™t be claiming I imagined that) or the â€œwhereâ€ (we all know Seattle is a real place). Which I guess means we now wait to see which â€œwhyâ€ or â€œhowâ€ I accidentally seem to steal for the final book in the trilogy.
(Which, fortunately, beta readers can attest they got last September, over 2 years before it will be published…My reputation might remain safe!)
I think Iâ€™ve mentioned it enough and am open enough about it that you likely already know that Iâ€™m Autistic. What you might not have known, until someone mentioned it in Peace Maker, is that Katja (the main character of the Peaceforger trilogy) is also #ActuallyAutistic. And you canâ€™t be blamed for not knowing, because…
…Because nobody said anything about it in Peace Fire, even though she was as Autistic then as in the second book. Just like my friends, as far as I know, arenâ€™t constantly talking about me being Autistic.
…Because women and girls on the spectrum remain under-diagnosed. Iâ€™ve even heard about one man who specialises in assessing autism who missed that his own daughter is Autistic. (The studies and figures cling to the gender binary, but I imagine this generally applies to AFAB people. Also, I am uncomfortable using the word â€œdiagnosedâ€ in this context, as autism isnâ€™t an illness, but…thatâ€™s another topic.)
…Because I only got my autism assessment in 2014 and it took me a while to feel I had a right to really claim or write that reality. Since Peace Fire finally found its way to the page for the first time in 2014, I was definitely not feeling my rights then.
…Because, as we say in Autistic circles, if youâ€™ve met one Autistic person, youâ€™ve met one Autistic person; weâ€™re as different from each other as we are from neurotypical people. And most of what people think of as how Autistic people are is based in stereotypes of male Autistics. So, even if youâ€™ve got an Autistic friend, your â€œeducationâ€ in us is likely incomplete.
However, by the time I wrote Peace Maker, I was ready to own it. I felt I had a right to just flat-out state that truth of who Katja is. After all…
…If I want Autistic representation in media, I should do more than just want. And I shouldnâ€™t keep it quiet.
…If I want Autistic people in media who are, by my experience and understanding, realistic, I should do more than just want.
…If I want people to respect the call of â€œnothing about us without usâ€ that we Autistic people often make, I should take advantage of this opportunity to make it about one of us, with (by) one of us.
In fact, once I embraced this, I realised that every idea I currently had for new books involved Autistic main characters. Which led to a little examination. Was it weird that that was the case? Was it okay that that was the case?
And then I thought of all the neurotypical people who, without a qualm, only write neurotypical main characters. In fact, all those books Iâ€™d read by cis, het, neurotypical, non-disabled white men tended to have main characters who could also be described that way. And people didnâ€™t seem to question that very much for decades (centuries?).
Just to be sure, I ran this by a number of people I respect and whom I trust to tell it to me straight and call me on my rubbish. And they agreed with me. Which means that, hurrah!, Katja was my first but certainly not my last Autistic main character.
We might need to handle things a little differently, but there is room for people like me in book-worthy situations. Just like thereâ€™s room for us in the world.