• Actually Katja

    I think I’ve mentioned it enough and am open enough about it that you likely already know that I’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 can’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, aren’t constantly talking about me being Autistic.

    …Because women and girls on the spectrum remain under-diagnosed. I’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 “diagnosed” in this context, as autism isn’t an illness, but…that’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 you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person; we’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 you’ve got an Autistic friend, your “education” 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 shouldn’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 “nothing about us without us” 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 I’d read by cis, het, neurotypical, non-disabled white men tended to have main characters who could also be described that way. And people didn’t seem to question that very much for decades (centuries?).

    Oh.

    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 there’s room for us in the world.


  • Meat Space Is the Place

    If you’ve been around since Peace Fire, you know one of the things I like making is playlists. You might even have heard me mention that, on my computer, I’ve got hundreds of them. Which means that you are surely shocked—SHOCKED!—to hear that I’ve created a playlist to go with Peace Maker and have some character-specific ones in the works.

    Technically, the playlist I made for Peace Fire wasn’t just a general playlist that embodied the book but was a playlist I thought Gran would have made in the 2010s if she knew her grandkid would be a hacker. So, instead of a straight-up Peace Maker playlist, I’ve gone another way.

    Please enjoy the late-night placeholder image I created to go with the playlist until I make a moodboard for the book. Pure class, non?

    Introducing Meat Space Is the Place, a playlist of songs inspired by physical places Katja actually gets to go in Peace Maker. Because she probably needs to be reminded that she does go places…And, recalling my frustrations when almost every playlist I made for Peace Fire or one of its characters was missing songs when I put them on Spotify, I carefully made this one with songs that Spotify actually has. Oppressive, but it means you’re getting the full playlist and not some partial, sad thing.

    Note for my Radio Edit readers: Some of these songs have Language and/or Themes you might not love.

    Now, play the list! And then, play my game! (Explanation after the embedded playlist here.)

    Okay, so. Some of you HAVE read Peace Fire but you have NOT yet read Peace Maker. If that’s you (though I reckon you could have a go if you haven’t read either book), I would love you to drop me a comment with your guesses about what place (or type of place, since, aside from the super obvious one, I’m not expecting you to name a specific location) each song in the playlist might be about. I won’t approve your comment until November when I’m done taking guesses. That way, nobody can steal your brilliance. Please, feel free to be as serious or silly as the list inspires you to be. And, yes, you can skip songs, but maybe the skipped songs are opportunities for non-serious guesses.

    (Want to feel extra free to share your silly ideas? The last song in this playlist was almost a Sir Mix-A-Lot song just to emphasise the place from the first song…)

    Though what I’d really love is if you were willing to make a video of you saying, or holding up signs with, your guesses that I can use when I make the video I’m planning to make. Please make sure you clearly state that you’re okay with me using footage from your video. If you’re going the sign route, you could also share pictures of you and the sign.

    I’ll be sharing (and not unkindly! my intent isn’t to mock you at all) guesses when I write a blog (and include my companion video) about where the songs are actually about. Because, as I made the playlist, I was kind of delighted to think of where people might guess each song was about.

    Deadline: Please post all guesses by November 7.

    I’m planning the blog to post in January (with a spoiler warning so folks can choose to come back later, but having given eager early readers a solid chance to read) with the companion video (posted to my YouTube channel) of me sharing guesses and then telling people what’s real. This deadline will give me time, taking into account holidays and other things on my plate, to have something by then.

    Thanks in advance for playing along!


  • Peace Maker is here!

    Unlike the wait for this sequel (just 5 days short of 4 years!), I’ll keep this short and sweet. But just in case you didn’t see any of the social media yesterday…and just in case you’ve been WAITING, AMBER for this to happen for 4 years…

    Hello. It is 7 October, 2020, which means that Peace Maker finally came out yesterday. Hurrah! The first draft was done at least 6 months (if my notes are correct) before the first book, Peace Fire, even came out. But…Look, everyone involved had Things go down that held this up. April 2016 to now, there lost lives, lost jobs, new homes, new jobs, mental and physical health issues large and small, and so forth. Yikes. It’s almost like the world, or at least the nation in which I currently live, has been a dumpster fire of troubles from 2016 to now…

    Enjoy my hastily composed still life for Peace Maker

    But here is it, the 2nd book in the Peaceforgers trilogy. And I am so, so thrilled it’s finally in your hands. Or it could be…If you don’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 don’t feel like searching, here are some links to the most usual of suspects:

    Barnes & Noble paperback

    Barnes & Noble ebook

    Google Play Books ebook

    Apple Books ebook

    Amazon paperback

    Amazon ebook

    And find the Radio Edit version (ebook only) at Amazon. (It should be showing up some other places, but there’s been no joy so far.)

    For those who didn’t get enough of it last time, here’s the video I made for the Peace Fire release with a non-comprehensive list of a few free and easy ways to support artists you love.


  • I Still Swear…

    It probably shouldn’t surprise you to learn that, just like Peace Fire (book 1 in the Peaceforgers trilogy), Peace Maker (the next book in the trilogy, starring the same characters) also has The Swears.

    The short version: There is definitely swearing in my book. More swearing, in fact, than in the last book. There is also a version I made just for without it anti-swearing people. You’ll have to scroll (or read) to the end for information about that. (Pre-order that version here.)

    The long version…

    Actually, I’m going to refer you back to the swearing post for Peace Fire for all the context and thoughts and such. Here, I’m going to tell you the numbers (whilst using enough censorship that this post stays swear-free). You know, in case you’re skipping the other swearing post and so still underestimate just how swear-y this sequel is.

     

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

    Let’s pull out ye olde swear jar and calculate the damage. In my 307 pages of story, the following words (or variations thereof) show up the number of times listed here:

    • F-word: 300
    • S-word: 285
    • D-word: 65
    • H-word: 70 (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: 8 (but only when used in that sense, because, for instance, one can be cocky or be pricked by a needle and that’s not rude)
    • 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: 26 of one and 28 of the other
    • Random other words that I’ve learnt are considered pretty much like swears to a US English audience: 3, but I can’t promise I searched for all the words you’d hope
    • 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.

    But, as promised when I made the first one happen, Peace Maker gets a Radio Edit version as well. (And now I’m going to pretty much repeat what was in the last post. If you just re-read that, unless you need to know the other, less-likely to offend US English people numbers, 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 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 for words that are something like those mentioned in the last paragraph:

    • Bloody – 6 times in a sense other than “having actual blood on them” in the regular version, and 27 times in the Radio Edit. Left in or used as a replacement because I opted for US English ideas of swearing, and it’s not really seen as a rude word at all in the US as far as I can tell.
    • Crap – Whilst it shows up only 1 time in the regular version, it shows up 143 times in the Radio Edit. Left in or used as a replacement for the same reason as “bloody.” But clearly used a lot more than bloody…
    • Piss – 5 times in both versions. 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 (in front of whom I’ve heard non-swear folks use the word anyway). “Piss” seems like a pretty reasonable non-swear rude word these days.
    • Bollocks – 1 time in both versions. Left in for the same reason as “bloody.”
    • Screw – 1 time in the regular version, and 64 times in the Radio Edit. But a good percentage of those new times are in the quite innocuous sense of messing up.
    • Shag – 1 time in the regular version, and 3 times in the Radio Edit. Left in or used as a replacement for the same reason as “bloody.”
    • Sod – 0 times in the regular version, and 12 times in the Radio Edit. Used as a replacement for the same reason as “bloody.”
    • Bugger – 0 times in the regular version, and 4 times in the Radio Edit. Used as a replacement for the same reason as “bloody.”

    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 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 books I write after this that are more than the tiniest bit sweary. Though I’ll definitely press for it for the last Peaceforgers book because it would be unkind to you anti-swear readers to do otherwise at this point. 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 hope to at least have it available through Barnes and Noble (as an ebook). If you search for Peace Maker 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 Maker (Radio Edit) is now available for pre-order here


  • Live Light

    Brace yourselves, because this is about to be real talk. Real cheesy hokey uncool not-rock’n’roll blah blah blah. Really.

    One set of hashtags I use regularly corresponds to one of my guiding aphorisms when I write: #WriteDark #LiveLight. “Write dark” is probably obvious if you’ve read my books, poetry, or lyrics.

    “Live light,” well, that’s what got us to this post. Because even when I was wearing only black and was so deep in undiagnosed depression that it’s a wonder I didn’t drown, I couldn’t help but believe in love and light. In the value of kindness and compassion. In the importance of spreading goodness and hope. My gallows humour has always lived side-by-side with my idealism and soft heart.

    You can’t see it, but she is bristling with magic

    One of the changes to that as I got the therapy I needed was that I understood that I deserved plenty of the good stuff in my own life. And I have spent years finding ways to make sure I never let myself get totally lost in the dark again.

    I’ve noticed the last few years, though, that life stopped feeling as magical as I’d like it to quite a while ago. Unfortunately, I think that’s a natural consequence of becoming an adult in this toxic pit of capitalism and patriarchy. And I don’t have kids, so I don’t have anyone forcing me to make space for holiday-orientated magic.

    But. For the last few months, I’ve been feeling this growing sense that I need to add monthly celebrations to my already over-full life. (Really, thanks to my writers group, I’ve been at least pondering whether I am really letting myself down as regards celebrating things for almost a year now.) So, why didn’t I go for it right away?

    Because celebrations, even the most basic kind that appeal to me, take time and/or money and/or effort, none of which I can really manage.

    Because celebrations like this feel frivolous and cheesy. (And did I ever confess that I’m not fun-motivated? Sorry to ruin your image of me.)

    Because I wasn’t sure (until I sat down to have a good think) what celebrations would actually accomplish. Not in the toxic, capitalist sense, but more in the sense that I feel divinely driven to not waste time in my life.

    Because I am not really clear about what really merits celebrations, by which I really mean merits the time, money, and/or effort.

    Like I said, I sat with these reasons not to celebrate and I came up with a list of what I thought celebrations would accomplish.

    I think they will encourage, and give me one more chance to show, gratitude. Those of you who follow me on social media know I think quite a lot of gratitude. I honestly think it’s magical.

    I think they will help me refill my resilience bank account, or at least keep it from going into the red, by giving me a little recovery and relaxation time.

    I think they will help me regain a little sense of some of the magic I feel has disappeared from my life. Maybe not the giddy, squealing joy of a wee kid at Christmas with a couple new books and a buffet of treats to which I’m allowed to help myself. But there are other kinds of magic, with sparkle enough to help me feel like I’m at least a bit farther from living dark instead of light.

    And that’s why, every month, I’m going to celebrate something. (I’ve jotted down an initial list of things for each month.) I’m going to start simple and see how it evolves…have a meal, enjoy a dessert, do some kind of activity (e.g., consume a short book, movie, TV; make art; dance a little; relax). Just a couple of warm, soul-feeding hours.

    For September, I’m celebrating Autumn and education. I think that’s going to call for a sweater, a book, and warm food (still brainstorming the menu…though dessert will involve apples and/or cinnamon probably). Simple. Cosy. And…then I’ll just have to make sure I’m mindful enough that it’s a celebration instead of being tasks ticked off my list.

    This cool cat gets it…

    If I can remember, just in case you’re into it as well, I’ll mention what I’m celebrating in my newsletter every month and maybe even write a quick blog post. We’ll see.

    (I know a couple of folks I’ve talked to about this are going to come up with exciting themes for each month and make a whole thing of it, break up the monotony of daily life, include their kids in the fun. If I had time, I’d do a whole blog—not just a post—of ideas, because I got excited brainstorming with them. So, you know, if this is speaking to you, go as wild—or quiet—as you want!)

    Feel free to use the comments to tell me:

    • That you still think I’m cool…Heh!
    • How and/or what you already love to celebrate.
    • What celebratory things you might be inspired to do having read this completely hokey but sincere mass of words.

  • Judging this Book by Its Cover

    Because you’re certainly on my mailing list and/or following me on social media (and somehow evading the algorithms that keep us all from seeing all the things we asked to see), you’ve seen the cover for Peace Maker already. It’s another good one by George Cotronis at Ravenkult, the artist who did the Peace Fire cover.

    After the clean and simple Peace Fire cover, I thought it might be nice, in a non-spoilery way, if I tried to point out five details of this Peace Maker cover that might tell you a little about what’s in this 2nd book of the Peaceforgers trilogy.

    1. Things are messier, not nearly so clear or obvious or straight-forward.
    2. That same basic silhouette confirms that it’s still Katja telling us this story.
    3. We can see she’s still hood up and boots on and, though it’s not quite the same, still got light in her. Ready for action, but maybe not quite where she was in Peace Fire.
    4. And she’s still facing down a circular shape, but it’s also not quite what it was in Peace Fire.
    5. The picture—in the circles of light and scattered throughout—has plenty of a light, bright blue you might remember from Peace Fire.

    For more than that, well, you’ll have to actually read what’s behind this cover when the book is out 6 October…

    xxx

    Pre-order Peace Maker wherever you usually buy books. Though, at this time, I’ve been told that nobody can find a listing for the paperback. Argh! They are, I’m promised, working on it…

    Here’s a wee link roundup if you’d like to pre-order the ebook at the bigger Usual Suspects:

    But I also know it’s being sold through smaller (aka they haven’t yet tried to take over the world) outlets, and the paperback should also be available everywhere. Eventually…At the very least, once it’s out, you should be able to ask your fav indie bookshop to order it for you!

    Oh, and it’s on GoodReads, in case you want to note that you’d like to read it…


  • News About New

    Did you hear? The next book in the Peaceforger trilogy is on its way!

    Peace Maker launches 6 October, 2020. What’s it about?

    Ears still ringing from their last explosive attempt to save the world, Katja and her friends learn that the war is bigger and the future is darker than anyone realized. So much for life after Demo Day.

    To counter a threat that’s more than just scattered mind control, they’ll have to stay in Seattle. They’ll have to stay in the fight. But maybe this time they can keep their battles in the digital realm. Maybe this time someone else can do all the meat space stuff. Either way, it’s time to regroup, research, resist. And when they do, they’ll learn what the enemy already knows:

    There’s more than one way to reprogram a human…

    Keep an eye on social media and/or join the newsletter for updates. On social media, I’ll be posting some wee memory nudges about Peace Fire, just in case you’re into that kind of thing.

    I do want to acknowledge the times we live in, the ongoing fight for justice and equity, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. With that going on, I particularly don’t want to crowd out voices speaking directly about social change or the voices of BIPOC. I definitely took some time to consider the current world situation and how I might best, appropriately let people know about the book. In the end, I thought about how it’s books, poems, and music that have helped me keep going in all kinds of difficult times, and how it is always my hope that the things I create might at least give people a chance to step out of reality for a breath. So, I’ll try to keep the posts reasonable, and I’ll cross my fingers that this little story about revolting against those in power gives your brain a break.


  • Random Pondering Observations

    (I no longer enjoy, nor have time for, arguing with people online. Especially given what a nasty place the internet has become for any conversation where you don’t agree. So, yeah, I’m talking around a thing.)

    ***

    Before there was an internet, if you wanted a list of all giant robot films, you wrote it yourself. You didn’t have any guarantee that anyone else would have done that, but you knew you wanted to know and, if you were lucky, your friends wanted to know. So, you became the Wikipedia article. (And, even now, the information on the internet doesn’t just appear; someone writes it.)

    So, there’s one reason someone might memorise a lot of facts and trivia about a thing. One reason whole generations of people might see that as a desirable thing to do and to share.

    ***

    It’s not just us Autistic people who often have brains that enjoy cataloguing thing. Kids will memorise all the characters in the latest toy-selling TV programme. Sports fans will memorise sports stats. Etc.

    We like to carry that knowledge around in us. We like to have it to share and to think about. We like not having to look stuff up. It seems to be a normal enough human trait that, with some brain wiring or enough passion, can get turned up to 11.

    ***

    If you’re a fan of a thing, knowing stuff about it can let you talk to other fans (or extol the virtues to non-fans) more easily.

    Which isn’t to say gatekeeping isn’t real or is okay. It is real and it is crappy and nobody should have to memorise, much less prove they’ve memorised, a bunch of facts about a thing they love to prove they love it. I’ve had people play gatekeeper at me, and I hated it. And it took the shine off my love of talking about the things I love. I totally believe that you’re a fan because you love a thing, and your inability to memorise All The Trivia, for whatever reason, doesn’t make your love not real.

    But interest in knowing and talking about the facts and trivia isn’t necessarily gatekeeping.

    ***

    Sometimes, when someone finds out you’re a fan of a thing they also love, and they ask “do you know this thing about it?”, what they really mean is “let’s share in the glee” or “I’m excited for a chance to share information I think you’ll value, and we can share in that glee.”

    Not always. I know too well that it can be the start of gatekeeping misery. But it is an invitation to share joy regularly enough that I feel safe saying it’s a thing that happens.

    ***

    When I met Ernest Cline, we talked about a thing we were both huge fans of. He didn’t do any gatekeeping. Instead…You know how we’re always saying, “Instead of being a gatekeeper, just be thrilled to find someone who loves a thing you love”? Yeah, he did that. And, when I didn’t know about some trivia, he didn’t sneer. He was excited to fill me in, to make the glee and the knowledge mutual.

    ***

    Requiring people to know facts to win a contest isn’t the same as being against, for instance, fan fiction.

    People wanting to know what’s canon isn’t the same as being against fan fiction.

    ***

    For as long as I’ve thought about virtual reality, I’ve imagined doing there what I do in my imagination: filling it with things/people I love from fiction and hanging out with all that. I know others who’ve thought the same way. So, yeah, of course the OASIS is filled with all the cool media and culture people love. And to not mention that would be to leave out one of the cool aspects of being there.

    ***

    All those people running around the OASIS with their media interests? Driving the robots and the cars and hanging with their fictional friends? Lived fan fic, baby. And I think most of us, including authors, just sort of assume you’ll all be doing that…We’ll probably do a little of it with you.

    ***

    As a creator of things, I do understand why you’d want people not to disregard your canon or to treat your characters as if they know those characters better than you do. I feel torn; I want people to respect that I know my characters best and I want them to love them so much (so much that it leads to fanfic).

    But, also, I have friends who write fic and there’s this one idea that I sometimes play with in my head. So, I guess I’m saying that I feel like living proof that you can strongly value canon and the facts about a fiction whilst thinking it’s great your friends write fic. I think I lost the plot on this particular random pondering observation…Sorry.

    ***

    If you were/are a geek, someone has probably told you that you’re wasting your time with all that geek stuff that makes your heart happy. Learning facts, playing video games, maybe even reading/writing fic as a supplemental source of joy, etc. And you know what would be the dream come-uppance? If it was the opposite of a waste of time. If, in fact, it was what let you win a life-changing prize. Yes, please!

    ***

    But, listen, if a book or film just isn’t to your tastes, that’s okay too. We can like different things without either of us being bad. What makes you bad is if you’re a jerk to other people for having different tastes.

    Also, you can dislike a thing without that thing itself being bad. Maybe it’s just not to your taste. That’s okay. Few things are for everyone.

    ***

    Ready Player One was for me.

    ***

    Maybe it was for you too, and you’re looking at the impending film and you’re worried. Neil Gaiman has said that a film doesn’t ruin a book; the book is still on your shelf. (Though author’s are allowed to feel some worry, because people will tie their book to the film, especially since people seem more wont to watch than to read. It’s definitely possible the quality/qualities of the film will impact how people see their work. For example, I was given the Magicians trilogy when I mentioned to a friend that I love the programme but hadn’t had a chance yet to read the books. And I had to work hard to get rid of the TV image of the characters and explore Grossman’s world as he’d written it. If the TV version had sucked, the books might not even have gotten a chance.)

    Plus, there are some great reviews and a friend who saw it already LOVED it. So, optimism!

    ***

    Maybe RPO was for you too, and you’re already criticising differences in the impending film. I have definitely done that. And then I realised that the novelisation of something from TV or film and the dramatisation of something that was first written is like a remix.

    Remixes are never exactly like the original. But that doesn’t mean they suck. (I mean, sure, sometimes they do…) They’re just different. They explore a different aspect of the original, or they allow the song to serve a different purpose (e.g., make it better for dancing). And that film that’s coming out? It’s a remix of the book, meant to fit the cinema. Meant to explore the themes that most appealed to the filmmaker.

    You’re smart. You get what I’m saying.

    And maybe, like me, thinking of the film as a remix will make it easy to just let go of the original and enjoy what’s good in the film.

    ***

    I expect, when I see the film tomorrow, that I’m going to enjoy it. I do so love a good remix.


  • Bad People Under-React to Bad Things

    MAJOR MUTE SPOILERS!!!!

    I’m going to assume you’ve seen the latest Duncan Jones film, Mute. I am very likely going to say who did what and to whom, so there will definitely be spoilers.

    I ought also to mention the following:

    • I went into this film expecting to like it because, to this point, I’ve liked everything that Jones has done. Enough so that, in a dream world where my books are made into films, he’s the top director on my list at the moment.
    • I can’t speak to Jones’s authorial intent. As an artist, I both think authorial (or, more generally, artist) intent matters, but also…Once you put your thing out into the world, you must assume people will see it without reading introductions or listening to director’s commentary or anything else. And so, as I opine, I’m basing this purely on what my experience was as a watcher.
    • I love this film.
    • I’m doing this in a blog instead of a tweet storm because Twitter is an ugly place and I didn’t get my degree in Philosophy just to have trolls call it a “discussion” when they fling their excrement at me.

    Got it? Right, then let’s talk about my response to one critic who implied that, perhaps, Jones has dealt with paedophilia in a way that doesn’t adequately display that it’s A Bad Thing. And, to do that, I’m going to talk about the bad guys.

    Cactus Bill is a bad guy. We might go in a bit unsure about that. After all, at least from the image we get of Paul Rudd in social media, the actor is a good guy. We kind of expect that he’ll either be full on good guy or that he’ll be a screw up who turns it around because he’s actually got a good heart. Plus, look at how much he loves his kid. For most the film, it looks like he’s just a dad trying to get him and his kid a good life. Sweet, right? And it’s even kind of understandable that, as his country of origin goes into yet another war, he’s fleeing that for said good life. We know, from other films, that he could well be someone who turns out to just be a brash loudmouth, someone who’s part of the solution.

    So, maybe we spend most the film thinking that Cactus Bill is a rough but possibly okay character. He may well work out. Save Leo and Naadi and also get him and his kid a nice life. Yay!

    And it’s even easier to think this might be what’s going to happen, because Jones carefully and subtly lays a trail that suggests maybe Duck is our real bad guy. Though, again, it’s a slow build. He’s an adoring “uncle” to Cactus Bill’s kid. He’s played by a handsome actor, and we all know that people have a hard time accepting that characters played by handsome men can be really and truly bad. He seems to be a supportive and good friend to our “maybe going to show his smooshy core” other bad guy, Cactus Bill. His focus is building cyber limbs and implants for kids. Really, until we get quite a bit into the film, we’re probably only looking at other characters as we try to work out who’s behind Naadi disappearing.

    But the veneer cracks a little in the bowling alley scene. What got me most about this scene was how played out and normal it was for some macho guy to have no shame voicing his schoolgirl fetish. (Same thing when he mentions it again later in the massage parlour.) Ugh. So, maybe Duck’s a jerk, but he’s a “normal” kind of jerk and, really, it seems like Cactus Bill is probably the one of the two friends most likely to help our protagonist anyway.

    I can’t, as I said, speak to authorial intent, but my reaction to that is to note that maybe, once we get the full story on Duck, we should start being less tolerant of the schoolgirl fetish the normal jerks in our lives have. You’ve heard similar things about all facets of rape culture: stop treating this behaviour as a joke, as okay, because you don’t know when your mate who’s saying sexual things about under-age girls is going to take your lack of reply as condoning his despicable actions. To me, this scene, especially in retrospect, is giving that warning.

    Cactus Bill, again adding to his “good guy waiting to happen” tally, doesn’t just let Duck get away with it. Right? Well, kind of. In actuality, like so many men in the sexual assault/consent arguments, he just lets it go…Until his own female family member is brought into it. To me, this was when I started to definitely not like both men. Duck has a tiresome thing for under-age girls (and, at this point, we don’t know that it’s worse than tiresome) and Cactus Bill isn’t worried about the dignity/consent of all women, just his daughter. Ugh.

    Still, to the viewer who spends less time being mad about topics this connected to for me, this probably just subtly reads as “hey, guys, Duck might not be entirely awesome.” Jones is keeping this a mystery still.

    Now, fast forward to the night Cactus Bill learns that his friend is a paedophile. Where, if you didn’t before, you start to feel gross about Duck cuddling the daughter or filming the gate of the under-dressed little girl on his treadmill. You maybe wonder why he was putting his shirt on at the start of that scene whilst an unexplained little boy hovers in the background. And, yes, Cactus Bill storms in to confront him. Go, Bill! Start showing us you’re on the good guys’ side!

    Except, and this is where you should start to question Bill, he doesn’t say, “You need to stop and you need to pay.” No, he’s satisfied if Duck just promises to stop. You know, just lets him get away with it (like all those people in power in the world who let fellow people in power get away with sexual assault). But they’re interrupted, and Jones pulls us off the trail for a moment. Even gives us a scene where Duck makes a comment that lets us know that he knows Naadirah and that he’s pretty sure she’s gone for good.

    Could it be that Duck is the bad guy and we get to keep being fond of lovable Paul Rudd and Moustache? Indisputably, one hopes, he is a bad guy, given he’s a paedophile (and paedophilia is absolutely despicable). But he might also be the bad guy in Leo’s story.

    Even when we eventually learn that it’s really Cactus Bill who’s taken and murdered Naadirah, Duck’s paedophilia continues to be part of what is bad and menacing in the film. Part of why Duck is bad. Pretty clear statement, Msr. Le Critic.

    So I can only guess that the reviewer’s objection to the handling of paedophilia is based on how Cactus Bill reacted (or under-reacted) to it. But, here’s the thing, Cactus Bill is a bad guy. He is, in terms of the story at the focus of the film, the bad guy. He’s a murderer, possibly a kidnapper (you better believe Naadirah didn’t just let him have their daughter and that she’s trying to get money in order to get and keep her daughter), and he’s just letting paedophilia happen. His lack of action isn’t Jones condoning paedophilia or saying it’s not that big a deal. His lack of action is part of how we know he’s bad. Bad People Under-React to Bad Things seems unambiguous to me.

    Sure, I’d like to have seen Duck be destroyed because of his paedophilia, not just because he had the poor sense to go after Leo. But the fact that his death didn’t come due to the paedophilia isn’t the same as Jones failing to treat paedophilia like a Very Bad Thing.

    And that’s my 1400+ words just to tell a critic that, in this way and others, they were wrong about Mute. I thought it was a nuanced, engaging, well-acted film. I loved the world building (and not just because I need a Free the 156 shirt!) and the soundtrack. I enjoyed not just what, to my biased eyes, it had to say about things I covered here, but also what it had to say about communication and those without voices. I seem to recall a tweet about how Jones had to trim hours from his ideal version, and I very much want those hours added back in. Mute might not have been for everyone, as Jones warned us for months, but it was for me.


  • There Are Stars at the End

    Unsurprisingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about December and January. About why they often feel like a dark night to me. And not like real, non-metaphorical dark nights that I actually love.

    It’s not just the holidays, though I have a complicated enough relationship with the holiday season that I could (I won’t) write a post just on that. In short, I wrestle with unfulfilled expectations (not always the ones you’d think; mostly others’ expectations, but a few of my own) and the aching awareness that I can’t recall the last time I felt like the holidays were actually magical (I used to, and I miss it).

    But, on top of that…

    There are the sort of extra expectations that come when you grew up poor and the only time you might get non-essential things is Christmas and your birthday…and then you have the bad luck (though one sibling has it worse with a Christmas Eve birthday) of having the two events occur within a couple weeks of each other. It’s hard to explain how, but the ghost of that swims up every year.

    unhappy cat in a birthday hat. text on pic says HAPPY
    The ghost is less angry, but also less cute…

    There’s the cold…I don’t mind the sun hiding away, but temperature is one of my particular sensory sensitivities. The extra cold of winter, much like the increased heat of summer, is an enemy. And where summer’s assault is reinforced by the sun (hello, light sensitivity), winter’s is reinforced by having Reynaud’s and some other circulation issues.

    There’s the inclination, both at the start of a new calendar year and at the start of a new year of my own life, to assess what I’ve achieved in the previous year of my life. The longer my wild daydreams about particular successes remain just daydreams, the harder it is for me to let go of the disappointment. I’m not wallowing in it non-stop, mind you. It’s more a prick of disappointment that randomly sticks me throughout the year, but that really likes to do some deep stabbing and twisting around this time.

    There are the anniversaries…And this is increasingly the thing that most blots out my metaphorical sun in December and January. (Obviously, if it were just hiding the real sun, I’d be feeling much happier about it all.) Which anniversaries? Births and deaths. With the sad additional hurt that there are three particular deaths that gnaw at my heart in the December/January time frame, and those three people also have their birthdays in there. Which means that, for three of the deaths that have hit me hardest, I’m doing double memorialising and hurting in these two months.

    And, like a cherry on top, my birthday (9 January) is sandwiched in-between the birthday (8 January) and the anniversary of death (10 January) of one of those three people. (Note that, here, I’m sparing you my essay about what a massive part of my life David Bowie was for as long as I can remember and how his death impacted me. How his life and loss continue to impact me.) And, factoring in that I grew up with my birthday as a rare and special sort of thing…Well.

    But I also promised you there were stars.

    Album cover of David Bowie's Black Star: White background, a large black star, and a row of pieces of the black star below
    I’m a black star…

    Like how blessed I feel to have had people in my life, or as part of my life in the way a celebrity can be, who were worth this level of missing.

    Like how good it is that this takes place when there’s less sun, because sun always makes my hurts feel bigger.

    Like how amazing my family and friends are as they try to give me room to do the holidays the way that feels least-rough for me.

    Like how glad I am that, in spite of struggling with depression (which can steal away all one’s ambitions), I usually manage to feel deeply the passions and desires that drive me to do creative things. I wouldn’t be disappointed at wild daydreams unfulfilled if I didn’t also somehow still feel the desires.

    And, really, even setting the stars aside…

    There are the constant candles of friends and family who try to balance letting me know how wanted I am with not making me feel pressured or guilty.

    There are the things others have created that are always there for me to listen to or read or watch. And I suspect you’ve read, more than once, how important I think those are for our sanity and happiness.

    There’s a big cat who’s radiator-like heat is even lovelier when he’s sleeping on me in the winter.

    There are those little white lights that go up on the normal trees around this city through December and into January.

    And so on and so on.

    (How glad am I that, at some point, I learnt that one can be in the dark, can acknowledge and honour and work through the hard things, whilst still noticing the stars and other lights? That, at some point, I realised the people who thought that me seeing the stars invalidated the needs that came with my darkness were wrong and probably not worth my time? Very. That’s how glad.)

    So, if you’re in the dark too, I want you to know you aren’t alone. Even if the darkness makes you feel otherwise.

    But I also want you to know, as gently as I can, that the stars are there when you feel ready to lift your head even a little. Or even, if you’re lying on the ground in your dark, because standing is more than you can manage, if you can open your eyes and peer through the mists.

    black and white animated gif of sparkling lights

    And even if you just can’t see them yet, they’re out there. And I’m right here. And I hope you can hold on until you get a sunrise.