• Strangers When (and If) We Meet

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

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

    Why did I do it?

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

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

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

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

  • First Time Is Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Trying hard to make it up to Buckaroo these days…

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

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

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

    I Instagram my word count like you do your food

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

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

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

  • It’s Probably Not You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • I Swear…

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

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

    The long version…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

  • Why I Sci-Fi

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

    I write sci-fi because:

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

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

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

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

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

  • A Little Revealing

    Peace Fire is due out 11 October and, oh yes, it’s time to show you the cover for it!

    Because maybe this little look at a blurb from Ernest Cline got you interested:

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

    And then maybe this cheeky little bum flash (aka the back cover) has you just too excited to wait:

    A circular metallic shape above the text: In 2050, the world is a little denser, a little greyer, and a little more firmly under the corporate thumb. Wriggling carefully under that thumb, in their dimly lit flats, Katja and her friends have tended to walk the fine line between cyber criminals and cyber crusaders. For them, no physical reality compares to their lives built on lines of aggressive code. But then somebody blows up the office where Katja is pretending to be a well-behaved wage slave and jolts them into the concrete and clouds of corporeal Seattle. Of brains infiltrated by a clandestine threat. Can a handful of digital warriors win a war that stretches into the world on the flesh and blood side of their computer screens?

    So, let’s just flip it around and pull back a bit and…here’s the money shot:

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

    I took a few weeks to research possible artists for the cover. Putting a cover on your book is like…dressing it up for a performance or a job interview or a first date with the person who may be The One. It’s not something I take lightly. I know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, at least not when you’re metaphorically talking about people, but we all judge actual books by their covers. Oh, man, what if I got the wrong artist and my book showed up for its first date in something entirely unlike it and the person never called it back?!?!

    But I had seen George Cotronis’s work on my friend Mercedes’s books. And checking out the other pieces on his web site made me feel like this was the artist to make the picture in my head happen. In fact, I had the pictures in my head for all three books currently planned for this series. And, someday, I might pay someone to make them just so I can see those in the flesh (or at least in the pixels). And I totally admit that I braced for disappointment when he asked if he could try his own idea first. My brain doesn’t easily let go of its ideas about how a thing should be.

    Imagine my delight when even his first draft was awesome. When my bookseller friend who is obsessed with cover art declared it a great cover. Then George took feedback and poked and prodded and…And there it is. A cover I love, a cover that is the right outfit for this book’s first date, a cover now released into the world.

    A cover that I suspect gets even better when you’ve read the book. But maybe that’s just my delight spilling over.

    Either way, I hope that you see this cover and think that this is a book you’d like to take on a first date. (I am biased towards you buying the print version so that you can hold both the front and back in your hands. Isn’t that the goal of most people on first dates?)

    Want to set up that date now, for cheaper? (I won’t judge; cheap dates can be great.) We’ve got the pre-order live and at a reduced price (save a couple bucks!) from now until the night before the book is published. For now, that’s just for the Kindle version, but we should have some other early options posted on social media (Facebook or Twitter) over the next few months.

    If you do your ebook shopping somewhere else, let me know and we’ll see what we can do about pre-order prices there as well!

    Thanks for following along on my crazy “First Published Book!!” adventure. I hope there are many more !! to come for all of us!


    Pre-order your Kindle edition here.
    Sale price until 10 October

  • Warming Up the Blogging Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Not Ashamed: Someone with invisible illness

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

    First, in case it hasn’t come up for you anywhere before, I’m going to suggest you read this explanation of what we mean when we talk about spoons in the context of illness and personal capacity. I will surely mention spoons, but I won’t be explaining the theory of spoons. You might also find this post on different types of spoons interesting, or at least a bit helpful in understanding this post.

    Though not the last item on the Not Ashamed list, because I wrote a few things out of order, this is the last Not Ashamed essay I’m writing and publishing. As a fan of personal essays (at least when I’m the one writing), I’ve mainly enjoyed this. I love both the time spent in introspection and self-consideration, as well as the time spent writing. Fortunately, this looks to be a long post, so you will feel like you totally got your fill of me. Heh!

    This particular post has been rewritten more times than any other, and I hope that I’m still comfortable with what I choose to say here after I publish.

    Some context: I feel a bit uncomfortable writing about this because I know people whose invisible illnesses seem more impacting and unpleasant than mine. So, let me be clear that this isn’t a “who’s most ill” contest or anything like that and that, at least from my perspective, I’ve got it relatively easy on this count. However, the internet is full of posts by people with invisible illness, and you can google those and have a chance to put yourself in their shoes if you feel like that’s useful. (I, of course, feel like it can help us be more compassionate to do such things, so I’m voting that you do.)

    I also want to note that I’m uncomfortable writing about this because it rubs up against my desire never to give myself victim status, as well as the fact that one of my invisible illnesses isn’t something I really consider an illness (autism). It is too easy, it seems, to view yourself as ill and let that drop you into a mire of unhappiness and victimisation and so forth. However, I also feel like, at least for me, part of my learning curve has been to figure out how to be not-typical in a world that mainly makes token efforts to appear inclusive. And part of that, one of the hardest parts, has been getting myself to learn to work within the framework of my actual capacity rather than pushing past that, which is unhealthy and can make things worse. Sometimes, for me, thinking of even the things I wouldn’t change (like autism) as an invisible illness helps me to look for more compassionate approaches to life. If I had a brutal case of the flu, I probably wouldn’t berate myself for not managing what “normal” people do, nor would I actually push myself to even try to do things that are clearly just going to keep me sick or that are clearly outside my capacity. It’s not an exact parallel, but it’s one of the main reasons (the other is for solidarity with people who, I can see, have concerns similar to mine) that I don’t try to completely reject this label.

    With all the discomfort, I’ll not ignore my own privacy issues; I’m not going to give you a list (though you can look at the Not Ashamed list and figure that being autistic and bi-polar go on that list). In reality, my approach is that I don’t generally care to talk about my limits outside of specific moments where I’m trying to honour my body or mind’s atypical needs and limits.

    Okay. I think the last bit of context-giving is to just paste in some stuff from this page on a site that promote Invisible Illness Awareness Week, because I know some of you won’t go looking for this information (though it would be great for you to read that page; it’s full of really interesting and eye-opening stats on invisible illness). From that page:

    • Approximately 96% of people who live with an illness have an illness that is invisible. These people do no use a cane or any assistive device and may look perfectly healthy. (2002 US Census Bureau)
    • About one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
    • 9 million people are cancer survivors with various side effects from treatment who may feel as though they have a chronic condition.
    • Current statistics on autism indicate that more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than cancer, diabetes, Downs Syndrome and AIDS combined, approximately 1 in 150 children.

    So, since it’s not clear from those bullets, I want to point out that the cold you are discreetly treating isn’t an invisible illness. Invisible illnesses are chronic; they’re not going anywhere. Some of them will progress and result in an illness no longer being invisible (my mum’s Multiple Sclerosis was an invisible illness until it progressed to a point where she needed assistive devices). They can have range, from the chronic insomnia that others think of as just a hassle (though even science will tell you it’s much more than that) to something famously painful like lupus, but all of them have an impact on quality of life.

    But the invisibility causes problems. You see, if people can’t see that you have an illness of some kind, they assume that you can do all the things they consider reasonable for a typical person. And that includes assuming you can do those things as frequently and to the same extent. If your illness isn’t visible, people can get Really Very Nasty when you fail to live up to their expectations. Even if you tell them that you’ve got something happening that makes you not-actually-typical.

    As far as I can tell, the nastiness comes from two places:

    1. They can’t see your illness so they think you’re probably lying. It’s not that you don’t have the spoons; it’s that you are a liar.
    2. They think you are just being lazy, using something they can’t even see as an excuse for special treatment.

    I know people who lie or exaggerate, but I know far more people who push themselves way past an actual healthy point just trying to live the life they want or trying to keep from being treated poorly by other people. I’ve had times that I was out of spoons for weeks, a complete physical and mental mess, but I still kept pushing because I hated feeling limited and because feeling limited and having the scorn of people who claim to love you piled on is a seriously miserable way to live. (And no wonder there are studies that show that, for both those with visible and invisible illnesses, there are high divorce rates and other markers of troubles with friendships and romantic relationships.)

    In an effort to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier, and because I really do like myself and believe in treating myself as kindly as I’d treat a true friend, I realised I had to make some changes.

    I had a difficult but honest bit of introspection and self-consideration, during which I admitted the things that aren’t ideal about my health or things that weren’t as I wanted, even if I was hesitant to call my wants objectively ideal. I also looked at the obvious things that were limited by that.

    I assessed people in my life and decided that I only have the spoons for people who treat me like I’d treat a true friend. I try to limit the time I give to other people. I talk myself out of feeling bad when someone doesn’t believe my truth. (And, if someone keeps treating me like they suspect I’m a liar or just looking for special treatment that I probably don’t need, I will bump them to the “limited time” list.)

    I made changes in my life (more changes; I hadn’t been wantonly ignoring my needs) that I’d been resisting that I believe will help me keep my maximum spoon capacity from diminishing and will help me spend fewer unnecessary spoons.

    I also tried to make a really clear assessment of which areas might have more spoons than others. You know what I can do for hours and hours with little spoon expenditure? Ponder and analyse myself and my connections to the world and try to pull some meaning or use or art from that. No wonder I’ve always been inclined towards that.

    I’ve also got unlimited mental spoons for typing up words…emails and blogs and novels and such. But it’s specifically typing. (Which makes sense, because our brain uses different pieces for typing vs handwriting.)

    Unfortunately, the physical spoons necessary for typing up words can vary drastically. One of my invisible illnesses is some persistent tendinitis in both shoulders, both elbows, and both wrists (it shouldn’t last for years, but the poor healthcare system in this country means I can’t actually afford to pursue any further diagnosis or action). On good days, it’s all a dull ache. Quiet enough that I’ve gotten used to it and I know I can handle it. If I keep busy, it’s a minor mental thread. But as soon as I try to take any kind of a break, and definitely whenever I try to sleep, it’s front and centre. On not-good days, or even on days that started good, it can flare up into excruciating pain. It can leave me unable to type, play guitar, pour myself a glass of water, lift a skillet from the stove, etc. And pain is exhausting, even if you’re just lying around…it’s a trickle (sometimes a steady gushing stream) of energy…so you’re in pain and you’re beyond-tired. And you feel kind of horrible because you can’t even get yourself a glass of water or cook yourself an egg sandwich. Which sounds really sad.

    If I didn’t have limited physical spoons, I could probably post some kind of blog daily, in addition to staying on top of email and writing my next book. Which means that there’s a persistent emotional toll (frustration, disappointment, etc) that adds to my exhaustion. I have rare spots of making peace with the limits, but my brain is constantly churning out ideas it needs me to write and I would really like to get it all typed and finalised and why won’t my arms just cooperate?

    (Before someone jumps in suggesting voice to text stuff…that also has issues. Unless something totally new comes into being, please trust that I love research and I love not being limited and I have looked into all the possible solutions for all my problems. When you make really obvious suggestions like that, it feels like you’re suggesting I wasn’t smart enough to consider it. And insulting my intelligence is not a great thing to do.)

    But we’re here to talk about shame, about how others would like me to feel ashamed of not being able to live up to their expectations of what a typical person can do.

    If you’re one of those rare people who does play it up, exaggerate, fake it, etc in order to get special privileges…you do realise that every single person who knows you do that is now going to be suspicious of and possibly unkind to anyone else who has an invisible illness, right? Honestly, shame on you. Shame on you for making it harder for people for whom “normal” life is already harder.

    On the other hand…

    I am not ashamed that my body and brain aren’t typical, that they don’t function like they would be expected to. I can be frustrated and disappointed, but I am not ashamed. (Also, just in case it’s coming across glum…whilst I do experience negative emotions, I’m still a positive person and find joy in my life. And I credit part of that to the fact that I don’t carry shame over this.)

    I am not ashamed that, rather than try to batter myself into living a typical life, that rather than treating myself like an enemy to abuse, I know myself and honour myself and respect my limitations.

    (Yeah, sure, we can talk about how trying to expand your limits can be healthy, but that’s not advice that applies to every situation. Because, sometimes, trying to expand your limits can actually tighten them up and leave you permanently worse than before. And unless you are my doctor or an accredited physical therapist or something like that, what makes you think you know which of my limits to push? Even if we have the same condition, each person is unique enough in their experience that you really don’t know what’s best for me.)

    Now, my brain has just had some thoughts on the next book, and I want to get them down before my Using My Arms spoons are all spent for the day.

    I hope that, at the very least, reading one (or more) of the Not Ashamed issues has helped you throw off some of your own shame. That stuff is rotten and doesn’t help anything. And so much of it is thrown at situations and characteristics that it’s absolutely unnecessary to feel ashamed about. Plus, life is sweeter when, instead of dragging around unnecessary shame, you’re loving what’s good, working on what’s not good, and learning to love yourself no matter the situation. I wish you the best of luck in pursuing that.


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

  • Writing His Own Requiem

    I want to be clear that this isn’t meant to be my tribute or eulogy post. For a variety of reasons, I’m a private griever and prefer to keep my mourning chiefly out of the public eye. In the days, weeks, and years to come, I will surely continue to reference and reminisce about David Bowie, and I hope those will be seen as acts of love and remembrance, not as public displays of grief.

    I also want to make sure nobody doubts that I really love Blackstar. What a fine album! What great videos! So, this is also not a critique or criticism of that work.

    And, as a lover of romance and fine stories, I surely won’t spend more time trying to ruin the ending that many people are enjoying right  now. (That I enjoyed myself and shall surely enjoy again…But, for now, I help myself move through emotion by trying to anchor myself in something like an intellectual moment.)

    What this is is my thoughts, now that I’ve had time to ponder and get my brain engaged, on the understanding and claim that Blackstar was meant as Bowie’s final farewell to us. I certainly see it as a farewell, but I think there are some nuances I’d like to point out that make me question that it was meant as a final farewell.

    I’ll proceed from the most public of my three pieces of anecdotal evidence to the most personal.

    Tony Visconti said…

    The clear starting point to address this belief is the statement from Tony Visconti, who is certainly more of an expert on Bowie and his mindset than I or most anyone else could ever claim to be. Only about 2 hours after news broke of Bowie’s death, Visconti posted this to his Facebook:

    Tony Visconti entry, as quoted in text that follows

    (Text: He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.)

    This seems a pretty strong argument for those who want to paint Blackstar simply as that final, parting gift. However, Rolling Stone reported:

    “About a week before his death, with Blackstar nearing release, David Bowie called his longtime friend and producer Tony Visconti via FaceTime, and told him he wanted to make one more album. In what turned out to have been the final weeks of his life, Bowie wrote and demo-ed five fresh songs, and was anxious to return to the studio one last time.”

    Which seems to at least call for some nuance in how we see this. Bowie himself does not seem to have known that Blackstar would be his final album, and it’s therefore arguable that he had other words waiting with which to say farewell or to extend the farewell of Blackstar.

    Let the record show…

    In the days since Bowie’s death, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s listened to his discography multiple times. And as the rest of you who’ve done that have surely noticed, death and mortality were common themes for Bowie. And not just the deaths of others, but regularly the death of whoever it is that was the point-of-view character for the songs. Again, this doesn’t mean that Bowie wasn’t saying farewell in Blackstar, but that pointing to themes of death and mortality in the album as proof isn’t enough when we take in the whole body of his work.

    (For similar but expanded thoughts, please see Will Brooker’s interview in The Atlantic. He is, it’s fair to say, a Bowie scholar and actively an academic. I’m pleased I read this interview before I pushed publish so that you need not just wonder whether this was merely the misperception of my grieving mind.)

    Mummy come back ’cause it’s dark now…

    I hope you’ll excuse a bit of personal information here in what is, arguably, my most respectable essay since uni. You see, my mum is wrapped up in this. Not because she loved Bowie (she refused to believe he could sing or was a musician worth listening to until I played her Bowie’s Christmas duet with Bing Crosby) or because she played him for me (she didn’t), but because of her own last 18 months.

    My mum was born about a month before Bowie, in December of 1946. Skip ahead to her end. My mum’s death was almost exactly 5 years before Bowie’s (were those my five years left to cry in?), in January of 2011, and was also from cancer. In the same Rolling Stone article quoted above, Visconti revealed that Bowie had actually been fighting the cancer for 18 months before it took him. My mum’s initial cancer diagnosis was 18 months before her death. Visconti notes that the cancer resurged after some dormancy the November before Bowie’s death. My mum’s did the same. And, from the fact that Bowie was trying to make one more album just a week before he died, we can argue that the final blow was quite quick. For my mum, it was more like two weeks of warning. But, again, in my mind there’s that parallel.

    I don’t mean to argue that the loosely parallel endings give me mystical insight, but I lay out that context as part of the understanding that has lead to my third and final argument for a more nuanced view of Blackstar as an intentional final farewell.

    My mum did “wrapping up” things from the start of her 18 month journey with cancer. It’s a rather common human reaction to the spectre of a death that’s more solid than most. So, even without being sure it was his end, Bowie would certainly be normal (and his death is proof that David Jones, the mortal behind Bowie, was occasionally as normal as any other human) if he did some of his own wrapping up things. As an artist, that could easily involve a song or two directly addressing his own mortality.

    As time passed and as she became calmly sure she wasn’t going to beat cancer, my mum still fought on to put out every bit of love and farewells and goodness she could, to make sure that her legacy included a graceful approach to her own mortality. It seems completely fathomable, especially in light of keeping his illness and impending end a secret, that Bowie did the same. Rather than sit back and save his energy for healing, he fought on to put out an album and videos…and prepared to do more. One can be sure of one’s mortality without actually putting out only requiems and farewells.

    So, yes, I absolutely believe that Blackstar contains some brilliant farewells and glimpses of how Bowie saw his own mortality. But I also believe that there’s reason to argue he didn’t necessarily see it as his final farewell. I suppose this is just my long-winded way of, once again and on one more topic, asking for us to have a more nuanced view. (Even if I’m now going to go and, once again, sob along to the album in question.)

  • Not Ashamed: Sometimes, briefly, a little bit well-off

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

    This is the second post about the shame thrown at me (and others) based on economic situations. The first one was pretty obvious; poor shaming has probably been going on since humans came into existence. But, here’s the thing…

    At some point, long before I was born, the poor people got sick of being told they were worth less. They also realised that they were totally worth as much as not-poor people. In fact, they started to suppose that they likely had some awesome qualities that not-poor people could never hope to have. Honestly, it’s a pretty common thing for a mistreated group of people to compensate for the low self-worth that was inflicted on them whilst being mistreated by convincing themselves that, in fact, they are the better people.

    I’m not judging, just noting that.

    So, no surprise that poor people started to decide that, in fact, they were the better people. And, at some point, I felt that way too. Especially once I was living on my own and I was poor because of me, not my parents. I was poor but I was making it. Go me! And I wasn’t held back by the negative, stereotypical traits that obviously belonged to not-poor people. It soothed the parts of me that felt bad about being poor and the parts that had been told I should feel bad about being poor…

    I know, because we had conversations, that I wasn’t the only person who ever felt that way.

    There have been wee, short-lived pockets of being a little well-off (at least by my standards). And, the first time, I actually felt bad about it. I was now the not-poor person. I considered purposefully ruining that, as if my economic situation determined by personality. (Yes, I know, studies do show trends, but I’m a fan of not being defined by stereotypes.)

    And I’ve had people who were poor, when I wasn’t, being nasty to me because I was now one of the not-poor. But I didn’t respond because I actually understood where they were coming from, having been poor and judgemental myself plenty of times in the past.

    So, here’s my final word on judgement based on economic situation:

    Whether you are rich or poor, what matters is your behaviour. It’s your actions, not your money (or lack thereof), that determine whether or not you’re a good person. All humans are of equal intrinsic worth and full of great possibility.

    I’ve now known people who were both good and horrible at all sorts of points on the economic spectrum.

    I will never again judge myself or anyone else based on their net worth. And I won’t let anyone else make me feel bad about myself based on what money I do or don’t have. There are so many other things to judge me on…

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