Cool Stories I Read In September and October

Dani Atkinson, “Bibliopothecary” (Cast of Wonders 270, September). Freakin’ adorbs. Makes me wish books were given out by perscription like this in real life, too. 😀

Gillian Daniels, “Persephone Kidnaps Him” (Liminality, Issue #13, September). I LIKE THIS SO MUCH MORE THAN THE ORIGINAL PERSEPHONE MYTH.

Vina Jie-Min Prasad, “Fandom for Robots” (Uncanny, Issue 18, September). ASDFGHJKL! This is SO CUTE. Who the heck doesn’t like cute robot stories? I feel like I need a “TEAM CUTE ROBOTS” jersey. (A. Merc Rustad would be the first to join me on this team.)

Delia Sherman, “At Cooney’s” (Uncanny, Issue 18, September). Not sure I’ve seen a queer time travel story like this before, except maybe in Captain America fanfiction? This one plays so skillfully with the topic of queer history, how we forget and remember our history, and what that does to us – how we have done both before, and will do them again.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 6 and 7

6. Moon Laws, Dream Laws

The Un-God told us, later, that this was a lie, and that the sun’s disappearance was astronomy and optics. But a story can be true and not true, just as my Lady is the moon and not the moon.

This story was written – and by that I mean conceived, drafted, beta read, revised, and submitted – in one week. It entirely owes its existence to Krista D. Ball, who was friends with the person editing Tyche Books’ “Ride the Moon” anthology, and who asked around to everyone she knew when the editor suddenly had several of their solicited authors back out at the last minute.

I was not at all convinced that I could write anything good to such a short deadline, but with Krista’s encouragement, I just DID it. Not only did the editor like the story, but it ended up in pride of place as the anthology’s very last story – the one that summed up the anthology’s themes, I suppose, most fully.

“Moon Laws, Dream Laws” takes place in a fictional world that venerates polytheistic, mystical gods – gods whose whims can and do directly influence the physical world. But it’s also a technologically advanced world that is building a moon colony. The protagonist, Viola, is a priestess of the Lady of Blood and Stone, an easily angered, Artemis-like moon goddess. Her wife, Trulia, has been selected for a mission to the moon – but the Lady of Blood and Stone is very particular about who and what is allowed on her surface, and things quickly go awry.

Trulia was one of the first overtly autistic characters that I wrote into a published story, and I liked very much having a queer autistic woman as a love interest.

Viola and Trulia’s universe appears again – with a completely different set of mortal characters, and a very different kind of plot – in “The Herdsman of the Dead”, a story from Shimmer Magazine that didn’t make it into MONSTERS IN MY MIND. (I think “Herdsman” is a very good story, but it wasn’t a tonal fit for the collection.) The Herdsman of the Dead is a god who is mentioned a few times in “Moon Laws”, so people who’ve read that story can look out for that bit of continuity.

Song Pairing: There is no better song for a story about a moon priestess than Bellini’s “Casta Diva“, a literal hymn to the moon in operatic form.

7. Memo From Neverland

I fell out of my crib with nothing.
Now the mermaids and tigers are mine-

A short poem about some of the more practical considerations of being Peter Pan. It appeared in Kaleidotrope’s Winter 2014 issue, and is free to read there online. The poem emerged from some thoughts that I had about “adulting”, and about what it really does and doesn’t mean.

A beta reader told me that this poem is wildly out of character for Peter Pan and at odds with values that he strongly espouses in the actual books/plays/films. I considered this criticism seriously, and concluded that it’s true, but that I also don’t care. 😀

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

Autistic Book Party, Episode 39: Citadel of the Sky

Today’s Book: “Citadel of the Sky” by Chrysoula Tzavelas

The Plot: In a fantasy kingdom, a series of magical murders heralds the arrival of something even more sinister.

Autistic Character(s): The author.

“Citadel of the Sky” is set in a nation ruled by the Blood, a powerful magical family. The Blood are the kingdom’s mystical protectors, with magical powers that differ significantly from those of ordinary wizards.

One of those powers is the ability to enter the “phantasmagory” – a psychic realm which is like a collective unconsciousness made physical. Stray thoughts and emotions in the phantasmagory take surreal physical forms, and so do more important magical things. But a member of the Blood who enters the phantasmagory is completely oblivious to the outside world, and can’t leave again until they genuinely desire to. Older members of the royal family often develop a kind of dementia, spending more and more time in the phantasmagory, and becoming more and more confused when out of it.

This linking of royal blood to disability leads to some interesting worldbuilding, including a system in which each member of the Blood has their own “Regent” – a sworn servant who helps them with everyday tasks. (Right now I am all about the idea of caretaking as a service, rather than a form of authority, so I really liked the Regents.) It also means that, aside from magical threats, many everyday affairs of state are carried out by a different group of nobles – a group which is happy, overtly or covertly, to seize power from the inattentive Blood.

As well as the fictional disability of the phantasmagory, both of “Citadel of the Sky”‘s viewpoint characters are non-neurotypical in ways that more closely parallel the real world. Princess Tiana is young, scattered, impulsive, and likely has a form of attention deficit. Kiar, her bastard cousin, is more focused and serious – but also has intense social anxiety.

The challenge of writing a protagonist like Tiana is that the plot has to stay focused and forward-moving, even when the protagonist isn’t. Tzavelas doesn’t always rise perfectly to this challenge. Although many exciting things happen, the pacing often feels slightly off, as if the characters are making scattershot and separate responses to each event rather than having their own throughline.

I should also warn, for readers who are allergic to such things, that “Citadel of the Sky” is the first in a five-book series, and its ending resolves very little.

Still, at its best, “Citadel of the Sky” is a fun and surreal epic fantasy in which non-neurotypical women get to be princesses and chosen ones. That is a kind of story that we definitely need more of!

The Verdict: Recommended-2

Ethics Statement: I have never interacted with Chrysoula Tzavelas. I read her book by buying an e-copy for my Kindle app. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This book was chosen by my Patreon backers. If these reviews are valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can help choose the next autistic book.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, click here.

A post about Miles Vorkosigan

This post was commissioned by one of my Patreon backers, David Lamb. High-tier Patreon backers can have four pieces a year – flash fiction, poetry, or blog posts like this one – written to any prompt or topic that they like. You can check out this, and my other tiers of rewards, on Patreon.

Miles Vorkosigan is the protagonist of most of the books in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar series. He is a disabled man, the son of an important Lord (or, later, Count) on a feudal planet, who cons his way into a mercenary fleet and has space adventures. (This is a woefully inadequate summary of the Barrayar series, which also includes feudal and interplanetary politics, mysteries, espionage, entire books that veer away from the military stuff in favor of quirky space romance, and a ton of thoughtful explorations of the societal impacts of biotechnology, among other things.)

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Miles is one of the most beloved disabled characters in all of science fiction. He’s often the first example people give of good disability representation. Too often, he’s the only example.

Miles’s disabilities are many. He has dwarfism, brittle bones, and a host of attendant complications from an incident with poison gas that happened in utero. (In later books, he also develops a form of epilepsy.) Miles is also non-neurotypical – I’m not sure if a coherent mental diagnosis is ever given in the books, but fans seem to agree that he is bipolar and has ADHD.

Bujold gives these disabilities the attention they deserve. Miles is never reduced to just a spokesperson for his disabilities, but they do consistently affect how he moves through the world, whether it’s being seriously injured by things that an able-bodied person would shrug off, submitting to yet another painful and tedious medical procedure, having atypical and alarming reactions to in-universe medicines, or simply dealing with the stigma of being visibly disabled on an intensely ableist planet. (And I do mean intensely – Barrayar was once decimated by a nuclear war, and many of its residents still live in terror of radioactivity-induced mutations, to the point of practicing infanticide for minor birth defects.)

Miles is hyperactive, often hypomanic, fearsomely clever, and has all the resources of a Barrayaran nobleman at his disposal. This makes him a delightful protagonist, the kind of person that you watch just to see how he gets himself into trouble this time – and how he creatively problem-solves to get out of it again, if not always in the manner his superiors would like.

In short, Miles is a tremendously good disabled character. But this is not to say that he is above criticism. One of the criticisms I’ve heard of Miles as disability representation is that, aside from the disability itself, he’s actually extremely privileged. He has all the money he could want for medical care and actual bodyguards, not to mention entire space fleets, to protect him. He is more or less literally royalty, not to mention all the other titles he accrues throughout the series. Ableism is still a thing that hurts Miles, and his health is always going to affect what he can and can’t do. But many of the difficulties and compromises that real-world disabled people make for their own survival never touch him.

This is less really a problem with Miles as a character – disabled people should get to fantasize about being royalty, too! – and more an example of the problem that happens when we try to hold up one character as the pinnacle of representation. People have been writing lately about how, when there’s only one female superhero, or one female whatever, she’s expected to be all things to all women – and, because that task is impossible, fails. Miles can’t be all things to all disabled people, either, and he shouldn’t be where the search for disability representation stops. No matter how cool Miles is, we won’t have real representation in science fiction until many other disabled characters, all intersectionally different and all also extremely cool, can be recognized alongside him.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 5, 9, 16, 28, and 39: micro-poems!

5. Hippocamp

In 2013, I was part of an online poetry critique forum. That allegiance didn’t last (for reasons that are no one’s fault – the people in the forum were very sharp when it came to technique, but couldn’t make head or tail of speculative themes unless they were a metaphor for something, and that frustrated me). But for a while it was a fruitful place to hang out, practice critiquing poetry, and learn.

As a part of that forum, I participated in 2013’s National Poetry Writing Month and some other, shorter-term challenges. Some of what came out of those challenges was excellent (“Self-Portrait as Bilbo Baggins” was a NaPo poem, for instance). Some of it was garbage. Most of it won’t appear in this collection or any other, because see above re: garbage. But some of the pieces, after editing, became things I loved and wanted to share.

“Hippocamp” was one example of a motif I returned to frequently in the 2013 challenges: a three-line poem (NOT a haiku) about a mythological creature. I took to calling these the “bestiary poems”. “Hippocamp” was the first bestiary poem that I wrote, and (in my opinion) still the best.

9. Atavist

Not a bestiary poem – it has five lines, not three, and at least one of the creatures involved is an actual chicken – but related.

16. Crocodile Tears

A three-line poem which has nothing to do with mythological creatures at all.

Beta readers were divided about whether the person speaking in this one is addressing someone who has bullied them, or is a bully themselves. My response to this is WHYNOTBOTH.GIF, but you can choose your own interpretation.

28. Abominable Snowman

Another of the bestiary poems, this is the only one that was actually published – in Niteblade, Issue #30. This used to mean that it was free to read online, although the Internet is fickle and this doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. Amusingly, it was one of the only Niteblade poems to be free from the start; normally that magazine only posted teasers online until their fundraising goals were met, but in this case, it was so short that the teaser was the poem.

39. Baku

A third bestiary poem; this one is about a tapir-like Japanese creature that eats dreams.

This is the last of the bestiary poems that I decided was actually fit for publication. (Or, almost the last; there’s one about a prehistoric creature that I may or may not end up shoehorning into a later, dinosaur-themed collection. We’ll see how that collection takes shape in the future. Sssh.)

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

Autism News: 2017/10/26

I have once again managed to neglect my Autism News posts for a few months, so now you folks are getting a NICE BIG ONE.

Posts about how people treat us:

Posts about personal experiences:

Posts about online advocacy and the politics of language:

Posts about American politics and core disability policy:

Other pan-disability and policy stuff:

  • Christopher Knaus explains how NDIS disability insurance is being rolled out too fast in the UK
  • Russ Choma on how airlines and the Trump administration are delaying implementing improvements to how US airlines handle wheelchairs
  • Mac McClelland on what happens to Americans who are found not guilty by reason of insanity (TW: institutionalization; medical/psychiatric abuse; descriptions of violent crimes, including sexual crimes and crimes against children.)

Media and reviews:

  • Elizabeth Cassidy explains why having characters who meet all the diagnostic criteria for autism isn’t the same as having realistic autistic characters
  • Eric Deggans summarizes autistic people’s reactions to “Atypical” and “The Good Doctor”
  • Maxfield Sparrow writes a nuanced review of “The Good Doctor”
  • Sarah Pripas reviews “Dina”, a documentary about an autistic couple getting married
  • Nicole and Meadow Panteleakos review “A Boy Called Bat”
  • Chavisory explains the problem with portraying autistic characters as naive. (This is one of those “I think I knew this, but I didn’t have language to say it” type posts for me. It’s a great description of a pervasive problem in a way I haven’t seen before. I might start linking to it in Autistic Book Party reviews once in a while.)

Misc:

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 3 and 4

3. And All the Fathomless Crowds

Attempting to exterminate Non-Minds on sight is a sign of Romero Disorder. In the days immediately after 12/12, many human survivors developed this disorder. The sheer number of Non-Minds overwhelmed them, and each human died of exhaustion mid-rampage – if the Non-Minds didn’t get them first.

“And All the Fathomless Crowds”, first published in Dead North, is an anti-zombie-apocalypse story. The world has been overrun with dangerous, mindless creatures… and humans just kind of sit tight and learn ways to exist as peacefully as possible. It’s centered around Sandra, a young woman at university taking her Survival 101 exam, who runs into a very unexpected form of Non-Mind.

Dead North’s submission call asked for stories with local flavor. Mine is set in a post-apocalyptic version of Queen’s University, my alma mater, and it was delightful to add details from Queen’s and from Kingston, Ontario more generally which could serve as inside jokes with other folks who have lived there. The story should be perfectly intelligible to people unfamiliar with Kingston, though.

A lot of the eerie atmosphere is taken from what it actually feels like for me to walk down the street on a bad sensory day, except that it’s made absurdly literal and concrete. So other people aren’t just unnerving to look at but are dangerous magical creatures, etc, and so is every other sensory thing. In that sense, it is a stealth autism story, though no one in it is autistic and the word “autism” is never used.

Derek Newman-Stille at Speculating Canada wrote a wonderful review of “And All the Fathomless Crowds” which articulates some of the thoughts behind it better and in more detail than I would have been able to. (Although I do have some related thoughts about zombies, diseased bodies, violence, and ableism, which went up on Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s blog.)

The title sounds like a reference to something, but it’s really just a bunch of words that I made up so that they would feel rhythmic and topical.

Song Pairing: For Sandra’s test of outer survival and inner strength, there is no better accompaniment than Lacuna Coil’s “Survive“.

4. Mama’s Sword

They talked a long time, mostly things I didn’t care about. Mostly Daddy talking on and on about how much he loved her, wherever she’d been, whatever had happened to her. He sounded like he was trying to convince himself. He sounded like he was crying.

“Mama’s Sword” is a Lovecraftian sword and sorcery tale about a seventeen-year-old girl, Kejiu, whose mother comes back from her adventures traumatized by a too-close brush with cosmic horror.

(Horror fiction talks a lot about characters going mad after witnessing Things Man Was Not Meant To Know; it more rarely acknowledges that this is also more or less how PTSD happens in real life.)

The inspiration for “Mama’s Sword” was an incident from a D&D game. To make a very long story short, a woman was rescued from an adventure that had gone very terribly wrong. I wanted to explore what happened to that character after she was rescued. In the process, of course, it became something that wasn’t a D&D story at all, and the setting was changed to reflect that.

This was a very emotionally difficult story to write, and I probably wouldn’t have finished it if not for Krista D. Ball bugging me to get something written quickly for an anthology her friend was editing. (I’d tried to write a story along these lines, and failed, before. If you’ve heard me referring before to the story that made me want to stab myself in the eye with a toothpick, this is it.)

As a result of this, “Mama’s Sword” ended up being first published in the extremely obscure little book, Blood Iris 2012. If you never heard of that book, you’re in luck, because now you can read it collected with my other works right here in MONSTERS IN MY MIND. Enjoy!

Song Pairing: There are a million artists who have written powerful, sensitive songs about PTSD. Battle Beast are probably not those artists. But they’re my guilty pleasure listening and I can only take so much gloom in one post, so here, have “Dancing With The Beast“.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on AmazonKobo, Indigo,  Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 1 and 2

  1. You Have to Follow the Rules

Where I come from, you can rock or cover your ears or run away from people and no one will tell you that you’re bad.

This story was my first full-length pro sale (though I had a pro flash sale or two before it). That, and the neurodiversity themes, and the hopeful tone, make it a wonderful opener. It’s also an opener that you can read for free online – like a free appetizer for the full book. It’s here in Strange Horizons.

“You Have to Follow the Rules” is the tale of Annalee, an autistic child at a science fiction convention, who discovers doors to an alternate dimension full of strange, fey-like children – children who are, she suspects, like her.

The inspiration for the story came from an exchange that A. Merc Rustad and Ursula Vernon had on Twitter. Merc had had a dream which framed itself as an Ursula Vernon story, called “Children of the Con”, in which strange, white-eyed children lived year-round in a convention center. They told Ursula Vernon that she should write the story; Vernon replied that Merc should do it themselves. I asked Merc if I could yoink the story idea, and they said yes. (Merc and I borrow from each other a lot.) Then I threw in the autism angle because, well, at that point, why not.

The editors at Strange Horizons, particularly An Owomoyela, helped me deepen and polish the story in several respects – most notably, giving the mother character a little bit more depth than she had in the first draft (though she’s still awful), and developing a more playful and allusive narrative voice for Annalee.

“You Have to Follow the Rules” was long-listed for a BSFA award.

Song Pairing: I don’t write to music the way many authors do, but I do make playlists and form associations between songs and things very easily. Each full-length or flash story from MONSTERS IN MY MIND (but not poetry or micro-fic) will be paired with a song that I associate with it.

The song for “You Have to Follow the Rules” is Mike Scott’s “Sensitive Children” – one of the few song pairings here that’s obscure enough I can’t link you to it on YouTube. It’s not perfect – for one thing, it’s from a bystander’s perspective, not Annalee’s – but the association stuck, so here it is.

2. Self-Portrait as Bilbo Baggins

Over casserole you explain
that hobbits are three feet tall, like me.
I want to stay this size forever.

This is a poem about my father, told through the lens of the classic fantasy he read to me. (The scene in the first three stanzas, in which I act out “The Hobbit” with a horde of teddy bears and so on, are things that actually happened.) Autism runs in families, and mine comes mostly from my father’s side – as, very likely, do risk factors for other mental illness.

“Self-Portrait as Bilbo Baggins” is available for free online, in the first issue of Liminality. It and “You Have to Follow the Rules” are also what you’ll see if you use the Look Inside feature on Amazon: a childhood-themed preview for the rest of the book.

In the next post, we’ll get into a couple of stories about young adults.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, and Barnes and Noble.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is up on Amazon!

It’s a real thing! It’s available for purchase! It’s here! (And, according to the page, has been here since October 2, although I did not notice it until Bogi Takács pointed it out on Twitter.) You can buy it for US $20 paperback or, apparently, $8.01 for the Kindle edition.

It isn’t up yet on the publisher’s website, for some reason, but I expect that this (and perhaps other online retailers) will happen soon.

I had a great book launch party on Friday night with some great loyal readers who were very understanding about the physical books not quite being here yet, and very entertained by the readings. I had a great time at Can*Con this weekend in general, for that matter. More updates soon!

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: TOC reveal

The table of contents for MONSTERS IN MY MIND is now up: here!

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be posting more information about each story and poem, and making the titles in the TOC into links to where you can learn more. (Including links to free versions of the stories/poems, where available – although, if you’re eager, you can already find those links in my general Bibliography.)