The Self-Rescuing Princess

I’ve somehow been totally dumb and missed this for the first several days it was out. But! My poem, “The Self-Rescuing Princess”, is up now at Lakeside Circus!

This is my second short piece appearing in Lakeside Circus. The first, in Issue One, was my micro-story “The Button”, and I have another poem coming up in Issue Three. I am now wondering if I can challenge myself to somehow appear in every single issue ever… 😀

Anyway, it’s an angry little survivor poem with princesses in it. So, if you’re into that, go check it out.

A podcast version of this poem, read by Carrie Cuinn, is in the works, but has yet to appear. I’ll try and link you guys to it when it’s available; it’s a monologue style of poem, and those are the MOST fun ones to read, so this ought to go well.

Barking Sycamores, Issue 1: A Review

So, I don’t like non-paying markets. This is probably not a surprise; I have a vested interest in being paid for what I write. Writing is work; and there is a time and place for volunteer work, particularly in an activist context. But when one is expected to work for free as part (or all) of one’s career, or told that working for free is the only option because of one’s marginalization, bad things happen.

I don’t like non-paying markets. And I don’t, as a rule, review non-speculative stuff.

So why the heck am I reviewing Barking Sycamores?

This is a zine which is dedicated to showcasing the work of neurodiverse poets (and artists), but doesn’t pay them. There’s a “donate” button, but the money goes to distribution, not contributors.

And I could rail about this being an unethical way to showcase poetry from an already-underrepresented group. Or I could roll my eyes and go do something else. Yet here I am, writing an actual review of Issue One. Possibly because this is exactly my thing; possibly because I don’t know of any other market, paying or not, with the same mission. Possibly just because my brain grabs on to things sometimes and doesn’t let go.


You might expect that, in a non-paying market, the work will vary in quality. It does. But there are many good pieces in here, and the issue as a whole is enjoyable to read. There is a strong sense of shared mood and theme: topics vary, but each poet conveys a sense of a slantwise sensory and cognitive approach to life. Each poet owns and validates their difference, even though many are painfully aware of surrounding forces that wish to erase them.

The best of these more-painful poems, dealing with the sheer weight of NT expectations, is Savannah Logsdon-Breakdone’s “Sleep”. Emily Page Ballou’s coordinated pair of poems, comparing her “real” self to the self adults wished her to be, is also intriguing, as is Barbara Ruth’s “At Sixty-Seven, Still Brain Damaged, Still Brilliant”.

Those readers looking for speculative fare might be satisfied by Sarah Akin’s magical-realist “To George”, or by a few of Christopher Wood Robbins’ poems; meanwhile, Lucas Sheelk’s “Dear Allistic, Love, Autistic” is not quite a poem, but is well worth reading as an intimate, true-to-life look at a type of relationship we don’t often get to see in what’s published about us.

There are several poets in these pages who are very interesting to me, and whom I’ll (eventually) be looking up for further work. If you’re interested, as I am, in both poetry and neurodiversity, then it’s all worth a look.

One wishes, however, that each of these worthy poets had been paid something for their efforts. I totally agree with trying to distribute neurodiverse poetry to a wider audience, in order to give new readers a sense of neurodivergent authors’ experiences and personhood. But if we really wish to honor the poets’ personhood, surely that should include paying them something for their published work, as other poets are paid – not simply using them as a convenient source of free words to use in furthering a cause.

So a few people did my likeability exercise back in June. Not many, and not nearly enough for any of these to be scientifically rigorous conclusions (lol), but I’m gonna summarize some stuff anyway, because I’m in a posting and summarizing mood!

It seems that people are pretty consistent in their preferences. Most folks seemed to have a set of traits that really endeared them to a character, and most or all of the people on their list would have most or all of those traits. However, the set of traits was completely different for each person, and was heavily based in their own values.

Likeability contained an element of moral approval for some people, but not others. Some people’s preferences changed slightly based on a character’s gender, but others didn’t change at all, and even for the former group, there was considerable overlap.

So it seems that likeability isn’t objective – there’s no one formula to make everybody like one character – but it’s also not completely arbitrary and meaningless. Instead, it’s a question of what appeals to an individual reader.

Oddly, I found that I had more of a double standard / change in preferences between genders than anybody else who dared to do the exercise. I also had more difficulty doing the exercise than I thought I would. Neither of these was what I expected!

If you’re curious, here are my answers:

Male Characters

This part was easy, and I just wrote down the first / biggest three that came to mind out of many runner-ups:

  1. Miles Vorkosigan
  2. [A player-turned-recurring-villain from a D&D game I used to play in – anybody who’s done an RPG with me or talked about large projects with me recently will probably know who I’m talking about.]
  3. Loki, as played by Tom Hiddleston

Shared traits, between these and nearly all of the runner-ups: Extremely clever, quick-thinking, charismatic, unconventional, a bit devious, and larger-than-life.

There seems to be no real moral component here, as I have heroes, villains, and morally-ambiguous antiheroes (O HAI, Vlad Taltos) crowding up this runner-up list with about equal aplomb.

Female Characters

This part was way, WAY harder than the male characters, and I have no idea why… As before, there was a sizeable runner-up list, but with the male list, the runner-ups were like “Oh yeah, I like him, too.” With this one, it was more like, “Could she go on the list? Should she go on the list? MAYBE ALMOST she goes on the list but I am not sure and not happy about this and I’m not sure why I’m unhappy or feel reluctant/awkward? I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS LIST. I thought I PREFERRED books/shows with female characters, what even IS this.”

Anyway, after a lot of confusion, the actual list ended up like this:

  1. Melinda May (from “Agents of SHIELD”)
  2. Adelle DeWitt (from “Dollhouse”)
  3. Granny Weatherwax (from the Discworld novels)

So clearly this is different from the other list? Hyper-competence is still an aspect, but it’s defined more broadly, and there’s also this aloof, closed-off, unfriendly quality which is suddenly all over the place.

(It also seems like the opposite of the male list, personality-wise, except it isn’t quite. It’s possible to have the aloofness and the showoffy unconventional-thinking-charisma at the same time – Benedict Cumberbatch’s character on “Sherlock” comes to mind – although it is not typical.)

(Also, speaking of “Agents of SHIELD”, I belatedly noticed that Skye fits all of my “male character” criteria at least to some degree, though not as flamboyantly as some and with a degree of inexperience. I quite like Skye; she’s on my female runner-up list. Despite the fact that half of the fandom apparently hates her? And I don’t know what’s up with that, either?)

Anyway, so apparently I just have WAY more internalized sexism than all of the rest of you for some reason. And I’ve had enough crushes on girls that I can’t even blame heterosexuality… I have no idea at all.

If this doesn’t scare you away, you can still do the exercise for yourself here.

Autism News, 7/10/2014

I’m readjusting my habits (again) and we may actually have a small and on-time news post for once. First, here are some posts about social skills and social coping:

  • The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism on how to avoid becoming hateful when people are cruel
  • Real Social Skills on the idea of NTs “instinctively knowing” social rules that autistic people don’t, and why this idea is not actually correct
  • Emily Brooks on learning to date while autistic

Some pan-disability stuff:


Sad things:

  • Lisa Daxer has some kinda-good news on a very sad topic, with a couple of people who murdered autistic teenagers being brought to justice.
  • A new law to help prevent organ transplant discrimination
  • Real Social Skills on a version of ABA that doesn’t use punishments, and why there are still problems with this version
  • A safety warning for people who post pictures of their autistic family members
  • I missed this when it was first posted, but lately this article by Stop Hurting Kids, and an accompanying myth-busting fact sheet about seclusion and restraint in schools, have been making the rounds again.

My spooky science-fantasy poem, “Evianna Talirr Builds a Portal on Commission”, is now available in Year 1 of the HWA Poetry Showcase, along with works by Geoffrey A. Landis, Ann K. Schwader, and many other famously spooky poets of spook. These were the Horror Writers Association’s favorite poems out of what was submitted to them in their contest back in April.

Ev, a sort of Lovecraftian mystic-scientist who both invents and destroys things, has been creeping around and showing up in different works of mine for some time now, but this is the first time one of them’s actually sold. So, I’m pleased.

More later. IRL stuff has been keeping me away from the blogosphere, but it’s slowly getting back under control.

Autism News, 6/21/2014

This one is a long one, and a somewhat-overdue one, and a sad one.

First, there was the (utterly unscientific) study that claimed to show a link between autism and serial killing. Unfortunately, this was not what the study actually showed. It measured autism by looking in media reports about criminals and seeing if anyone speculated that they might be autistic, or that they behaved oddly or had strange social skills. So the correct conclusion isn’t that “autism and serial killing are linked”; it is “people in the news tend to speculate about the mental health and/or neurotype of killers”.

Second, of course, there was the Isla Vista shooting. An #AutismIsNotACrime flash blog happened in response to this, organized by Gretchen Leary, but it was not properly archived, and I dropped the ball and missed it at the time. However, here are a few posts, both from within the flash blog and from elsewhere, which relate to the shooting and the complex social issues which sprung up around it.

  • Amy Sequenzia explains what the problem is with blaming crimes on autism, in general. (This is a good post to read if you’re sort of staring at things wondering what is going on and what the big deal is.)
  • Cristiana Bell describes the impact that this blaming can have on autistic people’s families
  • Morénike from Just Being Me describes another kind of impact that it has
  • Dani Alexis on autism and misogyny, on what can happen when a person is both autistic and misogynistic, and why using autism to excuse misogyny creats a double standard

Since aggression, in the form of extreme violent acts, has been such a hot topic this month, here are some helpful posts on dealing with more everyday aggression and meltdowns in general.

Meanwhile, here is some stuff about research:

  • Google (yes, that Google) is helping Autism Speaks compile a database of the genomes of many autistic people and their families, called AUT10K. Many autistic people have reservations about this database (and not just because Autism Speaks is involved). ASAN explains the issues here.
  • Here’s an example of autism research that could actually be useful: a simulation that helps autists build job interview skills.
  • And some not-so-nice, but interesting, genetic research
  • A company called My Ambrosia is planning an app to help autistic adults with cooking and grocery shopping, and they are running a survey to determine what is needed. If you are an autistic adult, you can take the survey here.

Posts about other issues and differences:


  • No More Puzzle Profits on the ice cream sundae theory of autism
  • Vituki on things to remember if you are a social justice person whose posts are read by disabled people (i.e. all social justice people)
  • Amanda Baggs on the idea of advocacy as a “package deal”

Likeability: An Exercise

So, my non-writing life has been pretty unbelievable lately, but I Aten’t Dead. And I’m finding myself still fascinated with this topic, despite myself.

During our last discussion, people brought up a wide variety of issues related to character likability, including the impact of a character’s sexual and romantic orientation, and the difference between genre and literary fiction in approaches to characters, plus a whole whack of “Wait, but what does this ‘likeability’ thing actually mean, anyway? Does it mean ANYTHING?'”

Meanwhile, Silvia Moreno-Garcia linked me to this post from Overthinking It. A post doing actual research in likeability, you guys! I highly recommend it, and it’s spurred me to (belatedly) construct some informal research of my own, which covers a few questions that the Overthinking It article may have missed… Although, when I say “informal”, I mean really informal. As in, this would never pass peer-review EVER, ANYWHERE, and the fact that you guys are a biased sample is only the first of its many problems in that regard.

Still, I’m curious.


Ada’s Totally Informal Likeability Exercise

If you’d like to participate, please do this on your own, before looking at anyone else’s answers. No cheating!

For the purpose of this exercise, characters that you “like” are the characters that you get excited to read about. You’re more likely to pick up a book (/movie/whatever) if it has one of these characters, vs. other work by the same author. You enjoy scenes more when these characters have something to do in them. You don’t necessarily have to have any other beliefs about the characters, such as a belief that they are good people (though you can if you want to).

Got that? Let’s begin…

1. Quick! Write down your 3 favorite male characters. (It doesn’t have to be exactly 3; 2 to 5 is a good range. Don’t stress about getting The Very Best Ones Ever, either; just write down the ones that come quickly to mind.)

2. Now! Quick! Write down your 3 favorite female characters, in a similar manner.

3. (If you have favorite genderqueer/nonbinary characters, or characters who don’t otherwise belong on a binary list of “male” and “female” characters, please list them here as well. I’m not making this a strict requirement since there tend to be relatively few such characters, but if you want to list any, please do.)

4. For each character on the lists you just made, write down 3 things about them that make them your favorites. Again, don’t stress; go with what comes to mind first.

5. Look at your lists. Can you see commonalities between all of the characters you just wrote down, or are they all completely different from each other? A commonality could be a specific character trait (they’re clever, funny, vulnerable, tough) or something much more “meta”. Are the things you enjoy about your favorite male characters different from the things you enjoy about your favorite female characters? Do you see any other patterns?

6. If your favorite characters (or favorite male/female characters, etc) all have something in common, can you think of a character who also has that trait, but whom you dislike? Why?

7. Comment and share your answers, and let’s see what we’ve learned!

New Story: The Screech Owl Also Shall Rest There

So now on to happier news!

My friend/collaborator Jacqueline Flay and I have a new story out in the anthology, “The Death God’s Chosen” by Deepwood Publishing. It’s a novelette featuring Mesolithic vampires, polyamory, an unusually large-scale Revenge SVP, and the origin of writing. Among other things.

This story was quite a while in the making. Working with Jacqueline was a new experience for me at the time, but a good one, and she helped push the story into territory I would have normally been too intimidated to venture into. We had to drop out of the market for which we originally wrote it due to a contractual dispute, and I had some moments of despair wondering if ANYONE else but that market would buy this type of story, but of course it was not only snapped up in due time, but by a market which, despite being a very small press, paid more than the original. And has better cover art. So… Yay!

Plus we’re the first story in the whole anthology & the first authors to be named on the cover, which is kind of cool, in a mindless-ego-feeding sort of way.

An excerpt:

“Close your eyes. Sing.”

Tiqu, the new boy, does as he’s told, standing tense in the temple’s centre with Ishka poised in front of him like a lover. He opens his lips on a wordless melody. It doesn’t matter what the song is, only that it distracts him. The comb will hurt worse if he’s thinking about it too hard.

The temple is a monumental thing, carved full of lion-gods, eagle-gods, even beetle-gods. Ishka usually does this under the trees or the stars, wherever her pack happens to be. But the temple was close this time, and she could not resist it. She is old enough to remember when this was pure blasphemy. Imagine gods that stay in one place, not roaming freely like every other creature! There were wars over this temple once. Ishka still smells blasphemy when she visits, and she likes that, even if the humans no longer remember why.

Tiqu’s brow furrows. He repeats his melody, a chant to match the carvings.

Ishka dips her sharpened obsidian comb into the bowl of ash in front of her and looks Tiqu’s nude body up and down.

Then she drives the comb into the flesh of his thigh.

The anthology is ebook-only, but is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

If you like this, you should know this isn’t my only collaboration with Jacqueline Flay; we’re also in the TOC for Michael Matheson’s anthology “Start a Revolution: QUILTBAG Fiction Vying for Change“, which comes out in 2015.

Autism and Likeability: Preliminary Notes

I’ve been dragging my feet on the post I promised Charlotte Ashley I’d write – an analysis, following my theory of character likeability, of why people claim that autistic characters are unlikeable.

I finally noticed the reason I was having trouble talking about this: It’s outside my experience. This has not actually happened to me.

Here are some complaints I’ve been given more than once (in critique groups and by beta readers) about my characters:

  1. They are too generic; we don’t get a sense of who they are as people.
  2. Their relationships are too generic; we don’t get a sense of why they care about their supposed love interests, or (in some cases) if they really do in the first place.
  3. They are too weak, passive, victimized, whiny instead of carrying the story. They just give up at the end.
  4. They come off as immature, selfish, or shallow
  5. They make too many stupid decisions, ignore obvious solutions to their problem, or generally flail around not knowing what to do / not planning properly.

Some of these are relevant to likeability, but none of them are quite the thing Charlotte was talking to me about. And the really tricky part is, I don’t think any of them specifically relate to writing autistic characters. For me they happen just as often, maybe even more often, when I’m trying to write an NT.

You could make an argument that some are related to me being autistic. It’s certainly easy to draw comparisons between 1 and 2 and a lack of cognitive empathy. But I really don’t like this line of thinking. Generic, shallow characters are a problem 90% of newbie authors have, regardless of neurotype. Writing deep and complex people is a skill. It’s learned! I’ve seen other aspiring authors on the spectrum wondering if they should quit before they start, because they’ll never be able to write deep and nuanced characters the way NTs do, and that makes me mad. When NT authors have problems like this, they get told to build their skills and given the tools to start doing that. I’ve improved a lot at writing good characters over the years, though of course I still have a ways to go – so I see no other reason other autistic authors can’t do the same damn thing.

Plus, while these five issues are chronic issues for me, they don’t appear in every story. In fact, I’ve been complimented on some of my characters and their likeability! It just depends what I’m doing, who I’m writing, and how in-tune with the story I am.

I find that, when I have a long time to experiment and play with a character – longer than the short-story medium generally allows – I get to know them much more deeply. So my most popular characters are in RPGs for the most part, which is perhaps not helpful.

As for weak, passive, victimized, whiny, shallow, immature, selfish, or bad at decision-making – I don’t think any of those are inherent traits of autistic people, though some forms of social skills training perhaps attempt to inculcate them into us. (I don’t think I got that kind of training, but there are other reasons why I struggle with character agency, which is the root that ties all of those complaints together.)

So, instead of having some grand and sweeping thing to say about autistic characters, I actually want to open up the floor. If you’ve tried to write autistic characters, or if you’re on the spectrum somewhere and have tried to write any type of character, what problems do you typically run into? What do you typically get told about your characters’ likeability or lack thereof? Have you built your skills at solving some of these problems? Or do they seem insoluble? Or do you feel that they’re problems with reader prejudice (like the problems that can crop up with “unlikeable” female characters), not problems that originate with you?

I’d like to hear a wide variety of viewpoints on this if people are comfortable sharing, and I’d be happy to hear experiences from allistic people, too, especially if you have some other marginalization which affects how you write characters and how your characters are received by readers.

Another thing about passing

Addendum to the “passing” discussion from a month or two ago:

I realized recently that I don’t actually pass as well as I think I do.

What do I mean when I say I have “passing privilege”? I basically mean that, if I’m prepared and understand what’s going on, I can walk into a room full of strangers, perform some expected interaction, and walk out again, in a way that approximates “normal” sufficiently closely that none of the strangers end up squinting at me and saying, “Hey, I bet that girl is disabled.”

I mean, this is a form of passing, and it is a form that some people can’t do. It is not a thing to take for granted, and I didn’t always have it (although the time when I didn’t have it was really only a couple of very bad years in my early teens).

In anything more complicated than the “room full of strangers” scenario, though? At work, or in a friendship, or – heaven forbid – in a romantic or family relationship? No, I don’t pass. People might not sit up straight and say “she’s autistic”, but with sufficient IRL interaction, everybody starts to notice something’s up, even if they can’t put their finger on it.

People who get this level of interaction generally fall into 3 groups.

1. People who get mad or dismissive or grossed out because I am weird. I don’t get as many of these as I used to in junior high school; partly because I really am doing better, and partly because I’ve learned to just freeze and be super quiet and not noticed instead of doing things that might elicit this reaction. I do occasionally still get them, though, especially if they are in a position of authority and are wondering why I’m not following their instructions properly.

2. People who like the weird, and who mention it as one of the reasons they like me. (Being in this category is kinda a prerequisite for dating me, BTW.) Nobody ever says to me, “You’re not weird,” except in one very specific context that I’ll maybe talk about later. But a lot of people say, “Hey yes, you’re weird in mostly good ways, and I like that about you.” Often these are people who are pretty weird or non-neurotypical in some way themselves.

(As a side note, this is why I’m not wild about the classification of the word “crazy” as a slur. Because a lot of the people in this precious second group use the word “crazy” to describe the things they like about me. It can be used in a dehumanizing way, but not always. “You’re crazy” can mean “Yes, I see you. I see the things that are different and sometimes-difficult about you, and it’s okay, you are cool in a way that includes these things.” It can mean other non-dehumanizing things, too. This is seriously ALL about context. I’ve been on the receiving end of all of these usages regularly, and the insulting ones suck, but I really do not want the non-insulting usages to be taken away from me. Replacing them with some random neurological or mental health diagnostic term doesn’t always make any sense.)

People in this group don’t pretend that my neurotype is all cute quirks and rainbows. They see that I struggle with certain things and that it’s hard sometimes. But they see that there are some really good things about being me, too, and overall they like me and like spending time with me. This is WAY better than people who pretend that my weirdness doesn’t exist.

3. People who treat me as though I have a chronic physical illness. This especially happens in professional contexts, when I am trying very hard to act normal and polite. I can cover up the “weird” and “crazy” behaviors if I try, but when I am simply overwhelmed and can’t function, there’s no covering that.

I had a friend in a church choir, for instance, who was always motherly and nice and never breathed a word about me being “weird” or “crazy”. But every few weeks I would get the You’re So Pale All Of A Sudden, Go Sit Down And Put Your Head Between Your Knees, You Should Eat A Lot Of Chicken Soup, Get Better Soon talk. Then she would drive me home and I would get home and be out of the overwhelming church environment and be just fine, thank you. No actual sickness here!

She never quite worked that one out.

This is a form of passing, but it’s not the same as being mistaken for someone whose physical/sensory endurance and emotional reactions work normally.

I think sometimes I over-emphasize my own passing privilege. It is a thing that I’ve worked for, and it certainly makes my life easier than it was in junior high school. But often when I get up and say “But Obviously I Have All The Passing Privilege,” it’s not about acknowledging the work that I’ve done to fit in, or about acknowledging honestly that some lives are harder than mine (which they are). It’s, perversely, a kind of a brag. Look At Me. Look How High Functioning I Am, even if I know better than to actually use that term. Look How Socially Approved All My Behavior Is.

Except not only is that insulting to other autistic people who don’t fit that metric, but it’s not true. All The Passing Privilege (as opposed to Some Of The Passing Privilege, Plus Getting Away With Things ‘Cause I’m Smart Or Cute) has never really been my life, anyway.

(Same goes for the other common refrain of high-functioning folks, “But I Get Through Life Without Too Many Accomodations”… Which, just like this one, is kinda-sorta-true-ish but not, and is a way of measuring oneself on entirely the wrong axis. What’s “too many” accomodations, anyway? Who decides?)

So, tl;dr, I need to stop talking about myself this way.