The Pronoun Talk

I wasn’t going to write this post. Originally this was going to be some “How to Review Trans Books” shit, but I reeeally didn’t want to do that for two reasons:

1. I really, professionally, do not want to ever write something that would suggest I have anything to say to reviewers about how they should review my books. I understand that reviews are not for me. I also understand that there is a long history of authors being absolute shit to reviewers, despite the fact that reviewers are pretty much integral to their success. Reviewers should be lifted up on a pedestal by authors, not dragged down and attacked.

2. I had really hoped that the few particularly transphobic reviews out there (not of my books, actually, but of other trans books) were just an anomaly. I wanted to believe that they were just trolls who were being mean or transphobic because they could, and that ignoring them was the best course of action.

But more and more I’m seeing reviews of trans books pop up where the reviewer genuinely seems well-meaning, and doesn’t realise that what they’re saying is something that trans people hear over and over, micro-aggressions that end up being incredibly hurtful at the end of the day. I know that if I was doing or saying something that was hurting someone in that way, I would want them to tell me, and I would hope they were comfortable explaining why.

So I’m gonna talk about it.

I am a genderqueer individual. I was assigned female at birth, and I present largely as female for various reasons (see my post about it here) but I’m not really a girl. Not at all. The way my dysphoria manifests changes from day to day. Some days I can’t stand my body. Some days I just feel vaguely disconnected to it. Sometimes when people call me “miss” or “lady” I get a pang in my stomach, like “no, that’s wrong”. Sometimes I just feel tired. But I always have, deep in my gut, this knowledge that I am not a girl, and I’m not a boy either. I just am.

I dealt with this, the sort of weird to uncomfortable feeling I get from being called “she”, by adopting the pronoun “they.” At first it felt weird to me, and sounded off to my ears. But I wrote up an author bio using it, and immediately felt a sense of relief, because even though it sounded a bit weird, it also allowed me to be perceived, at least by people passing by on the internet, as someone who is not female or male. And that was a big, big deal.

So here’s the thing. I know that gender-neutral pronouns are a bit weird. They’re new, and they take a bit of getting used to. Remember when apple came out with the iPad and everyone laughed, (menstruation is hilarious, you heard it here first) but now people say it all the time without a second thought? New words take a little bit to catch on. But they do, and it’s normal. In this case, it’s desperately needed. We have a whole population of people who don’t identify as male or female, and don’t wish to be gendered in every single sentence used about them. The solution was to come up with new pronouns (and I say “new” but most of these pronouns have been around for decades) or to use the pronoun “they”, which has already been used to refer to someone when you don’t know their gender yet (albeit in a slightly detached way) for a very long time.

If you’re not familiar with the term “micro-aggression” it’s basically a very small, minimally offensive thing that someone says or does that would be fine on it’s own. But when it happens time after time, again and again, it’s like Chinese water torture. It becomes unbearable. That’s why a cis person might laugh off having the wrong pronoun used for them once, but for a trans person who has been having the wrong pronoun used for them their whole life, it becomes an awful, hurtful thing whenever someone does it. Here’s a quote from my book, To Summon Nightmares, that explains it a little bit:

“Well, you’re my little sis—” She cut off with an intake of breath and Cohen flinched violently. Niall who had gone into the kitchen to put the kettle on, glanced at Cohen, looking concerned.
It’s okay, Cohen mouthed at him. The line was silent.
“I’m really sorry,” said Halley, sounding wretched. “Cohen, I’m really sorry, okay? I just forgot.”
“I know.” Cohen nodded, trying to breathe. “It’s fine, really Halley. I appreciate that you’re trying.”
“I am trying,” she said. “Really, I am.”
Niall took a step into the living room. “Do you want me to go?” he asked, and Cohen shook his head.
“It’s okay.” Cohen forced a smile into his voice. “You’re my sister, so I can’t be mad at you.”
“Yeah, right.” Halley gave a forced laugh. “Okay, call me tomorrow, kid. You hear me?”
“I will,” he said. “I promise.”
“G’night little brother.”
“Goodnight.”
He hung up the phone, leaning back against the couch and breathing slowly. His tolerance for being misgendered had gone down now that it wasn’t happening all the time. When it had happened all the time, it had just been like a slow burning, unidentifiable sickness. Now every ‘he’ was a relief, and every ‘she’ and ‘sister,’ every mention of his birth name was like a punch to the gut. He hated it.

So we choose a gender-neutral pronoun to avoid the feeling of being misgendered, but all too often a new micro-aggression takes it’s place, in the form of people complaining that our pronouns are too difficult for them. And I understand that it’s a normal reaction to want to talk about how the words are confusing, you don’t know how to use them or how to pronounce them. But trust me, we’ve heard it before, a lot. We know you’re going to have trouble with it, so did we. But it was worth it for us. And if you respect us at all, it’ll be worth it to you too.

The problem that’s come about, particularly with reviews, is that when you’re writing a review for a book, it’s normal to pick apart and critique aspects of the story. The world building didn’t make sense, so-and-so’s character was hard to understand, the made-up language seemed needlessly complex. Those are all valid critiques. The trouble starts when you treat something like gender identity or pronouns as something that the author has similarly “made up” to put into their book. There’s a difference between a world that an author has created from scratch, and a world that actually exists, that the author has researched or lived, and is representing in their book. One is open for debate and critique, and the other is just the way the world is. Complaining that you don’t like it doesn’t really add anything.

And I mean, it’s perfectly acceptable to read a book about, say, a sheep herder, and then say in your review: “I’m actually not a big fan of sheep, and I found it boring and confusing. Your mileage may vary.” But sheep herders don’t hear every day, in a million different little ways, that their profession is stupid and confusing and ridiculous. Or maybe they do. Equal rights for sheep herders?

For me, as a genderqueer person looking for books to read about people like me, it’s really difficult to get on goodreads, find a book that looks promising, and then scroll down to the reviews, just to read a bunch of reviews about how my pronouns are too confusing to be bothered with. And obviously this is a problem that extends beyond and didn’t at all originate with reviews, which is why I didn’t want to make this post all about them. But book reviews seem to one of the spots where the problem is really showing, so I wanted to address it.

Please, if you meet a person who asks you to use gender-neutral pronouns for them, don’t tell them that it’s too difficult for you. If you mess up, don’t go on about how it was because their pronouns are just so complicated, and it’s hard for you to learn how to use them. Just say sorry, and move on. And if you’re reading a book about a genderqueer character, and you don’t want to be bothered with the pronouns, just put the book down and go read something else. Don’t write about how difficult it was for you, or how you felt put off the book by their existence, because genderqueer people are going to see that, and read it.

And trust me, we already know.

Kinks and Content Warnings

(Trigger warning on this post for mention of rape and incest.)

I meant to write this blog post ages ago, but the release date for Double Take totally snuck (sneaked?) up on me, so here I am writing it now! I did want to talk about this before release day, because I think it’s a fairly important topic.

Double Take – coming January 28th from LT3 Press

So I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing as a “bad” kink. The way I see it, kinks are natural, and no one should have to feel bad about something they can’t control. In fact, I think kinks are a great way to explore your sexuality and make your life more exciting! The thing is, some people have kinks that are inappropriate, immoral and/or illegal to act on. That’s why things like erotica and roleplay are important. They exist as safe and consensual ways to act out out a kink without actually hurting anyone.

But there are some people who feel that erotica that includes those kinds of kinks shouldn’t be published. Some people feel that by encouraging people who say, get turned on by reading about or roleplaying rape scenes, you’re encouraging those people to actually go out and rape someone. I don’t personally agree with that opinion, but that’s not what I want to discuss here. I want to discuss the opinion that books about certain kinks shouldn’t be published because they might trigger or upset someone who has experienced something horrible in a similar situation to the one that the book presents as sexy.

Which is a legitimate concern. I would absolutely hate to accidentally trigger or upset someone who has had a negative experience in the past, because they read my book without realising that it had sensitive content in it. But the answer is not to never publish anything that might trigger someone.

The answer, my friends, is content warnings.

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Geek Out – A collection of trans and genderqueer romance from LT3 Press.

Some people really don’t like the idea of content warnings. They think they’re a form of censorship, or an insult to the reader, who should apparently be able to handle anything the book throws at them, without any prior warning of the fact. Obviously, I don’t agree with that, and I’m luckily enough to write for a publisher who has a similar stance (and even has a nifty option to toggle content notes on and off on their website, so people can choose whether or not they want to be warned about potentially triggering or upsetting content.) I see content warnings as a common courtesy, a way to help potential readers make an informed choice, and maybe even get some new potential buyers, who like that particular kink that I’m “warning” them about.

In my opinion, it is absolutely acceptable for me to write about whatever kinks I want, and publish it for whoever wants to read it. But it’s also my responsibility as an author to do everything I can to keep someone from accidentally reading and being triggered by something I wrote. And one of the best ways I can accomplish that is to offer content warnings for my books.

So anyway, the point of all this is that my short story Double Take includes incest in it. The way it’s written, from the POV of a character who doesn’t realise at first that the person they’re seeing is actually twins, you don’t find that out right away. But I’m absolutely willing to sacrifice the “twist” element to make sure that no one goes into it unawares. Because while twincest is something that I enjoy reading and writing, there are people out there who have experienced incestuous abuse, and have to live with that, and I do not, in any way, feel that it’s acceptable to let my kink cross over and interfere in their real life recovery and happiness.

Anyway, I know this is all a bit heavy, considering Double Take is a cute, 14K smut fest, but I did feel it had to be said, and it applies to other stuff I might write in the future too. I hope that if Double Take is your thing, you’ll check it out, and if not, I hope you’ll check out the other stories in the Geek Out collection, as they’re all very different. A lovely testament to the diversity in the trans community and the geek community, I think. Thanks for reading! Have a picture of my cat!

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Being Happy in the Moment

I spent all last week in a blissful high that I call “not anxious or depressed”. I felt confident, sure of myself, and blissfully, freely happy. I try to savour those times as much as possible when I have them, and remember and document everything I’m feeling as rigorously as possible so that when I fall back into depression (as I have over the last few days- it seems to happen around the same time every month, like clockwork) I can remember everything I felt before, and remind myself that that’s what I really feel, and who I really am, not what my brain is currently trying to tell me.

One of the symptoms of depression that I struggle with a lot is a deep feeling of dissatisfaction. When I fall into a particularly bad bout, the things I normally like and take pleasure in suddenly no longer interest me. I try to be excited about the things that I normally am, but I just can’t feel it. And despite the fact that I know it’s my brain playing tricks on me, I can’t help but feel like everything about my life right now is not as good as it could be. When this happens, I start getting obsessed with and worrying about the future.

For instance, the bf and I are planning on buying a condo sometime this year. I habitually look at places for sale online, and think about design and decor ideas that I’ll be able to realise once I have my own place. It’s a nice pastime, but I’m okay about being patient, and I’m still quite happy in our current rental apartment. At least… most of the time.

When the dissatisfaction sets in, my brain tries to convince me that the reason I’m feeling this way is not because I’m lacking chemicals in my brain, but because I must be deeply unhappy and satisfied with my current living arrangements. I become obsessed with finding a new place to live, pining after the happiness that I’ve convinced myself I’ll be able to access once I have a better place.

This is bullshit, of course. It’s playing right into the “grass is greener” fallacy, and I know it. But my brain is nothing if not insidious.

The other problem I have a lot is with my writing. A lot of authors talk about how they have more ideas than they’ll ever be able to write down. That’s not exactly true for me. I mean, I’ve never gotten to the end of a project and had no inspiration for what to write next. But I often don’t get that inspiration until about two weeks before I finish my current project. Which means that right now I’m only 20K into what’s probably going to be a 60-80K project, but I’m already worried that when I finish this story, I won’t have anything to write next. I should be focusing on my current project, not worrying about the future.

And I know better. I know that if I try to come up with an idea for my next story now, I won’t be inspired to write it by the time I get around to it. And I know that buying a new condo isn’t going to magically make me happy if I’m not happy right now, especially since the unhappiness is so obviously to do with my brain, and not my environment.

I don’t know what to do except keep telling myself that this will pass. That there’s no reason for me to be feeling unhappy, and thinking up magical solutions for the future is only going to make me more frustrated and unhappy. I try my hardest to live in the moment, to be happy with what I have, and with the wonderful life that I’ve carved for myself. It frustrates me when my brain switches off, and tries to tell me that I’m not happy, when I know, I know that I am.

The Hyperbole and a Half comic on depression really sums it up the best I’ve ever seen. Read the rest here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.ca/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

Ah, I don’t know what to do about it besides ride it out. I was gonna try to make the end of this blog post all uplifting and cheerful, but … really, all I can do is try to keep myself comfortable and calm and wait this damn thing out.

I’m gonna write anyway, by the way. Because damnit, I’m a professional.


J.K. Pendragon writes stories, even when dealing with crippling cases of the sads. A lot of the time they’re super cute and fluffy, to make up for it. Like this one, which is coming out January 28th:

Double Take
Wordcount: 14,500
Price: $2.99
Genre: Fantasy, Genderqueer, Poly

Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.

Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.

But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache…

Warning: This story features a poly relationship that includes twin brothers.

Excerpt
Pre-order (save 15%)

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Real talk: cats are a fabulous treatment for depression.

Tattoos, Tattoos, Tattoos (and Ink & Flowers in Audio)

It’s kind of an obsession. I mean, you wouldn’t know it as I have exactly two whole tattoos, but that’s to do with the flesh being willing and the wallet being weak, if you know what I mean. Were money not an option, I would probably be covered in the things. Also, I’m incredibly picky, and there are only a few tattoo artists in the world who I actually want to draw stuff on my body. And here they are:

1. Nomi Chi

Starting with Nomi because she’s based in Vancouver, and I’m really hoping I’ll actually be able to get some work done by her. She has a fantastic, sketchy, different style, and (like a lot of tattoo artists) works in several different styles besides tattooing. But I’m going to share some of her tattoos for now.

2. Colin Dale

Colin works out of Denmark, and is one of a few different artists (all based out of the Netherlands) who do these absolutely amazing dotwork-style viking designs.

That last one was tattoed by hand, ie poke and rub. It’s often done outdoors (don’t worry, he’s a professional, so it’s completely sanitary) and getting a tattoo like this is absolutely on my bucket list.)

3. Jeff Gogue

Jeff Gogue is totally in a league of his own when it comes to tattoing. He works out of Oregon, and mostly only works with established clients on big pieces, so it’s almost impossible to get a tattoo by him, but looking is amazing too.

NSFW on the next one:

4. LAET

Laura A. E. Taylor is based in London (seriously, everyone is so far away) and she does amazing wood-cut style tattoos which are my absolute favourite.

5. Alex Tabuns

Alex is in Russia so (sigh) that’s probably never going to happen. She does more of the blackwork, woodcut designs I love.

6. Sam Smith

Finally, Sam is the artist I went to to get my tattoo, which I love. She’s in Calgary now, and I may yet make a trip to see her again. Her work is solid and bright with a lovely art nouveau touch.

So there you have it! Some of my favourite tattoo artists. I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting, so I may make a part 2 at some point. For now I’m going to lay about thinking wistfully about tattoos I’ll likely never have. And writing books with tatted up characters, of course.



Ink & Flowers is about a shy, repressed art student, and a gruff ex-tattoo-artist with a heart of gold. It was recently released as an audiobook through Less Than Three Press, and I’m super excited and happy with it!

Click Here to buy it in audio from various retailers or Here to see the ebook version.

Thanks for reading!

On Free Speech

How does one protect freedom of speech without condoning the actions of those who’s speech you’re protecting? I like to think it’s possible. The very notion of “free speech” says that people are allowed to say things that others agree or disagree with without fear of being legally or physically attacked. But there’s a line where freedom of speech and “hate speech” intersect. Where the hateful, racist, sexist or homophobic words of people cause harm and pain to others. Free speech is necessary because it allows people to speak out against their governments and their superiors without being silenced. But because of this, it also allows people to speak out against those who are vulnerable, and cause tremendous hurt while being protected from any legal repercussions. Because of this, I think of free speech as a sort of necessary evil.

When free speech is threatened by outside forces it is, obviously deplorable. Attacking or threatening to attack people who say things you disagree with is evil and unacceptable.  But I find it interesting the way the internet responds differently to similar situations. When terrorists threatened to bomb screenings of “The Interview”, many people responded with an outcry that this was an attack on free speech. However, many more people responded to this with derision, saying that the threat was in no way an attack on free speech, and that the movie The Interview was deeply racist and hurtful anyway. But now, with the similar (and incredibly tragic) attack on the French satire publisher Charlie Hebdo, people are again responding to this by rallying to protect the paper’s right to free speech, despite the fact that the paper has been known to publish plenty of racist content.

And I’ll be honest, seeing all these protests and the “Je Suis Charlie” hashtag has me really, really uncomfortable. And not because I don’t think free speech is important. But because, honestly, I’m much more worried about how the French Muslim community are going to be affected by this, than I am about the French people being unable to safely express their opinions.

Islamophobia runs rampant in America and Canada, but also in European countries. When a white Christian person is responsible for a mass murder or a bombing, he is considered an outlier, or a lone gunman. But when it’s a person of middle-eastern descent, the entire Muslim religion is considered responsible. Following these kinds of attacks, many Muslim people are afraid to leave their homes. They endure horrific abuse at the hands of racists who feel completely justified in their behavior because a very small group of religious extremists’ behavior is applied to the entire religion. Earlier today, the hashtag “KillAllMuslims” was trending.

And I’m honestly more worried about this than I am about the free speech of people in western countries. I imagine being a Muslim person seeing those crowds gathered in France and wondering how many of those people are there not because of the tragic deaths that occurred, but because of the vitriol of their hatred towards Islam. Vitriol that right now they feel completely supported and justified in. I wonder what it’s like to be a person of colour seeing Charlie Hebdo praised and revered as the paragon of free speech, and knowing the the fact that they published cartoons like this doesn’t factor into anyone’s opinion of them. Because for so many people, “free speech” doesn’t mean being able to stand up to an oppressive government, or live their lives free of persecution. It just means being able to say whatever hateful, racist things they want, and get away with it.

My heart goes out to the people and families of people who died today. I condemn the actions of the shooters whole-heartedly. I think it’s important that people and papers be allowed to say and print what they want without legal repercussions. But I’m extremely critical of the fact that this is what the media and the public have chosen to latch on to and focus on.

The whole thing just makes me very uncomfortable.

So How Was My Year?

What a question! So much happened this year, not all of it good. I struggled with depression and anxiety, and for a few months I didn’t do any writing or social media, and considered whether or not writing was actually something I wanted to do. In the end I came back to it, of course. Because I didn’t really wanted to quit. I just wasn’t sure if I could do it. I’m still not sure if I can. Being online, putting myself and my work out there, it’s incredibly stressful and hard on me. But it’s also incredibly rewarding and meaningful. So I’m keeping on.

Mental illness is so often invisible. You fight, sometimes every day, just to be at the level of normal that other people take for granted. But I know that I’m not alone in this either, since so many authors struggle with things like depression and social anxiety. For all the drama that goes on in the online publishing community, I still get to feel like I get to have a community of people who understand me and support me, and that’s pretty amazing for me.Ink & Flowers

Anyway, despite all the down moments, 2014 was still pretty awesome. I feel like I became more confident in myself, especially in my gender identity, and I continued to put myself first and try not to feel guilty for doing what I need to to make myself happy.

I had two books come out this year! Ink & Flowers in June and To Summon Nightmares in November. The positive critical reception to them has been wonderful! Both of them are on a level of quality that I don’t think I could have achieved in years past. I really feel like I’ve improved as an author, and to know that I’m constantly improving and becoming more and more able to tell the stories that I want to tell is really rewarding. I also did a lot of writing this year, and, as a “LGBT author”, I’m making an effort to To Summon Nightmareswrite more novels that aren’t just cis m/m. I’ve been writing almost exclusively stories with trans characters this year, and I just finished writing my first f/f!

All in all, my life is pretty good. I have a wonderful partner, and a stable job, and a place to live with enough food to eat, and a little bit of money left over. I got to take a couple trips into Vancouver earlier this year, one to see Wicked live, which was totally on my bucket list, and one to go to the Pride Parade! I haven’t been able to make it the last few years, so it was absolutely lovely to be able to go and have that sense of community and support that you don’t really get in a small town.

So, plans for the new year:

Keep on writing! I’ve found that there’s real value in pushing myself to continue, even when I don’t feel like it, although I’m going to have to keep my mental health in mind and take a break if I really need one. I just started a m/m superhero story that I think is going to be fun to write. It insists on being about teenagers though, so when I do finish it, deciding what to do with is going to be a challenge. But I’ll deal with that when I come to it. After that is a blank slate, but I hope to be able to get Skylark Tower and Witch, Cat and Cobb published sometime next year. Double Take is also coming out in January, which will be a lovely start to the year.

With luck, the bf and I will be able to get a mortgage in the new year and buy our own condo sometime next year! So that’s where the majority of our $$$ will probably be going, although I do want to get another tattoo, since I didn’t get one this year. Oh, and I’ll be travelling south to Seattle to attend the Gay Romance North West convention! My first author convention, and I’ll finally get to meet a bunch of people that I’ve known on the internet for years. I’m one part excited, and one part terrified, with a dash of absolute panic about the whole thing, but I do think it will go well. Which reminds me, I need to get a passport.

Anyway, if this post comes off as a little bit discombobulated, it’s because I’m still recovering from this!

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Christmas fondue! It was lovely! See my tumblr for more photos. I also got some wonderful presents, including a freaking awesome Spider-man mug. (My love for Spider-man runs deeeep.)

So here’s hoping everyone had a very merry Christmas, and wishing everyone best of luck in the New Year! Love you all!

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Wouldn’t be complete without a kitty photo, of course!

Being Conscious of Your Narrative

So last week I talked about diversity in fiction, and why it’s important to have a variety of stories about diverse characters. Some of those stories should address the issues of privilege and discrimination, but it’s also important to write stories about diverse characters that don’t function solely to expose prejudice, and just show diverse people as the real, rounded individual people they are. And this sentiment is echoed by a lot of people. There’s a great discussion going on online about how important it is to include people of different race, sexual orientation, gender identities and backgrounds in stories. But what I don’t hear discussed often enough, is how it’s not good enough to just insert diverse characters into your story, you have to also be mindful of the narrative of your story, and the way those characters are used in the narrative.

A few examples come to mind of wonderfully written, complex, developed minority characters who were completely betrayed by the narrative of the story. 

1. Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I haven’t even seen every season of Buffy (I know, I know) but I’ve heard enough people lamenting Willow’s fate to know what happened. The show’s creators spent years developing an amazing gay character (problematic bi-erasure aside) that people related to and identified with, and then threw everything away by having her turn evil and die, and incredibly common and harmful trope surrounding lesbian characters. (Edit: my apologies, as mentioned in the comments, Willow doesn’t die. Her girlfriend Tara dies, and Willow reacts by “going dark”. Queer characters have a history of being evil and/or dying, and the show hit them both in one fell swoop, which was disappointing after they had done such a good job developing Willow and Tara’s sexualities and relationship.)

2. Daisy Fitzroy from Bioshock: Infinite. The game goes to immense trouble to set up the city of Columbia as a false utopia, where the rich white bourgoisie live in luxury, while the poor black and Irish workers are exploited. One character whom we are led to sympathise with is Daisy, an African American maid who becomes the leader of the inevitable revolution that occurs. For the first half of the game, we are shown just how awful the situation is, and how justified Daisy’s actions are. And then Daisy is abruptly killed by, and her death used as character development for the white, female main character. To add insult to injury, the formerly sympathetic rebel group is then condemned in the narrative, and it is implied that they are nearly or just as bad as the wealthy bourgeoisie because they resorted to violence.

3. Well, just read this: Visual Representation: Trans Women in Comics

These are all fairly extreme examples, but there are also a million little ways in which minorities can be negatively represented. Female characters constantly falling for and/or being less competent than the male main character. The same female character dying to further the male main character’s character development. And even just plain old stereotypes like gay characters being interested in fashion and black female characters being “strong, independent women.” There’s a seemingly endless trail of pitfalls to avoid when writing diverse characters. And often a narrative tool or trope isn’t inherently bad, but it’s been used so often with regards to a particular minority, that it becomes a harmful stereotype. And of course there’s the simple but dangerously easy pitfall of including diverse characters, but in the end making them less important in the narrative, and ultimately sacrificial to the needs and character development of he majority characters. Like I said, there’s really no foolproof way of avoiding hitting some of these stereotypes, which is why it’s important to accept that when you’re writing about a minority you’re not a part of, you are going to screw up, and behave graciously when you do.

So why do we write these tropes? Why can’t we seem to avoid falling into these pitfalls? Well partially it’s because, like I said, there are just so many of them, you’d need extensive history and study to unearth them all. Although, here is an excellent reference page from tvtropes: Avoiding Unfortunate Implications. (Yes, that’s three external links in one post. Next you know I’ll be writing academic essays and citing my sources.) The other reason is that, unfortunately, we’re steeped in these stereotypes. A lot of the time it’s subconscious, and for a lot of authors, we rely on our subconscious knowledge of stories, plots, and characters to produce our work. I mean, yes, some authors study narrative extensively and produce best-selling books based on a perfected formula. But for a lot of us (myself included) we’re mostly winging it, allowing our experience with stories and our natural creativity to guide us. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories we experienced growing up and are continuing to experience are deeply racist, homophobic and sexist in ways that aren’t always visible on the surface. If we’re not careful, we take these deeply hurtful tropes and insert them into our work, without ever becoming aware that we’re doing it.

I don’t really have any easy tips and tricks or life hacks to help avoid putting harmful stereotypes into your stories. The number one thing is just to be aware, be critical of all the media you consume, and look for patterns that you want to avoid. It’s also really important to listen to people from the minority you’re writing about, and if possible, ask them to beta your work. And be creative, for goodness sake. Don’t use tired old tropes in your writing. Come up with new ones. Subvert the old ones. Have the girl save the guy. Make your main character a person of colour. Make the story revolve around them. In fact, write a book with no white people in it at all! Write something different. And write something real.


Coming January 27th, 2015: Double Take
Part of Less Than Three Press’s Trans Geek Out Collection
Wordcount: 14,500
Pre-order now for only $1.91 (save 36%!)

Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.

Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.

But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache… (Warning: This story contains incest)


Rethinking the Default

I’ve got a lot to say about this. How to organize my thoughts…

So a while ago, a fairly large review site posted a review of a book that was mostly positive. However, at the end of the review, they lamented the fact that the main characters were in an interracial relationship, but that fact wasn’t addressed and explored fully in the book. The reviewer felt that it was impossible for people in an interracial relationship not to receive backlash for it, and that the book should have addressed and included that backlash.

Similarly, another author I follow recently received a review for a short story they wrote in which both of the characters ID as trans. The story is a fairly short, cute romance, but the reviewer thought it was odd that the author didn’t delve deeper into the characters’ past, and their trans identities.

Noticing a trend?

Both reviewers assumed that if the characters belong to a minority, then that fact has to be addressed in the story. For them, the characters identities/race were just sitting there like a big elephant in the room waiting to be addressed, and they felt let down when it never was. Now, if the characters in the books had been white and cis, would they have reacted similarly? Felt let down if the white characters didn’t at some point contemplate their privilege over any non-white characters? Or if the cis characters never stopped to think about when they really realised that they were cis, and all the ways they perform their gender to make sure people know what it is? Probably not.

For most readers, characters who are white, cis and (for readers outside of m/m and f/f) straight, are the default. The invisible norm. They assume that characters are going to be this way unless they have a specific reason to be otherwise. Something that serves the story. The reason for this bias is our culture, and our culture’s stories. Mainstream movies, books, television shows. The vast majority of these stories have main characters who are white, cis and straight. And if they aren’t, you’d better believe that the story revolves around that fact. I read a post a while back that talked about famous, award winning roles by African American actors. The vast majority of them are roles that are based on real people, and real events. Black actors are very rarely allowed to step outside of specifically “black” roles and play characters who’s race isn’t the main point of the movie. (Unless, for some reason, they’re Will Smith.)

So, because of all this, we start to see white, cis, straight people as the “default” and everyone else as the “other”. Which is incredibly faulty logic, but it forms the basis for a lot of discrimination. And this default is no more present than in movies and books with straight, white, cis characters, and in the criticism of stories that feature the “other” without devoting the story to that fact. But when minorities hear criticism like this, what we’re hearing is “there is nothing interesting or important about you besides your struggle and your pain. You are not a full human being, with a life and interests and dreams beyond your struggle. No one wants to hear about you falling in love, or saving the world, or achieving your dreams, unless it is secondary to hearing about your subjugation.” And right now, it kind of feels like no one does.

That’s why it’s so important that stories exist with minority characters that don’t make that fact the main point of the story. And I’m not saying that stories about minorities’ struggles aren’t important. I’ve written them, and they can be incredibly useful in educating the public and changing people’s minds. But so can the stories that just have minority characters in them, for no reason except that those kinds of people exist in real life. We need these stories, and lots of them, so that maybe one day, the “default” will just be human.

I should note, also, that it seems to be much more common for authors to receive backlash for writing a minority character if they belong to that minority. There seems to be this very shitty universal assumption right now that if a white person writes a book about a POC, they’re being forward and brave and breaking stereotypes etc. but when a POC writes a book about someone like themselves, they have an “agenda” and the book needs to be more harshly critiqued. Which is bullshit, but there you go. I sometimes wonder if my decision to make Luke in Ink & Flowers of Chinese descent would have been more harshly criticized if I was Asian-Canadian myself, and I think that yes, it probably would have been. And that’s a problem, and something white authors have to keep in mind.

Getting off track a little here, but this topic is a whole can of worms that I could probably write a million more blog posts about. I’d love to hear people’s opinions in the comments. Have you ever read a book with a minority and felt that it was missing something by not being about their race/gender identity? Do you think “coming out” and “racism” narratives are still important, or that they should be retired for the time being in favour of more books and movies about “incidental minorities”? What are some defaults that you’ve had to unlearn, as a writer or as a reader? Let me know! And thanks for reading!


I’m excited to announce that Ink & Flowers will be available as an audiobook from Less Than Three Press on December 28th! LT3 now has a collection of audiobooks available for download on their website, and from Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Check it out!

Ink & Flowers [Audio]

About to lose his apartment, and desperate to avoid having to move in with his horrendous relatives, shy art student Luke impulsively agrees to a deal from hell: sex with a man he doesn’t know in exchange for a couch to sleep on.

His new “roommate” Cooper is everything that Luke hates: crude, uncouth, and covered in tattoos, not to mention openly gay. Luke has all but resigned himself to a miserable fate when it turns out Cooper might want something a little different than he expected.

Ebook
Print

Tips for Writers: Beating Self-Doubt

Every writer gets it sometimes. That feeling of crippling self-doubt. You’re writing away, minding your own business, and suddenly you decide that you might possibly be the worst author who ever lived. Maybe you got a bad review, or you’re staring down a recently finished manuscript and realising how badly you missed the mark. Your writing is awful, childish, lacking in subtlety. You’re a joke, no one will ever want to read your work. You tell yourself that this feeling is normal, and irrational. That every author feels this way sometimes. But what if in your case, it’s true? What if everyone who’s read your book and said they liked it was lying? What if those reviewers were just being nice? You’re so embarrassed, you just want to crawl into a hole and never let anyone read another word you’ve written.

Okay, stop it. Slap yourself firmly in the face, and snap out of it.

It’s harder than it sounds, and there’s really no way to escape that nagging self-doubt. The only thing you can really do is ignore it and keep writing. The less attention you pay to it, the less you wallow in self-doubt, the easier it gets to ignore it. So what if you’re a bad writer? (Hint: you’re not. No, not even you.) The only way to improve is to keep writing. So, below are some tips on how to shut that little voice in your head up, and keep on writing.

1. Remind yourself that while you’re definitely not the best author out there, you’re not the worst either. The end goal isn’t to convince yourself that you’re the best author who ever lived. People who genuinely think that are almost always terrible writers. You should never be completely satisfied with your work, or you won’t keep striving to improve. But it’s also important to remind yourself that you are not the worst author in the world, by far. Look around the internet, find some examples of truly horrendous published writing. Don’t spend more than a few hours looking, and don’t be cruel about it, but get a sense of the range of writing quality that’s out there. Allow yourself to accept that you fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of bad authors to good authors. You’ll probably never be right at the top, but neither are you right at the bottom. And you can always be working yourself up the spectrum.

2. Remember that everyone likes something different. The thing is, even the most critically condemned books, the ones with godawful writing, or horrible plots, or ridiculous, cliche characters- plenty of them are still very popular. There’s no real, tried-and-true quality indicator for books. What one person finds tedious and boring, others will revere as a classic. What another person finds highly entertaining and emotionally impacting, others will write off as trite and overwrought. Those books that everyone on the internet loves to complain about? At least as many people bought and enjoyed them, or they wouldn’t be so popular. Everyone likes something different, and even if you find your own writing absolutely horrendous, there is someone out there who is going to love it. Maybe even a lot of people.

3. Focus on your strengths. No one’s good at everything. Every author has strengths and weaknesses. Some authors write such amazing characters that there could be no plot to speak of, and you’d still be happy reading 100,000 words of them just hanging around talking. Some authors are so good at world-building that the characters and plot fade into the background in comparison. Some authors have literally one character that they write a hundred different books about, but their plots are so good that people keep coming back to read them. And some authors (hint: not me) have such beautiful prose that you’ll keep reading well past the point where you have any idea what’s going on anymore, because you just love the sound of the words so much. The point is, while you may be lacking in some places, (and you should definitely work on that, because the best authors are good at everything) you probably have at least a few aspects of your writing that you’re absolutely fantastic at. And even if you’re just passable in some areas (*cough*myprose*cough*) readers who really like the stuff you’re good at will still enjoy it.

4. If you’re published, read your good reviews. If you’re not, save the nice comments your betas or friends have left on your writing. Hoard your good reviews. Keep them easily accessible and whenever you’re feeling down about yourself, go read them, and remind yourself that people like your writing, because you are awesome.

5. Write something just for you. Forget your readers, or the reviewers who didn’t like your book. Remind yourself what it is that you like about writing. Write something that you don’t intend for anyone to read. Write the kind of stories that you like, that you want to read. Actually, you should be doing that anyway. If there’s a particular author you really like and want to emulate, go read something by them, and take mental notes of their technique. Keep writing, keep improving, and enjoy yourself.

6. Write a list of tips for authors on beating self-doubt. 😉


Coming January 27th, 2015: Double Take
Wordcount: 14,500
Pre-order now for only $1.91 (save 36%!)

Studying magical science at the prestigious Kemet Academy is a privilege and dream come true for Teka, a poor student from D’mt. But focusing on school doesn’t mean xe can’t also admire Hasani, the handsome graduate student overseeing Teka’s work.

Then late one night at the school library, Teka runs Hasani and is completely astonished when the stern, quiet man xe knows by day acts so flirty and casual, it’s like he’s a different person. When the late night encounter leads to dating, Teka can scarcely believe xyr luck.

But the luck plays out when xe discovers why Hasani seems so different between night and day, a discovery that seems to have no resolution except heartache… (Warning: This story contains incest)


I’m running low on cat pictures! I recently received my print copies of A Touch of Mistletoe, so I’ll have to take some pictures of her modelling with them. For now, here’s this one:

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Thanks for reading!

A New Kind of Gaming

Okay, let me preface this by saying that I am in no way a “hardcore gamer”. I don’t even own a console, except for a PS2 that I literally never use. I play all my video games on PC, mostly through Steam. (As an example of my ridiculous stubbornness/laziness, I can’t be bothered to buy a mouse, and so have managed to beat several games using nothing but the trackpad on my laptop. Impressive, I know.) I’m very picky about the games I play. I’m not really about leveling up or beating puzzles or anything like that. I’m a story-teller, and I’m interested in games primarily for their value as a story-telling medium. I think that gaming is an amazing new medium for interactive storytelling. Unfortunately, I feel that where games are at right now falls ridiculously short of that potential.

From the scenery in Bioshock: Infinite, you would never guess that you spend most of the game beating people to a bloody pulp.

A while ago, I came across a post on tumblr where people were talking about how they wished that video games would implement a “tourist” mode, in which the antagonists in the game either ignored the character, or were taken out of the game entirely. There were a few really good arguments for this. For one, video game designers put so much work into designing amazing environments for games, and it can be hard to fully appreciate them when you’re being attacked by zombies or soldiers or what have you. Secondly, there are people who would love to play video games, but are disabled in some way, either physically, so that it’s hard to properly work the controls, or mentally, ie. the situations or violence are too stressful for them to handle. And finally, plenty of people (myself included) are just not that interested in stories or games that are based primarily on violence and shooting.

Now, I’m not one of those people who believe that violence in video games has a huge correlation to violence in real life, although I will admit there are compelling arguments to the contrary. I’m not 100% either way, but I’m not convinced that shooting someone in a video game leads people to want to go out and shoot people in real life. More likely it’s the opposite. But there’s a huge portion of the gaming community that gets absolutely outraged at the idea of a game that doesn’t involve huge amounts of violence and killing, at games that aren’t primarily based on how many antagonists you can kill. Imagine if we placed those kinds of limits on movies. Certainly horror and action movies are common, and there are several that are quite good. But they’re only one type of movie. Imagine if experimental movies, or ones that were primarily about relationships, or nature, or ones that had a slow pace, were considered lesser, or called “not a real movie” or the producers of such movies were attacked and told that they were “ruining movies”. That’s kind of where we’re at with video games right now.

That would be my expression too.

And it’s SUCH a waste of potential. If you haven’t heard of the Oculus Rift yet, you should definitely check it out. It’s basically a headset that immerses you in a 3D environment. You can turn your head to look around, there are two screens to actually make it seem 3D, and it makes you feel like you’re actually there. IT IS SO COOL, AND I’M SO EXCITED FOR ITUnfortunately, I’m not excited for the majority of games on it. I enjoy games like Mass Effect, Bioshock and Halo for their story and extensive world-building. I tolerate all the violence in them, even though it’s stressful for me. But I don’t think I could handle being in a 3D environment and surrounded by violence, or having to shoot someone who was actually right in front of me in the face. I don’t think it’d be good for me. I’m incredibly excited for this technology, but really disappointed by the limits it will have because of the state of video games right now.

But video games are expanding, and new, experimental games are emerging. My favourite new genre is called the Walking Simluator. These games are usually first person, and involve minimal interaction with other characters and little to no violence. They put the focus on exploration, puzzle-solving and story-telling. Below, I’m going to recommend a few different types of games that I’ve played and really enjoyed. I hope these games, and more like them become available. While I have nothing against action and horror games, there is the potential for so much more, and I hope we can achieve it, and that more games like these are made available.


Gone Home

June 7, 1995. 1:15 AM.

You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. Something’s not right. Where is everyone? And what’s happened here?

Gone home is an interactive exploration simulator. Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there. Open any drawer and door. Pick up objects and examine them to discover clues. Uncover the events of one family’s lives by investigating what they’ve left behind.

Go home again.


 Dear Esther

A deserted island… a lost man… memories of a fatal crash… a book written by a dying explorer.

Dear Esther is a ghost story, told using first-person gaming technologies. Rather than traditional game-play the focus here is on exploration, uncovering the mystery of the island, of who you are and why you are here. Fragments of story are randomly uncovered when exploring the various locations of the island, making every each journey a unique experience. Dear Esther features a stunning, specially commissioned soundtrack from Jessica Curry.

Forget the normal rules of play; if nothing seems real here, it’s because it may just be all a delusion. What is the significance of the aerial – What happened on the motorway – is the island real or imagined – who is Esther and why has she chosen to summon you here? The answers are out there, on the lost beach and the tunnels under the island. Or then again, they may just not be, after all…


Portal and Portal 2

Portal has been called one of the most innovative games of the decade. A hybrid of FPS style and a new genre of spatial brain teasers, Portal offers hours of totally unique gameplay. Set in the mysterious Aperture Science Laboratories, players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals, maneuvering objects, and moving themselves through space in ways that used to be impossible.

Playing Portal today will teach you how to love a “companion cube”, whether a computer named GLaDOS really wants you dead, and why your friends keep telling you
“The cake is a lie”.


Myst

Alone on a mysterious island, you set out to explore its grandeur and mystery. Hear how a chilling tale of intrigue and treachery, defying all boundaries of space and time, is being told.

 Summon your wits and imagination. Every scrap of paper and ambient sound may provide the vital clues which allow hidden secrets to unravel a part of the mystery and lead you one step closer to reversing a wrong that has gone unchecked for ages.




So, if you like video games, or even just exploring and immersive story-telling, check these out! Unfortunately, my cat doesn’t play video games, so I don’t have any videos of her doing so, but here’s one of her sleeping, since it’s her favourite thing to do. Cheers!

 

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