Autism, community

Autism and Mental Health Treatment (Trigger Warning: The Most Serious Post I’ve Ever Written Here)

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And because it’s me, here are plenty of cute cats to break up the (sadly) quite serious nature of this post.

Advanced news: After composing this, I shall be an utter wreck for a bit, so send the cake and kittens now. And probably some vodka.

Also, necessary disclaimer: Because of the sensitive nature of some of the information here, there are some details I can’t (or won’t) provide. Some things you’ll just have to wonder about.

Okay, 3, 2, 1…here we go.

The week of Thanksgiving, I had to be without my oldest son; he was in the hospital, at the pushing of a social worker who did not understand that he was suffering from an emotional shutdown, and that, as an autistic teenager, this is in fact somewhat normal and does not mean he’s about to go jump off a bridge or throw a bunch of people off a bridge. Neither did she understand that this would pass (most likely within hours), and that he’d find a way to keep going (as he does), and that transferring him to a locked ward in the hospital — a situation that he would then not be allowed to leave, regardless of his or my own wishes — was not the way to handle it.

White Fang is 15, and a couple of traumatic instances have occurred in his young life (no offense, but bugger off, you’re not finding out what), but suffice it to say, it took a toll on his emotional processing recently, and he is rubbish at dealing with it on his own (despite his valiant efforts to do so). So he reached the point a lot of ASD adolescents do — he became despondent, morose, and overall struggling. What’s the best thing for families to do? With ASD teens, maintaining their routine and a secure, familiar environment is PARAMOUNT. Being in a locked hospital unit for 4 days hardly fits this description.

Now, as a parent, I was stuck in between wanting what was best for him, knowing what was best for him wasn’t necessarily what many medical professionals would recommend, and my heart aching for his aching. For the first and second day, he was very cooperative, and did everything that was asked of him, even when it went directly against his sensory input or an introverting need.

And I prayed that this experience would be a positive one, and that he would feel he got some help on the particular tough issues he’s facing. He wasn’t aware when the initial social worker told him that going to the behavioral sciences unit at the hospital would mean becoming nearly a prisoner; he actually agreed to go have an evaluation, hoping that he’d be out of there quite soon with a solid plan for how to proceed and start feeling better.

But by Thanksgiving Eve, he wanted me to get him discharged, as quickly as possible, by whatever means. It was a combination of the environment not being ASD friendly (constant bright lights, not being allowed to go outside, the uncomfortable bed), and having his personal belongings taken away and a number of protocols enacted around him that prevented him from doing such regular things as wearing shoes or asking to use the phone — and NONE of this being explained to him that it would go this way.

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Meanwhile, I was at home, not receiving frequent updates on his treatment, his regular activities, what the prognosis was, what tests they were running on him (for example, I knew he’d have a lot of blood drawn, and never did find out all of what they looked for) — just that they’d conducted an initial evaluation with him, and were double checking in with me to see if he had a history of being delusional (lovely to have that trust), and if it was okay if they started him on a medication.

Oh, and all of this was told to me 2nd or even 3rd person via a nurse or some other staff member on the unit. The doctors assigned to White Fang’s case didn’t actually speak to me. Didn’t call. Didn’t ask questions, update me on what they thought, planned treatments, possible outcomes. Didn’t try to meet me when I came for visiting hours. Until one of them was apparently forced to at a family meeting the morning after Thanksgiving Day.

By then, I’d already had some very unpleasant and upset conversations with some quite unhelpful people, and — praise God — some very helpful people at the hospital. And I had my legal rights issues ducks in a row, regardless of the particular safeguards for mental health exceptions — since White Fang had proven he wasn’t a danger to himself or others, and that the unit had never taken the crucial step of establishing that early on in his admission, which meant that they had to discharge him after he and I had asked for it and filled out the correct paperwork.

Long story short: We were successful. The day after Thanksgiving, I took him home with me.

Pause for cheers. And tears.

Side note: The first thing we did was go to Starbucks.

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Soon after, I was able to make him an appointment to get started with counseling (though I had to call around, and the first place never did get back to me). We’ve met with his primary doctor (who was, pardon the language, pissed off), and I know we’ll have the GP’s complete support on whatever treatment we want to pursue. There have been other issues as well in the last couple of weeks, such as the medication prescribed didn’t work at all for White Fang, so we’re back to the drawing board on that, and I’m really debating how to handle the first social worker who really read this so wrong and didn’t give White Fang the information he needed so that he wouldn’t suddenly find himself in a bad 1970s movie about behavioral health wards.

Now, before I go any further, I need to say this: As a former psychology major and a previously mandated reporter in daycare, I do understand that when it comes to mental illness, doctors and nurses involved have specific policies and procedures to follow, and sometimes they aren’t pleasant for the patients, and sometimes they are necessary to keep people safe. I’m not saying any of that is evil. It’s a tragic truth of living in a fallen world where some individuals do need to be locked up so they won’t hurt others. Here’s my problem with it: The psych ward is, most of the time, NOT the place for autists who are simply having a meltdown, shutdown, or a series of either.

And here’s my other major problem with it: Too many medical professionals do not realize this. They don’t know enough about autism specifically, or have preconceived notions about ASD. They look at the common symptoms of a meltdown/shutdown (raging anger, intense brief sadness, inability to comprehend others’ perspectives or advice in the heat of the moment, headbanging or some other form of hardcore stimming that may be mistaken for intentional self-harm, rather than a desperate need to blow off steam), and see a crazy person. We’re as sane as a stack of hats; we’re simply experiencing the lowest point of an overstimulation crisis.

On top of the grave misunderstandings still surrounding autism, in this particular, personal instance, the lack of communication I — and White Fang — received from the staff on the unit was disturbing. It made them look like they could’ve cared less about our feelings regarding the treatment — and in the 21st century, in a civilized society, there should be no excuse for that. Indeed, it shouldn’t even happen.

I’ve also met with some of the administration at the hospital, who (thankfully) took my concerns (and complaints — of which there were a lot) seriously, and I was informed that staff involved were spoken to, as the administrators agreed with me that what occurred wasn’t acceptable. They also concurred that my ideas about unit-wide education on how to work effectively with autistic patients were valid and were, in fact, going to happen soon at their facility.

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So, that’s the story.

Give me a moment, please.

… … …

So, what can families of autists who may be experiencing depression and anxiety — as a result of something, or just as part of being alive on the spectrum — do to help their loved one? As long as safety isn’t an immediate and true concern (like, if you find them standing on the roof of a 3-level building, do call 911), leave them alone during a meltdown or shutdown. Make sure they’re somewhere secure and familiar, where they’ll calm down more easily and faster. Block out the yelling and screaming and crying and swearing and throwing things. Don’t try to restrain them (unless they’re physically hurting someone else, or about to leap off that roof).

Take them to therapy. A counselor that understands autism — and ACCEPTS it as a condition that simply makes for a somewhat challenging and unique life experience. Go to therapy yourself. Form or join a support group for parents or guardians or caregivers in your situation.

Even if you really don’t want your child taking medication, if it’s prescribed, try it. During certain stages of hormonal surges in our lives — for example, puberty — our already-struggling emotions will feel overwhelmed, and some anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds could really help.

Don’t punish them for going through this. Let them stim as much as possible. Don’t take away computer time or force them to socialize more, because it won’t get them out of their slump. Soooo many autists’ lives have become SO MUCH BETTER by the invention of social media, because we communicate SO MUCH BETTER in writing and not directly face-to-face. Our support groups are more often than not online, with people in different time zones or even countries.

And if you — God forbid — find yourself in a situation like White Fang and I, don’t take flack from underperforming hospital or facility staff. Go to administrators and Patient Relations departments. (Even on a holiday, you can find someone to help you. I used the hospital’s Facebook page to accomplish my task.)

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel you or your loved one received unfair or poor treatment. Hopefully it’s resolved quickly and to your satisfaction; if not, keep finding authorities and people — media, Congress, autism advocate organizations — to talk to.

And NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP. You will all get through this. It will get better.

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Okay, I can’t anymore. Invisible moth signing off.

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community, reading

Stretching Your Wings: The Importance of Readers (and Writers) Trying New Things

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I could’ve just as easily called this post: Why Genre Matters, and Why It Shouldn’t Have To. But that feels a bit tongue-twisty, and mind-bendy, for this early in the morning.

Anyway. So, here we go: When you tell someone you like to read, or you announce you’re a writer, the next question is inevitably — Which genre? Which genre do you read or write? And, yes, there has to be a classification, a distinction — Mystery? Romance? Thriller? Historical? Fantasy? Science fiction? Biographies? People are persnickety about it.

Here’s the part where it gets a little confusing (in an existential crisis way): I don’t necessarily disagree with the finnickyness — and yet I do. Because I think it does — and at the same time doesn’t — matter what genre(s) you read and write. As a writer, if you’ve declared a genre for your work, it should fall into the guidelines of that category, at least for the most part. And I’m not talking tropes or cliches; I’m all for originality, so I think crafting a ghost story or a chick lit with fresh characters and an unexpected ending is excellent. But readers are also looking for certain things from genre works, and they will reward authors (financially, by buying their books, and with praise) for delivering that.

However, as an author myself who likes to stretch the boundaries of the genre I have loved my whole life and do write in, I will put forth that being able to cross the category divides is a good thing. My YA fantasy series has garnered some high praise from middle-aged (and above) adults who may not be well-versed in speculative fiction. In my view, this is an absolute plus. When I started on Volume 1, I wasn’t intending to create a novel that would immediately be granted status among the classics of epic fantasy; I simply wanted to tell the story I wanted to tell.

And, yes, it was one hundred and ten percent going to have pixies and talking cats and references to Doctor Who in it.

Some readers take issue with that.

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SFF authors meet them everywhere we go — those few that literally turn up their noses when we answer the genre question. As if speculative fiction isn’t as worthy as other types of novels. There are a bunch of excuses — we’re avoiding reality by delving into myths and legends and implausible theories; we’re only in it for the money, and we aren’t crafting anything that will be taken seriously a decade from now; we need to bite the bullet and grow up already.

Well, let’s see: Who wants to be in touch with the current reality? Turn on the evening news for 5 minutes and you’ll be wishing you were on a rocket to Neptune in the year 2100. Or that dinosaurs would come back and just obliterate entire societies. When we write about what could be, not simply what is, we’re doing our part to make the world better for our children.

And what money? How many of us are Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater? Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater. There are reasons Tolkien and CS Lewis held down professorships, and classic sci-fi authors were also journalists or teachers or worked in some other field. Making a ton of cash as a SFF writer is a new thing, and still quite rare. If we wanted an instant bestseller, we’d choose a different plot, characters, and themes. Nope, we do this because it’s where our hearts are.

And growing up is overrated. Everybody knows it; they just won’t admit it yet. What period of life do adults get all nostalgic about? The grueling early days of being at the bottom rung of their career ladder? No! Their childhood! The carefree afternoons frolicking in meadows barefoot. This is precisely why Narnia and Middle Earth and Hogwarts are places people in their 30s and 40s still love to visit. (So much for the “what you published will be forgotten in a decade” bit.)

So, why isn’t spec fic as “important” as other types of literature?

It is as important. Full stop.

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How do we change the minds of those readers who claim differently?

Get them to actually read SFF. Take them out of their comfort zone. Stretch their limits.

They might, in fact, like it.

The same people who insist on drilling into their children: “You won’t know unless you try,” really need to abide by this themselves.

On the other side of the coin, SFF readers (and some writers) could stand to be a little less snobbish about other genres. How can they be sure that “traditional mystery” is a bore without having skimmed a single page of it? Or that they’ll despise the characters in that historical romance they never checked out of the library? Yes, we all have personal taste, and there’s nothing wrong with that — key point: nothing wrong. If you want to draw more unconventional SFF readers to your own work, try branching out yourself.

In the end, genres do exist with good reason; but we really shouldn’t be judging each other as people based on what we like to read.

And since we unfortunately already do this, how about we stop?

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blogging, community

Drawing the Line: Internet Life and Real Life

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Has anybody else noticed this sort of odd thing about online life, where we don’t actually spend in-person time with all these other screen names, that are in fact also real people…and yet, we feel that some of them know us better than the humans we see face to face every day?

On the other side of the coin, we’re in this interesting paradox of wanting to share most of the parts of our “real” lives with our online friends…and sometimes we can’t.

For example, the week of Thanksgiving my family experienced a very surprising and unpleasant twist, and while it was (thankfully) resolved quickly, at the time it was going on, I was dying inside, and really wanted to be able to get stuff off my chest — but because there are now legal issues involved in it, I wasn’t sure just how much I could or should say.

And what makes such a situation even more frustrating is the fact that often I rely on the people I know either only online or that I know in person but live far away from me for support and advice.

Not that I don’t trust the people in my everyday life. But my relationship with them, or their sphere of influence, can be limited when it comes to certain circumstances. You wouldn’t go to the local librarian with your legal concerns. Or reveal details that directly affect someone else’s privacy. (Well, some folks would, but definitely not me.) So, if it means putting some slightly delicate matter on private pages in social media, to get some much-needed suggestions from people that I know have the information or resources I’m after — and also that I trust not to overly share with the random population — then I will do just that.

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But again, it’s tough, because while we feel close to specific individuals we’ve had consistent contact with through various online platforms, we do have to face the reality: How well do we actually know someone we’ve never met in the flesh?

And when the situation involves a loved one who may not want all of their deepest darkest secrets splashed across our own Facebook or Twitter, we really should respect that.

But when we need help, and we aren’t getting anywhere in our in-person lives, being able to turn on a computer or a phone, type in a few lines, and within possibly minutes get potentially a multitude of replies that tell us exactly what to do next, this can be invaluable.

If we get the desired outcome, does it really matter which route we take?

All the naysayers of the early 21st century who claimed that the internet would drive people farther apart really don’t have it right in this regard.

With a few keystrokes, I can be making direct contact with people half a country or half the globe away. And it makes our lives richer. I can increase my knowledge of different places and occupations and lifestyles without needing to spend a bunch of money I don’t have to travel long distances.

I can find a community of like-minded individuals who share my taste in books, movies, TV, and music, and become part of something bigger than myself. It can be isolating when you’re one of about 6 total geeks in your small town. But after half an hour online, discussing who’s your favorite Doctor and whether you’d choose to fight Daleks or Cybermen, I don’t feel alone.

And sometimes, that matters more than the deep, dark stuff.

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So, I decided where to draw the line based on the feelings of other people involved in a complex event, but I don’t regret for a minute revealing what I did to get the help and support I needed. And honestly, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten through without all the people online praying for us and encouraging me forward — no prying, no judging.

In the near future, I’m really hoping I can share more overtly regarding this particular matter, since I think it would be beneficial to other families to explain some of what I learned by being put in a situation I never thought I would. There are still some issues to review and see what occurs next. But I know that whenever I choose to open up, about whatever, there will be plenty of other screen names who I’ve never been in the same room with that totally have my back.

And that, blessedly, crosses every line.

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community, reading

The Future of My Reading Habits

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So recently, I explained my decision to leave Goodreads as a user. This meant that my reviewer and reader account was closed and removed from the site, and although my published works remain there, I won’t be making any personal comments or updates anymore.

I went into the details in “Explaining My Recent Decision to Leave Goodreads” (sorry, it’s been a big week and I’m too lazy right now to attach a link), but it also relates very strongly to my post a few months ago, “It’s Time to Stop Being So Neurotic About Goodreads.”

Even before I reached the point of feeling completely overwhelmed by the toxicity of some of the reviewers, I was beginning to lose it when it came to GR. The way the site seems to turn reading into a competition just becomes suffocating.

Before I joined GR, my TBR was anywhere from 1-10 books at any given time, and this changed frequently depending on what else was going on in my life.

For example, if it had just been Christmas or my birthday, and I’d bought a bunch of new books, those came to the top of the list.

If I’d checked a bunch out from the library all at once, those came first.

If things had just gone bat guano crazy (like this week did), then my reading material would definitely be limited to either a trusted and beloved re-read (for comfort, and that I could pick up in small chunks), or nothing at all for a few days.

After I joined GR, my TBR swelled to as many as 60 titles I hoped to read in the next several months. I’m aware this seems like nothing to the folks who regularly have at least 100 books on their TBR, and find themselves constantly adding to it. But for me — a mom to special needs kids, who’s trying to work from an already-busy home — anything upwards of 20 feels stifling.

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And I was starting to lose the joy of reading. I’d frantically run to the library every week, to grab all the hot new releases before anyone else did, so that I could read them and review them as quickly as possible. Even if I hated them. Even if I DNF’ed them. Even if I was only reading them because 1,000 other people on Goodreads were.

That’s where the stress came in. Almost all the excitement of picking up a brand new title was being sucked out of my soul. The thrill of being able to add higher numbers to my “finished” list was providing more emotional juice than the wonderful story I’d just absorbed.

Especially since it often wasn’t wonderful. In the past 16 months, I read a LOT of books I never had before, and I have to say, probably 80% of the time, I was disappointed.

There were also some really awesome finds, including fellow indie authors, and titles in genres I’d usually shy away from. And I learned a TON about myself as a reader, and this is important. I learned what I really can’t stand, what I’m okay giving a try, and where I need to draw the line.

I have decided I do not care what my friends are reading, how fast they’re finishing, or how many books they complete in a year. I support their life goals, and if they’re happy, then I’m happy for them.

My personal reading goals will be much different from now on.

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I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but these circumstances called for it.

So, here are my priorities for reading starting now:

It will be fun. As soon as a new title (borrowed, bought, discovered in a rubbish pile) stops being enjoyable, I will put it down and not pressure myself to keep going.

It will fit into time I already have. Usually in the evenings, there isn’t much on TV that I’m interested in, so after Jeopardy! I crack open a book. This is also a good way to wind down at the end of the day, and relax. Since I generally need some time to focus on something that is not children or everyday-life-related before I attempt to settle down enough for sleeping, spending an hour or so diving into Maggie Stiefvater or Warriors or Beaumont and Beasley easily accomplishes this.

I’d found myself devoting massive chunks of time (when I could have been doing something else) to 500-page books that I wanted to finish only to be able to say I finished it. Not recommended.

I will not force myself to plow through genres/authors/content I find objectionable or just plain tedious. Everybody has different tastes, and that’s why there are so many options out there for readers. There’s nothing wrong with my preferring certain subjects and genres, styles and levels of content. So what if it means I’m much more likely to choose a MG or YA fiction, when I’m an adult?

I will not have a set time limit, nor a goal for how many books I’ll read in x amount of days. Part of the stress of feeling like your TBR is going to crush you if you don’t get through, say, half of it before 2020, is the sensed impending doom of that deadline. The fact is, the world will not end if I only read 15 books in 12 months, or if I only add 8 more to my TBR.

All of this combined should mean that I keep my sanity, and my love for reading as a hobby, and as a writer. After all, that’s what it’s really about.

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community, family, reading

New Discussion: Who is YA For?

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Note: I’ve chosen to feature the original art of Maggie Stiefvater in this post. Please remember to give all the credit for these gorgeous pieces to her.

Extra note: Why Maggie Stiefvater? Other than she’s one of my favorite authors? Well, the fact that she was part of the catalyst of this discussion that started on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about what she and others said, and about the post that really got the ball rolling on this topic.

So, here’s an interesting question: Who is Young Adult fiction actually for? It may seem like a “duh, Captain Obvious” answer — Young Adult fiction is for those under 21 — but the data behind sales, library checkouts, and online reviews proves, no, it isn’t.

The majority of readers of the labeled (and marketed) YA genre in the 21st century are women ages 18 to 45. That’s right. Women with children of their own. And yet…most of us wouldn’t necessarily recommend most YA titles to our adolescents.

Once upon a time, there was something called “New Adult,” a genre that targeted women readers approximately 19 to 30, people who were just starting out on being financially independent, having to manage an apartment or house, an exclusive relationship, and just being a grown-up. “What a great idea!” so many of us currently in that stage of life exclaimed (myself included, as then a new wife and mother). I enjoyed some of those books, sometimes a lot. When you’re about 25, most of us are past the point of relating to your biggest problem being whether to cut math class or not. That was what most YA was like back then.

However, two distinct things happened. One: There was a shift in what NA was, from real plots and discussing relationships and life to little more than pornography (which many readers were not happy with, myself included). Two: YA changed from being about the actual issues teens face to focusing on world-weary 16-year-olds living in dystopian settings that forced them to become the breadwinner or the chosen one or the next queen of the realm.

And this altering of dynamics resulted in some tricky situations. Real high school students ate up The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Maze Runner — but so did parents, for very different reasons. Actual teens were drawn to the escapism of dystopia: it was so far removed from anything they know that it was all about action and adventure and good guys versus bad guys. Parents, on the other hand, considered these series, and others like them, important cautionary tales, for what can happen to our civil liberties and democracies if we get complacent.

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So, in the wake of the demise of NA, a new type of “YA” emerged: the kind where any novel featuring a protagonist who was 15, 16, or 17 — regardless of the content, subject matter, or genre — was automatically marketed to real life adolescents.

Many parents do not want their kids reading it. There’s too much profanity, casual alcohol use, cutting school, fornication, and little to no consequences for unwise behavior.

And actual teenagers don’t want to read it, because the wild parties, skipping class on a whim, having sex without worrying, and paying all the bills on time so your irresponsible parent doesn’t forget to sounds like no one they know.

Recently I read a blog post written by a current adolescent, who stated many of these (and other issues) as reasons why she doesn’t read much “YA” anymore. And I agree with her — not as a teen, obviously, but as the mother of a teen who’s having a hard time finding reading material that he can relate to.

And as a mother who’s trying to raise a gentleman, I’m having a hard time finding reading material for him that encourages not swearing, not picking up random girls, and not getting blasted on a Friday night.

(That is a whole post unto itself. Anyway.)

A lot of the issue is this: Publishers saw a goldmine by getting the parents — the people with salaries — to purchase overpriced “YA” novels. Again, who’s mostly reading “YA” these days? Adults. Are kids reading the new releases by “YA” authors their parents are bringing home? Maybe, maybe not.

But here’s the other thing happening while all this is going on: Teens are much more likely to stick with MG fiction, or switch to not reading for fun at all. In English class, they’ll suffer through Shakespeare and the classics, and in their everyday lives, avoid them like the plague. They’ll just check out graphic novels or manga from the library, or skip reading anything and go straight to the movie version.

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Is this all teens? No. But is it becoming more and more prevalent and should we be worried about it? Yes.

When I was White Fang’s age (he’s 15 now), YA was just coming into its own. Too many teachers and librarians had complained that kids were expected to leap from Charlotte’s Web to A Separate Peace, and adolescent minds weren’t receiving proper nourishment. So some really smart people decided to create a market specifically for the 14-year-olds who weren’t “into kids’ stuff” anymore, but not ready for highbrow literary analysis.

And there is no denying that series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson did what seemed the impossible at the cusp of the millenium — they turned kids away from computers and back to books, boys and girls, ages 8 to 18.

Now, though, we’re facing the reverse. And it’s because, once more, publishers are shutting teens out of the market. Kids who have a $10 a week allowance can’t afford $35 new hardcovers. They aren’t going to spend that money on stories that don’t make them feel connected or impacted, anyway.

Authors who write “YA” branded books but are aware their audience is mostly adults can be torn as well. (Enter Ms. Stiefvater’s Twitter thread on the subject.) They want to write about these characters, who happen to be adolescents. They want to write deeper, grittier stories than what you’d find in MG. Do some of them feel they’d be compromising their creative vision by “scaling down” certain things to gear it more towards “real” teens? Yeah, they do. Is that wrong? Hmm. No?

So, what’s the solution?

Well, here are my ideas: We need to go back to writing and publishing a market that teens can relate to and learn from. We also need to be aware there are plenty of adults who want to read fun, adventure-filled novels with a minimum of graphic violence and sex and language, and produce more fiction like that — just with 32-year-old protagonists.

And we need to try to drive down the cost of books to begin with — reading will become an elite past-time if we don’t consider the budget of 90% of working Americans.

Maybe we should also stop looking at the almighty dollar as our number one goal, and think more about the expression on someone’s face when they’ve found their next favorite read.

After all, that’s what literature is meant for.

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Fantasy fiction, self-publishing

Announcing The Super Secret Project!

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Note: Reminding everyone I don’t own any of these images nor take credit in any way for the Minecraft videos referenced here. They are under the complete creative control of Rainimator.

Good morning! So, at long last, here I am with official news of the Super Secret Project! The reason I dubbed it so was because I’d been considering writing a standalone to go with The Order of the Twelve Tribes for a while, but really wasn’t sure just what I wanted it to focus on, nor did I want to promise a storyline that later changed (I do enough shuffling on publishing “deadlines” as it is). So I decided I’d refer to it as “the Super Secret Project” until I had more concrete details mapped out.

Well, this spring, White Fang got involved in the planning process, and he agreed that keeping it under wraps so that we could later do a big reveal was good. And now, here we go…ready?…

The novel will be called Fire and Wind, and its protagonist actually makes her first appearance in Volume 3: Healers and Warriors! It’s a short scene, but it establishes her presence in the Order world and sets up some important things about her character. Right now, she doesn’t have a name; she’s known only as…the Demon Girl.

She’s a character White Fang developed, based on inspiration he had from a YouTube Minecraft video series by someone whose screen name is Rainimator. These videos have it all — action, adventure, well-done animation, fitting music, plot twists to make you cry. If you or a young person you know are into Minecraft at all, I recommend checking out this channel.

So here’s the original inspiration:

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White Fang put together his own origin story for his “Demon Girl” (often referred to in Hunters’ notes as simply DG), and together we outlined the role this character will play in the rest of the canon and the standalone. She’s shrouded in mystery in her Volume 3 entrance, and Fire and Wind shall dispell it and uncover her true self. In Healers and Warriors, it’s not very clear — is she truly evil? is she an antihero? how does she have vital connections to high-profile figures in the mortal and fey realms?

All this and more will be found in the pages of Fire and Wind. Publication shall occur in the summer of 2019. (Can you believe it — that’s not too far away!)

If you haven’t read Volume 3 yet, don’t worry, you can still enjoy (and follow) Fire and Wind. Though I, as a conscientious author, kindly suggest you’re all caught up on the canon so that nothing about DG’s introduction takes you by surprise.

*shameless plug sequence concludes*

So, this does indeed fill you in on the Super Secret Project! More news to come on other fronts as I carry on and move forthwith into grander scales of writing completion!

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blogging, reading

Biggest Reads of 2018: Likes, Dislikes, Whys and Why Nots

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Good morning! So, since closing my Goodreads account, the major comment I received is that my reviews would be missed. In response, I promised more reviews on the blog. Let’s start out with a bang, shall we?: My biggest reads of this year, whether it was because of hype, personal anticipation, or something I learned about myself as a reader.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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This was a diversity title that I picked up purely because I’d seen it advertised on Goodreads. Normally, the hype alone meant I wouldn’t even consider it; hyped books and I do not have the best of relationships.

But, yes, I caved. Children of Blood and Bone held the promise of being distinct. Its focus is an African empire, a fantasy realm based on tribal history, and there were no overt modern political soapboxes. Did it deliver? In that regard, yes.

There is plenty of action and excitement and plot. The characters don’t feel like cardboard cut-outs (even though they are all archetypes), most of their decisions and motivations ring true, and the world-building is intense.

Now, here’s where it fell flat: IT IS TOO DANG LONG. What is the trend with making YA novels 550 pages?!?! While holding up this tome of a book, I was afraid my wrists would snap. I had to read the majority of it sitting with it propped next to me on the armchair or at the kitchen table. And it started getting into too many subplots that felt like they were there mostly to increase page numbers, and the overall story wouldn’t have suffered without them.

This further affirmed to me that I am not ready to give up on diversity titles…but I also am not changing my mind about really long books anytime soon.

My rating: 3 out of 5 shiny moths

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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I first heard about this book, and considered it a vital part of the cultural conversation, but I would skip it.

What changed? Peer pressure. It was everywhere, and there were weeks when you couldn’t even log onto Goodreads or Twitter without seeing something about it. Now, after having tried it, I can concretely say: No.

My opinion has nothing one whit to do with race. This is a book that did come along at a time when we need to be discussing things like police discrimination against minorities, based solely on preconceptions and stereotypes instead of cold, hard facts.

Here’s where my frustration lies with The Hate U Give: Its entire premise is faulty. Starr is the most unreliable witness ever, as she did not see what happened. She cannot confirm nor dispute the police officer’s account. That makes the whole plot absolutely nothing but an extremely biased social commentary, and in my view, that makes for a lousy piece of fiction.

My rating: No numbers, but the moths are drooping and sad

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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This was also a selection due to social pressure — but kind of the opposite, as people have been saying it’s so awful, I sort of wanted to prove them wrong. Did it?

Well, yes, and no. This novel was actually the one Harper Lee originally submitted to her publisher, not the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Go Set a Watchman is about an adult Scout — just Jean Louise, in this case — and most of the material that became Mockingbird is definitely in its infancy. Watchman could easily be considered a sequel (and I think the publisher was guaranteeing sales based on that theory), though that’s rather unfair to Ms Lee, who never intended to write a sequel, and in fact thought this manuscript had been long forgotten or even lost.

The story is very 1960s American South, and it captures a pivotal moment in that culture that we’d do well not to ignore or pass over. Lee’s talent for storytelling is evident, but her particular flourish really wasn’t yet crafted. So Mockingbird remains the classic we all should promote, and Watchman should be a cautionary tale about the dangers of signing away all your rights to a big city publisher.

My rating: 2 quietly perching on a magnolia tree moths

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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I picked this up on a whim with a birthday gift card. It was pretty good, but I don’t know that I’d read anything else by this author. The premise was a combination of a poor guy on Long Island whose house is literally falling into the sea, and flashbacks of a traveling circus that eventually connected with the narrator in the present day. This sort of style doesn’t quite work for me, and sure enough, I found myself skimming or even skipping the majority of the flashbacks. It took me too long to figure out how they connected to the narrator, and those chapters were too lengthy for in-between parts. Also, I’ve never had much interest in circuses, so that made me squirm with impatience to move on.

My rating: 3 crystal ball gazing moths

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

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This book and the next taught me more about myself as a reader in recent history than any of the others. In the spring, I joined an adult-book book club at my local library, which I normally wouldn’t do — and this selection just nailed it home to me why. A Piece of the World begins as a love letter to the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World, then devolves into unbased assumption, and then full-out fabrication on the lives of what were real people. The surviving descendants of the Olsen family should sue the living daylights out of this author.

And yet, this was a book club favorite. The other members seemed to have absolutely no realization that this wasn’t just a portrait of a certain moment in history, it was slander and libel. I was among the few who saw this un-novel for what it really was.

My rating: 1 very agitated moth

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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Again, usually I don’t read thrillers or unreliable narrators — and now The Woman in Cabin 10 has secured my never trying furthermore.

It was also a book club selection, and I got very disenchanted after the first 100 pages. The building action sharply dropped off, the secondary characters who had been developing literally vanished from the page for several consecutive chapters, and the ending was rather anti-climatic, bordering on nonsensical. But here’s what got my goat the most:  The narrator wasn’t actually unreliable, she had depression and anxiety. When an author takes an unstable woman and puts her in a situation where murder may or may not have been committed, then makes it out to be she’s “unreliable” because of pre-existing mental illness, that is NOT COOL.

And once more, most of the book club thought this was a great story. To me, it was just painful, and pointless, to read.

My rating: 1 beating its wings against a brick wall moth

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

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Color me disappointed. You mix a well-liked author with alternate history, fantasy, and Bonfire Night (one of my favorite holidays), and how could that not be a win?

Well, maybe the story is too busy, but trying to weave political and religious overtones into a novel that threw in a bit of a vague magic system, and plenty of family and personal drama, all together, made me merely struggle to get engaged. And the alternate history kept tripping me up (for example, there’s nothing on record of Guy Fawkes even having a son who participated in the Gunpowder Plot). Maybe this type of genre just isn’t for me.

No numbers: The moths were too confused to even be present 

The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic by Eliot Schrefer

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This middle-grade fantasy is wonderful. The plot moves right along, the characters are lovable (or hateable where necessary), the emotions are real, and the whole story just draws you in from the start. I can’t recommend this enough to fans of animal fantasy. Normally I don’t commit to reading an entire series before the next book is even announced, but I will be keeping my eyes peeled for whatever comes after Mez’s Magic, 110%! (Finally, a winner!)

My rating: 4 exuberant and dancing moths

The Word Collector by Peter H Reynolds

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How can a picture book make you cry? This one totally does, and will. This author is a new favorite of mine. Check out all his other titles as well; you’ll cry over every single one, and thank Mr Reynolds for turning you into a puddle of disconsolate mess. The prose and messages are spot-on and incredibly beautiful.

My rating: 5 collapsed, joyously weeping moths

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