Autism, Encouragement

The Obligatory Autism Awareness Month Post

Good morning, everyone! Nothing like not getting this post out until we’re halfway through the month in question! Honestly, though, I really wasn’t sure what to blog about — I mean, specifically — when it came to Autism Awareness this year. A lot of the issues surrounding this campaign are difficult to navigate when you are autistic, mostly because the ideas behind “autism awareness” actually come from organizations that support “curing” autism, rather than seeking to educate the general population and encourage acceptance. So, those of us who are on the spectrum — and see no need for the way we think, perceive the world, experience life, and express our own personalities to be “cured” — have been trying to take back this month, and that often means putting ourselves in a spotlight that we’d rather avoid.

We like peace and quiet, and not just admitting the need for the spotlight but bringing it to our places of sanctuary — like one moth’s little corner of the blogisphere where she prefers to rant and rave about books and movies — can be frightening. But it’s also necessary, since we’re going to continue being autistic when April ends, and encouraging acceptance of a lifelong condition, unfortunately, takes time, and requires repeating oneself.

This June, I’m going to be holding a workshop for writers and readers on how to effectively portray characters with disabilities — meaning a realistic depiction of someone who traditionally in literature would be misunderstood or deliberately set up to be unlikable to prove how terrible a certain disorder or condition is. (Massive insert of disapproval here.) Sadly, it’s only been in the last couple of decades that many industries — publishing included — have realized that there’s nothing wrong with using one’s commercial reach to try to alter public misconceptions for no reason other than helping people care for one another. Luckily, this finally has started to include publishing marginalized authors who are actually allowed to exist on their platform as disabled, without needing to profess their desire to be cured of whatever, and to honestly share stories that reflect our real life experiences and connect with those who relate personally, while still educating those who don’t. But, this is still considered a “niche” of the industry, and has a long way to go to achieve its real mission.

When I applied to participate in a regional literary festival, this was my goal — I wanted to find a way to discuss a topic that is important to me, that needs more understanding among writers and readers, without feeling like I was “selling out” or catering to the current bandwagon of “it’s cool to have a disabled character right now!” Because, as already mentioned, disabilities are not fleeting, not a passing phase for those of us who were born with something physical or neurological that we will have to handle every single day forever. So we as authors, editors, and publishers need to create characters that inform and benefit society, so they need to be grounded in reality and based on facts — and readers should demand characters who are accurate and not designed for fake drama only.

In my cozy fantasy series, I have two autistic characters, and since they’re both based on my own experiences on the spectrum, they’re both certainly realistic, and I’ve painted them in an empathetic light. I show them as humans, with loved ones, responsibilities, interests; and challenges unique to autists, such as heightened sensory intake, not feeling accepted by others, and the external pressure to “adapt” or “fit in.” In this instance, both these characters also happen to have magical powers — but their powers do not cure their autism. They still struggle to live in a world that’s too loud, too crowded, too confusing for them.

So, I’ve hit my major talking points on the topic with my characters: They’re not part of a bandwagon, they’re realistic, they accept themselves as they are. Since this is the one biggest thing I see all the time among online communities of autistic individuals, it’s part of what I want to always include: We don’t need to be cured of being autistic. We need people not to care that we’re different from them. We need people not to want us to change. We need to hear that we’re valid — even when the sun is too bright, no matter that the birds are too loud today, in spite of the fact wool is too woolly.

The sad fact is that, even in the 21st century, acceptance is still as much of a struggle as when there’s too much stimulation. But the latter we can try to eliminate. And if there’s anything that does need a cure, it’s intolerance.

I’m taking a big chance by appearing in front of people and discussing why they should make sure their character can’t take the subway or look at a neon green wall or refuses to eat jam without making it a joke. But it’s important to, and since I am a crusader for acceptance, I will be doing my very level best to carry this out.

So, this April, as every April, I do want my readers, and my community, to remember this: True inclusion means including all sorts of people, no matter how different from each other they may be. True acceptance means recognizing someone’s limitations and boundaries and not trying to change them. True love means not seeing a physical condition, a learning disorder, or a chronic illness as something that makes a person unlovable.

Becoming more tolerant of coping mechanisms you don’t use yourself or understand the need for makes you a stronger, more caring person. Letting people avoid places or events that you couldn’t give up means you’re validating their needs. Helping someone with tasks you find simple, without expressing judgment, means you’re showing compassion and kindness.

Trying to make sure there are no more autistic people won’t make the world a better place.

Trying to make the world a more welcoming place for those of us who happen to be autistic will.


What Good Can Come of a Crisis?

4 cute animals to look up for a quick pick-me-up

This is something I’ve been considering a lot lately — what happens when the crisis is over, when new lessons are learned, when “how it was before” seems too insurmountable or too impractical to return to.

Although the current crisis we’re in feels like it has lasted forever, the fact is, one day, it will be done, or at least mostly finished. We will move forward. Yes, life will again be different (because, let’s face it, we’re in a new routine at the moment). But it doesn’t mean different has to be bad.

The part many people miss is that, while we’re in the present upheaval, the seeds of tomorrow are being sown.

While we maintain extreme measures to keep each other safe — and begin to wonder how much is too much, and fear what isn’t be enough — the building blocks of the new world are taking shape.

As we determine the best way to safely gather in buildings and public spaces that are so familiar to us, yet may never feel “the same as before,” to rejoin events and routines that have not noticed our absence during the pause, maybe we could find what was missing from them previously.

For years, as an advocate for education reform, I’ve been saying that school days are too long, too packed with unnecessary material, too frustrating for students and too taxing for teachers. Now that we’re required to redesign the “typical” school day, it’s looking like smaller classes, shorter days, longer lunches and recesses, less homework, more learning through discussion will become the focus for many districts. This is a good thing, as it will eventually lead to a reduction in childhood stress and anxiety, in parents feeling they must encourage their kids to perform at an unattainable level; and one day we may reach a feeling of school being, if not somewhat enjoyable, at least tolerable, and not such a chore.

Funny + Cute Animals (@AnimalVideosTV) | Twitter

Megachurches being temporarily closed is actually a blessing, too. People attending worship services via websites or in parking lots puts the focus back on God, not the showy, flashy kind of services too many churches are characterized by in recent years. We are in turmoil socially and economically, so we reach out to divinity for help, in the purest sense of the word. Our concern for the ill and the poor have led those of us who can to put forth money and supplies and effort — that we may not have when times were prosperous, and busy and stressful. Over two thousand years ago, Jesus told us to love our neighbors — and it looks like now, we are.

When we no longer have to stand six feet apart while praising God, I really, really hope we won’t forget that.

From a natural introvert’s point of view, I have always been concerned about crowds — about whether thousands of people in one space was safe, not just in terms of terrorism or crime, but also in terms of health. I’m intrinsically wary of germs being nonchalantly passed around, and now it appears the medical community finally has to admit to this. New restrictions on how many people can be in one place at one time, not just for the immediate future but possibly months to come, only make sense to somebody who used to watch the stadium shots at the Superbowl with horror, or recoil from the very suggestion of attending a music festival or state fair.

Does this mean we’ll never again congregate for events that meant so much to us? Of course not. It just means that we’ll get back to what truly matters about each form of celebration. Weddings will realistically be limited to the 50 or so people the bride and groom really want at their special day. Championship games will mean lots of business for sports bars and restaurant takeout — and an excuse for families and friends to join together, at home. Parades may only be watched from people’s front windows and front yards.

I can’t lie, none of this sounds bad to me.

21 Unbelievably Cute Animals -

When businesses reopen, maybe they’ll start closing for the day earlier — something many of them could, putting less pressure on employees who will happily go home to their families a couple of hours sooner. Fathers — and mothers — who have been slaving away in offices and missing a lot of their children’s milestones may (successfully, I bet) bargain for the occasional day, or week, of working at home.

Saving for college may become drastically less important, as huge universities release they can’t sustain the pace they’d been forcing their students to race. Internships and pre-job training will gain in popularity as more high schoolers are given the freedom to say, “I don’t want to go to college.” Parents will redirect the concentration of these teen, and even tween, years to be on the single extracurricular their kids enjoy best, or have a passion for. (They’re probably realizing right now how much gas they were burning every season driving to multiple activities.)

Movies and TV shows may find it necessary to their survival to come up with happy endings, original plots, un-tropey characters, as people will probably lose their tolerance for shallow “reality” programs, grimdark dramas, and meaningless echo chambers. We’ll want to read something that isn’t a thinly-veiled dystopian commentary on outbreak control. Entertainment like board and card games, jigsaw puzzles, and simply playing outside — already making a comeback — will start to seem really appealing.

The world will become hungry for a sense of normalcy — but we are also in a unique position of putting in our say for what normal should be. Being told to slow down and temporarily put aside our regular ways has resulted in many interesting thoughts from people affected by a disaster we’d wish away in a heartbeat.

Yes, life, the world, won’t seem recognizable at first. But, in some ways, could that be preferred?

11 cute animals to make you feel a little better about the state ...


Art Matters

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Yes, it does.

Even while the world is in chaos. Like it is right now.

Even when there’s a global pandemic. Maybe especially during our present circumstances.

We’re struggling to maintain any sense of normalcy, and some of us are actively preparing for the official start of the zombie apocalypse. A lot of creative types, across all disciplines, will be thinking: “What is even the blankety-blank point of finishing my painting/screenplay/novel/musical right now?”

I’ll tell you what the point is.

Art matters. Whether the world is sane and safe, or messed up as blazes and very turbulent.

It gives us beauty and order in the midst of ugliness and chaos.

It reminds us life isn’t always this bad. And that people are capable of producing more than fear and hate, pain and agony.

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Art provides a safe space to explore all those nasty but necessary discussions on politics, prejudices, humanity’s failings and our own personal obstacles, and how all of it could get better. By indulging in literature, music, theatre, dance, we allow ourselves the chance to dream and to reach higher.

Think of those who came before you, which influenced your own creative pursuits. Our current artistic endeavors will inspire the next generation to do the same, to attempt more than a repeat of past mistakes, to strive for a truly new future.

Hint: You don’t have to write a dystopian novel about a thinly-veiled COVID-19 outbreak to make an impact in this direction.

And your medium doesn’t have to be realistic to accomplish this. Particularly in moments of great duress, fantasy appeals to the masses, and, really, with little wonder.

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Art also helps us gain a little, much needed, perspective. We don’t have to focus on the mega-crisis all the time. Other aspects of life are still important, and taking an hour to catch up on your favorite series, or learn what happens in the next chapter, or to sketch a dog chasing a ball make all of that seem more real.

One day, the mega-crisis will be resolved, and then we have to have something to go back to. It’d be great if we never completely left it to begin with.

So, while you’re wondering if there’s a point to your art among all the other stuff going on, here — just, stop. Don’t give up on your art. The world needs it now, and will need it in the future.

Keep writing, drawing, painting, singing, dancing. We’ll read it, swoon over it, sing and sway along.

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Autism, Encouragement

The Times Are Changing

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It’s not that I absolutely hate change. Change can be good, if there’s a situation or person or circumstance that’s really doing my head in; that altering or coming to an end will actually be beneficial, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it right away. But a major part of why autists don’t like change is because whenever something different or new happens, we can’t predict how it will make us feel — physically, and sensory-wise, and that can twist up our possibly already-challenged emotions. So, whenever I’m on the cusp of change — especially when I didn’t start the ball rolling for it — I get rather antsy.

We like our lives to be predictable, for all the aforementioned factors. Unfortunately, there’s also the danger of falling into an unproductive or unhealthy routine, just for the sake of keeping everything the same. And the past several weeks, I’ve found myself getting almost stuck in a pattern that meets basic needs, but doesn’t achieve certain goals. It can also be really intimidating for us to attempt going out of our comfort zones.

This past fall, after a long time of being a stay at home mom and focusing on writing, I started two new, outside-of-the-house, part-time jobs. And it was all good, and I have no regrets. But in the last couple of months, as the new-ness of an unfamiliar schedule became more common, and I realized I could go from thinking of myself in this “new” role to simply…being in these roles, as the dust of that settled, something else showed itself. I was having difficulty adjusting thinking of myself of being in my new roles as well as my old.

I hadn’t just stopped being a mother, or a writer, or a reader, overnight. On the surface, I knew all of that. Just because I had learned to be a library clerk didn’t mean I’d forgotten all my training in childhood development. Teaching ballet to adults for the first time didn’t invalidate or erase teaching it to children previously.

But somehow, the reality of my current situation and the intangibility of thoughts of the past weren’t clicking together.

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Then the other night, I was watching this horrifically boring documentary…and a really great story idea came to me. And I wanted to write it, badly, right then, at nine p.m., when I had work the next day. And all this week, as first one thing and then another and another have gotten in the way of my doing so, I palpably feel the ache of not writing enough.

This was also when it really sunk in, with the flair of an epiphany — whatever else I am, I am an artist. A creative and a creator. Even if I have to have a day job. Even if I get too busy or too tired to pen an entire novel in one sitting or choreograph a 15-minute piece, this doesn’t mean I won’t attempt it one day, very soon.

When you like your schedule to be predictable, reconciling the need for sporadic change — springing from the core of what makes you you — with a set routine can be pretty tricky. Having so many different ideas for projects means I won’t always be working on the same thing. That can be scary. That could put me off starting something new.

And that could stunt my creative growth — and in turn, my personal growth.

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So, I could either give in to the temptation to keep everything the same…stay in my comfort zone…and remain artistically frustrated…or step out and shake things up.

It’s not always easy. It comes with its own obstacles. I might get distracted, have to put aside or revise plans, or let go of smaller ideas. There will very probably be moments when I question the point of doing any of it at all.

But in the end, if I don’t go ahead…that would result in the worst torture ever.

So, I foresee…change.

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Encouragement, writing

The Obligatory NaNoWriMo Post

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It’s that time of year again! No, I don’t mean autumn — I mean…dun, dun, dun…the approach of NaNo!

I’ll give you a moment to scream into the void.

For those of you who don’t know what NaNo is, grab a pillow.

Okay. For anybody who’s participating, I have laid out 7 types of cake and tea with milk, sugar, honey, and lemon. To everybody else — staring blankly at us and wondering why they aren’t invited to partake of the treats — NaNo is short for National Novel Writing Month, and every year crazy writers dive into it, temporarily abandoning sanity. Every year we wonder why we’re doing this yet again…but we strive to push through, and complete the task.

The goal of this endeavor is to write 50,000 words on one project within 30 days. In theory, you could have most of a whole novel drafted (or an existing draft really whipped into shape) before the month is over. If you write/type at least 1700 words a day, you’ll have it done in approximately 4 weeks.

However… There are theories, and then there’s reality. Hence, cue the screaming.

In reality, you will have the time and opportunity to get down about 856 words before your toddler turns off your computer (yes, that was me), or the sink gets clogged, the delivery guy arrives with new bookmail, a co-worker calls and needs you to cover their shift, or there’s a Marvel marathon on TV.

Do we start November with the best of intentions? Oh, my, yes. Do those intentions get derailed hella fast? OH, MY, YES.

So, why do we do it? Repeatedly?

It’s the writer’s equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest and conquering the behemoth. When we, on November 29th, upload our daily word count with bloodshot eyes and take a cold swig from our 4th cup of coffee, and see the chart shoot up from 48,770 to 50,011, and we realize I’VE DONE IT, this is the biggest rush since the first time we ever finished a project. The elation that rushed through us the very first time we typed “THE END” is replicated. We have clambered onto the summit and planted our flag.

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So, how do you survive NaNo, and maybe even finish on top? From my participation in previous NaNos, here are some strategies I’ve acquired from literal blood, sweat, and tears:

Don’t set ridiculous goals. Aim to write about 1500 words a day. If you can’t hit the goal you did set, don’t beat yourself up. If after 2 hours your numbers are somewhere around 1026, rejoice. Many people dream of writing a novel and don’t get any further than the first page of the first chapter. Embrace whatever progress you make.

Don’t be finnicky about quality. This is absolutely a matter of quantity. You can go back and edit later. As a habitual edit-as-I-go writer, this was an extremely difficult notion to wrap my head around. It’s how I’d get down to the last week and still need at least 5,500 words to make the ultimate goal. This year, I have already decided: As long as it at least kind of makes sense and I didn’t do something terribly stupid (like suddenly change a character’s name), I’m going to let it slide.

Take care of yourself. (Or I will hunt you down and force vitamins and vegetarian curry down your throat.) You will get nowhere fast if you’re sleep deprived and not drinking water and putting off eating a rejuvinating, healthy meal. A daily word count of 4438 is incredible…and also potentially deadly. Your family needs you to be around after November. So be good to the physical you, not just the creative you.

Know how you write best. What’s your preferred way to draft? Type? Handwrite? Outline? Pantser it? Whichever is your comfort zone, stay there and make no excuses for not leaving. Outlining is how I kill a previously great concept, so I no longer force myself to play at it. While I do have plenty of little notes on relevant stuff I really should remember for the sake of continuity, and I stick to that, I am not going to spend 2 weeks on a detailed outline I will scrap by November 3rd. And my method works for me. No apologies required. There is no perfect or mandatory way to attempt NaNo.

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There are lots of reasons to avoid participation as well. Last year I opted out because there was too much else going on in my life, and I figured I’d make it to the halfway point by Thanksgiving, and was not in the mood to “fail.” Here’s the secret about NaNo, though: If you decide to quit, that’s totally okay. It’s free to enter, and the only loss if you don’t finish is…well, yes, you “wasted” some time and weren’t “successful.” But even that doesn’t measure up against closer examination. The fact you got several thousand words down on a new project, or put in effort on revising something that was giving you grief, is a success, and was worth it. Don’t toss that aside just because you didn’t “win.”

Because here’s the unfortunate truth about NaNo: Our prizes are not actual gifts or currency. The reward is mostly the satisfaction, and the street cred, of scaling the summit. Which is part of why many opt out; and I get that, too. There’s also no shame in deciding to NaNO. 

And don’t for one second underestimate the importance of having a support network. When you sign up on the official NaNoWriMo website and create your profile, you can make buddy requests. Do that. Find out which of your friends are also torturing themselves — ahem, diving in, and build that buddy list with familiar faces. When it’s November 15th and you’re starting to wonder if you can make it, your friends will cheer you on. There were instances I almost threw in the towel somewhere around 35,000 words, but really would’ve kicked myself later for it, and getting the flood of support on social media did rev up the remaining creative juices.

But true friends will also congratulate you on what level you reached before you quit, if you announce you’re done. And there won’t be berating or yelling; only stuffed animals and copious cups of tea and biscotti.

And there is always next year. Or 2023.

Remember, there is no perfect way to NaNo.

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Encouragement, writing

Let the Rebellion Begin!

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Recently, I had an interesting experience.

I’d decided to join a “writers’ group” in my local area. (Note: I’m not anywhere in this post stating where that is at the moment, nor calling out any particular individuals. That’s not the point of this discussion).

Anyway, I gathered pretty quickly — after a couple of meetings — that the way this group had been operating was not really what I was looking for, nor how I understood the concept of a “writers’ group” to apply.

Each month, a theme would be assigned, and the group would, on their own, write something related to the theme, then they’d all meet up again. After everyone read what they’d brought, the conversation tended to go off into non-related tangents of memories, social issues, and eventually what the next month’s topic should be.

There was absolutely no feedback given on each piece regarding literary elements, tone/voice, characterization, setting, atmosphere, or plot. Of course, many of the pieces did not have a majority of these aspects, as we were all (bluntly) told that the group traditionally focused on autobiographical, non-fiction content (nothing more than journaling, really).

No one present (except for me) has a work-in-progress. I was also told (again, point blank) that sharing fiction with the group wasn’t really appropriate.

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Excuse me? Isn’t this the whole idea of people who like to write gathering together for the purpose of writing? To explore, to learn more, to hone your skills in the craft?

I also noticed that others were interested in the exploring, the learning, the honing part, and that they appeared to be shut down by one, very vocal voice.

Ahem. Please pardon me while I clear my very fiery bookdragon throat.

So, here’s what I’ve done: I’m looking into starting my own group, which actually would focus on the craft of writing.

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When you’re passionate about something as wonderfully varied and diverse as literature, that passion should not get shoved away by a pushy minority declaring what “fits” and what “doesn’t.”

It’s exactly why we have genres. If you want to write historical fiction, go for it! A contemporary romance, sure! Murder mysteries! Science fiction! Epic fantasy! Poetry! A collection of Post-It notes you left taped to your irresponsible teenage children’s foreheads! Sure, why not?!?! Whatever you want to write about, chances are, somebody out there will want to read it.

And why can’t we do this in a number of ways? Novels. Essays. Magazine articles. Poems. Novels of essays and articles. Blog posts. Fiction. Non-fiction. Combining the two. Fictionalizing real events in your life — with plenty of plot and dialogue and pithy puns.

The “rules” for what and how writers “should” write are treated very loosely these days, and I’m glad for it. We get to share so much with the world by expanding definitions and conditions.

Trying to box in people’s creativity just doesn’t work.

Experiencing this the other week really threw me.

And then I decided to do something about it.

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This will probably turn out to be a big undertaking, and I’d appreciate your prayers! I’m honestly not sure what lies ahead as this venture gets underway, but I’m excited, and hopeful!

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Encouragement, health

In Which I Become An Episode of a Medical Drama


But it was an episode that ended with Patrick Dempsey coming out to the waiting room to announce all was well.

Okay, not really Patrick Dempsey (but wouldn’t that have been cool if Derek Shepherd of Grey’s Anatomy had been my surgeon? which wouldn’t have happened, though, as he was a neurosurgeon and I had a GYN issue…anyway…)

But, yes, everything went well. Sure enough, there is nothing wrong with my stomach or digestive system. All the pain was being caused by a blockage in my uterus, which was pressing against other organs and creating pain.

Today I feel a lot better than I have in months. Literal months. No bloating, no indigestion. Yes, I am sore from the incision, and my throat hurts from the breathing tube, and my muscles are stiff and achy after the anesthesia wore off (which they warned me would happen).

I’ve been able to keep down some soup and crackers and tea, and I’m still tired, but I have a flat stomach for the first time in easily six months, and my side doesn’t hurt for the first time in nearly a year.

The official problem is endometriosis, which is a bit tricky, but treatable. Most likely, there will be further treatments, maybe another operation in the future if the initial treatments don’t take. But for the moment, I am certainly healthier than I was.


I made it through the worst part so far; recovery will be a walk in the park compared to all the suffering of the last many weeks. Last night I could actually lie in bed in almost any position I wanted and be comfortable. This is a huge stride in the right direction.

Today is a snow day here, as we received the latest blast of snow and ice. Nothing really serious for our area, which is great. Muffin is at grandma and grandpa’s, probably playing in the snow. White Fang is bingeing library DVDs.

Outside it’s white and beautiful and cold, and quiet.


I still have a ways to go. There are things that may happen in the future that will still create problems. Hopefully not, but I remain realistic. Though optimistic, as I now have a concrete reason for what was going on, and since it’s finally been isolated, and there are options for treatment. I no longer have to wait and wonder and suffer.

The anesthesia took effect pretty quickly, so I remember absolutely nothing after being wheeled through the surgical registration area. I have to say, I almost wanted to overhear something about the conversation between the doctors and nurses during the procedure. Or at least experience some cool trippy dreams while being under.

(Kidding, by the way. Mostly. Don’t do drugs, kids.)

Here’s what I do remember before I woke up: I was with the Doctor (10, for those of you wondering), and he had this box, and it had something important in it, and we were running up a mountain, towards where the TARDIS was parked. Hey, I’ll take that, too.


For all of you who have been monitoring my progress and keeping me in your prayers, thank you. Don’t sign off just yet, however, as I have a feeling we’re not quite to the end of this.

But today I feel like I’m at the start of a new beginning, and it’s been a long time coming.

And I am grateful.


cats, Encouragement

How To Get Through Life Like A Cat

Take the road less traveled. Sure, it’s tempting to go down the path others have already been on for ages; the pawsteps before you are clear and easy to follow, and most of the dangers that may come, you’ve been warned about. But nothing will make up for what you’re supposed to do in your own life, for jumping onto the path destiny has set for you and you alone, regardless of whether it’s planned or prepared or expected or not. Don’t worry too much about what others think you should or shouldn’t do. Find your own road, and proudly put your pawsteps on it.

Remember to play. Chasing that butterfly or leaf is valuable. It reminds you to let go of worry and fear; you can’t control the world, you can only control how you react to it. The sun may not always shine, the butterflies may not always be in the mood; but keep memories of those times in your heart, and bring them to your mind when the wind is cold and the dark is frightening. The playful moments will come back.

Sometimes we all just need to sit in the grass. When it’s a warm, lazy summer afternoon, and the desire to lie in the grass and roll on your back and splay your claws outweighs the obligation to change the litter box or fill the food dish, you have reached pure serenity. Take advantage of it. Revel in it. The duties will still be there later; and guess what, maybe they can wait.

Stop and breathe. Don’t think so much about that impending rainstorm or whether your humans will remember to take you to the vet for those shots, that you forget to appreciate that comfy couch or the fact your fellow cat let you have his treat the other night. Life is not always a bowl of shrimp; so we need to decide to live calmly, with dignity and confidence. Keeping your head is only for the better.

Get yourself a chair that fits. Don’t automatically try to squeeze yourself into the worn out lawn chair they’re throwing out next week, because it seems the couch and the beds are always taken up by human kittens or a laundry basket (that sleeping in means getting yelled at). Don’t think you have to settle for less than the best just because it seems to be the only option. Dig a little and discover an unused corner of a closet where you can knead an old afghan into the right position, or the top of that shelving in the basement where they store the camping supplies. Find what works to give you a little bit of heaven.

Naps are important. We keep telling our humans how much they need their sleep — and how much we need ours, and somehow they don’t quite get it. Sleep brings rest to muscles weary from climbing trees, soothes frayed fur, and rejuvenates our ears and tails, so we can maintain that amazing balance and awareness of our surroundings. We imagine it provides similar benefits for humans. So, everyone, nap.

Whatever you’re facing, you can do it. You are stronger than you think. Don’t just hide behind the garage or in the bushes and wait for another cat or a human to come chase away that neighbor dog or the nasty crow trespassing on your turf. Bristle up that fur and raise your voice in your most intimidating yowl. You have it in you; the blood of lions and tigers runs in your veins. Don’t forget it.


community, Encouragement, writing

Sending Out The Call

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…Or, The Post That May Get Me In A Lot Of Trouble. And yet, I’m fairly sure that won’t stop me from going forward.

Lately, I’ve been coming across some pretty intense (and very important) discussions on “Christian media” and whether it’s actually effective, helpful, or even valuable to its own audience. And these discussions are happening among believers in the Christian doctrine. Since I count myself among that set of spiritual principles, but also as an artist, I’ve encountered several problems with “Christian” entertainment before. And this is something we need to talk about.

A lot of Christian musicians, writers, and other sorts of artists feel extreme pressure to only produce certain content in their art. If they cover a “taboo” topic, or include an image or wording that some in the Church find offensive, they are worried about being branded as a “heretic” or a “blasphemer.” (Now, is it just me, or aren’t we past the time when Catholics and Protestants put each other to death in the city square?)

Apparently, labeling something “Christian” means that it will already cover the issues of Biblical teachings and modern churchgoing lifestyle that most believers should know and/or generally follow. And often it seems to point a finger at those in the denomination or the faith that “aren’t measuring up.” It isn’t affirming of the message that the Messiah came to die for all of us, while we were still sinners. Nor does it present anything appealing or encouraging to non-believers.

Personal note time: I don’t read Christian fiction anymore, because I simply can’t relate to finding a husband being absolutely more important than anything else in life (even more than God, apparently); or to non-believers always being presented as drunks or child abusers or corrupt in business (since plenty of non-Christians are in fact very moral and very nice people); or to believers never getting angry or making a mistake that wasn’t forgiven at the drop of a hat, just because they prayed for God to show the other person they were “being unreasonable” (ahem…).

Not that absolutely all Christian fiction is this bad. But way too much of it is. So I’d rather spend my precious free time reading something that may not point to a spiritual lesson or spell out something of religious importance, but that provides lots of thought in the areas of growth and love.

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As artists, who are supposed to be creating and finding new and innovative ways to share our art (and our passion), we are continually being put in a box. As I attempted to finish the final draft of Volume 1, I explored the possibility of trying to get a Christian publishing agent, and was more than a little horrified by what I found. Too many companies informed prospective clients that “good Christian literature does not include swearing, sexuality, violence, any mention of other religions, the supernatural (even angels and demons), or reference other literature/music/art that is not Christian in origin and nature.”

Excuse me?! Have any of these people actually read the Bible, and discovered just how much violence there is, references to who “lay” with his wife, mentions of about 17,000 other cultures and sets of beliefs, and TONS of angels and demons?! And isn’t one of the major teachings of the New Testament that part of LOVE is respecting people who have a belief system/lifestyle/background you don’t agree with? Didn’t Jesus of Nazareth say that you could go to temple every week, follow all the instructions of the priests, and still be a sinner with a wicked heart if you ignored the beggars and the cripples on the street or didn’t give the repentent prostitutes a second chance?

This type of attitude among a lot of modern churchgoers is why I also don’t write Christian fiction. And believe me, I have worked way too hard on my “baby” to see it shoved into a corner of “not worth reading” by so, so many if it was labeled “Christian fiction.” Especially considering that most of the Christian publishers out there would call it “blasphemy” because it’s in the fantasy genre. (Haven’t they ever heard of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis?!)

Not that my series will be known for loads of profanity or explicit sexual references or graphic violence. But, somebody needs to tell me why, just because I write about faeries and unicorns and dragons — and angels and demons — I can’t call myself a Christian. And they need to have evidence that trumps the Gospels, which proclaim that my Savior came to die for autistic fantasy writers, too.

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Too much of the current Christian entertainment market is full of cheesy, unrealistic, dull, and even offensive portrayals that need to stop. I know for a fact I am not the only one who feels this way. That I am not the only one who feels the world as a whole needs to return to a higher moral standard, and that faith needs to be allowed to play a greater role than just “preaching to the choir.”

I don’t want to drop anybody’s names, in case you aren’t prepared for that; but if this is an issue that you face, as a believer and an artist, please raise your voice. To those of you who already have, thank you. We can band together to develop a place where our art is allowed to exist without discrimination, to reach all sorts of people through love of a shared interest or hobby, without in-fighting or unnecessary restrictions.

So, I am sending out the call. Let’s hear you.

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blogging, books, Encouragement, Fantasy fiction, Mental Health, reading, writing

The Life of a Self-Published Author

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So, I am quickly discovering that writing a novel and getting it ready to print through the company of your choice may be the easy part of being an indie author. (And it’s probably the most enjoyable — most of the time.) After the printing part comes the part where you need to sell several (at least) copies, to help pay for the costs of everything, so that you can justify writing more because, see, your first book sold!

This means marketing and advertising. Are there ways to go about this for free? Thankfully, yes. There are blogs (your own or somebody else’s), social media, and my new personal favorite, becoming a Goodreads author and developing a profile/page there.

Goodreads is an amazing tool. The site is pretty user-friendly (take it from me, who only understands the very basics of how to do things like customize a webpage), and you can do stuff like have discussions with the community, host giveaways (with the minimum amount of work on your part), and connect with other self-published authors. All of this helps build your reader base (if I use the word “fan” here, I’ll start freaking out too much), and spreads the word about your publication(s), and it can be free if you wish.

The instructional section aside… I am beginning to flail a little — both good and bad — with regards to how much effort must go into the marketing part of this whole deal.

First (to get it over with, and give you something to look forward to) the bad: There are moments when doing this all by myself feels rather daunting, and it makes my blood pressure go up, and it’s a bit hard to catch my breath. Sometimes when I look at the list of readers who have added my book to their TBR, I am still shocked, and amazed, and utterly terrified — because what if they don’t like it?! 

That’s a chance any author takes, though — whether they scraped and saved every spare penny for 4 months to get their novel to print, or whether they have a six-figure salary coming from a big-name publisher and plans for book tours established. And, remember, you can’t please all of the people all of the time — so, it’s just a fact that, based on personality or preference for style/genre/how many dragons are in a single book, some readers just won’t care for your work.

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And when you don’t have a signed contract through a big-name publisher, resources will be limited. You may need to be in the employ of something other than “writing” to help keep the literal lights on, which means that time to write/plan/market may be a valuable commodity. Book tours just won’t happen if you can’t even afford a bus ticket to the nearest big city. And if you’re a family man/woman — like I am — there are other things to take care of — school, cooking, cleaning, homework, doctors’ appointments, needing to be home at certain times of the day to let the physical/speech/occupational therapists in.

Before all of this makes you hyperventilate, remember the immortal and so important words of Douglas Adams: DON’T PANIC.

There is always a silver lining. Always another way, it just requires slowing down and breathing and repeating the above phrase a few times.

So, here’s the good of this situation — When you’re a self-published author, you have complete control over the entire venture. Nothing gets edited out of your work that you really, really wanted to keep. Don’t feel like going on tour to St. Louis or Minneapolis or Baltimore right now? Don’t have to. You only interact with the Goodreads folks as much as you choose to. Hosting a giveaway is not essential.

I didn’t even start off with an e-book. (I’m working on it right now, but when I first started the proofreading/typesetting process, I knew tackling two formats at once would be the metaphorical death of me. So I decided to focus on hardcopy to begin with, and just wait for the digital stuff.)

The important thing is to recognize your limits, and not take on too much.

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Otherwise, it is an extremely satisfying thing to bring up at dinner parties — “Yes, actually, I wrote a book. I’m a self-published author.” Self-published — meaning your literal sweat and tears (and maybe blood?) went into creating this actual physical thing (in traditional or e-book form) that people can read and share. It’s like having climbed all of the mountains in the Adirondacks, or graduated from a Masters degree, or raised multiple children — it’s quite an achievement. Be proud of it. You earned it.

(By the way, I’m giving myself a lot of this same advice.)

So, as I go back to working on Volume 2, nervously awaiting the feedback on Volume 1, getting the digital copy together, and reciting DON’T PANIC like a mantra, I’ll also do my best to remember that this is just the start of something I’ve been waiting a very long time for.

Sure, there were bumps in the road. But I survived. Honestly, I still can’t quite believe it. But now that cool things are happening in spite of the negatives…well, believing it may become easier.

There’s still a lot to do; but also so much that I have now completed.

And that is certainly worth celebrating.

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