Autism, Mental Health

An Autist’s Guide to Surviving a Pandemic

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Wow, what a title. Yes, I am going there. I debated doing so for a while.

And then I had to decide: Should I make this post humorous? Totally serious? A combination of my overstimulated angst and pithy sarcasm? All of the above?

I could also say, “Just kidding. The title is a misnomer. There is no surviving. It’s the apocalypse. Haven’t we all figured this out yet?” But then I would legit feel bad for the people who wouldn’t realize I was being snarky with that one.

So, I think I’ll just get to what’s been on my mind lately.

The biggest problem for me during this virus-crisis and containment-craziness is the sudden loss of something I didn’t know I expected to be there. Despite not really minding the social distancing — because, no joke, being six feet apart from people I don’t know, not shaking hands, and curbside pickup literally sounds amazing — I didn’t realize until now how much I relied on a world whose rhythms I find too taxing. At least I knew what life would generally be like — work, school, shopping, social gatherings. There were set rules, rules I had spent years learning and making second nature. Now all of that is on hold.

Will those rules still be there when the restrictions are scaled back? What if new rules are created instead? Either I have to re-learn, or learn anew. And how do I feel about that? I DON’T KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT THAT! All of the extra emotional processing I’m being asked to do to prepare for an uncertain future simply results in: AAAAAAHHHHH!!! I can handle not knowing everything, but even an outline seems to be impossible, and that just creates an immense amount of stress.

So, how am I surviving?

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Not very well, honestly.

Children are around ALL THE TIME. People WANT THINGS. There is NOTHING to do, and somehow I am still SO BUSY. Chores and errands have taken on new dimensions, due to sanitation guidelines, and while I can handle those (and understand them), I am also surrounded by complications and burdens as a result. Schools being closed mean that Muffin is struggling to maintain skills he isn’t one bit inclined to practice without the structured classroom environment he’s familiar with. Me not having an outside job to go to means I would really like to get some writing and editing done, but with EVERYONE AROUND, concentration is an endangered species.

(For example, at this very moment, I’m fighting with Muffin about him letting me finish this post before he loads up his Minecraft world to check on his wolves. Typing the words in my head while shouting different words in his direction is ridiculously hard.)

The pressure is massive. I need space, and quiet, to be able to recharge, and feel more like myself again. But I am being pulled in several directions at once — either to be a teacher, or a parent on overdrive, or a person not spreading a sickness I haven’t even been exposed to, or a displaced library aide trying to have half a chance to focus on some online training. We are all getting on each other’s nerves, when nerves are already heightened due to the atmosphere outside our house being insecure and frightening.

None of this is conducive to my well-being.

Okay, let’s give this another go, then: How can I combat it?

I Made This Dubai Abstract Painting To Combat My Anxiety

I can still steal enough moments to read at least somewhat, and at least write a little. I can still cuddle the cat, and occasionally watch a video with White Fang, or a movie I’ve been wanting to see. At first, I cooked more than I had in weeks. I’ve definitely been conscious about more vegetables, less caffeine, and less sweets. In some ways, the change in routine has shown me just how exhausted I was after working two part-time jobs for six months. Getting to sleep in every single day has been a luxury (that, sadly, I’ll pay for later).

But I’m also trying not to concentrate on the negatives right now. One day, things will be back to, not normal, but a semblence of what we expect, and I know I’ll greet it with mixed feelings. If people decide shaking hands isn’t cool anymore, I’ll actually be glad. If not needing to go into crowded stores to get your supplies or groceries becomes more common, I think I’ll take advantage of that. If the kids go back to schools with less students per square foot, I imagine mine would be totally okay with that. If curriculums adjust to fewer non-academic requirements, especially for special ed students, that wouldn’t be any skin off their noses, or mine.

When schools are open again, I will relish the temporary quiet. I’ve already looked into virtual lessons for dance and creative writing, and that might be challenging at first, but I want to give it a shot, so I can still advance that part of my career despite the new environment and delivery system.

This current situation won’t last forever; partly because nothing does; and partly due to necessity, of society, and of the economy and many other aspects. I know that. I do sometimes focus on that. In the meantime, I want to put my best foot forward at adapting to hardly-ideal circumstances; partly out of lack of choice; partly because I have to find ways to cope.

So, the short answer is: Still find ways to carve out a little space and time for yourself. Indulge in hobbies that you enjoyed before the start of the crisis. Communicate your limits to your family (and make them abide wherever possible). Ignore the news occasionally.

And invest in a bit of alcohol. Or chocolate, whatever’s your thing.

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Mental Health, writing

2019: The Year NaNoWriMo Kicked My Butt (And Why I Don’t Even Care)

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Okay, I know it may seem a little premature because we still have a whole week of November left… But I am officially throwing in the towel on NaNoWriMo.

But here’s the thing: I really don’t think I care.

As of today, I am hovering around 27,000 words, and I just know I won’t be able to get even close to 50,000 before November 30th. Though, again, I’m not sure I, in fact, give a damn.

Yes, I’m not only announcing my quitting, I’m not regretting it.

Here’s a fun bulleted list of reasons why:

  • The new website sucks. This isn’t mere subjective opinion; this is a cold, hard truth. Between numerous software glitches and the overall tone of the new site just not being encouraging anymore, I’m really discouraged. Every time I proudly entered an update on my word count, the stats page only reminded me of how far I had to go, how much I hadn’t done. What the hell happened to the lovely little messages we used to get above our charts: “Well done, Nanoling! Keep going, you can do it!” They’ve been replaced with a robotic, “364 words needed today.” Go shove it, algorithim.  I just slaved away for 2 and a half hours to produce nearly 1400 words! WHY DON’T YOU APPRECIATE THAT?!
  • Does anybody else remember the days when we could send notes to our buddies with the digital equivalent of cake and puppies, and it was all so inspiring and built the comraderie and made you want to push forward, despite aching all over and just wanting to sleep? Now either they’ve done away with that, too, or I have simply become a technological dinosaur and cannot figure out how to communicate with other people on the new site. This lack of encouragement hurts my heart. Yes, we’re all on social media, cheering for each other; but somehow it doesn’t feel the same, and I am breaking.
  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The fact we destroy ourselves for an entire month and then have to buy our own prizes is straight-up bollocks. I can’t even afford most of the items in the shop, even with a winner’s discount. After choosing to inflict this torture on myself for 30 days, I want a FREE mug and t-shirt and trial edition of Scribner. Delivered to my door by a unicorn with a rainbow mane, damn it!
  • Apart from December or May, November is the WORST month to participate in such a crazy endeavor as attempting to write most of a novel. There are parent-teacher conferences, birthday parties, early freak snowstorms, Thanksgiving, and just a dozen other things getting in my way of writing at least 1600 words every single day. Why can’t they hold this contest in January or March, when there’s so little going on people are getting bored out of their wits?
  • All of these factors combined are resulting in the joy for finishing this manuscript being sucked right out of me. Fire and Wind started as a passion project for White Fang, but I always intended to finish, and publish it, in a timely manner. That was now well over 10 months ago, and this is absolutely not the moment to lose enthusiasm. I am about halfway through this novella, and there is no (good) reason to abandon it. Other than intense, unnecessary pressure from a sociopathic website. And that is not good reason.

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All of this makes me so literally TIRED as well, it isn’t even funny anymore. The other night after work, I sat down to take off my shoes, and just stared into space for about 10 minutes (not exaggerating, either!), wondering how to fix my potential plot holes. Muffin was whining because he wanted dinner, none of the chores were finished yet, and I had almost no energy to keep going. I was properly drained. And that was when it hit me: NaNo isn’t worth it anymore.

As is the risk with all sorts of competitions, my goal had shifted from completing a task I really wanted to wrap up, to just wanting to see the numbers go up.

My approach had significantly altered, to something that was no longer healthy and productive.

I wanted that back, as well as my time, and the control over my life.

Yes, it was feeling that bad.

So, where does this leave me going forward? Well, as far as anything NaNo goes, probably…zip, nada, zilch. I truly think I’m done with the whole exercise, in any month. But for Fire and Wind, it means I did at least get a good amount of this beat into submission, and it’s the first time in several months I’ve actually been close to finishing a draft.

But, also, now I really want to tackle my TBR, and get back to working on Volume 4, and maybe even start thinking beyond my current series. No, this is not to make fans of The Order of the Twelve Tribes panic. Though what I’ve realized in delving deeper into Fire and Wind is that there is so much more to explore in this world, and continuing to limit myself to the perspective of one small Annex won’t satisfy this moth indefinitely.

And there shouldn’t be a strict time frame on creating. I firmly believe that now. I’m not done with Fire and Wind on November 30th because the stats page claims I am. It’s done when reach the story’s natural conclusion, and feel confident that this tale is complete.

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Mental Health, reading

Moving On, And No Regrets…

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So, for the past year and a bit, I’ve been attending an adult-fiction-only book club at my local library. I gave it a go because I’ve enjoyed belonging to book clubs in the past. A book club sounds like any bookworm’s dream come true — gathering among fellow avid readers, usually over some sort of (free) food, discussing plots and characters and which fictional world you’d like to live in.

However, I have discovered over this last year that: Not all book clubs are created equal.

Here’s why I’ve now decided that 14 months is enough time to declare that I’m not interested in going back to this particular meeting:

It turns out I really don’t like most adult fiction. When I was in my early 20s, I went on a big chick lit and cozy mystery series kick. It was largely because I was “too old” to keep reading juvenile fiction, and my genre of choice — fantasy — was generally too high-brow for my taste. These were the days of epic fantasy taking over everything (with the exception of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), and the whole “they’re spending 700 pages walking on a quest?!” scene did not appeal to me at all.

Then, just about the time I’d exhausted the chick lit/cozy mystery selections of the time, the “new” YA was taking publishing by storm. So I spent several years engrossed in the plethora of dystopia released then, Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters universe, pretty much everything by Marie Liu and Maggie Stiefvater, and the Warriors saga. By the time I came out of that (rather joyous) haze, I realized I was…gulp…nearly 40…and genuinely unaware of what grown-ups were reading lately.

So, I opted into this book club.

I am now feeling the intense pain.

Of all the titles I read for this group, guess how many I actually enjoyed?: A big fat zero.

They were all too long, or too boring, too inaccurate, or too unrelatable. I felt like a 15-year-old reading the same books the “grownups” were to get attention. It got frustrating, and almost embarrassing.

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To some people, any sort of social gathering, even one with a specific purpose, remains primarily social in nature. And quite frankly, I got tired of sitting around for 40 minutes, waiting for the actual discussion on the book to begin. And even then, trying to keep people on topic was consistently difficult. You expect things to get a little sidetracked, but when only about 25 minutes — of an allotted hour and a half — is spent covering the actual book, that is just too much unnecessary distraction for this moth.

And then there are the know-it-alls. More than once, I really wanted to throw the book at the wall (literally) when someone had become an instant expert on a subject after reading one, very poorly-written novel. It also drove me crazy that some people would refuse to see any point of view other than their own, extremely misguided line of thought. And I’m not talking about very subjective issues, like whether the writing style or narration type was effective. I mean stuff like not learning the facts behind a historical event presented in the book, and assuming that everything the author wrote was dogma.

Example: When someone announced, after reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (a novel that I cannot stand), that they had become illuminated on the “disease of autism,” I practically had a stroke.

Feeling like voicing your unpopular opinion will get you no respect just bites. No matter the title, it seemed if I didn’t like it, I was in the definite minority, and there were certainly instances when people looked at me like I had two heads because I found something pretentious, dull, or simply nonsensical. I’m a writer myself, for heavens’ sake, I know why I like what I like in style and genre. Disagreeing with the rest of the group shouldn’t be a crime.

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So, why did I keep going for so long?

Maybe I was hoping it would get better. Maybe I just got used to the routine.

Or, most likely, I was subconsciously worried that it was just a me thing, that I wasn’t “getting it,” and now that I was 40, I needed to suck it up and learn to deal with the heavy topics and the boring, long-winded diatribes in adult fiction.

Well, I can honestly say now that: I. Don’t. Care.

I’m content with my tastes, my preferences, and with my desire to not waste any more of my precious free time on stuff I just know I’m not going to want to read.

I will stick to the genre book club, where we gather at a pub and share a wide range of opinions on the literature, and laugh a lot more.

And where I’ve never worried that the entire table is assuming I have more than one head.

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books, community, Mental Health

It’s Time To Stop Being So Neurotic About Goodreads

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Yes, you read that title right. This post is a public service announcement about the health of readers.

Now, before I go any further, it needs to be clarified: This is nothing against Goodreads. I love Goodreads. (With a couple of minus exceptions, which I’ll reach soon here.) Please do not think I am slamming the website. I’m a Goodreads author, for the love of Pete. This discussion refers much more to the attitude and mindset many users of the site have adopted — and here’s why we need to change that.

First, let’s list the problems I’m going to address:

One: People develop a serious fear of missing out syndrome by viewing their friends’ TBRs.

Two: Readers add books to their TBRs in numbers that hit digits scientists exploring the vast outreaches of space cannot fathom.

Three: Reading (and the subsequent) reviewing becomes a chore, a burden, or actually hazardous to your health.

Okay, time to tackle all of these bit by bit. With nice pictures of cuteness and beauty thrown in to alleviate the pain. Of course. Because it’s me, and I’m kind.

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One: People develop a serious fear of missing out syndrome by viewing their friends’ TBRs.

One of my minor quibbles about Goodreads is the fact the entire world can view your TBR (also known as To Be Read list). (Also known as “These are the books I feel I must finish reading before I die so that I will be assured I lived a whole and fruitful existence.”)

Anyway, the reason add titles to my GR TBR is quite simply so that I won’t forget I came across an interesting-sounding novel. Rather than spending countless hours sitting in front of my open library account, wailing, “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT CALLED?!”, I can just check my GR TBR, and within minutes, have placed hold requests for all the books released in the past year that I think I’ll want to read.

Every once in a while, titles are removed from my list, because either I changed my mind (yes, that IS permitted), or I switched the title to another list (like the “Save for later” in my Amazon or Barnes & Noble carts). I like the idea of “divide and conquer” that this tactic provides. It makes me feel that I am accomplishing massive tasks in bite-sized chunks, and that in itself is satisfying.

However, what I don’t care for regarding the TBR feature is the fact anyone who is your friend or follows you on the website can see which books you’ve added. Most people honestly will not take the time to browse their friends’ selections — but, still, I don’t think this feature is beneficial. Whenever I’ve taken a gander, I can concretely say that two things occur: A) I feel like I don’t know these people’s reading tastes very well (which can draw me closer to, or farther from, their page), or B) I am absolutely dumbstruck by how many great books are out there that I haven’t read yet.

The latter actually does present a very valid problem. “Fear of missing out syndrome” is a real psychological thing, which has increased in our collective consciousness in the internet age. We see that 1,849 random strangers are enjoying this new movie, that we have never even heard of, but now immediately need to find a cinema that’s showing it, and attend the first available viewing. If we stay home and watch reruns of The X-Files, we’ll worry that we’ve missed out on some fantastic cultural experience.

Something similar happens for bookworms, bookwyrms, or bookdragons. We begin adding multiple titles to our TBR that we have no genuine interest in reading…but “everybody else” in our sphere of online life is reviewing it, excited about it, or mentioning it approximately 6 times an hour. Hence, we don’t want to “miss out.”

Now, here’s why this is a bad pattern: Taste is subjective. Some people love mystery novels, others sci-fi, others fantasy, others still romance, others still unapologetic erotica, or horror, or political memoirs, or the autobiographies of hedgehogs. It’s why determining what makes “good” and “bad” literature is so difficult — everyone has varying preferences for style, genre, content, and content rating (G, PG, etc.). It’s one of the precious and important marks of a free society — that we’re allowed to write and publish and read pretty much whatever the heck we choose to. And I wholeheartedly support it.

But what has happened to the part of a free society that pushes aside the crowd-think mindset, and encourages individuals to form their own opinions?

Readers, this is what I suggest: STOP adding a particular title to your TBR purely because 1, 4, or 279 people you know did. Wish them well in their literary endeavors, and concentrate on your own. Do NOT feel guilty or ashamed about this decision. Own it. Be proud of it.

And just don’t peruse your internet neighbors’ TBRs. Check out new releases by authors you love, read reviews on titles that catch your interest, be happy if a friend (or 279 of them) agree a certain novel or manga or author’s grocery list sounds amazing. But don’t stare at your computer screen and click the mouse until your eyes go bloodshot, intent on turning your TBR into an exact replica of someone else’s in the community.

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Two: Readers add books to their TBRs in numbers that hit digits scientists exploring the vast outreaches of space cannot fathom.

There are many registered users of Goodreads who legit have a TBR of hundreds, even thousands, of titles. To compare, mine usually hovers around 30 to 40. For one thing, this is so that I don’t become overwhelmed. For another, I personally follow the sage advice that 42 is the most complete number of all creation (being the answer to life, the universe, and everything), so that’s my limit for a lot of things I undertake.

But others may feel they can handle greater numbers, even triple digits, when it comes to their reading adventures. To which I say, good for them. Except. Except the lack of practicality enters it. Assuming it takes you about a week to finish reading a book, and there are only so many weeks in a year, and humans are only supposed to live about 75 years, and we don’t even learn to read until we’re about 6…

When would you sleep? Would you actually skip school or call in “sick” to work to tick another box off your reading list? What about vacations, illness, emergencies, times when you’re stranded on a desert island or edge of a volcano without any access to a library? Or attendance at weddings, christenings, funerals, graduations — when it’s just plain rude to have your nose stuck in a book? (No matter how good said book is.)

I’m sure this part of the discussion starts to border on ridiculous, but I am relaying, quite honestly, my concern for my fellow bookdragons. What if (in all seriousness) you died suddenly, and the biggest unfinished portion of your life would appear to be your TBR? Not, like, the fact you were planning to become a scientist who found the cure for cancer.

There are people who joke on Twitter about being crushed to death by their TBRs. The numbers racked up by these individuals could apparently give the national debt a run for its (ha) money. Astronomers who are peering into super-powerful telescopes, hoping to discover the exact spot in the universe where the Big Bang took place, have in fact seen these incredibly tall stacks of books waiting to be read, stretching through people’s roofs, into the stratosphere.

(Okay, yes, I made that last part up. Hopefully.)

And borderline-silly debate aside, while reading is always good, collecting books can grow out of control. We’ve all seen the photos on Instagram of people whose bookcases have taken over their house, and they own dozens of copies they haven’t even opened, and in some cases have flatout forgot why they bought it to begin with. This is nearly an addiction. The act of having plenty of paperbacks, hardcovers, used, new, shiny, pretty, unattractive, worn, mint-condition, loved, hated, hyped to others, in one’s general vicinity giving more of a sense of comfort and excitement than just, you know…reading a book and enjoying it, does not seem healthy.

Again, none of this is Goodreads’ fault. Their system is soooo easy — the “want to read” button is right there underneath every single title. BUT. That does not mean you have to click on it. When GR sends you recommendations, you don’t have to pay attention to them.

What I’m suggesting here is: Develop and exhibit self-control, folks. The world will not end if you limit yourself to reading 10 new books a year. Reading is absolutely fantastic, sharing stories and information that way is something I will never oppose. But so is life, and family, friends, pets, and there’s value in taking 3 weeks and 4 days to reach the last page of a 7-chapter middle-grade novel. We need to stop competing with each other. Reading for pleasure is meant to be just that.

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Three: Reading (and the subsequent) reviewing becomes a chore, a burden, or actually hazardous to your health.

Book blogging came out of nowhere to become a thing less than a decade ago. It is just as rapidly becoming not a thing, as bloggers are vanishing from the internet, either literally disappearing without a trace (are we to assume alien abduction??), or stating they are shutting down their website because of too much stress.

Too much stress? From discussing your favorite books with people?

Yupper. Whereas in the early years, like-minded folks would gather together and happily flail over their shared love of a specific author or genre, nowadays there are way too many vicious trolls around. Individuals who evidently will wither and perish unless they inflict nastiness on ordinary people who simply stated an unpopular opinion.

Here’s what I say to this: The trolls deserve to wither and perish.

We are supposed to be civilized. As civilized human beings, BE NICE. If you vehemently disagree with someone and feel a pressing need to say so, BE POLITE. I’ve had mature and tactful discussions with people who felt I was dead wrong on what I thought of their favorite book or author. I welcome the debate. When there’s no foul language, personal attack, or nearly-illegal threats involved, I’m totally fine with it.

Again, this isn’t at all to be chalked up to Goodreads allowing free and open discourse. (Some users would claim this is true.) I applaud GR for not automatically shutting down dissent. (Remember, folks, democracy, we literally bleed and die to have it.) And everybody has the option to remove offensive comments from their own account, or to block a specific person that just is refusing to learn the Golden Rule.

So that’s how we can take care of ourselves. And we can take care of our friends by supporting an online environment where free thought is permitted to flourish, and where trolls are not. I really hate to see people leaving a website or internet space they previously loved because of a few bad apples — but I hate it even more when those bad apples are rotten to the core. That’s bullying, and it’s just wrong. Period.

So, there are my reasons for everybody to rein in their burgeoning Goodreads addiction. Remember, my fellow bookdragons, read and LOVE it. Read BECAUSE you love it. Use the website as a tool to streamline and make your life easier. Connect with each other. Take care of one another. Stay beautiful.

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Mental Health

A Perfect Autistic Vacation

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I’m not much of one for traditional vacations. Apart from the fact I can’t even afford a haircut right now, typical summer holiday spots can be rather intimidating to this moth. It’s the crowds, the noise, the not being familiar with where you’re going, or what the place will be like when you get there.

Oh, I can survive all this, and I have, on many occasions. But now that I’m older, and definitely not as willing to brave the unknown as previous times in my life, I can say, with a fair amount of certainty, that I have some pretty firm requirements for my future vacations.

Ideally, it will be someplace I’ve been to before. This doesn’t limit me for choices, in fact, since I’ve been to several states, and England as well. And there are many areas I’d like to go back to, for the second or even third or fourth time.

I’m going with someone I know. This is how I get around the tricky things like trying to attend Realm Makers (because no matter how ready I convince myself I am, a boatload of anxiety would result). It really doesn’t matter that I haven’t met in person anyone I know from blogging or social media who also goes to this event; the fact that I would recognize them, and they me, and that I’m at least somewhat familiar with them, and vice versa, would be enough to get me on the plane and to the hotel.

Indoor locations are prime. Outside things scare me more. (Camping is totally a no.) So anything held at a hotel — especially with air conditioning — or that involves a lot of time spent inside buildings (minus unpredictable insects and weather) will be much more attractive.

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As long as it isn’t too extended, I can handle going by plane or train. I would actually prefer this to a long car ride (anything over 2 hours one way starts to grate on my nerves). I can deal with turbulence on a transatlantic flight, or a train ride up to around half a day. This means that I don’t have to restrict my destination to somewhere within 50 miles of my house.

It needs to be a place I can seek out some peace and quiet. Amusement parks, concerts, and sporting matches are waaaaay out of my comfort zone. All that yelling and strange people jumping around, and speakers turned up to 11. And I can’t do rollercoasters (I’ve never been on one in my entire life, and that will most likely never change).

Museums and art galleries, historical sites, the ballet or theatre (where people are expected to keep their lips zipped during the action) all sound a fantastic getaway to me.

I get to stay on dry land. I love the sound and smell of the ocean. I love watching those David Attenborough programs about the sea and marine wildlife. I love doing all that from the safety of my own home, or at the very least no closer to the water than 6 inches away. I can stand on the beach and watch the waves roll in and out for quite a while. Then I’ll go swimming in the heated pool in the hotel.

Look, do you guys realize just how many scary creatures there are in the oceans? And some lakes and rivers, for that matter? I’ll never go to Disneyworld or Universal Studios Orlando because I am petrified of swamps and alligators and giant snakes. You shalt not catch me anywhere near the Everglades. I’ll go to California, because there I can safely tour Harry Potter land far, far away from the sharks in the Pacific.

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There have to be a variety of dining options. I’m not as sensitive an eater as many on the spectrum, but I still need to have plenty of choices. I need to be able to gain access to restaurants that won’t automatically put condiments on my sandwich or salad, will offer non-spicy foods, vegetarian alternatives (when I’m feeling stressed, sometimes a tofu or mushroom dish really hits the spot), and won’t give me a hard time about any of this.

I can’t have unfamiliar roommates. So sorry to anyone who’d ever like to volunteer to share a room with me at, say, Realm Makers; but if I do this, I will become a puddle of utter sadness and desperation. At the end of the day, I have to get control of the noise level in my space, the TV (and the remote), the phone, and who else I’m around (i.e., no one after a long stretch of extroverting).

(When my family’s driving me crazy, I sometimes indulge lush fantasies of checking into a local hotel all by myself. True story.)

The natives have to be English speakers. I’m aware this really reduces my chances of ever going to Europe (and I would secretly loooove to go to Paris and Prague), but I just don’t have a wide enough slot for managing jet lag and language barriers.

(Maybe I can one day sell enough books to hire a translator to come with me??)

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My last guideline is actually the least problematic — I prefer cooler places. That means California in January, not June; Cape Cod in September (it’s still beautiful in the off-season); Australia and New Zealand in fact have winter during summer for us, so if I went there now, I probably wouldn’t sweat to death. And England only gets really hot for about two weeks a year, and the rain truly doesn’t bother me, so I’d be golden on that at any time on the calendar.

And there we have it! Maybe next summer I’ll pitch a tent in my own backyard and fill up the air mattress, and when we’re stargazing I’ll pretend we’re actually afloat on a replica pirate ship off the coast of Barbados?

(Or maybe I’ll get super lucky and Realm Makers will be held about an hour from my house.)

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blogging, Mental Health, reading

This Bookdragon Says No More…

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So, the other day, I was picking up my holds from the library, and something a little strange happened. As I loaded the titles into my bag, I realized that I only remembered requesting one of them, and why. (It was due to the blogisphere screaming about how good it was. Valid reason in spades for it ending up on my list.)

However, that was only one of five holds I checked out that day. Now, this concerns me.

Sure enough, when I got home, I looked the others over, and not a single hint of recognition came.

I could just read them, anyway. I’m aware of that. But I do not possess a Time Turner, meaning I only get 24 hours in a day, and approximately 16 of that needs to be spent caring for children, the cat, the house, writing, cooking, running errands. And the rest should be taken up by sleep.

So, I need to carefully select my reading material. If I truly don’t care if I read it, it should go back to the library.

Or, ideally, not arrive in my house at all.

Some bookdragons have a VERY big issue with the idea of not reading all of the books, that have ever been published, since, like, the beginning of timeI have no such qualms. If I’m not interested in the plot, it’s longer than 550 pages, falls into a genre I usually don’t like, or belongs to an already long series that I never started, chances are it will never get added to my TBR.

And this makes my life a LOT simpler. Could I be missing out on some really cool stuff? Yeah. But I’m willing to take that risk. In some cases, I’ll just watch the movie. (Shush, this is not heresy.)

Apparently, I recently forgot some of my cardinal TBR rules.

Time to go back to the drawing board and consider where I may have strayed off the path.

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Literally judging a book by its cover can be quite dangerous. In the past 18 or so months (ever since I started scouring other book blogs to see what the flavor of the week was), I’ve brought home many novels with downright lovely covers…and a terrible story. This has resulted in so much frustration — that could’ve been avoided.

The fear of missing out is a real thing — even for autistic bookdragons. When you already feel like the whole world is engaging in something fantastic and you’re over here on the outskirts wearing a face of confusion and despair, life is hard. So you decide to remedy that by reading the books “everybody else” is loving. Well, guess what — just because it’s a bestseller doesn’t mean you will like it. Exhibit A for me: The Hunger Games. And it made me sad, because the rest of the movies were coming out, and people were so excited…

Then, about a year later, I started finding more and more bloggers were being brave and admitting they hated the dystopia craze — particularly The Hunger Games. This made me feel SO much better. And it renewed my drive to apply more self-discipline and less social guilt.

Lots of books combined together in the same tote bag are heavy. And I walk to the library and back. More than once, I’ve nearly given myself a hernia attempting to carry 8 picture books, 5 YA novels, and 3 DVDs the three-fourths of a mile to my house — in all kinds of weather.

The initial rush I received by checking out that big stack was quickly replaced with, “Oh, my God, I cannot do this anymore, how am I going to make it up the hill, what was I thinking, somebody help me PLEASE!”

My health is kind of important…

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Reading one book you really enjoyed is MUCH, MUCH more satisfying than ploughing through 4 books you feel really meh about. Yes, this is actual, certified truth. Despite the fleeting moment of glee that resulted from seeing how high my Goodreads challenge has climbed, the pressure I ended up putting myself under to more than double my original goal was NOT worth it. While this course began accidentally, the stress became real.

When you read primarily for fun, this is not okay.

The road less traveled is quite worth peeking down. Books that will never reach the bestseller lists can still be awesome. I used to read a lot of them, and was generally happy that way. Yes, there are utterly amazing bestselling novels, too. But don’t feel the need to box yourself in.

Being slightly pickier is an advantage. Yes, it is. You could discover your next favorite book by refusing to stick to what came out in the past 12 weeks, and checking out what was super-hot 5 years ago. (Think about it — you’ll be a trend-setter!)

It also means that you won’t have to spend money you don’t have, trying to acquire 17 brand-new releases in approximately 17 minutes before the pre-orders sell out.

See? The beauty of simplicity.

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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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Autism, blogging, community, Mental Health

The Extra Brutally True Stuff About Blogging

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The other day, something that I at first thought was amazing happened to me — there was a huge jump in my stats for this site. It had been a rough day — my oldest woke up very sick, and the toddler was acting as if he was headed that way, too, and I had a ton of chores and errands to accomplish in spite of all that. So, the spike in views was exciting. It made me feel less mundane, less worn down by all the adulting.

But then, later, in social media, I saw some posts indicating other people were having big problems with spammers and trollers — people who behave like robots, who go through the internet trying to get unwitting and nice bloggers to buy their silly sponsored product, or commit to a life of evil worshipping the Great Sea Urchin King of Doom. Okay, yes, I made that last part up. But this is a sad fact of being on the internet. We are exposed to people who want to sell us refinancing at 45% interest, or verbally attack us because we like otters, or subscribe to you just so you will subscribe to them. Even if they are making weekly sacrifices of conch shells to the Great Sea Urchin, and you want nothing to do with them.

Most people I know just brush off such encounters and move on. (They get more concerned about nasty comments and people being really mean for no good reason. I so understand that, too — and more on that later.)

Anyway, my point is that, after the day I’d had, it was really encouraging to think that lots of people were visiting my site and enjoying my content. But, wait — there was no evidence of the enjoying of the content. By investigating my stats page, and realizing that, for all the views, there were no comments or likes, the situation became more clear. After 2 years in the blogisphere, I know that non-robot human beings who read a post that affects them in some way, will, more often than not, leave some sort of feedback.

And then, as I already mentioned, some of my online folks were going, “Hey, wait a sec, what is up with this?”…over similar circumstances.

So, after putting two and two together, and feeling very down, I’ve decided to say the following:

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To the spammers and trollers who persist in the verbal attacking ridiculousness, even though we repeatedly tell them to knock it off — Knock it off. This is just like schoolyard bullying or picking on a kid with a disability — it’s senseless and truly there’s no payoff. Believe me, there are much more blatant and impolite ways that I could address this topic. But, I am going for being the “bigger person” here…

To those that only subscribe with the intention of “I did this for you, so do it for me” — Just stop. Seriously. I can only speak for myself here, but if all you’re after is getting your numbers up, then go somewhere else.

To my fellow bloggers who are bothered by this type of thing (I’m being nice now, I promise) — Remember that there are tons of really kind and true human beings on the internet, and if only a handful of them have found their way to your site, you are blessed. Don’t lose faith in humanity, because those respectful, interactive comments did come from a living, breathing Muggle. (Or maybe a dragon, if you’re really lucky.)

(And remember, this is coming from someone who innately doesn’t understand a lot of human emotional reactions and would go with practical solutions nine times out of ten, and say hang the emotions, because running your life based on emotions makes no sense.)

The internet is a paradox — it can be full of awful, nasty, fiendish, gross and just terrible things that you’ll strive to avoid in the same way Julius Caesar hoped to skip the Ides of March. But it is also full of wonderful, comforting, beautiful, touching and downright lovely things that you won’t want to miss out on. And just like everything else in this world, there is always some bad with the good. The key is to aim for more good than bad to come into your life.

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Although I just said I’ll be appearing on this platform a little less in the next few weeks — because real life is simply doing a lot of stuff — I greatly appreciate what I get here, from the non-robots. For an autist, this can be a difficult and not very rewarding search. It honestly makes my day when a living, breathing human leaves me a nice comment or shares one of my posts. Knowing that there are Muggles out there, somewhere, that do accept, and even like me, is a massive thing.

And now, with these words, I do take my leave. For writing, for children, for slight obsessing over my TBR. For preparing my ARCs, for meetings, for actually reading.

And while I’m on the outs of the latest online debates, frustrations, and shenanigans — be kind to each other. Please.

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Autism, blogging, family, Mental Health

The Brutal Truth

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So, here’s a slightly heavy topic for a weekend. But it’s necessary. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

When I first started The Invisible Moth, it was my goal to post about all sorts of topics that interest me — my kids, the arts, cats, theology, history, travel, even which cookies are best paired with which type of tea. After my first several months in the blogisphere, though, I realized this was probably not possible. Or rather, not possible to maintain a solid subscriber base that way.

And, indeed, this was part of my plan — since I’ve always intended to become a published author (and once self-publishing became a real deal to the average person), I found that a lot of indie authors are using blogging and social media to build a reader base. I’d never tried blogging before 2015, and didn’t really know just how far and wide the reach of this platform could be. Since I tend to stay close to home, don’t like to physically be around lots of people, and don’t have the financial resources to travel the globe promoting my future books, this sounded ideal.

But as I tried to build my community (which meant blog-hopping, commenting, sharing others’ posts, developing contacts and familiarity with other bloggers), I learned something else — that blogs “need” to have a category. You “can’t” write about the book you’re working on and what your toddler destroyed this week; you “can’t” have a blog that covers new YA releases and the styles of dance you’ve studied.

This has been the story of my life; I tend to have somewhat diverse interests, and a lot of people don’t like that. They like to have things they can easily categorize and “pigeon-hole.” They get a little nervous around “divergence.” (Yes, I mean the new-dystopian trilogy in this reference.)

But for me, for The Invisible Moth, this simply doesn’t jive. I need to be able to discuss any and all things that I want to. This is my space, after all. My own little corner of the platform, and I should be allowed to talk about my current WIP, whether wombats would be good soccer players, or if I think my 14-year-old should start his own programming company, on a weekly whim.

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Haven’t we been having this conversation across the span of our society for the last few years? We need to “diversify” our stock portfolios, our educational prospects, our career choices, our plans for buying a house or car, our modes of transportation, our places to stay when we travel. “The world is changing,” we hear all the time. We need to become “more flexible, more open.” We need to determine that there can be many methods to achieve the same result.

Then why is so much of our society resisting this? Why do so many people still want to carry on in the way “things have always been”? Including the tendency to categorize every single blazing thing on the face of the earth?

Aren’t I supposed to be the more “rigid thinking individual”? Then how come the concept of “thinking outside the box” comes so easily to me?

All of the other blogs I follow do have specified themes. Now, most of the bloggers I read are indie authors or book-bloggers, and these are simply the things they choose to post about. I don’t hold that against them for an instant. It’s their online space, it’s their decision. But I really want to be respected by others for making my own decision — even if it doesn’t “fit” with the rest of the puzzle. (In a square world, I am an octagon.)

I do think this is a bit of a problem among the blogging folks. The desire to conform, to reach certain stats milestones, to be seen as a success by one’s peers, seems to have transferred from high school to the blogisphere and social media.

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For me, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword as well. I want to sell my books, ergo it would be very helpful to have several hundred people ready to do so at the drop of a hat. But will I consider myself a failure as an author if I only sell, say, 50 books in the first 6 months after publication? From a totally objective point of view, I would say no — because if I’ve sold any copies of the novel I poured my (literal) blood, sweat and tears into, then it’s a success. However, would it be nice to hit quadruple-digit sales? Oh, my, yes.

So this is where we come to the more dicey issue: Is it worth “playing the game” of conforming in order to, for example, sell a lot of books?

Is it worth it emotionally, spiritually, mentally? Is it worth it in terms of what it may demand of your personal time, energy, limits? Where do you draw the line?

Lately I’ve seen several different posts describing the pressure bloggers are under — to reach 10,000 subscribers, to constantly post fresh, witty, fun content, to read and review ARCs in the time it takes most of us to mop the kitchen floor. To be more, better, even epic. And most of these posts have said the same thing: It is not worth it.

Whether it’s because I’m on the spectrum, or whether it’s a preference developed over my adulthood, I will continue to vote for finding ways to reduce my stress, to obtain happiness without risking my sanity, and to not have regrets like, “I wasn’t paying attention to my kid’s concert because I had to tweak that gif and get it just right.”

And that means my blog will continue to be a place where I will discuss whatever I want to, whenever I want to.

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Children's Health, family, Fantasy fiction, Mental Health, Parenting, reading, Science fiction, Young Adult fiction

The Importance of Not Jumping on the Bandwagon

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Am I really dating myself here? Does anyone even use this phrase anymore? Can someone under the age of 30 even tell me what it means? (By the way, I truly hope all these answers are yes…)

Anyway, just in case you don’t know, the term “jumping on the bandwagon” refers to just blindly following the latest big thing — if I say “trend,” will that make sense across the demographics?  The idea is that it’s considered a negative behavior, that people who just run with every new thing to come along — without stopping to evaluate whether they really agree with it — isn’t smart, or healthy, or beneficial.

I see the logic of that. For example, it can definitely be dangerous to go bungee jumping or cliff diving without proper supervision or equipment, just because “everybody’s doing it.” But, to get on track for the feel of this blog, and its usual sentiments, what does this mean for books?

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Let’s say you’re a reader, a writer, or both. If you don’t live under a rock inside your personal library and keep up with new publications every year, you’ll start to see trends emerge every now and then. A strong example I can pinpoint right away is The Hunger Games. After it had been on the bestseller list for several months, with a movie deal in the works and merchandise popping up everywhere, YA trilogies along a similar theme/concept were released at a rapid-fire rate. The Maze Runner, Divergent, Legend, The 5th Wave, Delirium, Matched, Uglies — while their individual stories were very different (from THG and from each other)they were all riding high on the wave of “dystopian future/teens in danger/overthrowing a totalitarian government is hot right now.”

Before anyone gets mad at me, I’m not for a minute suggesting any of these weren’t well-written books simply because they were part of a “trend.” Hardly. Whether I think these series were worth reading or not goes straight back to my criteria for determining a good book — fun, sensible plot; well-developed characters; realistic scenarios; relatable motivations. That’s how I evaluate every new release I’ve added to my TBR.

Here’s where my concern gets applied — many, many readers (especially teens, who are impressionable) chose to read most or all of these series simply because they were popular.  And this created quite an issue among parents who felt some of these trilogies were just not appropriate for their 15, 14, 13-year-olds. (Having read at least one book from almost every single set, I wholeheartedly concur that they’re not.)

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As parents, readers, and writers, we need to be aware of the necessity of putting our foot down when we feel trends have gotten out of control. As writers, we can pen novels with more age-appropriate plots, language, and morals we actually want our kids to adhere to. (Vital note: Love triangles are not only tiresome and unrealistic in fiction, but they often glamorize unhealthy behavior, such as obsessing over your attraction to a narcissistic individual to the point of shutting out the rest of the world. Not cool to send that message to teenagers, folks. Eating and sleeping and having non-vampire/alien/criminal/promiscuous friends is important.)

As readers, we can support authors/publishers who are getting this idea. Recently I’ve seen an expansion in MG fiction, to include more serious topics (more serious than failing a math test), but keeping the discussion at a level many 12 – 14-year-olds would relate to developmentally, along with clean language and non-gory fight scenes, and romance limited to a first crush or parents getting remarried. There’s finally beginning to be a move towards separating New Adult from Young Adult. (I complained about this a while ago. My guess is I wasn’t the only one standing on the soapbox with a megaphone.)

It is important to teach our kids to think for themselves. But how can we do that if we’re always checking the hashtags, downloading something based solely on the hashtag, not stopping for a minute in the bookstore to scan through the paperback our 6th-grader just handed us?

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