The Eye of the Beholder

My last blog entry really got me thinking. A lot of things came together, and I am still sorting through the wild knots. But what is becoming clear that I cannot just write my experiences and expect to be understood.

If I tell my story in the traditional way by showing, the neurotypical reader doesn’t see me. Accordingly, how can a neurotypical agent or editor? If I just tell my story without explanations, the NTs won’t get it. This is where the dreaded “cannot relate” comes into play.

This experience of having to explain myself in order to be understood correctly, also informs my reading habits. (And how I consume media in general.) If you show me a thing without explanation, I assume my initial reading will be off. And I have to manually calibrate to an NT reading. For me, the creator chose a way of displaying things that leaves unquestionable openings to change the reading later on.

I can never believe you are telling me the truth about a character or a situation if you only show it to me. Hence, every piece of media is chock full of subtext and possibilities. What is going on behind the layers of masking I am shown? How do the actions relate in a system of reference that is not neurotypical?

To apply that to Heater Girl – if the book only shows the events (girl under heater, doesn’t come out until left alone), NTs will assume a need for attention. NDs may also assume a need for attention because we are very good at learning what the “correct” reading of a situation is from NTs. (If we don’t, we die.)

Without the explanation form inside the girl under the heater, this reading will stand. Other actors my bring up the ND reading as an option, but our NT habits are either hard to break, or dangerous to break. Usually, we just don’t.

This is why I have to tell readers what is going on. For those who don’t know and for those who don’t believe it. Only by saying “this is what is happening here” can I be sure the events aren’t misread in a NT way. This is how I make sure you get to see what happens behind the layers of masking. And to do that, I have to break the accepted form of writing which says: “show, don’t tell” what’s going on.

Right now, it feels like a vicious cycle. I can write to expectation and won’t be seen. My being and existence is overwritten by NT readings and interpretations. Or I can write against expectation and not ben seen either because the manuscript goes nowhere. Because it is not written correctly. Because my characters are not relatable, make no sense.

I have no solution or even conclusion. This is how things are right now. I am invisible even in my own words.

Hamster who holds up one paw making a peace sign fades out into nothing.

Heater Girl

My mum kept telling a story about me in kindergarten. You see, I was a quiet child and usually unproblematic to handle, invisible. But in kindergarten, oh in kindergarten I was an attention whore.

As soon as I was dropped off, I’d crawl under the heater and wouldn’t come out. No amount of coaxing or bribing would work. I would stay put. Only when left alone I would finally get bored and leave my hiding place in search for more attention.

I believed that story.

And why not. I don’t remember this. I remember nothing from kindergarten. And what sane person would crawl under a heater anyway? What reason could there be, if not having the kindergarten teachers give you their undivided attention in the attempt to lure you out?

Today I look at the poor little critter trying to find some peace and quite under a heater, trying to process too many things going on at once. She’s overwhelmed and nothing will change that – except leaving her alone. Once little!Mel has calmed down, she can face the world again.

Who gets to tell my story?

For the longest time, my mum did. And I echoed the story, trying to find the charm in it. Because it had to be charming, didn’t it?, to bear repeating? I understand the desire to have one-on-one interactions. Crowds are noisy and complicated. And while I crave attention, I also want to be safe when receiving it.

Today I have accepted that there is only so much interaction I can stomach. (Masking is exhausting.) I worked on a fair for six hours this Saturday and slept off the exhaustion for most of the remaining weekend. People are too much. Even when I love them and love being around them, they are A Lot. I need a break.

I didn’t intend this to be be about writing. But I’m a writer; it’s what I do. And these days I am writing my own story. The story where I am lying under the heater overwhelmed. My characters are allowed to be like me. They act like me, think like me, perceive like me. They most definitely express themselves like me.

I didn’t always put it into my stories on purpose. But I think all my protagonists have it because I wrote them to be normal like me. (gigglesnort) When I write today, I know my protagonist will be neurodivergent. (On top of being an enby, bitches love enbies! It’s me I’m bitches). And I lean into it. On the page, I can be perceived safely – ticks, tells, and stims.

I hear that this is wanted, that my voice is important and needs to be heard. People like me want to see themselves, people not like me need to see us to understand us. And yet, I so often get the feeling that it’s not not what publishing wants at all. They want the little attention whore, the motives they understand.

As soon as I stop explaining myself, I am automatically read like the attention seeking version of my story. If I show you who I am, you see something else. (This ties in closely with my problems of Show Don’t Tell As described in Lies, lies everywhere and my I Don’t Believe You blog posts.)

I cannot exist as myself and not be misread. I cannot write myself and not be misread. As soon as I stop explaining myself, I am no longer playing the game correctly. A little girl huddling up under the heater is not an active protagonist. She has no agency. Unlike her little twin that is making others do her bidding, who has an effect on the outside world instead of the other way round.

The world has an effect on me more often than I can affect it. Being left alone when overwhelmed is a comfort-fantasy. Being helped through the pain is a power-fantasy and one I am only now learning to write. Stars know if I ever get to a place where I can live it.

Does this bode well for my books?

What can I say…

…my mum tells this little story about me – about her little attention whore that was otherwise so perfectly invisible.

Since the Last Goodbye

You can’t leave like this.

Branka looked back into the chaotic apartment. It seemed that nothing was where it belonged, not even the floors and lamps.

You can’t leave like this.

For a moment she considered cleaning up, putting everything where it belonged, the books on the shelves, the laptop on the desk, the broom in the closet. But how would she handle the floors? Or the lamps?

One of them still swung slightly as if there was a breeze it knew about and Branka didn’t. She watched the hypnotic movement for a while. Back and forth, back and forth, the motions becoming ever so much smaller. A shade hung askew, another was missing, probably lost in the chaos and broken.

It is not your chaos, she told herself. Not your plates shattered all over the kitchen floor, not your curtains hanging ripped and tattered, not your vase, the flowers crushed and the water dripping from the windowsill into the carpet. It is not your carpet, either. Get a grip, Branka. Leave.

She didn’t move. Why are all the glasses broken? Why didn’t one cup remain whole? She couldn’t see the shelves from where she stood, but she remembered. Tilted, ripped out, some of the cutlery stuck in the walls. If she cleaned up the mess, would she have to smooth down the holes? Fill them in? Paint them over? Would that work?

And then? The pens back into their holders. The paper could be stacked, some of it smoothed out again. Righten the TV, put the remote beside it. But what good would it do? It is not your TV, she told herself. It is not your remote. What are you even doing here?

I was living here.

And what good did that do?

Branka looked at a trail of crisps leading from the middle of the room to nowhere. There was a broken bowl somewhere around here, wasn’t there? She couldn’t remember.

But I lived here, she wanted to say. I should know.

And what good would that do?

What good is talking to myself?

Are you?

Branka ran a hand through her hair. It was wet, tangled and starting to clot. A shower, after all the cleaning, that would be it. Even if the shower curtain lay on the floor now, some towels were jammed into the toilet, the mirror broken, shining pieces of silver all over the apartment. Slivers lined with red.

It is impossible to tidy up everything, she told herself. And who had tidied up after the big bang anyway? Nobody, that’s who.

Leave it, Branka, leave it like this.

But her eyes were roving across the scene, fitting things into their places in her mind as they went. Righten the vase and smooth out the petals of the flowers. Scoop up the water from the carpet with the hands and return it into the vase. Scoop up the blood with the hands from the carpet and return it to the body.

What good would that do?

Safe

For all of the times that I reached out
and grasped on empty air
for all of the times I was alone
and wished that you were there

beware of your dreams,
beware of the truth
the cold and hard disease

when the void reaches back
caresses your skin
you bleed from within

alone is what’s keeping me safe

A Word on DVPit

Due to recent developments, I need to get a few things off my chest. Pitch events are a time of high-strung nerves. I like to pretend I’m cool, but I’m really not.

I’ve done a lot of such events – PitMad, PitchDIS, DVPit, genre specific events, publisher specific events. If it’s out there, I’ve done it. I started doing pitch events at the end of 2020 which, I understand, is a bad thing to start anything in tradpub.

It’s probably telling on how things went considering that now my reactions to a Like on a tweet are:

  1. Who of my dear friends doesn’t know it’s pitch day?
  2. Which schmagency is out fishing for customers now?
  3. Wait, what? The fuck you mean an actually legit like?!?

Sad but true.

This is how it goes inside my head.

Did I get many agent Likes for my participation? Nope.

I got likes from an indie publisher that I really appreciate. Unfortunately, they were looking for a stand-alone romance with spicy bits, which my manuscript is very much not. And while I do write spice when I want to, I’m pretty sure I put the necessary amount of explicit into each book I write. And sometimes, that amount is none. And that’s that for the book.

I got likes from schamgencies. One event we formed a club of authors who got our pitch liked by the same vanity press that was out in full force on a discord. I think we all made it into the club.

I get likes from people who don’t know what a pitch event is or how it works. After looking at their profiles, I decide if they would benefit from having things explained to them or if it’s just the way life goes.

tl;dr I don’t expect anything legit to come from a pitch event. I am not cool about it after all this time. Hope is a bitch that won’t give up. 🤷‍♂️

Did I get a legit like this time around?

Hell, yes!

Was it an agent on my radar? No. Did I go to research them immediately? Yes. And, ngl, I was doing very badly because the agency website and I will never be friends. 🤷‍♀️

I wasn’t really questioning that I wasn’t finding info immediately. My head was already going: heh, just another of those, just what I have to live with because I can’t not do pitch events even if they make me sad and empty.

Surprise, though. After poking some more holes into the internet, I found the info. And it was all legit. What’s more, I read their mswl during my agent trawls. I read it so they’re looking for a sub-genre my manuscript is not. I mention that in the query, because nobody needs to waste no time on a clear non-fit.

Headshot of a black person with a colourful headscarf in front of a brick wall. The caption says: Ain't nobody got time for that."

Am I excited? I don’t know. I know how many queries and agent can get that is not a big amount of queries at all and how overrun agents can get opening for just a few days. It’s hard. The competition is high. There’s so many manuscripts out there that deserve to be books.

On top of the regular, I am scared the manuscript isn’t the sub-genre the agent is looking for; I’m scared they hate the voice once exposed to it for longer than a tweet; I’m scared I’m trespassing on the territory of the diverse where I am not enough to be included.

But yeah, hope that little bitch. If it wasn’t for her I sure wouldn’t have even sent the query. Also, it feels really good to be seen. There always seems to be so little agent interaction at such events. (Disappointing, but understandable when they’re already drowning in their regular subs.)

Which brings me to an unexpected disk horse.

Side Subject: OMFG, an agent like 500 pitches!

Yeah, that’s probably the end of tradpub as we know it. 🙄

In the overall numbers-game of queries an agent can receive, that is not a lot. In the amount of work rolling towards that agent now, it is still a lot. If they spend only 5 minutes per query, that’s a full work week. And many agents spend more time on a query (unless it’s clearly not a fit).

Am I flabbergasted? Yes.

Pitch Likes were sold to me as golden tickets. A red carpet rolled out right to the top of the submission pile.

That doesn’t mean everybody has to or does use them like that. (I have also been informed that on average only LESS THAN half the liked stories are submitted. Like, le what?!?! 😱 this doesn’t compute in my little hamster brain. You like my pitch and are legit, you gotta run if you want to escape my manuscript. (Blacklisted agents exempt 😅))

For the statistics, I think Queries George* should not be counted if they distort the results. My 3.2 maths brain cells that love statistics won’t allow it.

On the other hand, if one agent going beyond by making sure they build a diverse list can skewer the results of an event committed to doing exactly that – halt die Welt an, ich will aussteigen

a diver in a neeoprene suit under water. they kneel at an underwater chasm and jump into it headfirst, vanishing into the black depth.

*Correction!
Queries George isn’t even alone?!?
The line between “normal” and “outlier” in the data I refer to is in a place that makes no sense to me. I have no idea how the data is being processed any longer but my 3.2 maths brain cells hate it here.

Seems you really can’t trust any statistics you didn’t forge yourself. 🙃

Go Queries Georges! Take tradpub to the diversity it should be at. 🥳

Who Needs A Heart?

I’m playing our song
I can’t let go
of the dreams I had with you
of you
take me back
rewind and replay
pain is glorious when it ends in bliss
not this

I’m playing your song, break my heart
all the refracting pieces
spread and flung
cradle me close instead
who needs a heart that can be broken
by nothing but words

You Can’t Write If You Don’t Read

Writing advice – I really would like to write sarcasm laden essays on most of it. So, I’ll start here.

I am almost 40 years old with a demanding full-time job I love. The time I spend reading can be measured in thimbles.

Does that mean that I can’t write?

Fuck you, it does.

I won’t have anybody tell me I can’t write. I bloody well can and will. Actually, I do.

So what. Am I a mysterious creature of legend?

Doubtful.

What I am is 40 years old with a reading history as long as god’s proverbial arm. I know my grammar and spelling. I know my style and though I am not always happy with it, it is distinct. And my ultimate struggle will always be plot.

To get back to that intrusive piece of advice. What it completely fails to take into consideration is that there are stories in many more mediums that just writing. At least it is taking fanfic and such into account because it doesn’t tell you what to read. Go read a cookbook.

But we are surrounded by stories in so many other forms. Comics, movies, series, audio dramas, podcasts, games. Hell, take theatre. Tweets and tumblr posts can gear up to be a story. And you know how much I consume of those?

Just because it’s a game , doesn’t mean I won’t see the gaping plotholes. I can appreciate the characters in a podcast, there is definitely still prose to be found in audio dramas. Listen, if you want to learn writing dialogue, plays can be your best friend.

I’m not saying you never have to have read to writer. I am certain it helps. But don’t let anybody tell you that stories is only what is written.