In Meltdown in Freezer Three, Corinne’s service animal, Macy, uses color to convey emotion. In your story Touch of Tides, which appeared in Crossed Genres Issue 8, your main character sees physical sensations as color. There are other similarities between these stories, including neuro-atypicality as feature, not a bug, making your characters uniquely qualified to deal with the situations confronting them. Could you talk a bit about your personal relationship with color, and the way you explore it and neuro-atypical characters in your fiction?
My brain is a very colorful place. I have grapheme-color synesthesia. I’m also autistic (Asperger’s), which means my relationship with language is interesting. I do think in words, but I also think in movement and shapes, emotions and flashes of images, and colors (and colors of words). Even though I’m strongly verbal, some thoughts are very difficult to translate into words. And sometimes when I’m struggling to remember something, all I get is the color of the words, not the words themselves.
I am intrigued by differences of perception and thinking styles between people. There’s an assumption that everyone is somehow the same inside, when really, we are all incredibly different. The reason we assume homogeneity is because everyone learns the same outputs (we speak the same language, for instance), but how we store knowledge varies from person to person. It’s like software that spits out the same data, but runs on very different platforms, written in different programming languages. And those differences fascinate me. Especially since underlying thinking-styles can explain conflicts, unusual behaviors, and miscommunication between people.
When I write, I often like to imagine unfamiliar internal landscapes, and write from there. Not just neurodiverse humans, but also alien minds, animals, mythical creatures. I’d like to challenge the assumption that there is a “normal” way to think, because it’s dangerous to take that for granted. Stories allow us to experience neurodiveristy in a way that no other medium can, because it allows us to be inside the head of another person and see with their eyes. (Or feel with their appendages if they have no eyes.) It can be challenging, though, because we’re still limited to words, and what do you do when your protagonist doesn’t think in words at all?
Authors frequently know more about their characters than what makes it to the page, including what happens after the story ends. If you know, and don’t mind sharing, what role might Macy have in the faelien society after she rescues them?
It’s funny, but I often don’t think about what happens after the last word in my stories. I like that feeling of mystery, the question mark without the period. But since you asked? Once the batteries die in Macy’s control circuits, she probably eats a dozen faelien children, plus three brave faelien warriors, before she is finally taken down in a hail of ice-arrows. But I’m just guessing.
Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?
I once worked a high school internship at a Cold War Era government nuclear reservation. It was the same facility (tho not the same office) where my dad worked. My job included editing electronic maps of storage tanks. Gigantic tanks full of radioactive waste. I’ve never written anything based on the experience, but the fact that this seemed like a perfectly normal job, not weird in the slightest, might have had an impact on my formative years.
One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education -- who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.
I was actually homeschooled. And the single most important thing I learned was how to teach myself. I wish every child could learn this skill. Instead, many children are simply taught to memorize directions and obey without question. It’s a nice way to rear an army of corporate drones, but I doubt it leads to a satisfying life for most people. Life is endless learning, and without knowing how, too many people stop after they graduate.
Knowing how to learn was instrumental in my IT career before I switched to writing, since the tech field is always changing. Meanwhile, I was constantly learning about topics I felt curious about. Which has since helped my writing career. This ability makes me a better citizen and a more informed voter. I’m rarely willing to form an opinion based merely on someone else’s opinion, on conjecture or speculation. I’m always wanting to know the how and why of things. This gives me a flexible mind, willing to stretch and change and grow. I wish everyone could be given this gift.
We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.
Mervyn Peake. His prose is beautiful and clever at the same time. His world building is quirky and his characters are odd. His descriptions are delightful, from a time when cinematic POV was permitted and words mattered more than stories. His plots are almost non-existent, but that hardly matters. I have underlined passages and read them aloud and quoted them on the internet. So you should drop everything and go read the Gormenghast trilogy.
Here is one of my favorite passages: “A room was filled with the late sunbeams. Steerpike stood quite still, a twinge of pleasure running through his body. He grinned. A carpet filled the floor with blue pasture. Thereon were seated in a hundred decorative attitudes, or stood immobile like carvings, or walked superbly across their sapphire setting, inter-weaving with each other like a living arabesque, a swarm of snow-white cats.”
We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?
This is a tricky one, since I’ve been writing since before I can remember, and since I was quite young, I’ve had both fiction and nonfiction published in the kinds of small-town publications that would publish basically anything. If we’re to narrow it down to the categories of “fiction” and “published in a place where other people could actually read it,” I’d have to go with a series of shaggy-dog stories I wrote for the Benton City Bulletin in my mid-teens. These were based on jokes my dad always told, and relied heavily on puns and juvenile prose. For all that, they were probably pretty good. I’m not sure. I haven’t read them in years.
For the record, my first paid and published story, which is what some people mean when they say “published,” was right here in the Journal of Unlikely Entomology! And I still like that story.
(Editors’ note: We still like it, too! The story in question is Let the Bugs Work Themselves Out from Issue 3.5. You can -- and should -- read it here.)
What else are you working on you want people to know about?
I’m just finishing promotion of my big nonfiction project that took up most of the last 18 months. (Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control.) This month, I’m switching gears back to fiction. My novel, Emerald City Iron, the long-awaited sequel to Emerald City Dreamer is all written and awaiting revisions. It’s about faerie hunters in Seattle. Sandy and her team track down a terrifying murderous sea faerie, the Nuckelavee, while Sandy herself begins her inner journey to heal from her trauma. I’d like to have it out by next spring.