Unburied Fables Releases Next Week!

Over the last week, two people commented on the title of Unburied Fables. Said that these stories are often left buried, or on the importance of having representation unearthed. I’m glad that some people have picked up on the meaning below the surface. Because this project has turned into something really personal. Or as personal a project with fifteen different collaborators can be.

I remember first talking about it, I was sitting on the floor upstairs in my underused office. It was after Pulse, which broke my heart in a way that I hadn’t expected. It was after this hard year where every activist I know is just bone tired.

And I thought that we could all use a little good in our life.
And I thought about stories with happy endings.

And I thought about how I wanted to help create them.

I feel like it’s safe to assume that 2016 isn’t going like anyone expected. But my hope was, if I could dig something of the dirt that it wouldn’t all be a waste. It wouldn’t all be pain and waiting for things to get better.

So I made the decision, had some people help me put the very first things together and asked. Just asked, would anyone else be willing to help me for the sake of community and charity. Would anyone else be willing to help me subvert the bury your gays trope and give our effort, if we had nothing else to give, to The Trevor Project.

And people did.

The collection has some of my friends. Like Rachel Sharp who stepped up and saved this project. But it had so many people I didn’t know at the start. Which was its own kind of magic.

I’ve said a couple of times that our communities often fight with each other and how it tears me apart to see it. But the Unburied Fables collection shows that despite all of that, we can create something good for ourselves, and for each other.

Despite the words already written, I’m near speechless that this book now exists. It seems almost unreal that the ebook is available for pre-order right now. It seems almost unreal after a month of the airwaves jammed with pain, hell after ten of them, that on October 25th the paperback will be out. That it will be a tangible thing that you can hold. That in some way or form these stories will last forever now, like yours.

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Understanding ableism is a piece of cake!

Do you like my sweet clickbait-like title? Surprise, I meant it literally! I’ve noticed that people understand topics better if explained with food, so today let’s talk about how simply saying “just stop worrying” and similar things without any consideration is a form of ableism.

Most recipes go from scratch to complete, but since I’m trying to deconstruct an issue I’d like to work backwards. Consider all platitudes about positive attitude, mind over matter, and yoga as the sprinkles on a cake. Some cake doesn’t even have sprinkles, but to some those sprinkles are life changing. But no matter how many rainbow flecks of candy you pour onto something, if the cake underneath has problems, they aren’t going to help all that much, if at all.

The next level is the frosting. For a lot of cakes, the frosting covers almost every inch. So much of a cake (and person) to others is this outward appearance. This is how you get sayings like “Oh, you don’t look disabled” or “I’d never know you suffer with depression.” You can’t see the cake. Relatedly, you don’t know what type of cake it is by looking at it. One can only assume, sometimes to a harmful degree, what’s inside.

Frosting can also be really helpful to make up for other concerns within the cake. A cane or a wheelchair could be considered the frosting. Sometimes religion or a “positive attitude” can be considered frosting, in that they’re both outwardly perceived and many times fully incorporated throughout the cake. Now I don’t want anyone to assume that you can pray and smile your way to not needing a mobility aid, so consider personal perception the flavor of the frosting more than the frosting itself. For example, if you decorated your cane with flowers, that would be a cheerful flavor. But that cheer will never replace the frosting itself, just like how orange extract alone doesn’t make frosting. In that case, it’s a bit of the outermost level of decoration being incorporated into the whole. Some people need that frosting, some people have it to make their life easier, but with all the different types, it’s up to the person how they want to go about it.

This next part isn’t an ingredient, but I think an important factor is how the cake is baked. What tools were around to help you? Some people are born into a full kitchen, others work with what they have. So if you tell someone to use a tool that they don’t have, to them, it’s useless advice. You have to consider that maybe not everyone has a raspberry-colored kitchen aid stand mixer.

Also, the experience of the actual baking plays a part. Some situations are traumatic and might burn the people who had to deal with them. Maybe the environment that person was in made them “grow up too fast” and once the cake is made you can’t go back and change those lived experiences. There is no “just get over it” when it comes to things like PTSD, and suggesting they should is ignoring the importance of their lived experiences. It’s asking them to re-bake a cake.

And at the most basic level, the type of cake you have will come down to ingredients and their amounts relative to each other. Think of these as factors beyond your control, and never could have been situationally in your control. Basically, the ingredients are your genetics. Now, if you compare several cake recipes, you will see that many have similar elements, but they combine in ways that make vastly different things.

In one of the first recipes I looked up it reminded you that measurements matter. Which is the best example I can explain for neurodivergent issues. Some people are born with no eggs, less flour, or simply not the right ratio to each other. If you try to tell someone ‘hey, just don’t worry’ when their issue is they need eggs, it’s useless advice. That is not the solution they need. While some people can find solace in that, many simply can’t. And even if it was your fix for the same issue, it might not be theirs.

I used to have really bad anxiety, to the point where I was anxious 24/7 and barely could remember a moment where I didn’t feel like the other shoe was going to drop. Sometimes people would tell me to just stop being anxious, just do the thing even if it makes you more anxious, and they completely didn’t understand how much worse they were accidently making it, or that is was fundamentally impossible. There was a disconnect of people telling me to just add more sprinkles when I really needed a cup of flour.

So before you give advice that has worked for you, ask what they need. If they don’t know, that’s when you can share the recipe your mother swears by.

The easy way to listen to any book!

I don’t read as much as I’d like for a lot of reasons. But, I have found something to help with this. Now when I’m not feeling it, I have the book read to me. It doesn’t matter if the book isn’t published yet, or if an audio version doesn’t exist. And the best part of all, it’s completely free!

Now this guide will cover ios and kindle since they are the most used platforms, but similar features and phones can be used.

Beginning Steps: Go to settings, then down to Accessibility, then Speech.

By toggling “Speak Screen” on you can swipe down with two fingers and your phone will read to you whatever is on the screen. Other settings in here will allow you to have it read highlighted areas,control reading speed, and what voice and language it reads to you in. I personally prefer ‘Siri (Enhanced)’.

Next, open your book of choice and swipe down!

If it works this is what it will look like:

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Don’t worry the box will minimize, go transparent, and it’s completely movable if you want to read whatever is under it. This menu also gives you some control over reading speed, play/pause, and fast forward/rewind if you’ve missed something.

If you keep this app open it will even flip kindle pages for you!

Is this better than audible? Nope. But sometimes it’s the only option and it’s one that works pretty well.  

Now here are some tips because sometimes it doesn’t work 100%.

“No speakable content”: I’ve noticed if you have it stop, then swap apps you can’t have it read again without closing the kindle app and restarting it. It might complain and say this:

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I’ve played with it a few times and now I can make it play or error on demand so if it messed up on you don’t worry. Close the app and just open it again.

It’s not reading the right thing: Siri tries really hard to read what you tell it. If the menu is on top of anything it will read that instead. Close the menu by touching the text and you’ll be good to go again.

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Sleep timer: I heard if you use ibooks you can have a sleep timer using the built in “Timer” feature under “Clock”. Instead of having a noise “When Timer Ends” scroll all the way down to “Stop Playing”. You can use this selectively with other apps or just music in general. It likes built in apps more than third party.

If you want a Kindle sleep timer you have to use the “Guided Access” under Settings > General > Accessibility > Guided Access. If you aren’t careful here you might lock yourself out of your phone, and feel really silly when you have to force restart it. I’ve done it at 1 am before. So it happens to you don’t worry. I don’t use this part of it anymore, but it’s epic to know I can turn any book into an audiobook, and have it read to me without needing a fairy godmother to prevent it from reading until dawn. Makes me feel like a kid who has magical tech powers.

Read anything!: Turn this feature on and you can have anything on your screen read to you. It’s great. I have it read long online articles to me, I have it read things I’m writing back so I can catch typos. This feature is next to life changing.

I also hope you enjoyed the HELLO WORLD sneak peeks 😉

Dragon Age, Glowing Hands, and Disabilities

There is a new genre called empathy games. These games have the goal of making you empathize with the main character to show a point. Generally that you aren’t the one in power, but to some small degree I believe all games are empathy games.

I think a lot about representation in fiction, and lately about the representation of disabilities, everything from ‘my knee gives me a lot of trouble’ to those who rock a wheelchair. (I’ve been thinking a lot of legs specifically because mine have been hurting a lot. But, stay tuned maybe I’ll talk about a abdominal pain like I’m a Super Bowl ad.)

I’ve been fairly impressed when it comes to TV characters who have leg troubles. On TV now, there’s Raven from The 100 and Felicity from Arrow. As fantastic as they both are I started to wonder if there was a medium that could showcase the constant struggles better. And after a really tough and unusual boss battle I realized video games are perfect for this narrative.

No other medium makes you face the struggle. Books, TV, and movies are setup so we are empathizing with someone else. But with video games you are living it. Also little needs to be done to make these Triple A titles show disabled characters of all ranges.

Yesterday’s game of choice was Dragon Age: Inquisition so I’ll loosely use it to explain what I mean then you can apply it to your own beloved game.

This whole train of thought started because Dragon Age doesn’t have cure anymore. I’m usually the type of player who likes having a full health bar in order to kick ass, but now that’s practically impossible. After playing for a while I noticed how I played was different. I didn’t get nervous if it wasn’t full, I’d even take fall damage to save me some time. I started to live with that fact that health isn’t going to be perfect. And as someone who now has a chronic illness riding shotgun that’s a pretty good metaphor. You have to live with your “health bar” not being at 100% most of the time. In video games saving the world with very little health left is almost common place.

The game now has barrier instead of heal. Barrier gives you an extra bar that lasts a certain time and protects your real HP. Now it isn’t an exact comparison but imagine this was your self care. Even if you’re a squishy mage or have low health it doesn’t matter as long as you protect yourself in other ways.

Health is less important than it’s ever been before in other Dragon Age games. Your character is undeniably disabled, but no doubts arise because of this from the other characters. You are still their leader.

In Dragon Age you are given a party of four. In the real world asking for help can be tricky, but the game encourages you to have the help of others. You could play solo, but parties are actively rewarded.

And in video games in general, starting all the way back with Doom, you learn to keep fighting even with a busted up and bleeding face. If you or the NPCs get knocked out they get up for the next battle. All really important life lessons.

Yesterday, I had three mages and a rogue face a boss that had 39 times more health than my whole party combined. It was horrid planning on my part, but the party made me happy and now we were stuck. I had to shake things up and literally bring the fire. By taking my time and breaking the problem into smaller bits I was able to win.

So even if your real life “health bar” isn’t what others have, you just need to plan and take your time in order to knock down really any beast in the world. In Dragon Age Inquisition that sometimes means the boss and sometimes means the day because your glowing hand is acting up. I’d love to see games actually incorporate their graphic interfaces to show disabilities in a real way because no other platform can show it like they can.

Love and Sex in Literature

A guest post by amazing Cait Spivey

I learned sexual desire from books and film.

At least, what it looked like. What it sounded like. How it is discussed. With that accumulated evidence, I got very good at acting out “desire,” even though it was at best boring and at worst, deeply uncomfortable.

When I came out, there was a lot of, “But you seemed interested in sex before!” As always, it’s difficult to explain, to those who don’t feel displaced by it, the pressure of constant messaging that seems to declare this is how normal people are, you are messed up, something is wrong with you. I learned and demonstrated sexual desire because I thought I had to, because it was expected, because it was bad enough that I kept falling in love with girls but at least I knew what that was.

I learned desire from books; I never learned that desire isn’t mandatory.

This is something I want to rectify in my books. In From Under the Mountain, it must be said, there’s not explicit representation—I was limited by both the setting (in which our modern terminology feels jarring) and by the pace and focus of the story. Only Eva and Guerline have time for a romantic relationship, and not much of it at that. But you can take me at my word when I say that canonically, Theodor Warren is panromantic asexual, and Aradia Kavanagh is aromantic asexual, and Guerline herself is a demisexual lesbian (something that gets explored more in the sequel).

[As an aside: last week, I tweeted a bit about how I love writing large casts, and I encourage readers to explore for themselves and fill in things I don’t put on the page. Some secondary and tertiary characters have canon attached to them that I may never get to share—for many, I haven’t had a chance yet to fully explore their lives. So many stories live in this world, and if you know them, by all means tell them.]

In most of the media I’ve consumed, sex scenes just seem like set dressing. Perhaps this is the point where my ability to empathize with allosexual people ends, but I’ve never seen a sex scene that feels powerful or necessary to the story, because sweaty bodies getting fluids on each other isn’t meaningful to me. It seems to me that what’s meaningful is all the emotions leading up to and following that—affection, vulnerability, passion—and one doesn’t need to bump uglies to get the most out of that cocktail. And even if that’s something one wants in real life, it’s not going to aid the storytelling (unless, as in certain genres, that’s the kind of story being told).

“But Cait,” you say, “You included a sex scene in From Under the Mountain!” Yes I did. But I’m the first to say it’s not necessary. I wrote it in because there was some hang time in the narrative, and I wanted to give Eva and Guerline their moment. And, as an asexual woman married to a sexual spouse, it was more than a little vicarious—what must it feel like from the other side? Surely it’s transcendent—surely it’s not just a sometimes pleasant sensation, akin to curling up in front of a fireplace? I’ll have to rely on others to confirm the level of my success.

It’s honestly funny to me how resistant some can be to writing asexual characters or, in fandom, theorizing that a character could be asexual. I get that desire must be powerful to those who experience it; I can understand that many view sex as some kind of Important Rite without which love is just really intense friendship, or something. I mean, they’re wrong about that last part, but I understand how they came to that conclusion.

But in these stories, the sex isn’t what makes us love these characters—right? It’s the characters themselves, and the relationships between characters that draw us in. Romantic relationships, friendships, family bonds. Sexual desire, contrary to popular belief, is not inherent to romantic love, and romantic love is not the only compelling kind of relationship.

There are many, many books, films, shows, out there that present love without sex, but the sex is always assumed—by fans, by creators, by a society that presupposes the universal importance of desire. My question is, why? Kisses, sex, they’re actions that, like all our actions, have only as much weight as our emotions give them. I’m as happy as anyone when my favorite ship finally kisses for the first time, but the kiss isn’t the only thing that can make me happy. I want Dean to kiss Cas because I know Dean is a sexual person, but I felt the same giddy rush when he said I need you.

I struggled to find a way to end this post, because one should at least try to put forth a solution when bringing up a problem. The problem is that the heavy focus on sexual desire in relationships erases a lot of people. It makes us doubt ourselves, it makes us submit ourselves to what is expected, it threatens us with these expectations.

How, then, to solve this?

I’ve decided to start a new feature on my blog called A+ Ships, to highlight ace characters and their relationships, gush over the connections and the moments that fuel them. With any luck, this will give us a space to celebrate our identities, and spread the word about how awesome we are.