The Liner Notes: “One Quiet Night”

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Last year my friend Shannon was staying with me while she looked for places in London. Being Canadian, the capital was calling her like a moth to a flame, I was like that once too, even if I didn’t go into the city much until my final year at uni and after. Anyway, for fun, we invited around two geek friends of mine, Mel and Kris, for a night of pizza and board games. I didn’t even know that was a thing until Shannon got me playing them. Now I’m a huge fan of Cards Against Humanity on principle because it is the perfect adult game, mainly because it works better the more you drink.

Yeah, it got pretty rude towards the end.

Anyway, we also played Pandemic which Shannon had previously introduced me and a somewhat sceptical Uni too. It’s a lot more fun when you have two more players and I’m totally for anything involving viruses and extinction level events (this is what I get from reading far too much Seanan McGuire). One of the cards, titled One Quiet Night, stuck with me (Hi, Pandemic folk, please don’t sue me!) and thus was my story born.

I wrote “One Quiet Night” in second person because I wanted to really get readers stuck in the story, setting it in an unnamed town near to where I live. It focuses on an unnamed single mother who’s daughter, Carly, has caught a new strain of flu which is, literally, killing humanity not that my protagonist has completely realised her daughter is dying. Then the phone goes out and she can’t figure out why. Oh and her elder son, Brandon, isn’t all himself either.

This story is so British it’s almost painful. That was half the point as I’m aware most readers won’t be; the British words like ‘mobile’, ‘GP’ and ‘101’ are going to confuse the heck out of people, thushopefully—heightening the tension. Added to that the isolation, which is straight out of every horror story ever, is particularly poignant. Especially when the protagonist realises she’s not the only one watching her child die to a disease humanity simply doesn’t have a cure too.

I remember when H1N1 and swine flu were things; there was never that much panic buying, at least not in my little town but everyone was almost painfully aware—exacerbated entirely by Twitter and Facebook—that something foul was in the air. That’s where the rest of this story came from, even though back then at least there was no real danger, not if people were smart (and people so seldom are).

Here’s the cover I designed for it (I think the image is gorgeous and totally fits the story which is contemporary but also sci fi):

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As a reminder, here’s the blurb:

It only takes one quiet night for humanity to die …

Everyone expects zombies and nuclear fire to herald the destruction of the Earth but the end, at least in this tale, comes much more quietly. Your daughter is sick, the entire world is dying, and there’s nothing you can do. 

Yes, you

Step into the shoes of a single mother whose daughter doesn’t just have a simple bug but is one of millions afflicting with a terrifying virus which is quietly decimating humanity.

And you’re not the only one watching her die.

Oh and you can go preorder the book (which is out 1st May) by going here: smarturl.it/Mosaics2

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Happy Spring!

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As the days get warmer, as the sun comes out, I inevitably start feeling better, both mentally and physically. I’m commuting most of the week and spending large amounts of time with The Naked Dog (I can’t really call her my Furball as she’s been shawn for the spring) in Starbucks working. I’m still on a short story streak (Asha really does like them) and have been working on a particularly emotional story called “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul” that I sent off to an anthology call yesterday.

Oh and I’ve watching Dark Souls III playthroughs, doing Zumba and napping.

So, as today is Good Friday (aka the One Bank Holiday which isn’t on a Monday), I went into the city for breakfast with my BFF, Mhairi and her guide dog, Bramble (the one whose hugs are like dog valium). Then I bought a hat.

Apparently all I needed to complete my transformation into Asha was a hat. Who knew?

(BTW this is not a selfie; Mhairi took it. Not bad attempt either.)

We’d finished breakfast and were heading for coffee but, as it’s Easter, there was this market just by Cafe Rouge selling things like food, bread, jewellery, crepes (CREPES … and I had no room left). Oh and hats.

Funny story: I only found out what a milliner is a couple of months ago. I was in Mary Robinette Kowal’s class and she was brainstorming ideas. She came up with something like ‘a milliner who assassinates people with oranges’ and I was mentally going: WTF? A word I don’t know??? (and I know many just not this one). I actually had to google the definition and discovered milliners are the name for people who make hats. I related this story to Mhairi and the stall owner as I tried on hats, who reminded me of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. That bit I knew: he was a hat maker who went mad from the mercury used to make hats.

But he’s never called a milliner.

I pointed this out. Mhairi laughed at me. Nicely.

I ended up buying this rather nice hate (and mentally swearing at the expense). Lots of people have told me it suits me and I really think it does, even if it means I’m going to have to wear my hair either braided or bound back out of my face. Normally I wear headbands and those get in the way of the hat sits.

This afternoon I finally sat down and edited “One Quiet Night”. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been putting it off, apparently—regardless of my name—I still hate editing. It’s like pulling teeth and actually, I’d put it off so long I had to get the file re-sent as it had expired. That’s just embarrassing. Anyway, I cracked my knuckles, spoke to Shannon and then engaged the Kung Fu Panda 3 OST (it’s a freaking awesome movie BTW). I think it took me two hours to do and, as usual, once you start things don’t feel quite as difficult. I’m sitting on the draft overnight and will then send it off with the blurb I’ve not yet written.

Actually, let’s do that now:

It only takes one quiet night for humanity to die …

Everyone expects zombies and nuclear fire to herald the destruction of the Earth but the end, at least in this tale, comes much more quietly. Your daughter is sick, the entire world is dying, and there’s nothing you can do.

Yes, you.

Step into the shoes of a single mother whose daughter doesn’t just have a simple bug but is one of millions afflicting with a terrifying virus which is quietly decimating humanity.

And you’re not the only one watching her die.

I like it.

Also, hey, on the fly! Go me!

In other news I’ve had a couple of rejections, which is fine. I’m sending out stories as fast as I can and trying to revise the last few in my ‘to revise’ pile. I also have about five which need finishing, particularly as there are at least two anthology calls coming up I want to respond to. I’m now treating said rejections as excuses to, occasionally, rework a story and as a badge of honour, not a negative thing. Rejections make you stronger and I’m now at the point where I get to call C.C. Finlay of F&SF ‘Charlie’ after he’s rejected like four of my stories.

This is a major thing, if my other writer friends are to be believed.

And yeah, I’m still sending him stories.

One day he will accept one, I know it.

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Hey Look! It’s the Mosaics: Volumes One and Two Covers

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How cool are these? And please do click on each one to pre-order. I’ve got a story in Volume 2 called “One Quiet Night” but I wanted to showcase both covers because why not? Volume 1 is out March 8th and features a collection of short stories, flash fiction and essays from a bunch of amazing women. Volume 2 will follow with even more, including my contribution.

I don’t have the release date for Volume 2 yet but it’s apparently going to be confirmed by the end of March, to tie in with the first volume’s release. I’m just excited to be involved that that Pavarti and Kim loved my little story.

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The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: Living with Medication

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Brain fog is a pain in the behind. It’s a combination of the various meds I take to control my anxiety, sleep and my Bipolar Disorder and I have to plan my life to avoid it (usually by waking up at 5:3oam). If I sleep in, I turn over and dream some more, waking brain fogged some point around noon. It’s important that I get the right amount of sleep as too much/little is a mania trigger for me. I have to take them at night because of the sedating effect, except that they trigger my insomnia so I can’t get off to sleep. Oh and just to be uber-weird one night a week I have to sleep for at least thirteen hours to reset my brain, usually on a Saturday or Sunday night.

/cries.

This week I made a point of sitting down and watching Stephen Fry’s new documentary The Not So Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive: 10 Years On. The original two-parter (which I saw while manic/just about to get my autism diagnosis) is a must-watch (part one/part two) for anyone who thinks they might be bipolar/been recently diagnosed. The documentary is horrifying in the parallels where you watch it and start ticking off symptoms you share both with Stephen Fry and the various people he meets.

It took me several more years before I could see a psychiatrist and get my own diagnosis, being told that ‘there was no way’ I’d be able to see one unless I was manic. As it happened I was manic when I got diagnosed but it was change and circumstance. Plus I’m a very ‘aware’ manic, it’s a blessing from my autism where I have safe-guards others don’t share. I still spend, I still plow hours into novels and stories, skipping around like a bouncing puppy but my obsessions seem limited to things I can actually do/achieve, like getting tattoos, changing jobs and visiting foreign places.

The new documentary still made me feel sick; it covered, for example, the irrational anxiety, the manic highs where you know you’re manic but are impossible to control, it’s riding a rip-tide and hoping you survive and make it back to shore.

The documentary reminded me of several things I know. Diet is important, taking yourself out a situation (such as hiding your credit cards) is a good. My close, close friends can now identify my mania on sight and it’s that phase which is much more dangerous. At least when I’m depressive I just go to bed. It also reminded me that no medication stops the mania/depressive episodes, they just level you out so said episodes happen less often.

I had at least five manic episodes last year. Being conservative.

The big one, for me at least, is that alcohol is a bad idea (my meds say it, like, explicitly) but I still drink. I know it doesn’t help my mania, knocks my meds dead in the water and makes me cycle (which means I go from high to low rapidly, sometimes several times in one day). I have PTSD, helpfully triggered this week by my broken dishwasher, and drinking helps, as do anti-anxiety meds. I like cider so you can probably guess which method I prefer.

Oh and, of course, there are the micro-obsessions which drive me nuts. Here is, for example, a collection of my recent obsessions with notes in parentheses:

  • Buying a PS4 and Bloodborne. Oh and obsessing over the lore. (No, I can’t afford it. It can wait till I get out of debt. This is why there are playthroughs. Ditto Dark Souls III.)
  • Getting my dishwasher fixed. (A Bosch man is coming next Wednesday.)
  • Going to the gym before Zumba twice a week. (Once is perfectly okay, esp as I’ve hurt my arm.)
  • Trying to finish my back pile of short stories and sending them out to markets. When I finish a story it has to go out immediately … (I’m in a crit group; they exist for a reason, as does my submission slot.)
  • Designing a cover for “One Quiet Night”. (It’s not even going to be releasable till the middle of the year when the rights revert.)
  • Making a chocolate torte. (ARGH!)
  • Buying jewellery from my favourite and shutting down soon store. (Nope, just nope.)
  • What happens in five months when I hit the max dose for my current medication? (Yeah … because I really like playing psycho-pharmaceutical  Russian Roulette.)
  • Why am I not working on a novel???

My gods, it’s exhausting.

The medication doesn’t affect me too much, aside from making me thirsty/making my mouth taste of my fillings whenever I up the dosage. Oh and the weird sleep thing. I find tracking my moods and what I do helps a lot. Not only does it make me feel like I’m not wasting time. I also have a record as my memory, yeah okay, that’s the other side-effect. My memory is in pieces. Lists are good, they give me goals and help me remember what I need from Morrisons.

This weekend I’m trying to get a start on a novel project, get my hair cut and try not to be too ill thanks to whatever crud I’ve picked up by being around other human beings. Oh and sleeping and critting a short story. I’m hoping to take it a little easier than usual, gods know I need to.

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Short Story Sale: “One Quiet Night”!

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I’m pleased to announce I’ve sold “One Quiet Night” To Kim Wells and Pavarti Tyler’s Independent Women AnthologyMosaics: Vol 2! This is my second sale of 2016 and I’m so pleased to have been able to sell it.

I wrote this late last year, having had the title sitting on a blank file. The title comes from a card in a board game that Shannon brought with her when she first came over from Canada. The name sat with me and I wondered how a mother would react to the end of the world, caused by a pandemic which was going to take the life of one of her children.

This, BTW, is awsome and came up on Submission Grinder when I noted the acceptance:

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The story is not a long one, it’s just under 3k, but it’s one of my second person tales. You take the narrative role of a mother who will do anything to save her children on the night that humanity ends. I enjoyed writing it, the editors of the anthology loved it so hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it.

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Exploring Second Person, Autism and Empathy

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Fushimi Inari Taisha, Japan
伏見稲荷大社、日本

Lately, I find myself writing more and more in second person. What’s that you ask?

Well perspectives are split into three ‘persons’:

  • First: I (I walked down the street.)
  • Second: You (You walk down the street.)
  • Third: they, he, she (Peter/Fran walked down the street.)

If I had to guestimate, third person is probably the most popular, followed by first with second, well, second is seldom ever touched. In fact it’s not usually even mentioned in creative writing classes. Second person is the bastard child of narrative because where as I has someone narrating the tale and you allows for the telling of the story through a named character’s eyes, second person puts you right into the action.

I liken it to cinema seating:

  • He/she/they is right up the back, in the plush chairs, watching the full screen glory.
  • I is somewhere in the middle an the narrator your companion sitting in the chair next to you.
  • You is right in the front row in front of a massive 500″ screen so close to the action you can smell the blood and shit.

Stories are about transportation, not panic-inducing immersion so second remains under-used but it’s fast becoming my favourite form. I’d never actually come across it in creative form until I read a story by my friend Shannon called “You First Meet the Devil at a Church Fete” (She won the James White Award for that one as well). I’ve seen it used occassionally since but most authors don’t even seem aware it exists. That’s a good thing for me.

Recently I’ve written several stories in second person, present tense: “Washed Up Upon the Shore” and “One Quiet Night”. Each is about projecting someone’s skin onto the reader and I’ve been wondering why this particular form of writing appeals so much.

If I’m honest I’m pretty sure it’s to do with the fact I’m autistic. I understand empathy and I understand that people experience a range of emotions, most of the time I’m so terrified of making people unhappy. When it comes to reading and, in some respects writing, I just don’t quite mesh (in the case of most books I’m painfully aware the adventures are fake, it’s hard for me to get invested). Books aren’t the same as human lives but second person allows me to not have to worry about the protagonist, second person is putting on a new set of clothes which you take off at story’s end.

A lot of people think autism is like psychopathy, that it’s about not comprehending/caring about emotions. In reality it’s actually closer to an overdose on empathy, caring too much about something/one but at the same time not being able to comprehend the reasons why. Characters, not even the really well written ones, to me they’re not people, not real (with auto-/biographies being the exception) so it’s hard to care. This sounds callous but it’s exploring this idea which is helping me to become a better writer.

A few years ago I went to Fushimi Inari Taisha, the famous fox shine just outside Kyoto. This is the one from all the Japanese movies with a corridor of torii gates, each with a name and date carved into the distinctive crimson of the arches (names are on the left, dates—presumably of erection—on the right). The corridors, the gates are so close together there’s no light, no air, between them. They remind me of process of reading, at least for me, which involves layering yourself on characters. This works especially well in second person where you literally become the protagonist.

I was talking with some friends and explaining that I never plan novels—at least not the Ashteraiverse, those stories are told to me—but short stories are different: I need to understand crisis and motivations, reaction and purpose. First person is easy, your protagonist recounts their tale but third, that’s so much harder for me. Second person provides the easiest way for me to take the pressure off and write about my reader, letting them overlay their reading experience with their own personalities.

And I’ll write more, I think, than just my first two forays so wish me luck.

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