Safe space in fiction

*Blows the dust off my blog*

It’s been a while, if you follow my Twitter you’ll know why, but if you don’t, basically life blew up and it’s taking me some time to find my bearings again.

But that’s not why I decided to blog today.

I probably should do some sort of wrap up for the past 6 months or so of hell, but that’s not this post (and I loathe *shoulds*).

No, this post is about safety in the material we read. It’s also about an author’s responsibility to their readers.

Keep in mind I’m both? A published author and a voracious, marginalized reader.

I usually read a lot of romance, because, for me, it’s safe. I know that unless it’s been mismarketed/labeled, a romance will have an HEA (Happily Ever After) at the end. No matter what hell the author puts their characters through, I’m guaranteed that at the end, the main characters will be happy enough that *I* can be happy finding another book to read.

For someone with as many mental health issues as I have, that’s bloody important.

Me and my list of mental health issues… (Gif description: Crowley from Supernatural unrolling a very long scroll/list on the beaten earth of a junkyard)

crowley-list-gif-8

 

But what about the other areas of safety that so many authors, even my favorites, fail to make sure of?

I just ran heart-first into a wicked fail by one of my favorite authors. And even over an hour later and much of that spent cuddling my beloved, I’m still nauseated and wishing like hell I’d never started the reread of a series that I used to like.

For reference: CW something that should NEVER be said about mentally ill people.

There’s a thread there to my reactions and thoughts, but it boils down to one of my favorite authors making me feel so very unsafe.

Unwelcome in her worlds.

Given that she’s one of a dwindling few authors who can still suck me into a story, (I’m always on the lookout for more!) one who I’ve religiously supported by buying her new books even during my political shitstorm motivated reading hiatus of the past couple of years… well, it bloody sucks is what it does.

It hurts to know that one of my fav (former fav?) authors holds enough hatred of someone like me that she’d call me and people like me ‘wrong for lack of a better word’.

I mean… the pub date on that particular book is 2015. Why are we STILL HAVING THIS CONVERSATION?

Seriously, WHY?

There is nothing wrong with being mentally ill. There is nothing wrong with being POC, or mixed race, or queer, or fat, or disabled, or (insert marginalization here).

But you’d really think there was reading some (most?) of the major sellers in any genre you can pick.

Fiction just isn’t safe for marginalized people. I thought maybe, because Ms. Singh is marginalized herself, that I could trust her.

But that trust was just horribly broken and I’m not sure I can get it back.

This is my second reread of the Psy Changeling series. I want to still love it, but all through the series there is a definite thread of ‘if you’re mentally ill, you’re wrong’. And the author went ahead and stated it in that bit of dialogue. The character who said it, by the way, is supposed to be an empath. A really sensitive to others and their problems kind of character. Way to go with the ableism empathic person. Sigh.

Mostly, in the series, it’s shit-talk about people with ASPD (Slur: Sociopath/Psychopath) and it’s hellaciously harmful towards that particular mental illness. (I’m no expert on that, but I know people with ASPD and I’ve read up on it for my characters and like… y’all, don’t ever read that series, it’ll rip you up, you deserve better.) The depictions of ASPD in the Psy Changeling series are narrow, stereotyped to the extreme and wickedly harmful.

The first time I read this series, a couple of years ago, and that book, in particular, I was in a much better place regarding my mental health. I’d just sent out a number of full requests on my first full-length novel I thought worthy of the name, Ilavani. I was seeing modest success on my self-published works, my family was stable and we were making some little bit of extra each month, we had a home and I had a garden. I had a dog.

All of that except my tiny, weird little human family is gone now, and I’ve had to give up on querying my books to agents because I absolutely can’t take it anymore. It, along with the other shit, broke my mental health. I got lucky on one of the last four queries I sent, so I have a great publisher, and as long as they want my work and treat me well, they can keep having my work.

My debut with a publisher is here, BTW, if you like queer fiction with GOOD mental health representation. It’s own voices, the rep is real because it’s how I experience mental illness.

So to say I’m a *bit* more sensitive now than a couple of years ago to the shit-talk about mental illness in the Psy Changeling series is a little bit of an understatement.

I remember crying in joy at reading the way one of the main characters in that book is described. Zaira is mixed-race and seeing the way that expresses in ME, ON THE PAGE IN A MAJOR PUBLICATION… it made me cry tears of joy. (Just goes to show how different time periods in a person’s life can affect their enjoyment of a work of literature.)

Maybe between my stability then, and the way Ms. Singh does so damned well with the mixed-race descriptions and feelings… maybe I missed how horrible she does with mental illness?

It’s possible, I’m only human, after all.

That’s book 14 in the series, by the way, I bought all of them when I discovered Ms. Singh’s work a few years ago, when I had more of a disposable income. I’ve even purchased a bunch I haven’t read yet, which is why I’m rereading the series so I can read the new ones.

And for the most part, I can choose to ignore the shit rep and the shit talk in this series. (I’ve been hurt so much in life that things that legitimately should probably bother me just… don’t. I’m working on this with my therapist.) The characters, worldbuilding, sexy times and ROMANCE makes up for it *for me*, or it did. I’m not sure I can go back after that line though. It HURT.

It stabbed me right in the heart and punched me in the gut.

I don’t know where I want this blog entry to go now. I want to point out so many examples of lack of safety for marginalized people in modern fiction. So, so, so many…

Even among my favorite authors.

But I think I’ll just stop and say DO. FUCKING. BETTER. AUTHORS!

The information is out there. There is someone blogging or tweeting or doing video about *anything* you want to know about.

So do fucking better. Do your damned research if you’re going to have mental illness in your books (and that means more than a freaking google search or wikipedia article, it means reading real life, lived experiences of the marginalization(s) in question).

Do your freaking research into the queer community and our different IDs if you’re going to have us in your books, (oh, and don’t fucking kill us off either) figure out how to write POC WELL if you’re going to include them. Disability? Please… I can’t remember ever reading a book that had good disability rep that was ALSO mainstream. (I guess we could point to Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient… but I don’t believe my autistic brain is a disability so that one is iffy for me. It’s a fantastic book BTW, if you haven’t read it DO and preorder the second one while you’re at it. It’s just as good if not better.)

I’ll end with this. Include us. But don’t USE us. Oh! And hire authenticity/sensitivity readers PLEASE. It’s kinda why we exist and do what we do… so shit like this DOESN’T harm an unsuspecting reader.

I feel horribly used right now. Emotionally beaten.

I’ll probably end up going back to the series because I’m hard up for things to read that suck me in, don’t make my editor brain scream and ALSO feature marginalized characters I can see myself in.

But the hurt will take a while to fade.

(And for what it’s worth, the PTSD rep is so authentic *to my experience of it* in Singh’s Guild Hunter series that it feels like a warm hug to me, so I have no issue with that series, I just reread it prior to Psy Changeling. It almost feels like sinking into a badly needed warm bath to see that and mixed-race rep done well in a majorly best selling series. I’ve heard bad things about the rep in the Rock Kiss series by the same author, so I haven’t and won’t read that one. It’s odd, how they’re all almost penned by different authors.)

Do better authors. So you don’t hurt your readers. Without readers? We authors wouldn’t be able to BE authors.

We’d be weirdos telling ourselves stories in the dark with coffee stained t-shirts and messy hair. Whoops… saw my reflection there, pardon my description, I’m sure it doesn’t resemble other authors AT ALL. (Go on laugh, I’m trying to be funny, damnit!)

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Pain and Carve the Mark

Narrated version here.

Past couple of days have been pretty high pain days for me. Weather can really affect my pain levels, and the temperature has gone from snow, to icy freezing rain to almost spring-like temperatures accompanied by rain, and back down to cold enough to freeze, in the matter of hours or the course of a day.

I hurt.

I don’t use prescription pain meds, so that means I tend to have to lay on the couch or in bed when I’m not being mom and play minecraft or read or watch movies a lot. Sounds fun, hunh? It’s not. I’d much rather be out running, or going to the gym, or playing with my kids or cleaning my house (thank goodness I did that last week, cause I can’t move without a ton of pain right now) or doing ANYTHING except coping with this pain. Fibromyalgia pain has been likened to stage 4 cancer pain, and having given unmedicated birth twice, I can guarantee fibro pain on flare days is worse than unmedicated childbirth.

It’s nigh impossible to edit or write when I’m in this much pain, I can do it, but it takes more strength than I like to admit to stick to regular activities. It’s kinda hard to see when you need to wipe tears away just to look at your screen.

So, to read this interview Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark during a high pain episode, and know, deep in my soul that because of her past success SO many people will buy and read that book, and form an opinion similar to Roth’s own because of her words, that chronic pain can, perhaps, be a gift… (even the interviewer made that conclusion).

Dear Gods.

I am really close to speechless with this, to be honest. It’s so evident that this book isn’t own voices, and while I will not ever say every issue should only be written by own voices folks, I do say, repeatedly, authors need to do their due diligence. They need to research and ask questions and more importantly LISTEN to the answer.

My heart aches at the massive misunderstanding of chronic pain this interview shows. The book can only show the same. It’s not a gift, it’s never a gift, and I don’t know of a single person with chronic pain that would ever wish it on another person (most of the time).

This is inspiration porn in the worst sort of way. I dread thinking of what the kids with chronic pain reading this book are going to take away from it.

…and when I’m being honest, which I do try to be, it burns me that this person who has such a backasswards view of chronic pain, who obviously didn’t do her research not only has a book deal that poorly represents something I live with every second of every day, she has a following who are going to go out and buy the book in droves, when I can’t get a book deal. There will likely be a movie deal down the road for this tragedy as well.

Yeah, that.

No. I won’t read the book, I don’t need to to know the representation is terrible. I won’t go twitter drag that author either, even though a small part of me would like to. I’ve spoken my piece and shared my educated opinion on it. That’s got to be enough because I won’t be a bully.

I’m going to go write my own works that feature ownvoices chronic pain sufferers, and I will go listen to my sources about issues that don’t touch me deeply, so that I can do MY due diligence and get it right. I will also buy, read and review a few own voices CP stories.

It’s all I can do, small fish that I am. Big fish like Roth… damn. Just know that her view of chronic pain is wrong. So, so wrong.

I have a Patreon, if you want to help support someone who actually does suffer from chronic pain, and who does have characters with chronic pain or ASD in my stories.

You know, instead of going out and buying Roth’s book. I don’t even want to read the divergent series now, just because of this.

Shout out to an amazing person, my friend, Erin Jeffreys Hodges who I respect so much.