Saturday, September 10, 2016

Watching from the Outside: A #HoldOnToTheLight Post

I do not suffer from mental illness, but I love people who do.

When I first heard of this #HoldOnToTheLight project, I was excited to support it. The most important people in my life suffer from anxiety and depression, but I cannot imagine a blinding anxiety attack or a paralyzing depression. In fact, I cannot remember a time when I didn’t believe things would be okay. The thought of losing that part of myself terrifies me.

I am not suggesting that those of us who don’t struggle with mental illness somehow suffer a much as those who do. But for many of us, knowing how to help is difficult. Do I keep telling her it will be okay? Or is that only making it worse? Do I encourage him to believe that his anxiety is misplaced or unnecessary? Or do I agree that it is scary, even if, to me, it isn’t? Or are all of my ideas for “help” useless, or worse, harmful?  

My biggest fear: what if I make it worse?

When I love someone, I want them (yes, I use the singular they and them) to be happy. When they have problems, I want to be part of their solutions. When they suffer, I want to comfort them. When they hurt, I want to heal them (and then find the person/thing that hurt them and have words).
But for those of us outside looking in—for those of us trying to help—it can seem impossible. Our culture doesn’t make it any easier, either. If my person had a broken leg, a nasty little voice in my head and heart wouldn’t whisper, Why can’t they do this? It isn’t that hard! If they just decided to [whatever]they could. Even when I know—in my heart of hearts and in my brain—that no one suffering from mental illness chooses to do so, I still sometimes get frustrated or angry.

And then, once I’m frustrated or angry, I hate myself. How can I be angry at something that this person didn’t cause? How could I be such an asshole?

Caring is exhausting. Knowing that it is an uphill fight for a person I love and that there is nothing I can do to take the burden from them is painful. If I let exhaustion take over—if I allow myself to get too tired, to spend too much energy in too many places, and ignore what I need—then I will be a shitty partner, child, friend.

I cannot fix the problems.

Accepting that is devastating. When I know that I would do anything to make the suffering stop, but there isn’t anything I can do, it is nearly impossible to not feel helpless and hopeless.   

So for those of you out there who, like me, may have found this cause because you want so badly to help someone you love, you aren’t alone. It is okay to get tired, to get frustrated, to get cranky. It is okay to get angry, too. It’s okay to take time to recharge, to focus on your own needs and not neglect them.

We know that depression and anxiety seem an impenetrable darkness. We know that they are lonely and frightening. We know that they lie.

We struggle to help our loved ones hold onto the light because we do not want to face our darkness without them, and we will not let them face their darkness alone. Even on the days we lose our tempers or our hope, we will not lose our grip on the light.

We do not suffer from mental illness. But we love people who do.

About the campaign:

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment. 
Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Home for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors, or reach a media contact, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/276745236033627/.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

ConCarolinas 2016: Recap

I love ConCarolinas. The first time I went was in 2008—one of my first cons ever, and certainly the most influential. There I met a bunch of folks—Misty Massey, David B. Coe, Faith Hunter, Stuart Jaffe, Edmund Schubert, AJ Hartly—who really made a difference in my writing life. Through them I found Magical Words, a website that did more for my writing than practice itself.

At that time, I hadn’t published anything yet—my first short story sale would come some months later. My first editing job was still a year off. The novel Sarah and I had in hand was .. well ... it's hard to find the right words. So I’ll go with the novel was so bad that, while I have a copy of it, I never want to read it again.

This year at ConCarolinas, 8 years later, I’ve edited for a small (now gone) erotica press, sold several short stories, co-edited three collections (the Big Bad, the Big Bad II, and Tales from the Weird Wild West) and a fourth one (Lawless Lands) . I’ve submitted a ton of other things—stories, novels, queries—and gotten a lot of rejections. Oh, and Sarah and I signed a four-book contract with John Hartness (who I met at a later CC!) of Falstaff Books for the Eisteddfod Chronicles. This weekend I got to give away postcards with a link to the (free!) first chapter of Changeling’s Fall, the first book in the series.

While that in and of itself was great, other things made CC incredibly special. As always, I got to see many of my writer friends from all over the US and Canada, and, as always, there wasn’t nearly enough time to hang out.

There were two panels in particular that I was on that I really enjoyed and felt were really important. The first, Impostor Syndrome moderated by David B. Coe, was about the crippling doubt that so many writers experience. John Hartness, Rod Belcher, and Andrea Judy were also on the panel with me. Everyone told raw stories about being sure that they weren’t for real—that whatever got them where they were must have been luck, or a horrible, horrible mistake that would eventually be exposed. We also talked about how we get over it. (We don’t. We find ways through it, but we’re never done feeling it!)

The second panel was called Hell Hath No Fury, and was about the (over) use of rape as a trope. The panel was well attended for 10:00 on a Saturday night, and while we were all pretty tired, we still had a great conversation. Janine K. Spendlove moderated and Misty Massey, Natania Barron, and Leigh Perry all were excellent. We determined, as Janine pointed out at the end, that rape is bad. Also bad is the use of rape without any care to the actual reality or the ramifications experienced by women. In particular, the use of rape as a means of furthering a man’s story without treating the woman as anything but a plot device, is both typical and problematic. We also agreed that eliminating rape from storylines isn’t the solution, particularly given the prominence of it in most women’s lives today.

All the panelists treated delicate and potentially volatile subjects with respect and professionalism. I was glad to be a part of both of them and hope that we continue to have conversations like this outside of convention panels, too.

ConCarolinas will always be close to my heart, both because I entered the world of writing genre fiction there and because the people make it amazing every year. So thanks to all of the organizers (and Misty Massey in particular for the Writers Track) and all the guests and all the attendees. I already can’t wait for next year! 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Falling in Love All over Again

There came a point with my first love when things went stale. The love of my life no longer set my stomach aflutter with butterflies and made my heart pound with anticipation. It’s lonely out in the world, watching others in love and excited about each new discovery. So I shifted my attention to a new beloved. Of course the energy and passion came back for a while. Then, with a plot as predictable as an 80s sitcom, I fell out of love again.

When the spark returned, I felt like Dorothy stepping out of black and white Kansas into the Technicolor world of Oz.

Changeling’s Fall, the first novel in the Eisteddfod Chronicles, is a project that my co-author (Sarah Joy Adams) and I have been working on for a long time. How long? The book is certainly old enough to cross a street all by itself, and we’d better have a birds and bees talk with it really, really soon.

So, to say that I was over it is an understatement. I couldn’t tell if the plot was thrilling, the characters interesting, or the voice compelling. I didn’t hate our book—it was worse than that. I was bored by it. 

Then, John Hartness at Falstaff Books took a chance on the book. When we got his edits, my door to Oz opened. He began with the editorial peacemaking, the gentle voice of someone trapped with a feral cat in a tiny room. He didn’t need the caveats. His edits were spot on. It was like I’d been staring at one of those weird abstract prints, and suddenly the picture snapped into view.

My characters’ stories excite me again: Deor fights to find her faerie father before her magic kills her; Rafe agonizing over the choice between his duty to the kingdom and his devotion to the king. I need to know how their stories end.

I am falling in love all over again, and it is even better than the first time. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Athena's Daughters Blog Swap: Antha Adkins

Hey Everyone!  As part of the Kickstarter for Athena's Daughters II, I'm happy to introduce Antha Adkins, who'll be taking over my blog today to discuss why she reads what she does and how her reading influenced her ADII story "Hot Flashes."  

I am excited to be joining Emily in the Athena's Daughters 2 Table of Contents. 

Athena's Daughters 2 is an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories by women about women, and I am thrilled to have a story included in it because it contains the sort of stories that I want to read.

Have you ever thought about why you read what you do?

These days, my favorite things to read are: historical biographies, mysteries, and -- of course -- science fiction and fantasy.  For me, these genres share two important characteristics: they are stories about people and they challenge my brain.

Historical biographies allow me to experience life as a person in a different era and culture. I can get a sense of what it would be like to be a King who doesn't understand why his subjects would want to leave his empire (George III), a concubine maneuvering her way into power (the Dragon Empress), a mathematician using computing machines to break the German enigma code (Alan Turing), or a scientist figuring out her experiment split atoms (Lise Meitner).  These stories show me why each person lived the life they did and how they ended up making their particular contribution to our world.  Because they are the story of a particular person, I have a viewpoint to see that era and culture through.  So these stories also show me how the world has been different.  These stories challenge me to think about how and why people do great things, why certain people are more celebrated than others, and how the world could be a different and better place.  But if I only read stories about monarchs, or scientists, or Westerners, or men, or women, I wouldn't get to experience the range of experiences that people have, and I think my understanding of people and our world would be poorer for it.    

Mysteries allow me to race a detective to try to solve a puzzle.  Some detectives observe every detail and logically deduce what happened (Sherlock Holmes).  Some detectives try to determine who had the biggest motive to commit the crime (Hercule Poirot).  Some detectives try to determine how a crime was committed, and the how leads them to the who (Lord Peter Wimsey). Some detectives figure out who had the opportunity to commit the crime and spend their time breaking alibis.  Most, of course, to a greater or lesser extent, combine these questions to ultimately determine whodunit.  But while these stories certainly provide a great deal of mental exercise, they also are stories about people, both the people who solve the crimes and the people who commit them.  If the two groups were always the same - the detective always a white man who always uses the same tools to solve the crime and the criminal always the butler, then these stories would get easy to solve and boring very quickly.  I think it is much more interesting to have detectives and criminals with a variety of backgrounds, life experiences, and methods. 

Like historical biography, science fiction and fantasy allow me to experience life in a different era and culture.  But instead of the past, science fiction allows me to experience life in a potential future or an alternate world.  I can get a sense of what it would be like to be stranded on Mars (The Martian), to be an AI (Ancillary Justice), to need to use a threep to experience the world because I am locked into my own mind (Locked In), or to control fire (Mystic and Rider).  Here science fiction and fantasy can propose answers to some big questions: What does it mean to be human?  Who do we include as part of 'us'?  What would it be like if ---?  Like historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy also challenge me to think about how our world could be different and better.  Like a mystery, they often present their world through a series of clues that I need to pick up on to build an image of the world in my head.  Figuring out what the science fiction or fantasy world is like is a fun puzzle.  And while solving the puzzle, we get to address more big questions: What does communication mean?  What is our place in the universe?  Are we alone in it? Just like the other genres, if there is only one future world, one type of character, one set of proposed answers, then the genre gets boring.  It needs a variety of worlds and characters. 

I think Athena's Daughters 2 provides some of this variety: stories about a variety of women by a variety of women.  My own story in the anthology, "Hot Flash," is about a middle-aged menopausal woman who discovers that her hot flashes are a superpower.  Since most superheroes are generally male and young, this turns the typical narrative on its head and gives it a new twist.  And it is fun!

I look forward to sharing this story with you in the Athena's Daughters 2 anthology!

If you're interested in following Antha, you can find her at: