My story “Rewilding Nova” is in Rosalind’s Siblings. This anthology is about people with marginalised genders and sexes in science. My story is about a non-binary Romani ecologist with joint damage doing science in their back garden. It’s a cozy slice-of-life story about science and rewilding an alien planet.
Image Caption: A book cover with a maroon monochrome illustration of a person looking into a microscope. They’re wearing a short-sleeved buttonup shirt and have short hair with a floppy fringe. The title reads “Rosalind’s Siblings” with the subtitle “Fiction and Poetry Celebrating Scientists of Marginalized Genders”. The book is edited by Bogi Takács. The cover artist is Mia Carnevale.
There’s a mention in the introduction about groups the authors come from. I’m one of those who wanted to be a scientist (I went to university) and couldn’t (no jobs). It was nice to have space to explore things like different approaches to science and barriers to getting research accepted by other scientists.
My main inspiration was the way rewilding has happened in the UK, where the reintroduction of locally extinct native animals has frequently been delayed and blocked, but they just appeared anyway. Your pet beavers going missing and not reporting it could happen to anybody. Who among us hasn’t lost a few wild boar here and there.
Some aspects of the main character are based on me, though I wrote this before long covid and joint damage. I’ve always had stiff joints, so there’s always been a risk that illness and injury could cause something more serious. It’d been something I’d thought about and knew could potentially happen. I just wasn’t really imagining it’d happen in the time between submitting the story and it being published.
It’s taken a bit for this anthology to get out there, so I’m pleased it happened and I hope people enjoy the story!
I have a new story out in the Common Bonds anthology called “Busy Little Bees”. This anthology has speculative stories about aromantic characters. Mine is near future science fiction about an aroace woman looking for her clone siblings. Themes include issues surrounding cloning and surrogacy. If that’s all you want to know before reading it, click the link below for sales links. If you’d like some of my thoughts on writing it, continue on below the cover.
The cover of Common Bonds. Two red people sit back to back. They’re smiling and one holds a book and one holds a mug. They’re surrounded by green vines and white flowers. It is edited by Claudie Arseneault, C.T. Callahan, B.R. Sanders and RoAnna Sylver. The cover is by Laya Rose.
This was an anthology funded by Kickstarter. I was contacted before that, asking if I’d write a story for consideration for the Kickstarter launch. If accepted, it would have been one of the ones mentioned as “contains stories by!!” and all that. It didn’t happen. I didn’t have a great year in general. I also had two very close story deadlines. So I had to say I couldn’t get it done in time, but I’d submit to the general slush when the public call went out.
Writing to themes can be a challenge, but I had some clues this time. I know what stories the editors had read before asking me to send something. A lot of my short fiction has characters who just happen not to get involved in romances (it often doesn’t occur to me unless it’s relevant to the plot), but the first who states not being into that is Tyler, the unlikely vampire in “Midnight Ice Cream”.
I later went on to write “Werecockroach”, where Rin is asexual and aromantic and uses the words.
Both of those are relatively clear and simple in terms of narrative structure and tone. I do also write things that get rejected for not being stories, but that didn’t seem like the sort of thing the call was after.
For my story idea, I wanted to focus on an aroace character, as that’s what I am. I also wanted to focus on sibling relationships, as I like writing those.
The good inspiration was CC (CopyCat), the world’s first cat clone. She ended up with a different colour coat to her mother. They had identical genes, but that isn’t everything.
This didn’t surprise me a whole lot as I knew some identical twins who didn’t end up looking alike, but it doesn’t appear much in science fiction where clones are often assumed to be literally identical. Even more so than identical twins. I wanted to explore the ways people could end up looking and being different from the same starting genes.
The bad happened when YouTube was changing how adverts worked. I ended up with an eight minute unskippable advert selling surrogate services. It was very glossy and tried to make it sound like they’d picked that location as the mothers there were just so great… not because the people were poor and there were few regulations. That shiny corporate branding was chilling and stayed with me.
This was an interesting story for me to write, as I really was “writing the other” in some ways. The lead comes from a relatively privileged background, whereas I’ve always been working class. That meant unpacking some of the assumptions she’d make. Not in the sense of a total bigot finding out she’s wrong, but in the sense of someone who generally isn’t a bigot finding she still had some things to work on. I might not have lived that, but I’ve had to field some of those things from the other side.
The trans side also took some thought. I’m non-binary, so including a non-binary and a trans man as characters wasn’t really something I thought about. It just sort of happened. What did take some thinking was the idea of the trans man dressing up as another of the clones, because most of them were women. It made a lot of sense for the plot, but there are potential pitfalls.
The basic issue is this sort of scene is often used as a way to invalidate trans characters. A trans man made to dress up that way will usually be mocked. The outfit will be a pink frilly dress covered in bows that few women would ever consider wearing. There will be comments about how pretty and feminine he looks.
After thinking about it, and considering if there was a way to do it that didn’t disrespect the character, the solution was to be sure the other characters wouldn’t be disrespectful. In a near future where I’d hope people had improved somewhat on those issues, there’d be a conscious effort to not be jerks about it.
This also meant thinking about how other aspects of marginalisation would be treated in the near future world. Class is still present as an issue and I avoided making it seem like there was an easy solution that’d solve everything. It’s about small gains and keeping at it.
The other mentioned is disability. There have clearly been some improvements, but there’s also a family who abandon an adopted child for selective mutism. This sort of near future won’t have solved every problem with every family.
I do have direct experience of selective mutism. There were times as a child when I simply couldn’t speak, though it wasn’t often enough to get much notice, outside of the teacher who tried to ask my parents about it. He did not actually ask the question he meant to ask, which meant this happened…
Teacher: “Why does Polenth sometimes just stare at me?”
Parents: “Polenth’s reading your mind.”
Anyway, that’s just a few of the representation things I thought about as I wrote the story. I don’t tend to think about them in an essay or blog format, but those thoughts are always there somewhere as I write.
Bees, Wasps and Swarms
I get on really well with bees and wasps, in the sort of way where I wander about near their hives/nests and they leave me alone or crawl on me. I share sugar with them if I have it. We’re fine. The only time I’ve been stung, I actually stung myself. A dying wasp fell in my hair, I thought the wasp was a leaf, so I stung myself trying to brush the leaf out. The wasp really wasn’t to blame.
I have a video of a wild bee swarm that I took some years ago. It looks very dated compared to video now, but it’s still nice to have the reminder. I’d note that honeybees are native in the UK, so this really is a wild swarm. They were in a nature reserve and were left to do their swarm thing.
So, on that note, I’ll leave you with some real bees.
It’s that time of year when things get spooky and people decide that bright orange is a great colour after all. The sim I live on in Second Life, Aquila III, has experienced an eldritch fungi invasion (it wasn’t me, honestly). In honour of this, I’ve put together a little story hunt. Ten letters are hidden around the area, with a few fungal prizes.
For anyone who wants to get straight to it, the slurl to the starting point and instructions is below:
For anyone still here, I’ll ramble a bit about what’s going on. The story is one that was published in 2012 in the Fungi anthology. “Letters to a Fungus” is exactly what it says: letters written to a fungus. I thought it’d be a fun story to turn into a hunt, as well as being an interesting way of telling the story. Each letter could be found in any order, meaning that it won’t be quite the same story to everyone reading it. The letters are also short, which is ideal for Second Life (no one really wants to read a novel in the form of Second Life notecards).
I created some new mushrooms for the event, including the orange glowing ones that mark the letter envelopes. These are prizes included with some of the letters. Finding the final letter also gives a new Shroomie (one of my tiny mushroom avatars).
Image Caption: Three mushrooms are in darkness. The gills glow bright orange and the rest of the mushroom is dark. A stained envelope rest against one of the mushroom stalks and has “Dear Fungus” written in handwriting. This is the hunt item that people have to find.
The sim has been decorated, so I suggest using the region settings. It’s currently dark and a bit foggy, which is the best for finding the glowing hunt items. You can also explore and see what has befallen the non-fungal residents of the sim.
The event ends on 10th November 2018, when it’s predicted that the mushrooms will leave and the daylight will return. I hope you enjoy the story!
It’s launch day for my new novella! Werecockroach is a tale of aliens and werecockroaches. I’ll talk a little bit about the book, including a few story notes with background on some of the themes. But first, here are some quick links if you want to skip all that. The book is available at Amazon US, Amazon UK and Smashwords. Other retailers are listed on the official book page. The page also has links to cover merchandise and a brief content guide.
Rin moves into a new flat on the day the aliens arrive. Their new flatmates are laid-back Sanjay and conspiracy theorist Pete. It doesn’t take long to notice some oddities about the pair, like hoarding cardboard and hissing at people when they’re angry. Something strange is going on, but it’s not all due to the aliens.
The book also includes a bonus short story, from the perspective of one of the supporting characters from the novella.
The idea for the book came from having hissing cockroaches as pets. One of the biggest misconceptions when people find out about my pets is that they’re like the cockroaches that invade people’s kitchens. There are a lot of different species of cockroaches. Hissers aren’t one of the ones that people will see in their homes (outside of being pets).
They’re from the forests of Madagascar and eat things that have fallen to the forest floor. Pet cockroaches are fed mainly on fruit and vegetables, with a little meat protein here and there. They don’t smell strongly, they don’t fly, and they tame easily. All round, they’re very hardy and easy to keep.
They hiss in various different ways. The one people typical know is the loud disturbance hiss, but they make a number of other hisses. A common one is a soft hiss that accompanies normal daily activities. They’ll sometimes hiss to themselves and sometimes they’ll hiss back and forth with another cockroach. Some are more vocal than others. I’ve had some that hardly ever hiss to some that hiss softly for most of the time they’re awake.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt from keeping them is how much personality they have. Each cockroach is different. They like different foods and they react in different ways. They learn and remember, which is why they soon get to know that I’m not a dangerous predator who wants to eat them. They’re funny little critters, and if they could turn into humans, I’d be happy to invite them round for tea.
On Identity and Time
The characters in the novella share aspects of my identity, though it doesn’t mean that they have identical life experiences. One thing I had to consider was how age would change things. When I was younger, being androgynous was the only way that I’d heard to describe being non-binary, long before I’d ever heard the term non-binary. It also wasn’t uncommon for anyone who didn’t quite fit in a gay/straight divide to end up in the bisexual community, so that was primarily how I described myself when I was younger, rather than aromantic and asexual.
Rin wouldn’t have grown up with those experiences. Information has been much more available since the internet, as well as giving people better access to communities. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is a different thing, so the book was partly an exercise in considering how things might have gone differently if I’d been born a little bit later. Would I have chosen agender instead of androgynous to describe my gender? Would I have gone directly to aroace? I won’t ever really know, but it was likely enough to say that’s how it went for Rin.
My experiences of dyslexia (Rin) and sensory processing disorder (Pete) were also influenced by age. There was some awareness of dyslexia when I was younger, though it mostly didn’t go beyond maybe giving someone a bit of extra time in tests. I didn’t know SPD existed until I was well into adulthood. Before that, I was treated as being picky, because no one really acknowledged that those sensory things caused a lot of discomfort and pain.
Hidden hearing loss is probably the most influenced by time, as the studies that identified it were only in the 21st century. Even Rin would have been born before anyone knew about that. But I liked the idea of them knowing what was going on. It would have helped me to know a lot earlier than I did (I was obviously aware that I had tinnitus once I was old enough to realise that not everyone had loud sounds in their ears, but hidden hearing loss was a later thing).
What has stayed about the same is my experience of race, because people react much the same way now as they did when I was younger. Not everything is progress.
This is an odd announcement for me, as I stopped writing poetry years ago. There were a lot of delays with the magazine, which is why this poem is surfacing now. Some might recognise that it was also in my collection, as the exclusivity part of the contract with GUD was waived some time back.
I’ve always liked poetry, but never really in the way the current market likes poetry. I like writing poems about ideas I find neat. They might be serious sometimes, but they’re not linked to serious issues in the real world. Neat idea poetry tends to get flatly rejected (sometimes with strained “this isn’t the direction we’re going in” messages). So there’s always that pressure to be more meaningful and make it relate somehow to a real world issue, even if it’s a poem about robots.
Added to that, poems don’t have space to clarify what they’re about. That’s much more of an issue when it is about a real world thing. It’s more likely to hurt someone, which is exactly what happened when I tried to write poetry that was better suited to the market. That poem was a science fiction scenario with some things based on my own experiences, but there wasn’t really space to make that clear, so that wasn’t how the poem was taken.
That “Monkey Bait” is my last published one is fitting in a way, as it wasn’t a market-pleaser. There isn’t a hidden metaphor here for anything else. Just a different take on the theme of the original tale. I won’t say I’ll never write another poem, but it’s not something I have plans to do. In the meantime, I hope GUD readers enjoy my take on the story.