2018: Heatwaves

My primary memory of the year was relentless heat. I don’t cope well with summer at the best of times, but the heatwave lasted for most of it and continued into autumn. Heat has always been something that causes sensory overloads, which meant I was faced with months of endless sensory overload with very few breaks.

The result was that I started the year doing things as expected and then pretty much everything stopped. My priority was simply to survive the heat. I spent time lying on the cold tiles, with trips to my room to change the ice for the animals. I couldn’t really focus on anything.

The good news is I’ve found a decent mobile air conditioner that’d work for my room. The family have agreed to pool their money to get it as a birthday present next year. It’s expensive, but something that can be budgeted for, rather than expensive like a car.

Going forward, I hope this means that I won’t be here again. But I was here this year. I lost a lot of time and have spent the winter scrambling to catch up.

 

Werecockroach

Early in the year, I published Werecockroach. It’s a science fantasy novella (and is eligible for any novella awards for the year, for those tracking such things). My aim was to make this more marketable than my other work. Not in the sense of following plot formulas or the like, but having things in the basic concept that might get attention. One being the whole idea of people turning into cockroaches. The other being own voices, which I discussed in the launch post.

I was also aiming for something that was lighter, as when things get rough, it’s what I’d want to read. I wanted the most cozy alien invasion possible with a focus on friendship.

The good news is the book has been selling. I ran some adverts as well as picking up some word-of-mouth recommendations on social media. Some months after release, it’s still continuing to sell in a way other books didn’t. The first reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been positive.

I am cautious about this success though, which comes down to my experience with own voices. My previous books came out just before the big push of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices on social media. On the face of it, these looked like they should benefit a marginalised author. What actually happened is I didn’t have enough work that fit neatly. Things like recommendation requests increasingly moved to wanting own voices authors rather than marginalised authors. My work sank and I disappeared.

Werecockroach was part of an attempt to reverse that, by finding an idea that could be marketed as own voices with an identity that got enough attention to be noticed (there are various aspects in the novella, but it’s the asexual lead that gets attention). It’s not really that this is better than my other work, but that it had hooks to promote.

Which comes to the end of the year, where there was a discussion about optimistic fiction and hopepunk. I can see all the ways my books don’t fit it and that my life experiences don’t fit. Back when it was a few people discussing it as a few books, this didn’t matter much, because no book fits all genres. The problem is the shift towards the idea of it being an overall approach to writing stories of any genre and one that people ought to be doing instead of other approaches. I can see this becoming another own voices. Basically, something promoted as being to benefit marginalised authors, but acting as an additional obstacle for those who produce work that doesn’t fit.

The basic problem is that things that can look like good ideas in basic concept, be it marginalised people talking about their own experiences or lighter stories for dark times, can turn into movements which are a bad idea.

In other words, I have concerns about the goalposts changing and having to start at zero again with new work that fits the new criteria. I’m a slow writer, so it’s difficult for me to keep up with this sort of shift. My hope is that the novella will have enough of a boost to keep selling even if the landscape changes, but it could be an issue for whatever I write next.

 

Short Stories

The year went well in terms of reprints. The first was in Transcendent 3, an anthology of trans and intersex stories edited by Bogi Takács. My story “Hello, World!” is about an AI taking fish to Mars. The idea behind the story was that learning AI is not neutral, but is informed by the training process and data sets. In this case, the people in the lab. So it’s not as obviously a story on the theme at first, until starting to think about who worked in that lab. This is also the first Patreon story that’s sold as a reprint.

The second was the Japanese translation of the Fungi anthology edited by Orrin Grey and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. “Letters to a Fungus” is exactly what the story title suggests.

Two book covers

Image Caption: Two paperback books on a white and silver cloth. One is Transcendent 3, which has a person wearing floral clothing scrubbing a brain with a sponge. The other is the Japanese translation of Fungi, which has a black cover with a gold/black flying mushroom machine with gears and tentacles.

I also did my own little reprint of “Letters to a Fungus” in Second Life for Hallowe’en. It was arranged as a hunt, with each letter spread around an area. The most found letter was clicked 95 times and the least found was clicked 34 times.

Trying to finish original fiction was more of a struggle. The stories I’d intended for Patreon didn’t get done, because I wasn’t writing at all once the heat came. Later in the year, there were two short stories deadlines I was trying to reach. One was for an anthology that hasn’t been announced yet. The other was a general public submissions call. I missed both deadlines, as I was trying to get back into writing at the same time as catching up with everything else, and sorting family things for the winter.

It wasn’t the end of the world, because I do have some second chances. The unannounced project will have a public submissions call. It didn’t stop it being pretty demoralising, as I missed the chance of being involved at the earlier stages. But for the second deadline, I got an extension, and did manage to hit that. I felt a lot better after hitting the extension deadline, particularly as I wasn’t the only one who needed an extension. It’s easy to think that no one else is struggling if no one is being open about it, which is also part of why I write about the things I failed to do as well as the things that worked.

 

Reviews

Reviews stopped early in the summer. I do have notes I took before the heatwave and will get back into it. Interestingly, I still earnt money from the affiliate schemes, so the pause hasn’t been terrible. I can simply continue from where I left off as though nothing happened.

 

Art

Zazzle continues to be the main place where my art sells. My sales have gone up more than is proportional compared to the number of products I offer. About double the products has meant about four times the sales.

There were no calamities this year and it’s something that continues to make money even when I’m not around.

 

Patreon

This time last year, I’d sent out art cards for Patreon. This has been delayed this year, so I don’t have the final art to show. The cards will be arriving sometime in January.

I’ve also taken advantage of Patreon’s new system, where rewards can be restricted to a certain tier. I now have a “tank friends” tier, where I’ll post pictures and updates about my pets. This acts as a way for people with phobias, or who just don’t want pet pictures, to avoid this content.

Patrons received an advanced copy of the novella this year and the art cards that will be arriving soon.

 

Wing Chun

I don’t usually include Wing Chun in my updates, as mostly I keep getting better at hitting people, so there’s not much to say. I did lose time this year, as I wasn’t able to get to training as often as I wanted. However, I did finally move from the beginner grades to the intermediate grades. I’d had issues learning how to fall without hitting my head, which slowed down my process. But I finally got it and can now be rugby tackled to the ground without knocking myself out, so there was much rejoicing.

 

Brexit and Future Goals

I can’t really talk about goals for next year without discussing Brexit. The UK leaving the EU could mean food shortages, medicine shortages, airports closing for months, loss of internet access, loss of power, and generally a lot of things that are going to make basic survival a lot harder. Family and friends on daily medication could die. There’s no way to make this sound better, because it’s not going to be good.

This has already had an impact, because during my attempts at catching up in the winter, everything has been falling apart politically. This was the last thing I needed when I was already behind. It will continue to have an impact, because survival is going to come first. Next year will mean stockpiling supplies and an uncertain future.

I do have plans for the year still. I’m hoping to publish Conduit, the sequel to my urban fantasy Sunstruck. It’s just this is going to be later than I’d hoped at the end of last year, because realistically, basic survival is going to come first.

This means I can’t say what will happen. I might still be online and able to keep people updated. I might not. I just don’t know, so I hope people will have a little patience, as this situation is out of my control.

 

Animals

For about four years, I’ve held off getting more animals, or really sorting my bedroom, because I was saving up for a fish tank. It hasn’t been the easiest time. I really like having animals. It’s a comfortable thing to look after them and watch them grow. It makes my room a space I can go when I need a break. But everything was on hold, because fish tanks are expensive. I stuck with looking after the hissing cockroaches I had and maintaining my little tank with three otos.

My family helped out with that this year and I got a new community tank. The old otos were moved into it and I’ve since added zebra danios and more otos. Zebra danios are my favourite aquarium fish, so it’s great to have some again. The old little tank is now the quarantine tank. My tanks are all run as temperate tanks without heaters, and the fish choices are ones that prefer the cooler side of things (even though they’re usually sold as tropicals).

This also opened up the way for sorting the furniture in the room (I have a couple of new garage storage shelves… they’re cheap, strong, and have big shelves) and getting some more animals (mainly woodlice and millipedes).

Family also agreed to tarantulas, which has also been a process that’s taken a few years, as it involved persuading the resident arachnophobe that a spider tank in my room would not emit spiderness. In the end, it went quite smoothly, as it turned out the one thing worse than spiders was wrapping presents. So it went, “Can you wrap these for me?” “I guess so, but in return I’m getting a tarantula.” Then later, “Can you post these for me now you’ve wrapped them?” “I think we’re moving into paying for the tarantula here.”

A few days later, I was told that Boris was a good name for a spider, so I think a level of tolerance has been reached. A spider (Grammostola pulchripes) and a scorpion (Euscorpius carpathicus) were ordered and have now arrived, as this end of year post is a bit into the next year. I asked for the spiderling pot to be marked with “Boris” to help start the warm fuzzy feelings, so thanks to The Spider Shop for doing that!

A plastic spiderling pot

Image Caption: A small clear pot with white tissue inside. “Boris” is handwritten on the outside along with part of the scientific name.

Out of everything this year, I really like how the room is shaping up. It’s already a much better space for me to relax. Once the air conditioning goes in next year, it’ll be ideal. It’s a lot like living in a cool temperate forest, which suits me perfectly. My plans for the year include adding in some low light plants, as well as continuing to stock the community tank and getting a few more invertebrates.

Also, don’t panic about the critters and Brexit, because I can find food for them locally and excess from my colonies will be food for the predators, so they’re not going to starve. The planting in the fish tanks will act as a filter if the power goes out. They’re in a much better spot than the people in the house.

 

Wrapping It Up

I lost a lot of time this year to heat, though hope to sort it out next year with an air conditioner. Catching up with everything from the lost time has been a struggle and there are going to be tough times ahead with Brexit.

My biggest success was publishing my novella Werecockroach. I’ve also been sorting my animal room. The second book in my urban fantasy series, Conduit, is expected out sometime next year, though when will be hard to say due to the political disruptions.

Book Launch: Werecockroach – Science Fantasy Novella

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.

 

Book Description

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.

 Werecockroach  Cover

 

On Cockroaches

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 androgyne 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.