Official announcement and publication story: TALES FROM PURGATORY!!

Well, the time has finally come to announce this: I’ve signed a three-book contract with Scarsdale Press for the Tales from Purgatory series. Yay! The publication dates aren’t set yet, but if everything goes as planned, the first book should come out sometime in the autumn of 2020, with the next two to come out shortly after, in succession.

If you’ve been following me a while, you know that this is a 7-book series; you also might know that the series takes a very untraditional turn in Book 4, and then becomes more of a spinoff of the first three books in installments 5-7. I felt it was more appropriate to start with the first three with an option for the rest. Fear not, however; Persephone Cavanaugh will see the light of day, though the manner of it may surprise even some of those who have read all the books.

[CN: abuse]

This series has been a long time coming. It has, as they say, been a rollercoaster. Tales from Purgatory was the very first series I wrote; the very first books I wrote. The idea for it had grown in my mind over a decade, spawned by a psychotic experience I’d had on my 27th birthday. I somehow processed my visions of being dead and transported into the dimension of Purgatory, where spirits gave me messages in code designed to lead me astray or toward the light if I could decipher them correctly, into a YA urban fantasy about a runaway who holes up with a cult of rogue scientists who think lucid dreaming can allow passage to the afterlife and beyond.

After a couple of false starts, I finally started writing this series in the late summer of 2013. It was a strange period of my life. I had just moved to California with my husband and daughter. After years of supporting him emotionally through his postdocs, my husband had finally gotten a tenure-track position…in the one school I’d told him not to apply at—one that would require us to move to one of the most expensive areas of the country.

We ended up living in a hotel room for months, trying to close on a house. I was homeschooling my daughter, and feeling completely uprooted from my family, friends, bands, job…everything I’d ever known. So, I started to write.

I couldn’t stop writing. Part of it was the story, maybe, and part of it was the fact that the weather on the California coast went from summer to spring with no downtime in between, no cold, dark teatime of the soul as it were. I went manic and hyperfocused, writing 12-18 hours a day, having to dose myself with whiskey and antihistamines to even catch a few hours of sleep so I could function well enough to write the next day. Writing was pretty much all I cared about. I could taste the story, and couldn’t calm down unless I was sitting in front of my much-abused laptop in some quiet place or other.

It was difficult, sometimes, to find those quiet places. My husband didn’t like me writing so much. He thought I was wasting my time, and advised me to get a minimum wage job working in the grape fields…anything, he reasoned, would be better than writing. Better than the one thing I’d ever felt destined to do.

So, Juniper and I went on road trips. We went to stay with my parents for a while. Finally, we were able to move into a little house in a tiny town called Shandon, California. It’s there that my life changed forever, and took a definite turn for the weird, as most of you know.

It took me almost exactly a year to draft all seven books in the series. That year was a crash course in how to write. I joined five different writing groups, much the way I’d joined five different bands back in Seattle. I joined online pitching contests and took courses in how to write queries.

I started pitching Book One of Tales from Purgatory way too early—when it had only been drafted for a few months. Working on writing as many hours as I was, I’d still gotten feedback from critiquers and beta readers and managed to edit it several times (while working on the sequels), but I still didn’t really know how to write. I hadn’t found my style or my footing yet.

I’m glad I pitched it early, though. It gave me the experience I needed in order to get my first book deal with Love or Money (which was the thirteenth book I wrote), with The Other Place series (books 8-12 in my list) following soon after.

This publishing deal came during a very tumultuous time, when I really needed something good to hold on to. My husband, once we were settled in California and he was doing well in his job, decided he didn’t need me anymore and, as he said, was only keeping me around so he could see my daughter (who isn’t his biological daughter, but he’d been her stepdad since she was two). I was very much adrift, and a book deal was a life raft: a sign that I could make it on my own, that I had value as an individual and not just as the supportive wife of a successful biophysicist.

I finally left him and moved back to my hometown in eastern Washington State in the spring of 2016. That’s when the real work began, both career-wise, and emotionally.

During that first, windy April, I renovated a one-room cabin on my family’s farm. I dug into the cold earth and planted a huge vegetable garden, sprayed and pruned acres of peach trees, and tried to come to terms with myself. I’ve been living in that cabin since then, trying to build up my writing and editing business and grow the farm’s income.

This is the first time I’ve ever been on my own. Building my identity as an individual and learning how to take care of myself has been a real struggle. I’ve wanted to give up so many times: on my dreams and on myself.

The thing about trying to make it as an author and freelancer is, there’s no stability, no guarantees. I’m lucky that I have a place to live and food to eat; my daughter and I will never go homeless and hungry here. But I can’t shake the feeling that I have something to prove. No matter how hard it gets, I can’t bring myself to fall back on my family’s support. I’ve had too many abusive partners who have assured me they’d take care of me if I gave up or deferred my own dreams in order to support theirs, only to crap out on that promise or discard me as soon as they’d achieved their goals.

For the first time in my life, I need to stand on my own two feet. And I’d really like to do it on my own terms, doing something I love.

Month after month of barely scraping by really wears on a person’s nerves, though. I’ve applied for regular jobs dozens of times, but nothing has panned out, as if the universe itself wants me to be poor. My self-doubt started to crush me, and my pace of writing slowed, my focus shattered. I couldn’t finish a novel. I’d get halfway in and lose interest to the point it was painful to open the manuscript. I’d start on something else, only to have the same thing happen.

I quit querying, and quit marketing my books. It all seemed like too much, the tasks and to-dos nagging at my conscience, failure sitting on my chest like a boulder. I always knew that making it in the arts can be a slog, that it’s a job, and that you have to keep working at it. I never expected that I would get a few books published and they’d take off on their own without me putting any more work into it. But I’d lost my nerve.

I never stopped loving to write though, and I never gave up on Tales from Purgatory. I wanted so much to recapture the feeling I’d had while working on that series: the complete immersion in the story, the exhilaration of creating a new world. I’d still open the document every so often and make more revisions, and I found a very good new beta reader who gave me some excellent suggestions.

Then, last March, I decided to pitch Tales from Purgatory in PitMad (the same contest which had netted me my first publishing deal). I got a request, sent off a partial to Scarsdale Press, and promptly forgot about it.

I didn’t send out any more queries. I was in a complete funk and immersed myself in the farm and in anything else I could find that might make me a few dollars, working on my manuscripts in fits and starts without much enthusiasm.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I got a request for the full manuscript from Scarsdale. They apologized; apparently my pitch had been misplaced.

A few days later, I had an offer.

I’m really happy this story is going to be out in the world. It’s my favorite one I’ve written so far. Even with all the editing, I think I’ve preserved the initial spark that drove me to write it. The pure joy of discovering what it means to be master of your own written universe, the euphoria of feeling that magic inside yourself.

The editor who took it on has more excellent ideas for revisions. Her initial letter of offer showed her dedication to the story, and made me feel like I had, finally, found someone in the business who saw my vision and appreciated it for what it is. I’m excited to see the finished product.

I wrote these books before I had come to terms with my neurodivergence. Before I knew Phoenix. Before the crash that turned my life on its heels. But it still has a schizophrenic character and deals with processing of abuse. It holds the seeds of my self-discovery, before they became entangled with identity and politics.

I hope that you all will buy it and love it as much as I do.

The Privilege of Having Friends

I’ve made no qualms lately about how I’ve been feeling. More or less, just done. Tired of the struggle. Tired of trying. And now, after yet another bout of deactivating Twitter and a go-round with my neurodivergent boyfriend, I have to wonder even more what the point is.

I’m a mature person, and I know all the platitudes and all the reasoning that folks give when someone is feeling like this. But, other than the fact I have a daughter who I don’t want to hurt, all that reasoning rings hollow in a world that prides itself on rejecting and isolating people like me.

Everyone thinks they’re a good person, and that they’re right. So when they “just don’t like someone”, they think they’re just being practical by cutting that person out of their lives and social groups. “So-and-so is so creepy. They just give me a weird feeling.” “They try too hard.” “They’re just boring.”

Of course, everyone has a right to have the friends they want, to surround themselves with the folks they feel comfortable with. But they never stop and think about the ones they reject–not because those people are harmful, but because they’re just *eyeroll* or *side-eye for no tangible reason* or “other people don’t like them” or, in the case of the Twitterverse, “they said something once that was wrong for [insert convoluted reason that has nothing to do with what they were actually trying to communicate]” .

It’s a privilege to be liked. It’s a privilege to know how to present yourself in a way that’s socially-acceptable; to communicate in a way that’s understood. It’s a privilege to have friends.

Those of us without that privilege, if we have our feelings hurt and are unable to understand why we’re rejected, we’re accused of seeking pity and trying to manipulate.

It’s true you can’t make people like you. But, when the bulk of society has rejected you for reasons you can’t understand (and which they can’t even really define), it’s really difficult to go on trying.

This is a huge problem for Autistic people. It is, I’m sure, the reason behind our huge suicide rate. We’re too earnest. Our feelings are too powerful. We don’t understand social interaction. We don’t know how to explain our thoughts and feelings and find a way to connect with people. So, we’re rejected. Over, and over, and over.

It’s also an issue, as I can attest to—heartbreakingly—for schizophrenic folks like my partner, and for people with major depression.

I can yell all I want about the fact that there’s nothing actually wrong with us, but that’s not going to change anything. It’s not going to make people respond differently to us. It’s not going to save lives. This is a phenomenon that starts as schoolyard bullying and persists through the nursing home stage. It’s effectively a form of eugenics against neurodivergent people, to be honest, but I know that rhetoric is over the heads of most of you if you haven’t experienced it.

All I can say is, our feelings are just as important as anyone else’s. There are good people out there who will love us for who we are. It can seem so hard to find those few people in the sea of assholes, though. Maybe I shouldn’t be harsh and call them assholes, but I don’t know what else to call folks who reject people simply for being “weird” or different.

The reason I identify as Christian is that Jesus’ message was exactly that: stop being assholes to folks just because they’re different. The people who society throws away and rejects are often the most valuable, and how you treat them is a true measure of your character.

Of course, professing those values is another reason for me to be rejected, by atheists and other self-identified Christian bigots alike.

This is the world people say is worth sticking around for. And, they’re right. But it’s fucking hard sometimes.

Piece of notebook paper with words written in pencil: What if I'm not a real person and it hurts now."

The Neurodivergent Experience: It’s Never About Us

[Content warning for just about everything you can think of. If you’re having a bad day and don’t wanna hear about the horrible things neurodivergent people have to put up with, have this picture of a puppy and go read a nicer article]Picture of smiling, panting, tricolor Australian shepherd puppy on the beach

These are particularly bad times for neurodivergent/mentally ill folks. They’re trying to cut our benefits and health care. They’re constantly trying to make it easier to have us involuntarily committed and sterilized. Every day, it seems they come up with some new way to torture us in the name of a “cure”. The headlines are full of stories of police killing us for no reason, and we all know that those stories are just a few of the many abuses which occur on a daily basis to people like us. And yet, they continue to blame the neurodivergent for every highly-publicized violent crime that happens, as well as for the dangerous and destructive behavior of our (very mentally-healthy) president.  Yes: they hurt US, and then gaslight everyone and try to say it’s OUR fault.

But when we speak up, we get comments like this one here on my last post. People tell us we don’t know what we’re talking about. They think we’re unreliable narrators, and can’t be trusted to manage our own lives or even know what our own lives are about:

“Police are just doing their jobs when they illegally detain, harm, imprison, or kill you—they have no way to know that you’re not really dangerous.”

So, we have to prove to the police that we’re NOT dangerous in order to not get shot? We have to prove we’re NOT committing a crime in order to not get harassed or arrested? If we’re not holding a gun; if all we’re doing is yelling, or pacing, or crying, they have no reason to think we ARE dangerous, and we’re not committing a crime by showing emotion.

Like I said in my previous post, statistics show we’re no more violent than sane people are, and that we’re a good deal more likely to be hurt BY neurotypical folks than we are to hurt them. Especially when it comes to police: they’re more likely to hurt us than the other way around. So yes, it does follow that, when neurotypical folks lock up neurodivergent folks, the dangerous people are locking up the less dangerous people. In fact, we’re often hurt in the act of being locked up (usually for no reason).

It does follow.

“We all have problems; ableism isn’t real, people are jerks to everyone.”

Nope. You can’t be locked up for committing no crime. You can’t be forcibly sterilized. People don’t give you bleach enemas in an attempt to cure you of being neurotypical.

People are jerks, yes. But people are bigger jerks to neurodivergent people. Don’t think you understand what it’s like. You don’t.

“I heard a third-hand story of someone who was very nearly hurt by a schizophrenic person once, and therefore it’s completely right to lock up neurodivergent people.”

I hear this sort of story a lot. The only time it’s first-hand is when it’s being told by someone who worked as an ER medic or some such—someone else with a skewed sample size, because they only saw the folks who were in crisis, and were being forcibly detained and put in a position of high stress and danger (and therefore were actually defending themselves and not inciting violence. Don’t @ me telling me “the medics were trying to help them, they weren’t defending themselves.” If a group of people grabbed you and tried to tie you to a gurney, and you didn’t want them to do that, you’d fight back, too. We’re human beings, you know).

You’re forgetting a little thing called lived experience, which trumps your third-hand anecdote every time. Do you know what else trumps it? The statistics that show neurotypical people are more likely to injure us than the other way around.

Yes, there are neurodivergent people who are violent. That doesn’t mean you get to lock all of us up…just like the fact that neurotypical people are more likely to be violent toward me doesn’t mean I get to lock up all neurotypical people.  (That however would be a course of action supported by statistics.)

There’s so much else going on in that comment (and in others that I get every day). The takeaway is this: A neurodivergent person can’t speak out without someone telling us we don’t know what we’re talking about—that they, a neurotypical person, know better than we do. Literally, if we say we had eggs for breakfast, a neurotypical person will rappel from the ceiling and ask us if we’re sure we aren’t hallucinating or confused, if maybe we had oatmeal instead. Our voices, experiences, and opinions are constantly silenced and passed over in favor of “experts” or our family members. These folks can be some of the most abusive toward us, and yet the narrative is always centered around what can be done to help them: what makes our caregivers, family, and friends more comfortable. Usually, that’s finding easier ways to lock us up, sterilize us, render us unconscioius or inert, “cure” us, or find a way to detect our neruodivergence in utero so that we’re never born in the first place. Do any of those things sound like civil rights to you? Would you like any of those things done to you?

Just because we’re different, doesn’t mean we don’t want what anyone else wants: quality of life. We’re don’t exist in this world just to make you comfortable. No one does. If your neurotypical neighbor stays up all night singing loudly along with the radio, you don’t try to have him sterilized so he doesn’t have similarly-loud children, or make sure he’s medicated into a stupor. And yet, because we’re neurodivergent, you think you have the right to do that to us.

Even when talking about the realities of our everyday life, the way everyone does, we’re told we’re “oversharing”; that we’re making others uncomfortable; that we’re “whining” and “complaining” and that we should be more positive; that we’re triggering others with our stories.

It’s always about others’ feelings.

Is it any wonder we lose it sometimes? And yet we’re not afforded the luxury of venting our feelings and frustrations, again by the nature of being neurodivergent. Our emotions are too strong and messy for neurotypicals to deal with. When we display them, we’re ostracized and chided at best. We lose friends, we lose jobs, we lose everything that makes us happy. At worst, y’all beat us, lock us up, or kill us, just for speaking our minds. I have personal anecdotes, if you need them—read my blog, or my memoir, or ask me.

People don’t listen to us and constantly speak over us. Is it any wonder we feel isolated? Is it any wonder we commit suicide, because it seems like no one cares?

But, there are people who do care, who do understand. Never forget that.

All you glorious crazy people out there, I want you to know I’m listening. I’m here for your joy and your pain. You are important, and your feelings are valid.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor who is crazy as fuck and wants to tell you all about it. You can find her on Amazon.

Left Wing Survivalists Episode 2: Apple Butter & Suicide

For #worldmentalhealthday I thought I’d do a podcast. This has advice on how to dry plums, make apple butter, glean fruit & vegetables…and also a discussion of suicide. *shrugs* Here you go.

Don’t Assume You Understand Neurodiversity. You Don’t.

I’m going to write another bitchy blog post, because I’m organizing my thoughts. I invite all people to read, and comment if you want, but this is really a conversation that needs to happen within the neurodiverse community, without paying a lot of attention outside input.

I love the term neurodiversity (or neurodivergence). When I first heard it,  a light came on in my mind. I finally had a word for something I’d felt my whole life: that “mentally ill” isn’t the right word for who I am, because I’m not ill. This is just my personality, and you can’t (nor should you want to) cure me of it. (Yes, I want/need some symptoms treated, but that’s a different discussion.)

The problem is, the term “neurodivergent” is a catch-all term for A LOT of different sorts of people. This is one of those obvious statements, but I think we need to meditate on it. I hear a lot of people say “I’m neurodiverse, too,” (or, worse yet, “my aunt is neurodiverse”) as a precursor to statements indicating they think they understand what life is like for ALL neurodiverse people.

Ugh. Amirite?

I don’t want to stop using the term neruodivergent. I lurves it, and don’t want to complicate the language by having more and more terms, or just labeling ourselves with our diagnoses.  Neurodivergent expresses an idea about all of us, that we’re not ill and are okay the way we are, and thus is a good catch-all term.

But we all need to check ourselves when we start thinking we understand what it’s like for all people under the umbrella of neurodivergence. Some of us struggle daily with the problems our neurodiversity causes us. It’s affects everything we do, and every conversation we have with others. Other people’s neurodivergence has a more subtle effect on their lives.

If you have depression, for instance, you’re neurodivergent in my opinion (unless you choose to not identify that way, of course). Depression is something I experience, and is super shitty. It can make you miss work, sabotage relationships, hurt yourself. But, in the case of periodic depression, most people won’t know you have it unless you tell them, and you can go months or even years with no symptoms.

mentalOn the other end of the spectrum is my partner, Phoenix. He has schizophrenia and can’t even walk silently into a room without people reacting to his neurodivergence: his strangeness radiates from him like a glow—a beautiful glow, in my opinion, but not in the opinions of most others. He’s one of the very best, coolest, smartest, kindest people I’ve ever met, but most folks will never know that because their reactions to him are almost uniformly negative. They avoid him, or have a (misguided) “protective” anger reaction (for instance, they call the cops on him for yelling and pacing in his yard. They beat the shit out of him for talking to himself, because they think he’s “talking shit” about them). At best, they pity him and don’t take anything he says seriously.

You can imagine the effect this sort of marginalization could have on a person. Phoenix is positive and confident, but he’s told me on various occasions that before I came along, he thought he’d be alone for his whole life.

I, for the sake of you knowing my viewpoint, fall somewhere in between that. I struggle daily with my bipolar and PTSD on an internal level, and it’s been a defining force of my entire life path. It’s destroyed more than one relationship, and caused me to seek out abusive and toxic ones. It’s landed me in prison. It’s made it extremely hard for me to maintain employment, and has cost me many promotions because of latent bias (and no, I’m not being paranoid. I have direct evidence). The list goes on. But in my daily interactions, at least at times I’m not in crisis, people generally just think I’m a little bit eccentric or “off”. It certainly colors their reactions toward me, but they might not even guess at first blush that I’m neurodivergent because I’m good at masking. Plus, I have the advantage of not being one of those people that comes off as creepy. At least it doesn’t seem like it, usually, based on how I’m treated (I mean, I’m not creepy, right? Tell me if I am). So my neurodivergence doesn’t isolate me completely in that way (though it will cause me to self-isolate at times).

So, what I’m saying is, someone with minor depression can’t know what it’s like for people like me, or people like Phoenix. And I can’t know what it’s like for someone with schizoaffective disorder, or Down Syndrome, etc. But I can probably identify with what other neurodivergent people go through better than most neurotypical people can, and I will endeavor to listen and be accepting—to be a “safe space” for other neurodivergent people to express their feelings and experiences. I will never say neurodivergent people are “doing it for attention”, that they’re “using their neurodivergence as a weapon/shield” or any of those other horrible, marginalizing things neurotypical (or self-hating neurodivergent) people say.

The reason we label ourselves as neurodivergent is to try to seek out people who understand what it’s like for us, and will listen and accept us for who we are. Thus, it’s very, very important to be careful of behaviors in the community that can cause us to marginalize and isolate our peers even more. We need to be there for one another. Let us remember to listen and be good allies, as well as good peers.