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Transcripts done by CJ Clougherty, @PadfootPGH
Dianna: Hello, and welcome to The Spoonie Author’s Podcast: a podcast where we explore a different disabled author’s stories each week. I am your host, Dianna Gunn, and joining us today is A.N. Mouse. A. N. Mouse lives in Milwaukee, and works at a local game store. While dealing with his health sometimes makes it hard, he likes going for walks and daydreaming new stories that he can then procrastinate on writing (something we have in common). Uh, *laughs* he has released four solo books, co-authored a fifth, and is currently working on his sixth novel Hearthief. Hello!
A: Hi! It’s nice to talk to you.
Dianna: It is – yeah, it is super great to have you on here. I must say I’m loving the art in your background.
A: *laughs* You can thank Mr. Ace Layton for that one.
Dianna: Very nice. And that is one of the people you work with in your author collective, correct?
A: Yes. I work with him, and I married him.
Dianna: Woah! *laughs* Oh, you cut out for a moment there.
Dianna: Now you’re back! That was really weird. Apparently you’re not allowed to say nice things about your partner.
A: I suppose not!
Dianna: I didn’t hear anything past “I married him”
A: Um, I am being oppressed by Skype. I just wanted to tell you – well I was trying to shift blame, truthfully.
Dianna: Oh, I see! *laughs*
A: Visual design was his passion before it was mine, but we’re happy to have the poster.
Dianna: Awesome. So tell us about this new book you are working on, Hearthief.
A: Okay, so Hearthief is a fantasy romance novel, and it’s about a rebellion struggling to overthrow a god-king. Um, and that is not an easy task. It is made harder by the fact that they understand the consequences of toppling a ruler, and are trying to do it with as little trauma and bloodshed in the country as they can.
Dianna: Well, good luck with that. *laughs*
A: They’re really…they’re very nice people. And the fact that they’re very nice is working to their detriment. *laughs* Um, the story follows two main characters: it follows Oafie and Rowan. Um, Oafie is a thief and an archer, and he’s very good at both of those things, despite struggling with a chronic knee injury. Um, Rowan’s skills are waaay more spoiler-y and I’m not getting into them, but needless to say they are trouble for the rebellion itself and their relationship together.
Dianna: So she’s like an arsonist or something is what I’m getting out of that, based on their goal being as little bloodshed as possible, I’m assuming her skills involve maximum bloodshed *laughs* That’s just the impression I get.
A: I already wrote the arson book, it’s called The Ashen Path.
Dianna: Oooh! I will keep that in mind next time I need to read about something being set on fire. Um.
A: *laughs* Rowan is a very nice boy. He just has a very…complicated skill set. That will be discussed.
Dianna: Awesome! And what inspired you to create this particular story with minimal arson?
A: *laughs* I;m not going to promise no arson, but –
A: Um, so this (as with all my work) ends up being a group effort. I think the discussion originally happened with um, Jackie Martini, who is an author I work with a lot and is really good at teasing out the best parts of ideas. And I think we were just talking about stuff and things, and they accidentally gave me an idea for a whole novel. And then I did what I always do, where I take that idea and I sit down with Ace and I make him help me make it make sense because he’s very good at that. So I worked on this with the two of them. And I didn’t intend to write a story where the focus was somebody struggling with chronic pain. That wasn’t what I sat down to do. I sat down to write a story, um (which is Rowan’s story more than Oafie’s story) where he got into this situation and the repercussions of that. That I get to focus on chronic pain and my experience with chronic pain is kind of a happy accident, because I haven’t done that in my work before.
Dianna: Awesome. I must say, uh, the whole idea of partnership where writers are married to each other and write together has always sounded incredibly overwhelming to me. *laughs*.
A: Ace and I have worked together for, like, 15 years. Um, we’ve been friends for a really long time, we’ve had profound impacts on each other’s work. And it’s not just us: Jackie Martini and I have – their book is not out yet – but they’ve been working on it, and I’ve been doing my best to help. And we get to work with all kinds of interesting, passionate creators. And I just…writing is hard. And kind of lonely. And it’s nice to have friends, is what I’m saying. *laughs*
Dianna: *laughs* That is totally fair. So back to the story: Oafie has a chronic knee injury, and you’ve already touched on the fact that you have chronic pain. So how were his experiences informed by your own personal experience with disability?
A: So Ophy and I struggle with different kinds of chronic pain in that he has a physical injury that happened to him that continues to cause him problems even as an adult. Mine are the opposite timeline. But the thing we have in common is that we’re both really stubborn.
A: We both, for good or bad, we hold our goals to a higher priority than ourselves. So his story calls back to a time where I didn’t have the stability to put my health before my paycheck . Um, and the results of that (as you can guess) were not good. I do not recommend it. But it was – a lot of what he does was informed by those experiences of me having to push through. And he struggles a lot with being able to stop that, with being able to take time for himself and his needs without feeling guilty about what his other team members can accomplish while he’s recovering. It’s a hard thing for him to learn to pace himself. That’s something I’m still struggling with, um, something that came directly from m y own experiences when writing him.
Dianna: That is, uh, really important I think, especially in the context of our modern capitalist hellscape. *laughs*
A: Not just for me, but for anyone who is working paycheck to paycheck, to take the time to recover –
A: It’s impossible, and you pay for it later.
Dianna: Yup! Absolutely. And there’s so much pressure. Not just to work 40 hours a week, but to work even more and do even more all of the time. And when you can’t even work 40 hours a week, that’s not great for your self esteem.
A: It’s not! It really wears down on you having to step back, and watching other people who don’t have those struggles. That was…that was a thing.
Dianna: So did you find that writing was cathartic for you? That it helped you process your own experiences?
A: The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is: I’m still processing. I know that I’m in a better situation now, and that I don’t have to live that lifestyle anymore. Um, but it’s very hard to break away from those habits. You feel not only pressure to perform, but pressure to be okay, and to do the things that your friends, that your coworkers, that your bosses want. Um. And it’s hard not being able to meet those expectations. And that STILL bothers me. Um, but in Hearthief, Oafie gets better about these things. He has support from his friends, from his lover, from his community, that let him make progress and let him try to learn those things. So I hope that I can get better too.
Dianna: I think that that’s definitely another thing. Sometimes it’s catharsis, sometimes it’s processing, but sometimes it’s writing a character that is where we want to be, or gets to where we want to be, while we are still struggling. That’s a way of telling ourselves that yes, it’s really possible.
A: A lot of the characters that I write are where I want to be, whether that’s someone dealing with chronic pain or somebody dealing with trauma. Um, because it’s heartening to see someone make that success. And I want to make that success!
Dianna: Absolutely! Can you talk a little bit about some of your other work, and how you’ve dealt with trauma across your body of work?
A: Um, yes! *laughs* So what I’m trying to do is line up books that specifically deal with trauma. So I’m going to narrow it down to, um, The Melancholia Project and Lost Names. Um, so Melankholia Project deals with a world where monsters attacks happen at random, and people who are at the end of their rope sign up for what’s called nightmare hunting to try and defend the city from these monsters. The world is very bleak, survival is very difficult, but the focus of the story is about community and it’s about platonic love and it’s about working through those things. But a lot of characters are touched by these things that happen to them. And a lot of them deal with that in different ways. Um, and one of my ways of examining that was: what do you do when your response to trauma is negative? And how do you make peace with that once you start unlearning those behaviors? Um, because that’s the story of one of the characters who isn’t really a deeply evil person, but makes bad and selfish choices because of their unhappiness, and then realizes that what they’ve been doing isn’t helping them,, um, and is wrong and is hurting someone they care about. So they make the decision to not be that person anymore. And it’s difficult, because those are not easy habits to let go of.
Um, Lost Names, um, deals with one of the characters specifically having trauma from their past, and how the other characters on his team come together to help him cope with that. And I used it to examine different ways of relating to people, because no one person can help you solve all of your problems. Um, it’s great to have support, but no one will fix it for you. Be appreciative of those things.
Dianna: Yeah. And do you find working within these fantastical very different settings helps you tackle those issues? Does it give you a level of distance that is useful to you?
A: I don’t usually consciously associate what I’m doing with the setting with what I’m doing with the story. Usually those things happen kind of…on their own, and they grow together. But one of the things that I did discover is that, um, I use setting for a lot of atmosphere, and atmosphere helps me shape the tone, the way those issues are handled. Um. The Ashen Path is much more cheerful, warmer, brighter, healthier setting than Melancholia. Um, and it’s…the tone of the story is different. There’s still people struggling trying to handle the things they’ve been through, um, but the overall idea is more evidently hopeful. You don’t have to dig for it as much. I generally think that I, like, write the same three ideas. *laughs* and I dress them in different scenarios, because I am a fanfic writer at heart, is what I am. Um, so setting helps me, I think, accentuate certain parts of those things. I don’t normally figure those out until I’m, like, three quarters of the way through.
Dianna: Makes sense. I am also a fic writer at heart. Um, I think that fanfic is honestly one of the best ways to practice as a writer.
A: We do a lot of panels at conventions and a lot of people who attend our panels on writing are fanfic writers. Um, and if someone wants to complain to me about fanfic writing I will meet them outside and send them to the hospital. *laughs* I just want to talk, it’s fine! I just want to talk! It’s like…there are classics that are held up today that are fanfiction. There’s Bible fanfic. A lot of Shakespeare pulls from folklore and from passed down stories. We like examining ideas using tools that are familiar to us. There’s literally no downside to fanfiction at all.
Dianna: I honestly think a lot of the dislike/disdain for fanfiction comes from association of association with (frankly) Harry Potter, and teenage girls. Just because I feel like for a lot of people, when Harry Potter fandom came about, fanfiction was put on the map in a different way. *laughs* And with fanfiction.net, which apparently like, doesn’t exist anymore?
A: Let people like stuff! Like…I’m sorry, Harry Potter fanfiction never hurt you.
Dianna: Eeeehh, speak for yourself! *laughs*
A: Never hurt you more than any other kind of fiction specifically can hurt you!
Dianna: Specifically Harry Potter itself did, um..
A: *laughs* But fanfiction gives you a chance to zero in on those moments and work through them yourself and examine ideas. Ideas that might be too painful for a story itself, like a novel or a series. Um, those short insights into the way that we handle happiness, that we handle grief, um, are really important. Both as writers and as readers, so, yes, fanfiction is important, and it’s important to cry about it. It’s fine.
Dianna: Yes. Oh goodness. I’m just thinking back on the days. But I haven’t done fanfiction in years because I’m so hyperfocused on my original stories now.
A: I have – every once in a blue moon I will write something that’s not original fiction. And I have an AO3 that I haven’t updated in years, I’m so sorry.
Dianna: It’s been so long since I wrote fanfiction that I haven’t even posted on AO3. I actually had to look this up at some point last year because I was like “what is AO3?” I did have a fanfiction.net account for anyone who remembers that. I actually used to mostly consume fanfiction on this super exclusive, private, VERY NSFW, Harry Potter specific archive called Ashwinder. I actually looked it up recently and I guess people don’t really use it anymore, but people still want the stories up? They had something up on the page asking for donations to keep the page up, and people were paying for it for like three years. But yeah I was always more into that little nested fanfiction community. I do think that there is a lot of, there was at least, a lot of trash on fanfiction.com. I don’t know about AO3.
A: I’m a professional trash writer. Um –
Dianna: So **unclear speech**
A: I was referring to NSFW content. *laughs* But, I don’t know. To me, there’s pretty much zero shame in any of that. It’s all putting words together, it’s all trying to evoke an emotional response. Um, whether it’s doing that using somebody else’s sandbox or your own, our goal is always the same.
Dianna: And the reality is that even if the first thing you write is original fiction, we’re all trash writers at the beginning.
A: The beginning of anything is always trash!
A: You have to suck before you can not suck!
Dianna: Yeah! And I think people get down on fanfiction because people are posting trash fanfiction actually online in a way that isn’t done as much with original fiction. So you see more of that stuff. And I think some of that is because people tend to write fanfiction under pen names. They don’t feel as – it doesn’t feel as heart wrenching when someone disses your fanfiction as it does when someone disses your original fiction. At least in my experience.
A: I think a lot of it too is that people post fanfiction when they’re younger and don’t have as many miles under their belts writing wise.
Dianna: Or life wise.
A: Yeah!. They don’t have all the context for these ideas. Also, um, as you – I’m still someone who consumes fanfiction voraciously. Um, and as you grow as a reader, you know how to look at things and sort them better because you’re used to how people categorize their stories and the way they describe them. I don’t see bad stories because I know unconsciously what the signs are, I skip over them and I don’t even think about it. Whereas someone unfamiliar with that could pull up the first hundred and be like “half of these are garbage” and I’d be like “they are…but you could tell.”. You can pick up a book and look at the back of it and think “hmm, I don’t think an editor even looked at this”. But those skills don’t always translate when you’re looking at things online,. We describe things a little bit differently.
Dianna: Yeah, absolutely. Anyway let’s drag this back on topic, although this conversation is fascinating. There’s certainly a lot to unpack around fanfiction. Um, but bringing things back: so you are currently writing a disabled character, which I’m sure has gotten you thinking a lot about disability representation, how to handle it, and how it is handled . But can you speak a bit to what you see about the state of disability representation in the media? Would you like to see that change in the next few years?
A: I am – I’m sure you have this issue as well, when you’re focused on creating a thing, you don’t always have the time to consume as many things as you would like. Um, so I can’t promise to be especially keyed into disability representation at large. I can only speak to the little bit of media that I manage to consume in my free time. But, um, this may be the circles I travel in or it may be, um…I don’t see disability discussed as often as I see other marginalizations discussed. And that’s really all I want. Um. Disability exists in the world. Um. It happens to a lot of people. And if you’re not part of those communities, you may not be aware of how many people it actually affects. But it’s like anything else. It exists. We live with it around us. Um. And in order to make your characters and your world more reflective of our reality, it’s something to consider. Um.
We have these discussions about all sorts of other – you don’t necessarily need to include those things in your writing, but you should be thinking about it. Think about how to make our worlds more nuanced and our characters more realistic, because these things are real! And this comes with the usual catch of: if you’re writing about an experience that isn’t yours, do your research, talk to people with those experiences. I’m not going to go all into that because we should know by now. So I’m saying I just want to see writers engaging with this material. And having it be something they go through when they think about their world, like how does it accomodate or not accomodate people with certain disabilities, what are the social reactions, do my characters, would they/could they/should they have challenges to face. Like I said with Oafie, I didn’t set out to write someone with a disability. His story and his experiences and the way that he was hurt and the way it was handled, i was like “No way, this is something he’s going to struggle with for the rest of his life”. Um, and then that became a significant and organic part of the story itself. So yeah, that’s…my goal is just to be a natural part of the discussion we have about creation.
Dianna: Yeah, I absolutely agree with you that disability representation has not been topical in the way that representation of other marginalized groups has been in the last 5 years or so. Um.
A: And no one who is working on a project needs to change to accommodate these ideas. It should just be something that you consider as a creator going forward. We go and learn new things about the world and incorporate new things into our work all the time. And this should be no different, really.
Dianna: One big shift I made is: when I was a kid, I started writing. Like I wrote my first book when I was like, 11. Uh, and you know as a kid I just sort of defaulted all my characters to cisgender straight people. But now whenever I’m creating new characters, I have the gender and sexuality in my character profiles, and I’ll put “unknown” in those slots until I feel the character out more. If people did the same sort of thing towards disability, I think that would be really powerful. I think that’s sort of what you’re getting at.
A: That’s exactly what I’m getting at. Because you will still end up with cisgender straight characters, because speaking as a queer author, I still end up with straight characters. *laughs* I still write them. Um, but you want it to be considered, rather than not considered.
Dianna: Yeah, exactly.
A: It’s not that it will create some huge change, um, in the world of literature at large, It’s just that it will make a personal change in your own work. And that’s good.
Dianna: Exactly. I feel like it’s also – it gives characters more room to become the authentic people that we’re trying to make them.
A: Yeah! It is another…it’s impossible to break someone down into the thousands of facets that make a person. But this is one more element of a person to consider. Um. And the more elements we consider, the better.
Dianna: Exactly. Well thank you so much for this insightful conversation. It has been loey to talk to you. Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?
A: This has been an excellent discussion, and I am so thankful to have been invited by you. It’s been – this is a wonderful part of my day. You can find me and the rest of Words After Dark at our website which is words-after-dark.square.site um and you can find all our stories about dogs and murder and monster hunting and arsonist and found family and all that kinda stuff. We’re also on Facebook: Words After Dark, and that has a link to our discord where people can hang out and say hi. You can find me personally on Twitter and Instagram @anmousewrites . And we’re also at cons in the midwest! So you can find us face to face and track us down. And then we can’t hide from you! *laughs* We’re really pretty easy to find. So please come and say hello everyone.
Dianna: Awesome! Well thank you so much for joining us. Good luck with your incoming project, and good luck with con season! I know that’s always a trial for every author who actually does it. Especially for disabled authors.
A: Thank you so much!
Dianna: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Spoonie Author’s Podcast. Spoonie Author’s Podcast is part of The Spoonie Author’s Network: a community initiative dedicated to sharing the stories of disabled authors, and educating abled people about what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts are also available on the Spoonie Author’s Network. To find out more or become a contributor, visit spoonieauthorsnetwork.blog. And of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, make sure to leave a 5 star review on your podcast streaming platform.