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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’m your host, Dianna Gunn, and joining us today is Nathan Caro Frechette. Nathan Caro Frechette is a queer, transgender, sequential artist, publisher, and author. He is co-owner of Renaissance Press, and creator of the ongoing online graphic novel Some Assembly Required. Hello, Nathan!
Dianna: I’m very excited to have you join us. You are actually our first graphic novel writer, so that’s exciting. Tell us a little bit of about that. Some Assembly Required, what is it?
Nathan: So Some Assembly Required is actually a story about a friendship that kind of turns into romance. It’s a story about polyamory, it’s a story about mental illness – um – so it’s basically the story of Louis who is the main character of the story, and he’s in love with his best friend Laurent. Um – and – sorry – and he – Laurent – starts developing symptoms of mental illness, and Louis by (sorry, my dogs are all over the place *laughs*) through his friendship and falling in love with him sort of helps him, (not get better, that’s one of the tropes i hate most about like mental illness and romance is like “Let me kiss you and your mental illness will go away”) he learns how to live with it, how to deal with it every day, and sort of do the things he needs to do to cope.
Dianna: Yeah, goodness knows that’s a lot. *laughs* Uh – so what inspired you to start this project?
Nathan: So, I actually have Dissociative Identity Disorder, which is what Laurent has in the story. And when I was dealing with the worst patches of dealing with my illness, I started looking for works of fiction, because I tend to view my life through the lens of fiction. So I –
Dianna: Can I ask you to backtrack for a moment, and just for our listeners who maybe don’t know, give a little information about what Dissociative Identity Disorder is?
Nathan: Yeah, so – so Dissociative Identity Disorder is what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder. It’s actually a disorder in which you dissociate, you become used to dissociating so often you actually have aspects of yourself that are like fragmented. So it’s a dissociative disorder. There’s a lot of dissociation, and there’s a weird relationship with your body too. But yeah basically I have these alters in my mind that are different aspects of my personality that sometimes take over and I will have memory loss, and people will have to deal with what appear to be really radical mood swings, but they weren’t mood swings, they were personality changes. Um, so yeah, when I was dealing with the worst of it and my partner was helping me through it, I didn’t find anything that didn’t picture us either as victims or serial killers, for some reason Dissociative Identity Disorder is a really popular thing to give to your serial killer even though we are far more likely to be a victim of violence than to be a perpetrator of violence.
Nathan: So I got really fed up with people like me being represented like that, and I wanted to have something – I chose to do the main character as the one who didn’t have the disorder as opposed to the one who did because I didn’t want to get into the heaviness of psychotherapy and all that. I just wanted to like show the day to day life, and how it affects others around you and how you cope with this.
Dianna: Awesome! I think that’s really important. Especially because, as you said, Dissociative Identity Disorder is so misrepresented.
Nathan: It’s really – yeah
Dianna: It’s –
Nathan: It’s really discouraging what’s out there.
Dianna: Yeah, it’s something that I’ve actually personally been doing a fair bit of research on recently, and it’s astounding to me how different the reality is from what is perceived to be the reality.
Nathan: Oh yeah, it’s completely ridiculous. Like there’s so many awful, egregious things out there. Like you know the movie Split kind of comes to mind. That’s kind of the recent things that is really – I tried to put myself through this, I don’t know why, I feel like I need to see all the things you know that represent DID. Don’t do it, it’s awful. There’s also like I can remember an episode of – I used to like this show called Psych, it’s about this, like, guy who cons people into thinking he’s psychic and he solves crimes. But he’s really just observant, he doesn’t have any psychic ability. It’s a comedy. But there was this really awful episode that came on about this guy who went around trying to get what they called a sex change operation because he had DID and one of his alters was a woman, and whenever he met a therapist who wouldn’t give him that he would murder them.
Nathan: Seriously! It was probably the most awful representation that I can think of that I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot, a lot of it. Both for like, being transgender, and for having DID.
It was just a combination of so many awful things it just boggles the mind.,
Dianna: Yeah! It really does boggle the mind. That – I mean, now that I’ve been doing this podcast for a while, I’ve interviewed a whole ton of authors in the last few weeks who are very much immersed in these things. But even before that, I don’t think I would have been able to write that narrative, and not see at least some of the problems.
Nathan: Right? Like, how do you do so little research that this seems like an okay thing to write?
Dianna: I don’t know. I think it does come from: a lot of writers, their research is just consuming other fiction. Sometimes that’s okay, but a lot of the time that leads to a lot of really problematic things. Especially when you rely on fiction for research about marginalized folks.
Nathan: Absolutely! And fiction about marginalized folks – and especially, well, not especially – all of fiction written about marginalized folks is mainly written by people who don’t have that perspective. And, you know, especially the big publishers that tend to have this idea that “well, Stephen King can write about it much better because he’s Stephen King, right? “ Even though (and I’m not singling out Stephen King, he just pops into my mind when we think about a really big name author). But you know, any like cis-het able bodied able minded white guy would be much better to write about these things because he’s already famous. No! Own voice is so important! And especially because, like you said, it feeds on itself and engenders more ideas and more fiction, and then you just perpetuate these ideas!
Dianna: Exactly! So bringing things back to Some Assembly Required: you’ve been working on this project for a while now. What has been the most exciting part of working on this project?
Nathan: Honestly the reception that it had. It’s been really well received by people who read it. I have a lot of avid fans that I know if I don’t post my page on time (and I’ve been really bad these last couple of years about being on time!) they let me know. And that’s really – I don’t know, it’s really cool to know there are people who are like “Oh my god, I need one more page of this right now!. So, yeah, it’s a really personal thing for me, writing this story. I’ve written a lot of weird fantasy and science fiction and all that, but this to me is probably, like, the most personal thing I’ve ever written. And to know that there are people out there who just like, you know, hanging on every page is indescribable.
Dianna: Yeah, that sounds amazing. I’m glad to hear that it’s doing so well. So, you’re also co-owner of Renaissance Press, can you tell us, well, start by telling us a little bit about what Renaissance is.
Nathan: So Renaissance Press is a publisher of diverse Canadian fiction. Uh – We specialize in own voice fiction of all genres and all voices. So we, what we do is we don’t focus on “Well we publish mystery” or “we publish science fiction”, we focus on who is writing the story. So we want to see stories about disabled people, written by disabled people. We want to see stories about, you know, LGBT people written by people who are of the same letter in the alphabet, so lesbian fiction written by a lesbian people, bisexual by bisexual people, transgender fiction written by transgender people. We just want to see good, honest, own voice representation.
Dianna: Awesome And, how do you balance having this publishing house with your personal creative projects?
Nathan: Honestly, it’s not difficult to balance at all. Like I find I’m so excited by all the stuff that I publish that it feeds my own creativity, and then I have to go and write some more. For sure I have to count spoons like a lot of other people, but it’s so inspiring doing work with Renaissance. Working with all these awesome people and awesome stories, I don’t know, it’s the kind of effort that gives me more energy.
Dianna: Absolutely, I completely understand that. How do you manage that with your disability? Does that impact the balance? Are there ways you’ve found to work around that to make it easier?
Nathan: I have to say that what impacts my disability mostly is probably my day job. If I could make Renaissance my day job that would probably not be a problem anymore, because I’m quite good at facing, like, I have a long view of like “Okay, well I need to get this book out by May, so that means that – “ (I’m very good at making piecemeal goals) “-I need to get the cover done by then, the editing needs done by then”, little little goals like that. I never look at it like “This book has to be done!” I look at it as “Okay, this has to be done, this has to be done”. I use trello a lot with my team, it’s trello.com I think. It’s like, you have little cards. Every book has a little card that has all the little steps, who is in charge of each little step, and when each little step is due. I kind of micromanage myself, so it works really well for me.
Dianna: I’m so glad to hear that works for somebody! I actually use trello for my day job. I find that it’s really great for working with people. So my day job is: I edit a blog, and I work with freelancers, so I find that a great tool for working with people, especially international folks. But I tried to create trello boards for my own personal projects, and it just doesn’t work for me. That kind of micromanagement just makes me feel cramped and crowded and like I don’t have any space for my creativity.
Nathan: Yeah! So part of what I do is I set myself certain days and certain spaces for doing nothing, which is something I found I really need to do. If I don’t schedule things like family days, if I don’t schedule time for a meal, if I don’t schedule time for these things I just don’t do it. I’m a workaholic, not in the way people say at job interviews “Well I’m a workaholic, I like to work hard”, no I’m a workaholic in the sense that I used to go to the movies, sit 15 minutes in the movie, and get tense because I could have been working or doing a project. I couldn’t have any hobbies, I couldn’t enjoy anything I would just work work work work myself ragged, because I needed to accomplish things, I need to do things, and I have all these projects going. And so I found that scheduling like that, like tomorrow is a day where I’m not working: it’s Sunday, I’m spending time with my family, I’m making brunch, in the afternoon we might play with Legos, but it’s scheduled! And it’s like this. So if I don’t schedule time off, I could very well go without meals or taking a shower, just work work work work .
Dianna: I definitely understand that. I have definitely looked up from a book project or something else and realized it’s 8 o’clock at night and I haven’t eaten yet.
Dianna: How do you cope with the anxiety, or does making it a scheduled thing mean you don’t have that anxiety while you’re not working? As a creative I find that really hard.
Nathan: Yeah, for me having a scheduled thing takes and knowing like “okay, this is the time for this”, it really helps the anxiety. If I was going, not willy nilly, but a little more loosey goosey and saying “Well right now I could do this, right now I could do that” then I would always have the anxiety of “I should be working, I should be working on this project, this deadline is looming,” and all that.
Dianna: That makes sense.
Nathan: For me, scheduling is not like, I don’t do it to myself, I do it for myself because I need to not have that anxiety.
Dianna: That’s a really great reframing: “not doing it to yourself, doing it for yourself. Words are so important and there’s so many little things in the way that we as people with anxiety develop our internal self talk. So much of it is so toxic.
Nathan: It really is.
Dianna; Like something that was said to me a few months ago that just totally reframed my whole mind was: don’t think that you’re ugly, think that you’re not your type.
Nathan: Yes! I’ve heard that too, and I love it!
Dianna: As a woman who is attracted to men who weigh like 90 pounds soaking wet, I am very much not my type. *laughs* And that reframing has been so helpful for me. It allows me to, you know, look the mirror and not hate myself, but it also makes it much easier to accept compliments. And it just, it seems like a small change, but those tiny changes in how you see yourself, how you talk to yourself, can change your whole life.
Nathan: Oh, yeah, definitely.
Dianna: So, you are very involved in the movement for representation for all folks. Can you talk a bit about where you think media in general (not just publishing) but media as a whole is in terms of disability representation, and what you would like to see change in the coming years?
Nathan: Um – So there’s a lot of the reason I started Renaissance in this question. There’s just not that much great representation out there. I got really tired of waiting for the big publishing houses to like, you know, kind of do it. And I think we’re seeing more and more nowadays that it’s just not going to happen. They’re not going to move out of their very rigid “Well it has to be this this and this so I can sell it! So I can put it in a bookstore and sell it!”. You know, there’s a lot of talk right now about the book American Dirt, I don’t know if you’re – well you’re on author Twitter, so obviously you must have heard about it.
Dianna: In an interview earlier today we were actually just talking about this! *laughs* Less than an hour ago.
Nathan: It just shows how the industry is not changing at all, and they’re not learning, they’re not understanding this.
Dianna: Absolutely. Let’s give some context to that just for listeners.
Nathan: So for listeners, American Dirt is a book that was written by, by all reports, a white woman with a white immigrant boyfriend who is from Ireland, I think? Her husband?
Nathan: And she writes about the, you know, immigrant experience from a Mexican point of view using (reportedly because I haven’t read the book and I don’t intend to) but horrible cliches and – yeah, it’s just a garbage fire. Everything around this book right now. To me it – it’s just a perfect example and everything is happening right now, especially with romance writers.
These big huge behemoths, you know, they’re not – they’re not going to change. It’s not, it’s not going to happen, What’s going to change is – what’s really going to change things is if people start looking towards indie publishers like Renaissance, but like other publishers too! Um – Heart Sparks Press in the States does a lot of transgender and things specifically for transgender women and transgender women. And Renaissance obviously, I’m Renaissance’s biggest ambassador, I’m always going to talk about Renaissance books, but people have to start questioning who writes the books that they’re consuming. Whose story is this? A story about a black woman, is it going to be the same if it’s written by a white man? Or by a black woman? The answer to this should be obvious, but it’s not. So, you know, look at where you’re getting your books. Encourage indie publishers and indie authors. Look up recommendations by people who are actually from the demographic that you’re interested in reading about, you know? Listen to transgender people’s recommendations of transgender books, don’t just go on New York Times and see what’s selling because most of the time it’s not going to be good representation.
Dianna: Yeah and I mean, just it not being own voice doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a terrible representation, but if you’re looking at a book about a marginalized person written by a straight cishet white dude, you need to look at the reviews of that book because, you know, unless you’re from that marginalized identity that they’re writing about, there’s a good chance you won’t even notice the problems with the representation.
Nathan: Absolutely! Absolutely, Goodreads is great for that because whenever there’s a book that’s really good representation, people talk about it in our little circles. I’m transgender, and looking at Twitter and Goodreads, I can always tell whether a book is going to have good representation by what other transgender people are talking about it. You know if they’re telling you like, “Oh, well, you know, there’s that in it” or if they’re going “Oh my God, you should read this!”. I know that I’m probably not going to have a bad experience reading this if another transgender person is putting it in my hand and going “Oh my God, it’s so cool!”
Dianna: Yeah, absolutely. Um – Are there any specific things that you see currently happening in the media, other than the appropriation of marginalized stories by non marginalized folks, that you’d like to see die? *laughs* Things like, harmful tropes. What would you like to see less of?
Nathan: *sigh* I would really really love to see a lot less of mental health being used as an excuse and a prop for people committing horrible, horrible things. Um – mentally ill people are not your enemy. Mentally ill people are not a danger to you. And, um, you know, just because someone is talking to themselves on the bus doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. Um – So yeah, this is – this is one thing I would like to see die. I haven’t seen Joker, but I’ve heard a lot of really bad things about it. You know, it’s just – it’s so anchored in social consciousness that woah, mentally ill people! They’ll kill you! That is probably one thing that is my battle. I need to see this die.
Dianna: Yeah. And it’s so common right now. Right now the thing that’s in vogue is for villains to have tragic backstories and mental illnesses. And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but it’s not – when it’s not also balanced with the heroes having mental illnesses, it’s extremely harmful.
Nathan: And you know what, here’s the thing: most people, when they experience something horrible and tragic will actually develop a lot more empathy and a lot less likeliness of – of becoming a hardened criminal or something like that. You know, it’s not something that you learn necessarily because of trauma, and trauma actually makes you a lot more empathetic to other people’s trauma. It doesn’t make you a killer.
Dianna: Generally not. *voices overlapping* Unless your trauma is you were groomed to be a serial killer and then became a serial killer because you were trained that way. But for the most part.
Nathan: Yeah but it’s not because – you know it’s – it’s definitely something I need to see die. *laughs*
Dianna: I am with you there. I find it hard to talk about that particular trope because all of my villains do have mental illnesses, but like, you can point to any character in my book, except for literally the dragon, and it will have a mental illness. *laughs*
Nathan: Why doesn’t the dragon??? I’m sorry. *laughs*
Dianna: He just – he’s very innocent and naive. He doesn’t have a mental illness at the time of the story. *laughs* But yeah, point at any of the humans in my story and they have a mental illness, unless they’re only in one scene one time. Uh – so I do have some trouble talking about this subject, but I think there is a very specific way it’s happening in the media right now.
Honestly, I think it’s all because of the Dark Knight.
Dianna: Because the Dark Knight popularized that portrayal of a villain. That whole trilogy really popularized that portrayal of villains so much.
Nathan: We can look back at so many things: people killing people because they hear voices telling them to do so, you know? And I think about examples from my own youth. I remember Primal Fear, I remember oh my God, Fight Club! It’s always been a trope.
Things like Silence of the Lambs.
Dianna: Oh, yeah! It’s repopularized every couple of decades by a new piece of media.
Dianna: This couple of decades I think it was the Dark Knight. Especially because so many of the movies coming out right now are comic book movies, and what put those movies on the map again was that trilogy.
Dianna: I feel like a lot of the comic book movies are overly angsty now because they’re trying to lean into that kind of success, and it doesn’t really work for a lot of comic book characters. But that’s a whole different podcast. *laughs*
Nathan: Another thing is, you know, dealing with these things doesn’t always have to be gritty and dark and scary. It can just be, like, ordinary. Mental illness is really prevalent. A lot of people have a mental illness. It is something that is ordinary. There are people who have severe mental illness that you would never know about talking to them for five minutes. This is what I want to see represented: I want to see people just living their lives. .
Dianna: Absolutely.Can you give a shout out to some works of media that are doing disability representation well? Obviously you have Renaissance Press, but I would love to see you share some other things as well.
Nathan: I have to recommend Nothing Without Us, edited by Kat Gorden and Talia Johnson. I know it’s a Renaissance book but it’s just such a stupendous work. I’ve published it, and I have a story in it, but I’ve read it and re-read it and re-re-read it because it’s so comforting. There are some stories that will make you feel vindicated, there’s some stories that will make you go “Oh my God, that’s so cool!”, some will make you laugh out loud, this is the kind of representation that I want to see more of in the media. Um, as for positive representation of mental illness, I really like Amelie, I know that it’s probably not the first thing people think of when it comes to mental illness, but it’s definitely about mental health and illness, people’s relationships with trauma and with each other. I can’t think of many examples of positive representation because much of what I see is so bad. So those two.
Dianna: Those two are plenty! Unfortunately. And hopefully by the time this actually goes live, you will have listened to the other episodes of the and have waaay more disabled stories to talk about.
Nathan: That would be awesome!
Dianna: So: we are getting close to time, can you tell people where to find more about you and your work? Especially where they can find out more about Renaissance Press.
Nathan: So I will give you a couple of things to look at: you can always go on my website nathancarofrechette.ca – you can see a lot of my stuff there. Also on tapas.io you can check out Some Assembly Required. I recommend it *laughs*. To find out more about Renaissance Press, you can go to https://pressesrenaissancepress.ca/. We are closed to submissions, but if you have something you think we will really really love you can always send us an email. All of our books are listed there and you can find out about all the awesome people who make up Renaissance. I think there are about 30 people, all in all.
Dianna: Oh, wow!
Nathan: I think we are publishing our 40th book this year!
Dianna: Congratulations! That’s amazing!
Nathan: It’s really growing leaps and bounds. When we started Renaissance, I didn’t expect how much response I would get. But yeah it’s really – you can see the need for own voices fiction just by how much we are growing.
Dianna: Absolutely! My first interview was with Cat Gordon who runs the Spoonie Author’s Network, and it’s similar: she expected to be working with maybe one or two of her friends, and now they have 20 contributors. I put out one tweet for this podcast and I got all the interviews I needed for six months immediately. There’s definitely a need, and I’m really excited to see that people are out there and they’re telling their stories, even if it’s through small publishing, or self publishing, and we aren’t getting the eyes of the mainstream media. But we’re out here writing stories, and it’s really great.
Nathan: Oh, I have another recommendation that popped into my mind just now: check out Soul’s Blood by Stephen Graham King, it’s a fantastic sort of like, you know, bad boy sci fi. *laughs* If you like , what’s it called, oh my God…Firefly! If you like Firefly you will like this, and it’s super queer, and it has disability representation, and nonbinary representation, and it’s awesome.
Dianna: Awesome! I’m very excited to check that out. Soul’s Blood is such a cool title, jeez.
Nathan: It is really cool. *laughs*
Dianna: Alright, it has been really lovely to chat with you. Um – such a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining us and being your awesome authentic self, and have a great evening!
Nathan: Thank you!
Dianna: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Spoonie Authors Podcast. The Spoonie Authors Podcast is part of the Spoonie Authors Network: a community initiative devoted to sharing the stories of disabled authors and educating abled people about what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts of this podcast are also available on the Spoony Authors Network. To learn more or become a contributor visit spoonieauthorsnetwork.blog.com And of course, if you enjoyed this podcast make sure to leave a five star review on your favorite podcast streaming platform.