My Identity Is Political and I Will Not Be Silent

Language is a marvelous thing. It’s fluid, it changes over time, it allows people to communicate in a myriad of ways. It gives us storytelling and love. Language, in all its many forms and transcendent qualities, is what ties us together as a species.

Language has always been co-opted by oppressors in an effort to oppress; language has often been reclaimed by people who wish to turn harmful words into words of power. Language is not a clear-cut mode of communication, nor does it mean the same thing to everyone. Words have meaning, power, and can be used for uplifting others or harming others. Language is always in flux, and it’s beautiful.

Language is also how we come up with terms to express ourselves, define our identity, and name our politics. Our beliefs and our passions are expressed in language. Our fierceness and our tenderness is shown in language. Language is as vast as the sky and as intimate as a welcome touch from a loved one. We tell stories with language; we fight wars with language; we make peace with language. It’s part of our universe, our daily lives, our dreams.

Language is important as fuck, and what we do with it—the words we use, the words we refuse—is as much a part of ourselves as how we dress or what movies we like or what we do when we see cute animal gifs on the internet.

Language is tied to identity, and identity is political, and this is why I reject the premise of “leave political identity at the door” when having conversations, breathing, or smiting the patriarchy. Identity is intertwined with politics; identity is political; who we are as people, is, like our need for language—in whatever form that takes—an indivisible element of our psyches and our souls.

Language is political; identity is political; language is identity. Follow me, if you will, into a few examples of how this works and why I am fiercely vocal about my choice of language in my identity.

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Identity Is Political

CW: this post will discuss online harassment, trolling, and have screenshots with potentially upsetting language (including abelist language, accusations, misgendering comments, and inflammatory rhetoric). There are elements of this post that discuss author Jon Del Arroz.

I also wish to advise people who are not familiar with Jon Del Arroz’s online bullying and harassment techniques that if you engage with me about him, or engage him directly, he is likely to harass you, tag you in unwanted tweets, email or DM you, and otherwise seek to be disruptive and suck away your time. (And he is known to quote-tweet people in order to passively-aggressively get his followers to continue the harassment or dogpile a commentator, while claiming to be uninvolved.)

Please take care of yourself first when deciding whether or not to engage.


For several months now, I’ve on-again off-again had interactions with another author in the SFF field: Mr. Jon Del Arroz. If that name sounds familiar, you may know him as the dude who got himself banned from WorldCon 76, denied membership into the SFWA, and who has continually sought to harass and disrupt other authors in the field (such as John Scalzi, Cat Rambo, Chuck Wendig, Jim C. Hines, and many others). Mr. Hines wrote a detailed and thoroughly researched post about Mr. Del Arroz’s behavior, which you can read on Jim’s blog.

For the record, yes, I did write an email to the SFWA board with my concerns about Mr. Del Arroz’s membership application. Here is the full text of my letter, which was addressed to the SFWA Board, time stamped Thu, Dec 21, 2017 at 5:54 PM:

According to a public blog post dated December 20th 2017, Jon Del Arroz posted his intent to apply for SFWA membership. On File 770, there are screencaps of tweets by JDA stating his intent to use a bodycam in order to film SFWA members in the con suite non-consensually.

(I’ve taken screenshots of both posts, respectively, in the event the original blog post is removed.)

http://file770.com/?p=39639
https://donotlink.it/mmyk

As an active SFWA member and a person with a marginalized identity (being trans and non-binary), I find Mr. Del Arroz‘s position and trolling both harmful and threatening. Given his recent association with noted transphobic author Milo Yiannopoulos, I also worry for the safety and mental health of myself and my fellow trans people, writers both in the SFWA and not yet joined, and the damage Mr. Del Arroz could potentially cause within the organization.

Considering that the SFWA site has a directory of members’ personal information, and access to social media such as twitter and Slack and the blog, I feel Mr. Del Arroz could cause extreme harm to individuals, the organization as a whole, and the reputation of the SFWA as a professional organization.

I’m a Nebula Awards finalist (2016, “This Is Not A Wardrobe Door”) and professional author, and I am intending to attend the Nebulas in 2018 in Pittsburg and other conventions where there may be a SFWA con suite available. I would feel highly unsafe were Mr. Del Arroz to be accepted into the SFWA and allowed access to the directory, the forums, the social media, and the con suites.

I value the SFWA, the services it offers, and the sense of community it provides among members. I would formally like to ask the SFWA board and membership review board to decline Mr. Del Arroz‘s membership into the association, for the reasons of safety and security mentioned above. He has not shown himself to hold to professional standards in the past, and the active threats against marginalized authors and persons attending the cons or within the organization is unacceptable.

Thank you for your time and for hearing my position on this matter.
Sincerely,
Merc Rustad
(writing as A. Merc Rustad, SFWA active member since 2015)

There followed a kerfuffle within the SFF community about this (and tendrils of it are still ongoing). Mr. Del Arroz contacted me via email (from the contact page on my site), and tagged me in tweets. Screencaps of the interactions are posted here.

This is my twitter thread in which I spoke about why I emailed the SFWA board about Mr. Del Arroz. (The link is to a QT of the SFWA’s decision, but you can click through and read the original thread.)

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Del Arroz emailed me with the subject line: Please don’t talk shit.
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Then he tweeted this on 12/22/2017

(Note the misgendering comment. My pronouns and gender are listed quite publicly on my website,  which he had to have been to in order to email me from the contact form.)

Also so it’s clear, yes, I blocked Mr. Del Arroz on twitter as soon as he was kicked out of Codex, a semi-pro writing forum. I’m an active member on Codex, and as I respect the privacy policy of the site, I won’t comment on the circumstances of Mr. Del Arroz’s ban. He broke the rules and he was removed. Soon after, I blocked him on social media, given how he lashed out at moderators on Codex for their actions.

This is another twitter thread in which I share receipts about contact with Mr. Del Arroz. Below is one of his QTs about my thread.

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“For being who they are.” Sounds suspiciously like “identity politics,” eh? But let’s not bring those into the discussion, no. I was talking about known, documented behaviors. I have not commented on his ethnicity, his gender, his political beliefs, or his religion. My comments, my concerns, were and are directly related to Mr. Del Arroz’s behavior online and stated intentions for behavior in private (physical) con spaces, and the language he uses towards and against other people.

This is an email thread between myself and Mr. Del Arroz. [These are screenshots. For readers who have difficulty seeing the images and would like a text transcript, please let me know and I will be happy to provide you with a text transcript.]

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I did not respond to the last email. Mr. Del Arroz then tweeted the following:

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“Check identity politics at the door.”

Like a coat you bought last October, when the weather began to chill. “Here’s your ticket, please pick up your identity when you’re done with the event.” Until then, it’ll just hang here on racks with all the other coats.

What “check identity politics at the door” is truly saying is this: discard pieces of yourself in neat piles and walk through that door with holes in your body, in your mind, in your soul. Rip apart your psyche and leave the bloody remains in a rusted bucket, like an aesthetic prop in a horror movie.

This phrase is saying: Destroy yourself, piece by piece; dehumanize yourself; be complicit in your own subjection by oppressors.

And to that, I say, “No.”


The term “identity politics” grates on me because of the inherent assumption that identities are not political, when in fact they are, and always have been.

Identity is who we are. Identity is political because, in all of human history, some humans will leverage their identities as being superior to other people. Those in power and privilege will use this as an excuse to exact harm, commit murder, rape, genocide, atrocities, and otherwise dehumanize and destroy those they don’t like.

“Identity” isn’t something you shrug off when it’s inconvenient to someone else. You don’t tell me, and my friends, and the millions of people out there like me, to simply disengage aspects of our humanity, then expect us to get along with you.

No one gets to declare “no identity politics!!” as if we are simply masses of accessories to discard on a whim. You do not get to say the playing field is equal just because you have certain privileges (part of your identity) that makes you less likely to be harmed.

Trolls are gonna troll, it’s true. I dislike them. But because they can, and do, harm others, I am willing to plant my banner on this hill and fight them, so the more vulnerable of my people do not have to expend the energy to do so.

In fact, the only trolls I like are the Olog-hai, because I adore all the orcs in the video game Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

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Isn’t he great? [Image screenshot from Middle-earth: Shadow of War © 2017 by WB Games]

Brilliant as always, friend and fellow author Elsa Sjunneson-Henry tweeted this the other day, and it has stuck with me:

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Link to Elsa’s tweet

Damn, is this not spot-on and beautiful?

Matt Dovey, a good friend and amazing SFF author, succinctly added to my point with this impeccable line, quoted here with his permission:

“ID politics” pretends there’s politics without ID, when all that actually is is erasure.

Well said, Matt and Elsa. Well said.

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Image: Shea Labeouf applauding (gif)

I will not take myself apart for the comfort and ego-soothing of others, like men who are in positions of privilege. Especially bigots. To peel away layers of identity and simply discard them because some dude decries it? Fuck that noise. No.

Who I am is political: existing in this world as a trans, non-binary, autistic queer person is political as fuck and I will not break myself apart at another’s insistence. It doesn’t work like that. To suggest otherwise is insulting and in many ways leads to self-harm.

Because there are people who cannot safely be out about their identity. They hide out of necessity or shame, and my heart breaks for them. I was once hidden in shadow, swallowing down any protest about my name, my gender, by brain. I understand the need to hide, and I understand the pain and violence and crisis that can crash down on those of us who are trying to navigate a hostile world.

Language helped me understand who I am. Finding words such as “non-binary” and “queer” and learning that I, too, could claim these as my own, as words to describe myself, was life-saving. Language matters; how we use language matters, and it always has. I am proud of who I am. I am grateful for all my friends and support network who have helped me understand myself; I am indebted to those who came before and carved out space and claimed words and said, “Yes, you belong. We welcome you here. You are valued and you are valid.”

And so I want to say to those who are searching, who are still finding the language needed to define themselves, who are in need of support and community: We’re here and we care about you and you’ll find your way. ❤ I believe in you.

I wish to be visible to help others who cannot be visible yet know they are not alone. My use of language is a choice, to speak with and to others.

My identity is political as fuck, always has been, always will be, and I will never leave it by the door or anywhere else.

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Image: Gif of President Obama’s mic drop

 

If you liked this and wish to support me, there are several ways!

My debut short story collection, SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROBOT, is available for sale! Amazon | B&N | Lethe Press | Powell’s Books

You can support my Patreon!

I have a Ko-Fi, if you’d like to buy me a coffee!

And of course, signal boosts of my work are always appreciated. Thank you for reading, for your support and your time, and I wish you all the best. ❤

(This post is 2,200 words long.)

Six Years and a Book: Finishing A Novel After A long Hiatus

This is the blog-ified version of a series of tweets I made after finishing my novel, FIVE DEATHS AND A GOD. The storify is here.  ^_^

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November 30th, 2017

*whispers* I finished my first novel yesterday after a six year hiatus.

I’d like to tell you about my novel-writing journey thus far, because it’s been…interesting, shall we say.

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This is a thing that happened.

Okay, so.

I wrote my first *finished* novel in 2003, and it was about an adorable little weasel who goes on a quest to help save his (future boy)friend’s kingdom.

(Wilfy is totally bi. I just didn’t consciously understand or realize that when I was a tiny smol!Merc.)

2004 was the first year I did #NaNoWriMo (I won), finishing my second novel. That was a massive (and hysterically terrible) epic fantasy. It was something like 150k and was the first book in a duology.

That high of finishing a REAL LIFE BOOK-SHAPED THING was addictive. And because I do not have the greatest track record of taking on reasonable amounts of work* or anything less than moon-high ambitious challenges, the next year I set out to write _two_ novels during NaNo.

(*There was a time when smol!Merc asked their piano teacher if they could learn Chopin’s etude No. 14 in F minor because “it sounds so cool.” Teacher wisely, but kindly, said “Let’s wait until you’ve got more experience, okay?”)

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ANYWAY. In 2005 I wrote 1 complete 50k novel–and got 84k into a second that I never finished.

In 2006, I wrote 2 complete novels (one at 50k, one at 110k), and wrote 80k on a third novel I never finished.

In 2007, I wrote 3 adult novels (57k, 94k, 55k) a 20k MG novel, a 30k novella, and a 38k novella. In the unfinished category, I had: one project at 50k and one at 36k.

(Yes, I tried to do five of these in one month for NaNo. Please don’t try this at home, kids. I hurt my brain and my wrists BAD, and the burnout effect began kicking in.)

In 2008, I wrote 1 novel of 74k, a novella of 18k; unfinished, I had a 50k novel and 30k novel. I was constantly at the edge of burnout. (I had also been living with undiagnosed depression and anxiety, in a toxic emotional living situation, and had for years. I just didn’t know it.)

In 2009, I wrote WOLFBOOK1 at 95k, a short MG novelette of 14k, and a horror novellete of 16k. Unfinished projects included: 22k on a novella and 19k on a novel. I also moved to CA for six months, got laid off from my job on New Year’s Day (2010), and moved back to MN.

And then I burned out really badly. I just didn’t quite let myself accept that. So I tried to keep going.

In 2010 I wrote two books: one (a ground-up rewrite, basically a new thing) at 77k, and its sequel at 95k. Unfinished: a project at 37k. Collapsed into a black hole of super toxic work environment as well as living space.

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Photo of finished and uninished manuscripts (hard copy for archival) with an Xbox One controller for scale.

I was convinced I would never write anything again.

(All this time, by the way, I was still also writing short stories and flash.)

In 2011 I wrote COLLARS. It was super short at 65k. And then I got exactly the wrong kind of feedback on the novel, which shattered my resolve and belief I could write this.

I poked at novels from end of 2011 (tried to write one in 2012 but only got 18k in) and for the six years that followed. I never finished anything. From 2012 to 2016 I was in college and allowed myself to not work on novels because, y’know, college. I focused on short stories a lot during collage, and still consider 2014 the year where I made a commitment to writing professionally.

Always in the back of my mind was that terrifying thought: what if i can never write a book again? What if this is it, and all my novel-writing energy is gone forever?

When I graduated and got a job (my current work, which I love), I thought I could start writing novels again. Hahaha, nope.

I mean, 2016 was a thing that happened. In November I toyed with the idea of NaNo, because I had just moved into my apartment and I had my own space and stable work and surely it could improve? Well. We all know what happened on Election Day.

In June of 2017, overwhelmed with personal chaos and trying to enjoy #4thStreetFantasy convention, I poked away at a novel fragment. I was sure it wouldn’t go anywhere. Nothing had in six years, why start now?

After all, it was a ridiculous book. It was like DISHONORED meets We Rate Dogs: a secondary world urban fantasy where everyone is queer and all the dogs are good ofc. Plot: A guy wants to save his boyfriend, and his city, so he kidnaps a god to solve the problem.

It was funny, goofy, heartfelt, full of bad jokes and puns and magic. I made a Pinterest board and everything.

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An alignment chart I made for my book (if all the characters were doggos)

And hell, it was 2017 and everything was on fire.

I had stalled out on revising my dark fantasy novel COLLARS, which is deeply important to me. But it’s just too hard when fighting smoke and trying to dodge, rather than nonchalantly walk away from, explosions.

I needed to take a hiatus from my COG game writing, because my mental health has been fucked in all directions. (JSYK, the people at COG? Top notch humans, and my editor is utterly fantastic, understanding and supportive. Couldn’t ask for better, even when I am a moldering series of loosely held together wire and gears.)

“Who would want this book?” I wondered, as I wrote late and early and on breaks, laughing and having feels and getting super excited and making photoshop alignment charts. Who would want it?

Me. And a bunch of other people who are awesome, whose opinions I respect, and to whom I am deeply grateful for the support and encouragement. ❤

FIVE DEATHS AND A GOD is a book I didn’t imagine existing before June. It’s a finished novel before the end of November. It has been a huge life raft for my brain the second half of this year. (Also video games.)

It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it’s honest, it’s exciting, it’s ridiculous, and it has dogs. So many good doggos. There’s a masquerade ball. Trickster gods. Killer shadows. Everyone’s queer. (Except maybe the one antagonist.) There are trans ppl and NB ppl and POC and queer people and disabled people and autistic people, and many intersections of all the above.

I indulged the fuck out of my id on this, and it shows.

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After six years, I wrote and finished a new novel. In many ways, it feels like my first time doing this book-thing. I’m elated and excited and happy about how it turned out.

_____

So, here’s the point, really. Everyone’s process is unique. Slumps happen. Life happens. Whether it’s your first novel or your fifth or your fiftith, there’s no proscribed process. Each book’s gonna be it’s own weird thing and that’s okay.

It’s okay if you can’t write all the time, or don’t want to write every day, of if you can only write once in awhile. You’re still a writer. If you’re working on a novel? Huzzah, you’re a novelist! Write at your own pace. There are no bonus points awarded if you finish in X time vs Y time. Do what works for you.

It’s okay. We’re literally _pulling whole fucking books out of our heads and hearts. Do you know how wild and mind-boggling that is?! Think about it. A thing that never existed until you wrote it down…BOOM. Now it exists. It’s a real thing. You created it. Pretty cool, huh?

So that has been my journey this far. Is 5DAG better than my other efforts?

Definitely! I’ve grown as a writer. I’m filling my prose with doggos and queers and adorb trans ppl.

Does 5DAG still need a lot of work and revision?

OH HELL YES.

And that’s okay!

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I’m just super happy and proud and excited to have written this thing. 🙂

Never give up, never surrender.

You can do it.

I used to think that was true for everyone but me, but that’s bad!brain lying. I can do this thing, too. Thanks for reading. ❤

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What Stories We Choose To Tell

I want to touch briefly on the topic of narrative choice.

Everything you include or omit in a story is a choice. 

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InspiroBot is your friend.

Who do you include, who do you exclude in the narrative? Who gets a happy ending? Who dies? What happens to your female characters, your POC characters, your queer and trans and non-binary characters? Why does that happen? Who is centered in this universe you unfold on the page? Who doesn’t exist?

True, not all choices are conscious. Sometimes we don’t know any better. Sometimes we have to fight through years of internalized oppressions and bullshit in order to realize we are allowed to have stories and they are allowed to be happy.

Awareness brings responsibility.

As an author, your words have power. How do you use that power? Whose stories do you show, and why? Whose do you refuse to allow? Why?

There are so many amazing people out there doing hard work to make information accessible. There are so many brave, fearless, passionate, compassionate, fierce, honorable, dedicated people out there willing to share their stories, their lives, their experiences, for others who want to listen, for others who need to hear you are not alone.

You must be willing to learn, to understand, to empathize and accept others’ narratives at face value. This is true. It is not always easy, no.

But as an author, your words show a world that reflects your self. Your stories are full of narrative choices that tell us who you are.

Stories are deeply personal things, and they show us our own hearts. When someone reads your work, they see a little of you. Or maybe a lot. But they will see.

What do you choose to show them?

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InspiroBot has all the quotes

Not all of it is (for me) conscious at the start. But I make an effort to become conscious of things I missed or didn’t think about. About people and problems and hurt and joy. And this is an evolving process, yes.

When I was a younger!Merc, I wrote stuff that makes me deeply uncomfortable for how sexist and heteroflail and insensitive it was. A lot of this was pure ignorance. I’m a consumer of culture and media, and so much of this shit is internalized, normalized, romanticized in our popular culture and media that you can’t get away from it.

Until I was able to start looking at it critically, interrogating my internalized problems—so many of which are still deeply engrained and slippery and false, and which I have to constantly fight against—I had no idea what I was doing, or the harm I could, and likely did, do. To myself as well as others. And for that, I apologize.

I am trying to do better. Striving to learn, to listen, to understand.

Because I know every story is a series of deliberate narrative choices. What I choose to share, the stories I choose to tell, are not without consequence, or weight, or remembrance.

Stories affect other human beings.

That is power: to touch another’s life, in however small a way. We must be aware of the responsibility that holds.

MERC vs. BOOK: Revising a Novel, Part 9–Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells This Story?

Additional Parts In This Series

Part 0 | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7.1 & 7.2 | Part 8 | Part 9 (you are here)

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(With thanks to the Hamilton musical for being so quotable!)

Gather ’round, my peeps, for today we are talking about narrative choice and authorial intent!  [I’m specifically going to focus on written/sole-created narratives. Just for ease of this post.]

Everything You Choose Is Deliberate

In fiction, the author is all-powerful. Each choice the author makes–in particular, conscious decisions–reflects on the author. Power carries responsibility. So. When you have complete and total power over the story you choose to tell, what are the responsibilities that come with that?

Equally important: what are an author’s responsibilities when it comes to choosing not to make specific decisions, include specific elements, and otherwise wield their power in a exclusionary way?

When I talk about exclusion, an authorial choice not to include specific elements in a story, this can be literally anything. It can be choosing not to include rape culture or scenes of sexual or domestic violence. It can be choosing not to have any swearing in the story. It can be choosing not to include potatoes.

Exclusionary choices are not inherently bad. They are, like inclusionary choices [what you DO put in a story], simply a spectrum of authorial deliberation. However, as an author, what you do not include is just as important as what you do include. An author must own the responsibility of their choices.

(We’re not going into external meddling–such as editors, executives, elder gods, etc. This focuses specifically on what the author created, and assumes that there is no external pressure to add/subtract/change specific elements.)

Sometimes these choices can arise from unexamined or unknown bias. Sometimes they arise from ignorance–whether to include or exclude specific elements or people from a narrative–and sometimes not.

Does the story include dragons? Fantastical elements? FTL drives? Superpowers? Does the story feature any queer, trans, disabled, POC, elderly people, minorities, women, or other demographics found everywhere in the world?

If you have dragons but no People of Color, what does that say about your choices? “Historical accuracy” is a false claim when it’s not actually historically accurate. Does a spacefaring worldship harbor only cishet white people? What does that say about your perspective?

Look at it this way. You choose a POV (point of view) character(s) for your story, just like you choose whether it’s written in first-, second-, or third-person (or maybe all of them!), and just like you choose which tense to use for the narrative. Those are deliberate decisions made in order to shape the story.

The content of that story is no less deliberate.

You have the power to choose what you write about, who you write about, and for whom you write. Your responsibility is in how you use that power.

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Making Choices: Who Lives and Who Dies

The novel has very strong thematic questions about power, responsibility, and what we owe each other and ourselves with our actions.

It’s also got a lot of action and drama. The plot focuses on authoritative powers who want to destroy things, and the protagonists are caught in this fight and must decide how it ends.

It would be so easy to make this book tragic. It would be so easy to kill everyone off for ‘dramatic effect’ in the ending; to have the characters die in order to succeed. Maybe that would be “edgy.” There is set-up that could allow for the resolution to go either way (victory and life, or victory and death). All I can say is: FUCK THAT NOISE.

There will be no queer tragedy in this book. Damaveil and his husband live and are happy; Rajosja and her wife live and are happy; Bane lives and is… getting there; it just takes a little longer before he is happy again. The non-binary characters live and are happy.

Do people die? Sure. Lots of them. Past and present. This is a dark book; a lot of terrible things happen. That does not mean it must end badly for all the queer and trans characters who exist within.

Death is not the default ending. 

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unapologetic happy ending

 

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Making Choices: Who Tells the Story

 

So, when I wrote the first draft of this book (*cough*timeago*cough*) I did not actually know I was ace/aro. (Ace = asexual, which means I do not feel sexual attraction to other people. Aro = aromantic, which means I am not interested in romantic relationships with other people.) I had inklings about being a somewhat outlier circle on a Venn diagram mapping out human axises of sexuality, but it would be nearly two years after this draft was written before I encountered vocabulary for defining myself.

RoAnna Sylver has a tweet thread about ace/aro representation in media that is spot-on and utterly fantastic, and I urge you to read the whole thing.

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Bane is asexual. When I picked up this draft in order to revise, that jumped out at me like a neon sign. (He’s also neuroatypical, which is also something I did not have words for, or consciously realize about myself, when I was writing.)

When I realized this, it made me so happy. And I knew him being ace was an element I would not change. Not for any reason.

I, as a reader and consumer of media, want to see more representation (positive!) on various axises; ace, aro, neuroatypical, queer, trans, non-binary… to name but a few. So I feel it my duty, as a writer, to do what I can to include characters that reflect the vast, amazing, kickass aspects of humanity. I will not always succeed, and not every story will contain every multitude of people. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. ^_^

A protagonist is one of the many lenses through which we experience story. A protagonist, often, has a large amount of page/screen time. Who you give this time, energy, and presence to in your work says something. You, as the author, choose what it is you’re saying.

Bane has flaws, and also a lot of goodness. He’s empathetic, compassionate, and strives to help people. He has strong friendships without needing romance or sexual relationships. He can save the world when others would ask him only to destroy it.

And he can have a happy ending.

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 So, creators, keep in mind your power and your responsibility. When you mess up, you will be called on it, and how you respond is equally a choice. You can do better if you want. You can try harder. Work better.

(I actually have an unfinished post that examines authorial power/responsibility in more detail, and will aim to finish that up and post–it might be more useful to people as a stand-alone article.)

I’d love to hear from you folks, too: what decisions do you make in your creative work? What do you choose to include or exclude?

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Coming up next… Merc has no idea, because they need to get back to the ‘fill in all the gaps from the revision outline’ drafting phase! xD So stay tuned…

GALACTIC BOUNTY HUNTER

Got the contract finalized today, and I also have permission to share, so! I am beyond excited to be writing an interactive novel (game) for Choice of Games!

IT’S SPACE OPERA SNARK. Plant monsters and spaceships and evil corporations and aliens and romance and explosions and tough choices!

(And for those interested, I’ll be blogging about the process–everything from pitching to planning to planting words all over (aka writing/coding). THERE WILL BE SCREENCAPS.)

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Curious what it’s about? This is how I conceptualized the idea:

It’s like Mass Effect meets The Witcher with a liberal dose of Deadpool.

A more official pitch:

You’re a bounty hunter short on work in and deep in debt. You get offered a job by a company called Epsilon Express Enterprises: Hunt down some monsters terrorizing a mining colony. Problem is, all the colonists want the monsters to stay, because they’re the only thing keeping the people alive. What’re gonna do about it?

You decide in Galactic Bounty Hunter, an interactive SF novel by Merc Rustad.

I’m so thrilled to be writing an interactive novel! Set in space! Where you play a bounty hunter! COULD IT BE MORE PERFECT FOR A MERC PROJECT? So, stay tuned. ^_^ I’ll definitely be posting updates!

 

MERC vs. BOOK: Revising a Novel, Part 8–A Little Night Music and Stick Figures

Additional Posts In This Series

Part 0 | Part 1Part 2Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7.1 & 7.2 | Part 8 (you are here)

Music!

I love creating playlists for different projects. It’s not procrastination if it helps me focus, and music* is really good for stimulating my brain cells when I’m creating things.

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A selection of this novel’s playlist–it’s still growing…
*By this I mean carefully selected music that I like and have picked out and am familiar with. I can’t listen to the radio or most streaming services because there’s too much unpredictability.

What goes into the process of selecting music? Ahahahaha, I wish I had a scientific and logical answer, but it’s really “what sounds good, mood-wise” which is as subjective as words themselves.

I’ve chosen a mix of songs that vary in mood, theme, sound–generally nothing super fast-paced; instrumental or solo vocals with some choral; lower down in the playlist there is a lot of Two Steps From Hell tracks (from the album Batlecry), because they make epic music that is highly cinematic without being specifically linked to individual movies. So, because I am also a very visual writer, I like music that sounds like it’d be from a epic fantasy soundtrack, but without being associated with a movie I like/have seen.

For the tracks from albums or soundtracks that I’m familiar with (you will notice music from Hero and Dragon Age Inquisition: Tresspasser, as well as musicals and other films), the music is usually tied to a specific emotion or association–for example, songs by Rammstein (shown here are “Ohne Dich” and “Spring“) evokes tragedy and creepiness (respectively).

And then, after all that careful work to arrange them in an order I’m pleased with, I still tend to hit shuffle and go with it. >.>

PROCESS IN ACTION, guys.

FLOWCHARTS FOR THE FLOWCHART GOD! STICK FIGURES UNTO THE STICK FIGURE THRONE

A couple days ago, I had one of those ‘OH GOD EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE AND EVERYONE WILL JUDGE ME’ moments when thinking about the gender breakdown of characters in the book.

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stick figures to illustrate how characters and places are connected…

The majority of secondary, minor, and referenced characters are women or non-binary, aside from some token characters whose only purpose is to die, in which case, all those are men.

The POV characters are Bane (demi-male), Rajosja (female), and Winterblade (male-coded). The principle antagonists are the human queen (a woman) and the fae Winter Lord (coded male).

So where I hit a mental snag and flaily panic-state (brains are useful like that /sarcasm) was realizing that Bane, for a good third of the book, has almost an exclusively male support circle: his mentor, his mentor’s husband, and then Winterblade. Which is not to say only boys show up–like I noted above, the majority of secondary and minor characters are women. The most powerful mage in the country is a non-binary person. Most of people in power are women. There are definitely lots of ladies present, talking to each other, having their own lives that are completely unrelated to the males on scene.

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But, even with Bane having two excellent gay men as his mentors/father figures (and a psychotic fae prince as a BFF), the fact that it takes over a third of the wordcount to give him prominent women allies/friends, made my brain panic that UR DOIN IT WRONG ZOMG.

So then I made a flowchart! (It’s actually very soothing; I got a pad of easel paper–25in x 30in– so I had lots of space to work with, and just plopped it on my kitchen table and broke out the markers.)

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Did it help? Actually it did calm me down (as well as talking it out with friends). I’m still not sure if the doubtroaches are valid or if this is just another tactic to derail me from working. What I count as a win is the conscious awareness of what I’m doing–I can see how the patterns work, and will choose what to do about them going forward.

(That’ll be the focus ot the next post–narrative choices in action.)

Plus, I mean, I did get some adoable stick figures out of this exercise…

 

Coming up next: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

MERC vs. BOOK: Revising A Novel, Part 7–Gaming the Process (part 2)

This is the second installment of a two-parter blog post about process, craft, and Merc spending way too much time in Illustrator! You can read Part One here.

Part 0 | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7.1 | Part 7.2 (you are here) | Part 8

ALSO HAPPY NEW YEAR, I AM BACK AFTER FALLING INTO A BLACK HOLE OF AVOIDANCE. 

Where were we?

I wrote awhile back that I needed to pause in drafting Winterblade’s POV in order to write a scene where he and Bane meet. I wanted to break that down and illustrate it as an example of how I visualize things akin to comics or video games.

Part One, long ago but not forgotten

So, uh. I FINALLY GOT TO WORKING ON THAT. Behold, my craft skills as I use drawing models and felt (and some props) for illustration purposes.

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The Collars We Wear (left to right: Winterblade, Bane, Rajosja)

Or, as I said on twitter:

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So. Visualization.

The scene where Winterblade meets Bane is pivotal to the entire plot. It’s basically attraction at first sight, in which they both fall hard for each other (in a non-romantic sense) and the plot functions because of the characters’ actions. If they never meet? None of the novel would exist, because nothing would go wrong, and the world would not be in danger.

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print out of the scene with highlighted sections

When I was writing this scene, I first had to decide in which order the POVs (point of views) should operate. I needed both Bane and Winterblade’s reactions and attractions loud and clear on the page, and because this novel has three alternating POVs, I also wanted to balance out this key scene from each character’s perspective.

It technically begins with Winterblade, who is chained up in a glass cage in the magical university’s library. (He is, unsurprisingly, perfectly okay with this arrangement.) The end of chapter two has him see Bane for the first time, when Bane comes to investigate.

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The third chapter begins in Bane’s POV, with a slight time overlap so we can see his first impression of Winterblade as well.

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entranced at first look

When I visualized this, the scene took shape in a lot of medium shots, close-ups, reverse over the shoulder(s), and some Dutch angled shots to suggest how much Bane’s world is being upset.

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OTS (over the shoulder) is a nifty way to show two (or sometimes more) people talking, by reversing the camera so it focuses on Subject 1 from over Subject 2’s shoulder (roughly speaking), and then reversed (viewing Subject 2 from over Subject 1’s shoulder).

In writing, I end up alternating description and internal commentary–if Character A has dialogue and an action, a “reverse shot” might be Character B reacting to that or doing something of their own.

It depends entirely on the scene and what I need to accomplish, but when I think about framing and blocking in terms of shots, it helps me balance out how it “looks” in my head. That way it’s not one long stream of Character A doing a bunch of stuff, then sudden switch to Character B and recapping everything to catch up to the timeline. Balancing them (switching shots) makes a scene flow smoother, and can also tighten up pacing. (I don’t want to completely repeat everything I just wrote from a different POV, unless–such as in the first face-to-face meeting–it is essential to the story. It’s always a judgement call, because each story is different, and each scene needs different things. No one says this is easy.)

So anyway, the scene continues where they talk and test each other, and eventually Bane decides to break Winterblade out of jail and they go on the run!

Well, until they get caught and all hell breaks loose (aka THE PLOT).

[Fun fact! I have a xenomorph ring that I used as a prop for Bane’s collar. Adds all kinds of…interesting subtext to the photo set…]

And then Inspector Rajosja gets involved for real and she’s pissed.

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She really does not approve of these shenanigans.

_______

And now I must be perfectly honest with you, dear readers: I have no fricking clue what else I intended to talk about when I left all this hanging in Part One. >.> Guess that will happen on a five month unintentional hiatus…

I do hope you enjoyed the illustrations, though! 😀 It was a fun excuse to pull out my crafting supplies.

_______

COMING UP: Probably something about playlists and music, as well as finding momentum after *cough* falling into a black hole.

Writing Recap for 2016

After I sent out the second-to-last-original-submission of the year, I took to Twitter with some flail, because I realized: I have nearly worked through my inventory of finished short fiction. Or, basically: HOLY TACOS, I NEED TO WRITE MORE THINGS!

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Let me try to break this down.

I’m pretty obsessive about my fiction organization patterns. I have folders-within-folders until it gets into Inception-like levels deep. Most often it looks like this:

screenshot-2016-12-22-23-31-56FICTION -> current WIPs (short stories) | current revision projects | submissions

The WIPs folder is usually the messiest: drafts, snippets, notes, unfinished chaos. The submissions folder is pretty basic: pending, unsubbed, accepted. However, the folder I look at most often is the current revision projects because that houses stories that I’m actively working on and wish to submit to markets.

At the beginning of the year, the current revision projects folder had around eleven stories in it. Not a lot, but not a few, either. The average number of stories-to-revise/edit in that folder settled around 5-6. Some stories had been sitting in there for *mumble* long time, and some were brand new. The specific contents of the folder fluctuate a good deal, because I move things in and move things out. (A finished draft gets backed up and then a duplicate saved into the revisions folder, where it’s queued up for editing. A finalized revision gets copied into the submissions folder, and the original backed up and archived.)

However. On this, the 23rd day of December 2016, there is one story left in my current revision projects folder. And it will be edited and sent out into the big, bright world by the month’s end.

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Guys. Everything in the queue has been submitted or sold. That’s…that’s kind of mind-boggling. o_O Exciting, too!

Here’s some specific stats:

In 2016 I’ve sold 10 original stories and 1 debut short story collection.

In 2016 I had 8 original stories published.

Number of stories written, revised, submitted, and sold in 2016 (that is, projects less than a year old): 4

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via GIPHY

I wrote a lot. Essays (“I Don’t Want Your Queer Tragedy: A Parable” and “The Necessity of Hope“). Patreon-specific stories. Novel words. Outlines. Other exciting things.

Major life things happened. (Almost exclusively good things, such as name change and moving and new job and graduating college and new car and attending cons.) I have endured, and in some ways, prospered.

I will continue to write, to resist, to share stories of fierceness and hope and triumph. We need them. I won’t stop (or throw away my shot!) so… Bring on 2017.

The Necessity of Hope

Way back when, as a young!Merc, I attended a gun safety class. One session had a slide show about wilderness survival.

A [generalized “average”] human can survive:

3 weeks without food
3 days without water
3 minutes without air
3 seconds without hope

The point was that if you get lost in the wilderness, don’t panic. But it was that last line that stuck with me.

Three. Seconds.

Three seconds without hope.

#

 

No one needs a recap on how horrible the political climate is right now. It’s bad. It’s terrifying.

So many of my friends are struggling and scared and hurting. So am I.

We have already lost people. We will lose more. It hurts so fucking much to say that. To realize that some of us, when hope is lost, will not be here tomorrow.

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Here’s a thing about depression. It’s inside your head. It’s right there, often inescapable (how can you get away from your own brain?) chewing up your thoughts and telling you horrible lies. Depression eats hope. And when the hope is gone, sometimes the depression wins.

I don’t know if the three-second example is accurate–it may be a very personal timeframe, or it may not. But the basis is true: we need hope to live.

All of us.

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We’re storytelling creatures who thrive on narrative. We understand story on an instinctive level. We see and experience and feel, and we weave these things into a narrative: our story, the stories of others, the stories we choose to tell and see and believe.

So let’s say that you read a lot, or watch visual media, or otherwise consume a classical idea of narrative structure on one form of sensory input or another. You read and read and read, absorbing all these ideas about how life works, how people work, how emotions work. And sometimes these stories aren’t satisfying, or sometimes they are upsetting, and sometimes they are both and you don’t know why.

It takes awhile to level up enough to be able to decrypt why some stories bother you more than others. And when you get it, you can’t stop thinking about it (just like that slide in the presentation years ago).

The stories without hope leave you cold. Or worse, they hurt.

Because here’s the thing: we learn from stories. The ones that offer hope? However dark or grim they may be, however much pain and loss they may hold, if they have that hope at the end, these stories tell you: you can survive this.

The ones that don’t tell you something equally powerful: why bother?

(That is a lie the depression tells you, sometimes. “What is the point? Why do you keep fighting? Don’t you know you’re worthless?” The thing is, depression is a lying liar who lies, but it’s very hard to see that, sometimes, or reject the lies.)

“Hopeless” is used as an insult. When you think about it, it’s a terrible, terrible word. One who is without hope is one who is unlikely to live.

And I want you–I want all of us–to live.

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I found a cache of young!Merc writings earlier this month as I was moving. I glanced through some of them. Laughed at the terrible prose, but a little sadly–because young!Merc was so desperate to figure out how to survive, even if young!Merc didn’t know it at the time, and that pain and desperation came out in grim, violent narratives. And yet, in all the darkness, there was always a tiny speck of hopefulness.

Because even young!Merc recognized that they needed that to survive.

If not all stories would give them hope, then they would carve it out of despair and cling to it for all they were worth.

#

Not everyone needs the same things from stories. Not everyone needs to hear the same thing. Personal taste is personal. That’s okay! And ‘dark’ or ‘grim’ does not mean lack of hope in a story. It’s not a binary. Hope-stories are not all fluff and light.

How do you define it? I don’t know. Sometimes that’s equally personal.

For me, I can tell you that when everything is darkness/despair/grimdark/unhappiness, when there is rampant nihilism and disregard for any sense of joy, that is likely to be a story without hope. And I don’t want to experience that.

Look at real life. We have enough fucking horriblness to go around ten zillion times, that I don’t want to fight through a narrative that mimics that level of awful and find that none of the struggle mattered.

I need the stories that bolster hope; hope is fighting against the depression and the darkness. It’s fighting with everything we’ve got, in whatever means we can–not everyone can resist in the same way, and that is more than okay. It is necessary. We need multiple paths of resistance; activism is multi-varied, like the people who activate it.

Whether you write, or speak, march or stay back to keep others afloat (and yourself), call on the phone or email, stay low-key to protect yourself and others or shine on the front lines…all of this matters. No one thing is inherently “better” than another. The thing that is most important to know is: YOU matter. You are necessary and needed and I want you to stay, if you can.

Fighting against the darkness and oppression is not always a visible or violent show. Sometimes it is quieter, and just as fierce. Perhaps it is writing fiction that can reach out to others and tell them: you are not alone, and we can do this.

I write; that is part of my resistance against the awful and the dark and despair. I will keep writing.

Ada Hoffmann wrote a brilliant, moving essay “On hope and voices” that I encourage you to read in full.

And art. Art. Please, if you are reading this, keep believing in your art, in your stories or paintings or songs or whatever it is that you do.

We can build each other up with our art, with our will, with our hope, with our fierce and undying courage to resist the apathy and despair.

Hope wants more than three seconds. It wants a lifetime.

#

Not all my stories are joy and light and happiness. Some of them are dark. Sometimes we need the dark to contrast the things that are brighter.

But when I write, when I consider new stories I want to tell, need to tell, I ask myself, “Can this story help extend those three seconds just a little longer, so the reader can get to the next thing and continue on?”

And I try, I try so hard, to make the answer “Yes.”

Variations On YOU: Writing Second Person Point Of View

Second Person POV is the style of “you.” Maybe you’re familiar with Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Books, or text-based games, tutorials, articles like this one, or people who really dislike this form of narrative choice.

Telling a story in second person can be tricky. Difficult to do well. Has pros and cons. Is a stylistic preference.  So basically it’s like everything else in writing.

And like any other POV choice, second person is not a monolith. Not all first person narrators sound the same (or one hopes they wouldn’t), not all third person narratives sound the same, not all omniscient narrators sound the same. (#notallnarrators) Second person needs a voice. The second person point of view in your story will, one hopes, be distinct for that narrator. It will have sparks and tone and subtext unique to the story, traces of the author’s fingerprints. Voice helps a story breathe.


SUDDEN PLOT TWIST: now the narrator is in first person!

So all that lead-up was, well, preface to an interesting thing I realized just now.

No one will be surprised that I adore second person POV. I’ve written it, I love reading it, and I think it’s a valid and exciting style choice in fiction.

So picture this. Thunderstorm! Lightning! Booms! The rain is lovely but all the noise is hard to sleep with. So Merc is noodling around at 2 a.m. Just before bed (not very many hours earlier), they had been doing weekly organizational clean-up of files and folders on their laptop.

Merc notices something particular: they have two short story WIPs that are in the second person. (You may also notice the narrative has switched to third-person here.)

First story is an expansion of until-recently-abandoned writing prompt, of which the origins are lost to time and failure to keep notes. It’s a postapocalyptic thing full of hard-edged images and Possibly Feels. There’s a maybe!werewolf. It has a solid voice, one that sticks out in Merc’s brain as clicking for that particular story. It’s missing half its plot and an ending, but hey. The voice is there! (I’ll figure out how it ends eventually.)

Then there is the second story, a metafictional horror/SF thing about video games and monsters and really bad decisions. This one has a narrative reason it’s in second person: it’s mimicing gameplay in which “you” would be the user, controlling a character. It’s also the POV of the game’s title character, who’s achieving awareness, and is really unhappy with what the game developers think she should do in the narrative.

This one has plot, has an ending, and is sitting in the ‘currently revising’ folder. And as much as I like the concept and how things unfold, I found myself dissatisfied. It occurred to be right before bed that the dissatisfaction? It’s coming from the lack of compelling voice in the story.

Or rather, the first half of the story. As it develops, the narrator begins to gain some sense of self. But that first part? Where she’s more or less a blank slate a la video game character creation phase? That’s tricky. Because even if the narrator is a blank slate, I need to be able to convey that while also engaging the voice of the story right away.

“But Merc, surely the conceit of the story–that it’s a game–will be enough to sustain the first third until the voice kicks in?” a hypothetical you may ask.

To which I reply, “Oh, man, I wish.”

See, for me, the conceit is not enough. I need to have a strong, compelling voice pulling the narrative along; a way to draw the reader in to the self-discovery-then-chaos plotline. And like everything writing-wise, this is so much easier to say than do.

Because fact is, right now I don’t know how to fix the voice problem. I give myself two points for realizing that is is a voice problem and not, say, just the rampaging doubtroaches swarming like an apocalyptic nightmare over the hill towards my brain.


Now, let’s shift gears a moment and talk about that thing that will invariably pop up regarding second person POV: some people dislike it and think it should not be used.

Here’s the thing. Personal preference is great. You don’t like it? That’s okay! You’ll be happy to know that the vast majority of narrative out there is still in first and third person. Really! Second person didn’t take an eraser and go destroy all the lovely first and third person stories written since the beginning of time. Go ahead and check.

Here’s the other thing: second person POV is a narrative choice that is not inherently good or bad. It is neutral. It is a grammatical and stylistic choice in how to tell a story. This isn’t a dichotomy like the Sith/Jedi.

It’s like anything else in writing: how you do it is what matters. There are terrible examples of first, second, and third person out there. There are utterly fantastic examples of first, second*, and third person out there.

*TW in the “The Button Bin” for very disturbing material and rape; it’s horror, and one of the first stories I read where I really understood how 2nd POV could be used to such effect.

Second person is a tool in the writer’s kit. If you don’t like it, that’s okay! You are not obligated to read it, write it, or promote it. You also don’t have to be That Guy who goes around bashing what other people like because their tastes don’t align (or follow) his. Second person is not the devil trying to buy your soul at a competitor’s coupon discount. Show class and good sportspersonship and let other people enjoy things, all right?

I love second person. I know other people do, too. And that’s great! We are allowed to like this form of storytelling. There is nothing wrong with liking, reading, or writing second person POV.

There is room in the world for all kinds of prose, all kinds of styles. We have space to celebrate and explore and experiment with words and ideas. Go forth and create your narratives, tell your stories, unspool your dreams. Let us share our excitement and hopes and adventures. We can all benefit from more voices, from more stories, from more truths.

I’d love to see what you write. 🙂