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some words for #aceweek

Sunday, October 24th, 2021

So over on Twitter I talk a lot about the need for non-romantic non-sexual relationships in fiction. Like, a lot a lot. I just think that this idea that we outgrow the desire for friendship-centering character arcs when we graduate from middle-grade to young adult & adult books is…really sad. And infuriating. And boring. And sad.

I wrote an essay about this a while ago, but something about it never really felt right to me? It’s the first essay I ever wrote with the idea of publication, so that’s probably part of it, but in writing it I felt like I was standing at some kind of remove from what I was saying. Later I realized that’s because I really, really suck at writing about myself personally. Which is hilarious, given that all of my fiction is outrageously personal.

Clearly the solution is to make it more personal. So here’s my whole story, right in time for Asexual Awareness Week (Oct 24-30). This is about how it took me nine million years to realize I was aromantic & asexual, due to the zero (0) examples of strong platonic M/F relationships I saw represented growing up, despite shoveling books, movies, and video games into my brain basically as aggressively as humanly possible. And it’s about how I set out to write the books I wanted to see and never did, and how that was a long weird road, and how now I make it my mission to help other writers doing the same.

(IMPORTANT NOTE that this essay is in second-person because it is the literal only way I could trick my brain into writing about Personal Shit (no I don’t know why I’m like this), not because I think everyone’s aspec experience is interchangeable or that I presume to speak for anyone but me, &c)

This ended up running, uh, several thousand words longer than intended, and it took me a solid week to put together. If you enjoy it, please consider dropping a tip in my ko-fi, joining my Patreon, or checking out my books!

When you’re two years old, your mom will teach you to read. This will be relevant soon.

When you’re nine, you’ll have your first crush. It won’t be like your friends’ crushes. You won’t realize this until the interrogation begins. What will your wedding be like. How many kids will you have. Do you think he’ll be a good kisser. What would your dream date be. While all you’ll have imagined so far (though you’ll have imagined this at length) is the absolutely killer treehouse you and he will build together once you get up the nerve to tell him how you feel (you won’t). The way you’ll make this place between you, passing nails and hammers back and forth, the creation of your hands and his stretching up into the sky one vaguely pictured board at a time. (You won’t do that either. He’ll ask some other girl out and your friends will comfort you, misguidedly. On a scale of one to ten, they’ll ask, half schadenfreude half pity, how jealous are you? Zero, you’ll think. Eleven. Neither. Both.)

When you’re ten, you’ll already be an established loner. You’ll get along with pretty much everyone, but you’re finding that your priorities are different from your friends’ priorities. You’ll feel like there’s something you’re searching for. You just have no idea what it is, not really. It won’t be a conscious effort toward escapism when you settle fully into a life suffused by fiction. In your spare time you’ll read books, watch movies, play story-heavy video games. You’ll find there’s a certain character dynamic you’re drawn to, that speaks directly to your heart, and you’ll find that the depiction of it is always slightly off somehow, some kind of uncanny valley-esque sense of vague disquiet, and you won’t be able to make either of those things make sense to yourself, though you will spend the next two fucking decades trying. For now you’ll find yourself watching war movies, a genre you won’t even really care about at face value, just because that’s the only place you can find that pure clean hit of camaraderie that does not involve kissing. You’ll watch badasses fighting back-to-back against a sea of enemies, fall protecting each other, be slung over a shoulder and carried from the field of battle as bullets whiz overhead, to survive together or die in each other’s arms. You’ll watch all this, and rewatch it, and analyze, and study, and think, inanely, helplessly: this is almost, almost it.

When you’re eleven, your best friends will all be boys. Girls will ask you if you’re dating and side-eye each other knowingly when you say you aren’t. They’ll think you’re lying, of course, but will never be able to secure any proof, so eventually they’ll let it go. Meanwhile, you’ll be a chronic daydreamer. Girls will assume you’re thinking about all those boys you’re allegedly not going out with. Sometimes you will be, but not in the way they mean. You’ll never have fantasized about a kiss in your life. When boys live in your head rent-free, it’s exclusively in contexts that the other girls will already deem childish, and the boys will all be fictional, because that’s how you can always be sure to preserve those friendships, like beautiful insects in amber, where they’ll never have to either follow that prescribed evolution into either romance or devolve into just friends, romance’s failure state. You’ll pilot spacecraft together, fight off zombies, go questing, pull off heists. These daydreams will blatantly rip off the plots of all your favorite action movies. A vague but pervasive sense of transgression will set in at this point: not in terms of copyright infringement but in the way these mental action movies are cast. Because yours will always have a male/female character pairing, and they’ll never kiss, and there’ll never be sexual tension, and they’ll just have each other’s backs against whatever comes and never make it Weird. (Every time your family rents a weekend movie, you’ll hope with every atom of fervency you possess that this will be the one to finally, magically, permanently make this kind of pairing real outside your head. It won’t be.)

When you’re twelve, you’ll start writing fanfiction, but you won’t know yet that this is a thing people do, or that that’s what it’s called. All you’ll know is that you live your life steeped in stories, and that they inform everything you do, and that yet they’ve always disappointed you in some fundamental, as-yet-nameless way. Your friends will know you like to read—it’ll be obvious, you’ll carry a book with you wherever you go, in school you’ll get in trouble for clandestinely flipping through pages during class—so they’ll lend you books they’ve loved. You won’t want to offend them, so you borrow them dutifully, and you read. There’ll be a lot of Anne Rice. You’ll be into the paranormal shit, but the romance and the sexiness will be wasted on you, and you’ll feel, briefly, like a Bad Friend for not loving the books your friends loved, and more lastingly, like a Bad Human for not having your buttons pushed by these very basic universal human-button-pushing mechanisms. But you’ll get over it, or you’ll get around it anyway, and you’ll start writing stories of your own. They will all be Adventures. Specifically they will all be Adventures full of ride-or-die strictly platonic camaraderie undertaken by a thinly-veiled self-insert of you and whatever fictional character you’ve fixated on at the time. Because you will fixate. Hardcore. And this is the part that will confuse you for a while to come: it’ll always be male characters who are the object of your fascination. (Specifically: male characters who are not in onscreen or on-page romantic or sexual relationships and show no canonical interest in either. If they start to, you’ll either reverse-ship them out of those relationships or drop them altogether.) So you’ll spend a great deal of time trying to convince yourself that your interest is romantic and/or sexual, and that something about your mode of expression of these things is just malfunctioning somehow. Because what else could it be? You’ll search (and search, and search) and never find, never once, never in the quarter century that will unfold between here and where you’ll sit at a desk one night typing these words, anything in any book or any movie or any game or anywhere that reads the way you need it to, hits the way you need it to, to make you understand the way you are, the way you aren’t, and the way you’ll be eventually blessedly relieved to learn you never actually had to be.

When you’re thirteen, you won’t be angry yet. Just confused. This’ll be the 90s and you’ll have never heard the words aromantic or asexual. Your options, as far as you’ll be aware, will be Straight or Lesbian. You’ll be pretty sure you’re neither. Your interest in dating, in kissing, in the trappings of romance as you’ve seen them depicted, will be nil. Your interest in sex will begin and end with a vague, nearly-academic clearly this is a big deal to everyone, it must be pretty neat sense of mild-to-moderate curiosity. But you’ll be watching more adult movies now, reading exclusively adult books, so you’re getting it loud and clear from all sides that your failure to feel interest in these things is exactly that. Some kind of defect on your part. In school, kids will ask each other if they’re straight or gay, but it’ll be a trick question, because, again, this’ll be the 90s, where, at least in the shitty microcosm of your middle school, only one of these answers is acceptable. When pressed, you’ll think back on your fictional-character fixations: all male. All right, you’ll think. I guess I’m straight. But you’ll already know better. Whatever it is you really are, there are no words for. At least none you can see from where you’ll stand.

When you’re fourteen, you’ll start seriously trying to publish. This will still be the 90s, so “trying to publish” will involve you, a dog-eared copy of Writer’s Market, a truly unholy amount of self-addressed stamped envelopes, and more patience than you’ll heretofore have ever had to marshal in your life. All of your stories will be fairly dissimilar—you’ll be learning, trying to figure out what genre you want to work in, experimenting with your style, copying the styles of authors you admire, etc.—but with a common thread running through them. You’ll be essentially drawing from the same deep fierce aching well of longing that had you writing those Platonic Adventures™ fics a couple years ago. For all the thousands and thousands of stories you’ll have consumed by this point, literally zero have scratched this itch that you’re beginning to think is unreachable, even though it will seem to you like the simplest thing in the world: take that zero-romance war-movie kill-and-die-for-each-other pairing and make one of them a woman. That’s all. So you’ll set out to fill this void yourself. You’ll send out piles of short stories and get rejections—personalized rejections from pro markets, which you won’t understand the significance of until later but for now will feel like insult to injury—and they’ll all say basically the same thing. I really enjoyed the story and the prose is vivid but the characterization is just too unrelatable.

When you’re fifteen, two of your friends will invite you to join them in a threesome. You’ll have to figure out how to say no thank you without a.) causing offense or b.) outing yourself as a person who’s never had sex or so much as kissed anyone and has frankly zero real desire to do either. You’ll never be quite sure if you succeeded. After that you’ll go home and work on the novel you’ve been tinkering on all year, a big weird sprawling epic fantasy mess featuring a woman and a man in an allies-to-enemies-to-allies-to-queerplatonic-partners relationship, which is something you won’t have words for until much later. (The word queerplatonic alone will save you so much time and fumbling at explanations and helpless gesticulating, a decade hence when you’ll finally learn it and wish you could dropkick it back through time to hit your teenage self upside the head.) All you’ll know now is that to write it feels like how you imagine therapy to feel. Like you’re a boat full of holes traversing high seas and you’re bailing the water out, steadily, infinitesimally, one horribly inadequate word at a time.

When you’re sixteen, your friends will start to wonder (or start to wonder out loud) why you aren’t dating anyone. They’ll try to set you up with boys. You’ll learn to feign enthusiasm when they tell you who secretly likes you but hasn’t said anything because they’re also a little bit scared of you. (At this age, your resting bitchface game will already be the stuff of legend.) Just ask him out, they’ll say. He’s intimidated. You’re intimidating. But he’ll say yes if he sees you’re interested. Should I tell him for you? You’ll have gotten pretty good by now at turning down various offers. You’re probably not as slick at it as you think you are, though. You’ll already be developing a pretty solid reputation for being a little odd. You’ll be exquisitely, painfully aware that high school girl is a kind of costume you have to put on every morning in order to pass as the thing you’re supposed to be. You’ll fall in with the fantasy nerds and anime kids, because they’ll be the first people you’ll have ever met who understand the way that fictional characters can carve a niche into your fucking soul and live there uninvited. So you’ll end up reading some of their fanfic, which will almost invariably be of the sexy kind, and it’ll be well-written and well-thought-out and probably hot but you genuinely won’t be able to tell. You’ll make polite noises and attempt to write Sexy Fic of your own to share, as camouflage. Meanwhile you’ll conveniently forget to bring in any of your original fiction, which is absent all sexiness and full of fight scenes, mainly, and Saving The World and Unlikely Alliances and Enemies-to-Besties and Platonic Longing, which by now you already know from your tidy stack of publication rejections is unrelatable and lacking development in its character relationships and better suited to a children’s book. (You’ll still be trying to publish, and, recalling all those war movies, you’ll toy with the idea of rewriting one of your male/female ride-or-die platonic pairings to have two male characters instead, as an experiment. To see if that’s more palatable to the industry. But you won’t. You’ll already know the answer.)

When you’re seventeen, you won’t have outgrown any of this. You’ll wait to, and wait to, and wait to, and fail.

When you’re eighteen: ditto.

When you’re nineteen, you will meet a boy. You’ll tell yourself your feelings are romantic. You’ll bend the full spotlight of your focus on convincing yourself this is true. One day, a few months in, you’ll realize you actually have no idea what romantic feelings feel like. You’ll sit with this for days, thinking back on romantic subplots in books and movies, remembering what you’ve heard your friends say about being In Love, etc. You’ll conclude that romance is a function of marketing, invented to con people into buying Valentine’s Day crap. Nothing that’s always felt so fake to you could possibly be real. You’d know about it by now. Exhibit A: that boy you met. He’s a boy, and you’re a girl, so either what you feel for him is romantic or it’s nothing. And it’s obviously not nothing, so what other option do you have? See, here’s the other thing about you. You’ll always be this mix of introverted and analytical. The analytical will turn inward, self-examine. You’ve always known your heart quite well and always will. The introverted will mean that you’d rather punch yourself repeatedly in the face than talk about any of this to anyone. Besides, by this point you’ll have been getting weird looks from your friends for a solid decade when they notice how adamantly you deflect anything having to do with romance, dating, sex. You’ll still be writing, though. For a minute you’ll wonder if being In Love (?) as you obviously are (?) will seep into your stories, drip by drip, rusting all those forged-steel platonic bonds down to something more malleable, smoother-edged, easier for the publishing industry to swallow. Whether you’ll finally climb down off that hill where you’ve ill-advisedly decided to die and just concede and write a stupid fucking romance for once in your miserable life. (Spoiler: you won’t. You’ll stick to your mission. Your authordom niche will become: Battle Couples, But Platonic. It’s a lonely hill to stand on, but you won’t budge.)

When you’re twenty, you’ll be putting the final polish on the first draft of what’ll end up being your first published novel. (You’ll have written most of the first draft after busting both of your ankles falling down the stairs the summer after you graduated high school, and spending months stuck in bed with your laptop because that same ridiculous stubbornness that kept you up on that hill to die also, it turns out, keeps you from seeing a doctor.) It’ll have an ensemble cast, but the two main characters will be a woman and a man in an Unlikely Alliance that never turns romantic. (You will however make the concession of putting some minor characters in token romantic relationships because “realism.” This will be the first and last book where you make yourself do this.) Meanwhile, in the real world, you still won’t have figured out how to convince yourself that you have any idea what romantic feelings, well, feel like. You’ll have sex, because that’s what people in relationships do. You’ll initiate sex, because that’s what thoughtful caring people in relationships do. And it’ll be fine and good and objectively enjoyable, but it’ll always be something you could take or leave no problem. Certainly miles from the universal pinnacle of human relationships you’ve been led to expect. The itch you’re really trying to scratch will always run deeper, or farther off. In any case, elsewhere.

When you’re twenty-one, you’ll start answering the dreaded question so what do you write about? with friendships, but more so. There’s not a word for it that I can find. Usually the reply will be laughing, predictable: you’ve never heard of “more than friends?” That’s called a couple. And it’ll feel like the two of you are speaking different languages, like you’ve asked for coffee, but more so, expecting espresso, and they handed you a cup of tea. Around this time, or maybe a few years earlier, you’ll receive a short story rejection that you’ll realize, fifteen years later, you still have, taped into an old journal which otherwise contains mostly dreams. It will read, in part: Well, I just finished the story and am left completely speechless. I am still not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Yes it’s interesting and a little gruesome, but inaccessible. That last word—inaccessible—will be, by now, by far, your most commonly-received complaint. Often they will go on to specify that the thing that was so hard to wrap their minds around was the relationship between the characters. Is it romantic or isn’t it? you will be asked, like it matters. The loyalty and devotion between them is admirable but it’s a little bewildering to me that they stay friends. I expected their relationship to evolve. Which will infuriate you. How can an I-would-kill-or-die-for-you partnership be bewildering, or insufficient? When all those war movies you grew up on exist? Surely it can’t be only because one of the characters is a woman and that you outright reject the expected trajectory of that narrative setup. Except it can be, and it will be, and it always was. Each one of these you receive, and by now there are hundreds, will only strengthen your resolve, which by this point is fairly fucking adamant, even if it’s only your own head getting beaten against it.

When you’re twenty-two, the predominant emotion in your arsenal will be despair.

When you’re twenty-three, you’ll realize you’re pregnant. This will be funnier in hindsight. You’ll debate whether to keep the pregnancy and conclude it might be kinda fun to try something new. After all, nothing else you’re doing is working. (This will be an objectively terrible reason to decide this, which you will realize later once the depression isn’t leaning on you quite so hard, with quite so many elbows. But you’ll be incredibly lucky in that your kid will be stone-cold fucking awesome.)

When you’re twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, you will be everything you ever swore you wouldn’t. You will be married, with a kid, a house, a mortgage. The costume you put on daily will become indistinguishable from yourself. You’ll write a whole strange novel about a thwarted lady explorer and an airship that’s possessed by some kind of amoral entity from beyond the veil, and the Adventures they go on together. It’ll almost land you an agent, and then lose them when they decide the book is Just Too Weird and the relationship between the two main characters too Unrelatable. Still you won’t give up, or give in, or write something just a bit more palatable, as requested of you many, many times by now. You’ve drawn a line; now you’re fucking well going to hold it. Even if nobody ever notices but you. When you think of publishing, the mental image you have is something from a scary story you read, once, as a kid: a woman accidentally buried alive, only to be disinterred days later, nails peeled back, fingertips pulp on the bone, coffin-lid unmoved. But when you write, it will feel like reaching back toward yourself through a succession of mirrors, each of which reflects nothing you recognize. Like being exhumed.

When you’re thirty, you’ll start work on what will become the first of your books that more than five people will actually read. It’ll be about a far-future post-apocalyptic ghosthunter, the ghost of a near-future supersoldier, and their Adventure into the Underworld to find the ghost’s long-dead partner. It will center not one but two zero-romance male/female relationships, one of which will be a Battle Couple, But Platonic, the other of which will be Enemies to Besties. It’ll deal with themes and images and characters you’ve carried around in your head and heart for quite some time, unwritten into anything, like a heavy weight you’re unsure quite how to put down. It’ll be weird and raw and wholly imperfect, and you won’t ever really polish it to a shine the way you did your past efforts. It’ll feel like something that just came reeling out of you, just on the periphery of your control. This book is, you will recognize at the time, your last fucking stand. It will be a declaration of war that you fully expect to go unanswered.

When you’re thirty-one, this book will get you a book deal. But not after you’ve gotten rejections from every single agent you query. They’ll express interest, and ask for partials, then full manuscripts, and eventually come back to you with things like a YA book needs a romance in order to be viable and teens will find nothing to relate to in a friendship between male and female characters that does not evolve into something more and, once, memorably: you know, there’s a reason why people say sex sells. Occasionally, attached to these will be offers of representation contingent on a revise/resubmit. If you can just see your way through to making this one tiny little compromise. You’ll turn them down, every fucking one.

When you’re thirty-two, it’ll be published. You’ll expect it to vanish instantly, a rock dropped in a lake. It won’t. For the first time in your life, you’ll start hearing from total strangers who a.) spent time with characters who’ve lived in your head for so many years and b.) liked them enough to let them into their heads too. The lack of romance is so refreshing, they’ll say. I loved the character relationships. I’ve never seen anything like them in a book before. It meant so much to me to see friendships treated with that level of importance outside of a kids’ book. People—again, total and complete strangers who owe you nothing—will take time out of their day to thank you for writing the exact things you’ve been told for twenty years now would appeal to absolutely no one. Others will reach out to tell you about the zero-romance, zero-sexiness, platonic-relationship-centering books they’ve written, and the rejections they’ve received, all of which will look painfully, horribly familiar. You’ll have no way to help them, though you’ll wish you would. You’ll tell them that it’s hard, but it’s possible. That there will be people who don’t get it but there will be other people who have been waiting for their exact story their whole life. That they may have to be stubborn—breathtakingly, pigheadedly, irascibly stubborn—and walk away from offers contingent upon the demolition of all the load-bearing structures of the architecture of their whole story’s soul. They will have to draw a line, in short, and fucking hold it. And they may well fail. After all, you almost did. And probably will again. This won’t keep you from going immediately to work on a sequel, though. It’s not that you think it’ll be any kind of wild success—a sequel to a weird little small press book is no kind of money grab and you know it—but that’s not really the point. Your mission now is as it always was: to write the books you’ve needed all your life. And your mission now is different: you want to give future new writers a whole pile of precedents to point to when they write this type of book and then have to go to war for it, which they will. You are giving them ammunition. That’s your job now. At one point you’ll see a review of your book on a trade review blog, and you’ll just have to sit with it a minute. It’ll say, in part: there was no romance and yet this is the deepest love story I’ve ever read.

When you’re thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five, you still won’t quite have figured your shit out yet, not really. You’ll still be this super awkward combination of: intensely self-analytical, hilariously awful at accepting what you find there. By now you’ll have heard the words asexual and aromantic for a few years, here and there on social media, but still be just a little bit too dense to think to apply them to yourself. You’ll say things in book-promo interviews like here’s the thing about preteen- and teenage-me. I didn’t give a shit about romance. I still don’t. It’s just not who I am. And the concept of sex will still hit you in the same way as a super-popular movie or book whose hype you never remotely understood. Like a joke that everyone finds hilarious, whose punchline you cannot for the life of you comprehend. And yet: you’re in a relationship! You have a kid! You can’t possibly be aro enough to be aro, ace enough to be ace. Surely what plagues you is some bespoke malady, some other kind of curse, some kind of brokenness or mistranslation that feels like driving the wrong way down a one-way street, realizing your error, and just fucking flooring it anyway. Somewhere in here you’ll go through a period of maybe if you just have more sex, it’ll click eventually and you’ll understand. This will end as you’d expect.

When you’re thirty-six, thirty-seven, your sequel will have been out a while. Enough people will have read both—especially the first one—by this point that you’ll have received a wide range of responses. Some will have misinterpreted one or both of the main character pairings as romantic, which of course they have. You’ll have expected that. This conditioning is insidious, and it runs deep. You won’t mind their misreads on principle but at the same time you want to make sure that people are aware that intense relationships do actually come in more than the one flavor. So you’ll start to talk about this stuff on social media. A lot. You are allergic to social media, talking about yourself gives you hives (a couple years down the line you will write a whole essay in second-person just to trick your brain into letting the words out. The essay will break five thousand words, so maybe that trick works too well?), but you’ll learn to make it work as best you can. It’ll put you in direct contact with the kind of readers who were emailing you years ago, and you’ll start hearing from a whole lot more of them. Years will have passed since those first sporadic emails landed in your inbox, but the refrain of these messages is much the same. Please please please tell me how you managed to find publishers for books like those without having to rewrite the main relationship. You still won’t have a good answer. A lot of it was luck, as a lot of all publishing is luck, and a lot of it was sheer fucking you-will-die-holding-this-line-with-joy-in-your-heart feral intractability, but not in a way that you want to ever come across as Just Work Harder Like I Did™ because it isn’t that at all and never was. But you will hear such horror stories, and you’ll offer what support you can, and you’ll know every time it’s not enough. Meanwhile, you’ll be busy writing what will become your first book published with a big-5 publisher. The larger advance is helpful, of course, but your real master plan here will be to take the same type of story you’ve always told and bring it to a wider audience, in the hopes of normalizing it further. You’ll write the main character as aromantic asexual, because you’ve finally concluded that this is what you are, and writing a character whose feelings are your feelings is a lot of how you’ll process that (although, if you’re honest, your characters’ feelings have always reflected yours, and yours have never, ever changed).

When you’re thirty-eight, your latest book will come out. It’s been derailed a year by a literal fucking pandemic, because that’s the world you’ll live in now. A pandemic which, among so many other larger problems it causes, will chew up book launches and spit them back out. It’ll feel petty, being upset by this in the grand scheme of things. But this book was what you viewed as your one chance to bring your shit mainstream and clear a path for all those other writers in your inbox asking you—you, of all the fuckups on earth—for advice. You’ll get emails about how your book is “only selling modestly” and read reviews about, first, how “underappreciated” and “obscure” you are as a writer, and second, how if you’d just stop writing such “niche” relationship types you’d be better known; and other reviews about how “unrelatable” and “creepy” and “weird” your protagonist is for having a platonic crush instead of a romantic one, and you’ll get, if you’re honest, a little despairy there for a minute. You’ll console yourself by yelling your head off on Twitter about other people’s zero-romance books and aromantic/asexual books and friendship-centering books, asking people about classic romance tropes they want to see flipped platonically, etc. Just so you can prove, with hard evidence, that there is demand for these things. On the other hand, you’ll start getting a new kind of email and Twitter message. These ones will say things like I just wanted to thank you for writing the exact kind of relationships you write. They helped me realize that I don’t have to write romances into my books if I don’t want to. Sometimes they’ll even say Your books helped me realize that I’m definitely somewhere on the asexual spectrum, which I never really considered before but which explains pretty much my entire life up until now. I wish I’d seen it represented like this in books when I was growing up. Me too, friend, you’ll think. Me too. And, of course, you’ll start writing another book. And another one. You’ll actually have three in progress, simultaneously, which is two more than you’ve ever had in progress before. And, unlike when you were growing up, there’ll be a small but growing array of books out there that reflect at least a little bit of what you feel when you feel things. All you can hope is that your books do the same for others, and that someday, between all of your stories and everyone’s, someone, somewhere, will be able to patchwork together a reflection that shows them their heart perfectly.

firebreak review roundup!!

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

Firebreak has been out for 4 months this week and I’m absolutely loving the reader reactions to Mal and Jessa and 06 and 22. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that it took me 3 years to talk myself into writing this one and the fact that it’s resonating with people is just really really nice. Especially as it jams so many disparate elements together that arguably don’t even belong in the same zip code, let alone the same book.

For whatever reason, the pro review situation with this book was…unexpected for my first book with a big publisher. As in, it didn’t get many reviews at all. Most places that reviewed my small press books just skipped this one. I don’t know how much of that is ::gestures at everything:: and how much is just my luck, but in any case I want to make sure you know how much I appreciate it if you read it and liked it enough to recommend it to a friend! Word of mouth absolutely makes or breaks a book, especially if the standard awareness-raising methods (reviews) fall through, and book launches are absolutely still suffering due to the pandemic, so if you helped point potential readers toward this or any book here in the hellscape of 2020-2021, you’re pretty awesome. Those of you who wrote blog reviews and pointed me to them, I’ve included some of my favorites in this roundup–I’m so grateful you spent the time to write them up so thoughtfully!! says: “It’s difficult to do justice to the power and sheer presence of Kornher-Stace’s writing in Firebreak, the weight and possibility of it, the anger and hope and friendship and loyalty she breathes onto the page. …A gripping, powerful, fantastic novel.” And also thatFirebreak is part mystery, part gamer-geek-out, part scream of rage at corporate culture and capitalist greed.”

Locus says: “Even with first-person narration, the details are effortlessly strung out across the book. The economic disparities between our protagonist and the select few elite are spelled out within mere sentences. Kornher-Stace is a wicked smart writer, and makes some compelling ethical anti-capitalist arguments (if you’re one to cry at the grave of Adam Smith this novel probably isn’t for you). The plot is exciting and tremendously easy to follow and read – I rarely had to reread any pages to understand a deeper message, nor did I find myself confused by the actions of the characters. This book clearly took some time make it look so effortless, and I commend the author’s ability to create a complex world within a fun-to-read book. Above all, I loved it because I simply enjoyed reading it, and forgot that I was reading this book to produce a review.”

Booklist (starred review) says: “This dystopian novel will appeal to fans of Ready Player One and The Hunger Games with its blend of gaming adventures that spill over into real life.”

Chicago Review of Books says: “At the center of the novel is a deep friendship between Mal and Jessa. In the dystopian world ruled by hypercapitalism, the human connection between two people proves a powerful force. Their friendship motivates the characters, and like all close friendships is often strained by their competing personalities. But those differences make them stronger. Moreover, their friendship contrasts the market capitalism they struggle against. They succeed when they cooperate with each other. When the pair receive a bounty of water from their sponsor, they share the wealth. When the water in Old Town is turned off, Jessa and Mal pool the water they have reserved for the collective good. Friendship and human commune are the antithesis of the capitalism dominating their world. Corporations are on trial in this novel. If 1984 and Brave New World were warnings against authoritarian governments, Firebreak is a warning against unchecked capitalism. By combining familiar science fiction elements with a strong critique of the commodification of essential elements of life and the corrupting influence of power, Firebreak offers a frightening warning against a near-future dominated by the rule of megacorporations.”

Publishers Weekly says: “…the effortlessly detailed worldbuilding is captivating. Kornher-Stace leads readers through the cinematic landscape of her imagined future with an expert hand.”

The Little Red Reviewer says: “Firebreak is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Nicole Kornher-Stace is the best author you haven’t read yet. I love her books so much that I force my husband to read them. He described one of her earlier novels as the best novel he’s read in ten years, maybe ever. That’s it. That’s the review.”

Lizzie Writes says: “When I first finished the book, mixed emotions settled into my brain. I was pissed off; I was beside myself with grief. I wished there was more to the story… I NEEDED there to be more. In the days that followed, I found my mind drifting back to the story until I suddenly just started crying. Like, in the middle of the work day, full on tears. That was the moment I realized that the book was my new favorite. That is what I really desired from books, I realized: ones that leave me thinking, searching for answers to the unanswerable long after it’s over. I have yet to shut the fuck up about Firebreak. I’m pretty sure that my friends are a little annoyed with me but I don’t mind. I will scream it from the rooftops because this book is too underrated for how absolutely amazing it is.”

Crini says: “There is amazing queer representation and then there is “OMG it’s ME”. Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace is very much the latter for me. This book certainly wasn’t the first time I got to see aro/ace rep in a book, but there was one aspect to it that I hadn’t seen before: the friendship/platonic crush. Oh wow, did I feel seen. While I might very well have loved the book just for that, there is a lot more to it too: precious characters, awesome plot, and the scary bit regarding how likely this possible future really is for us. (if you see this compared to RPO, let me just say: this is the better, non-white-cis-dude RPO of your dreams!)”

Bibliosini says: “How can I ever imagine re-reading this masterpiece without ending in tears? I’ll probably read it over and over again for the tears LOL! Firebreak was such an unexpectedly clever and spectacular science-fiction standalone! I would recommend this to anyone who loves good science fiction because it is possibly one of the best I have read so far!”

Forever Lost in Literature says: “Firebreak is a book that completely took me by surprise by how much intensity, heart, and hope it had wrapped up in an action-packed, highly engaging story. …I was slightly hesitant going into Firebreak because I felt like this was a setup I’ve read more than once before and one that can be pretty hit or miss–’gaming stories’ aren’t always a hit for me, no matter how much I wish they were–and I’m glad to say I was entirely misled with my hesitance because this book grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until I put the book down. The VR game and water scarcity situation may be the starting point for everything that happens in this book, but they are at the same time not even close to being what this book is about.”

Bookish Brews says: “Oh man, where do I begin? I really loved this book. When I opened it, I thought “man this is kin of long, I didn’t realize!” And then literally this book doesn’t slow down at any point. It is packed with amazing content. This is going to be a hard review, because it’s packed with so many different amazing things that I don’t know how well I can narrow it down! This book is easy to follow and fast paced, but delightfully anti-capitalist in a way that Ready Player One wishes it was. …Firebreak was truly incredible. It was everything I could have hoped for in a book. It was full of action but never missed a moment to make a statement on the important things. I’m truly impressed at what this book was able to accomplish without feeling weighed down at all. Absolutely wonderful!”

a quick note on my single-tier patreon and why it’s that way!

Sunday, August 1st, 2021

I’ve been asked a bit recently about whether I plan to add more tiers to my Patreon, so I wanted to briefly get into the reason why I probably won’t be doing that.

I’ve been running this Patreon the same way for about three years now (!!), which is: a single pay-what-you-want tier of $1 or more ($1 is the minimum signup Patreon will allow). Anything I post on there is available to all subscribers. Does that mean that most of my signups are for $1? Sure. But it’s very important to me not to paywall anyone out of anything. I set it up so I had a place to put all the character side content I’m writing for the Archivist Wasp books and Firebreak, as well as extras like deleted scenes and original endings, all of which works really well with the single tier format, but regardless what I put on there eventually, accessibility is my #1 priority.

I mean, look. Books are expensive. If you’ve read mine and you liked them enough to want to hang out in those worlds with those characters a little longer, the least I can do is make that as easy as possible. Sometimes people point out to me that many authors make a $1 you-have-my-gratitude tier and start the actual content at $3 or $5 or whatever (totally understandably: most authors do not make much money at all and we’ve still got to eat, obviously), but I want to try to avoid running mine like that for as long as I can possibly manage.

That said, if there’s ever anything you’d like to see me offer over there, just let me know in the comments (or DM me on Twitter) and I’ll see what I can do. And, of course, thank you so much for your support! Patreon has its flaws but it’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to any kind of steady income, which is honestly pretty helpful in an industry where a book brings in royalty checks a grand total of twice a year (if it sees royalties at all). But above and beyond that–I love working with the characters and worlds of those books, and it means the absolute world to me that you’ve given me a reason to continue. <3

big big thanks to my patreon supporters!!

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Somehow my Patreon is ONE (1) supporter away from 100! Thank you so much to my supporters old and new! When I set this up back in…2017? 2018? with the aim of filling it up with a ton of extras for a couple of books that hardly anyone had heard of, I thought I might get five supporters, ten max? So this is amazing and helps me justify spending the time to write patreon-only exclusive tie-ins, which I’ve been doing on there for quite a while now. That’s where you’ll find the myths mentioned in the Archivist Wasp books written up in their entirety, as well as the draft-in-progress of the third Archivist Wasp book, an extremely long tie-in novella about 06 & 22 at age 12, deleted scenes from all my books, etc etc etc.

In case you didn’t know, the whole thing is no tiers, pay-what-you-want for access to everything, because it’s a big goal of mine to make as much of my stuff as accessible as possible.

it’s my book birthday! again!!

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

my MG debut JILLIAN VS PARASITE PLANET is out today from Tachyon!! It’s a very science-forward survival story in spaaaace, which I have seen described in various places as The Martian for kids, which makes it sound very shiny.


If you like that cover, wait til you see the interior illustrations! Those and the cover are all by Scott Brown. But I mean seriously:


I wrote this one for my kid back when he was the same age as the protagonist, and filled it up with science and weirdness and creepiness and hopefully also some humor. It’s got a girl protagonist, though, because we need about a zillion more of those in SF and adventure stories for kids, and she’s got anxiety because I got really frustrated with how that tends to get depicted in fiction.

I’ve always wanted an excuse to invent a mind-control parasite from scratch, and my mom always told me I should really try my hand at writing a kids’ book, and those two things collided in my head for…whatever reason…and refused to be separated. (If you’re even remotely interested in the topic of real-world mind-control parasites, start here and then read The Wasp that Brainwashed the Caterpillar by Matt Simon, The Plight of the Living Dead also by Matt Simon, Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer, and This Is Your Brain on Parasites by Kathleen McAuliffe. For an all-ages intro, check out Animal Zombies! by Chana Stiefel.

One of my favorite parts of writing Jillian was the space probe/multitool/cartoon addict SABRINA (Semi-Autonomous Bio-Reconnoitering Intelligent Nanobot Array). SABRINA’s shapeshifting abilities were probably pretty solidly subconsciously inspired by Jake the dog from Adventure Time, but I couldn’t have written it without having been a longtime fan of Janelle Shane’s blog AI Weirdness or her book You Look Like a Thing and I Love You. Highly recommend both!

Here are some blurbs I just shamelessly lifted off of Tachyon’s site (sorry I know it looks squashed, click on it to embiggen):

And to those of you who’ve read my books Archivist Wasp, Latchkey, and Firebreak, and are wondering whether this one is also connected to the general overarching story that each of those is part of, the answer is: what do you think 😀

(you absolutely do not have to have read my other stuff for this, it’s arguably lots more of a standalone than Firebreak is, but. Just. There is continuity. And watching readers discover it has been an utter delight.)

Anyway, if any of this is of interest to you, please consider giving Jillian a read! I’ve never even attempted a kids’ book before so I’m really curious to know what you think of it. And as always, I realize books are expensive and everything sucks right now, but your local indie bookstore needs your support more than ever, so if you’re going to get one of my books I’d love you to go there for it–or get your library to pick it up for you!

get your questions ready, pals

Saturday, July 10th, 2021

absolutely massive archivist wasp/latchkey/firebreak/etc continuity post, spoilers ahoy

Friday, July 9th, 2021

So there’s been some interest in me writing up a post about the continuity of Archivist Wasp, Latchkey, Firebreak, Jillian vs. Parasite Planet, and more. This is that. SPOILERS FOR BASICALLY EVERYTHING I HAVE PUBLISHED SINCE 2015 ABOUND BELOW. I guess even telling you that the books are connected counts as spoilers, but Firebreak has been out for a couple of months now (somehow??) and enough reviewers have mentioned the interconnectedness of this book to the last two that it’s probably okay.

The formatting of some below screenshots and captions got messed up so I’m sorry if any of it is hard to read–it looked good in the draft I swear. I’ve gone back in and made the captions green to try and differentiate them from the massive wall of text. I’ll see if I can make any further fixes!

First off, to clear up any confusion, you absolutely positively do not need to have read the Wasp books in order to read Firebreak. Anything listed below is just extra layers for deeper meaning to the five of you who’ll actually read all the books and stories that feeds into this monstrosity. I wrote Firebreak as a standalone, and I sold it as a standalone. Specifically I sold it to a publisher that rejected Latchkey on the basis of it being a sequel and would never in a million years have published Firebreak if knowledge of those other books was necessary going into this one. One of the most pleasant surprises over the first two months of its launch is how many of the reviewers who have most vocally loved it also state outright in their review that they’d never read anything else of mine before. So it’s been really nice to see that Firebreak is enjoyable on its own merits. It was a Big Challenge to write a book that was simultaneously extremely deeply interconnected with my past books while also standing 100% on its own.

So why do it? Couple reasons.

I wrote Archivist Wasp as a standalone. No, really. I swear. It’s been hilariously suggested to me–multiple times–that writing Latchkey was “a money grab,” which is adorable. If I was going to write a “money grab,” a sequel to an obscure tiny weird book that hardly anyone had heard of would not be how I’d go about it. (Besides, I loathe when people accuse authors of “money grabs.” You do understand it’s their job, right? And alas we do not have UBI. If they do not “grab” “money” they cannot keep writing books. Is this not clear? It’s hard enough to place value on our own work sometimes without dealing with this. But I digress.)

The real reason why it did not stay a standalone is simple. As soon as I’d turned Wasp in to the publisher, like the instant it was officially out of my hands, I started getting just straight-up ambushed by scenes and bits of dialogue from what I thought was a missed opportunity to add to that book. Soon I realized that what I was looking at was a different book. Same characters. Different book. Okay then. So Latchkey was drafted before AW was released.

Quick aside about a question I get asked a lot, namely: why do those two books have different publishers? Basically what happened was: because of the above, only AW was under contract with its publisher. I did work with them for a while on a potential sequel, but we never managed to get the manuscript to a place where we both wanted it, and there were things I really didn’t want to compromise on, so we amicably parted ways on it and I tore the whole thing apart in order to write it exactly as I wanted, no compromises. I had a hell of a time trying to find a publisher to pick up book 2 of what I by that point realized was a trilogy (yes, I hope to have book 3 answer some of the questions books 1 and 2 raised! I promise! More on that below) but eventually it got picked up by Mike and Anita Allen at Mythic Delirium, who actually published the very first Wasp-adjacent short story long loooong ago (more on that below too).

As for book 3, tentatively titled Catchkeep, that’s a work-in-progress on my Patreon. Will it be traditionally publishable ever? I mean, probably not. But since when has that stopped me? Maybe if I can publish enough books that I get a sizeable enough readership to make that look attractive to a publisher. It’s a long game, I know. But interconnecting four books (and counting) and a handful of short stories and novellas is a long game too. I’m used to it. My dream is to have the trilogy bound as a single volume. I can already see the cover art. Trust me, it’s cool.

Besides, I am a huge dork for Interconnected Continuity Shit, and I love puzzles. And these characters would not leave me alone. Like, at all. Archivist Wasp has three distinct settings, all of which are much bigger in my head than on the page–I tend to strongly prefer understated worldbuilding, both as a writer and a reader, so I tend to curate what details make it into the book in a way that (hopefully) feels organic to the story and not infodumpy, because I aim for immersive worldbuilding and not jarring people out of the text by interrupting a scene for paragraphs or pages of exposition, which is tricky because as you can probably tell by now from this post my brain operates on a steady diet of tangents and asides–so there was a lot more there in all three of those settings that I could, and realized I really wanted to, explore.

So that explains why Latchkey exists. Firebreak is a bit different. Basically one of the absolutely valid and totally non-petty reasons (cough) why Firebreak even exists is that when Archivist Wasp came out, someone stated in their review that it was obvious that I’d put no thought whatsoever into this war that this ghost was referencing. And I was like, reeeally. Is it. Because (in my books and in others) what a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that what may look like “lazy worldbuilding” is actually the author exhibiting massive restraint and laying out an extremely careful breadcrumb trail of worldbuilding tidbits rather than bludgeoning you with a bunch of tell-don’t-show. Which, if your preference is exposition, that’s obviously fine! But you should know what you’re looking at when you encounter the alternative. There’s nothing lazy about it.

So I got annoyed. And when I get annoyed I tend to write books. Honestly it was a great excuse to do what I wanted to do anyway, which was to write a whole (probably-unpublishable) technically-prequel-but-genuinely-standalone book about the ghost and Foster and more of what they went through in the preapocalyptic world. It’s been a genuine and utter delight to see readers encounter Firebreak first and then go back to my earlier books and have this holy shit! moment when they realize that the books are connected. Or vice-versa. It’s very satifsying.

But while yes, spite can carry you pretty far, the real heart of Firebreak is that I wanted to tell more of the ghost’s story from back before he was, y’know, a ghost. The question I then faced was: okay, how exactly do I do that? As much as I wanted to write him as a POV character, it didn’t feel right. (For this book anyway. More on that below too!) So I kicked around some ideas as to who my POV character was actually going to be, and how I was going to tell the ghost’s story in this kind of oblique sidewise manner while not leaning too hard on readers’ previous knowledge of him as a character in other books.

Basically: way way back in the day, I watched Serenity before I’d even heard of Firefly, and I remember being so very confused, feeling like I was absolutely missing something, like: eek, clearly I am supposed to be caring about what happens to these characters a whole lot more than I do, what’s that about? So that’s what I was explicitly trying to avoid here. The Serenity-before-Firefly effect. I hope I was successful!

So eventually I came up with Mal, and her story, and how 22 fit into it. There were a lot of themes I wanted to squeeze in there, but I also wanted it to be the story of this nobody who never really had any interest in being a somebody but was shoved into that position by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her platonic infatuation with 22 is there for a few reasons.

One, I really wanted to write a platonic crush. It took me a really long time to realize that I’m aromantic asexual, which is funny given that, looking back, I’ve had plenty of crushes but zero of them were romantic/sexual. Just this sense of I’m really into this person but because society has provided no template for this level of interest in the absence of romantic or sexual intent, I am extremely confused and can talk to none of my friends about it because when I try they misinterpret it egregiously through no fault of their own due to the abovementioned lack of social template. Sometimes I convinced myself that it was romantic/sexual, just because I had this idea that that was what I was supposed to do. I don’t wish that on anyone. So I really wanted to capture my own particular aroace experience in a book. I can’t dropkick it back in time to hit 14-year-old-me upside the head with it, but I can maybe put it forward for anyone else who needs to see a book that centers those admittedly-hyperspecific-and-as-such-underrepresented kinds of feels.

Another is that if there’s a character in the Wasp books that has a fanbase, it’s the ghost. So this is a little surprise present to those who’ve enjoyed him.

The third is that he is a character who has lived in my head since I was about 12. I have no idea where he came from, but he doesn’t want to leave. I don’t even really feel like I can take credit for him at this point, he’s that ingrained. (Seriously. Praise makes me very uncomfortable but I unreservedly adore when readers love this one particular character. It hits my praise receptors at this weird remove that makes zero sense but here we are.) Anyway, he’s going nowhere. So continuing to write him stories was kind of inevitable.

As the book became angrier and more complex, my impostor syndrome started getting in my face, like no way was doing this story justice remotely within my ability. This was a process that took three solid years of me talking myself out of writing it and just generally getting in my own way until I just eventually went you know what, fuck it and drafted a 110,000 word book inside 5 weeks. The finished book has nothing from that draft removed (beyond the ending few paragraphs, which were Just Too Dark, Nicole), just stuff added in because my editor Navah Wolfe is amazing. I’d been fretting that the book was too long and any editor would make me chop 20,000 words, but quite to the contrary Navah let me off-leash to add that many. I got to extend out some of the Mal/22 scenes especially, which was the exact thing I wanted to do all along. Plus the ending is less Dark now. You have Navah to thank for that.

What was really hard to do in extending Archivist Wasp, a standalone book that drafted at 56,000 words, into this whole one-woman dollar-store MCU situation, is the fact that I wrote AW to be this surreal dreamlike Journey Into the Underworld, full stop. I didn’t foresee having to explain some of this stuff. I took one (1) paragraph of notes on AW before writing it. I took about twenty pages of notes on Latchkey just to get my shit together, some of which got transferred into my Firebreak notes file so I had at least some chance of keeping the continuity, y’know, continuous.

There’s already one minor continuity error I’ve found, about which I can do precisely nothing until I achieve my dream of finishing the third Wasp book and reissuing the whole thing as a trilogy. Which is to say, probably at no point before the literal heat death of the universe. Does that bother me? ahahaha of…course…not…

What I don’t want to do here is spoil things that are going to show up in the third Archivist Wasp book, so I’m going to try to very carefully tiptoe around those. If you’ve read Archivist Wasp, Latchkey, and Firebreak, and you still come away from this post with questions, all I can say is hopefully I’ll answer those for you in future!

The line I had to walk in Firebreak is to tell a story that would hopefully appeal to those who hadn’t read that older stuff, while kind of also talking over their heads at the people who have.

For instance, one thing I hoped was clear when I wrote Archivist Wasp and Latchkey but probably was not was that calling this operation the “Latchkey Project” was me making fun of all the absolutely unbelievably stupid names they come up with for these things in real life. Firebreak gave me the opportunity to lampshade that a little.

It is indeed a very stupid name and they should be ashamed of it

Or, like, okay. It’s weird really getting into this! So. I have a folklore background and one of the things I had way too much fun with in Archivist Wasp was creating an entire postapocalyptic mythology from whole cloth. I’m fascinated by how folklore and mythology are basically just people playing Telephone with ideas that expand to a point where all the original context has been stripped away and they end up about a zillion times larger than life. So I started thinking about the time that the ghost and Foster lived in, and what might have been important to people who lived about a hundred years in our future. I knew that the army that the ghost and Foster fought in was a corporate army and not a typical government-controlled military, and I wanted to take the whole children-as-supersoldiers trope and put my own spin on it. And I didn’t want this corporate army to be secretive. I wanted it to be playing an all-in hearts-and-minds marketing game to popularize a war that had no real valid reason for existing beyond that they could make bank off of it. So it was an easy jump from there to: these people are celebrities. Big celebrities. Even if nobody knows who they really are under all the branding. And that if they figured largely in the general cultural consciousness of the place where they lived and worked, and they died not long before humanity was wiped out, the idea of them might still be lingering in this place until the end.

In Archivist Wasp and Latchkey, Foster was always referred to by name, but her numerical designation does briefly appear. 22’s does not, for the extremely clever reason of I hadn’t decided on one for him yet

In terms of folklore as people-playing-Telephone-across-the-centuries, many readers have picked up on the similarities between the words Latchkey and Catchkeep, especially when spoken aloud. There’s, uh, a reason for that.


Wasp checking out Catchkeep’s lurchers

SABRINA is a shapeshifting glob of nanobots, but Stellaxis (then StellaTech) likes to portray it as a cute dog with the company logo on its flank…

…and that company logo looks like what?

Eventually, given enough generations of Telephone, the logo becomes the mascot becomes the company becomes the thing that kills Ember Girl. Which is all, of course, true

Jillian, by the way, in Jillian vs. Parasite Planet, the same middle-grade book SABRINA comes from, starts out in the same building in the year 2113, before Stellaxis was Stellaxis and had a space program, now defunct (the stars-and-arrow logo is a holdover from that era). Here she is:


21 years later, here’s Mal:


And quite a bit later here’s Wasp:

He would know.

But why would these people be such a big deal? After all, they’re dead by the time the world ends. They were a literal product of a hypercapitalist society with a nonexistent attention span, but in that society they were revered. 06/Foster especially had a lot of the optics of a folk hero, which we see in some of Mal’s asides in Firebreak:

Honestly none of them are worthy of her

And the implication of the end of that book is that big changes are coming, probably not for two corporations that control everything but maybe at least in this one city. Which is where, thousands of years in the future, Wasp’s town of Sweetwater is situated. Right on top of the ruins of New Liberty. Which is why in Latchkey, Wasp’s there exploring the same subbasements where Mal was interrogated and released and then returned.

I wonder who would have done something like that. Someone who probably had their reasons.

So the ruins of this particular city are where these ghosts are tied to, not just because that’s where they died but because that’s where they persisted in the cultural consciousness. Wasp knows that ghosts are made of memory, but what she doesn’t understand (yet) is that it’s not only their own memories that make them.

These two ghosts in particular had help.

Oh no, Mal, this is going to go so spectacularly wrong.

This is what I plan to really get into in the third Archivist Wasp book. It starts literally where Latchkey leaves off, no three-year time gap this time. So the ghost knows the stories of Ember Girl and Carrion Boy from Wasp, and he’s just helped out, kind of, in the fight for Sweetwater, so he’s seen what Carrion Boy’s followers are like, and he’s coming off of two books that have basically beaten him over the head repeatedly with the fact that everything he tries to fix he just ends up fucking up worse (Foster’s death! Foster’s chip!), so he’s, um, kind of primed to jump to conclusions here. Here he is a couple chapters into an admittedly messy draft-in-progress of book 3, where Wasp has found him, having dragged the corpses of the Ember Girl/Carrion Boy/Crow analogues out of their temporary coffins so he could torture himself wondering about this oooone teensy detail that’s been bugging him.

Because this disaster boy hasn’t been through enough. Now he’s a corrupted symbol.

And oh yeah, about that crow…

Lookin’ good, Mal.

I read some years ago that crows are actually songbirds.
The songkeepers from Wasp’s world are all descended from Mal, the original teller of 06’s & 22’s story.

He doesn’t remember Mal too well, because he never knew her very well. But she made an impression, even if it’s mostly gone (along with 99%+ of his other memories) by the time we first meet him. But those of you who’ve noted how similar Mal is to Wasp, personality-wise, there’s a reason for that too.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-9.png
Note he doesn’t answer her question

This is, like, really on the nose and 3 years later I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it so let’s draw attention to it I guess

He does remember that house in the woods though. Or that there was a house. Details a lil hazy. He is, to repeat, a mess.

Like trying to remember a dream you had of a house, a long long time ago

Honestly his memory of the house was nicer than the real thing, 22 you weirdo

New Liberty comes through to the ghost-place though in full fidelity. Much more so than this one random house does, because it’s of greater significance to more ghosts, and everything in the ghost-place is made of memories crowdsourced from the dead. The more people remember something, the clearer it comes through.

Here it is in the ghost-place
And here it is in 2134 as Mal bikes out of it

Meanwhile the paper that Wasp reads Foster’s memories off of is part of Mal’s collection of 06/22 news stories. One thing that was interesting in these books was being able to describe the same events/locations/etc with totally different vocabulary, depending on whether it was Wasp’s point of view or Mal’s. This is just one example. There are a bunch. That whole scene that happens in both books, for starters.

Wasp just sees “the ruins of some building”
But Mal recognizes it

Wasp does see one of the ghost’s memories that has Mal in it, but doesn’t realize at the time that this is at all significant:

Here’s what Wasp sees…

…and here it is from Mal’s angle. I love reader reactions when they run into this scene in one book after having read the other. Like. Really love them. A lot.

I mean technically she sees more than one…

It’s not that it’s where her troubles began, more it’s when they began to escalate. Dramatically.

Should’ve cleared that desk out faster.

One thing that was just incredibly fun to do was piecing scenes back together based on what I knew of them from earlier books. The whole chip-and-sword thing, for instance.

He should look repentant, he’s ridiculous, what the fuck are you even doing, it’s a sword not a throwing knife, who raised you
…actually nevermind that’s just plain mean

If Mal hadn’t done this one specific thing, Wasp and 400 years of Archivists before her would have had a different job / no seriously

And just to anchor the timeline a lil:

This probably reads as an entirely random detail to the 99.998% of readers who either didn’t read Archivist Wasp four seconds ago / oooor entirely reasonably forgot the following

Would 06 have been less stubborn if she knew Mal was in danger in the next cell over? Of course she would have
…………yeeeaah 🙁

Or like just messing around with unreliable narration:

I mean, sure, let’s go with that, you weirdo

22 you absolute disaster you are a cog in a marketing machine, full stop

It’s probably clear by now that I have a major problem when it comes to these books.

Mal is not a self-insert character but this is 100% a self-insert observation

As such, I have of course written many many thousands of words of Extra Stuff. Just a really inadvisable number of words of Extra Stuff.

It took me a long time to find a publisher for Archivist Wasp. I’d say it was for a lot of reasons, but it really boils down to two. One: it was a YA book without romance (and I had zero intent to compromise on that point, and I had to turn down agents’ requests for revise/resubmits that added romance in but I was not going to budge on this). Two: it was Weird. So while I was trying to figure out what the fuck to do with it, I messed around with a short story alternate version that basically told the story of some of the constellation/myths through the lens of a very-far-future anthropological paper. It’s called “On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse” and you can find it in Clockwork Phoenix 4 or in The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.

Archivist Wasp changed a bit between that first draft and the final, and this story came out kind of in the middle, so don’t expect the story to be super consistent with everything else–I don’t remember much about it but some of the constellation names, for instance, changed. Also it is really super old.

Still, though.

I did warn you I had a folklore background.
That ending is classic, by which of course I mean I stole it

This all checks out tbh

Catchkeep is, and I do not say this lightly, not a good doggo

And just to anchor the sixteen stars thing a little, because it’s also in the Stellaxis logo as seen above:

ok so *according to whatever I had looked up at the time* Ursa Major had sixteen major stars. Four seconds ago I looked it up *again* to verify it so I wouldn’t have to turn in my astronomy nerd card to you all and now what I’m seeing is that it has….not 16 major stars…but…22.
oh come on now

…and of goddamn course now it’s got 22 stars in it what the actual hell

And Stellaxis-then-StelTech’s space program used to bring them…there! Ursa Major was their bread and butter. For a time.
Hence the logo. And the lurchers’ tattoo. And the legend. It’s a religion born of marketing!! No I’m not cynical at all why do you ask

At some point after I finished writing Latchkey, I started kicking around this idea about the relics of a current civilization as found by a far-future post-apocalyptic civilization, and how to small children they might be indistinguishable from fossils–or, depending on the nature of the extinction event, they might be the only approximation of fossils discoverable at all. That turned into “Last Chance,” published at Clarkesworld, which takes place several years before Archivist Wasp but in the same world. Some of you might recognize the narrator.

My no-less-massive-for-being-totally-unavoidable regret with Firebreak is that I wasn’t able to include more 06 and 22 in it. I got to lament it a little here on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog back in May, but trust me when I say my sorrow on this point runs deep. I vented some of it in the novelette “Pathfinding!” which appeared in Uncanny Magazine. It’s about 06 and 22 when they are fifteen years old and they, along with all the other surviving operatives, are testing out the Director’s new combat simulator. Things then go sideways with maximum rapidity. It’s full of stupid little Easter eggs that I expect literally nobody to notice, such as:

He is not good at helicopters in “Pathfinding!”

or in Firebreak for that matter, or anywhere probably let’s be honest


Of course 22’s favorite cookie is oatmeal raisin, I mean, look at him

And it’s Mal’s favorite too because obviously

Now I’m not saying that the last orange juice Mal had was in the Stellaxis basement but I’m not not saying that either

Oh no it was wasn’t it

And since this story actually came out before Firebreak, it contains the first published instance of the company (which has not been publicly named in either of the Wasp books) monopolizing water, and people being unhappy about that

It’s not the best protest slogan, if we’re honest…

…but it’s catchy

This is the big one though.

06 never quite got there

Until she did. 🙁

(The trail where Mal finds 22, tangentially, is based on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which is about two blocks from my front door. It’s also where That Bridge Scene from A Quiet Place was filmed. There was a community container garden on that bridge and a Little Free Library and they pitched both off the side of the bridge in order to film that scene and I’m honestly still mad about it. But if you’re ever in the Rosendale-New Paltz-Kingston neck of the upstate-ish NY woods, check out that trail, I love it a lot.)

And then there’s a ton of stuff over on my Patreon because no I don’t know why I’m like this. There are deleted scenes from these books over there, and I’ve written up a bunch of the myths mentioned in the Wasp books in their entirety (more of those to come as I get around to them).

And then there’s, um, this.

Oh yes / I wrote FORTY THOUSAND WORDS of 06/22 Boxcar Children homage fluff / which I thought was fluff until it started doing an awful lot of character work heavy lifting that I never got the chance to do elsewhere / why am I like this that’s an excellent question I don’t know okay / oh also SABRINA’s in it / and it’s just wall-to-wall references to 4 books as far as the eye can see, which I can’t in good conscience get into all of here / I should probably stop talking now / I’m so sorry

And of course the third Wasp book is on there as well, such as it is. I’m hoping to get back to it really soon. It’s going to be a very different book than the first two (and extremely different from Firebreak) in that it’s probably not going to be very action-y or fastpaced and will be absolutely packed with Character Feels and hopefully answer a lot of the questions that the first two books raised. It’s about how the memories of these people got corrupted across the ages–their personal memories but also the remnants of humanity’s memory of them–and for what reasons, and how deep that goes, and how both your own memories and everyone else’s memories of you, if inaccurate enough, work together to corrupt your manifestation as a ghost that is literally made of memories, and whether in the end it’s just irreparable. It’s going to be big and slow and sprawly and I exist perpetually in a state of terrified eagerness to really dig into it and hopefully not mess it up too badly.


In the off-chance that anyone has actually read this far, I’m honestly kind of impressed and thank you so much! If you noticed anything I should have added to this list, or questions about stuff in the books, let me know!! And if the concept of all these extras is intriguing to you, my Patreon is no tiers, pay-what-you-want for access to everything I post. Which is at this point about three years’ worth of extras from all the books mentioned above, plus that 40k 06/22 piece that’s going up monthly as we speak, plus an eventual full draft of the third Wasp book (it’s a few chapters in right now, more soon!). Also, I’m trying to get better about putting tip jars on things that take me ages to put together (friends yell at me about this A Whole Bunch) so here’s my ko-fi if you felt like tossing something in.

But honestly just the fact that you enjoy these books enough to have read this far (seriously this has taken me twelve straight hours at this point and I totally expect to be addressing an empty room by now) is frankly incredible. If you’re still here to see this, thank you so much.

I know that as soon as I publish this post I’m going to remember about nine hundred other bits I forgot to add into it. So it may well end up getting edited going forward as my brain decides to cough things up. I deliberately left out stuff that will be super spoilery for book 3, and honestly that 06/22 thing on my Patreon is so loaded with references to ::gestures at everything:: it’s kind of stupid. And not only Easter egg things, but things that end up really mattering to the character backstories and I’m kind of annoyed it’s almost definitely unpublishable. When it’s all up, I’ll go back into this and update it with the stuff that ties that novella back into everything else, but as it’s still coming out monthly, I don’t want to spoil stuff that’s not readable yet.

All in all this whole thing’s an absolute labor of love, and it’s a long game, and it’s not over yet. Thank you so so much for exploring it with me.

#BooksForPalestine auction

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

I’m taking part in the #BooksForPalestine auction! Along with 500+ other bookish items, I’m donating a signed/personalized/ANNOTATED hardcover copy of FIREBREAK. It’s absolutely one-of-a-kind as I’ve literally never annotated anything ever before, but this is for an absolutely necessary cause so I’m gonna try. <3

Bid here!

And whether you’re interested in this particular item or not, with 500+ items the auction’s virtually guaranteed to have something for everyone. Follow the auction on Twitter and go bid on something!!

so FIREBREAK has been out a week today…

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

…and I wish I could thank you all individually for ordering/reading/reviewing/handselling/requesting from your library/etc!

They’re all personal but this one means an awful lot to me & it’s absolutely amazing to see Mal and Jessa and their questionable adventures already clicking with readers. It was very important to me to write Mal as an introverted, prickly, somewhat antisocial character full of traits that are more often than not deemed “unlikeable” in a female protagonist while lauded in a male one, and also to make her aromantic and asexual, because I am, and I have never yet seen it written in a piece of media in a way that really resonated with me personally. The fact that most readers seem to be 100% getting what I was doing in both of those instances and totally accept Mal for who she is has been extremely reassuring. I’ve never gotten such an overwhelmingly positive response on a book so early before. I’m honestly blown away. Thank you.

To those of you coming new to my writing: hi! Firebreak has often been called my debut, but it isn’t, and my adult debut, which it also isn’t. I’ve been publishing since about 2007 but always with (amazing!!) small presses so while they’ve been a joy to work with, a lot of my work has gone under the general radar. If you enjoyed Firebreak, check out Archivist Wasp and Latchkey next. Additionally, my Patreon has several years of book extras and stuff (including a ridiculous ongoing fluff piece I’ve been writing for 06 and 22 in which they are twelve years old and having a Boxcar Children-esque adventure in a shipping container). It’s no-tiers, pay-what-you-want for access to everything. Finally, because I’m noticing quite a number of 06 and 22 fans (which delights me), here’s a standalone story about them that actually came out months before the book.

I have another book coming out in two months! Jillian vs. Parasite Planet is my middle-grade debut. It’s a science-forward survival story including portal-based space travel, creepy mind-control parasites, a snarky cartoon-addicted shapeshifting nanobot swarm, and a protagonist whose anxiety disorder is depicted in a way that is more realistic to my experience than the “shyness” that tends to be the (wildly inaccurate) media default. And it has interior! illustrations! by the incredibly talented Scott Brown. If this sounds like your jam (or the jam of a kid in your life) it’s open to preorders now! As always, you can ask your library to preorder for you!

I was given the opportunity to do a bunch of essays, guest posts, and interviews that are ongoing throughout the month. Some aren’t out yet but here’s a few that are:

I wrote about how “unlikeable” female protagonists are great actually over at Fantasy Book Cafe!

My essay “Sex Is Great, But Have Your Ever Seen Your Real-Life Relationship Depicted in Fiction?”, which is about the importance of representing strong platonic relationships in books/movies/etc, is in this month’s issue of Apex Magazine and available online 6/3!

The Nerd Daily asked me some great questions here!

Paul Semel asked me some more great questions here!

I wrote about in-medias-res worldbuilding, especially in a cross-genre piece, over at CrimeReads!

At Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog I got to talk about my favorite bit of writing Firebreak!

Lastly, on May 27 at 6pm EST I’ll be chatting online about Firebreak with Amal El-Mohtar over at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn (virtually) and I’d love to (virtually) see you there! Register here.


I’ll do a review roundup soon and add more guest posts and stuff as they become available, but in the meantime just wanted to say thank you all so much.


Tuesday, May 4th, 2021

After 3 years of telling myself I wasn’t good enough to write it, a year on sub, publication being pushed back by a year…it’s finally here.

Look at this cover! Look at this blurb!! It’s a book! It’s a book that’s out today!!


This book was a weird combination of the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything PLUS the most personal deep dive I’ve ever attempted in anything. It’s about gaming and friendship and activism and trying to fuck up a corporate-owned police state. It’s got an aro/ace protagonist, a fierce platonic crush, lady gamers getting shit done, and also mechs and swords and stuff because hi.

I really hope you like it!!