So, the last Hunger Games movie came out and, with it, came criticism for the ending.

Katniss, the great and brave warrior woman, is now reduced to a lowly wife and mother? GASP!

So, yeah.

Honestly, if Katniss was neurotypical, I would get it. Romance wasn’t the focus of the books/films and so the ending would feel like they just couldn’t comprehend a happy ending for a woman that didn’t involve MARRIAGE and CHILDREN because that’s all women are good for, right?

But Katniss isn’t neurotypical and this critique is very much an example of women in a position of privilege assuming that their experience applies to ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE.

It really doesn’t.

Disabled women aren’t often forced into feminine roles.

They’re often denied them.

Able-bodied and neurotypical women have to deal with the pressures of being told that they have to marry and have children to live fulfilling lives.

I have to deal with people assuming that I am fit for neither.

I was diagnosed as Autistic at nineteen. Before that I was pretty much “person most likely to opt for working part time so that she could spend more time baking cookies for her children.”

Now, the same people who (kindly) teased me about being too much of a mother hen, tell me that it’ll take a saint to marry me. My future partner will be “putting up with” me, or will have to also be Autistic.

They went from assuming that I was going to have children to assuming that I wouldn’t.

Now, if I talk about it as a possibility, I’m told that children are probably too demanding for me to deal with.

These are people who have known me for years, and yet my diagnosis completely changed their estimation of my future.

I’m no longer a woman to them. I’m just Autistic.

Katniss ends The Hunger Games series with PTSD.

For a neurotypical woman, getting married and having children is the stereotypical ending.

For neurodivergent characters, the stereotypical ending is death.

Living a life that most able-bodied/neurotypical women take for granted is a happy ending for her.

And it’s not an anti-feminist one.

So, one of the most common questions I get asked, especially after my post on being explicit, is how to be explicit with a character’s autism when writing a fantasy or historically based novel.

I’ve given a few different answers to this and have used a few different techniques myself, but I wanted to use this post to talk about my current favourite: meta-fiction.

Meta-fiction is adding another layer of fiction on top of the story in which you the author also belong to this world.

Usually, this takes the form of author bios or ancillary content in the back of the book.

One of my favourite examples of this is Girl Genius which is “written by Professors Foglio and Foglio of Transylvania Polygnostic University as textbooks for their “True Events in the Life of Agatha Heterodyne 101″ class” (Girl Genius FAQ Page).

Another is The Gift by Alison Croggon (also known as The Naming in the US), which starts with a note on the text explaining that it is a simplified translation of the Riddle of the Treesong, intended for a general audience.

Of course, there is no Transylvania Polygnostic University or Riddle of the Treesong. It’s all just meta-fiction, in which the authors pretend to be experts on the “true” events of the book. This allows for extra world-building in a way that wouldn’t clog up the story.

For example, the final of the Books of Pellinor (the series The Gift belongs to) ends with extra content telling the reader what happens to the main characters, without clunky epilogues.

Some books have this extra content without the meta-fiction layer (such as the A Song of Ice and Fire books) but I think that it’s important when we’re talking about autism.

Why?

To explain, here is the opening to my steampunk novella, Lady Ruth Constance Chapelstone and the Clockwork Suitor:

“The condition we now refer to as ‘autism’ was first recognised by the medical communities of Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

However, before this point, Autistic people still existed. Many were simply seen as ‘eccentric’ and certain euphemisms arose to describe them.

One such euphemism arose during the Industrial Revolution, within the upper class of London. Many of the great minds behind the revolution were referred to as having ‘an inventor’s disposition’.

The majority of the modern day technology we so heavily rely on – particularly automatons and other mechanicals –  can be traced back to these inventors.

One such inventor was referred to only as The Owl, and they were single-handedly responsible for a great deal of both technological and social change during Queen Victoria’s reign.”

– Excerpt from The Owl: The Birth of the Automaton Age,
   By Professor Lucinda Caroline Mawson

That’s it.

One paragraph of meta-fiction and I just explicitly said that my character is Autistic without using the term “autism” in a historical setting.

So, yeah, meta-fiction.

*Jazz hands*

I’ve been trying to write a new blog series for weeks now, but I give up every time.

Not this time (hopefully).

Let’s get one thing clear: this is not a “down with trad-pub!” post.

As far as I’m concerned, whether you try traditional publishing or do it yourself is a personal choice.

And my choice would be to hybrid it. But, right now, indie is where I’m at.

So, why?

I Write A LOT

I tend not to participate in NaNoWriMo because it clashes with my academic timetable. This year I might have been able to manage it, but the point is to write a 50,000 novel. This month I’ve been editing the second Freya Snow book, I was already half way through writing the third one, and the projects I’ve started have been novellas.

But 50,000 words in a month is an easy target for me. And I write a lot of YA and novellas, so that’s about a book a month (sometimes more). Add another month for my edits and a third for beta reads/pro editing, and I have a three month book cycle. I’ve also managed to fine-tune this, so I usually write another book while waiting for edits to come back. I am a book machine.

I have a manuscript at query right now with agents. But I’m not going to sit on my hands in the mean time when I have a whole bunch of other manuscripts waiting to go.

And, speaking of novellas…

I Write in Weird Genres and at Weird Lengths

Let’s look at my three latest projects.

Freya Snow

The thing is, once a genre hits big, everybody gets fatigue for a while. Trying to sell anything to do with wizard schools, vampires (or replace vampires with any other paranormal creature because gods know that there were more than enough “Twilight with werewolves/fallen angels/etc.” for a few years), or dystopians right now is difficult. You had better have the best damn manuscript anyone has ever laid eyes on.

Freya Snow is not that.

Freya Snow is a fun romp through familiar ground with an Autistic character.

Is it going to change the literary world?

No.

Is it a fun read?

People seem to think so.

I knew it was never going to be my GREATEST WORK EVER and I’m fine with that. Sometimes fun is okay.

But yeah, publishers were never going to be convinced.

Love/Hate

So, this one is at query, but I have to admit that I’m not that hopeful.

It’s YA sci-fi and is perhaps best described as “Steven Universe meets RWBY”.

I’ve gone in the complete opposite direction from Freya Snow with this one.

Instead of going for a genre that has been incredibly popular and everyone is fatigued on, I went for one that barely exists.

Seriously, the bestsellers in the genre are all dystopians.

What was the last YA sci-fi you read that wasn’t a dystopian or Enders Game (which was written before YA was a thing, and so was just sci-fi)?

Lady Ruth Constance Chapelstone and the Clockwork Suitor

It’s a novella.

The thing is, I really like novellas. They’re a good length for me to work in. And people like reading them, because they’re a good reading length.

But print publishing has figured out the length novels should be in order to maximise return on the price of the paper.

As of me writing this, I think Tor is the only publisher with a novella imprint and agents won’t even bother taking a look at a manuscript that they could only ever possibly sell in one place.

I’ve Always Been a One-Woman Band

If I wasn’t capable of doing this myself, I wouldn’t. If I didn’t have time for marketing, etc., I wouldn’t. But I can, so I do.

I’m Writing Autistic Characters

Look, other people have talked about diversity in publishing from far more experienced backgrounds than me.

But, at the end of the day, it’s a crap-shoot.

You might find an agent or an editor looking for diverse manuscripts in your genre. Or you might struggle for them.

Publishing yourself takes that uncertainty out of the equation.

But that’s not even my main point.

My editing process usually looks like:

Editor: Shouldn’t you refer to her as having Asperger’s, not autism?

Me: No.

Editor: What about this bit here… This body language bit makes no sense. People don’t do that.

Me: Autistic people do.

In the end, these conversations are time consuming and do nothing to help my work. At least when I’m publishing the book, I get the final say. Imagine how much more taxing that conversation would be if that weren’t the case… Especially once you’ve factored in marketing people with their love of phrases like “brilliant but autistic”.

I’m Anxious and Autistic

Publishing is uncertainty. That is always true.

Doing it yourself?

It’s less uncertain.

You have the full control, you’re not beholden to deadlines. If anxiety gets on top of you, you can step back for a week and regroup.

You set the deadlines and you are in control of everything but whether or not people buy or like it.

It Made Sense to Me and the Data Seems to Back Me Up

If I was looking to have any other kind of creative career, I would start online.

Music, art, etc. Most creatives put their work online to build an audience before asking someone else to help with distribution/marketing.

That seemed like the best plan to me. Waiting in slush piles for someone to take a chance on me made no sense when I had a way to prove that I was capable of building an audience beforehand.

And it turns out that indie authors from the last few years are doing better than their traditionally published counterparts and the trend is only moving more in that direction.

So, you know, at the end of the day, this isn’t a bad place to be and I’m doing alright.

So, you’re thinking of writing something with an Autistic character and a romance subplot involving them. But what do we think is sexy?

I’m here to answer this question.

(As best I can as just one person, who asked a few other people…)

  1. Understanding
    Look, Autistic people are going to do things that Allistics will find odd. That’s not a “maybe”, that’s a fact. Nothing turns me off faster than someone pointing out (even if they mean well, and just want to let me know that other people might be judging me) that my behaviour is odd. If I haven’t explicitly said that you should tell me to pack something in if you notice me doing it, just shut up and leave it be. Chances are that I know that it’s odd, and I just don’t care. The best kind of person is the one who doesn’t comment, and who is understanding when my behaviour is a way of indicating distress.The person who asks me what I need, and remembers for next time, when I’m about to meltdown is the one for me, not the one worrying that I’m embarrassing them, or who ignores what I’m saying because it doesn’t fit with how they think people should be.

    (If somebody tells you the lights are too bright and they need to leave, the last thing thy want to hear is “How can the lights being bright be upsetting you? That’s ridiculous.”)

  2. Sensory Goodness
    Apparently, someone having soft hair is really, really nice. As someone who has been on the opposite side of that, I can definitely say that dry/straw-like hair texture is enough to make me cringe.

    It’s the same with strong colognes/perfumes. It’s really difficult to focus on romance when you’re dealing with sensory overload (which can have physical side-effects ranging from headaches to dizziness to nausea).

    But, on the opposite side, nice sensory feelings are nice.

  3. Trust
    Trust is important in any relationship, but for Autistic people, it’s 110% essential.

    There will be times when we’re vulnerable around our significant other. Whether it’s a meltdown or shutdown or sensory overload, we can’t afford not to trust the person with us.

  4. The Same as Everyone Else
    Look, we’re different, but we’re not aliens. Everybody has their own turn-ons and turn-offs and they’re not really that different for Autistic people.

Tune in next week to see if I am brave/mature enough to write a post about sex.


Want to stay updated on new Writing Autistic posts? We have a newsletter.

You see, internet, the thing about these posts is that sometimes we really need to talk about something.

But I don’t claim to have all of the autism-related answers.

These posts are largely an amalgamation of my personal experience, things I have picked up from other Autistic people in the community, and from my own research when it comes to writing Autistic characters.

But, when it comes to romance, like any online community, most people aren’t looking to spill their guts all over the #actuallyautistic tag about it.

And, as a young, Autistic, socially anxious introvert who hates people, I don’t exactly have a great amount of personal experience to draw on here.

All of this makes research harder, but I am doing my best.

For science!

(And, you know, in the hope of better representation in media…)

So, the Day One FAQ:

Wait, Autistic people can be in romantic relationships?

Yes. There is a stereotype that Autistic people are aromantic/asexual.

This isn’t true.

And I feel the need to stress here that some Autistic people are ace and/or aro, and I don’t mean this is sound like “don’t compare us to them” because they are completely legitimate orientations and there is nothing wrong with them.

The problem lies in the desexualisation of disabled people, which, I don’t know, I might do another long post on later.

So, does that mean I can’t write an ace or aro Autistic character?

No. I’m writing one myself. But you have to be aware of the trope and try to mitigate. Have two Autistic characters, and only have one of them be ace/aro, for example.

I have several Autistic characters, all with different orientations.

Different orientations?

Yeah. Straight is not the only option besides ace/aro Autistics, but it can often feel like it in media.

This comes down to the fact that Autistic people are desexualised, while gay and bi people are oversexualised.

People forget that we can be gay and bi too.

So, how does flirting work if you socialise differently?

Erm, admittedly, with difficulty. I often don’t realise someone is flirting with me until they say it outright. Equally, Allistics often don’t realise when I’m flirting with them. Again, I could give flirting its own post and it’s getting late…

Okay, but what about sex?

Urgh, again, its own post. But yeah, there’s sensory stuff involved. It can be tricky. Or not. Everyone is different. Again, own post.

Did you basically write this to tell us that you’re going to do a whole series on romance?

Kind of. I’m sorry. It’s late and I’m ill.

Day One, you guys. I don’t want another 2k post…


Want to keep up with L.C.’s Writing Autistic posts? She has a weekly newsletter to keep you up-to-date.

 

Hey guys, I thought I would put the prologue of Hunt up here so that you could have a read, since I’ve started a prequel over on Wattpad which is mostly an extension of it. The first chapter (and maybe the second, I can’t remember) is also available to preview on the Look Inside function on Amazon.


 

Lily had never held a gun before in her life. The weight felt wrong in her hand and she was sure that she wouldn’t be able to hit the broadside of a truck with it.

She soon found out as two more guards rounded the corner. Memories flooded into her mind, as they had so often taken to doing since she had awoken on Earth. Two different sets of memories existed within her, covering the five years she had spent away and still, even after so many months, they clawed at her mind, each fighting for dominance.

It was a fight the Rebel Queen usually won but the memories which flooded forth this time were from her Dark counterpart. Memories of gentle hands instructing her on how to aim and fire a crossbow, not this heavy firearm. She pushed away the memories as her heart began to ache at the loss of the owner of the gentle hands. The loss would give way to anger over his death. Anger at the Rebel Queen which would do no good.

The memories were enough so that her shots landed at least, taking down the two guards. However, she wasn’t expecting the ringing in her ears or the kickback which caused her to stumble backwards, barely managing to stay on her feet. The new-born, held to her chest by a makeshift sling and her left arm, stirred at the noise of the pistol and the sudden movement of her mother stumbling back.

“Hey, shh, shh, you’re okay,” Lily murmured as she started moving once more, trying to calm her daughter so that she wouldn’t start crying and give away their position. Lily wanted to throw the gun to one side and switch to her magic, but all that she could muster in her weakened state was directed to shielding her daughter.

“I can’t believe this was the best distraction I could come up with,” Lily muttered, putting a considerable amount of effort into keeping her voice light and sarcastic, instead of wavering.

“You knew this plan was ill-conceived at the outset,” her ghostly companion responded, her black gown having shifted into a much more practical tunic over pants. Not that practicality should matter to the dead. Amber had nothing to fear here.

“I knew that I couldn’t let these monsters have my child,” Lily countered before letting out a frustrated sigh. “What’s the time on the spell?”

“Sixty seconds,” Amber replied before regarding Lily carefully. “Are you sure about this?” The undercurrent of sadness beneath Amber’s calm tone told her that she already knew the answer.

“I want my daughter to have her best shot at a normal life. With the War, that’s no longer possible for any of our kind. Reversing it is the only way.”

Amber gave her a measured look. “Even at the cost of your life?”

Lily nodded. The argument was an old one. This plan had been in motion for months now. The only thing Lily had been waiting on was her daughter. “I know. But it’s the only way out.”

“If you change the timeline… without the War, I doubt your parents would have met.”

“What does it matter? I have to sacrifice myself for the spell anyway.”

“And what of your child?”

“She’s more powerful than I am,” Lily told her without a moment’s hesitation. “She’ll survive the change.” Before Amber could respond, they heard guards approaching. “I think the time for debate has passed.”

“Agreed,” Amber told her. “The charms will finish charging in three, two, one…”

Lily closed her eyes, remembering the incantation and trying not to stumble over the Ancient words in her head as she went. Her energy drained away as she silently recited the words, fuelling the power behind them with her very soul. She dropped the gun and brought her other arm up to help hold her daughter close as she fell to her knees, her strength fading quickly.

By the time she had finished, she barely had enough strength to open her eyes. The world had shifted around her so that she was now outside the hospital. It had never been repurposed by the human military and was still used for treating civilians, though it was slightly smaller. That was why she was now outside, despite not having moved.

“Amber,” she managed, her voice weak.

“I’m here,” her guardian assured her.

“You have to promise me… Promise me you’ll take care of her.”

Amber looked uneasy for a moment but nodded.

“I promise.”

“Thank you…”

“You know, if I knew who her father was, I could make sure she gets to him.”

Lily shook her head. “No. I think he’s dead but… Even if he isn’t, keep her from him.”

The Dark Queen argued with more memories of gentle hands and a loving gaze. Her Rebel counterpart simply reminded Lily that all she knew of him was seen through the lens of fear and a want for freedom from responsibility. She had an inkling of who he was in this world and that possibility frightened her more than a little. But even if she was wrong, outside of the Shadow Realm he was essentially a stranger, and not one she could trust her daughter with.

“Will you at least tell me who he is so that I can properly protect her?”

Lily shook her head, the last of her strength failing her.

“No… That’s a secret I shall take to the grave, I think…”

Finally, as the weakness overcame her, someone ran over, possibly a nurse.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

She responded by thrusting the baby forward into his arms so that she wouldn’t have to worry about causing her daughter harm as she passed.

“Make sure she’s alright,” she managed to tell him, her words coming through her throat like a death rattle.

The world faded from her and, when it returned, she found that she was standing over her body, now a ghostly form much like Amber.

“Why do you two insist on making my job ten times harder?” she heard from behind her, recognising Death’s familiar, tired voice.

She turned to see a man with bright white skin and jet black hair and eyes. In fact, his eyes showed no white at all. She might be disconcerted by that if she wasn’t so used to it. He was shorter than her and wearing a black suit with a white tie. He approached Lily, shaking his head as she realised that Amber was now gone.

“She said that she would only stay long enough to see the child born. Now this promise has her beyond my grasp.”

“Just for now,” Lily suggested.

“It’s an imbalance,” he countered.

“I couldn’t leave my daughter unprotected,” she said simply. “You couldn’t honestly expect me to, could you, Grandfather?”

He sighed. “No, I suppose not. I’m proud of you, Lily. For making this sacrifice. I know how difficult this decision must have been for you.”

Lily responded by looking around. The world seemed… calm. There were no sounds of fighting, and there were no ruins within her line of sight. Even the ever-present smell of burning was gone.

“No, it wasn’t. This is the world I want my daughter to live in. Even if it has to be without me.”

“Just because we’re no longer fighting humans doesn’t mean you’ve created a world without conflict.”

Lily nodded.

“I know. Trust me, I’m not that optimistic…” She paused, frowning a little as she folded her arms. “Grandfather… What about Edric?”

“He’s still alive.”

“How? I saw him die in the Shadow Realm. I killed him.”

Death nodded.

“He will eventually die on this side too. But not yet. Right now he’s wondering what has become of his family.”

“Amber will keep her safe,” Lily reasoned, clearly trying to assure herself more than Death.

“Come on,” he said, deciding not to address it. “Your mother’s waiting for you…”


Again, the next chapter can be read for free on Amazon.