You Better Hold on, Coz’ This Train Don’t Stop!

Although, sometimes, I wish it would pause long enough for me to get some real sleep.

My long time friend and editor, Marcia Brown, does her best to help me maintain, what passes for, my sanity, but even she is boggled by my most recent outpouring of work.

After completing Becoming Ulysses, I asked my brain if I could take a little break from writing to catch up with things like cleaning my house, and seeing the sky without glass in the way. My brain gave me a few weeks, so I rushed to catch up on Etsy work, and then the bastard dropped two books into my loading screen at the same time.

As I’ve touched on before, the way I write isn’t based on any sort of outline or need to express a creative idea. It’s more like a DVD being shown in my consciousness, and the only way to move forward in the story is to write down what I see. I can’t fast forward, and I don’t know anything the characters don’t know. So, about two weeks ago, my brain loaded up the paused first scenes from two different movies, and basically flipped between the two every hour until I pressed “play”. I picked one, and had to get through it before I was allowed to sleep again.

Now the other one is coughing politely.

There are a few upsides to this method, as insane as I know it seems. Firstly, I write only final drafts, and aside from the occasional typo or odd phrasing, they don’t require much editing to polish. I realize that anyone who reads this proclamation will see it as complete hogwash, insisting that I’m espousing to have a literary genie in a bottle, and I can’t really fault their skepticism. All I can do is ask them to talk to my editor, who watches me crank out 10,000 words per day like a possessed typewriter.

The speed makes sense, once you consider my long history of short deadlines. At one point in my life, I was writing and drawing a monthly comic, ghosting for a video game website, creating wig tutorials, and animating car commercials… all while still answering 80,000 customer and fan emails per month. I dare you to do that math.

Another bonus to the “movie in my head” method is that I can rewind and revisit a scene after I’m done. By default, my SFF stories seem to land solidly at 70,000 words, but I can always go back to a scene and “look around” to see if there was anything I missed. Sometimes, I’ll take a little more time to describe the room. Sometimes, I’ll examine the protagonist’s fingernails for evidence. It’s as if I’m in the scene, so I can see all of the details and choose which ones are important to mention, or which are just background noise. My brain is downright scary with the clues it sneaks past my radar, so I’ve learned to trust it, and tell it like it is.

And that’s the final positive, I never get writer’s block. This agreement that I’ve worked out with my brain means that it takes the wheel, and I’m just the keyboard monkey. While there is always a point around the 50k mark that I start biting my fingernails, unsure of how the mess the characters have gotten themselves into will be resolved, I never have to figure it out for them. They’re not controlled by the iron collar of plot, and as long as I keep typing what I see them do, they’ll find their own way out. – K

The day I learned to be okay with my androgyny…

It was November 1st, 2005, and I was driving back to my Fresno home from staying the night in the Bay Area with some of my cosplay friends. We had won Best of Show at YaoiCon that weekend for our Rainbow Links skit.

When really good costume makers phone it in… I’m the pink one.

After the contest, a gay fellow asked why we had picked the “butchest one” to be pink link. Mind you, I was described as the butchest of a group that included a certified momma-bear lesbian, as Goth Link. My voice is kind of low, I guess?

I had spent the previous day (Halloween) dressed as a man to prove a point about cross-play, and how little it takes to visually redefine my gender to the casual observer. (In comparison to some of the more elaborate makeup techniques used by other cosplayers.) I had been telling one of my friends about how often I’d been mistaken for a boy, despite my body shape, the cutesy outfits, and all of the other things I’d tried to accentuate to stop it from happening again. She was incredulous, so for Halloween, I dressed as Tommy Montgomery, from Essex. (Accent and all…)

Now, I need to give you a little history to work with to understand why this was a big deal, and not your typical frat boy in a dress escapade.

In fifth grade, I cut my hair short for the first time. This was 1985, and I’d gone from long pigtails to a close bob. The boys at school were not nice about it, and my friend Sarah cut her long, curly hair short the next week for solidarity.

Despite the snarky remarks, (which were already commonplace by that point, due to my other weirdness…) that was the first year I’d actually liked my school photo. I’d discovered that I looked good with short hair. (I didn’t know enough about aesthetics at the time to understand why, but it was because it made my facial features appear larger and more balanced.)

From that point, I only ever started to grow it out as my self-esteem dropped, and since that was also around the same time my classmates started puberty, and my weirdness was becoming more and more pronounced, I went through a constant cycle of growing it out to appear more feminine, then cutting it back off again in frustration. I quickly learned that it didn’t matter if it was long or short. I just wasn’t attractive, or at least, not attractive enough to overcome my lack of social skill.

By my Junior year of high school, my hair was short again, and I finally had a boyfriend. However, this is when the gender and sexuality issues really hit the fan. I was regularly mistaken for a boy, or if not a boy, a butch lesbian. At the time, I identified as female hetero, so I saw every other label as an insult. (I was seventeen, try not the read too much into it.)

One of my teachers kept me after class one day to try to “counsel” me about coming out as lesbian. Which was super awkward when I had to tell her that I was dating one of her former (male) students who’d already graduated. People assumed that I was gay because my boyfriend was no longer in high school, and I hung out with my female friend who was in exactly the same situation. (In fact, our boyfriends later became roommates.)

In response, I attempted to lean deeper into the feminine, and quickly realized that I had no idea what that even meant. This was now the early 90’s, and women’s fashion during that point was basically tailored men’s clothing (pantsuits and shoulderpads), or teeny-tiny, super tight outfits that I was definitely not going to be able to wear to school.

I opted for column B, and then the next thing happened: My boyfriend made fun of me for trying to be sexy. He said I looked “ridiculous”. (If you’re reading this Matt, yes, that was the exact word you used.) I don’t think he was trying to do it consciously, but my boyfriend discouraged me from presenting as feminine, and encouraged me to dress in boy’s clothing. If I wore his jeans and t shirts, he told me a I looked cute. If I wore a tight velvet dress, he laughed at me. He made me feel like the only way I could be attractive was as a boy, so I boyed it up, and was mis-gendered even more often. Every time it happened, I felt even worse.

This went on for almost fifteen years.

Which brings us back to YaoiCon, and the challenge from my friend. For all of Halloween, I was Tommy. All I had to do was brush my eyebrows the wrong way, comb my hair a little differently, and duct-tape my boobs down. I wore men’s cologne, and opened doors for ladies, and chatted up the various people who came to have themselves drawn at my table. Even though my own books, with my REAL NAME were sitting in front of me, nobody batted an eye.

At one point, one of my fans walked by the table and did a double-take, “Is that Katie Bair?” I had to quickly lean over the table with my finger on my lips, “Shhhh! Ziggy! I’m incognito!” He was the only person to recognize me, and he got the only picture of the weekend:

I blinked…

Probably the best part about that day was when the same fellow who had referred to me as “The Butchest Link”, came by my table to flirt with me… as a man. It was an entirely unintentional reverse-catfish. He was a nice enough guy, but I had no penis to offer.

I had fun being Tommy, although it was very difficult to drop the accent after using it for twelve hours straight. The next day, I drove home, proud of proving my point about gender perception, and stopped by a rest stop to go pee. A homeless man approached, asking for gas money, “Sir, my girlfriend and I are trying to get to Bakersfield, and we’re out of gas. Could you help us out?”

My boobs weren’t taped down. My face and hair were clean. I was wearing jeans, a tank top, and the same loose white shirt. I gave the guy $50, “Yup, no problem. Drive safe!”

I headed into the women’s bathroom, and checked the polished steel mirror. It was just me, just like it always was, and I laughed.

The point is, we can’t control the labels other people give us. As much as we alter the packaging to try to market ourselves as the person we want the world to see, we can’t get too upset if the message isn’t received the same way to everyone. Sometimes we’ll be misgendered. Sometimes people will make assumptions about our sexuality, religion, or political views. The trick is to know who you are on your own terms, and let the truth of that guide you. – K

Other Ramblings…