Writer, illustrator, smarmy rogue.
Nothing Gold is a Métis folk-horror that has been described as ‘satanic sailor moon’.
Current title (out March 2020) Fox on the Table: The Princess And The Plague King is the horror spin-off of FOTT: Broken Sun. A charming cabin in a luminous woodland seems like a perfect new home for reformed adventurers Alhena and Velocity. Their peace is soon complicated by witches whispering of a spore-fueled plague and the disappearance of the Province’s only doctor.
Across the continent, a lazy heir’s refusal of his title catalyzes a curse that threatens the annihilation of his name.
Writers as weavers is a cliche that is close to most of us. The world has always played in my mind as a web of narratives, even as a child I was always looking to follow the threads of reality as though they were organized by the same loom as the accessible fiction. When you’re autistic, Métis, and transgender, this means winding yourself into patterns that do not suit you. The stories provided for mass consumption are now widely recognized as tyrannically hegemonic. The boy gets the girl, slays the bad guy and we end with applause! With the internet allowing marginalized voices to compare notes, there is a sudden avalanche of more diverse narratives and an audience joyfully waiting to receive them. While our voices have always existed underground, they are suddenly exposed in the bright anarchy of social media.
I went to a prestigious art school, the kind that lauds itself with gentle clapping for encouraging students to kick out of the current cultural context and pioneer the walls of the next generation. Building those walls, not breaking them down, was the core of the institution. Restructuring the art scene to ensure that for all our punk-rock hairstyles and subversive tinfoil-taped-to-the-wall, we were scions of the great Emily Carr. Beacons for the next generation of well-to-do suburbanites to give cash hand-over-fist for this social currency of perceived disruption. As illustrators, we were not the favoured students. More often than not, we were treated with a sneer as the tradesfolk of artists. Not the elevated academic savants who would save the world with photos of glitter-dusted dog turds. Another narrative prescription. Carrying this failure, I took any freelance I could get. First, a job fell through because I refused to illustrate a rape scene. The next guy to hire me wanted ‘more tits!’ on characters. Cogs that churned in that mechanical behemoth of illustration, supporting what I could have been battling if I had taken my work into galleries.
With the discovery that misogyny, racism and more thrives in illustration work, just as school promised, I began to begrudgingly submit to gallery shows. It was quickly apparent that even as a cursed illustrator, my diploma allowed me easy entry into this space. And from the inside, I looked out at the folk-artists whose efforts were struck down with deft precision. Further, from the wine-drenched shows to their documentation on Instagram, the art was not what the audience was coming for. While yes, a masterful bit of light or composition titillated them, ultimately they wanted the artist. They wanted you. The you in this situation is a stunning urban aesthete draped in Bohemia, sharing their personal trauma as a carefully crafted, vaguely relatable tragedy. For a little while, I performed this. I worked with (usually white) women creating ethereal work that had some presumption of spirituality. At the apex, I was signing a mass-produced tarot deck in New York, generally concealing my life as a parent (how heteronormative. Not magical at all) and becoming more and more disconnected from my own emotions. Following every peak, is a valley. I lapsed into a years long depression (very on brand! Clients loved it) which resulted in two suicide attempts. One that left me with brain damage and both having deeply scarred my family. Having scarred my husband, my babies. My precious children whom I convinced myself previously to this that I was being a role model to by having some place in this inaccessible, ultimately fictional ‘art world’.
Surviving this showed me how much of my body, my soul were being dictated by those patterns from my childhood. I was painting a portrait that rotted out every moral for glittering lights, audiences of smiling faces and a little bit of money. I was creating art for other people’s narratives. I was setting traps for those following in my footsteps.
The crux of recovery meant taking as long, hard, look for any crumbs of self that had maintained integrity through these trials. I started running a tabletop fantasy game around this time. That is, in a blunt way, I took the reins of the story through role-playing games and worlds I created for my friends. Previously to this, I had written a few novels and shorts stories for my own pleasure. Now, I was crafting something with a tiny, trusted audience that remained enraptured as I leaked little pieces of that self I was learning into the world I built for them. The first group fell apart after recognizing, and acting upon some vulnerabilities I had exposed. This group had players who wanted to warp my story to their experience, both at and away from the table. But this wasn’t enough to destroy this little piece of creative freedom I had discovered. I found genuine, safe, engaged people of their own narrative prowess. In my depression, I had moved in with my husband’s family as they supported my recovery. These two safe spaces allowed me to discover just what differences had drawn a line between me and white felt like everyone else. I recognized autism within myself, and it was diagnosed. Even with this new challenge, the safety persisted. I came out as transgender. Within these spaces, the safety persisted.
I began to divorce myself from client work, discovering that there was indeed an audience for materials I wanted to create for myself. Even before I was out, I had begun presenting transgender characters within my work, and there is a moment when another queer person’s eyes find themselves and for that little instant, they are also within my safe space. I started to pursue interests outside of those careful boundaries presented by art school. I have one life to build my own story, and it can happen as I drive it. So, I have begun to pursue a career in biology. Perhaps, ultimately, an MD. A way to create further safe spaces. This is another way to carve out a new narrative, a rejection of the fictions that have been presented to me. But the world of fiction is still dear to my heart, and it is the skill set I have developed to connect to the people who need it. The audience that I love, a demographic that found me even when I was working exploitatively, that remained steadfastly when I began to write for myself. Which is because more often than not, it means I am writing for them. That connection was previously forged by the agony of exclusion occasionally seeping around the editor’s scalpel. The facade that almost killed me, it turns out, wasn’t even convincing and I am so grateful for that.
As a creator, now, my stories are no longer censored by heteronormative palatability. My audience is my childhood self. I write to the bitterly lonely, confused teen who could not find themselves and so tried to shape an unsuitable persona in a desperate bid for inclusion. We are fortunate to live in a moment of narrative resistance, with both independent and syndicated creators vociferously rejecting hundreds of years of storytelling, relegating our characters, our bodies to tragedy, failure, and evil. I am primarily a horror author, because it offers a venue for the otherwise crushing anxiety. But my queer characters are folk heroes, protagonists, without being politically tidied or idealized. They are antagonists at times, without being the kind of cautionary tale of moral discrepancy. we are so used to seeing queer-coded villains. As I run a game, I am able to amplify my friends, as well, to furnish their own storytelling whether playful or emotional. It is a great privilege to be folded in to such a shining community and I aspire to do it justice by writing stories that are a testament to our queer resilience.